Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays

Thought I'd share a little holiday chuckle, and send my best wishes for the season. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Splash of Colour

Every once in a while there are little things that pop-up in our day-to-day lives that add a splash of colour to the otherwise mundane. Often simple, and brief, they're things like that rare smile that emerges from the solemn faces along those cold morning runs, or that day you're working in Starbucks and they just happen to be giving out samples of all their goodies behind the counter.

In reflecting on these "colours" I was reminded of a brief interaction I had with a child a few nights ago and decided to write:

Being end of semester, life is pretty much school at the moment. As deadlines are approaching, and a workload exists that (ofcourse) isn't as far along as it needs to be, time is tight, and every second of the day feels precious. So precious, in fact, that things like eating and sleeping start to fall down the list of priorities.

I was headed home from a long day at school where realized I could not go another night eating hummus and crackers for dinner, and reluctantly decided I should probably restock my empty fridge. So, I headed to the grocery store promising myself it would be a quick pop in and out.

Now, have you ever noticed that every time a trip to the grocery store fixed to a tight time limit, the grocery store context seems to morph into some sort of nightmarish obstacle course? Argh. For some reason people move slower, the sections you frequent have mysteriously been moved to other parts of the store for no apparent reason, and basic items never out of stock are seemingly out of stock. It feels unusually hot and stuffy, and the pale yellow fluorescent lighting seems to sting the eyes more than usual. For once, things are on sale that are never on sale, so you're forced to pause at each choice and debate between your present and future self. There is always a sense of euphoria at that glorious moment you see the finish line in sight. You finally make it to you the checkout, with a basket too small for the tokens of your grocery store experience. When you notice the express lane has one person almost finishing checking out, you can feel the corners of your lips lift temporarily forming the glimpse of a smile as you make a b-line towards the cashier. Sadly, the smile fades as quickly as it emerged, as you count the items in your basket and realize you are 2 items over. Like a dog with it's tail between it's legs, you retreat from the express lane to realize the only other cashier has a line so long it runs down the aisle. At this point you slow your pace to match all the other patrons in the store and submit to the line.

This, is a fairly accurate description of my grocery store experience that day.

Upon finishing at the checkout and squeezing as many of my groceries into my backpack without breaking the zipper, I heaved the bag, about the weight of a small person, onto my back and let out a sigh of relief as I was that much closer to returning to my pajama pants. With a pep in my step, I began exiting the store.

My escape came to a quick stand still as I got caught behind a couple and a child dawdling along a hallway too narrow for me to pass. I slowed down and patiently reminded myself I was almost there. Trundling along, I noticed the child in front of me look back. He was probably 8 or 9. Both ears peirced, a big puffy jacket, and big trundling winter boots, he had dark hair, dark eyes, and big black rimmed glasses that magnified his eyes. He was a cute kid for sure, one that you could just tell had a personality. Anyway, he turned away after making eye contact with me. We kept walking.

But then he looked back again. I smiled this time. He turned away, timidly, and kept walking beside his parents.

But again, he looked back. Smiled this time and slowed down to walk beside me. Looking up at me silently, we walked side by side for a while. I smiled again and said "hello." He smiled back this time.

We both kept walking, side by side, when he muttered something under his breath. Unable to hear him, I stopped and crouched down and said "Sorry?" He put his hand up to my ear, and said "Say excuse me" and lifted his hand making the motion that I interrupt his parents ahead and ask to go around. This kid was maybe 8! and here he was taking the lead ahead of his parents! I said, "Aww, I'm ok.. we're almost there." This time he stopped however, and with a smile he said "Go" lifting his eyebrows and nodding his head nudging me to be more aggressive to approach his parents and go around them.

When I left the store that day, I had forgotten that whole grocery store experience and left with a smile . It was such a subtle act, nothing profound had occurred in those few minutes, it was just a small act of kindness from a child more aware than most of us. That boy was the colour to my mundane that day, and I suppose I treasure it for it's simplicity.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Tis the Season for Papers

Probably one of the hardest things in doing a PhD is the isolation.

Days will pass where I don't leave my house, nor my head.

...and this is only the beginning. Only the beginning.

Gives you a bit of empathy for those academics that lack social skills huh..

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Was the sky really falling? The 3am Dilemma

So, I was having one of those dreams... that you just know are about to turn bad, a borderline nightmare per se. It was at the point it was escalating, where I wished that A. I had taken those self-defense classes I'd always been meaning to take and B. that I had my phone so that I could call 911 for help. But then I awoke suddenly in cold sweat. I opened my eyes, looked at the time in hopes it was almost morning, but it turns out I hadn't been sleeping that long.

My room was dark and the air felt unusually thick. It smelled a mix of cooking and burning rubber or metal, you know the kind of smell when you maybe leave a pot on the stove too long. Still lying in bed, I looked out the window and noticed a slight mist modifying the view. Puzzled, I sat up and turned on the light. My room, was filled with smoke. I immediately remembered the advice I'd received from my brother, a firefighter, to never sit up if you smell smoke. I guess I failed that test.

Anyway the smoke in the room was translucent; the type of smoke we've all experienced after a burned piece of toast fills our house. It wasn't an alarming amount, but enough that at 3am in the morning it was difficult to just brush off as someone elses cooking. So I got up, and to a surprise my entire apartment was filled with a mist of smoke. I thought, hmm, it's odd my fire alarm didn't go off. I went to check it, and noticed that it was not snapped on tightly. It looked as though the last tenant had probably removed the cover slightly, like many of us do, when we have a little cooking slip up. I wasn't pleased to find this.

I proceeded to check the rest of my apartment. Maybe I left a candle on? Maybe my hair straightener? Maybe I really screwed up and one of the stove elements was on? But no, nothing. I went back to my room, and thought, man I sure hope this isn't a fire somewhere else in the building as I don't have insurance. Like I was kicking myself in my dream for not having self-defense training, I was kicking myself for not having house insurance and up-to-date fire training. An interesting parallel.

It was at this point, that I threw on some pants and a jumper and decided to check the rest of the house. Turns out there was a thin mist of smoke throughout the whole house. Certain that this situation was probably nothing and that someone was probably just cooking, I went outside to see if any lights were on in the other apartments. All lights were off. It didn't look like someone was cooking.

Now, I wasn't sure what to do. When you're awake and alone, isolated from a world that is asleep, what do you do? You can't call a friend or family member.. well, more so, you don't want to wake them up over something that you are still convinced is probably too trivial to alarm them about. But given there were no fire alarms going off, the smoke was thin and seemingly not escalating, it seemed silly to call 911. It's seems like no big deal, so maybe I should just go back to bed? I texted my brother to see if he had any advice, and returned to my apartment, crawled into bed and thought... this is probably nothing.

A few minutes later, after not hearing from my brother, and after running through the "what-ifs" in my head, I decided to call 911 - just for advice. That's all I wanted. I didn't want fire to come, I didn't want to be chicken little in this case and claim a sky was falling that seemingly was not. I just wanted to see if there was anything I should do or look out for.

It's funny calling 911, it's kind of one of those things... that you never think you'll have to do, or one of those things you dread having to do. And there's definitely a mystery around it - almost as if the second you dial those numbers big things are about to happen. There is also a severity around it, like its the last resort, and if you call you know you're in an emergency. The scope of reasons why you should or can acceptably call is also hard to define. Really, you just don't really know what to expect the second you dial those numbers.

It was on the first ring that I received an answer. "Good evening, is this a fire, police, or ambulance call?" he said. "Fire" I responded. He connected me through. It was on the second ring a man picked up. I explained I was calling for advice, that I didn't know if this was a call worthy of 911, and explained the situation. He asked if it could be someone cooking, and I said from what I investigated it looked as though everyone was asleep. I highlighted there were no fire alarms going off, and it seems incredibly minor. He asked more about the smell, the air, and following my description he asked if I could pull the alarm for the house and get everyone up. Oh dear I thought. I'm going about this with the right intentions, it's probably nothing, but now I'm going to have to involve everyone in what I'm 95% sure is just being over cautious. I questioned the man on the phone and said "is there nothing else I can do first?" And he became insistent with me. "There is smoke in your house, that cannot be explained, it could be something starting. You have to get out and everyone else out of the house now." So, I agreed, thanked him gracefully and hung up.

Have you ever asked yourself if you could only take one thing with you, what would you take? I had that moment for a second, being in school and my life being my academic memory, I grabbed my laptop. A sad state of affairs huh.

Anyway, I'd had enough time to put on some more clothes and was just grabbing my jacket to go, when I heard the sirens in the distance. Before I could get out my door to awake the other tenants, fire had arrived. I'd say they had a response time of roughly 5 minutes. I was impressed.

Still waking up, I made my way down the stairs to the silhouette illuminated by flashing red lights in the background. I opened the door to be greeted by 2 men towering over me in full fire gear. I explained the situation, and they made their way in to look around. Eavesdropping on their conversation, it seemed as though consensus was that it was a cooking smell... like someone had left something on the stove for too long. They went into each apartment, banging on doors, and exploring the house. More firefighters piled in at this time... there were probably 7 in the house at one point.. two fire trucks outside. They spent probably 20 minutes checking out the building, agreeing with me that the smell wasn't just a food smell but like someone had forgotten about something that could be heating up. Fortunately, I was the only one home... in the upper floors. After knocking on the door to the basement long enough, a man came to the door however. One I'd never seen before, who spoke maybe a few words of english. He was insistent on calling the landlord, and did so before allowing the men to enter his apartment. They seemed a bit agitated. Upon exit of his apartment, the man whom appeared to be in command said that it looks like it was him.. that he'd been cooking, and left something on too long. So, my instincts were right, it was nothing.

It was at this point I said "I'm sorry for bringing you all the way out here for that." I explained I wasn't sure what to do, so I called. I reiterated I explained a minor situation on the phone, and thought it was nothing, but the the person on the phone was insistent that fire come to check it out. The firefighter smiled and said "You did the right thing. You see smoke and you can't tell where it's coming from? You did the right thing." I felt a huge wave of relief. I then asked him, "I guess as much as this is a good ending, your guys probably don't like calls like this eh? They're kind of dead end. You probably like a bit of action, no?" and he responded "ha ha.. well, the young guys maybe a bit. But, I've been around long enough, I like these type of calls." We both smiled, I thanked him again, and we parted ways.

With a clear conscience, and a slight headache from the smell of whatever he was cooking, I was wide awake and wanted to tell SOMEONE about this experience. But, given it was now 4am the blog is the only one I felt comfortable asking to "listen" at this time of the morning. I did really question whether  I should write this post however, mainly because of the ending. The story is such a good build up, and for it to be a false alarm in the end doesn't seem to be exciting enough. That's pretty sad huh. That news is only news if something bad happens. And you have to admit, if the firefighters had gone into the basement and found a small fire starting to happen, that would have been a great story! I could say things like "the universe made me wake up, to save myself and my house mates from a potential deadly fire!" I could have been the heroin! The local community member that "did the right thing and saved lives for it." But sadly (and gratefully) that is not the end to this story.

At least there is the parallel to my dream that makes this story interesting! As mentioned, it's funny I was kicking myself in my dream for not being proactive in learning the life skills I needed at that moment. The regret of not taking self defence classes in the dream, translated very quickly in not taking enough fire safety training in real life. And the desire to call 911 in the dream, came to fruition in real life just minutes after I woke up. Coincidence can make life interesting sometimes.

In many ways, however, this post is not about my story but more about what I took from this experience.

First, I have to say I was really impressed with how quick and professional fire was. Again, I'd barely had time to get dressed and they were here. They were quick, thorough, and patient. Definitely a very positive experience in that sense.

Second, I was overly concerned with the situation being a false alarm and didn't want to inconvenience anyone. Coming out of this, however, I learned it's better to be safe than sorry. My discussion with the fire fighter at the end taught me that it's good to be proactive with these things. If there is question, call. Yes, it was a false alarm after all, but the repercussions of it actually turning out to be a fire made it a risk worth taking. In the future I will call again.

Third, I didn't know what to do. I know a couple things now though. The advice heeded by my brother was a big one - to never roll out of bed if you smell smoke. That one really hit home. After doing a quick google search, it's all over the web, never rise out of bed if you smell smoke, roll out of bed. So the question is why? Because heat and toxic gases rise, sitting up into this smoke can disorient you or cause you to pass out. That's what the internet says. My brother told me about the more dangerous implications the internet doesn't tell you. Apparently sometimes the smoke above you can get so hot sitting up is like sticking your head in an oven. And there are actually instances where firefighters have found just the trunk of the body remaining in some bedrooms. Disturbing isn't it. Now that is the kind of stuff they should tell you in primary school to make you remember! The other aspect of fire safety that emerged was to touch the doors to see if they're hot. That is one thing I didn't do. I could have checked the temperature of my housemates doors to see if there was heat coming from any of their apartments. As for other fire safety tips, I did a quick google search and here's a link to one that seems fairly comprehensive. I'll definitely read this in the morning.

Fourth, I think fire safety training should be pushed more often. In frustration I couldn't remember much about what to do, I did a quick google search. The results seem to show that a lot of the training is either self-directed or geared towards children. This is a problem I think. Although we are a society of "life-long learners" there is so much information competing for our attention all the time, learning about fire prevention is one of the things that easily gets placed on the back burner. No pun intended. And yes, it's good to teach it to children, but really, for those old enough to remember Knight Rider, how much do you really remember about your formative years? If that's the only training we're forced to participate in, no wonder it's difficult to remember. Really, like we have fire drills at work or at school, we should get trained just as frequently on fire prevention. Why not dovetail quick 10 minute refresher training on fire drills each time we have one? While people are left to wait idly outside their buildings during fire drills, as administrators, peers, floor wardens, union reps, workplace safety representatives, or whomever? Fire departments could even even send an extra fire fighter? Why don't we capitalize on these captive audiences when we have the chance, and do fire awareness training during these times?  It doesn't seem like the worst idea!

In summary, it's funny how it took a close call like this for me to take fire safety more seriously and make a change. Often times we're not fortunate enough, as I was, to have close calls like this and these situations end up being real. And with profound consequences. Thus, I hope that my story will make you think: what would I have done in this situation? and what would I have wished I'd had done prior to prepare myself for this situation? Then, do these things. Sometimes, it's ok to be the chicken little in your story, and often times the sky isn't falling... but on the off chance it does, you'll be glad you took the steps to protect yourself and others.