Surplus Women

At the end of the Great War, the British called them the surplus women. They were the more than 2 million women who had no hope of finding a husband because a generation of men lay dead in the fields of France, of Belgium, Gallipoli. At the end of 1919, only 1 in 10 women were going to marry.

The surplus women had to find their own way. They had to find jobs, housing, ways to get along in a world designed for marriage and children. More than that, they had to find meaning. In a world that wasn’t what they hoped, what they planned and what they dreamed of, they had to find a way to find joy in an unexpected life.

I, jokingly, told my niece that there used to be a place for single women. They wore cardigans and pearls, they arranged the flowers at church, gardened, had a few cats and wrote handwritten letters to their nieces and nephews.

Well, this is what I imagine the surplus women did. I suspect the truth is both more pedestrian and profound. Some of them played to cliche, some of them went and found their own way. Looked at tradition and custom and the dramatically changed world and they forged their own path.

It comes up in so many ways. Right now it’s Christmas. I have photos for the Christmas card. They are fantastic, but I haven’t sent my final selections to the photographer, because I just don’t know. Do single women send a Christmas Card to everyone – or I guess the half the list that is mine and the people still talking to me. Do I decorate? Where do I go for Christmas dinner?

What’s the new path forward?

Posted in Divorce | 6 Comments

On the Chin

When the fellow I am seeing asked why I did it, the best answer I had was because it was my job.

Which is true. I was the delivery manager, I am the project manager, and on my watch someone was patently incompetent.

For the record, I have a folder of emails, notes from meetings, a bloody excel spreadsheet detailing his incompetence. I’ve been coaching him for 9 months. I’ve been advocating for a career change for him for 3 months. To be fair, it’s not like I haven’t been trying to mange the issue.

I took it on the chin.

Part of an apology, at least for me, is whole heartedly accepting the blame, even if it isn’t fully my fault. Someone has to be face of the mistake. And someone needs to acknowledge there was a mistake and apologize.

So that was me. Today. And I took it on the chin.

Which got me thinking about this blog post. It’s from 6 years, 1 month and 19 days ago. That was the first time I decided that I needed to change my way of handling failure and being wrong. I thought about that day, about my need to get better at this.

I’ve developed this trick in the last few years. I call it the “reasonable stranger” test. Effectively, I ask myself what I would tell a stranger, if they presented the situation to me. So I would tell you that I did what was reasonable.

The good news is that I did the reasonable stranger test with myself. I did start blaming myself. Spent a bit of time there. Then I pulled out the reasonable stranger test. I took it on the chin. Someone had to.

But I didn’t own it.

That feels like progress.

Posted in Learning Life | 1 Comment

The Philosophy of Soup

I have become a fan of the moral philosophy of soup.

Oh, I realize you think that I’m crazy. How on earth can there be a philosophy of soup. What is moral about soup? All great philosopher’s write some sort of treatise. Here I shall give you the moral philosophy of soup.

Soup starts from a whole chicken in my freezer. Defrosted in my fridge. Dumped into a big pot. Herbs, cut from my garden. Left to simmer in a very large pot I hauled up from the basement. Simmer for 12 hours. Put it on the burner, pay it only a bit of mind. Really, make sure it doesn’t burn and the house doesn’t start on fire.

Put it somewhere cool so the fat solidifies. Scoop that off. Save it in a bowl for the dog. Take the carcass out. Wash your hands. Carefully pull the bones out. Return the meat to a bowl.

Strain the broth, put it back in the pot. Bring it to a boil. Turn off the stove. Crush egg shells and use those to clarify the broth. Strain the soup again. Consider the vegetables in your fridge. Choose them. It’s ok if they are a bit past their prime. Sharpen knives. Cut the vegetables. Make sure the pieces are the same size. Cut two leeks and some onion. Sweat them in the frying pan until they soften. Slowly let them brown. Deglaze the pan with sherry.

Return the meat to the pot with the vegetables and the leeks and onions. Let it simmer for another few hours.

Soup is a series of small tasks. Taking not the best, but what you have. Soup takes time. It cannot be rushed. When I do soup well, there’s a meditative quality about it. What ever else I do in that time, I am building soup.

The soup will be imperfect. I’ll taste it and I’ll think that it needed a bit more thyme, a bit more salt. I’ll wish I had a bit of celery.

My soup was a way to reconnect. To use my time and my talents and the fruit of a summer’s labour in the garden. It was grounding – I stayed close to home and left it simmering on the back burner, always a bit aware of it. Soup was a way to rebuild sanctuary and calm after a terrible week. Some of it will go to a sick friend as an act of care. Soup is a hedge, an act of self care. Next week with 8,000 words of final papers will be no less stressful.

Perhaps my philosophy is not so much a philosophy of soup, but a philosophy of little things done with effort. The morality of doing what you can, imperfectly, with what you have. The work of grounding and mindfulness as you do one thing, with many steps to build something greater than what you started with.

Philosophy, all of what I read, talks about great things. Hard decisions. It asks enormous questions – who am I? Why am I here? Where are we going? How should we live?

I have no answers for that.

I have the philosophy of soup.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 3 Comments


She sat on the chair in her grad student apartment and she told me about the lecture on Marx and laws she was going to give. I took a picture, although she doesn’t realize it. I was struck by magic of a rare and spectacular sort.

In 2011 I coached her debate team over Skype and I read Marx to them. Specifically the bit about the alienation of labour.  We had a late night conversation on Saturday and I told her the truth. She will far eclipse me. She will research and she will publish and she will lecture. I will see her cross three different university stages, I will see her get a PhD and one day I will sit in a classroom and I will watch her teach university students.

I will never be famous. At 39, I’m ok with that. This morning, while she went off to class, I made her bed, made soup out of the left over thanksgiving turkey, swept the floor, answered some work emails, worked a bit on my thesis and I’ll head down to campus to meet her for lunch.

I told her something else on Saturday. That all I wanted was to take a small part of my world and make it better. To know that part of me lived on. I love Marx. Oh, I don’t agree with him, but the idea that we give our best selves, our most truly human selves in our labour and we are alienated from that when we sell it? There’s a truth in that. She’s turned the idea of consent and contracts into an entire thesis.

I do not plan on leaving this world for a very long time. I have things to do, mayhap more coaching to give. I’d like to teach her to make soup.

But this weekend, in the middle of the production of producing a full thanksgiving meal in the world’s smallest kitchen, with the world’s dullest knives (I sharpened them on the bottom of coffee mugs), while flavouring the carrots with OJ and taco seasoning, I saw magic.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Life After Children, the nieces and nephews | 2 Comments

There’s a Girl

I was standing in line at the hardware store. It turns out that I didn’t have any construction adhesive and was a bit short on 1/4round and trim will go better when you have some. The people in front of me had 3/4 inch plywood and 5 2x4s. The cashier was trying to charge them for 5/8, which would be great because it is cheaper, but was also wrong. I suppose it’s only 1/8th of an inch, but it is noticeable.

I looked over, as the cashier was arguing and said that no it was 3/4 inch and pulled a measuring tape out of my purse (I needed it to buy the 1/4 round).

The older gentleman smiled and said “Now there’s a girl who knows her dimensions”.

This weekend I installed trim in my back entrance: around the windows, the door laid baseboard and quarter round, used up some decorative trim to go around the ceiling.

I hate assembling Ikea furniture so very much that I hauled out 2 saws, a sander, the cordless drill and the brad nailer to use up some spare lumber from the garage to build a bench, which I painted white.

When I was still married, I held the nails, the dumb end of the tape measure, did the painting and decorating. I didn’t build stuff. To be fair, it wasn’t because Owen didn’t let me. He was often hyper critical, but he absolutely didn’t ever stand in my way. I had no need to build things, he was so much better at it and I was never going to measure up anyway.

The nice thing about being alone is your realize how much you’ve passively learned over the years. I had to google how to use the brad nailer.  The caulking gun and I nearly came to blows, but in the end, I’ve done a passable job on the trim.

More than that, I really enjoyed it. I planned it out start to finish, bought the supplies, did all the measurements, glued and hammered and screwed things. I enjoyed figuring out how to make things work. The bench fills me with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The corners on the window aren’t quite right, even with caulk. It was an amateur job.  I still got it done. All on my own.

That’s an amazing feeling. I’ve learned my dimensions.

Posted in Divorce, Home Reno's Aren't for Weaklings | 3 Comments

Not Listening, Not Debating

3 months ago a director in my organization made a lewd remark about my attire. I ought not to have to justify what I was wearing, but I assure you, it was appropriate to the situation. He was senior enough that I couldn’t call him out, so I just glared at him and moved on.

Two weeks later my boss came to my desk and told me to apologize for glaring. It doesn’t matter that I was right, just that senior director puts together the list for promotion and I wanted to be on it.

I apologized.

Yesterday morning, 30% of Google’s workforce got up, got dressed and went into various offices knowing that a non trivial portion of their male colleagues think that they are biologically unsuited to writing code because they have 2 X chromosomes. A man started this debate, ostensibly because he was worried about diversity.

Science has proved that women as an entire sex aren’t inherently better at communication or worse at coding. Logic proves that figuring out what makes a coder good is nowhere near granular enough to attribute it to sex. Project management best practices say that everyone collaborating makes for better projects.

We are supposed to smile tolerantly while a man uses bad science, crap logic and poor working practices to suggest that diversity is a problem. We are supposed to listen patiently and nod understandingly while men talk about what to do about the problem.

The problem that is us.

They are debating the rights of a person with 2 X chromosomes solely because they have two X chromosomes. Their right to lead projects. Their right to manage staff. We aren’t debating if a women is competent, we are debating whether or not someone with 2 X chromosomes can be competent.

They are debating my right to make a living.

They are debating my right to exist in a technical space.

When I object to the manifesto someone is going to call me shrill. They are going to call me a bitch.  Someone is going to come along and tell me to work harder and prove them wrong.

Fine. I was the youngest principal by almost decade in my former job. A nationally recognized expert in my field. A mentor to junior consultants. I’m published in professional journals. I speak at conferences.

And we are still arguing if I’m good enough to do my job, what with the 2 X chromosomes. I’m still supposed to debate this.

The entire manifesto is a bundle of crazy held together with duct tape and anger. There’s nothing to debate. It’s not argument, it’s bullshit. I don’t debate bullshit. You are god damned right I’m not going to listen to you.

Posted in Feminism | 4 Comments

Slowly . . . Accidentally


I’m slowly learning about myself.

It’s not deliberate or calculated.

It’s a series of accidental observations.

It turns out that I like doing yard work. I surprise myself at how orderly I am. I like the process of yard work and tidying.

These things I did while married because that was I figured a wife should do – no one cares now. I only have to please myself.

I eat dark chocolate and drink red wine. I like the combination. I don’t like apples. I eat more vegetables and haven’t bought apples in months.

I don’t know how to ask a romantic partner for emotional support. It’s a skill I lack. I can ask my friends, but not someone I’m dating.

I’m working on that.

Posted in Divorce | 1 Comment


I took Anthropology on a lark because it started at 10 am. It was the first time that I realized my idea of what being a woman meant was so bounded by my time, by background and my geography.

Political economy presupposes private property. I sell my labour, the most human part of me, and it confronts me as an alien thing. Capitalism requires a separation of man and nature but never really defends private property or separation. I think of Marx when I contemplate my privilege.

And beauty. The calculus equation proving that a limit can never be reached. The prof said it was beautiful. It is you know, the idea that you get closer and closer to something, but never reach it.

The professor who was bored so he sold all of his belongings. The stats prof who did weird vegetable Fridays. The prof who taught Aristotle at the pub. Listen to the madmen and learn from the eccentrics. There’s nothing to be gained within the comfort of an echo chamber.

I wanted my MBA to be hard. I wanted it to stretch me to the point of almost breaking. I wanted the moments where the world was vast and I was small but burning with passion.

I’ve written papers. Mostly good, a few bad. I can tell you how to calculate the weighted average cost of capital, how to market a new product and how to account for the costs of goods sold. I can discuss Porter’s five forces and Kotter’s seven steps to change management. I can cite things in APA.

I have a semester left, plus my thesis. One last residency. I’ll have done the work of an MBA.

Last night, I realized. It’s not hard. It’s never going to be hard. In my admission letter I talked about my thirst for knowledge. My endless curiosity.  I wanted to think deeply, to hold contradictory ideas in my head.

I wanted to cross that stage in those robes and I wanted to feel like I earned it. I wanted to know that I worked for it. I wanted to have overcome, been changed and transformed.

I wanted it to mean something.

I wanted alchemy not academics.

Posted in Grad Student | 1 Comment

In the Middle

Yesterday was a bad day.

I cloaked it in gallows humour, jokes about not having time to die. An innocent email to the MS nurse (I have 21 bruises on my legs and arms. I don’t know where they are coming from. Should I be worried?). An email, a text, a phone call. The MS Nurse told me to go to emergency. Immediately.

To be fair, I did at least look at my calendar before I said no. I also looked at the symptoms and the treatment for ITP. Actually, I did that before I ever started the drug.

Here’s the thing. If I had a clotting disorder from my new MS medication, there isn’t a ton to be done. They’ll try the appropriate treatments and either I will respond or I will develop an inter cranial bleed and I will die. I’ve realized most of my MS drugs are like this. If all you get is nausea, you really haven’t gotten any side effects. It’s the permanent impairment and disability. Or the fact you die.

For a few hours, as a variety of medical professionals tried to assess how bad the situation was and what should be done, I carried on working.

And thought about what it might mean to die.

In the middle of a Monday. In the middle of an MBA. In the middle of a project. In the middle of a marginally good book.

In the middle of a life.


I am unlikely to die. There is potentially some concern, but it’s not life threatening. Right now it’s a watch and see. Hopefully I don’t develop full blown immune thrombocytopenia purpura.

Posted in MS Gets on Your Nerves | 4 Comments

Hers, In Mine

I am on a new medication and it gives me a dry mouth. My solution is to keep a ziploc baggie of scotch mints in my purse.

They sit next to the package of kleenex.

Which makes me my mother.

Last Saturday I saw my hairdresser. Who has been seeing me since I was 6. We both had heart failure that I was turning 40 soon enough. She reminded me. I have good genes. I will age well enough.

On my dresser sits a picture of my hand holding hers, as she died. I marvel at how alike our hands are. Short and stubby fingers. Strong hands. I think of her as I do certain things. Send thank you cards. Set the table. Dress nicely wherever I go. As I made reference to “wearing my grubs” to go and help a friend with some painting.

I thought of this, not unhappily, as I sat on a bench next to the man my mother was dating when she died, arguing politics.

Sometimes, in the right light, when I am tired, I will see the lines in her face, in mine. Sometimes, when I am arguing about politics, I will hear her voice, in mine.

She would have been 70 last week.

I miss her.

Posted in The language of families | 2 Comments