What do you need to know about me before you begin reading this story of personal rediscovery, dear reader?
Everything you have heard about me is true
This has been my favourite way of introducing myself to unsuspecting students at our local university who have signed up for (or are required to take) a class with me. In other words, I am a somewhat accidental academic blessed with a sunny, cheerful personality, and a wicked sense of humour. I hope it will shine through frequently as you join me on this journey of transformation.
Otherwise, I strive for excellence in most everything I do — only to be reminded on a regular basis that I am a human being who struggles with her weight often and her age occasionally.
I was born and grew up in a small town in southern Germany in a family of four girls; our parents both passed away before my younger twin sister and I finished high school. In the mid-1980s, the two of us immigrated to Canada to join our oldest sister, who was raising a family in Victoria, B.C. We began attending university immediately and over the course of a decade I finished — very much to everyone’s satisfaction, including my own — three degrees, including a doctorate in music history.
I returned to Germany for two and a half years in the late 1990s to work for a not-for-profit musical organization that promotes the life and works of a German contemporary of J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel, J. F. Fasch (1688–1758), on whom I had chosen to write my doctoral thesis. Upon my return to Canada, I applied for jobs in higher academia while supporting myself with teaching continuing education courses at my alma mater and local senior centres, playing the organ for worship services at various churches, and cleaning houses.
“I am going to like it here,” I decided after only a few short months, much to my (and my family’s) surprise. Granted, I struggled greatly with the long winter season which typically runs from October to April as well as the dry air which made me spend a fortune on hand creams, body lotions, and eye drops.
But my new colleagues and a local church community looking for an organist had welcomed me with open arms. Who knew that prairie folks had such warm hearts and always looked out for one another? Their repeated attempts to find me a “nice man” to settle down with amused me to no end. After all, I had been (and continue to be) in a committed relationship with a male since the early 1990s — the fact that he has been dead for two and a half centuries has always been an asset, not a liability, as far as I am concerned.
Why? Because Fasch’s music is as cheerful as it is profound and has been a source of excitement and comfort to me ever since we met on a blind date in graduate school. Spending quality time in German archives (specifically in the state of Saxony-Anhalt where Fasch was based for most of his career) and examining countless old manuscripts to get to the bottom of what eighteenth-century life viewed through a musical lens was really like, gives me great joy. In fact, it makes me feel like a cross between Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, and Dr. Temperance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist from the hit TV series Bones. Engaging passionately with the past has also turned out to be a perfect antidote to teaching sleepy-eyed students day in, day out in window-less university lecture halls.
Not surprisingly, the arrival of Covid-19 in the early spring 2020 turned my highly scheduled (but never boring) life upside down. Besides facing unexpected changes at work (“You have four days to move all your courses online!”) and at my church (“We’ll be doing services in the ‘Fireside Room’ next to the sanctuary via Zoom from now on”), I was stunned to hear about the imminent closure of our local downtown YMCA’s fitness facilities. It meant that I could no longer hop in the pool to de-stress or volunteer to teach classes as a certified group aquatic instructor. Fortunately, my twin sister had just decided to switch careers and become a certified fitness professional. We spontaneously resolved that we were going to get into the best shape of our lives together, starting immediately.
Working (it) out
After two months of exercising six times a week, I felt and looked better than ever, confident that I would not gain back (m)any of the 75 pounds I had intentionally lost in 2018/19 to combat perimenopausal symptoms. At the same time, I was missing visits with my family out west and my annual research trip to archives in Germany that had to be cancelled because of Covid-19 restrictions. To compensate, I focused on my work, specifically a long overdue scholarly book manuscript on my favourite composer (“Mr. Fasch”). I also spent a lot of time in nature; I live near a beautiful park with a big lake. And I was on the phone/social media a lot, staying in close touch with family and friends all over the world. On July 1, Canada Day, I remember toasting to the second half of 2020, determined that it was going to be better than the first half.
Little did I know at the time that my life would get a whole lot worse first.
And before you scroll down to the next chapter, I want to you to keep in mind that even though my story contains some tough parts (spoiler alert), it ends well. My experiences as a cancer patient are also unique to me. My hope is that you will count your blessings as you join me on this trip down memory lane.