THERE comes a time in most of our lives when we wonder about the lifestyle we’ve established and whether we’ve really made the right choices. We call this period “adulthood.”
Over soothing, if tasteless, chamomile tea we pepper ourselves with questions. Was it really smart to go Goth at the age of 48? Was parachuting the best new hobby for somebody with osteoporosis? Why did we stick so firmly with atheism, Catholicism, Anglicanism or Judaism when Mormons always seemed to be having so much more fun?
You can really bum yourself out with this sort of investigative yearn-alism. But thankfully, along with all the career and fitness coaches now at our disposal, there’s at least one woman (other than Madonna) who’s prepared to tell us exactly how to live. Blair French, a “Life Stylist” based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, recently had her people contact my people with an Internet news release about all she has to offer me, and my countless equally adrift homies.
It couldn’t have happened at a better time -- middle-aged self-searching aside, I had a column due the next day. “WANT TO FEEL FULL OF LIFE AND POSSESS JOIE DE VIVRE?” asked the release, to which I naturally yelped a hearty “Yesiree!” (Or I would have if I’d been brought up in a setting where brash, wholesome exuberance was the norm, like the Osmonds. They are a loud and shame-free crew of -- you guessed it -- Mormons.)
Anyway, French went on to say, tantalizingly, that “it’s time for a healthy dose of YOU cocktail mixed by someone who knows how to blend all the different aspects of living into one happy lifestyle.” All of a sudden I was thirsty. A ME cocktail sounded awesome. But I wasn’t drunk on MYSELF yet, so I thought first I’d better explore Blair French’s credentials.
According to the release, French is a “multifaceted dynamo” who metaphorically brews up personalized lifestyle potions that contain elements of her knowledge of health, fitness, food, fashion, décor and the products appertaining to them. She tosses in bits from the traditions of other cultures, then throws into the pot components of the client’s own style, routine, and personality. “‘I’m saying, be yourself,’” French explains.
It didn’t sound like French, an American who lives in Mexico, was an obvious choice to be mixing my ME cocktail. She’s one of those characters whose intimidating resume is both impressive and unlikely. She’s been a physical therapist for dancers on Broadway, and a caterer and events planner in New York. She’s studied interior design and has written a memoir called Pretty Lonely (though I would guess, from its uninviting title, that it sold pretty poorly). By contrast, I’m one of those people whose resume is so boring, I don’t even show potential employers what’s on it. On the rare occasion that anybody asks, I usually say, “Guess.”
French is an attractive, well-dressed blonde who is obviously a go-getter. I am not. Therefore I figured that in addition to using her as column fodder, I should probably heed her advice. The problem was I didn’t want to pay for it. I was determined to do this drastic Life Styling on the cheap.
So I combed the news release, hoping to crib some tips from French and learn to be myself by myself. This one caught my attention. “Adding to French’s uniqueness is the fact that she wants to introduce people to lifestyle elements from all over the world.”
“I can certainly do that,” I decided. “I like dolmathes. And they’re quite reasonably priced, considering some poor Greek has to wrap those tiny vine leaves around that rice.”
“‘We take, share, incorporate, borrow and weave the lessons we learn from other cultures into our daily lives….’” French said in the release.
This was going to be easy peasy. I immediately resolved to sing Frère Jacques more often.
I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what Blair French would seize from Canadian culture to enlighten her clients in other lands. It’s only fair that she should take something, right? It’s immoral for us Canucks to go around idolizing and imitating the French and the Italians and the Mexicans without ever giving them anything in return. (They don’t seem to want hockey, no matter how much we offer it.)
I pictured French herself coming to my house and absorbing Canadian wisdom and lifestyle from my family’s special brew of smoke-belching barbecues, battered skateboards, episodes of The Hills, and my irritated shouts at CBC Radio One host Jian Ghomeshi. I imagined her exporting our rare cultural legacy to some foreign client -- maybe another confused middle-aged mother like myself. I envisioned this woman as a Colombian, probably named Isabella because why not, raptly listening to her Life Stylist, Blair French.
French would suggest that Isabella now start her daily ritual with a cleansing blast of Mexican mariachi music. She’d urge her to try eating multi-course menus of weensy helpings, as they do in France, then think lovingly about the Pope, come un’Italiana.
After that, Blair French might drizzle a little Canadian culture over this world beat salad, just to be even-handed. “I don’t know why, but this dislike of Jian Ghomeshi is a potent force for Canadians,” French would tell Isabella softly, getting the Colombian all riled up against him, too. “Remember, you must still be yourself -- Isabella of Colombia. Perhaps you could imagine Ghomeshi as a ruthless drug lord. Make this CBC anger your own.
I’m sorry to say that simply exporting a few of my family traditions to Colombia didn’t properly shake my ME cocktail. I still looked around me and saw pots of depressed-looking tulips overgrown by weeds, and I looked inside me and felt a restless spirit that wondered why I had never forced my daughter to take piano. Surely there was some multicultural mumbo jumbo I could appropriate, or a lesson I could pretend to have learned the hard way, that would give me that sense of self-satisfaction I so frequently observe in others.
“Ah, the hell with it,” I said. “I guess I’ll just go out and buy a few more colourful throw pillows.
And just like that, my angst was gone.