That time I didn’t go to Italy

Teacher. I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about him: a mix of horrified fascination, admiration and friendship. He has the knack of inspiring loyalty amongst his students even as the ones that have known him for years confess to a frequent desire to punch him in the solar plexus. Seems about right.

Much can be forgiven in a man that has all of the moves, and dances for dancing’s sake. Where Teacher goes, people follow, because he is sure to spread laughter and the contagious joy of dancing.

He makes me shake my head in amazement, often.

Exhibit A: an international wake-up call

I got an unexpected call from Teacher this morning. He is at some dance festival in Italy, with his dance partner and one of his best friends (a brilliant dancer and DJ). Teacher had been looking forward to this festival. So why on earth was he calling me at 7am on a Saturday? Groggily, I picked up.

Vanilla, these niggas tried to start a fight with me. Yo man, I’m so pissed right now. That’s not nice, what they did. That’s not nice. Why?! I dunno, they tried to fuck with the wrong nigga, thinking I’m all soft. Who? These niggas, I told you. No no, I’m ok, I’m fine, you don’t have to get on a plane and come here and box the shit out of them.

Oh I don’t?! Good he mentioned that just in time, of course I was half way out the door, toothbrush and passport in hand. Vanilla the boxing bodyguard, that’s me.

He hung up shortly after that, without telling me who or why. I haven’t heard from him since. In normal circumstances, with normal people, I would be wretched with worry. With Teacher, I am resigned to the fact that there is a 25% chance he will end up in an Italian jail, a 25% chance “those niggas” will end up in an Italian jail while Teacher is praised in all the newspapers as a local hero, and a 50% chance that in 3 weeks time I will stumble on some pic on Facebook of Teacher hugging and laughing with those dudes with not a care in the world, because they are actually cool people and “it was just a misunderstanding”.

I shared this story with Coach, who loves a good laugh. Specifically the part where I’ve now learned that the appropriate reaction to being woken up at 7am bc my friend got into an almost-fight overseas is to say “Stay put, imma be right over in about 9-12 hours and then I will fuck shit up.”

Coach shook his head, and then commented innocently, “Yes, Teacher is a rather passionate guy.” Ya think?! But then again… That time I got mugged, Coach promised to hunt the guys down and give them a “talking-to”. I am wondering if this is a bit of a cultural thing; demonstrating honor and loyalty to one’s friends in hyperbolic phrasing of grand gestures that don’t necessarily need to materialize.

You don’t have to get on a plane and come here and box the shit out of them.

P.S. I did say that Coach knows all the black people in Montreal, yeah? Further evidence. Of course, Coach knows Teacher. I should have known.



To be or not to be a Queen B

To put it mildly, I’ve been rather cranky lately. Most of August, and all of September. A quick tour of my blog posts from the past two months will confirm this.

Chatting to one of my girlfriends I tried to put into words my concern that I’m turning into a bitch, a girl who has stopped caring about others’ feelings and just goes through life filled with anger and negative energy. To prove my point, I exclaimed without any trace of irony, “I mean… I wear black on purpose, now!”

She suggested that maybe Vanilla has a long ways before reaching true Queen B levels of bitchy? Maybe I was still at the Vanilla B levels of bitchy?

Bah. Maybe.

I’ve developed an assertive efficiency that borders on unpleasantness at work – I’ve significantly decreased the amount of time I spend massaging people’s feelings. I am a manager: I explain what I need and why, offer the opportunity to brainstorm on the best/most convenient approach for everybody involved, and then I expect it done. To the extent it doesn’t get done… Well. I’m not in the mood to make friends in the workplace. I swear a lot at work. I know I am getting thisclose to being a drain on people’s energy. Part of my says, “not my problem. If ppl just did their jobs, I wouldn’t be so frustrated.” Logical, true. But I recall a version of myself that was capable of taking a deep breath, assuming positive intent, and bringing a smile to my coworkers face. The memory of that Vanilla feels very distant.

Since writing I’m going on a peniscation and unfollowing Beaut on social media, I’ve felt better: it is always a relief when secrets are out in the open – shame can’t survive in daylight. However, Beaut and I got into a huge fight on Monday. HUGE. I sent him the “peniscation” post and told him that I refused further communication with him until he’d read it from beginning to end – he owed me that much. So far, he hasn’t read it. Can’t say I am too surprised. Resigned at having more proof that my purpose in his life was to be convenient and amusing.

Yesterday was kizomba class. He was there. It was the first time seeing him since our fight and my friendship-ending ultimatum. I was worried – would I be able to handle it? My cousins believe that I need to change dance schools STAT. I refuse to. I have found a school where the teacher, price, schedule, students, location all suit me perfectly. Leaving because of Beaut’s presence would just be handing him one more victory over me. FUCK THAT.

Anyhow, surprisingly, it went just fine. I concentrated on the steps, listened to teacher, smiled at all my partners and enjoyed dance class. When it was Beaut’s turn, we danced without a hitch. He asked me if we were cool, now? Vanilla B gave him an amused smile. “No.” And turned to greet my next partner, dismissing him.

DD claims that I am a prodigy. She is the world acclaimed professor of the highly coveted topic “Lessons in Contempt and Ignoring Nuisances 101”

  • Lesson 1: Don’t look at them. Look past them.
  • Lesson 2: They don’t exist, therefore you no longer see them at all.
  • Lesson 3: Reduce their voice to annoying background noise – no intelligible words therefore nothing you need to respond to.

Intuitively, I did all three, and it didn’t cost me that much to do so. Part of me is relieved, because another 1-2 weeks of this and the contempt I feel will fade into indifference, meaning that I’ll be completely at ease sharing the same oxygen as him at dance school. Part of me is completely freaked out because only a Queen B is comfortable denying others’ existence, and reducing them to invisibility.

Every day I struggle with the temptation of forwarding the “peniscation” post to Main Girl, and watching their interaction implode. I’m ashamed of my glee at the possibility of tripping him up, and my complete unconcern with using Main Girl as road kill to achieve my means. Yet, like Queen B herself, I am enjoying finally acknowledging my hurt pride, and anger. It is empowering to be able to say, “Yes. I am angry as fuck. I will not be ashamed of how I feel.” Or as B puts it, “What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy? Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I’d rather be crazy.”

Pity that my anger won’t produce a multi-million record deal and artistic recognition. #lemonadeismyfavoritealbumof2016

This morning, I was taking public transportation, irritated with the world, brushing past ppl with sighs of annoyance, careless of whether or not I jostled them. Then I noticed a young girl, with some sort of palsy and mental health troubles, standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking fearfully up the loooooooooooooooong flight of stairs. With dismay, as countless people pushed past her, causing her to struggle with her balance, she looked at the out-of-order escalator next to the stair case.

I was late for work. I had already received about 25 emails, 5 of which had REALLY irritated me, and 1 of which was from the CFO impatient for one of my analyses. I would have been one out of dozens of people that ignored that girl.

I stopped. I asked her if she would like me to walk up the stairs with her. She stuttered a shy, anxious yes. It took us 5 minutes, when it would have taken me less than 45 seconds.

Not a Vanilla B. I’d forgotten how that felt.

A highly accurate, scientific comparison of weight loss prep between male and female boxers

To all my non-boxers out there: you are probably aware that there are multiple weight categories in boxing, for the safety of the boxers and the fairness of the fights. Typically, a boxer will have an everyday walking weight that is heavier than their fighting weight category, and will drop weight in time for the weigh-in which usually occurs btn 4 and 36 hours before the fight (depending on the importance of the fight, and if it is amateur/pro. The time gap between weigh-in and fight is longer the more serious the fight, to allow fighters adequate time to recover from some of the more extreme weight loss techniques and rehydrate and re-energize.)

It’s competition season at the gym. Everyone is discussing weight categories, diets, strategies, non stop. I’m gearing up for my first fight in 2 years, and so I am in the midst of my own weight loss journey. It has come to my attention that the female and male boxers at my gym prep VERY differently for their weight. Here is a totally accurate, extremely scientific summary of how each gender makes weight.

Female fighters

6 weeks out: The female fighter will weigh herself furtively. Pretend it never happened. Start planning out her social calendar to see how many events she will be attending before her fight, and the nature of those events: will there be food? If so, what kind of food. Using that information, the female fighter will determine a reasonable amount of weight that can be lost in the 6 week period. Then, the female fighter will talk to Coach about her feelings: “Coach, I feel I should fight at X weight. I feel that will make me taller than the other girls, and faster. I feel that is what I should do.” Coach will ask her if she can drop that weight. The female fighter will start listing her calendar, the moon cycle, the levels of stress in her life, the situation at work, the weather as relevant factors. Coach’s eyes glaze over, and he never gets a yes or no answer to his question.

4 weeks out: the female fighter determines when her next period will be, and how the timing of it will impact her weight loss plan. Inevitably, it impacts her plan negatively, because inevitably, the female fighter forgot to factor in the entirely predictable, recurring bloat from PMS in her initial calculations for her reasonable weight-loss timetable. The female fighter shares her period symptoms (flow, number of shits, cramps, cravings) with all the other female fighters. Specific commiseration is reserved for the female fighters who are likely to get their period on the day of weigh-in.

3 weeks out: the female fighter posts hangry memes on Facebook and Instagram. She updates all her fellow boxers about each cheat meal/bite she has taken and frets that one cookie will derail her entire boxing career. She mutters reassuring half-sentences to herself, “It’s ok, if I stick to my diet, no more cheats, I should be ok. I’ll be ok. I just have to not eat anything when I go for brunch with all my best friends next weekend. I don’t need to eat anything. It’s my favourite restaurant – I’ve been there before; I can skip food this one time. It’s for a good cause.” The female fighter cuts all alcohol from her diet.

2 weeks out: The price of celery goes up across all grocery stores in the city. Every male boxer in the gym has heard about every female boxer’s weight loss struggles and is uncomfortably familiar with their menstrual cycle and impact on their body. At least one female fighter has had a freak out and questioned her place in the Universe, “If I can’t even be disciplined and stick to my diet plan for just a few weeks, what does that say about who I am as a person? I don’t think I have the mental fortitude to be a fighter. Maybe I should move up a weight category. I don’t WANT to move up a weight category: I like MY weight category. I’m just immature, I lack dedication. A grown-ass woman should be able to survive without chocolate or candy for a few weeks, no?! But I LIKE chocolate and candy. This sport is stupid.”

Daily for 2 weeks straight: the female fighter will weigh herself 1-4 times a day, and can guesstimate her fluctuations due to clothes, time of day, mood, and humidity. She’ll do daily cardio sessions, talk about her weight to coworkers, friends, teammates, strangers on the bus, and her cat.

Day of the weigh-in: the female fighter will abstain from food or liquids and weigh in at +/- 0.25lbs, stripped down to her underwear. The female fighter will then look at a protein bar or banana and promptly regain 5lbs.

Male fighters

At some point in the 3-4 weeks leading up to a fight, while they are sitting around joking with their teammates, one of them will perk up, turn to Coach and ask, “Hey Coach, am I fighting in (choose one) weight category? Yeah? Ok. I should probably drop 15lbs then”.

3 days later: “Coach, I lost 7lbs. I ate a veggie.”

1 week before the fight: “Oh, I’m still 8lbs overweight. I guess I’ll cut out alcohol from my diet.”

Day of the weigh-in: makes weight with a 2lb buffer.


Getting hit in the solar plexus, part deux

Part I (you can read it here) was a figurative hit to the solar plexus. This part II was a literal hit to the solar plexus. Both were equally traumatic.

Yesterday’s training was a sparring session at the gym. I was pumped: I hadn’t sparred in over 3 weeks because of my trip to Beirut, it was time to dust off the cobwebs and see if all my work-outs while away had paid off. Feeling up to a challenge, I asked Coach if I could spar with Cap (the assistant coach who has publicly declared that one of his life goals is to drop me to the mat with body punches. See his entertaining and violent trash-talking here and here). Coach graciously agreed, telling me that he was offering me up as a gift to Cap, since Cap would soon be starting his 2 week paternity leave, and what better way to kick off his “break” than by roughing me up? To increase the entertainment value of this sparring session, Coach insisted we go last, so that the whole team could watch as they did their cool down.

Funny, I hadn’t considered my sparring to be a form of amusement for the masses.

Right before I got into the ring, Coach added a 2nd sparring partner to the mix: Bradley – a shy, quiet, tall, 15 year old boy, with a jab that can break through cement walls, and a hair-cut similar to Brad Pitt’s in the movie Fury. #heartbreakeratayoungage Coach smirked at me, and told me that sparring with Bradley was his present to me. It was Bradley’s first time sparring with a girl. **

Round 1 with Bradley went well, although he clearly wasn’t used to sparring with a tall girl – his jabs to the body frequently landed on my left boob. Coach noticed, and told Bradley that he could boast the next day at school how he’d frequently man-handled an Amazon’s boob. “All the boys will envy you, bro!” Poor Bradley turned as red as his helmet.

Round 1 with Cap also went well: the body shots weren’t too bad. I might have even landed 1-2 of them myself!

Round 2 with Bradley started off ok, except I noticed that he stepped up his aggressiveness, possibly in response to Coach’s embarrassing comments. He made me work on my mobility, to avoid getting pinned against the ropes. Everything was under control, nice give and take until the last few seconds of the round, when Bradley got me in the corner, and delivered a perfect right to my solar plexus.

For a split second my mind was all, “No big deal, I can continue boxing” and then my body decided that nope, standing up was no longer an acceptable activity. Down I went, both knees to the mat. I looked exactly like this guy, except with much better hair:

In front of my entire team. I got heckled pretty bad. And then Coach decided to deliver one of his coaching moments:

Ooooooooooooooh YEAH!!!! What a punch!

Everybody, just to give you guys a little context: Bradley here for the longest time refused to train with girls. To the point that I had to speak to his mom, and explain to her that Bradley needed to learn to respect my girls: they are Amazons, and can take and give a punch like any guy! And now look, look at how far he’s come. (waves at me)

Bradley, look at those muscles on her! It takes a real man to handle a woman like that, and boy did you handle her good. I’m telling you, at school tomorrow, all the boys are gonna envy you when you tell them what you did!

Meanwhile I was still on all fours, unable to breathe or crawl out of the ring. Great coaching moment, but I would have preferred if it had happened to somebody else.

Boxing. Always entertaining. Sometimes painful.



**Coach rarely allows for co-ed sparring: for the safety of his boxers, he is very strict about matching his boxers to appropriate sparring partners, based on height, weight (+/-15lbs max), strength and experience. Due to the normal strength & weight difference between guys and girls, there is little opportunity for mixed sparring. He only allows the more experienced lighter guys, the ones that can control their power at will, to occasionally spar with the bigger, heavier girls (myself, and 1-2 other girls) to give us girls the opportunity to broaden our experience, without putting us at risk of excessive power.


Let your phoenixes arise proudly

My friend Nene wrote recently about his attempt to generate additional readers for his blog, A Man Amongst Fishes, and his resulting failed Tinder hack. I suggested he do the same on Plenty of Fish, in part because of the similarity in website names and because I’d been publicizing my blog on my POF profile for months, and had generated many views thusly.

Nene rejected my proposal: “POF is filled with too many weirdos.” Including me, apparently: I inevitably gravitate towards POF rather than Tinder, as I find Tinder too tame for me, rarely generating worthwhile blog content.

The following story clearly illustrates Nene’s wisdom in staying clear of POF.

Disclaimer: This post is long (approximately 1200 words). However, over 600 of the words contained are not mine, but a necessary quote, which y’all can skip. Therefore, my post is only 600 words of value-added, which isn’t many words at all.

Possible fan mail, via POF

Saturday night, my phone beeped with a POF message. Glancing at the first 2 paragraphs, the message appeared to be about my blog.

Your blog made me a much better human being. It opened my eyes to horizons that I had never expected to exist. Thanks to you, I’m much more successful in my interpersonal relationships.

Gratifying! Slightly perplexing that my occasional comment about everyday racism, sexism or casual rudeness could make such an impact, but hey! Clearly, I’m an agent of change.

I scrolled down his message. And scrolled. And scrolled some more: it was 5 phone-screens long, with 10 numbered bullet-points. As pleased as I was at getting such detailed feedback, it was Saturday night. I left the study of this message until the morrow.

Sunday afternoon, with sunglasses on and diminished brain capacity (accountants know how to party, y’all!), I pulled out my phone and read through that long POF.

 Well, since I didn’t make it to tell you these things face-to-face: I’ve been looking into your blog for some time, I’d like to give you some feedback on it.

2. Your blog made me a much better human being. It opened my eyes to horizons that I had never expected to exist. Thanks to you, I’m much more successful in my interpersonal relationships.

3. I look at your blog and I see 2 written lines and 10 unwritten lines between them. After looking into your blog, I did not come to a conclusion with all of the complexities in your posts. I didn’t know where to begin so I took a Cheshire Cat approach.

5. I believe that each of us has a thoroughbred horse inside. Due to difficult circumstances, mine was badly wounded. A lot of people passed and kicked it. I don’t blame them. Somewhere on the path to adulthood, I learned that “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” They knew very well that if I stand up one day they won’t catch me. I’m happy that now I’m back to the race and none of them would dare to catch me anytime soon. I want to ask you also not to give in. Giving-up button is always on the table. It’s always possible to join the crowd and live the life of 99%. It’s easy to stay passive, to give up and let people treat you like a “Cat Lady”. But this is not the truth; they know that and you know better than anyone else.

6. Before my fall, I was close to the peak. It was a deep chute because I had shot for the moon. It hurt a lot, specifically, that I was lonely stuck in pretty miserable conditions. I was ripped off everything except the fact that I believed in myself. I believed that: a) I deserve the best b) I won’t give up, no matter the consequences.

7. In this process, I learned to love myself first and then love the others after. To forgive myself to forgive the others. To grieve and let the inner child take control time to time. I learned very well that crying is a very healthy thing to happen. It shows that my inner child is alive and keeping on. Crying reminds of my childhood that I had many emotions/feelings inside but no word/tool to express them. This wasn’t easy as an engineer. I trained myself to embrace my imperfection as well as the others’. But I did it and I’m glad.

8. I wish you success in your path through grief and any other conditions that might have arrived to you. Grief is a human-right. Grief is the tunnel between the two realities: the previous excruciating reality and the current reality where the two are separated with the sheer cliff of loss and sorrow. I look at your profile and I can see clearly that you can do it. This is not flattery if you knew me.

9. For a bird stuck in a net, trying to pull harder makes sense in her frame of reference but not in the bigger global observer view. The lesson here is no need to rush and to look for an outside the box solution. I suggest you find someone to listen to you empathetically and free of charge. This will light the path for you incredibly fast.

10. At the end, remember that we have several phoenixes inside us for each skill/phase. When one dies, the young one arises from his father ashes. Let your phoenixes arise proudly.

n.b.b. Shoot me a line if you need help with driving.

Upon first read, it seemed like a well-intentioned, extremely long-winded missive about blog feedback and wildlife; even though most of it was about himself, it appeared to be a misguided attempt to establish common ground between us (pity I don’t much like animals). But after re-reading several times, I allowed myself to feel offended at the multiple references that I needed help (find a free therapist/new friends, driving) or encouragement to not give up on life; offended by his granting me permission to feel what I have been feeling all along (grief, sadness, other), implying thereby that I needed permission for those feelings; and offended by the expected response from me – gratitude for having been written to condescendingly. I suspect that my irritation was aggravated by the fact that I very nearly did feel gratitude for this missive, before the multiple rereads. Close call!

The descent into farce

Of course, I did what any normal person would do in the circumstances. I rose to the bait, and I wrote to him. I thanked him for taking the time to read my blog and write to me, but explained that I was taken aback (so diplomatic!) that most of his feedback involved detailing his personal journey and telling me that I was allowed to grieve and cry, and should seek a cheap therapist or find a new friend.

Unsurprisingly, he did not react positively. Highlights from that online spat include:

  • He regrets that he’ll not be the one to help me;
  • He was being tactful in suggesting a confidante, but he does believe I’d benefit from therapy;
  • Some of my posts indicate potential for self-harm;
  • Given my ADD, my social skills are probably lacking, and therefore it is understandable that my date was rude to me.

I suppose he has a point – I wasted many minutes on that pointless interaction, exposing myself to gratuitous insults from a stranger and getting needlessly upset. Self-harm, indeed.

I’ve consulted my inner thoroughbred horse, and listened to my phoenix: I’m switching back to Tinder.


A time for updates

So many updates are required, before starting the New Year!

Update #1: I am not qualified yet to give props

Despite Nene’s patient ways, and constant coaching in all things hip and urban, Coach recently brushed me off as I tried to give him props. He walked past me, glancing at my hand, and shook his head: “No, you are still too vanilla to give props.” Denied.

But luckily for me…

Update #2: Nene has joined the blogosphere

Nene the Wise has joined the blogosphere (for a link to his blog, click here). His wisdom can now be shared with all of the interweb.

P.S. his mention of Bug? That’s me! (Hopefully he meant a cute bug, like a ladybug or a junebug – not a nasty bug like a cockroach or a centipede.)

Update #3: Snerdy and fancy

Coach’s brother hosted a vernissage of urban art recently. It was fun, the artists were really interesting (check out my favorite artist’s Facebook page here).

A few days later, a friend’s sent me a link with pictures from the event. I clicked through them: everyone looked hip, totally at ease with the setting – except for moi: my pose is precious and dainty, as though I am at a fine arts museum. My friend agreed – I looked snerdy: smiling and nerdy.

Nene clicked through the photos and opined that what with Bolshoi Nutcracker ballets and my snerdy poses, I am undoubtedly bougie. Sulking, I told him to come up with another adjective. Vanilla was bad enough, I refused to be vanilla and bougie.

He pondered my request for a few moments: “How about ‘pretentious’?” How about: no.

Another boxer jumped into the conversation and proposed that I am fancy. I wasn’t sure that was a good thing… until Jimmy Kimmel translated Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” lyrics for old people. I am still not sure that it is a good thing.

Update #4: Stranger is MIA

So far, in the 2014-2015 boxing season, my gym has hosted two boxing galas. I kept my eyes peeled, alert, ready to do a civilian drug-bust, but nope: Stranger did not appear and therefore there was no show-down between Stranger and Coach. Both galas were peaceful boxing events. How quaint.

Update #5: Coach has an intimidating duck face

Coach hosted a Christmas party at the gym, drinks and foodstuffs galore, wowie! It was almost exactly like when Mr.T became one of Santa’s helpers.

Mr. T and Nancy Reagan

Coach was working the bar and having fun until an unfamiliar dude peremptorily requested a drink by grunting and shoving his glass under Coach’s nose. I sat back and prepared to be amused.

Coach stilled and slowly turned towards Grunter. “I’ve never seen you before. Do you know who I am?” Grunter hesitated, lowering his glass uncertainly.

I’m the BOSS.” Visions of Lonely Island’s excellent song of that same name danced in my mind, although I’m pretty sure I should’ve been thinking of the Rick Ross version of the song. A few minutes later, after getting a short lesson on “please and thank you”, Grunter scuttled off.

In re-telling this story to a few boxers, several drinks later, Coach claimed he’d been obliged to use his “intimidating face” on Grunter.  Skeptical that he’d needed to do anything at all after declaring, rightfully and awesomely, his status as The Boss, we requested to see this infamous face of his. The version we were shown looked remarkably like a duck face, a very angry duck.

Angry Mr. T

Angry duck










I’m pretty sure Coach was joking. But that’s the thing with Coach, you’re never quite sure.


That’s all for now, folks. I’m looking forward to 2015, to return to my awesome boxing family, and hopefully train for a few more fights. Maybe learn a hip-hop song or two (possibly from Nene’s blog!), and watch several ballets.

Happy New Year, blogosphere! Wishing everyone health and laughter.


My street cred: y’all ain’t got nothing on the UFE!

I’ve written about my 2 boxing fights, including the moment where I debated telling my coach that instead of fighting, I’d prefer to eat a slice of pizza with him. Soon after the pizza dilemma, as I was preparing to climb into the ring, Coach tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was ready. Calmly, I answered, of course: I had passed the UFE, after all!

Unfortunately, I was wearing my mouth-guard and my helmet was fastened tight around my chin, so it sounded a lot more like “wuf course, mumble mumble fiiiiii.” Coach didn’t look impressed.

To non-accountants, it might seem weird to compare a boxing match, with all its physical risks, to the challenging professional exam required to obtain the Canadian CPA designation. But it’s true: I have never come close to facing a similar magnitude of fear, doubt and despair as I did in summer 2011, as I prepared to write the Uniform Examination (UFE).

A summer of self-discovery

Preparing for that 3-day exam involves 4 months of full-time study: writing practice cases, debriefing them with brutal honesty, identifying one’s inadequacies in problem-solving and response and coming up with better approaches. As there is an endless supply of unique cases, there is an endless amount of possible self-improvement.

I caved into despair, early on in the process. I wasn’t performing like I wanted, I couldn’t address my weaknesses quickly and consistently, and the journey to success seemed impossible to achieve in the short timeframe before the exam. To my friends’ surprise, I went from an over-achieving nerd to a listless wet rag, perpetually bleating the refrain of “I can’t!”

One day on Facebook, my kickboxing coach posted this (cheesy) inspirational video. I credit my UFE success to that video, which I listened to daily, sometimes 4-6 times a day.

Rocky + Muhammad Ali = wisdom

The first time I listened to that video, I experienced a series of revelations.

But somewhere along the line you changed, you stopped being you.
You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good, and when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. (…)
You, me, or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life; but it ain’t about how hard you hit, its about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!

No better description of that summer. I had given up on myself, because I couldn’t handle the hits to my self-esteem and humility from perpetually failing my practice exams. I’d fallen to my knees, and was growing comfortable there, learning to accept the idea of defeat.

Cause if you’re willin’ to go through all the battling you gotta go through to get to where you wanna get, who’s got the right to stop you? (…)
It’s your right to listen to your gut, it ain’t nobody’s right to say no, after you earn the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do.

Rocky’s speech reminded me of all the trials and tribulations I had gone through to get that point: failing out of my engineering degree at McGill, working as a secretary for years while attending night school; eventually putting myself through school, graduating at the top of my class, and getting hired at a prestigious accounting firm. I had paid my dues.

Rocky also reminded me of a technique I had used during exams throughout my undergrad, but had somehow forgotten as I sank into despair that summer. I used to stare at the printed examination booklet and rage at it silently: “Who do you think you are,  you inanimate object, to try influence my future? What, you think you can outsmart ME? I am smarter than a bunch of paper sheets. I don’t care that several brilliant teachers wrote this exam, and purposefully made it challenging, I won’t let you outsmart me. I’ll show you. Fuck off, I won’t let you screw me over.” My technique = Rocky’s wisdom. Moment of serendipity!

For the rest of the summer, before every practice case, I’d listen to that video. Every time doubt would creep back into my thoughts, Muhammad Ali’s refrain of “Imma show YOU how great I am; I’m so mean I make medicine sick!” would play in my mind.

After every day of that exam, I would sob into my ice cream cone, wanting to quit, not seeing the point of continuing. Muhammad Ali would admonish me: “All you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him, I know you’ve got him picked, but the man’s in trouble – Imma show you how great I am.” And I’d commit to writing the next day’s exam, just to show the Board of Examiners, and everyone who had ever scoffed at me for dropping out of McGill, for going into accounting when I have ADD, for trying to succeed, just to show them all that I was able to meet this challenge head-on.

I passed the 2011 UFE. More importantly, I learned that I can face my worst enemy- my own fears- through dedication, focus, hard work, and the help of some very inspiring boxing legends (of the Hollywood and real life variety).

Best of luck to all the 2014 UFE candidates getting their results today. I don’t envy you your journey, but I promise you it was worth it.

Imma show YOU how great I am.


That time I had a real boxing fight

In anticipation of the upcoming boxing gala at my G gym, let me recount what happened at the last gala of the 2013-2014 season.

Context: My coach 

Coach can best be described as having Chuck Norris’s personality mixed with Mr. T’s physical demeanor. He has silenced a class full of boxers with only a small sigh; his glare makes grown men cower. He is like a grizzly bear; big, fierce, protective and potentially dangerous.

At my first boxing fight, back in April, I was so nervous while waiting to climb into the ring, that I debated telling Coach: “you know what? Let’s not do this. I don’t need to prove anything to myself. Let’s just go have a slice of pizza.” However, it occurred to me that Coach would not find that amusing. Possibly he might slap me. I weighed carefully the likely pain resulting from 1 slap from Coach vs 3 rounds in a boxing fight. I decided I was less likely to get hurt in the boxing fight.

My fight

At the last gala at my G gym, I was nervous. It was the first time I was fighting in front of a home crowd, and I didn’t want to disappoint. After the 2nd round, I was gassed out. During the minute break between rounds, Coach asked me how I was feeling; I admitted I was tired.

I got The Look.

And then, the angry rant: “Tired?! What do you mean, tired? With the conditioning we do in class, I train you guys to be in better shape than any athlete from any other gym out there. Don’t give me any of that bullshit, of you being tired. You aren’t tired. Don’t insult me. So let me ask you again, how are you feeling?”

Well, let me see. Not tired. Definitely not tired, nope, no way.

Satisfied, Coach picked up the water bottle and gave me the tiniest sip ever. He took a long sip himself, because yelling at me had made him thirsty, so he explained. Of course, the bell for the start of the last round rang before I could have any more water. As I stood up to fight, Coach muttered a warning: “Remember, you are not tired.”

Conclusion: Coach intimidated me into winning my fight. That is why he is a great coach.

Not my greatest angle. (I'm the blue fighter)

Not my greatest angle. (I’m the blue fighter). Photo credit: Marie-Christine Boivin

My post fight non-vanilla moment

Due to limited space at the G gym, during galas the lockers are split into the G gym locker room (normally the men’s room) and the Visiting Gyms locker room (normally the women’s room). As such, I was sharing the locker room with several male fighters at my gym; no big deal.

After my fight, I went into the locker rooms to change out of my sweaty boxing clothes into normal street clothes. Several male spectators and boxers were waiting to use the facilities; one spectator, whom I’d never seen at any of the gym’s events or classes before, exclaimed in shock that I was in the wrong locker room. I explained how the gala’s set-up required me to change in the men’s locker room; he told me I was wrong. I was a little stumped by that; another spectator (a regular attendee at the gym) confirmed that I was in the right. Stranger subsided; I proceeded to ignore him and gather my stuff out of my locker.

The locker room cleared out, only Stranger and myself remained: Stranger struck up a one-sided conversation.

So, umm, are you a boxer or something?” Yes, yes I am.

Oh cool! I think female athletes are sooooo hot. I bet you could kick my ass!” Thank you. Perhaps.

How much do you weigh? Oh that’s it? I weigh 70lbs more than you. I could kick your ass!” Ok, seems probable. You win.

I was a finalist at the Canadian University Wrestling championships, did you know? You didn’t? Oh. Well, it’s true. I am a really good athlete. Sports are so cool. And female athletes! So hot! We should wrestle together!” Oh, is that how kids are calling it these days? No, thank you.

So, umm, you wouldn’t ever happen to do blow, would you?” Say what?

Blow. I have some.” Umm, thank you for your kind offer, but… no.

At that point, to my relief, he climbed into the bathroom stall and closed the stall door. Just when I thought I was in the clear, and was darting across the room into the farthest possible stall, Stranger popped his head out of his bathroom stall, and asked me once again: “You sure you don’t wanna do some blow?” Upon my refusal, he shook his head wonderingly, popped his head back into the bathroom stall, and I mercifully was granted the privacy to get changed out of my sweaty clothes.

The reaction  

A few days later, I told Coach about the locker room incident with Stranger. Coach runs a tight ship, I thought he’d want to know.

That is the only time I have ever seen Coach at a loss for words, for several seconds: stunned that someone would dare do that at his gym!

I wonder if Stranger will make a reappearance at the upcoming gala? Boy, oh boy, I’d love to introduce him to Coach and see what would happen next. I bet even Chuck Norris would be amused by that little interaction…

My street cred: That time I got into a fight with a sidewalk

Sometimes, I have a day that is so wonderful, it just fills me up with joyfulness. Unfortunately, this happy state is one that can be very dangerous to my health, as explained below.

On a nice summer day last year, I hung out all day with a good friend. The combination of beautiful weather, laughter and friendship put me in a giddy mood. Possibly, I was suffering from heat stroke.

Walking home, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to start skipping on the sidewalk; after all, one of my favorite songs is Walking on Sunshine, by Katrina & the Waves. It is worth noting that:

  • I was wearing (cute) sneakers; skipping-appropriate footwear
  • The sidewalk was a flat surface

I tripped, and face-planted. I skinned my knees and elbows, had a bruise the size of a small country on my right hip, and I badly sprained one of my fingers.

For months afterwards, when telling this story, I thought the hilarious part was that I tripped on a flat surface. It is only 6 months later that it was pointed out to me that the truly hilarious part is that I spontaneously broke out into skipping. In public.

And that is how I learned, at the age of 29, that skipping is not normal adult behaviour.

My street cred: That time I got into a fight with a French door

So this one time, I was on a business trip in France.

(Let us take a few seconds to appreciate how cool that sounds. It is even cooler when compared to my previous business trip exotic desinations such as Archbold, Ohio and Edmonton, Alberta.)

During this trip, I managed to take time off one weekend to explore the city of Lyon. And following my fairy godmother’s advice on how best to spend my money when in Europe, I decided to get a haircut.

At some random, inevitably beautiful plaza, I saw a fancy hairdressing salon; I waltzed in, and with my best French, I requested: “Rendez-moi belle, SVP.”

Chopity chop chop chop later, and voilà! Significantly less hair. Le short.

Feeling as though I had regained my youth and my flirt, I proceeded with my walkabout, and found myself in a shopping district full of upscale boutique stores. Picking one at random, I walked in, and found to my dismay that everything cost way too much, was beige and eye-wateringly overpriced. I decided to exit this unworthy store, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t appear to be leaving because I couldn’t afford any of the merchandise: I was leaving the store because I was French, chic and unimpressed. With my fabulous new haircut, I was confident in my ability to pull off such an authentic look. I underestimated the amount of concentration this new persona would require.

As I approached the exit, with my nose held high in the air (that is French behaviour, n’est-ce pas?), I did not notice that the store’s door was made of clear glass, and that I could not see its edge, and so, I energetically opened the glass door into my nose.

Which provoked an equally energetic nose bleed, all over the swanky store’s white floor.

As I tried to catch the rainfall of blood drops, crying from the pain, laughing hysterically, and swearing like an English sailor, I realised my cover was irretrievably blown.

I fled outside, leaving the disgusted saleswoman to wipe up the puddle of bright red blood , to continue my hemorrhage on the sidewalk. Less conspicuous.

As the French would say: “Zut alors!!”