What’s Next?*

Hard to believe that my last post here was almost 6 months ago. Though the cliché about time flying when you are having fun would seem appropriate, it wouldn’t exactly be accurate in this case. The past 6 months have been…well…weird. Some great experiences to be sure, including some amazing travel opportunities through my work with the OECD to Japan, Italy and Morocco. Decisions were made about what I would be doing in 2016, and though I was offered an opportunity to stay in Paris at the OECD for at least another year I decided for a number of reasons that I would instead return to Canada at the end of my contract in January. Then I wound up flat on my back. Literally.

At the end of October, after getting back to Paris from a fairly intense 6 weeks of travel, I started suffering from my severe lower back pain. While I have dealt with this type of thing before from time to time, this felt different. Normally after about a week or so it would ease up, but this time it wasn’t and the intensity was unlike anything I had experienced before. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t sleep. Doing even the most basic things – like getting dressed – was torture. After seeing some doctors and getting an MRI the diagnosis was that it was a herniated disk in my lower spine that was pushing on a nerve. The good news (relatively speaking) was that I likely wouldn’t need surgery, however I was told it would take 2-3 months for it to fully heal and get back to normal.

By this point it was late November and I had gone through a month of spending essentially 23+ hours a day stuck inside my apartment in Paris. It was looking like it would be at least until Christmas before I was starting to be more functional again, with a decent margin of uncertainty around that. Thus I made the relatively big decision very quickly to end my contract early and head back to Canada to finish my recovery at home. Decision was made on a Tuesday and I was in Saskatoon by Thursday night; there is something to be said for travelling light.

Six weeks later I am happy to report that I am feeling much better. While I wouldn’t say I am 100% back to normal yet, it is without doubt a significant improvement from where I was at in November. Going through this experience I couldn’t help think of this bit by my favourite comedian Louis CK – just change “ankle” for “back” and it pretty much hits the nail on the head:

In the midst of all this, November also saw Paris hit again by the ugly spectre of terrorism. I was safe in my apartment when the rampage began, though the attack hit close to home for me in a more metaphorical sense. Having been in Paris for almost a year, this kind of atrocity feels different when it happens in a city whose streets I have now walked and whose people I now know much better. One of the restaurants that was attacked by gunmen – Café Bonne Bière – I had sat at just a few weeks earlier on a Friday evening with good friends of mine from Ottawa and their young daughter whom were visiting. One of my closest friends in Paris had been out at one of the other cafes that was attacked that same evening – fate had her leave just a couple hours before the gunman went on their rampage. Most people I talked to in Paris were no more than one or two degrees of separation away from someone who was directly impacted by the attacks. It was a strange bookend of my time in Paris, with the Charlie Hebdo attack in January happening just days after my arrival and this latest one happening just days before my departure.

So what now? On a practical level, I don’t start work back in Ottawa with the federal government until April 1, thus I’ve got almost three months yet of unscheduled time ahead of me which is a unique gift. I have a few personal projects that have been kicking around for quite some time (one of which the origins go back to this post from 2013) which I am hoping to make some progress on. I’m using Saskatoon as my home base for the time being, but I’ll probably travel a bit over the next few months to visit some family, exact plans as of yet TBD. Before long I will need to start preparing in earnest for my reintegration into life in Ottawa, including finding a place to live.

I also need some time and mental space to reflect. For the past few years I have used this blog to occasionally share and reflect on both my experiences but also some of my thoughts and feelings on life’s journey. It isn’t always a comfortable thing to do, but I think it is a useful one. I described 2013 as my most difficult year to date. 2014 I talked about as a year that set the stage for the next act. Thinking back on 2015 I can probably best describe it as an “apéritif” year, one the cleanses the palate and stimulates the appetite. It was an amazing year, don’t get me wrong, with opportunities that included travelling to 10 countries and 5 continents over the course of the year. Moving to France, exploring life in Paris including some wonderful people from around the world that I met, and the professional opportunities for growth and learning through my work with the OECD were all great experiences. But it always felt temporary, never quite like I was home in any sense of the word – hence the “apéritif year”.

The main course, I suspect, is yet to come.

 

*Those who know me will know that I consider The West Wing to be the greatest TV series ever created. I have claimed before that anything smart I know about politics I learnt from watching that show, something I probably still agree with (seasoned with some practical experience in the intervening 15 years). “What’s next?” was fictional President Bartlett’s catch-phrase, said not out of fear or anxiety but as a signal that he was ready to move on to the next issue that required his attention (though no doubt it still contained a hint of double entendre to it). It struck me as quite appropriate for this update on many levels.