<![CDATA[Michelle Hauser - Laugh Lines]]>Fri, 09 Mar 2018 02:50:56 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Obesity of the brain is the real killer]]>Wed, 11 May 2016 14:51:11 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/obesity-of-the-brain-is-the-real-killerPicture
Playing the blame game in the obesity epidemic is extremely popular. On any given day some media outlet will lead with “A recent study says...” and we’ll be madly off in a new direction trying to pinpoint the root cause of this insidious disease.

The scientific community is, understandably, preoccupied with body fat. I am not a scientist, of course, but like many people who have suffered from obesity—I’ve been everything from a size 4 to a 24—I have a theory of my own; not about body fat but its evil twin: brain fat.

After more than four decades of “recent study” chatter and fat-shaming inputs I have a head that is now crammed so full of fat I’ve lost valuable gray matter. If someone cracked my skull open it might not bleed at all; it would be more like a melon, filled with scoopable goo about the colour and consistency of Crisco.

The worst thing about a fat head, of course, is there’s no escaping it. My brain obesity is like a cancer that has metastasized from other parts of my body. I’m constantly thinking about my fat or other people’s fat or comparing fat: Is she fatter than me? Am I fatter than her? Picture albums are less “Thanks for the memories” and more “Wow! Look how fat/less fat I was.” If you drew a portrait of my interior life it would look like a New Yorker cartoon: a fat castaway, leaning against a lone palm tree. Instead of an ocean, though, I’d be surrounded by chunks of fat, bobbing like corks all around.  

I know what some of you are thinking: “Lose some weight and you will stop obsessing about your fat.” Good idea. Thanks for the advice. But I’ve done that, a few times, actually, and it didn’t work. I got skinny, really skinny (see size 4 reference above) but my fat head wouldn’t let me enjoy it.

My big, fat head said, “You look good in those skinny jeans... but you’re still a little bit fat.” This faulty logic was affirmed by those around me who would say, “You’re really getting there” which made me wonder if the objective of weight loss was in fact, a complete disappearing act, to eventually reduce myself to a grease spot on a chair.

I know I’m not alone because I’ve met plenty of perfectly slim fat-headed women. “That’s a great top,” I said, recently to a very petite friend, to which she replied, “Thanks, the ruching covers all of my fat.” Then she pointed to her abdomen and made her index finger bounce off of it as if it were a tiny trampoline. But she had to fake the bouncing action because she has no real body fat, just imaginary brain fat. 

Then there’s my other friend, who lost a lot of weight. I saw her after a morning run. I knew saying “You look so fabulous!” was only going to present her with an opportunity to insult herself. But she’d been working out pretty hard, and I said, “You look great!” “Thanks,” she said, with a grim expression, and then right on cue, “But I’m still so fat.”

I know my skinny friends feel bad for me because I have to deal with real obesity as well as brain obesity. I’ve been at the backyard BBQs, watched them wait until I go elsewhere to talk about how much they hate themselves and which pockets of fat are destroying their lives. It might surprise them to know we’re in this together: it’s the cranial-sized pocket of fat on top of all of our shoulders that’s robbing us of our joie de vivre.

It was Billy Crystal, as Fernando from Fernando’s Hideaway, who said “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” It was funny, at the time; I’m just not sure it’s true.

Brain fat is stubborn too, it’s almost impossible to lose. It’s more immovable than those upper-arm granny-flaps. Even Jillian Michaels—who I secretly suspect has an extremely fat head—hasn’t come up with a workout to burn brain fat.

In terms of daily living a fat head is just as life-limiting as a fat body. For example, last summer, my body was physically able to swim and splash and play, but it was my fat head that was to blame for me sitting in the sand, covered-up, telling my son to go on without me, saying, “Maybe next year...” next year when I’m not so fat.

Obesity of the brain is deceiving because people can’t see the fat and the Government can’t measure it and yet it impacts mood and behavior. How much depression, how many binge and starve cycles have been precipitated by brain fat?  

I would like to lose weight (again) but I honestly wonder, “To what end?” Until I deal with my fat head I’ll just be another thin woman who can’t enjoy life, who thinks she’s “disgusting” because her brain fat and self-loathing are slowly killing her.

Maybe the scientific community should study that.

<![CDATA[Saving lives... one funny bone at a time]]>Mon, 29 Feb 2016 20:35:48 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/saving-lives-one-funny-bone-at-a-timePicture
I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but over the past few weeks Participaction—Canada's non-profit fitness consultant—has been running a vintage ad campaign touting the benefits of laughter, encouraging you to “Keep your funny-bone in shape!” “Laughing,” they say “has proven stress-release and health benefits.”

I’m not sure this means your family doctor will soon be writing prescriptions that say, “Read Laugh Lines and call me in the morning” but, according to the Mayo Clinic, even if I only make you chortle through your teeth once in a while, what you’re doing at this very moment could be part of a healthy lifestyle.

Apparently, laughing can help you “improve your mood,” “break the pain-spasm cycle,” “increase endorphins” and “release neuropeptides that help fight stress.” There’s no need to thank me. No, just keep reading—I insist! It’s my honour and privilege to be your healthcare partner.

Of course, not everybody finds me funny—my husband, for starters. These past few years it’s become my mission in life to release Mark’s pent-up belly laugh. His funny bone isn’t broken, per se, but it’s probably what the Mayo Clinic might describe as “underdeveloped.” Mark loves a good fart joke, but beyond that he is extremely selective about laughing out loud. We went to see Jerry Seinfeld last year and the laughter dam leaked a fair bit but did not burst.

I get the occasional chuckle from Mark but mostly I have to leave the room when the Saturday paper arrives because the absence of sound—of him not laughing at my column—makes me want to put my laptop and notebooks and pens in a stock pot and boil them into a pulpy, inky, electronic goo and quit writing forever. (Not that I’m a drama queen or anything.)

This week, though, armed with the Mayo Clinic’s jargon, I plan to stand just outside the living room while Mark sits in his chair rustling around with the paper and shout, “Well... have you released any neuropeptides yet?”

Interestingly, most laughing practitioners—certified laughter coaches are a real thing you know—say the laughing-challenged among us can fake it ‘til they make it, “Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile” says the Mayo Clinic, “and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced.”

Just as we grow up and eschew the silliness of childhood and learn to be serious (too serious, really) so too can we learn to let loose and laugh again. Along these lines, the Mayo Clinic prescribes an absolutely grueling regimen that includes comic strips, funny movies, and finding funny friends who can tell good stories.

On the other hand, too much laughter can be problematic as well. Where my husband’s belly laugh is stuck, mine is loose and loud and has created some PR problems. “Did you laugh like that when we first met?” Mark asked a few weeks ago as we walked arm-in-arm downtown, my open-mouthed bark-scream-guffaw combo bouncing off of the stone buildings.

“Yes,” I said, “But I was younger and thinner then, and I think you just overlooked it.”

My son has an opinion, too. Last Christmas, he turned to me and said, “Do you have to laugh like a witch?” At first I was hurt. But when I heard a recording of my laugh played back on Joe’s ipad, I had to admit there was a pervasive I’ll-get-you-my-pretty-and-your-little-dog-too! quality to it. 

I have what Albert Nerenberg, laughologist and laughercize specialist (again, not making this up), might call the ‘double-barreled Alabama knee-slapper.’ I inherited it from my dad. In his case, though, the sound rose up from his lower register, mixing with a nice, deep baritone, whereas mine drifts into the upper register, thus the witchy-woman connection.

In an ill-fated effort to curb my own enthusiasm and make my laugh more socially-acceptable—or as my internally sexist, pre-programmed brain says, “more lady-like”—I experimented with suppressing my natural laugh-attack, as if it were a sneeze. I didn’t burst an ear drum, break a rib, or slip a disc, but I definitely killed the magic... and my joy. Nowadays I try not to care too much what other people think.

“Stop it... mom... you’re... hurting me!” This is the plea for mercy my son will eventually cough up, but not until he’s been writhing on the kitchen floor in laugh-induced pain for a few minutes. Just after his first birthday, signs emerged that he and I were a good comedic combination—like my father and his children before me. My brother Dennis would get dad going and my other brothers and sisters would pile on, each one serving as ‘the couch man’—what professional comedians sometimes call their writing buddies—for the others. I did better as a bystander and worry wart, afraid dad’s belly might burst: “Stop it! Stop it!” I’d say, “You’re killing him!”

In our family, in spite of the difficulties—or maybe because of them—laughter really was the best medicine. To quote the folks at Participaction: “Funny how that works, eh?”

<![CDATA[Quick and easy Sexy Tilapia au gratin with béarnaise sauce over organic brown rice with a kale/pepper zucchini medley]]>Wed, 24 Feb 2016 20:53:00 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/quick-and-easy-sexy-tilapia-au-gratin-with-bearnaise-sauce-over-organic-brown-rice-with-a-kalepepper-zucchini-medleyPicture
Nothing... there’s no food... absolutely nothing...’cept the freezer, maybe, better check... sheesh, gotta get down on the floor and dig around... chicken nuggets, gross... bread cubes, what the heck did I freeze those for? .... chocolate cake, sure would like to make a meal out of that... what’s this?... tilapia fillets... man those are boring... is there anything more boring than a tilapia filet?...I guess sole filets would be worse...no breading even, just plain poach-me-skinny boringness...no chips either... just fish...still... maybe there’s a way to sex them up a little... got cheese, got lots of cheese... and butter...maybe I could make a cheesy crust or something and bake them... bake them on top of something... but what?... sliced potatoes?...no, potatoes are bad...stuff growing out of them and they’re black...bye-bye black-eyed potatoes...blame the home chef for destroying the environment...not gonna post that wasteoid garbage can pic on Facebook...need a carb for this funky fish dish...used the last pasta yesterday... rice! yes!....brown rice, too... bake them on organic brown rice...actually feeling a little superior now...with a veg, for sure... what’s going on in the crisper with the green stuff?... kale looks so-so...got half a pepper and zucchini...part of a zucchini that’s not oozing zucchini juice... maybe chop up the lot and throw it in a pot with some garlic?... what, like a middle layer type of deal—under the fish but over the rice?...talking to my chef-self now but we think it might just work...with the cheesy crust on the top... or, what’s this... béarnaise sauce... when did I buy that?... can’t remember...McCormack’s to the rescue... three-layered fish casserole with béarnaise topping and kale/zucchini/pepper medley...that’s something eh?...that’s really...something.

<![CDATA[My wish for the New Year is...]]>Tue, 05 Jan 2016 19:48:54 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/my-wish-for-the-new-year-isPicture
Every now and then it would veer a little bit off course, but the piece of paper seemed to be tumbling straight towards me. The gust of December wind blew it end over end until it landed at my right foot.

As a small, but meaningful event, it was a doozie.

I’d been sitting rink-side in the metal bleachers at Market Square watching the men in my life go around in happy circles. My rusty blades had rendered me a spectator for our annual pre-Christmas family skate. They’d also made me the recipient of this determined chunk of cardstock that was on a mission to deliver its message.

I picked up the damp, dirty card. It read, “My wish for the New Year is...” and had five blank lines upon which something resembling a hope or dream for 2016 was meant to be written.

There was a decorative graphic, a burst of fireworks, on the upper left-hand corner. I figured it was some First Night takeaway courtesy of the City of Kingston that had prematurely flown the coop, let loose from a staffer’s pile of papers perhaps.

As holidays go I have a pretty tragic relationship with New Year’s Eve.

Between all the drunken, tear-filled cab rides home in my 20s, having had no one to kiss, wondering if I’d ever meet my soul mate, and all the failed battles with the bulge through the years there’s way too much history and baggage.

Nowadays the New Year’s view from mid-life isn’t that much sunnier. Having wandered the long way around my career I spend many days feeling frantic, making up for lost time—looking back is painful. And, like many of my friends, I have a young child who is growing up way too fast which makes the road ahead terrifying.

Altogether this annual reckoning between past and future is a bit much.

Having resolved to make no more resolutions, especially those that concern my waistline, I find it best to sleep through New Year’s Eve, opting for a glass of warm milk over a flute of Dom Perignon. I prefer to face New Year’s Day unceremoniously, as if it were a day like any other, even though I know it’s not.

But this year there’s this little wind-blown wish-in-the-making to contend with.

I brought it home on December 21st, freed up a magnet and stuck it to the fridge. For ten days it’s been hanging there, begging for my attention. And unlike wishes upon stars or coins, I need to write this one down, which makes it all the more symbolic and, thereby all the more problematic.

I write things down for a living and have developed a healthy respect for the power of written words—whether other people see them or not.

For example, if you think you can’t forgive someone, write the story of your struggle to find forgiveness and by the time you reach ‘The End’ you’ll have found it. If you want to see the end of those vexatious circular conflicts in your marriage—the stuff you’ve been fighting about forever—write it down: “I don’t want to fight about sex/money/the kids/your mother anymore” and watch it come to pass.

As much as I have witnessed this word-power at work in my own life, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to put a New Year’s Wish in writing. But this personal invitation to do just that sought me out and has asserted itself in my life.

Would that it were a genie and I could have one just for me, and two more for the people I love. But this is a singular wish, which is the problem, really, and the source of the blankness: I want to be selfish with it. It’s mine after all, it found me. Haven’t I earned the right to be a little bit selfish?

I care for my people and cook for them all the time. To quote novelist and columnist Elizabeth Renzetti I am a “Doris Day luxury in a Sheryl Sandberg world.” I squeeze my fledgling career into some very tight spaces around high-needs people. And even in the presence of these limitations the dreamer in me will not die—she wants to move the needle in spite of the challenges. But surely there are more important things to wish for.

I’ve learned more about ageing in the past year than I would have cared to. Part of me wants to save the wish for my mother-in-law. She’s lost her vision and her ability to get up and go wherever she wants whenever she wants to. And now she and I are losing some of the friendship we had to the caregiver dynamic—the loving but rigid treadmill of pills and meals and “should haves” and “why didn’t you?” and “that’s not good for you.”

No, this is going to be one whopper of a wish. I don’t know if I can blow it on me and me alone.

My wish for the New Year is... still thinking.

Don’t worry, I’ll make the deadline. I always do.

<![CDATA[A happily married Christmas]]>Wed, 16 Dec 2015 14:36:32 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/a-happily-married-christmasPicture
As a child on Christmas Eve, I had visions of sugar plums and other treats and toys dancing in my head. But as an adult, or an “old married lady” as I was recently described, my Christmas list has become decidedly more realistic and compact. Indeed, a happily married Christmas is the only thing on my wish-list this year.

After several seasons of being on Santa’s naughty list—our stockings brimming with coal—I think it’s time my husband and I learned how to make merry again.

Surprisingly, for two fairly peaceful, private people who spend most of the year getting along pretty well, it’s curious how Mark and I have become expert at yuletide rows that leave a lasting impression—not just on us, but on our friends and family as well.

Maybe this is the inevitable result of pairing two frustrated actors who no longer have a theatrical outlet. Mix the inherent stress and drama of Christmas with an audience of in-laws (if not occasionally outlaws) and one of those iconic, raging Oscar moments is bound to result.

I suppose if it were a once-in-a-while gig it might be vaguely entertaining, but as repeat offenders we’re in grave danger of becoming that sad lounge act—the has-beens who’ve played the dinner theatre in Schenectedy one too many times—who are poised on the slippery slope of being downright annoying.

So as I set my sights on turning the ship around this Christmas—making love not war—I thought it might be wise to look back on the last few years to see if I can pinpoint where we have gone so terribly wrong. Perhaps a forensic audit of our Christmas’ past might give us clues about the underlying cause of our Seasonal Marital Discord Syndrome (SMDS).

Two years ago we had a Christmas tussle about our son drinking too much chocolate milk. We had unwittingly fallen prey to the manipulations of a crafty pre-schooler who had discovered the art of divide and conquer; finding someone who will say “yes”, even after mommy and daddy have said “no”. Poor Auntie Kimmy got caught in the crossfire that year—my sister still has PTSD about coming to our house for the holidays.

We didn’t figure out how badly we’d been duped until Boxing Day, when the whole story came into a clearer light. My sister, on a diplomatic mission of sorts, visited us in our separate household camps to explain what had really gone down. “It was me!” she said, “I gave him the chocolate milk!” It’s too bad that on Christmas Day—that Day of Holy Days—all generosity of spirit between us had evaporated (hmmm...possibly clue number one) and we were in the mood to shoot first and ask questions later.

The Christmas before that it was the “mandarin incident”. Neither of us can remember what the fight was about, but what comes quickly to mind is that a mandarin orange flew across the kitchen, hitting me in the backside while I was elbow-deep in a frozen turkey, barking orders and generally bossing people around (clue number two).  

Mark denies having thrown the tiny orange but I still maintain that it needed some kind of a launching pad (like his hand perhaps) to have successfully travelled from its bowl to my bum (and yes, uncontrollable, childish outbursts would be clue number three). Short of an Oliver Stone-esque re-enactment to examine the wayward trajectory of the magic mandarin (was it back and to the left, or the other way around?) I’m pretty sure it was him. My mother-in-law, who was another totally innocent bystander trapped in the melee that year, was beyond reproach.

The year before that, we fought about an offside comment Mark made to some early-bird visitors to our home about my morning face—something akin to “Hey guys, come see what the wife really looks like!” It was a pathetic attempt at being funny (clue number four) and yes I was in a “super-sensitive mood” and was “totally PMS-ing” at the time, and so took it quite personally. (And that will do quite nicely as clue number five.)

Last year we didn’t have a fight at all, opting instead for a seven-day perma-freeze of ice age proportions—one that put our innocent bystanders at risk of an acute case of pneumonia. I don’t recommend the silent treatment, especially at Christmas. Regardless of what you do to one another, it’s not fair to inflict that kind of pain and suffering on other people.

Thankfully, this year, I think we may have gotten our annual Christmas fight out of the way early. Nothing can invoke the spousal death ray of disapproval, or clean out the marital cupboard full of cobwebs, like asking for help rearranging the furniture. And on that subject, what is so awful about getting an itchin’ for a switchin’ anyway? It’s a great way to fight the domestic doldrums and it sure beats running away with the mail man for spice-of-life value. Trust me folks, moving the sofa is far less complicated.

The good news is we survived my most recent episode of dancing-with-the-furniture. So in addition to the dining room being ready for a joyous feast, the tension-filled balloon of the holiday season has had some air let out of it.  It’s entirely possible that Mark and I are well on the road to having a happy holiday season for the first time in years. If we can convince our families to give us one last chance to show some real hospitality—minus the floor show—we’ll have Christmas back on track. 

And with the lessons of our past holiday failures top of mind—be generous, don’t be bossy, act like a grown-up, don’t say stupid stuff, and try not to take things personally—we might actually be able to get our SMDS under control. That means three whole weeks to truly enjoy the holidays and the simple pleasure of cramming ourselves full of shortbread and eggnog.

And if we can get the presents wrapped early, there might even be a chance for us to finally don our matching red velvet hats and play ‘Santa’s-little-helper’ once our son goes to bed Christmas Eve. Of course if the copious quantities of shortbread and eggnog leave us feeling too fat and disgusting to fool around, at the very least we should be able to enjoy one another’s company. And to that I say, Amen!

Now pull up a chair (in my house you’ll need to look before you sit, because things have moved around a bit), hoist a glass of rum and eggnog, pass the cookies in the plaid box...and let’s all toast to a happily married Christmas.

<![CDATA[This Christmas newsletter is brought to you by Jack Daniels]]>Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:28:30 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/this-christmas-newsletter-is-brought-to-you-by-jack-danielsPicture
If you have a stack of Christmas cards waiting to be mailed, you might also want to reflect on 2015—oh what a year it’s been!—and slip in a newsletter.

But the holiday retrospective is a challenge. For each one that makes the cut, hundreds of others wind up in the trash, which is sad, really. Sentimental hogwash aside, think of the future scholarship potential and what researchers might learn about our society through this important literary genre hundreds of years from now.

Sitting at your computer, with an empty pint of Haagen Dazs Peppermint Bark ice cream next to your keyboard, waiting for the season’s warmest wishes to shoot out your fingertips, there is so much doubt to be undone by: Will people love you or laugh at you? Haven’t Facebook and Twitter depleted all the navel-gazing possibilities? Most of the family is doing well, but how do you write about that loveable but confounding prodigal son?

Never fear, my friends, I am here to help you blow the whistle on this holiday epistle and get it chugging down the track.  

If 2015 has been uneventful you might be tempted to pad your newsletter with some Ben Carson-esque embellishments, although I would caution against that unless you’re absolutely sure you will never run for political office or that you can keep your newsletter from falling into the wrong hands.

If sticking to the truth, and nothing but the truth, renders the thing a snooze-fest then try writing in someone else’s voice. Your life can go from utter banality to epic narrative simply by passing the pen to one of your pets. Or maybe you tried The Paleo Diet this year? Why not conjure that inner caveman you’ve been feeding and let him have a go at it:

“Man and woman go Paleo in 2015. Man lose many stones. Woman lose no stones... she gain 3 big stones, actually, but man not counting. Woman jealous of man say ‘Skinny man make woman feel fat.’ Man say, ‘Woman look sexy to me.’ Woman cry say ‘man making fun of woman.’ Woman and man have big fight. Boy draw fight on wall in feast room. Woman cry more, say cave always ‘a total mess!’”

You get the idea, right? Watch some Cookie Monster videos on YouTube and you’ll catch the rhythm. The bonus is you don’t have to sweat the grammar geeks in your family because sounding like a Neanderthal is kind of the point. Neither will you be accused of cultural misappropriation, racism or imperialism because cavemen haven’t been added to the vast database of political incorrectness—at least not yet, anyway.

I’m working on a “Dear Earthlings” newsletter from the perspective of the shore party of aliens from outer space who’ve been observing my family this year but have decided—mostly because Grandma Harriet and I argue about stupid stuff like ironing boards, portion sizes and how much butter to spread on toast—that we’re a bad fit, culturally-speaking, and not good candidates for abduction after all.  

If you decide to go with sincere prose—or even if you try one of the aforementioned humorous kick-starters—you’ll have to stare at the wall for a while. Think of yourself as a prisoner to your screen: if you want to commit the crime you have to do the time.

During this oppressive, non-productive phase beware The Hemingway Trap and resist the urge to raid your liquor cabinet. Contrary to the dangerous myth about booze and books and drunkenness and creativity Chapters Indigo is selling this Christmas—having etched the erroneous quote “Write drunk, edit sober” on a set of low-ball whiskey glasses—Hemingway never actually said that. (But who cares, right? It’s Christmas, which means it’s time to suspend all critical thinking where merchandising is concerned.)

Apropos of The Hemmingway Trap, you too may want to quote some literary giant or other in your letter itself—which is fine, provided you’ve spelled said legend’s name correctly. Charlie Sheen had a lot on his mind with his recent confessional and, apparently, didn’t have time for fact-checking but it’s “Ernest” Hemmingway—sans ‘a’—however logical it seems to make his name eponymous with “earnest.”  

And speaking of Charlie’s letter—a.k.a. “How to add fuel to the fire of your own class-action lawsuit”—if you want to use a year-end wrap-up to get something off your chest, try to contain your inner drama queen. Sheen wrote, “Locked in a vacuum of fear, I chose to allow their threats and skullduggery to vastly deplete future assets from my children, while my ‘secret’ sat entombed in their hives of folly” where “Prostitutes were extorting me at my kids’ expense” would have been enough.

Of course, if you’re the parent of a prodigal son or daughter you’re entitled to be vague and opaque. Imagine Martin Sheen’s newsletter dilemma: “Emilio has written several scripts which are under development and we might make another inspiring, movie-with-a-message together. Charlie is.... Charlie is...”

On second thought... you probably shouldn’t rule out a little help from Jack Daniels.

<![CDATA[The Velveteen Politcian]]>Mon, 21 Sep 2015 23:47:59 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/the-velveteen-politcianPicture
There was once a Velveteen Politician, who was very polished, poised and professional and always smartly-dressed, except for some pantsuits which never did her any favours.

When she was very young, the Velveteen Politician married a rising star, politically-speaking. Even though many people secretly suspected she was the brains of the operation, her husband was the main attraction and she spent a very long time in his shadow.

Like most politicians, The Velveteen Politician’s husband was kind of a phony but he could get real when it mattered: he jogged to McDonald’s in short-shorts and his enormous white legs made Americans feel uncannily good about themselves. And because of that the people made him President... twice.

Later, things got a little too real and the Velveteen Politician had to stand by her husband’s side as he was nearly impeached for almost having had sexual relations with a girl half his age. The cigar, as it turned out, didn’t count.

But the Velveteen Politician did not have a trailer-park hissy fit, to which she would have been entitled, and throw his stuff all over the White House Lawn. In fact she remained so polished, so utterly smooth and Velveteen, many people began to wonder if she might not be part cyborg or, at least, not fully human. The people desperately wanted her to get real, but she never did.

Eventually, when the Velveteen Politician’s husband was no longer President, she decided it was time to come out from under his shadow. “Maybe,” she said to herself, “the people will make me President, too?” And for a time it looked as though she might have a chance but, all of a sudden, an exciting young Senator with charisma came along.

He was also polished and poised and not entirely un-Velveteen but he was raised by a single mother, admitted to smoking pot, and got more real than any politician had ever gotten before. In no time at all, the young Senator had swept the country off its feet. And the people also made him President... twice.

The Velveteen Politician might have very nearly been forgotten—and anyone but her would have given up on politics—but the new President gave her an incredibly difficult job and she took it, saying, “I will bide my time as Secretary of State, but, someday, I will be President!”

The Velveteen Politician did her job pretty well, except for getting a little confused about what is or is not top secret vis a vis emails, and she eventually became post-menopausal and thereby fit to hold an even higher office in America. Still, many of the other politicians, and a whole lot of the people, snubbed and mocked her, saying, “So what if she’s tough and capable and experienced—she’ll never be real!”

Sometimes, when the Velveteen Politician was alone at night watching angry pundits eviscerate her on TV, she would—and only because it was absolutely necessary—have a good cry. With great balls of Kleenex strewn about her posh bed she railed, “Why are people so unfair to me?!”

After all, the Velveteen Politician wasn’t the first person of privilege to seek the Presidency. But the aura of pamperage never tainted her male rivals because, as men, the people could imagine them getting real: drinking beer, dropping ‘F-bombs,’ or scratching their balls when they thought no one was looking, and that made all the difference.

Then, one day, the Velveteen Politician drove to a campaign rally with The Dean of Congress, John Conyers, who had lived longer in the House of Representatives than anyone. John Conyers was wise, for he had won re-election 25 times and had seen a long succession of politicians arrive to boast and swagger and, by-and-by, lose their seats and drift away.

In the back of her limo the Velveteen Politician asked John Conyers, “How do I get real? Do I have to cry in public, high-five people or cook with cream of mushroom soup?”

“Getting real isn’t like that, exactly,” he replied, “You can’t plan to get real or strategize it. Your staff can’t do it for you. It’s a thing that just happens to you when you let your guard down.”

“But if I let my guard down, I’ll be naked and vulnerable” said the Velveteen Politician. “Precisely,” said Conyers, “but when you get real you don’t mind being vulnerable because it means people might actually vote for you.”

“Surely there must be another way” said the Velveteen Politician, “Can’t I just trim my bangs or have my husband show me a few tricks, the ones that don’t involve cigars?”

“You can’t force it,” said John Conyers, “You must practice getting real bit by bit. But if you can do it there will be no wall between you and the people; nothing standing in the way of you getting real.”

The Velveteen Politician sighed. She thought it would be a long time before this magic called getting real happened to her. She longed to know what it might feel like; and yet the idea of letting her guard down made her feel sick to her stomach.

She wished she could get real without having to do that.  

<![CDATA[Chewing the fat about Justin Trudeau's Salad Days]]>Fri, 07 Aug 2015 13:07:52 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/chewing-the-fat-about-justin-trudeaus-salad-daysPicture
From The Kingston Whig-Standard
***All rights reserved

“Leadership, communication, technical understanding, safety, and risk management—these are at the core of the job.”

What job is this you might ask?

Snowboard Instructor.

This is only some of what Jeff Slack—a 10-year veteran of the Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, Justin Trudeau’s former place of employ—had to say about his chosen profession during an interview earlier this week.

While the vast majority of Canadian journalists were focused on Thursday night’s debate, I went in a slightly different direction, wanting to clear the air about Snowboard Instructors, who’ve been collateral damage in the interminable chewing of the fat about the Liberal leader’s Salad Days.

Jeff, the 33 year-old Mountain Nerd (@mountain_nerd) and I talked about how his work has been mocked and denigrated simply because one of our Prime Ministerial candidates “Shredded the Gnar” for a living, however briefly, unknowingly forfeiting the Prime Minister’s Office, or so the cynical narrative goes. It is a narrative, by the way, which only reinforces the hopelessness of millennials, many of whom see holding out for a management position as the only way to fulfill their greatest expectations.

Of course had Trudeau chosen death-by-cubicle, spending his 20s cherry-picking juicy political positions and genetically engineering a resume of Monsanto proportions, the prolonged autopsy on his early years would now tell a different story: that of an elitist, power-hungry son-of-a-former-PM hell-bent on world domination.

Really, he was pretty much screwed one way or another. At least he got some fresh air; that it was as far away from Ottawa as possible is just a bonus.

As a ramp-up to my interview, and this earnest attempt at traditional journalism, I spent part of a day studying The A-B-Cs of Snowboarding, boning up on the lingo which includes phrases such as ‘Ancillary Stoke’, when a snowboarder accomplishes an “insane maneuver” and, my favourite, ‘Asspass’, when a snowboarder “falls on his ass but going so fast that he passes people on his ass.”

In the end the snowboarding semiotics proved unnecessary. Jeff is a skilled communicator and a freelance writer with a specialty in mountain history and culture. He didn’t use the word “dude” once during our conversation, which was kind of disappointing.

As for the “ski bum” stereotype that Justin Trudeau’s political rivals and the media have gone way out of their way to perpetuate, Jeff was unequivocal: “It is completely false.” Snowboarding “can be a serious job”, he says, especially at Whistler Blackcomb which presents some of the most “dangerous and challenging skiing terrain on earth.” The hazards are plenty and considerations of risk are quick and constant. “There are lots of distractions,” says Jeff, “People are on vacation, so they kind of turn their brains off. You need to be constantly communicating very clear demands to your group.”

In a further attempt at professional journalism, I spared Jeff my sad skiing story: The Grade 8 class trip to what qualifies as a mountain in Ontario, when, through my inability to master the pull versus sit concept, I kept rolling off of the palma lift while my classmates clutched their sides with laughter. When I did finally make it to the top, I was unable to cope with the 700 ft drop, walked to the chalet and haven’t skied since.

Instead, I simply gave Jeff the scenario of a “reluctant mountaineer” (Snowboard Dictionary says ‘Hoedad’) and asked how he deals with people like that. He assured me that snowboarding instructors are trained to deal with all kinds. “The number one skill,” he says, is “Having a vision, getting people to follow you and inspiring them to feel confident.”

And, if being an inspirational visionary isn’t enough, there’s communication, too: “Good communication is essential. From children to adults, beginner to expert, you need to be able to describe movements that are very foreign to people in a way that they can understand.”

Jeff says where some students are terrified others can be overconfident: “Some people tend not to take Snowboard Instructors seriously so they don’t always give us respect right away. These people often get themselves into trouble because they underestimate the challenge of the terrain.” (I wanted to ask if these are the ‘Blazin’ Raisins’ I learned about—the old-timers who just “gun it down the mountain”—but decided against it.)

Jeff’s turnaround approach in these cases is diplomacy: making strategic use of chair lift time for “conversations about politics or cultural issues.” So much for sparking up a doobie and getting laced.

“At a place like Whistler Blackcomb you’re meeting people from around the world every day and interacting with them on a pretty meaningful level. It’s an eye opening experience in terms of understanding the world.”

It remains to be seen, of course, if one-time-Snowboard-Instructor-turned-PM-wannabe Justin Trudeau will pull off an Ancillary Stoke or an Asspass come Election Day.

But if we can agree that everybody has to start somewhere maybe it’s not such a stretch that a former King of the Mountain—if given a chance to prove his mettle—might one day be The Big Cheese on Parliament Hill.

<![CDATA[What I learned on my summer vacation]]>Fri, 31 Jul 2015 14:39:18 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/what-i-learned-on-my-summer-vacationPicture
From The Kingston Whig-Standard
***All rights reserved

If you’re lucky enough to venture to cottage country this summer and fall under the influence of a clear blue sky, you might learn a few things.

First and foremost you may realize that not everyone who goes to the cottage does so willingly. Among husbands, wives, and teenage sons and daughters, reluctant hang-a-shores abound.

If your spouse eschews this seasonal exodus, and you think your marriage might be doomed because of recreational incompatibility, it’s worth remembering that many people are born without that most Canadian of all chromosomes—the one that enables sitting idly for long stretches of time, laughing-off weak-spirited toilets and telecommunications networks, ignoring the indefatigable scope-creep of dirt and sand, and shrugging indifferently amid the pandemonium caused by leeches and black flies.

For genetically-compromised canucks, spending a sweat-soaked night in a rustic cabin with insufficient roof ventilation, and walls and ceilings made of knotty pine is more like being locked in a convection oven than an escape to Shangri-La, not that my husband ever made that analogy.

You will learn that God’s country demands secular luxuries in order to be liveable and no matter how much stuff you cram into your car, you will invariably forget something important like deodorant or toothpaste. Your first day of vacation will be spent traveling to the nearest town where the economic engine is driven by the sale of beer, firecrackers, inflatable toys, worms, and overpriced cheese puffs.

You may discover that the nostalgic childhood memory of s’mores is more enjoyable than the s’mores themselves. That camp fires are great but children with flaming marshmallows on sticks shouldn’t wear flip flops. That kid food rules at the cottage and the 500 g bag of well-intentioned baby spinach cannot compete with the Orange Snack Bin of Death.

That the five stages of beach cover-up removal resemble Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Physiological, “I hate my body and I need to cover it up”; Safety, “My wrap is my security blanket, even if I am boiling to death”; Love/Belonging, “Oh, look! There are other people with pasty white flesh in bathing suits having a good time, maybe I could join them?”; Esteem, “I deserve to cool myself down”; Self-actualization, “Watch out people, here I come!”

That it’s not love that will find a way but mosquitoes. No matter how blameless your screening system appears to be these little bastards want a piece of you and they need no Robert DeNiro-esque rhetorical goading to do it. Anyway, it’s not really a Great Canadian Cottage Vacation until you’ve slapped yourself silly all night long.

That in the absence of appliances clothes washed in a sink can be clean enough but you will have renewed appreciation for the labour-saving miracle that is a rinse cycle.

That sleeping-in guilt dissipates just in time to have its void filled by hot-dog guilt: knowing that you’ve let your children consume well beyond their quota of nitrates.

That even as you continue to shake down the tin-roofed shanties of back-country roads, the ones with hand-painted plywood signs promising fresh blueberries and home-baked goods, your Grandmother spoiled you for anyone’s pies but hers.

That an old fisherman is a young fisherman’s best friend and a fishing pole, if the boy wants to kiss it first thing in the morning, might well be his first love.

That the parent on the beach to whom you have a visceral and wholly negative reaction, whose constant coaching, pathological second-person referencing and pedagogical nit-picking reminds you of the most annoying version of yourself is cause for much soul-searching.

That if you study them long enough all insect bites will look like a bulls-eye.

That trapped in a plastic bucket-turned-boxing-ring a crayfish and a worm will battle to the death and the odds of severance are stacked in the crayfish’s favour. That Infinite Jest can be read in two weeks if you skip some of the tennis stuff, but you should never take borrowed reading material to the beach because nothing attracts a kiddie water-shooter ambush like someone else’s book.

That on the basis of unit economics, portability, and self-service, Mr. Freeze’s Freezies are the forever and always blue-ribbon winner of summertime snacks.

That enforcing the pages-per-day of a summer reading program will make you incredibly unpopular. That you can redeem yourself by delivering a tray of watermelon slices to the beach and that old-fashioned triangles do quite nicely: simpler is better and there’s no need to sculpt the rind into a handled basket or a frog in full ribbit.

That the Northland is absolutely still true and strong and mostly free except for all the rules about garbage and fires.

That nothing can rustle you to sleep like a gentle breeze through a stand of tall trees. That waking up to the sound of a loon calling across a quiet lake kicks an alarm clocks’ ass and can make you feel prouder and happier to be Canadian than any over-produced beer commercial ever could.

That a little rough-and-ready living makes you appreciate the comforts of home.

That you can’t wait to go back for more next year.
<![CDATA[Grass Wars: Green vs. greener, short vs. shorter]]>Fri, 10 Jul 2015 12:55:11 GMThttp://michellehauser.ca/laugh-lines/grass-wars-green-vs-greener-short-vs-shorterPicture
From The Kingston Whig-Standard

***All rights reserved

My husband and my neighbour’s husband are Men of the Grass. Both are devoted fathers, who routinely indulge their children, but neither is a fan of tents, nets, inflatable pools or any of the plastic kiddie-buckshot that gets sprayed across their unsuspecting backyards during the summer months.

The clutter is undignified and tough to mow around, but more than anything it ruins the seasonal satisfaction of sitting back, sipping a brewskie, taking in a deep breath of freshly-mown, and admiring the unfettered vista of a submissive expanse of green.

The hardship of an increased workload pales by comparison to the unspeakable joy of a neatly-manicured lawn.

As Men of the Grass in the prime of their lives Mark and Ric aren’t naive to the unwritten rules and sometimes competitive environment of a residential neighbourhood. They are obedient to the commandments of the day: Thou shalt mow thy lawn, or else. But they strive to be standard-bearers, too, knowing full well that the outward and visible signs of pride of home ownership are the criteria upon which they will be judged by their peers.

Unfortunately, fellow home owners do not hand out blue ribbons or certificates of merit for jobs well-done. They are cold-blooded pragmatists, driven first and foremost by property values and who is or is not doing his part to keep them up.

Achieve excellence in this realm and you will be spared the evil eye of a passerby—nothing more, nothing less.

During the winter months the priority is snow removal. How low did you go? Shovels scraping against naked concrete sidewalks flanked by walls of white are the true measure of a man once the snow flies.

In the summertime, though, meticulous greens-keeping is the definitive act that separates the doers from the slackers and the winners from the losers.

Through the years, these two Men of the Grass have learned to suffer opportunistic weeds and the unwelcome solids of feral cats and crouching dogs with strength and honour. In theory, anyway, they ought to be united in fulfilling their duty to society by periodically slaying dandelions and shaving seasonal top growth.

But the weekly chore that might bond them to one another like brothers in arms has become increasingly fraught thanks to a small patch of disputable territory between our two properties.

You see, there are all kinds of lines: border lines; front lines; lines in the sand; laugh lines; life lines; sight lines. And then there are lawn lines.

These are the visible panty lines of the domestic arena, where two neighbours’ grasses meet in a fenceless, hedge-less patch of common ground which, when only one side has been mown, leaves no doubt in the mind of the casual observer as to which Jones has failed to keep up with the other this week.

Even Mercedes Benz versus Toyota Corolla can’t rival the tense disparity of green versus greener and short versus shorter. At least, such is the way of it between these two Men of the Grass.

Last weekend, up until Sunday afternoon, my neighbour’s husband had bested my husband in the latest episode of Grass Wars.

Ric is a man with seemingly boundless energy. He mows mid-week, one-handed, often wearing stylish outfits with a casual nonchalance which, if I were a Man of the Grass, I would find irksome. This left Mark twisting in the wind until he could “get to it” on the weekend and only if he wasn’t hopelessly bogged-down by family commitments.

You should know that our lawn was nowhere near deplorable shagginess. But having been left with visibly more bandwidth than our neighbour for nearly seventy-two hours my husband had once again fallen into the trap of seeing the Lawn Line of Shame as something akin to a character assassination.

Three millimetres of grass, visible to the naked eye—but only up-close and really, really straining to see—stood out like a sore thumb. From Mark’s vantage point it was an accusation of inexcusable sloth.

A Sunday afternoon nap-attack had all but separated me from my worldly cares and concerns—like why curried mango quinoa salad has so violently usurped macaroni salad in just a few years’ time and will I ever eat macaroni salad again—when the rhythmic wraaaah-wraaaah-wraaaah of my husband’s gas-powered mower jolted me back to reality.

I glanced at the clock. The neighbours, the self-same Man of the Grass next door and his wife, were coming to dinner in just over an hour. There would be no time for Ric to respond, to defend his line.

My husband’s timing was no accident: It was a cold, calculated act of war.

I looked out the window and watched the turf between our two properties being neatly devoured by the hungry, rotating blade of a Man of the Grass who meant business—who may or may not have worn the slight smidge of a smirk on his face.   

Now it would be Ric’s turn to bear the burden of the Lawn Line of Shame.

Yet another battle—in what promises to be a long, cruel summer—had begun.