Let’s play: Which year sucked more?

Subtitled: Turns out, I DO hold a grudge.

Obviously 2020 is a major major contender. We all know that. We’ve got a global pandemic, a potential economic disaster, an authoritarian thug qua idiot in the White House, and police still killing black people for no reason, left and right. The racial protests are the only glimmer of hope I’m seeing – all ages, all races.

My law partner and I have this running joke. Or not so much a joke, but a routine. Because it’s not really funny. It’s kind of tragic and pathetic.

Every Fall, almost daily until Christmas break, we pop into each other’s office and say one of the following:

  • Thank God this year is almost over!
  • Dear Jesus, next year has to be better, right?
  • Fuck me, this year can’t be over soon enough!

Reliably, we have said this, as I recall, approximately 100 times each in 2015, 2016, 2017, & 2018 (OMG – THAT WAS A BAD YEAR).

Third and fourth quarter 2018 were all kinds of financial horror shows, and I nearly had a heart attack a number of times envisioning my house being foreclosed on by my creditors. BUT … it led us to make some serious decisions that made 2019 and 2020 less painful. We moved into much smaller hoteling space, moved our tech into the Cloud, and set everyone up to work seamlessly from home. Short-term pain for long-term gain. All of which set us up well for the pandemic shit show of 2020. Who knew this working from home thing was going to become the “new normal”?

So we still have to see how 2020 plays out, and Wave 2 is coming, I can feel it. Nevertheless, 2020 has not been that painful for me personally (health issues aside – another blog entirely). As I just said, working from home has been seamless. Spending time at home with hubby is not a trial – we are very good at giving each other space, so when we do choose to spend time together (on the couch, binging Bosch), it’s entirely enjoyable. We are not sick of each other (or at least I’m not sick of him!). I’m an introvert anyways, so social distancing hasn’t been that much of an inconvenience. On occasion, I would kill my mother for a nice steak frites at a French bistro with friends, or an outing to the ballet, or browsing through Chapters and Nordstrom Rack – but by and large these are luxuries I can live without. And The Bay delivers. So does Amazon, damn them.

We did have to cancel a $6K trip to Antigua just as COVID was descending but before there were any travel prohibitions to merit a refund, so that sucked. And we most very likely will not get to Mahone Bay this summer or even this fall. I will miss that view every day.

But for my money, right now, I’m going to put my chips on 2016 as THE YEAR THAT SUCKED THE MOST. Somewhat similar to 2020, from a global perspective, it sucked eggs (but for very different reasons). Might I remind you of a sampling of the horrific headlines from 2016:

  • Brussels bombing killing 32, wounding over 300
  • Brexit vote in UK stuns everyone, after which they google to figure out what leaving the EU actually means
  • Hate-crime Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, killing 49 people (wounding 53)
  • Bastille Day terrorist attack in France, killing 86 and injuring 458 others
  • James Comey announcing investigations into Hillary’s emails, TWICE, including TWO weeks before the fucking election, which was the final nail in her campaign coffin
  • The revolution in Syria was decidedly put down by brutal government forces in Aleppo
  • North Korea started nuclear testing again
  • Russian interference in US election, leading to …
  • A Trump-like asshole/buffoon elected in the Philippines (Duterte)
  • And let’s not forget in Canada, Fort McMurray fire displaces thousands of people for weeks/months

Then there’s the almost endless list of amazing celebrities who died unexpectedly & far too soon:

  • David Bowie
  • Alan Rickman
  • Garry Shandling
  • Prince
  • Garry Marshall
  • Gene Wilder
  • Leonard Cohen
  • George Michael
  • Debbie Reynolds

I recall dreading opening up the CBC or Toronto Star app that year. What next? What else? Holy shit! He’s dead too?

At the end of 2016, a very good guy and former colleague named Geoff Taber perished in a house fire/explosion, on Christmas Eve, along with his wife and two young sons. I remember hearing right before Christmas dinner, via email from my law partner, that a classmate of her son had perished in a fire. We all need to be thankful, etc. Then I got home and googled the tragedy and found it was Geoff’s son, Geoff’s family. It was unimaginable that this force of nature, this perpetual motion machine, was gone. And his whole family with him. I can’t think of a death that blindsided the legal community as much as his. My former law firm of Osler was devastated. A colleague said, in the immediate aftermath, it was like walking around a disaster zone, everyone hushed and glassy-eyed.

What a horrible end to 2016, quite frankly, for everyone who knew him.

But the cherry on the top of the turd sundae that was 2016 was my professional life. We were 7 years into a 3-partner start-up boutique law firm. Revenues were steady. 2014 was a banner year for $$; we were all killing ourselves with too much work, which perversely makes most lawyers happy.

Moving along hunky dory, my two partners and I decided we needed to have an offsite retreat in late spring 2016, just focus on The Firm, where we wanted it to go. Fair enough. Even though we worked side by side every day in the office, we almost never had any time to talk about anything, other than to triage or in passing. I welcomed a day to focus and be together as partners.

Partner #2 decreed we needed a professional facilitator to keep us on track for the day – we’d set an agenda, work through it, make decisions. Productive day, no tangents, no chatting about family, no joking around. (We were all very friendly, so tangents were 100% probable.) So off I went (not Partner #2, who came up with the idea) to find a facilitator, inquiring of friends and clients, until I procured a nice woman with impeccable references. With a $2500 per diem.

What with sacrificing a day’s billings (x3 partners), and offsite rental, and the facilitator, this was a not inexpensive investment in The Firm. But well worth it, right? To move The Firm forward, spend a day together, brainstorming and bonding and ensuring a shared direction.

I thought the day went well. A gorgeous June Friday, we created a new mission/vision for The Firm, made some decisions about direction, had a nice lunch outside next to a golf course. I drove as we left, dropping Partner #1 off at the subway and driving Partner #2 to her neighbourhood. Smiles, happiness, contentment.

We presented the new mission/vision to The Firm the next week, printed up copies for everyone’s offices. I updated the website. Momentum! Enthusiasm!

Onto Chicago, as hubby would say.

And then ONE WEEK LATER, one week to the day since our approx. $10K daylong retreat, Partner #2 announced that She. Is. Leaving. The. Firm.

AND We. Cannot. Ask. Her. Any. Questions. About. It.

Her. Mind. Is. Made. UP.

Then she hugged us and said, ominously, she hoped this wouldn’t ruin our friendship. That was when I should have known.

Totally blindsided. What the heck was the offsite retreat about, which she instigated? Did I just spend $10K for the unexpected purpose of confirming her niggling idea to leave? That wasn’t really the investment I had planned.

I at first thought, what with her having two very young ones at home (maternity leaves subsidized by The Firm, of course), she was going to take a hiatus. Or maybe do some work, from the side of her desk, from home. But NO, she was Going. To. Open. Her. Own. Practice. Meaning take business away from The Firm. Competing with The Firm. One week after a day long strategic planning session. That. She. Instigated.

Excuse me while I pull the knife from my between my shoulder blades. Ouch.

But … okey-dokey. Deep breath. It’s a partnership. Not indentured servitude. There’s a contract we all signed, and an exit clause we all agreed to. Everyone’s entitled to use it. I suspected her husband, who inherited her relationship with The Firm when he married her, had never been that keen on it. I’m not sure why, given that The Firm had pretty much kept Partner #2 afloat for the first few years – she took home more than she contributed in revenue to The Firm, thanks to Partner #1 and me. But now she was starting to generate some profit, and perhaps the idea was she (and hubby) now didn’t want to share that profit with us.

Whatever. It really doesn’t matter why she wanted to leave. We had to deal with it.

Not being able to discuss the rationale with her was a bit weird. We’d all pretty much discussed everything. Partner #1 frequently said that we were closer to each other, in many ways, than to our spouses. Partnership and running a business, it’s a different kind of marriage. I never called Partners #1 and #2 “friends”. They were never friends. It was something different. I thought, something more. Something that would last longer than 7 years and one off-site retreat.

Reeling, Partner #1 and I confabbed all that weekend, mostly by email, and made some decisions – stay the course, soldier on, let’s figure this out. And let’s get it done – quickly. Don’t drag it out. This could consume our energies and distract us for months if we let it. We told Partner #2 on Monday we wanted her to wrap it up by end of July – we were waiving her 3 months’ notice period under the partnership agreement. If she wanted to move on, let’s all move the fuck on already.

Partner #2 had promised she would prepare an exit plan. That never materialized. Just a draft announcement that expressed OUR huge regret that she had decided to leave The Firm.

And so it started.

I asked her about preparing a financial exit plan – the partnership agreement set out some of it, but we had created a couple of companies on the side. What were her expectations?

Long story short, she just never came up with a financial exit plan. Her plan appeared to be, in short, I’m entitled to my entitlements. You figure it out.

While I was trying to be zen about the fact of her leaving, I was not zen with how she left. Entitled, snivelling, crying, silently aggrieved without communicating her grievances. It turned into such an unnecessary shit show that I dubbed it “Kexit”, named after Britain’s exit from the EU – a shit show playing out at the same time, with pretty much the same results.

Her approach to Kexit was such a marked departure from how we had treated each other every day since the partnership began – transparently, decently, compassionately. It was inexplicable. Remains so.

It didn’t go well, let’s put it that way. It did take up months and months of our emotional health and untold hours of exit negotiations. She even lawyered up, as they used to say on NYPD Blue – escalating what should have been face-to-face amicable negotiations about what was fair to all of us. We never had an interest in screwing her. Just being fair and compliant with protocols that clients and the Law Society would expect.

Partner #1 and I both have The List. The List of The Ways She Screwed Us. We each kept our own. I don’t think we’ve ever compared them. As we negotiated Kexit, we uncovered multiple things she had committed The Firm to financially, that we were then stuck with paying. We had just invested $100K in filming videos we were going to monetize on a pay-per-view subscription platform – many of which she had inserted herself into. Those videos were now useless to us, with her in there.

I added to The List routinely, probably for a year or more after Kexit was over. I don’t rule out the possibility of adding to it in the future.

I never thought I’d go through a divorce. Hubby and I are in it for life. But in 2016 I went through a work divorce that was exceedingly fraught and painful. Unnecessarily so. Fighting over entitlements, passive aggressively, through the asshole lawyer she hired “to help US ALL!”. I can’t imagine going through an actual divorce where kids are involved. I have new empathy for anyone who has been through that.

I feel like I have PTSD. I have a gut reaction (revulsion) to the sight of her name or picture. I blocked her in Fall 2016 on all social media to avoid that happening. I’ve had to encounter her only in minimal ways. A couple years ago I was at a social gathering with her, and I was physically nauseous. I left prematurely to avoid vomiting.

She was a partner. She was never a friend. She is now nothing to me except my own personal brand of ipecac. Her name is in my freezer – my sister-in-law swears this means she will be frozen out of my life. It’s worked pretty well so far. I highly recommend it. I know for a fact her name in in Partner #1’s freezer also.

My mother used to say she marvelled at my temperament. I never got angry, never held a grudge. She suspected that pissed people off more than if I got angry. That’s no longer true. I’m not angry, but I do hold a grudge. I don’t actively wish Partner #2 harm, but if it befalls her, maybe that’s Karma. I’ve seen too little of Karma in my life. I’m overdue.

So for 2020 to top 2016, it will have to take a knife and stab me in the back with it. That could well happen. If it does, I’m sure I’ll be blindsided then too.

Evidence that I am … somewhat … challenged

  1. In law school I walked by a car wash every day for 3 years. Setting: We lived in downtown Toronto, very very multicultural. In the third year I asked Graeme: What’s so special about “Polish wax”? My then fiance’s response: Are you retarded?
  2. After I had read all Harry Potter books, and watched all Harry Potter movies, Graeme had to point out to me that Diagon Alley was a play on the word “diagonally”.
  3. At lunch with Paula, I’m trying to figure out what the sign across the road says: Mo On Li Te. Is that restaurant called Mow on Lee Tay? Pause. Moonlight, says Paula, laughing.

Next time, take the pill

Turns out I had to have an MRI this week. My first. It’s for something that will turn out to be pretty inconsequential, so I’m not too fussed. But I was fussed about the MRI – based on what I had heard anecdotally, the experience was going to trigger all of my neurotic buttons.

A few years back, a colleague described to me her MRI experience, in some detail. Arguably too much detail. She was undergoing fertility treatments. By the time she’d finished telling her story (she wasn’t keen on it at all), I could tell my blood pressure had shot off the charts. I was crawling under my skin just hearing about it. Being told not to move, being encased in a tight metal tube, the obligatory itchy nose you can do nothing about, the (incorrect) perception of suffocation. Check check check. All of my triggers.

I don’t like to be told not to move, and I don’t like a tight space with no room to move. I think this dates back to my brother picking on me as a kid – he used to hold my arms over my head, and it freaked me out big time (bigly, as Trump would say). Sometimes squeezing into the cramped middle seat of an airplane can trigger me. Even sitting still for a haircut can sometimes make me itchy all over, muscles spasming in protest. Being squished into the corner of an overcrowded subway car definitely gets me going, and I have to focus, and breathe, and realize that I can get out at the next stop if I have to.

I was packed on a sardined subway car back in January 1999 – during Toronto’s big “we called the army in” snow storm that we were forever mocked about. And the subway car just stopped. Ice on the tracks or something had to be dealt with. Probably stopped dead for 8 minutes, no personal space, people on all sides of me, breathing other people’s air, cocooned in layers of wool, sweat running down my back, nowhere to go. I nearly lost my mind. I can actually start hyperventilating just thinking about it.

So when the MRI presented itself, I was concerned. Went through the checklist with my doctor’s nurse – do you have a pacemaker, any metal shards in your eyes, diabetes – no, no, no.

Are you claustrophobic? YES!

No worries, dear, the doctor will prescribe you an anti-anxiety medication to take before the test. Someone will have to pick you up afterwards, it makes you a bit loopy.


I received no instructions on just when to take the pill. The instructions from the hospital’s MRI clinic said to bring the medication with me, and to show up early.  So I figured they’d tell me when to take it.

I showed up super early. I asked when I should take it. The admitting clerk said she’d tell me. And then she didn’t.

I’m looking at the signs all over the waiting room saying outpatients, like me, may be bumped for inpatients, since the hospital is a stroke and trauma centre and they need the MRI for emergencies. Hardly anyone in the waiting room. Let’s hope this goes smoothly, let’s just get it over with.

Just as I was thinking, better take the pill now, there’s my name being called. Pavlovian, I spring up, leave my purse (and pill bottle) with hubs, and off I went.

After I got gowned, as the technician started to tell me about the injections I’d get (contrast, etc.), I realized, WAIT, I need to go get my anti-anxiety pill. And the technician scoffed. You won’t need that. You’re getting a pelvic MRI – I’ll send you in feet first, he said. Your head will be sticking out the back, you’ll be fine. It’ll be better this way, he said.


So, how long does this thing last anyway?


Waaaaa? That’s about twice as long as the worst case scenario I allowed myself to contemplate.

OK, I better go get my pill.

We’re ready to take you now. You won’t need it. How do you even know you’re claustrophic? You’ve never even had an MRI. You can even sleep through it, we put headphones on to cancel out the noise. What do you do for a living? You’re a lawyer? Think about a file, it’ll be fine.

So, steamrolled more than persuaded, and trusting that if this guy saw people melt down 12 times a day, he’d be telling me to take the pill, off I went into the MRI room.

Lie down on the table, feet first. OK. Another guy (not my “you’ll be fine” technician) presses the button to move the platform into the MRI. My legs go in, my torso goes in, my shoulders go in, and about 80% of my head goes in. And I freak out.

WAAAAAIT. I thought my head was going to be outside. Nope, this is how it is.

I need my pill.

Too late, it takes 20 minutes to kick in (someone finally tells me).

Positioning dude takes the pillow from under my head so that my face isn’t right up against the top of the machine, and that gives me a bit of breathing room. If I look straight up and back, I can see outside the MRI to the flourescents on the ceiling. I’m not completely entombed. I’ve got a call button in my hand just in case, although the unspoken message is you’re not encouraged to use it.

I like to think I can handle shit, and I also want to get this over with and not screw with the queue (even though, I’m in the machine at least 1/2 hour early). Let’s just get this the fuck over with.

So it goes. They run the imaging tests in 3-4 minute bursts. They tell you when each one is starting, ask you if you are OK after each one. Each burst has a different rhythm – it’s like you’re in a dance club, and sometimes it’s heavy metal, and sometimes it’s more punk, and sometimes it’s disco. One sounds like that song from the Flat Eric video. I’m thinking about my very musical brother-in-law, who’s probably had a dozen MRIs. He may actually enjoy this. I’ll have to ask him.

I imagine I can feel the magnet pulling on my cells, tickling my insides. The magnets are so strong in some bursts that the platform under me vibrates.

Complicating matters is no water 5 hours before the test. I am a fish. I drink water all day long, I use lip balm about 80 million times a day. I don’t like dry lips, dry mouth, dry throat. I’m having trouble swallowing, as you do when you’re dry, when you’re stressed. Makes you feel like you are suffocating, can’t breathe.

I’m breathing super heavy at first. Panicked, trying to calm myself down.

Is it better to close my eyes, will that help me relax? Close my eyes, just dark.

Definitely not. With my eyes closed, my focus goes entirely to my dry throat, my difficulty breathing. Is my chin itchy, are my eyes watering, will tears start to fall and I can’t flick them away? Am I breathing so heavily that the test will be ruined (DON’T MOVE).

Much better with eyes open, other things to focus on – the machine, the label on the machine, the ceiling.

I try to think about how to organize a deck I have to do, presenting my recommendations on a governance review. Bang bang bang, go the magnets. Yeah, this is not the place to organize complex material, and rest assured, I didn’t bill for it.

What is comes down to is this: all you have in those 35-40 minutes are your thoughts, and who wants to go there?

There were probably 7-8 bursts of the 3-4 minute intervals, and then I got pulled out – yay!! For the MRI contrast dye to be injected. Then only 2 more, I was assured. But with the last burst, I’d get an instruction to breathe in, breathe out, and then hold my breath until the machine told me to breathe again. OK, how long do I not breathe?


That’s probably a challenge when I’m zen. I’m not zen.

The whole thing took a fucking eternity.

Once it’s over, and they’re taking me out, “it’ll be fine” asks how it was. Not my favourite thing, I underplay. But see, you didn’t need the pill. As he helps me sit up and stand, he says, you’re shaking. Yup.

Maybe this dude at a downtown TO hospital sees way too much drug abuse. Overdose. Undoubtedly in fact. Fentanyl, opioids, I get it. Maybe he’s anti-medication because he’s done the math and concluded, it’s not worth it. It’s better without it.

Lorazepam, now that I google it, can be addictive. Intended for short-term use only.

Like for a 40-minute test that triggers all my buttons and, quite frankly, freaked me out.

Next time, I’ll take the pill.

Tedious and brief

I am slowly slowly making my way through the S-Town podcast. It’s sad and moving and I don’t really want it to end. So I’m listening about 5 minutes at a time, as I walk to the subway in the morning.

The podcast’s subject, John B. McLemore, loves sundials and their mottos. They are always sad, about time being fleeting, life’s impermanence.

“Tedious and brief” is one of his favourites. Your life is tedious and brief.

Doesn’t that resonate? If it doesn’t, you are not a lawyer.

Reminds me of the Woody Allen joke at the beginning of Annie Hall (“such small portions”):


Anyways, now I want a tedious & brief wrist tattoo. I’m on a mission.


If I’m crazy, at least Carol Anne is too

Barb and I went to the ballet this week. Four short pieces. Each one perfect in its own way. Still thinking about Genus, which was brilliant. About figuring out how the body works, what it can do, what it should do. About individualism and becoming part of a community. At least those were the themes that I took away. Possibly the best dance movements I have ever seen.

As we were talking about our daily minutiae, during intermission over the mandatory glass of bubbly, Barb happened to mention that she needed to organize her sock drawer. I was taken aback. How can a sock drawer become disorganized? One pairs the socks as part of the laundry process and puts them away, happily coupled and awaiting mutual use. But NO! Barb’s socks are unpaired in her sock drawer. Deposited uncoupled and alone, willy-nilly. Holy Mother of God. I’ve never heard of such a thing. “I don’t think I could sleep in a house like that,” was my only logical response.

On the way to the subway the next morning, I thought about Barb’s willy-nilly socks, and my reaction was confirmed. I could not sleep if I had unpaired socks in my drawer. I could not rest if Graeme’s socks were unpaired. I started thinking about what other minor bits of chaos would prevent me from sleeping: a cupboard partially open in the kitchen, a towel hanging askew in the bathroom, a painting hanging off-level.  If I knew about them, I would have to get out of bed and fix them.

Am I unglued?

At lunch with Carol Anne yesterday, she 100% agreed. She A) could not fathom how a sock drawer existed where socks were not paired at all times (weird orphan socks from the dryer the only exception); and B) concurred that she could not sleep if she were aware of unpaired socks in her house.

And here’s how I know she wasn’t just humouring me: She told a story. Her partner wears just one kind of sock: plain white sports socks. At the gym recently, he noticed that one sock was tight and the other was slouchy. Reporting this to Carol Anne, she immediately had to go to his sock drawer, take apart all the sock pairs, and ensure that tight went with tight, slouchy with slouchy.

I feel much better now.

More things I love about Nora Ephron

Her essay The Lost Strudel from I Feel Bad About my Neck. I read this very short piece on the subway one morning, years ago, and laughed out loud. And then re-read it immediately.

I’ve had a craving for cabbage strudel ever since (which objectively sounds disgusting), but I’m a bit afraid to try it, since it likely won’t live up to Nora’s praises (even Nora had trouble meeting her own expectations of strudel). And then I’d just be disappointed.  I’m sure Nora would tell me that’s not a healthy way to go through life (were she still with us).


I especially admire the line “I dropped Ed Levine’s name so hard you could hear it in New Jersey.” 

Nora Ephron’s tribute to Meryl Streep. Brilliant, funny – and her delivery is impeccable.  The crowd is mesmerized — when she talks about going into Meryl’s trailer at the end of her tribute, the entire audience of celebs and self-important people hang on her every word:


Plus – what a great outfit, right?

Nora Ephron’s tribute to Mike Nichols (only Nora can make a really bad pun hilarious):