Thursday, December 15, 2016

to be honest, it's not okay

This morning Clara Hughes, Canadian hero for her dual-sport Olympic success and commitment to changing the conversation about mental health, posted this brilliant, brave, honest picture and caption on her social media streams:

Click to enlarge
It broke my heart. I like to see the broad, open smile Clara is famous for, even though the reason she is an advocate for mental health is because of her chronic battle with depression, even when she was one of the most elite athletes in the world (go ahead - tell me I'd finally get better if I exercised more). I want her to be well. I want to think that being well is possible, and that if I try hard enough maybe I can get (and stay) there myself. 

And then I read this. And I realised that even if I were 100% sparkling today, there's no way to guarantee I'd stay there. Clara's post also reminded me of something that Freckles said to me last week - that it doesn't help anyone, certainly not myself, when I pretend to be doing better than I am, when I post only happiness on Facebook, when I turn my phone off on days when I can't talk without crying. In short, when I lie. It doesn't help me, it feeds the stigma of mental illness, and it doesn't create a clean path for other people to be honest about their struggle. I said nobody wants to hear it. She said that wasn't the point. 

So, here's the thing. I'm better, but I'm not well. Some days I think I am, or that it's close enough that maybe I will be. I'm well aware of the good in life and how blessed I am - being loved, having adventures, having (at least in this moment) a home I love and food that nourishes. I know that. Knowing makes no difference. 

I see you, Clara. I see you. 
There are still days, like today, when the homeless man outside my favourite bookstore took one look at my face when I apologized for not being able to help and said "stay strong, Sister." 

There are days like today when just getting out of bed was touch and go but the shame of cancelling another meeting outweighed the desire to hide. 

There are days like today when trying to find something to give my sons for Christmas sent me down a rabbit hole of hopelessness and loss thinking of past Christmases, the years between that are littered with dead and dying traditions, the lack of connection, the reality of a Christmas after 11 months on medical leave, and the gaping void between the mom I want to be and the mom they got. 

There are days like today when trying on much-needed winter clothes left me heaving with self-loathing. 

There are days like today when I can't make words string themselves into logical sentences in a meeting or follow the conversation with a girlfriend at lunch. 

There are days like today when just seeing my sweetheart's incoming phone call is enough to make me cry throughout the entire call, and the vicious circle of his sadness at my tears. 

Tomorrow will be different. I suppose it's worth noting that 10 months ago I couldn't have faked my way through a meeting and lunch. So, there's that. That's the way it is right now. Better - sometimes much better - but not well, and sometimes worse. I truly love Christmas. It's extra disappointing (and unusual) to have my unruly brain tarnish this season. And, this year, or at least this night, that's just the way it is. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

on Christ, Christmas, and peace on earth

Earlier this week the sign went up - the official 'no real/live Holiday trees in the building' sign that dashed my hopes but also solved my issue of "where to put the Christmas tree in an already too small living room." The notice was professional, as such a piece from a property management company should be. A tad Grinchy, perhaps, but ending with what was no doubt a sincere wish for "Happy Holidays."

It took a day before the first defacement of the sign crossed off "Happy Holidays" and scrawled "Merry Christmas." I was going to respond then and there about pharisees, and loving thy neighbour, and including others not negating you, but I, oddly, didn't have a pen in my purse. The next time I took the elevator the Merry Christmas had been scratched out (angrily enough to tear the paper) and Happy Holidays written back in with exclamation marks. This morning I stepped in the elevator to find the bottom third of the notice torn off and a note "such anger. Why?" in the margin of what remained.

I am a Christian*. I believe in all the tenets of the evangelical Christian faith. I don't say it often because my faith is a private thing, and, increasingly, because there is a vocal minority of Christians that make me cringe at claiming my faith. I want another term - I want to be differentiated from the legalistic, petty, angry, threatened mass that gets so much air time but represents so little of Christ.

But this trifling, indignant, cowardly "war on Christmas" rhetoric really ticks me off. Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn't begin with excluding others, or with being threatened by language choice, or with imposing your beliefs on everyone around you. If you can't be loving and inclusive at Christmas, what earthly good are you? 

I am going to go decorate my home now, listen to my holiday CDs, make some sorrel, and try to restore myself to the peace, love, joy and wonder of the season. In the words of Pentatonix "Merry Christmas Happy Holidays."

* My faith is not a simple thing - I sit in a sparsely populated place between those like my family and friends who are pillars of their churches and the agnostic/atheist/Jewish/Muslim/Jehovah's Witness/Mormon/Buddhist/Hindu/etc majority. Having been kicked by my church when I was down, my belief is not unthinking. I worked through my hurt and disappointment in people to return to the God of love, grace and justice I was raised to believe in. But I won't be returning to the church. I have had people ask me "how can you, an intelligent woman trained in critical thinking, believe in a virgin birth, Christ's death and resurrection, angels, heaven, hell, the ultimate divinity of God, etc" (actually, it's never asked that respectfully) and my answer is always the same: "If I could explain it it wouldn't be faith."

Monday, December 5, 2016

the ear-worm circles of hell

I often suffer from ear-worms - those unshakable partial stuck-tunes that swirl around and around in your head turning a song you may once have enjoyed into a form of mental torture. For the record, and before you read further and I infect you, I do know a fairly reliable antidote: sing "Oh Canada" or "Happy Birthday" all the way through. These songs are familiar and automatic enough to replace the stuck tune, but not catchy enough to get stuck themselves. 

This insight into ear worms started yesterday, as I yet again argued with Alanis Morissette that it was not, in fact, at all ironic when it rains on someone's wedding day. Arguing, and a superior definition of "irony," of course, did nothing to stop the 4 known phrases of that song from continuing to replay ad nauseum. Which got me thinking. 

I am prone to ear-worms because I love music. I often think in music, and my mom and I both have a tendency to burst in to song if you say certain opening phrases to us. For example, if you start a sentence with "up on a hill" you are likely to get "was a lonely goat herd" sung at you before you can finish your sentence. Music is fun. It's enlivening. It's a keen mood booster (except when it's not - it's also great for wallowing a la Whitney Houston's "Didn't We Almost Have it All"). I love music. But I like to move from song to song, and to have them leave when the party is over. 

And so, as 1995 Alanis was so tenaciously abusing a literary term last night, I wondered - if ear-worms are a form of torture, which circle of hell would different songs inhabit? Clearly "Isn't it Ironic" is the absolute worst, but what other songs are catchy enough to get stuck in a loop and drive one to the verge of insanity? 

Here, for your judging ease, is my matrix of ear worm assessment:

Tenacity = a song's stickiness. If it has a catchy hook, simple rhymes, obvious melody or harmony, it will score high in tenacity. 

Inanity = a song's lyrical IQ. A really stupid song is a really annoying song. If a song has a great message/story, it's probably less annoying to have it stuck in your head. Maybe it makes you think or feel. However, a song like, say, "Wake me up before you go-go" (although I LOVE WHAM! I ALWAYS HAVE AND I ALWAYS WILL. I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE!) is just silly and fluffy and full of nonsense that for some reason my brain clings to. 

Repetition = "Tub Thumping" - need I say more? Because repetition is one way our brains build memories, repetitive songs have an increased likelihood of being remembered and of becoming ear worms. Repetition could also apply to how often a song is heard - say a jingle in a radio ad or a TV theme song. Whatever the source of the repetition, it makes ear worms both more likely and more annoying (see also inanity) 

To play on Dante's circles of hell I had planned to list the 9 most egregious songs in order, but really it changes from day to day and from ear worm to ear worm. And because it's the Christmas season there would be some seasonal influences on the list as well that might not be there in June (does anyone actually like "Deck the Halls" or "The 12 Days of Christmas" or "The Little Drummer Boy"? Talk about inane and repetitive!). So I'll settle for the example I've already given, and be grateful that Miss Morissette has since moved on.  

Now isn't that nice. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

may they stay forever young

Ron, Ronnie, Bobby and Dale. For most of my childhood these four boys surrounded me. First at Sunday School, where for years I was the only girl in the class and, probably not that secretly, liked it that way. And then in our wee high school where age differences were less important than whatever bound us. All four of them were a year older than me, and I can't count the hours I spent pining after each one in his turn. They (and my sons) are who I think of when I hear this song

Ronnie was, in that sweet innocent way of childhood, my first boyfriend. When I went to his 11th birthday party I was not the only girl, but I did get to wear a tiara to set me apart. Our relationship consisted mainly of holding hands in Sunday School, and occasional walks during other church related events. When I "broke up with him" he gave me a darling bunny to try to regain my favour. I joked to Shiny about naming it Dale.

Ronnie moved away shortly after that. In my mind he is forever 13, protective, and slightly angry at the world. I'm not sure why angry - maybe I added that last bit after his mom died way too early. We were pen pals for years. And then that stopped. I often wonder where he ended up and if he's happy. I hope he is. I'm often sorry I never kissed him; by rights he should also have been my first kiss.

All four of these friends were special - Ron was a true and dear friend even after we both managed to leave that tiny town for university, find partners, and start families. Of the four, Ron was the one I had the most in common with. As is the way of growing up, we too eventually lost touch. It's only through the glory of social media that we have reconnected, shared stories of the challenges of our now young adults, seen the changes in once familiar faces. The smile is still the same though, as is the laugh that reverberated down the line when we finally chatted on the phone last year. 

Bobby (decades ago he requested we start calling him Bob. I can't) is the least clear to me. Tall and strong and blonde and quiet, I never knew quite how to talk to him. He had a way with horses that still stands out to me. Picture a cross between Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, in soft focus and with a breeze blowing in a field behind him. Bobby was someone I worshiped from afar, if across the school parking lot or from the back of a church dinner can be called afar. We caught up once 15 years ago. I'm not even sure how he knew how to find me, and it might have been our only one-on-one conversation in 30 years of knowing each other, but it settled me. Recently divorced and unsettled, that conversation reassured me that I was going to be okay. I imagine that's how horses being trained by Bobby feel about him.

And then there was Dale, I'm not sure how Dale developed such an aura around him, but to me he always had the appeal of the slightly naughty charmer. It could have been his amazing grin. I remember him having his mom absolutely wrapped around his finger, and laughing with a bit of wonder at their interactions. He was sweet and inclusive in a town that didn't encourage that in boys and men. He was a flirt, though always within reason. My crush on him waxed and waned over 15 years. 

I don't remember where this photo came from. It could be one my Dad took and gave to me knowing of my lingering crush. Or it could be one I snuck under the guise of the yearbook club. Either way, it is how I always remember Dale - smiling, at ease, happy, 17. 

Dale died last night. I didn't know he'd been sick with pancreatic cancer - perhaps his wife didn't want to deal with the Facebook response while they tried to make the most of the time they had left. It was the first post I saw this morning - her loving tribute to the man she'd shared 22 years and three sons with. They'd been raising Dale's nephew as well, since Dale's sister died of breast cancer last year. 

My sadness is a quiet one. My heart aches for Dale's wife and sons, for his parents who will bury their oldest son, for his brother who has now lost both siblings to cancer. 

But for me, the post was a reminder. I often disparage that small town I grew up in. I do not look back on it fondly or think of it as a place of opportunity or support. I left at 19 and took little time to look back. When I returned for my 10 year grad reunion two bar fights broke out AMONG MY CLASSMATES. I miss very little of that town. 

And then I think of Ron, Ronnie, Bobby and Dale. I think of Shiny, Ali, and Brenda, and the teachers who saw something in me. I think of the parents of my friends and the friends of my parents and sisters. I wouldn't know them. I wouldn't remember them. They wouldn't have shaped me if I hadn't lived in that small town. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Norwegian Wood: a book club review

Haruki Murakami is one of those author names of mythic proportions that you hear mentioned as the inspiration for some of the top writers of the day, yet whose novels you may not know. Admittedly, I didn't. When the Newlywed announced Norwegian Wood as her selection for book club this month, I was excited to finally have a nudge to read the great Murakami. I was not disappointed.

Norwegian Wood is not a simple read. As is so often true of novels I sink fully into, it was more character than plot driven, and more poetic than prosaic. It lingers in the dark corners of life - mental illness, suicide, cancer, loss. And yet I felt comforted by it. I obviously can't read the original and compare it to the translation, but I can't imagine a more beautifully written story. It all started with this -

"All I knew about the well was its frightening depth. It was deep beyond measuring, and crammed full of darkness, as if all the world's darknesses had been boiled down to their ultimate density."

I read that sentence and fell in love with this book. There's nothing like a well turned metaphor to capture my heart and mind: 
  • “I really like you, Midori. A lot.”
    “How much is a lot?”
    “Like a spring bear,” I said.
    “A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
    “You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”
  • "How much do you love me?' Midori asked.
    'Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,' I said.” 
But there's more to Murakami. An insight into humanity. An understanding of life and love and death that is simultaneously scary and sad and encouraging and enlightening: 
  • "What happens when people open their hearts?"
    Cigarette dangling from her lips, Reiko clasped her hands together on the table. She was enjoying this.
    "They get better," she said.
  • Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that
  • “Letters are just pieces of paper," I said. "Burn them, and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them, and what vanishes will vanish.”
  • She's letting out her feelings. The scary thing is not being able to do that. When your feelings build up and harden and die inside, then you're in big trouble.”
  • "Person A understands Person B because the time is right for that to happen, not because Person B wants to be understood by Person A."
    "So is it a mistake for me to feel that I want to be understood by someone - by you, for example?"
    "No, it's not a mistake," answered Nagasawa. "Most people would call that love ..."
And then there's the sheer poetry:
  • “Colors shone with exceptional clarity in the rain. The ground was a deep black, the pine branches a brilliant green, the people wrapped in yellow looking like special spirits that were allowed to wander over the earth on rainy mornings only.” 
  • “let the wind change direction a little bit, and their cries turned to whispers.”
  • “Everything was too sharp and clear, so that I could never tell where to start - the way a map that shows to much can sometimes be useless. Now, though I realize that all I can place in the imperfect vessel of writing are imperfect memories and imperfect thoughts.” 
  • “The world was big and full of weird things and strange people.”
  • In the pale evening gloom, when the soft fragrance of magnolias hung in the air, my heart would swell without warning, and tremble, and lurch with a stab of pain.
No list of quotations though, however long, can sing you the music of this novel. It's like hearing a beautiful chord from a song and thinking you know the melody. 

Norwegian Wood resonates, through the softening haze of remembrance, with the culture of the time and with anachronistic memories from earlier times - The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and other classic American novels. The Doors and The Beatles (obviously) and music and art great and minor. 

When a book is beautiful and full of poetry it lends itself easily to gentle conversation and pure, simple, satisfying food. The Newlywed provided both in her first time hosting book club. The most sumptuous ramen buffet of unctuous broth, fresh vegetables, and perfectly poached eggs. Warmly spiced pots au chocolat. A smooth, friendly Malbec.

Maybe it's only because this is the first book in several months that I've completed before book club. Maybe it was the intimacy of our small gathering or that I needed to be among people who love and appreciate me. Whatever melange created this evening, it was exactly what a book club evening should be. 

Friday, November 25, 2016


Today marks the beginning of the UN Women programme's #16days to end violence against women and girls. You know where I stand on this. You know I am 1 in 3. You know because I have posted about it over and over again in the 6 years of this blog and the previous 4 blogging elsewhere. But do you know why my speaking out doesn't matter? Because I am 1 in 3. Because whatever happened to me changed how you listen to me. Because unless men stand up for women other men don't hear it. 

I've learned the depth of that last truth in the last few months. After spending years living with men who suffer from deeply-denied chronic low-grade misogyny, I've suddenly had the experience of being spoken up for. It's sad, really. Most men I know are not creeps or jerks. And yet most men I know speak of women as if we are only bodies. No no, don't go yelling "not all men" at me - most men, some of the time. 

Of course the slightly better ones are pretty good at keeping it hidden. Even someone as vile as Donald Trump wouldn't have talked about "grabbing pussy" if he knew the microphone was on. No, most "decent" men keep those thoughts behind closed doors. The vehemence of the reaction to Trump's outing last month seemed so out of proportion to me, until I realised how in denial most "decent people" are about these things. A very "decent" man who supposedly loved me and supposedly respects women not that long ago said "I'd be such a manwhore if pussy wasn't so hard to get." So please don't tell me Trump is an outlier. He's not. And that's the real problem. It's easy to point fingers at someone reprehensible. It's harder to call out a guy who's "not that bad."

Let's get real. Someone (in fact, many someones) is perpetrating this violence. The 1 in 3 stat isn't pulled out of thin air. And I'm tired of it. I am even more tired of it since I've experienced the opposite. 

I recently posted on Facebook about my experience of being with someone who thinks I am worth more than my body:
. . . I've only recently experienced what it means to have a man call another man out on his inane remarks about me and it's hard to find words for what it meant to me. 
I've never thought of myself as someone who needs protecting, but a man who treats me as less than human isn't going to listen much to my protest of his treatment. A sexist douche will only listen to another man. The impact of that support for me was feeling safe, valued and seen. The impact on the jerk was, it seemed, actually realising he was a jerk. And my hero? Well, he seemed to think that was just common decency. It's not. It's not common at all. But maybe it will become so.
It's really great, for me. I have a fallen for a unicorn - a man who values me beyond what I can do for him or what pleasure I can give him. It's quite lovely being us. But how does that change the world? How does that stop someone else from becoming part of the 1 in 3? And why does it feel like it's the same small group of us raising our voiced while the stat remains unchanged?

I ... I'm stymied. Why do we have to keep having this conversation? Why does the UN have to raise money to protect women and girls? Why should it be a relief to me to have sons instead of daughters because I think sons will be safer (they haven't been, but ... I thought they might be)?

I have no more words. Click this infographic from UN Women if you want to know more. And then, before I break into tears or cursing, and for the sake of all that is good in the world please DO SOMETHING!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Boundaries Where You End and I Begin: a book club unreview

My counselor wanted me to read this book and for months it lingered in my bedside stack of books to read. I thought that if I choose something for book club that I don't want to read I'd have to read it.

I tried. I really did. But this book sucked. It was boring and repetitive and reductive and dated. Personally I kept reading until the author judged other women for wearing bikinis. I love my bikinis. I don't wear them because I have been manipulated by some obscene need for men's approval of my body. I wear them because they are comfortable and I no longer care about other people's opinions of what I wear in that way. Shan out. Others in my book club gave up much earlier - not a single one finished this clunker. Kudos to them.

I did make a killer pad thai - though not actually enough of it for the number of ladies who showed up. All in all, it was kind of a book club fail.

And so, instead of a book club review of a book I didn't read, I give you this small piece of freedom from Chris Brogan:

Big big love to my ladies who already know to stop reading when they aren't loving the book.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

his name is "Jeff"

This morning I put the finishing protective coat on my first painting in at least 16 years. I am not a painter or a visual artist. I have trouble getting images in my mind down accurately on paper or canvas using any medium but words. Yet every once in a while the fancy strikes me - put colour on canvas. Add pigment and light where there is none. And so I try. Sometimes the results frustrate me, and sometimes - as today - they satisfy.

I started this painting a couple months ago and completed it in fits and starts. Being creative is a significant contribution to my recovery from the depression and anxiety that over-whelmed me last spring, but sometimes I forget that. TV doesn't heal; writing, knitting, singing, dancing, loving, painting, exploring ... these are the things that nourish me. I do well when I remember that.

But enough about me; this is about Jeff. This morning I completed a painting. This afternoon I will adventure to a smaller island in the Salish Sea to celebrate the life, love and artistry of my friend Jeff Molloy. Jeff is truly an artist. A creative mind that could look at life and see whimsy and folly and history and culture and wrap it all in a mackinaw or a Hudson's Bay blanket so you saw it too.

Jeff was also a husband - his wife of more than 30 years was my first boss in Victoria and is the kind of passionate, engaged, powerful woman I love to surround myself with and learn from. Working with Kathryn I learned to change the world. Watching Kathryn and Jeff love each other I learned to love and laugh and commit to creating lives worth sharing when you find someone willing to do the same with you.

And Jeff was a dad. He and Kathryn's three children were adolescents and teens when I met them, and the adoration in that family was clearly a five-way street. Those 'kids' are now adults with their own babies, and so Jeff had become Poppa well before he said good-bye this summer.

Yes, Jeff died of cancer. Another good man gone with generations left to mourn him. But that is not what we gather this afternoon to remember. That is not why Jeff is worth celebrating.

Jeff lived a life. He loved well. He expressed what he saw of the world. He celebrated music and encouraged the musicianship of his children. If a rising tide truly floats all boats, Jeff was a tide for the people around him.

As I finished my painting this morning, I thought of Jeff. I thought of his unwillingness to live the expected life (a creative life is always an inspiring act of courage and rebellion), of how he embodied the WestCoast life. I thought of the mischievous twinkle that he always had about him. And I thought, presumptuously no doubt, that Jeff wouldn't mind if I name my playful orca after him. I'm only sorry it's not wearing a mackinaw.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Architect's Apprentice: a book club review

Oh, what a tome. Set in early Renaissance Istanbul, The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Safak reflects the dichotomy I imagine sits at the heart of that ancient and robust city's position at the edge of both Europe and Asia. The story has the deep, dense exoticism of South-­Asian writers such as Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth and the European refinement of a minuet. Oh sure, I sound like I've never attended a post­-Colonial lit class in creating that dichotomy, but ... it's my blog and I'll be essentialist if I want to. Onward. 

The titular apprentice is Jahan, an anti­hero and unreliable narrator of great intelligence and some heart. Although a roguish and unreliable anti­hero has become a trope, it is one with some charms. Regardless of the accuracy of Jahan's story, the presentation of it is engaging. In many ways Jahan is made more sympathetic through his attachment, as mahout, to a darling baby elephant who is sent as a gift from the Sultan of Hindustan to the Sultan of Istanbul. The elephant and the boy grow alongside each other, and during times when we might otherwise think poorly of Jahan, his love of the elephant redeems him. 

I will admit that perhaps this story plays to a particular audience like me ­- one fascinated by architecture, history, folk lore, cultural developments, personal and corporate identity, and the ways in which societies create and enforce similarities and differences. Istanbul of the 1500s and 1600s is a mosaic as rich as those Jahan and his colleagues create in the endless mosques they built. Christians, Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, and Jews live alongside each other in relative peace (as long as each remembers their place). Only the Roma truly seem to be outside this culture, and yet they play an important role in Jahan's journey. Then as now Istanbul is a global cross­roads with merchants and visitors coming from Asia and Europe, bringing with them the knowledge and technological developments of those lands, and that's fully represented in the people with whom Jahan interacts.

If there's something I'd complain about in The Architect's Apprentice it's that I expected more description of the beauty of the buildings and the developments of the city itself through the work of Jahan et al. While much time is spent describing the working relationships and intrigue of such, I wanted to know how coloured glass, bright tiles, and sweeping domes were envisioned, created, and placed. That said, it's already a lengthy book, and the plot often drags, so I'm not sure what would have to be cut to make room for these descriptions. 

Once again my lack of focus on plot saved the book for me. If you like full-­immersion reading; if you have an interest in history, culture and architecture; and if you don't mind a story that covers many decades in many more pages, I recommend The Architect's Apprentice

Oh our darling Little E is SO bold. Not only did she host book club and create an amazing Turkish dinner with a three-­year old and a six-­month old afoot, she did it on the night before they left for their first European family vacation. I dearly hope that as I write this she is recovering on a beach in the Algarve. 

Our Book Club seems to have gotten over the mini-­exodus of the spring (our first after 3 years of being together), been refreshed with some great new members, and to be moving strongly forward into fall. We're a busy bunch -­ besides Little E heading to Europe, we had 2 pregnant women at this meeting, and one member who was concerned about leaving in time to finish sewing her wedding dress (she's getting married in 2 weeks ... just as soon as she's done hiking the west coast trail. It's enough to make one feel like they need a big project just to keep up! 

But oh, that Turkish dinner. It started with humus (of course), and grape leaf wrapped things, and eggplant wrapped things, and vino verdi. And then the incredibly delicious onion bhajis (chick­pea flour fritters with the perfect amount of turmeric), and a tomato­-rich chick­-pea stew. The characters in the novel are always drinking sherbets of various flavours (pomegranate sounds delicious; musk not so much). It sounds much more like a refreshing drink than our frozen treat, but frozen treat we did with an almost shockingly flavourful raspberry sorbetto. Man I love a theme dinner - especially one so brilliantly executed! 

Last month I said I was ambivalent about Our Book Club. With the rash of departures and the decided swing towards being a baby club I've not really felt it was the right club for me any more, and yet after three years I have so much history with these women ­- without whom I would never have "dared greatly." I didn't want to leave, but I didn't feel I belong any more. Trust Little E to be the one to change all of that. I really REALLY wish we actually spent more time discussing the books we read - we're sadly lacking in that department, but ... I can find that somewhere else. This is my lady tribe, though this was the first time since I returned from my foray to Jamaica that I've really felt it. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Hologram for the King: a belated book club review

In my previous exposure to Dave Eggers (namely A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) I laughed and loved and sighed from the publication information through all 900 or so pages of the tome. I was therefore pretty excited when someone selected Eggers' novel A Hologram for the King for book club. And while the novel is vastly different from Eggers' much longer memoir (why does a youngish man have such a lengthy memoir?), I still found it intensely satisfying, engaging, whimsical, and thought-provoking. 

Hologram will not be to every reader's liking, but what book is? I relish strong characters, deftly-drawn scenery and clever word play, and Eggers delivers these three things big time. What he lacks (although I hardly missed it) is a strong plot. The plot is mainly about waiting, but that slow-moving train gives so much room for the main character, Alan Clay, to do a slow resolve into mid-life obscurity that any more active plot would be mis-matched. 

Alan Clay, one time high-flying Schwinn sales man to the world, is the prototypical anti-hero. He fears disappointing his young adult daughter with the reality of his fallibility (what parent amongst us doesn't live with that fear!), he lives with the daily impact of poor choices optimistically made (welcome to my life), and he clings desperately to some thought that things can still turn out all right, if only. If only. 

I might be making this all sound depressing, but I found charm and comfort in Alan's predicaments. His obsession with the lump on his neck (serious illness would solve a lot of problems), his awkwardness with the opposite sex (if you're 50ish and dating, no doubt you feel Alan's pain), his aimless days passed with just a thin covering of purpose. I spent much of the book smiling ruefully and thinking, thank the bright heat of the sun I'm not the only one. 

If you're all about fast-moving plots, this is not the read for you. But if you want to spend a few hours with someone who needs a little saving, and to have his story sweetly shared, Alan Clay's your man.

So, this was actually the book club selection from February 2015, when I was volunteering in Jamaica. I had planned to continue to participate in book club remotely, but it just didn't work. Novels are next to impossible to find in Jamaica, and for some reason it never worked for me to Skype in to meetings, so I just gave up after the first couple months.

Still, since I've been gathering the missing books I thought I'd try to do some catching up while I have some extra time. I do remember people saying they thought it was dreadfully slow, but ... I wasn't here so I can't report out on any more than that. 

damn, I did it AGAIN!

I know I've said this before, but one of the best books I've ever read was The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I read it almost 20 years ago and still find something new in each re-reading. 

The agreements themselves are simple, but they are not easy:
  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don't take things personally
  3. Don't make assumptions
  4. Always do your best
I had the agreements posted over my desk for years. The print-out moved with me from office to office and still lives in my at-home desk - too worn to hang anymore, but still worth seeing regularly. 

I cannot claim to live by any of these - certainly not to the degree I would like - but they are touchstones, and they are something I continue working towards. The one I struggle with the most consistently and feel the least progress with is the second agreement: Don't take things personally.

Today, I got sucked into defending myself against someone who dislikes me. You'd think that'd be a great exception to the "don't take things personally" rule, right? A direct jab from someone who has said (and shown) repeatedly that he doesn't like me seems like the epitome of personal. Only, the truth is that THAT'S NOT ABOUT ME. It's not personal. It's all about him.

His opinion of me is not my business. I wanted to be defended by other people, and knowing (assuming - see #3) there was no help coming I jumped in there and defended myself. I shrank to his size. And I've been stewing about it ever since. It sucks to be disliked (though he's certainly not the only one, and I'm okay with that). It hurts more not to be defended by those who do like me. But the only thing I can control is my response, and it's embarrassing to get sucked in. 

I'm a work in progress, and I'm learning to be more patient with that, but it's disheartening to have a day like today when my own ego proves to be as fragile as ever. I want to be the bigger person. I want to receive insults and jabs and feel compassion for the source of them. But, I'm just not there yet. Maybe I won't rehang the scarred and worn out mini-poster from 2001. Maybe I'll just save this  image as my screensaver so I see it before I go on social media. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The High Mountains of Portugal: a book club review

I love Yann Martel - at least, I think I do. Life of Pi was one of the most moving, thought-provoking fables I've read; his short-story collection The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccomatios changed my mind about the validity and power of short-stories; and Beatrice and Virgil was intriguing and rewarding, especially as a 'writer who reads.' So I was thrilled when Martel's latest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal was selected for a summer book club selection. Unfortunately, the thrill didn't last.

Far be it from me to doubt the power of Yann Martel's writing, but I was relieved when, at long last, I got to the end of this novel. I didn't hate reading it, but it felt like an endurance test. I'm more of a sprinter. The story is presented in three parts, over three separate yet linked stories, and with recurring themes. As always Martel uses humanity's distance from and relationship to animals to highlight the human condition.  And again there were magical elements woven into the otherwise realist story. But, it just never sang. There were spots of beauty, but they didn't occur with the kind of consistency that I need to stay engaged with a story.

My disappointment in this book isn't enough to keep me from recommending it, or from reading whatever Martel produces next. It is enough, however, to dull the glow of my ardour.

I have been so lax about reviews the last while - even book club reviews. I've thought about maybe doing video reviews instead, but I hate being on camera. So, anyway. I don't know if there will be more. I'm fairly ambivalent about blogging, and the reviews, and book club in general. That said, this month we had a phenomenal mini-retreat day trip to Lake Cowichan. Although the total drive time was longer than the visit time, the lake and the food were lovely. There's just something about being offline, out of town, sitting in the breeze off a lake.

Beautiful Lake Cowichan, from the dock

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

for Freckles

This is not enough, but it will have to do somehow. My first roommate and bestie, the reason I hesitate to say any friend is "like a sister to me" (few friendships are as complex as sisterhood is) is turning 50 today, and after a month of humming and hawing and "shoot we should have planned something," this is what she gets. 

Freckles and I shared a room from when I was born until we were 12 and 14. I'm sure she must have hated it more than I did. I don't remember hating it. I remember being purposefully annoying (as little sisters are), and being relieved she was there when I was frightened (which was often, especially when night terrors came), and laughing hilariously at very stupid things. And her feeble attempts to uproot me from the top bunk when I just wouldn't shut up. 

I also remember being lost when she suddenly left at 14 to go live with our aunt and uncle in Bel Air. Okay, it wasn't Bel Air, but c'mon ... I was sad and confused and lonely - and jealous that she got to leave the going-nowhere town I despised. I can only imagine how she felt. 

Freckles was also the person, when she came back home 2 years later, who introduced me to Motown and Michael Jackson. R&B and Soul are still my two favourite kinds of music, thanks to her. If she hadn't been so world-wise lord knows what awful music I'd claim as my own. 

Freckles and I are about as alike as we look. She's petite and brunette and, well, freckled. HA. I was 18 months and she was 3 when I surpassed her in height, but she's always been able to whip me back in line. She's also introverted and plain speaking to my extroverted circumlocution. If I had a dollar for every time she quietly poked and I loud-mouthedly reacted and got in trouble, well, maybe she'd be getting more than a blog post for her birthday. She makes me laugh like crazy - which is generally a good thing, but less so in church. Sigh. 

I sometimes don't ask Freckles for advice on things as I know she'll be honest with me and I know I don't want the honest answer. But when I do want the truth, no matter how sharp an edge it may have on it, I know she'll give it with the best intentions for me and deep insight into who I really am. When I was in Jamaica, very drunk on rum punch and sobbing alone in my hotel room on my first weekend excursion, it was Freckles who knew best what I needed to hear. I forgot (ignored) what she said for a while since coming home, but it was/is powerful and keeps me facing forward. Sometimes - like last week - her truth comes straight out of nowhere and hits a mark I didn't know what even up. She believes in me in a way I have never been able to believe in myself. Sometimes someone else's belief is enough, at least to get you started.

Freckles, I wish I was with you today, laughing too loudly and embarrassing you with garish celebrations. Better yet, I wish we were off somewhere exotic drinking out of pineapples and toasting your golden birthday. But I'm here and you're there and once more the thought will have to count. 

I love you. 
Mexico 2013, in which I learn that sometimes it is better to travel with someone else. :) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

that pesky green frog

A mini-post to share two aphorisms with you that I just can't get out of my head lately. The first is a drop of folk wisdom I remember from grad school. The second is the coaching of a dear friend during some dark relationship moments of a decade ago.

A green frog doesn't have to tell you it's green.


When someone tells you who they are, be skeptical; when someone shows you who they are, believe them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

the playlist

My darling and brilliant friend Erin used to write a weekly music review in the Guardian online. It generally focused on music from the Caribbean (reggae, dancehall and soca) with insights into society and culture. She intelligently assessed pop culture to both entertained and informed. This is not that. 

I've had two weeks of chrysalis bursting, resulting in the need for a really fantastic "I am woman hear me kick my own ass and bust some serious moves" playlist. I put out a call for song suggestions to one of my favourite groups of powerful women, and the variety of responses was interesting. A bit Lilith Fair singer-songwriter angsty and/or hipster way too cool for me, but also some great "oh ya I love that song" moments.

Since crowd-sourcing was a bit of a miss, I decided to do some digging on my own. A week later, I think I've got a starting point. HA! Two insights I've had falling down my youtube rabbit hole of female power pop: 
  1. It is a na├»ve surprise to me that almost all songs that purport to be female empowerment songs are really about getting a man, keeping a man, getting over a man, showing a man what he lost, etc. Perhaps it's time to come up with a Bechdel test for music - it can't be about the boxes his stuff is in, or what you're going to do to his truck, or, really, about him at all. The songs that pass the SCWink pop music test are just about how awesome it is to be a woman. How powerful we can be. How resourceful, and creative, and loving (as mothers, daughters, friends, and THEN lovers). A part of what I love about being a woman is the alchemy that happens with some men, but that is not the totality of who I am, and until now it has not been the part that designs and creates an awesome life full of adventure. In short, the SCWink pop music test looks for songs that speak to the 93% of a woman that isn't her vagina.
  2. In the end, I had to embrace the fact that I am not one of the music elite. I love pop music. If I could only listen to one genre of music the rest of my life it would be R&B. I have a secret corner of my heart that only certain country songs speak to. There's little room for bitter irony on my list. We're wearing hot pink sundresses for this one, not slouchy hats and worn out flannel. 
This is not a list about cheating lovers or lowered expectations. This is not a playlist about him, or them, or I'll show you. It might be my running list as I train for the first race I've competed in since high school. It might be what plays as I apply the defibrillator pads to my writing intentions. Heck, it might just be what pours out my car windows as I roll out on a random adventure. It is, as I am, a work in progress. It's 100% ALRIGHTY - HERE WE GO! It makes me tap my fingers, throw my hands in the air, sing and dance. 

Wanna know what 20 songs currently make the "SCWink Unlimited" cut?

Friday, May 13, 2016

turning the world on, with wrinkle cream

I loved Mary Tyler Moore show re-runs when I was a kid. I loved Mary's independence, and her flailing, and her friendship with Rhoda, and most of all the theme song and Mary's youthful zest at the end of it, spinning in a circle and flinging her tam in the air. When I think of that show, I think how odd it was that everyone, including ingenue Mary, was old. Submitted as evidence, this cast photo from the first season in 1970: 

in today's TV universe, all of these people are straight up old. 

Ed Asner, in particular, was an OLD MAN and his character Lou Grant was an OLD MAN. In the second season there's a whole episode about Lou being old, out of touch, and irrelevant. That episode is called "The 45 Year Old Man." Watching it today, and seeing the title, I got a little queasy. I am older than Lou Grant (no, don't bother pointing out that there is no Lou Grant).


I spend an embarrassing amount of time concerned about my age, concerned about (not) looking my age, and attached to being youthful. I'm extremely grateful for good genes, though it contributes to my confusion that my parents don't "look their age" and my grandmothers never "looked their age." We live in a world in which 30 year olds play high schoolers on TV and we're told "it's just a number" but billions of dollars are spent encouraging us to spend other billions of dollars defying and disguising that number. What does 35 or 48 or 56 look like anyway? Never mind 74 or 92 or 101. And then there's that looming round number steaming towards me. 

Part of me - the aware, compassionate, "our culture is broken and needs a total revolution" part hates that this is even a subject I'm indulging. There are real issues in the world. What matters to me is social justice, and safe spaces, and creative expression, and being part of a tide that raises all boats, and ... oh crap that other part won't shut up. 

The damn other part - that part wants to be seen and celebrated and successful within this warped culture. That part misses hearing "No way, you can't have adult sons," and being carded and being the youngest anything anywhere. I don't want to look good "for my age" - I want my compliments without qualifiers. I fuss over chin hairs and crows feet and sags. And, apparently I'm having reactions to 46 year old tv shows. 

Lou Grant was OLD. Mrs. Walton was OLD. My Grade 1 teacher was practically a fossil. They were all younger than I am now. That hurts, but what hurts more is that I even care. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

it's not you; it's me

I met with my doctor again yesterday. We meet every four weeks to see if our current approach is making a difference with my major depressive disorder (MDD). Yes, that's the official diagnosis; that's why I've been on medical leave for months. Yesterday's tests showed that no, we're not getting anywhere yet. 

If I had some other illness, I probably wouldn't have to tell you that. If I had some other illness, maybe you'd see my gaunt face, or you'd hear from someone how I haven't been able to leave the house so they're organizing meals. Or maybe you'd see me in a wheelchair or on crutches or dragging an oxygen tank. 

I told my doctor how frustrating it is to have an invisible disease. I reported some of the thoughtless things people have said. And some of the thoughts those have lead to in me. Thoughts like "Maybe I should go back to work even though I can't concentrate on anything, would be doing terrible work, and would end up shaking/crying again by the end of the first week." But mostly thoughts like "People think I'm shirking, that I'm not really sick, that I'm abusing the system; it matters to me what people think. If I went back they'd respect me again." 

My doctor was sympathetic. To the people in my life who've said those things, as well as to me. He pointed out that there's no way for people to know what it's like to have MDD if they haven't experienced it. They don't know the bone deep fatigue. The scrambled thoughts. The jangling nerves. The inexplicable head and body aches.

My doctor also said that I am not helping anything by masking my symptoms - that maybe if I walked around and showed people my test results they'd see something that doesn't show on my face or in my behaviour. Maybe if I fulfilled people's ideas of a mentally ill person they'd believe me (it reminded me of rape victims who aren't believed because they don't follow some expected response, but I digress). 

It made me laugh a little bit, sardonically. People often say that I'm an open book, and that my face betrays me - that's true. But a lifetime of pushing through has given me skills at showing the surface so I can hide what's behind it. I'm the Emperor of Oz, and like Dorothy my world is charcoal grey and the Technicolor is the illusion. The yellow brick road has fractured. I've hit some wall. I can't seem to keep pushing through. 

I could ask for help if I had any idea what to ask for. I could stop only seeing people when I'm on top and disappearing when I'm depleted. How could you know how bad the bad days are if you never see them? We all know that Facebook is a carefully edited highlight reel; it now occurs to me that my entire outward persona is a carefully edited highlight reel. I cycle between mysterious recluse and charming social convener - between Greta Garbo and Debbie Reynolds. The latter is the identity I prefer. I'm invested in you seeing me that way. I've been taught it's the identity most likely to be accepted. 
Really, which one would you rather hang out with?
I'm not on an extended holiday - I'm doing hard work trying to get better. Besides my doctor I currently have a team of 5 people supporting my overall health. My health trainers, a massage therapist, a counsellor, a digestive wellness coach (90% of serotonin is created in our guts, yet few depression therapies address gut health ...). I'm taking meds, but I'm also eating better, exercising, sleeping more. Pretty soon I start an 8 week cognitive training program - I'm excited about that. 

I shouldn't be writing this. I definitely shouldn't click publish. I want a better job, and in the meantime I want more responsibility at my current job when I return. I want to work. I want the routine and the social interaction and the income. Eventually I want clients who trust me to perform in my own business and help me create a life that's location independent. How is any of that going to happen when people know that I have unresponsive MDD that we (my team and I) haven't found an effective treatment for yet? How can they trust it won't recur when we do find the right treatment? 

But right now, today, I want you to know. I get that I'm responsible for not letting you know before. I get that you can't get it, and I'm sorry for judging you for that. Most importantly, I'm saying all this with the hope that maybe next time someone you know is on medical leave for a mental illness, you'll believe them. Maybe you'll take them seriously. And maybe, if you can't manage that, you'll at least keep it to yourself. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

i stand with Lucy; i believe survivors

NB: If you don't know what my title refers to, you are likely not Canadian, or at least not a Canadian woman, or maybe you're a Canadian who works hard to avoid the news. Regardless, the title should stand as a trigger warning that this post addresses rape and sexual assault with more frankness and anger and disgust than I usually permit myself. If you read no further, read this: 

A summary for those who need it: The verdict was delivered today in a high-profile Canadian sexual assault case in which a Canadian celebrity (yes, that's a thing) was acquitted on multiple charges brought forward by three women. In fact, almost two dozen women came forward against the accused, but the Crown decided evidence was only strong enough to proceed with charges in three cases. Following a trial that demonstrated everything about the legal system that keeps women from accusing their sexual aggressors (victim blaming, unyielding media coverage, unequal legal support, etc.), today's verdict was a surprise to few and an affront to many. 

I have tried largely to stay offline today. Having seen the verdict when I first logged on this morning and stated my support for the courageous survivors in this case and my sadness for all the women who will be silenced by this verdict, I decided that going about my life would be healthier for my peace of mind. Habits being what they are, I checked back in later this afternoon and saw a mix of responses on social media, including some really nasty further victim blaming, and the accused's statement that he "thanks the Crown and police" and hopes that this will keep other women in the future from coming forward. He knows. He's clear the impact on other survivors of this verdict. It's nauseating. 

A friend had commented on my stated support for all survivors by asking if I had read the testimony in the case. I was ready to be defensive because I have tried (in vain) to avoid much of the detailed coverage, and I hate to have my ignorance highlighted. But the truth is there's a reason I have fought my interest in this case and it's worth addressing. So, here's my too-long-for-FB answer. 

No, I haven't read the testimony. I have seen the unavoidable highlights and headlines; I have listened to the women I know who know some of the survivors and the accused, and I have consciously chosen to limit my exposure. There are several reasons for my avoidance and for my unquestioning and unwavering support of all survivors - for which I am unapologetic. Mostly, I didn't follow the case closely because of my personal experience with the injustice of Canada's legal system when it comes to sexual assault.

I didn't need the reminder of when someone dear to me spent three nights in 1986 sleeping on the floor of my university dorm room because she'd been raped in her own home and didn't feel safe there. I remember how the police questioned why she invited the man into her house, how much she'd had to drink, why they should believe her over him.

I didn't need to relive my 2001 rape and being told by the sexual assault centre counsellor not to bother pressing charges since the police would wonder why I'd willingly gone to the rapist's house.

I don't need to have recreated for me the freezing terror and crippling PTSD of another loved one when she was attacked in 2013 and could find no help in her small town, either from the police or from the women's crisis centre she called.

I have retained enough stories from my time at The Cridge Centre as colleagues stood beside woman after woman who faced losing her children to her abuser because the judge questioned her motives, her "version" of the truth, her actions in the face of being broken by love and hate and manipulation that makes her question her own reality. I could go on, but why bother?

In short, I know that the truth is of little to no consequence when a woman says a man didn't have her permission, let alone her invitation, to do whatever he has done to her body. I don't need to read the testimony, because I believe no woman would expose herself to the disbelief of the police, the ridicule of the public, and the cynicism of the court and media for anything other than a naive hope she will find justice.

My best friend said today she better teach her daughter not to bother telling anyone when she's assaulted - to consider both the likelihood of that beloved girl's assault and the lack of justice she would face stops me in my tracks. I adore her. She's brilliant and hilarious and loving and fierce. Statistically, it's a reasonable fear for her mom to have. I would give anything to protect her, and have no idea how to do that. As I said more than a year ago, this case only matters if we can use it to build a Canada that is safer for women. Today's verdict is a huge huge setback in that aim. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

moving home

To the uninitiated it might seem I am always on the move. In fact, to me it seems that I am always on the move. This month I am again moving home. It sometimes seems like we just got here, yet it will have been just shy of 4 years in this house when I leave (including the 6 months I wasn't here but my stuff was). I'm leaving under much different circumstances than I moved in with - a dream lived and died in this house. But other dreams have taken its place, and this move will facilitate them. 

In fact, 3 years and 11 months makes this one of the longer stays in one residence for me, certainly as an adult. In 48 years I've now moved 24 times* (including 2 moves in Kingston, which felt like homes; but not including two years in university dorms, which never were home for me). You'd think I'd be good at moving, and with my spreadsheets and sticky notes and 'moving tool kit' and penchant for organization maybe I am, but I still hate it. I have friends who have moved even more frequently and think nothing of it, but for me, having created a real home, there's always some sadness in the leaving. 

And this has been a home. It's the first home I've created with a partner since leaving my marriage, and we moved in calling it our love nest never thinking the honeymoon would end. It's been a safe space for my sons to come and go from. It's hosted parties and Christmases and Easters. We jumped feet first into the gardening, and soon discovered it to be a mud bog of effort though it still creates beauty and joy. I doubt I will ever again have a kitchen I love as much as this one - it's sunny, and spacious and warm and there's room in it to share work and laughter. I don't love cooking, but I love cooking in this kitchen. 

The condo I'm moving too will also be a home. My sons will again come and go. The 'stuff' that makes a place mine will surround me. It will, in time, host its own parties and Christmases and memories. I relish the bigger bathtub and the in-suite laundry and no longer having the least-attractive commute in Victoria. I can't wait to be walking distance to stores and restaurants, and to be more convenient for friends to come by or meet for coffee and walks. It will be a good space - one I hope to stay in longer than I've been here. 

It's time to go. It's time to close this chapter. But if there are tear stains on some of the tissue-wrapped photo frames, I'm sure you'll understand why. 
* The rundown, for those keeping track: 
  • Quesnel - 1
  • Kamloops - 1
  • Prince George A - 3 (?)
  • Chetwynd - 3
  • Prince George B - 1
  • Aldergrove - 1
  • Port McNeill - 2
  • Fort Saint James - 2
  • Castlegar - 1
  • Prince George C - 2
  • Victoria - 5
  • Kingston - 2

Monday, February 1, 2016

Me Before You: a book club review

There was more to Jojo Moyes' novel Me Before You than I anticipated, but not quite as much to it as their could have been. I know that in general we are discouraged from judging a book by its cover, but that's like saying not to judge people for how they present themselves - a nice idea, but a little naive. When a book looks like the prototypical 'chick lit,' I don't have high expectations. 

The characters in Me Before You, particularly the lead character Louisa, are complex and sympathetic, except when they're not meant to be. Louisa's parents are well drawn, perfectly flawed, struggling, inadvertently cruel and loving, unfair without malice, and limited by their own concerns. Her sister - the favoured daughter despite being completely self-absorbed and having quit college due to an unplanned pregnancy - is quintessentially sisterly. Loving when she's not being a bitch, and there when the chips are down. 

Though the plot of Me Before You sometimes verges on the maudlin and overwrought, it kept my attention and moved at a compelling pace. It didn't rush the reader or the characters, but their development over time was believable and rewarding. I sometimes thought the author was being manipulative, but that's because my reading was flawed by a misleading spoiler. I wish I could read it again for the first time and see if I still felt that way. 

Me Before You is set in a small English town, and as our book club hostess said "is Pride and Prejudice with a gang rape." In fact, though, the gang rape is one of the most poorly managed aspects of the plot. The main story is between charming, lackluster 26-year old Louisa who is perfectly happy with her job at a diner and living with her parents until the diner closes and she take a position as a 'carer.' Her client, Will, is the epitome of the entitled, public school attending, man of action, upper middle class Englishman. He's also bitter and suicidal since being hit by a car left him a quadriplegic. 

Despite all it has going for it, Me Before You fails to deliver. It broaches gang rape, teen pregnancy, the rights of the disabled and assisted suicide, and yet my over-all impression was of whip cream: it looks great and tastes good, but really doesn't satisfy. The fault lies mainly in the low reading level - it's a rare writer who can address complex issues with simple language; Moyes is not one of those writers. I do recommend the book; it was thought-provoking in a 'table topics' kind of way - it raised the point, but did little to really inform. 

What a brilliant woman our Teacher Lady is - her family was in the middle of moving this month but she didn't want to miss her turn hosting, so she booked a suite in a lovely downtown hotel and hosted us there. 

Downtown drinks after were an option. A dip in the pool could have been an option (if it hadn't been closed for maintenance). More ladies showed up than have attended in a year (in fact, everyone except Little E was there, her excuse being 39 weeks pregnant), and the food was outstanding.  It was, in fact, the perfect book club night. 

I wish I could have stayed over with Teacher Lady. It was a great reminder that we live in a beautiful city that people visit from all over the world. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

20 reasons why i need Bell's Let's Talk Day*

It's time once again for my becoming-annual Bell Let's Talk post (2015, 2014). And this year let me just say, stuff you and your cynicism about corporate greed. You can bitch about an organization that's at least doing something - as flawed, or inadequate, or self-serving as you may judge it - or you can get out from behind your computer screen and do something yourself. 

Want government change? Organize for it. Want to make a difference for people with mental health - ask them what they need. Want to change society so mental illness kills fewer of our young people and stifles fewer people who might make THE difference for themselves and others if they were well - do something that will change our conversation about mental health. 

Do I know what the answers are? No, obviously not. I'm busy trying to get well. But let me tell you what I do know: 

Why I need #BellLetsTalk:

  1. because if I was on medical leave with any other diagnosis, people would be bringing me meals and asking how else they can help*
  2. because telling my boss why I saw my doctor so frequently was a bad career move
  3. because when I met with a new counsellor the other day and started telling him what I've been dealing with, he teared up and I ended up managing his response instead of getting support
  4. because when my trainer asked who I can tell everything to and just be supported, I couldn't answer, and then I couldn't breathe*
  5. because every time one of my sons has a bad day I think A) will it kill him this time AND B) it's my fault - kids can't escape their mother's mental illness
  6. because the last time my son reached out to someone other than me on a bad day the police pushed into his apartment, called him a liar, took him to the hospital in just gym shorts and an undershirt, stole his medically-approved marijuana, and left him locked up overnight with no money to get home. He couldn't leave his apartment for a month after that, and I was too far away to do anything about it. 
  7. (EDITED JANUARY 29) because when my son was in the hospital for 3 weeks after his last suicide attempt, only his grandparents visited him or sent him a card, chocolates, or whatever else people in every other ward of the hospital get**
  8. because the stigma of mental illness keeps my son from asking for the college support service he has a right to and that would make his success approximately a billion times easier for him
  9. because suicide is the second highest cause of death among Canadians age 10-24, and instead of helping them we call them moody, hormonal, attention-seeking, self-absorbed or "just going through a phase"
  10. because when a woman cries over something we don't understand we call her a crazy bitch instead of asking what she needs
  11. because I'd rather stay home alone than have to bear the weight of a false smile
  12. because children from single-mothers households are 5x more likely to commit suicide than those from two-parent households, yet there aren't supports for divorced/divorcing families
  13. because my child's depression is more likely to kill him than your child's cancer, but there's no McHappy Day to battle that
  14. because in Canada, for all our hoorah and sudden coolness and bragging about our (not at all free or effective) universal medical care, only 1 in 5 depressed youth who require medical support will receive it despite the knowledge that early intervention saves lives and minimizes the frequency and severity of relapse
  15. because I am creative, intelligent, educated, adventurous, loving, fun, loved and beautiful, and some days I can't stand to leave my house
  16. because the man I love had to tell me every day for weeks that I wasn't okay before I heard him and asked for real help
  17. because I just want my sparkle back, and I can't find it on my own
  18. because 32 years after my first depression diagnosis I have only now given up caring what you think about it so I can focus instead on what I can do about it
  19. because it's okay for a stranger on the street to tell me I'd be prettier if I smiled, but not for me to tell him why I can't
  20. because even after reading all this, you won't believe that mental illness is a "real illness"
I keep re-reading this list, and each time it gets longer. I am one person with chronic mental illness. I love AT LEAST 4 other people with diagnosed chronic mental illness. Every one of them (and me) is so much more than our diagnosis, and none of us are getting the support we need to be truly well. I have seen my doctor at least 12 times in the 9 months I've been home and my depression (now coupled with anxiety) continues to worsen. 

So go ahead with your cynicism if it makes you feel cool and clever. But who's going to stop the spread of this epidemic? Lord know those of us caught in it are busy just staying afloat.  

*I hope that the 10 people in my life to whom this post doesn't apply know who they are and how much I love and appreciate them.

**(ADDED JANUARY 29) NL read this last night and told me grandma & grandpa visited him, as well as one aunt and cousin from his dad's family. I appreciate knowing that, and the correction.

Friday, January 22, 2016

life in the time of hyperbole

I am sometimes accused of being a drama queen, of playing things up, or (at best) of "having a way with words." Part of that comes from being writerly, some from a vivid imagination, and some from my ongoing mental health battles. But it occurs to me that in this present culture, hyperbole is the norm - a cacophonous crescendo as too many voices work to be heard.

Dramatic tension is the life-blood of all fiction and most non-fiction writing - whether that's for TV, short stories, 'creative non-fiction', or, increasingly and perhaps problematically, journalism. If the story doesn't capture the reader's imagination, some other flashing headline will. I have taken a small and meaningless stand against the mental spam, click-bait, formulaic video and article headlines that are the standard pap of Facebook these days. No matter how compelling the story might otherwise be, if you use one of these ridiculous overstatements, I will not reward you with a click:

Ugh. My head. 

No video has yet changed my life. 
No laughing baby has made me re-assess my philosophy.
No rendition of "Let it Go" has driven me to rhapsodies of spirit and soul.

And yet, I am pulled to play that game. When the whole of society has turned the volume up to 11 and crying wolf is the most common form of communication, how do you make yourself heard, and how do you find the room to think?

That's the task before me for the next 17 days - to create quiet and find a way through the yowling morass to a high place where I can see clearly.

Friday, January 1, 2016

i believe...

I believe. 
I believe in the magic of a new year;
in the possibility of a clean page. 
I believe in fresh starts and umpteenth chances. 
I believe in taking a moment to catch your breath, dust off your scraped soul, and rise again. 
I believe that even though our numbering of hours, days, months and years is a social construct, they are imbued with the power we assign them.
And I assign these days of transition the power of completion and resurrection. 
I believe in the year before me. 
I believe in me. 

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