COVID-19, Oil Pipelines, and Water

It’s so great that oil is practically worthless now! Now if the governments would just stop bailing out those companies. We don’t need to extract and use more fossil fuels. We already KNOW they are a limited resource. We already KNOW that the environment is utterly destroyed by these processes, polluting ground water and aquifers and land for animals (including human animals) and plants.

We don’t need more pipelines, and more use of government violence to violate ancestral lands, medicine bundles, and the bodies of the matriarchs. We don’t want the RCMP used as a tool of colonial violence against the land and the protectors of the land.

What we want is clean air, clean water, healthy forests, thriving ecosystems, and an abundance of pollinators and scavengers and all the other bits and pieces that make up a healthy planet.

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Universal Basic Income and COVID-19

If we already had Universal Basic Income (UBI) in place, COVID-19 would have had way less  economic effect on people, especially poor people, especially renters and students and workers in the gig economy. If everyone had a certain amount of money every month no matter what, we’d all be able to pay our rent and get some groceries during quarantine / isolation / lockdown / social distancing.

Just give every single person in the country, regardless of income or employment status, a certain set amount. The rich would end up paying it back in the their taxes, but at lower income levels, people would have disposable income (thus stimulating the economy, because disposable income and spending are what do that, NOT jobs—jobs are just a means to the money). The costs of this would be balanced out by the fact that we wouldn’t need any more welfare system, no Employment Income Assistance for people on disability or out of work, All those systems would be dismantled: no more welfare fraud lines, no more meetings to prove you’ve applied for a certain number of jobs, no more rent on huge office buildings to house these systems, , etc. And if that doesn’t save enough money yet for UBI, then tax the rich, tax the corporations, and tax the churches. Tax them at the same rates as individuals. It is fucking ridiculous that huge corporations get tax breaks while people on disability can’t make ends meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finished this book: The Invisible Empire: A History of Racism in Canada by Margaret Cannon

The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada book cover image

The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada book cover image

This book was published back in 1995 and I remember quite liking it then. I was at the tail end of my Women’s Studies degree and quite impressed with my own knowledge and open-mindedness. A book about racism in Canada was right up my alley. Not only would it look impressive when I read it on the bus, but it was also unlikely (I was certain) to challenge me in any real way, given all the recent reading and learning I had done around the intersections among race, class, power, sexuality, and gender.

Rereading this book almost a quarter of a century later has been a sobering experience. I don’t recall exactly what I thought and felt about this book back then; I just had a general feeling of it being an interesting look at the then-current state of race in my country.

Now, however, I am surprised that I would have bought a book by a white woman to learn about racism in Canada. Particularly not a person who is writing from such a place of power and privilege, with access to the media as a journalist, private school for her daughter, etc. It amazes me that I thought this might be a useful perspective.

There was some interesting information and research about such things as how the Heritage Front is constituted and connected to other people and groups (and how these groups exist to basically protect middle-aged white, middle-aged women like the author), some history of  immigration in Toronto, etc. But overall I was pretty disappointed in this book now. To put it in today’s terms, I felt it smelled strongly of #notallwhitepeople.

Things that made me feel this way:

  • lots of pointing out how different ethnic groups also dislike or discriminate against each other (felt like: “they do it too”)
  • lots of “trying to find the truth” between the lived experience of POC and the feelings of white people (felt like: “both sides of the story are equally valid and have to be heard”)
  • a discomfort with naming racism, hatred, and consequences clearly (felt like “try to remain polite”)
  • not enough analysis or placing of events / issues in a context of systemic oppression, but rather more explaining the way things are. Perhaps this descriptive rather than analytical approach comes from the writer’s journalist background. But description by a member of the oppressor’s group is not neutral.
  • too many protestations of the goodness of individual white people (for example, “June Callwood did so much good for the community and is being persecuted for this mistake / misunderstanding”; and, regarding the ROM Into the Heart of Darkness / Africa exhibit: “but the curators did a brilliant job; it’s just that people didn’t understand the cleverness and intellectualism and irony of it all!”; and how opening a new theatre with a production of Showboat was was a more of a lapse of good judgement than actual racism
  • blaming multiculturalism for a lot of these problems (which felt like: “immigrants should just adapt to our ways and there wouldn’t be a problem”

 

While Cannon does seem to be pushing her own comfort zone in this book, especially when venturing out to attend Heritage Front meetings and the like, and does seem to move toward an understanding of the fact that racism extends beyond the confines of actual “hate groups” to include the beliefs and actions of “ordinary people like you and me” (with the definite assumption that “we”—she and her readers— are white people), she does not take her understanding further to embed this in a systemic context.

On the one hand, I understand that this was a fairly new concept for a lot of us white people back in the nineties, but on the other hand, at that time, I certainly owned and worked hard at understanding an expensive pile of textbooks talking about this exact systemic dynamic, textbooks which would certainly have been accessible and parseable by someone with Cannon’s writerly qualifications.

I will put this book in the giveaway pile and wouldn’t recommend it now, but it was very interesting to take this trip backward and see how much my own views and understanding of racism have changed over time. It makes me wonder uncomfortably how much more I have yet to learn, and how another quarter century will (I hope) change my views and deepen my understanding of the toxic webs of systemic oppression and my place in them.

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Very Important Note: None of the phrases in quotation marks are direct quotes from the book.


 

Finished this book (a while ago): Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Cover of the book Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Cover of the book Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

 

I’ve been falling behind on posting book reviews lately, but the books themselves are all stacked up waiting for me to blog about them. Problem is, the more I read, the less I remember about each individual book I read last year to be able to review it… But here I go anyway!

My mom gave me Atwood’s book Hag-Seed a year or so ago, and although I was very much looking forward to reading it, it took me a while to get around to it. Around the time I had finally picked it off the shelf and placed it by my bed to read, I started seeing posts on Facebook about how Atwood was defending someone who’d been accused of sexual assault, and rules-lawyering about reasonable doubt and giving men a chance. I was so irritated and disappointed, as it seemed at that time that every time I turned around, another woman whom I had previously thought reasonable was siding against victims and with predators. So I ignored the book for a few more weeks, and once I did start to read it, I was in a frame of mind to be extra critical of it.

And I did indeed find much to criticise. Or at least much to be disappointed in. The only three female characters were 1) a figment of the protagonist’s imagination, 2) a trying-too-hard femme d’un certain âge scorned by the protagonist, and 3) the out-of-work actress he originally wanted as his Miranda twelve years earlier who is willing, available, flexible, and eager to rush in to fill the role. The protagonist himself, Felix, is a narcissistic, vengeful man who feels that his artistic brilliance justified anything he chooses to do. The prison, prison guards, and inmates are portrayed so unrealistically that I have to assume that even people who have never been to or worked in a jail must be unconvinced.

Now maybe, I thought while reading the book, perhaps this was all a brilliant work of irony or satire or theatrics. Maybe the theatrical nature of this—a book which creates a play within a play based on a play outside the book—is actually a fourth play—the book itself—with liberties taken for the sake of the staging and the plot.

But I found the protagonist tiresome and whiny, the two live female characters superficial and unrealistic, and the portrayal of jail guards and inmates condescending.

What I did enjoy was the dive into The Tempest itself, and the different interpretations of the play and its various parts. It’s not a play I’ve ever read or seen; having only picked up some of its pieces bit by bit through references elsewhere, it was interesting and intriguing to have this be my first real introduction to it, and I wonder how much more I might have appreciated this book if I had been familiar with The Tempest beforehand.

And the other thing, a little thing but something that gave me great pleasure, was that when Felix had the inmates working on the play, all regular curse words were forbidden. Instead, they could only use the curse words from the play itself. This playfulness and the way it is taken to heart by the inmate-actors was quite lovely.

After reading this book, I discovered that it is part of the Hogarth Project, which has contemporary authors re-imagine Shakespeare’s plays. That did put the book in a new light for me, seeing that Atwood was writing within certain constraints. It makes me more appreciate that Felix/Prospero is the protagonist not because Atwood decided to write about a self-involved man with little regard for others, but because he is, simply, the obvious protagonist. It also put the inmates in a different position: Atwood is not forcing them awkwardly into the various roles, but showing how the play’s characters are relevant to and reflected in people in all times. So I felt a bit more generous toward both the author and the book after discovering this context.

That said, I am sorely disappointed in the lack of feminism, woman-centredness, or politics beyond the petty (etc.) in this book. My expectations of Atwood were formed by Surfacing and The Edible Woman back when I just hitting puberty. Hag-Seed just doesn’t come close to that style, subtlety, or layering.

I have no interest in re-reading this book, and it will go into my giveaway pile.

Disclaimer: this review is thinner than it could have been, as I read the book quite a while ago…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Stranger in the Night (or, The Fluffy Dog Does a Good Job)

The Fluffy Dog is a happy guy!

 

I woke up to someone touching my foot. I assumed it was my sweetie passing by the foot of the bed, so I pulled my foot away to give him more room, and as I moved, I realised that he was actually still in the bed with me.

Must have been the dog, I thought, still half-asleep. So I stretched my foot out over the end of the bed to poke the Fluffy Dog and see if he was standing up. What I encountered with my foot was something that felt like a very large, tightly-packed duffel bag. That woke me up completely: oh my god, something fell on the dog!

I flung myself out of bed, grabbed my glasses, and reached for the light switch all at the same time. But what I saw when the light went on was confusing. There was something large on the floor wedged between the foot of the bed and the cupboard, and I could see the back end of the Fluffy Dog stretched out beyond it.

It took me a moment to understand what I was seeing: a large person was crouched right down on the ground, with their arms wrapped around my dog. I couldn’t understand what was going on! As a very light sleeper, it was incomprehensible to me that someone could have come right into my house and my bedroom at night without waking me up, especially given the mid-moving state of my house (think Obstacle Course meets Hoarders). (Meanwhile, my sweetie is out of bed: “what the hell…?”) The only thing that made sense to my groggy brain was that it was my brother who was somehow in trouble or drunk or sick and who decided to take comfort with the Fluffy Dog rather than wake me up.

So I said, “Hey. Hey!” and reached down to the scruff of the intruder’s neck, grabbed hold of their hoodie, and started hauling upward. The person offered no resistance, but as I pulled his head up, we could see that this was definitely not my brother. This guy was a stranger. A BIG stranger. “This dog brought me here,” he said. He was young, like late teens? He repeated: “This dog brought me here” and my sweetie said “Dude, you have to leave” as I moved away from the bedroom door so the guy could leave. “This dog brought me here!” By now he was almost standing; it all happened so fast. “Okay man, but this isn’t your home and you have to leave now,” my sweetie told him.

Now the stranger started turning around to face me and the door: “I thought this was my group home. Where’s my group home?”

“I think it’s across the street,” I told him. “I’ll show you.” He bent to pick up his backpack which he had placed neatly by the bedroom door, and looked back at the Fluffy Dog. “This dog. This dog brought me here. Where’s my group home?”

I flipped on the hallway light and let the confused young man precede me to the back door. He let himself out the side gate and I closed it behind him, not waiting to see if he got to the group home across the street.

And then I sat down with the shakes. Of course I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night, for many reasons. All of the “what ifs,” of course, the horrible things that could have happened if that person had been someone violent. Or if we had found him in my stepdaughter’s bedroom instead of ours. Or if my Fluffy Dog had made even a single squeak of pain or fear. All the violence that could have erupted from him or from us. But also the shattering of my belief that my sensitive hearing and my being a light sleeper will protect or forewarn me of this kind of thing. For thirteen years, I have slept most summer nights with that back door open for the breeze. No more. It is a huge change in my self-perception.

The young man smelled like he’d had a bit to drink, but he didn’t stink of booze. He seemed more lost, confused, and perhaps scared than drunk or angry. The next morning I texted the manager of the group home across the street but it turns out this wasn’t one of their clients. I sure hope he got home okay.

But the most amazing thing to me was the Fluffy Dog. He has really come into his own since the Brindle Dog died in May. That’s often how it goes: the next dog gets to bloom once the bossy paw of the eldest dog is lifted. It is clear now that he would have been a marvelous therapy dog.

The Brindle Dog would have gone ballistic if a stranger entered the house (which is probably part of the reason I felt so safe at night). Even when known people entered, she was all bark and growl and spit and gleaming fang.

But the Fluffy Dog is a different sort. As that stranger crouched down on the floor and clutched him, the Fluffy Dog was powerfully calm. He worked hard to comfort that confused young man, to create and maintain a safe little space for him, to make him feel seen and held.

And it worked. Not just on the mystery intruder, but also on me and my sweetie. In a situation where any of us could have panicked and escalated things, we were all calm and reasonable. I am actually quite amazed at that. I don’t know that young man, of course; perhaps he is always so low-key. But my partner and I can both lose our shit lightning quick if we or someone we love is being threatened. That night, with a stranger in our bedroom in the middle of the night, and my partner’s daughter in the room across the hall, we barely even raised our voices. Nobody moved quickly. Nobody lost their temper. I don’t know how to explain this other than by the hard work and skills of the Fluffy Dog.

It’s hard to write this and harder to tell people about it. Partly because I get flak for sleeping with my door open. But mostly because I am such an anti-woowoo person. I don’t want people to laugh at me for believing my dog has some kind of mental valium-like superpowers. Or for believing that my dog was a huge factor in getting us all through that situation safely and calmly. I’m the one who looks down my nose at blind faith, who adores the scientific method. I know there’s stuff we can’t explain yet, and I’m willing to reserve judgement on most of that, but the facts about a lot of things are already out there and I’m pretty contemptuous of people who ignore them (I’m looking at you, anti-vaxxers) or who put their faith in movie stars for health advice (jade eggs / glitter in your vagina, really?), for example.

But the Fluffy Dog has done this before, at least once that I know of:

A few weeks after the Brindle Dog died, I had a full-on panic attack for the first time in a long while. I was in the bedroom folding my laundry when the shakiness and nausea started, and then the tightness in my chest, and then the whimpering. I was trying to take calming breaths, to focus on things around me, to use my strategies. But the crying started and both my sweetie and the Fluffy Dog came rushing into the bedroom. I was crying and gasping “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I think I’m dying, I’m so sorry” and my partner was trying to parse out what was going on and what he could do for me.

But the Fluffy Dog shoved himself past my sweetie’s legs and pressed his body against me so I was tucked snugly between him and the wall. That good dog turned his head watched me very seriously, his expression calm but intense, and he didn’t let up the body pressure even when I threw my arms around him and sobbed into his fur.

The Fluffy Dog stayed with me that day until the last shakiness had subsided, and then he climbed onto the bed with me afterward when I was completely exhausted and ready for a nap. He took it all very seriously, and knew just what to do. It was immensely reassuring and calming to be “held” by the pressure of his body like that, and to feel seen and loved.

So as weird or woowoo or unscientific as it sounds, I think my good hardworking dog knew exactly what he was doing when he helped me through my panic attack. And he knew exactly what he was doing when he helped all three of us through that stranger’s visit in the night.

This dog is my dear friend and an absolute goofball. But also—no matter how self-conscious I am about saying this—, he is a creature of immense power. I believe in him and I feel tremendously lucky to be protected by him.

Being Queer on the Exam Table

During my recent medical checkup , I discovered that my healthcare practitioner is homophobic.

It has been four or five years since she asked about any sexual activity on my part, probably assuming that after my divorce I wasn’t hooking up with anyone. But now that my new partner (cis male) has moved in, she was asking about birth control, a possible STI check, and general questions about my sex life.

When I replied to a question by saying that no, PIV / penetrative sex is not the main kind of sex I have with my partner, she looked confused. So I added: “Well, I’m queer, right?” (I don’t know what I thought this would explain, but I felt sure this had come up at some time in the past, and I thought I was reminding her…?)

She still looked confused so I added “Like, bisexual?” (trying to dumb it down) “Like, I’ve had lots of sex where there wasn’t even a penis in the room?” and then she looked super surprised and said “You mean you have relationships with women outside of your relationship at home?”

No!” I exclaimed, scooching my naked butt down to the edge of the exam table for my pap test. And she looked flustered as she busied herself unwrapping the speculum: “…but if you’re…?”

I put my feet together and dropped my knees outward so she could head into my vagina with her gear. “This relationship is monogamous,” I told her. “I mean, sex is sex. If you adore blondes but you’re with a brunette, that doesn’t mean you have to sleep with blondes on the side, right?”

But then I dropped it, because the cold speculum was going in and I felt really, horribly, uncomfortably exposed and anxious and unsafe in a way that had nothing to do with the pap test in progress.

Her assumption that as a queer (or I guess “bi,” since she didn’t really seem to understand “queer”)  woman, I would of COURSE be screwing women outside of my relationship at home shocked me. Not that I want people to assume that everyone is monogamous, either, but the assumption of promiscuity—relationships with women, not with a woman—I don’t know how to explain it; it was a combination of word choice, tone of voice, and body language that made me feel as if all the negative and conservative connotations of “promiscuity” were running through her head (as opposed to, say, a respectful grasp of the concept of non-monogamy).

Because look. Being queer or bi doesn’t mean I can’t be monogamous. Being a cis woman who was married to a cis man for years doesn’t mean I can’t be queer. Being in a monogamous relationship and screwing someone else would make me a cheating asshole. Whether we’re monogamous or polyamorous or cis or gay or trans or whatever the hell we are, we deserve to have our healthcare providers ask respectfully—or at the very least, professionally—about these things rather than assuming and presuming *the worst (*it’s hard to articulate this because while in my world it’s 100% fine to fuck as many people as you want any way you want as long as everyone is honest and consenting, the attitude I was getting from my practitioner is that these “relationships with other women” were putting me in the “slut” category which personally isn’t a word I stigmatize but obviously carries negative weight for her… does that make any kind of sense?)

The assumption that a queer / bi woman has to be fucking both men and women (never mind the assumption that “men” and “women” are the only ones out there). The assumption that the sex life of a cis woman and a cis man would obviously consist mostly of penis-in-vagina sex. The assumption of heterosexuality in the first place. The confusion and surprise and discomfort she could not even suppress in this interaction.

I am disappointed that some healthcare providers are still so ignorant about LGBTQ* people. I am enraged that the same old, tired, ridiculous assumptions and stereotypes are present even in a professional setting. I am shocked that this particular provider didn’t even know enough to shut her mouth about her biases.

But mostly I am sad and hurt and feeling bleak about our continued working relationship as well as the difficulty of potentially trying to find a new healthcare provider.

She made me feel alien. Other. Misunderstood. Judged. And ultimately unsafe.

Those are terrible feelings to have about the person I have to trust with my iffy health.

 

 

 

Finished this book: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

tigana

There aren’t a lot of men on my list of favourite authors, but this guy is one of the exceptions. I’ve read most of his books many times. They are “comfort books” for me: lovely stories well-told. This is probably my tenth or twelfth re-read of Tigana, and I’m keeping it to read again.

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“The Miracle Thyroid Diet,” My Ass!

Almost nothing makes me as hostile as seeing people wreck their health to meet bullshit arbitrary beauty standards. So I was enraged a couple-three weeks ago as I stood line at the grocery store reading the magazine headlines (my sole source of celebrity news) and saw the following:

thyroidcureimage

Really, people? REALLY?

Hyperthyroidism is no joke

I am currently in the middle of my third round of hyperthyroidism. It is no fucking joke. It can have long-term effects on your body (even after being treated) including increased risk of such fun things as heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure, and even serious vision impairment.

This is how hyperthyroidism feels for me

When I’m hyperthyroid, I get anxious to the point of fear, I get palpitations, shakiness, and trembling hands, I’m hungry all the time, eating four or five full meals a day and pooping twice as often (and as much!) as usual. I randomly break into sweats. At first, before the thyroid hormone levels get too high, I get up in the morning with incredible bursts of energy but it is jittery and unproductive, as if I’ve had three hours of sleep and seven cups of coffee. As time goes on, I am just tired and hyper at the same time, my heart racing but the rest of me just wanting to rest. Having a shower or folding my laundry can suddenly make my heart race and my whole body break into a sweat, leaving me exhausted. However, no matter how exhausted I am, I can’t sleep a full night, as my pounding heart wakes me up at 120 or more bpm. My already high blood pressure is exacerbated. I can hear my own heartbeat like somebody’s bass played too loud a few houses down. My arms and legs are weak and I can’t do my normal daily things like walk the dog or run up the stairs. This is worsening over time, and will not improve until my hyperthyroidism is fully treated, which can take months.

Weight loss, hair loss, and bug eyes

The first time I was hyperthyroid, I didn’t know what was going on, and it took quite a while for me to get myself to a doctor for it. By then, I was losing weight no matter how much I ate. A “silver lining,” one of my aunties called it, and I almost decked her. That kind of weight loss is horrible. I did not become fit and toned. No, I was loose-skinned and bug-eyed, and my hair was falling out. I lost close to half my hair at that time.

And back to the bug eyes for a minute: Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder which is the form of hyperthyroidism that I have, can also have permanent unpleasant effects on your eyes. They bug out from the pressure of inflammation. This can lead to permanent difficulties with vision. Today as I write this, I have blurred and double vision, as my eyes are not tracking together due to uneven pressure. So I’m also getting frequent headaches, as my job involves sitting at a computer all day.

Hyperthyroidism outweighs your petty cosmetic concerns

So my question is, why would anyone want to simulate this? When I was trying to find an image of the magazine cover I’d seen to include in this blog post, I was angry and shocked at just how many magazine covers there are out there touting hyperthyroidism–or, as we should be calling it here, thyrotoxicity–as a reasonable weight loss tool. I am horrified and frankly disgusted that anyone would see thyrotoxicity as a good idea for losing weight. Honestly, and with all understanding and due respect for the way society pressures us to conform to beauty standards and also for all the ways in which our own damaged self-esteem makes us feel that our worth depends on meeting those standards and and also for all the ways we can be devalued for not engaging in the project of trying to be outwardly the whitest, thinnest, blandest Barbies in town, I honestly have to say if you are that fucking desperate to lose weight for appearances, get yourself some goddam therapy, or research the Health At Any Size movement, or stop hanging around with assholes who judge you for your appearance, or god, I don’t know but just STOP

STOP STOPSTOPSTOP STOP

STOP!!!!! damaging your HEALTH and your LIFE and your HEART and your EYES for the sake of losing weight.

There is NO WORLD in which thyrotoxicity can be reframed as a healthy way to lose weight. Don’t even go there. There is no fucking silver lining, dear auntie. Inducing or prolonging hyperthyroidism to lose weight is self-destructive and ridiculous. I don’t wish this disease on anyone, but if you’re going to do it on purpose, well, one potential outcome of hyperthyroidism is death. Be careful what you wish for.

What I Learned from my Dog about PTSD

When the Brindle Dog was young, she was amazingly strong and focused. Her parents were bred for police work in the Netherlands, and that likely would have been her destiny as well if I hadn’t scooped her up as a house pet.

She could swim or train for hours. She would never give up on a task unless called off. She could joyfully chase a ball or Kong in the park for hours with breathtaking stamina and endurance. She took pride in her ability to execute commands perfectly, and she was also an enterprising problem-solver.

As she aged and got sick, her stamina waned. She weakened. She started to get confused. As her cataracts spread, as her hearing diminished, and as her cancer extended its tentacles and tumours further into her body, the Brindle Dog began to stumble and fall. Her back legs would sometimes give out. She would struggle to right herself and keep going, but I stopped taking her on walks, and just threw sticks (her favourite game) in the yard for her.

The day came when I couldn’t even throw sticks for her anymore, because she kept falling down when trying to chase them. I had to just drop the stick a foot or two in front of her, and she’d grab it.

It was heartbreaking. She used to have the strength and drive and form of an Olympic athlete. She was tireless! Her enthusiasm for work and play was incredible. And now she was a tottering little old lady, half-deaf, half-blind, exhausted from severe anemia, barely able hold her bladder for more than a few hours. I was angry and miserable. Fuck cancer! Look at how age and illness had taken this amazing dog and pounded her down!

But at the same time, I was so glad to be able to provide palliative care and to sweeten my dear dog’s last days with extra love and attention. As she drew closer to the end, and as I turned myself away from the “extraneous” things in my life to be as present as possible with her, I noticed one particular thing I had missed:

In her younger days, when she chased a thrown stick or toy, she would pounce on it with pride and enthusiasm. As she got weaker, her desire to chase that stick never waned, even though her body was failing. And near the end, when I would drop the stick pretty much right in front of her nose, she would still pounce on it with all the energy and drive she could muster, then look up at me proudly, panting from that slight effort, her gums white and her eyes cloudy, but still full of anticipation, wanting me to ask for the stick back so we could do it again.

She was always and only and forever living in the present. She was in pain, but she wanted that stick. She was confused, but her love of this particular game never left her. And whether she had raced across a field to retrieve that stick, or had pounced on it right at her feet, she was happy. She was doing a thing she loved, and it made no difference to her that she used to be able to do it better, or that other dogs could do it better, or that she would never race across a field again.

And that was the thing I had missed. It is okay to be happy doing the things I can do, even though my life will never be what it could have been without abuse and trauma. I will never have a life where my past didn’t happen to me. Therapy isn’t going to take it away or make any of it okay. What I do have, if I let myself have it, is the ability to pounce on that stick even if I’m confused or in pain.

The shit that was done to me will never be gone. I guess somehow I thought that recovery or healing meant I would be done with it. PTSD and the accompanying depression and anxiety mean that I am living with some very real limitations that have consequences in my everyday life, and I may or may not be able to change (some of) those. It’s hard not to be angry and bitter about the fact that my life is smaller than it could have been because of abusers.

But now I realise that recovery and healing, for me, are about figuring out how to live my life with joy and anticipation despite the pain. By example, the Brindle Dog showed me how to accept limitations and just keep living as fully as I can. If I can’t race across the field, I can still grab the stick at my feet with pride.

 

The Brindle Dog died peacefully last week. She carried her stick to the car on her way to the vet. She walked in to her appointment on her own wobbly legs. I cuddled her until she was gone. She was the best dog ever.

 

 

 

Finished this book: Driving Lessons by Zoe Fishman

Cover of the book "Driving Lessons" by Zoe Fishman

Cover of the book “Driving Lessons” by Zoe Fishman

Every woman in this book wants babies. Even the woman who doesn’t think she wants babies suddenly wants them when she becomes pregnant. The woman who has to get a hysterectomy because she has frikkin CANCER doesn’t worry about metastasis or life expectancy but is only sad because no babies. The woman who already has babies is half-crazy from lack of sleep and how her selfhood is subsumed into motherhood, but she is constantly insisting that it is all worth it because she loves her babies so much. The protagonist is initially scared to become a mother but all it takes is some well-placed words from her husband and her friend with cancer and her nursing sister-in-law to make her see that actually she wants very much to have babies,

There’s nothing wrong with wanting or having babies. I mean, it’s not an urge I have ever understood, personally. But I do understand that it’s a big deal for a lot of people.

However, for there to be not one woman in this book to decide that in the end she is really happier without babies, or for there not to be any woman who says actually having babies is a mixed bag (without immediately blissing out about how it’s always worth it all the damn time because they love their baby so much) just requires too much suspension of my disbelief. I’ve hated my PUPPIES in the middle of the night when they wouldn’t let me sleep, never mind a kid!

The men in this book are basically all generic good-guy husbands / boyfriends. They seemed pretty much interchangeable to me.

This book is solidly embedded in a white, privileged, able-bodied, heteronormative, ciscentric, classist, and patriarchal worldview, right down to the entitlement and condescension of some of the men, and the utter lack of awareness thereof on the part of the women involved with them. The supporting characters were mostly stereotypes (the Beautiful Blonde, the Drawling Southerner, and so forth).

The dialogue was awkward in that it was too “therapy-esque” all the time, with the characters examining their motivations and drives and articulating them in a way that almost seems like they’re all in a joint therapy or mediation session. The dialogue “tells” too much instead of letting the story show the character development.

There was also a weird theme about ladybugs…? It never really developed into anything and it seemed out of place.

The only thing I really appreciated about this book was its insistence that women’s friendships are important, valuable, and sustaining. The existing and developing connections between the female characters was lovely, and this theme is (for me) the redeeming quality of this book.

Also, the theme / metaphor of the driving lessons was effective. And the way in which the driving lessons ended up helping the protagonist find a new career path was underplayed but very nicely done. It is portrayed as work she’ll probably love, so it’s too bad its value was framed more as being work she could do even when she becomes a mother.

If you aren’t bothered by lack of diversity and you’ve got a few hours at the beach to kill, this is an easy read with some nice friendships between women. Don’t expect any drama, depth, or character / plot development, though; this book, like its protagonist, is shallow, simple, and bland.

 

 

 

 

 

Why are Vets so %$#ing Expensive? (…or, an update on the Brindle Dog)

Last week, I took the Brindle Dog to the vet. (YES!!! The Brindle Dog is still alive! It’s amazing and wonderful!)

I took her to the vet because she continues to decline and sometimes the only thing that reassures me is having the wonderful Dr. Beggs actually lay hands on her and talk me through my worries.

This is the appointment where I finally made the decision to stop trying to keep my dear old dog alive. No more diagnostics, no more trying to figure out how the cancer is spreading. Now she just gets her painkillers and steroids and antacids and all the other pills and supplements she needs to be comfortably pain-free. She’s a sweet grey-faced old girl, wobbly in the back end, slowing down both physically and cognitively, with the start of kidney disease, pale gums due to anaemia, and a newfound tolerance for the cat. Her most favourite thing in the world is treats, and her second most favourite thing is cuddles.

All kinds of things are falling apart for her now, but I have had over two years since her initial cancer diagnosis to say goodbye. It is okay now if she has to go. She’s tired. Partly that’s the anaemia, partly that’s the cancer, partly that’s old age (fourteen is pretty good for a shepherd!), and partly it’s her anxiety to keep performing well and stay on top of things. I try to mitigate that for her by anticipating her needs, and encouraging her to follow the Fluffy Dog’s lead, but she has always been a dog who feels responsible for warning and protecting her pack.

The old Brindle Dog has to pee an awful lot now. I’m up once or twice a night with her. She clicks down the hardwood hallway to the back door and whines softly, not wishing to bother me, but in need. My “mommy ears” hear even her tiniest squeak, and I go out into the yard with her, squinting at the night sky while she sniffs out the right spot. Then time for a quick cuddle before we both lie down and fall back asleep.

But back to this vet appointment. We had done bloodwork, one last draw to see what was going on before I made my decision to stop trying so hard. I’ve spent so much money on this dear dog over the last couple of years, all the checkups and medications and supplements and tests…. It adds up to a lot.

So I went to pay my bill after this visit and bloodwork and when the number popped up, I was surprised. “Are you sure this is right?” I asked, and the staff nodded warily, no doubt ready for a rant about the cost. “It seems wrong,” I said. “Are you sure you got everything? We did bloodwork, too. This seems too low!”

Now it was the staff’s turn to be surprised. I guess it’s not very often that people think they’re not being charged enough at the vet.

But the thing is, a veterinary business has a lot of overhead. For this particular visit, the bloodwork was less than $70 and the follow-up visit was less than $50.  Basically that means they lost money on my visit.

Here’s the service I got for this single visit:

  • two different people dealt with me to book the appointment in two separate calls: in the first call, they kindly squeezed me in for a Saturday, then I called back and changed the appointment to another day.
  • on the day of the appointment, I showed up early and called from the parking lot (phone call number 3) to let them know I was there and ask if I could come in (the Brindle Dog is horrible with other dogs). I couldn’t go in yet, so…
  • when it was safe to go in, a staff ran out through the cold to knock on my car window and let me know I could go in.
  • the Brindle Dog was cooed over, petted, and weighed. Staff recorded her weight and took me to my favourite room, while skillfully and discreetly keeping the Brindle Dog away from any other dogs.
  • A vet tech came in and took a thorough history and listened to me describe my dog’s faeces, urine, energy, coat, lumps, appetite, water intake, oestrus, cognition, medications and supplements and treats, stamina, itchiness, and general demeanour. She took copious notes and was empathetic while at the same time asking pointed clarifying questions.
  • Before she left, the tech asked if my dog would like a blanket to lie on, and when I accepted, she returned with a large, thick, soft, clean blanket.
  • Before the vet came in, she and the tech reviewed the history.
  • The vet came in, took the time to greet both me and the Brindle Dog in a sincerely welcoming way, and admired my old girl profusely. We went over the history together, and the vet did a physical exam. She discussed her findings with me and we talked about various options (including a possible blood transfusion  and an ultrasound). I agreed that we should do a blood test, and the vet went to get two techs to do the test right away so we could have the results before I left.
  • Two vet techs came in to draw blood. Because many years ago I trained to be a vet tech and worked as one for a while, the people at this clinic always kindly allow me to be present for these kinds of procedures. I helped hold my old Brindle Dog while they drew her blood. The blood draw involves the education and expertise of the techs; their ability to soothe and manage an anxious, high-strung, confused old dog; the actual physical materials (syringe, alcohol, tubes, etc.); the lab equipment needed to actually analyse the blood, including not just the machines themselves, but the slides and the chemicals, and the knowledge needed to use them; and finally, the education and experience needed for the vet to interpret the results, explain them to an anxious owner, and make appropriate recommendations.
  • The vet came back and I told her I want to start just letting the Brindle Dog go. We discussed what that means to me (I’d give antibiotics for an infection or stitches for a wound, but not blood transfusions for her anaemia, for example). The vet had compassion for my decision and was able to outline all my options without pushing any of them on me, so that it was very clear what I was declining and what consequences that might have. When I asked the question that all vets must dread (“Am I doing the right thing?”), she was supportive of my decision and respectful of how difficult it is.
  • When we were done, the vet and staff worked together to make sure the Brindle Dog and I had a clear dog-free path out the front door to the car, and then I returned to pay my bill and discuss how cheap it was.
  • After I left, they had to clean the floor of the exam room of fur and drool, clean / sterilise / replace any materials and equipment used, replenish the generous amounts of treats they’d given her, launder the heavy blanket they’d brought in, add any notes to the chart, compile my bill, process my payment, and send me a follow-up email with some additional information I wanted. (Also, one of the techs drawing the Brindle Dog’s blood got a full-frontal canine sneeze in the face, so there was some clean-up and washing of glasses involved there!)

I know that’s a lot of detail, and maybe the service I get there is a particularly good because I am a long-time client who does my damnedest to be polite and appreciative to every person with whom I interact no matter how anxious or stressed I am. But my point is that when you pay for veterinary services, you are not just handing your vet that full amount to put in her pocket. You are paying for staff, rent, utilities, materials, continuing education, sick time, repairs and replacement of equipment, and on and on and on. I had face-to-face contact with one veterinary doctor, two veterinary technicians, and three reception staff on the day of my appointment, and a fourth staff on the phone beforehand.

There are people at my work who walk in every day with a grande latte from Starbucks. People with season tickets to the Jets and / or the Bombers. People who have season tickets to the symphony or the theatre or who go to Mexico for ten days every winter. So many of these people are happy to ask Google or ask me (with my outdated and limited vet  tech experience) what to do with their dog / cat / bunny / budgie because “I don’t trust vets. They’re just out to make money!”

Right? How horrible that vets and techs and their staff have to earn a living like anybody else! How awful that they are trying to give the best service possible at reasonable prices in a competitive market! How reprehensible that they are starting local businesses and creating employment!

A big part of the problem is that people feel like vets are guilting them into choosing the most costly diagnostic and treatment options. But honestly, they’re not. The guilt is all yours, and that’s your own issue to work out. Vets are explaining all of the options and the potential consequences of declining those options, primarily because that is the correct, professional, and ethical thing to do, but partly (wait for it) because they don’t want to get sued by your sorry ass when you make a stupid decision. (Oh, yeah, add insurance to the list of bills they have to pay!)

You should trust and follow the advice of your typical veterinary doctor as much as you trust and follow the advice of your typical family doctor. Yes there are better and worse ones, yes there are ones who care more or less, but it’s on YOU to be an informed consumer and take responsibility for the decisions you make based on the information they give you.

Take the Brindle Dog, for example. Maybe if we did an ultrasound we’d find out more about how her cancer is spreading and we’d be able to try some different treatments to help her. Maybe a series of blood transfusions would prolong her life enough for her to have this whole upcoming summer to nap in the sunshine. But I decided not to do this. Partly because she’s gone through enough already. Partly because the meds she’s on now seem to be keeping her comfortable and happy. And yes—partly because of the cost. I know she will probably die sooner than she otherwise might because of these decisions. But that is MY decision. I am not going to whine that the vet should give me a discount or freebie on potentially life-saving or life-prolonging treatments. I chose to have this dog and she is my responsibility. Dr. Beggs and her team provided me with the information I needed to make a decision I can live with. And I am going to own that decision.

And honestly, if you have season’s tickets to pro sports or a daily latte or an annual trip to Europe and that’s more important to you than paying a medical professional to take care of your loved one, you don’t deserve a pet. These animals trust us to make good decisions on their behalf. We owe it to them to get them the professional care they need to the very best of our ability, even if we’re grumpy that there is a cost involved. Medical care for your pets is not optional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finished this book: The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

 

This story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Jenny, an eleven-year-old girl, and Emma, her seventh mother. Jenny and her dad live a nomadic kind of life as her dad takes seasonal work around the USA. Along with the seasonal work, Jenny’s dad picks up seasonal girlfriends, and although Jenny had grown attached to most of them, she also knows that none of them will stay for long. But Emma, Jenny hopes, is different.

All three of these characters are white, and the treatment of race in this book is handled in a way that is weirdly gentle and unflinching at the same time. This didn’t take up much space in the book but was probably my favourite thread.

Jenny’s dad, Brannon, is a loving and devoted father but he has an angry streak that he shows to others. Emma falls for him and excuses his angry moments (initially they are only moments, of course), forgiving him and explaining it away as proof of his love. Classic red flag stuff and the kind of thing that would have me running for the hills.

As the story progresses, Jenny wants to settle down and go to school, to have a “normal” life with her dad and Emma. Emma wants a “normal” life as well, a husband and children and a house. But Brannon isn’t a Happy Family kind of guy, as Jenny finds out when she stumbles across the real reason why the past mothers / girlfriends who were in her and Brannon’s life are now gone.

Books about dysfunctional families fascinate me, and yet I approach them with trepidation. With this one, I got nervous as soon as I saw Brannon’s temper, and I put the book down for a while because I wasn’t sure I could read about domestic violence. But one thing I really loved about the book was that Jenny’s perceptions and feelings were almost always validated by the people around her. Her dad loved and protected her, her “mothers” were nice to her, Emma loved her, and the parents of her best friend also listened to her and believed her. That part seems to be a bit fairy-tale-ish to me, since it’s not the way I think most young girls are treated in the world, but I did enjoy the fantasy.

Later in the book, there was a bit too much god-talk for me. Like, I get in when characters in a book go to church regularly the same way I understand it if they diet regularly: it’s not part of my life, I don’t understand it viscerally, but I “get” that it’s part of that character’s backstory and lived experience and will influence how they see the world and blah blah blah. But when the plot starts hinging on faith or calorie-counting in a way that assumes I, the reader, will agree that’s a legit basis for life decisions, I start losing interest. Sure, I know that these are very important things to a lot of people, I really do, but for me they are actual disincentives to stay engaged with the book. (And also with real live people who can’t stop talking about their religion or their weight loss regimes.)

Overall, it would have been a fast read if I hadn’t put it down twice for days, once when Brannon started getting mean, and once when people started ascribing events to a god. Jenny is a very sympathetic character, and Emma would be if she wasn’t so naive about Brannon. No, that’s not exactly it: I liked the character of Emma but I felt the path her life was taking was just too predictable from the reader’s perspective.

It makes me kind of sad when a book full of characters doesn’t have GLBTQ* people, or people with disabilities (in this case, one person used a cane, but that was obviously because of her age, which we know because of references to “the old lady”), or characters with some awareness of their class position, and so forth. I guess it’s always a bit disappointing when the characters in a story all seem to strive for a “normal” life, which to them and to the author means the status quo. There are ways to write characters like that while the book itself interrupts that idea of normality, but this book isn’t one of them.

It was a decent book that will now go into my giveaway pile.

 

 

Trying to Be (In)Visible

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving along with all my windows open and the Fluffy Dog in the back of the car, when an impatient driver raced up behind me. I had seen her coming in my rearview. You know the kind: weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get the advantage of one more carlength. I needed to be in the next lane anyway, so I signaled and and pulled into the gap to my left to let her race by, at which point there was a blaring horn and I realised that the same impatient driver had simultaneously pulled to the left at high acceleration to get around me. She screeched back into the right lane and pulled up beside me at the next light, lowered her window, and began to scream and swear at me. (The Fluffy Dog raised his head at the commotion but didn’t bestir himself to look at all threatening or even concerned, the big old dope.) Continue reading

Finished this book: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Cover of "If You Follow Me" by Malena Watrous

Cover of “If You Follow Me” by Malena Watrous

 

Here’s a book I read with enjoyment and very little criticism. It follows a young American couple (Marina and Carolyn) as they move in together for the first time when they move to Japan to teach English. The culture shock and new pressures and expectations are beautifully integrated into the story.

The book incorporates many of the themes I like to see included: race, sexuality, culture, personal growth, relationship challenges, LGBTTQ*, mental illness, weird families, friendship, suicide, and so on—without making a big deal about any of them. Continue reading

The Shit People Say at Work (or, Flashbacks at my Desk)

Content warning for discussion of flashbacks, child abuse, domestic abuse, and trauma.

 

Workplace cubicles don’t allow for privacy.

On the small floor where I work, a small second floor perched like a hat on a larger building, the windowed offices ring a large area which has been packed with cubicles. At one end of this rectangle is the access stairwell. At the very far end from that stairwell is my workspace. The cubicles end, and my desk and filing cabinets are in the stub of space just past the fire exit stairwell.

It’s an old building. The heating and cooling are iffy, approximate, and likely controlled by someone in a different time zone. As a result, people tend keep their office doors open to improve air circulation.

This means everyone hears everything. We all know about each other’s kidney stones,  grandchildren, car troubles, and how well we all slept last night.

 

(Content warning for below the cut)

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Continue reading

Don’t Ask Questions

One thing about growing up with secrecy, silence, and paranoia in an authoritarian family is that it gets really hard to untangle the effects of emotional abuse from one’s actual personality.

Until recently, for example, I rarely asked questions. Part of that is because because so many of my childhood and adolescent questions were answered with :

  • contempt: “You stupid kid”
  • ridicule: “I can’t believe you don’t know that”
  • silent treatment: absolute silence as if I had not spoken
  • dismissal: “You don’t need to know that”
  • anger: “Don’t ask things like that!”
  • annoyance “Don’t bother me with that”
  • mockery: “Why do you care about that?”
  • impatience: “I don’t have time for this.”

I learned that questions are irritating, intrusive, inappropriate, and unwelcome. I learned that I would be mocked, ridiculed, and subject to anger or silent treatments if I asked questions or showed curiosity. Continue reading

He was a Terrible Cat, and I Loved Him

 

Near the end of February, my sweet and terrible Orange Cat died. It was sudden and swift, and utterly unexpected. It is amazing what a huge space that little cat took up in my heart and in my home.

 

He’s been with me since he was eight weeks old. He and his brother came from the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, where they were dumped off in a box in the middle of winter along with their mom and another kitten. When my now-ex and I went to the shelter looking for one short-haired kitten, the mom and one sibling had already been adopted. These two remaining kittens were tiny fuzzy balls, one orange face and one grey with a vertical white stripe along his nose.  Apart from their color, they were identical in shape and movement: their little tails twitched simultaneously, their sweet heads tilted at the same angle; they moved and reacted in unison.  They were adorable! Continue reading

Finished this book ages ago: House Broken by Sonya Yourg 

Cover of the book "House Broken" by Sonya Yoerg

Cover of the book “House Broken” by Sonya Yoerg

 

This book had a dog on the cover, alluded to dogs in the title, and has a main character who is a vet. I was sold! Also, the blurb mentioned the vet’s mother’s alcoholism, which was another draw for me. I like stories about dysfunctional families; reading them helps me make sense of my own childhood.

Before I get any further, I should mention that I read this book early last summer ( or late last spring?) and just haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. So this will be short and vague.

It was disappointing that there wasn’t more dog- and vet-related stuff in the book, and what there was, was not always particularly convincing. I’m thinking specifically of the minor plot line involving an aggressive dog, which was not very credible. It almost felt like the dog and vet stuff was thrown in there to get the punny title.

The writing, as far as I remember, was good and smooth. But I wasn’t entirely convinced by the actions and words of the characters. Your mileage may vary, of course; what you find realistic in a character might differ from what I would believe.

The plot held my attention and I did enjoy the dysfunctional family stuff. Well, “enjoy,” right? But it’s always interesting to me to read someone else’s take on it.

This book is going into the giveaway pile. It was an okay read, but not a fave.

House Broken by Sonya Yoerg. ISBN 978-0-451-47213-7

Say Something

The news is terrible everywhere.

Sunday night it was a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City. Six people dead, nineteen injured. The shooter was a white guy, a Trump supporter.

Monday night I was supposed to go out for dinner with an old friend from high school, Joanne. She texted me to ask what time I wanted to meet up. I was torn. I love getting together with her, but I really felt the need to go to that evening’s vigil for the victims of the shooting.

After a bit of texting back and forth, Joanne and I agreed that she and her daughter would pick me up and we would all go to the vigil together.

The vigil was… like any other. Some hundreds of us huddled with our toques and mittens, clutching our jars and glasses containing lit candles, rocking on our feet and curling our toes to keep them warm during the sad and inspiring and heartfelt speeches.

At one point, two protestors interrupted the speech with their signs to condemn Canada for having removed and endangered their children, and at first it looked like they were going to be ushered off the steps of the Legislature, but ultimately they were allowed to speak. I felt sorry for them and moved by their family’s plight, and I was grateful to them for interrupting the “wishful thinking” thread running through most the vigil in which speaker after speaker almost unanimously praised Canada as being a safe haven and a place where diversity is welcome and celebrated.

Because that wishful thinking lets us off the hook. If it was that safe here, those parents wouldn’t be mourning the disappearance of their children. That mosque wouldn’t have been shot up by a racist. Our jails wouldn’t be overwhelmingly filled with non-white people, particularly Indigenous people. Companies wouldn’t be bringing up migrant labour from Mexico and housing them twelve to a trailer for the summer. Women wouldn’t be getting raped and then blamed for it. No one would be trying to degay anyone or murder trans people.

But we keep giving those speeches and we keep repeating it to each other. Because we want to believe that’s not us. We’re not homophobic or misogynist or racist or classist or ableist or transphobic or in any way discriminatory. We would never (shoot Muslims) (rape anyone) (disown a queer family member).

It’s not enough. It’s not enough to stand at a vigil with a candle on a winter’s evening, no matter how comforting it is to mourn in community, no matter how important it is to be a body in the street, to stand up and be counted, to be another face in the lake of faces when the TV cameras pan across the crowd. These are important, but they are only a small step. Showing up at a vigil does not challenge anything or change much.

It’s hard to change. Hard to change within ourselves and hard to change our behaviour to intervene when we should. There’s so much work to do to unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught and fed, the lies we breathe in, the stereotypes we drink like water.

And there’s also so much work to do to learn how to interrupt others. It’s not necessarily our job to change people’s minds, but it IS our job to clearly express what language and behaviour we will or will not tolerate. It IS our job to not remain silent. We, especially if we embody multiple sites of privilege, have no “right” to remain comfortable and safe. The idea that this is a “right” is a facet of our privilege. Say something. Say anything.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Captain Awkward’s blog. Since then, I have read every single post, and probably 90% of the comments. The blog and the community that has built up there is very supportive and insightful in terms of articulating boundaries, taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and actions, dealing with annoying or abusive people, and holding others accountable for their own behaviour.

Captain Awkward is not perfect, but she owns it. She corrects her mistakes, apologises when necessary, and is responsive to feedback from her commenters. Most of the regular commenters are the same way. It’s an interesting place and I am sharing this with you in the hopes that hanging out there for a while over time might be as helpful to you as it is to me.

Some of Captain Awkward’s posts are specifically geared to how to deal with racism and Trumpism and sexism and other forms of discrimination. Others are more about dealing with difficult people and situations in other contexts. But there are lots of recurring themes: Use your words. “No” is a complete sentence. Let it be awkward. Build and maintain good boundaries. These are valuable skills and concepts for changing the world, bit by bit.

I’d love to hear what online resources have been helpful to you in learning how to stand up and make change. The more information and strategies we have, the better—as long as we actually put them into practice.

 

 

So this guy tried to pick me up…. (or, A Tale of Three Men)

Last Friday, I played a gig with two other DJs. I was up first, and I tried something totally new (for me): a set of music from my childhood. Pink Floyd, Cream, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, David Bowie, The Talking Heads… Music I remember falling asleep to as a little kid. If I’d come up with the idea a little sooner, I would have loved to add some Golden Earring and Moody Blues and ELO, but anyway, it was fun.

There was a guy (we’ll call him Stripey Shirt) who was pretty drunk and trying his luck with a lot of the women at the venue. With me, it was “Wow, you got some good dance moves. I mean, I’m from Jamaica and I know you got some good moves!” while his arm was on the back of the chair in which I was sitting. I was leaning away from his arm and planning how to extricate myself when he added “You gotta give me your number. I want to you DJ a private party I’m throwing!” I laughed at him and said “Yeah, because THAT sounds totally legit!” Continue reading

Finished this book: The Sky Beneath My Feet by Lisa Samson

Cover of "The Sky Beneath My Feet" by Lisa Samson

Cover of “The Sky Beneath My Feet” by Lisa Samson

Spoilers near the end, but there’ll be another warning first.

Only a short way into this book, I realised it was full of religion. There was a moment where I considered putting it aside and starting something else, but I was already nestled into bed with my PJs and my fuzzy socks and my fleece housecoat, with the cats and the Fluffy Dog in their usual positions, so I decided to read on a bit and give the book a chance. Also, the way the writer introduced the faith aspect was kind of funny, and I wondered if it might turn out to be tongue-in-cheek (the protagonist, Beth, was on a riff about the Jesus Fish on her van). Continue reading

Finished this book: How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

 

Cover of "How Should a Person Be?" by Sheila Heti

Cover of “How Should a Person Be?” by Sheila Heti

It’s hard for me to decide whether or not I liked this book. I think partly that’s because I don’t know exactly what it is. Is it autobiography or fiction or memoir or fantasy or love letter? I feel as if it is important to know if it is factual or invented, even though “factual” memoirs or autobiographies can easily contain lies or falsifications or dramatic enhancements. But for some reason, it really bothered me to not be able to tell where Heti was telling the true story, and where she made things up or altered them to be true to the story, if that makes sense.

This reads partly like the diary of a shallow young adult, and partly like a love letter from one friend to another Continue reading

Finished this book: Flashback by Dan Simmons

Cover of "Flashback" by Dan Simmons

Cover of “Flashback” by Dan Simmons

After a long reading hiatus (as in a hiatus from reading, not a hiatus in which to read), I was suddenly in the mood for a book again. Something easy, something fast, something maybe a bit on the sci-fi side. I’d picked up a pile of books from my uncle in Steinbach after the Pride Parade, and Flashback was the hardcover supporting the stack.

This book is set in a dystopian not-too-distant future in the United States of America in which that country and indeed much of the world has broken up into warring factions, and in which many people are addicted to a drug called Flashback which allows users to fully relive the memories of their choice. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of dystopian fiction (dystopian reality is a whole different thing!) so I flipped it open and gave it a go.

Was I ever disappointed. Continue reading

Steinbach’s First Ever Pride March

Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time and you get caught up in something huge. And sometimes the huge thing is inside your own heart. I had both of those at once last month at Steinbach’s first Pride Parade.

Pride parades are everywhere all the time now, it seems. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked in a Pride march in Toronto recently, wearing pink and grinning—the first Canadian Prime Minister to do so (join a Pride Parade, I mean; I haven’t researched the “wearing pink” part). Pride is big in the big cities, and it’s gotten to the point where a lot of people aren’t interested in them anymore because they have seem to have been co-opted by corporations and the Squeaky Clean Gay Machine. When banks and insurance companies are sponsoring floats, and the spokespeople are mostly white men who can “pass” for straight, it seems not only too mainstream to matter, but also frankly kind of boring.

But what’s still exciting is when Pride marches happen for the first time, Continue reading

Finished this book (ages ago): The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Cover of "The Writing Class" by Jincy Willett.

Cover of “The Writing Class” by Jincy Willett.

I have already forgotten a lot of this book since I finished it back around the May long weekend and just didn’t get around to writing about it. I did like the main character, Amy, a misanthropist introvert author who hasn’t published anything in ages and who teaches writing classes. Her thoughts and feelings about her students were entertaining, although I admit I do have a preference for this type of sarcastic protagonist. The premise of the book was that weird events and deaths were befalling the class, and Amy was going to try to figure out who the culprit was by analysing the writing of her students. As a premise, it was fascinating, but it’s not how the story actually worked out. (The plot was kind of vague that way.)

Some of the characters were quite interesting while others were flat. I felt the trope of mental illness as an explanation for violent or bizarre behaviour was overused (you don’t have to be crazy to be an asshole or a murderer, and not all crazy people are violent, so chill already with the casual slurs and assumptions). The plot was not particularly believable, There were lots of interesting bits and pieces (Carla’s amazing house, Amy’s hilarious blog, the writing samples), but not enough substance in the story to hold them together in a memorable form. Amy seemed like she’d be a good protagonist for a series, and in fact I think there was another book about her before this one.

I don’t actually feel like I wasted my time reading this book, but it didn’t particularly engage me, and it’s already in my giveaway pile.

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett. 2008.

 

 

At the Scene of the Accident (or, What I do when I don’t know what to do)

About ten days ago, on my way home from work, I came upon an accident moments after it happened. I saw the cars braking and pulling over, and pedestrians and cyclists moving toward  the intersection of road / train tracks / path where someone was lying on the ground. I pulled over as well and rushed over—not because I have any particular useful skills for accident scenes, but because I wanted to make sure someone was actually calling 911. Continue reading

Holding Grief and Happiness in the Same Hands

A few days ago, I wrote about a retirement party I attended, and talked about the importance of paying attention to life transitions. The past week has been very full of those, with a workplace baby on the way, two funerals, and the ongoing decline of the Brindle Dog. And today in particular is special because it’s the birthday of an amazing woman who is a talented artist and a wonderful friend. (I know you sometimes read my blog, J., so happy birthday to you in yet another public venue–did I do Instagram yet? 🙂 )

It’s been hard. Exhausting. Heartbreaking. But also beautiful and hopeful. Continue reading

Feminist, Atheist, Queer

The other night, I went to a retirement party. I almost missed it, but remembered about it at the last minute, and managed to get my ticket and figure out an outfit and show up. That’s the best kind of timing for me: not enough advance warning to get anxious about it, but just enough time to make sure I have a clean bra and to polish up my boots.

I first met the new retiree, John, when he taught a few of the undergrad Conflict Resolution Studies classes I took through the U of W. I liked his teaching style, but what I really appreciated the most was how strict he was with my papers. I am a wordgeek who loves researching and writing papers. A well-crafted endnote is a thing of beauty. And a well-placed semicolon? Well, that’s better than ice cream. Continue reading

Finished this book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic (by Emily Croy Barker)

Cover of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

Cover of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

This book had most of the right elements—the main character being transported from our world to another one, magic, a woman standing up for herself and trying to change her circumstances, the importance of literacy and education—but somehow it didn’t capture me as much as I thought it would.

One of my frequent complaints about books set in other worlds is that these other worlds replicate ours so faithfully in so many of the manifestations of power and oppression. Baker’s alternate world is no exception: in it, women are subordinate to men, the poor are hungry and overworked and ill, and the characters are all presumed white (as becomes obvious when much is made of a Black woman from a land far, far away). I guess I’m just tired and bored of finding myself in the same old feudal society, as if there is something romantic and adventurous about a world where there is so much misery and despair and fixed hierarchy. Continue reading

I Missed My Blogaversary (because I was busy having fun)

Yesterday (Saturday) was my one-year blogaversary. On Friday, I had started working on a post for my blogeversary about why I started blogging, and where I was when I wrote my first posts, and what I’ve learned and gained, and how much I appreciate the people I’ve “met” through blogging…. But it was forced and awkward, because I was writing what I felt I should be writing for that day. My intention was to fix it up and make it perfect on Saturday but here’s what I did instead:

First I went to a community rummage sale and book / bake sale fundraiser for two great causes (from their Facebook event page: “All of the proceeds from the book & bake sale go toward supporting two volunteer-run organizations that provide services to people in Manitoba jails and prisons. The Manitoba Library Association’s Prison Library Committee runs libraries in the Winnipeg Remand Centre and Women’s Correctional Centre as well as offering writing workshops, author talks, and other programs. The Bar None Prison Rideshare Project provides free transportation to people looking to visit their friends or family members in out-of-town jails or prisons“). The books were unpriced and you could just pay what you could afford. I got a dozen or so poetry and fiction books and gave them $40:

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Then I came home and my friend Qrys came over with her laptop so we could work on some WordPress issues. Mostly we sat around eating cheese and dates and olives and sweet gherkins and slices of red pepper and peanut butter banana chocolate chip muffins (from the bake sale) and just talking. Then we brilliantly solved our IT problems and just hung out some more. Lovely!

Then I whipped up my famous bean / avocado / cilantro salad, had a nap, and went out to a BBQ where I spent three hours in someone’s garage listening to musicians jamming. The garage floor was a frightful tangle of cords and amps and guitar cases. There was always a minimum of six people playing, and sometimes up to eleven at a time. I lost track of how many musicians wandered in and out and took over for each other, because after I counted sixteen, I couldn’t remember who I had already counted anymore. Sometimes I was the only “audience” but I didn’t care. I clapped wildly after every song, and basically just toe-tapped and nodded and swayed blissfully for the whole time. I was so happy, you guys, you can’t even imagine! Just the ebb and flow, the give and take, the back and forth among all these people, some of whom had worked together for decades, and some of whom were meeting each other for the first time. Wonderful! I stayed much longer than I expected to stay, and only left when I knew the Brindle Dog would need to be let out. The host had asked if I had brought my DJ gear and seemed disappointed when I said no. I hadn’t realised that would be welcome! Next time.

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This morning, the Fluffy Dog and I went on a playdate, and now I’m headed off to J.’s place for my first installment of a Pandemic Legacy game. A very busy weekend; too busy, actually, but everything has been so much fun.

So Happy Belated Blogaversary to me, and thanks for reading and commenting and following and liking and just generally letting me know that I’m being heard out there!

Finished this book: Babel-17 (by Samuel R. Delany)

Cover of Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney

Cover of Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney

Babel-17 is an oldie-but-goodie from my dad’s science fiction collection, which he passed on to me when I moved back to Canada ten years ago. I was allowed to dip into that sci-fi collection at a young age, and was reading Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Brian Aldiss, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Larry Niven, Frederick Pohl, and more starting from the age of ten. At twelve, I was sweating my way through Asimov’s essays about science and the universe, not understanding much, but feeling as if I was being opened up to an amazing awareness of atoms and galaxies. My dad also had some women writers in his collection, like Leigh Brackett, Zenna Henderson, and Andre Norton, but it was my mom who introduced me to Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Doris Lessing, and Anne McCaffrey (whom I met once, but that’s another story). Continue reading

Finished this book: Stupendous Stitching: How to Make Fun and Fabulous Fiber Art (by Carol Ann Waugh)

Cover of Stupendous Stitching by Carol Ann Waugh

Cover of Stupendous Stitching by Carol Ann Waugh

Back at the beginning of April, I went to a quilt show with my mom. Since her retirement, she’s taken up quilting, and she makes some gorgeous pieces. I’ve resisted having her make a quilt for my king-sized bed, partly because that’s a heavy bunch of quilt for my mom to be working on, and partly because I feel it’s a waste to give me nice bed blankets of any sort, since I share my bed with two fluffy gunky-assed cats and two big dogs. That’s a lot of fur and dirt, frankly, and my bed is always covered with a “dog blanket” anyway, so a gorgeous handmade quilt would be not only endangered but also simply never on display. Continue reading

The Brindle Dog Loves her Oma. And her Food. And her Massages. And her Stick.

The Brindle Dog’s tumour is hungry. Cancer sometimes works that way. She eats and eats but doesn’t gain weight. She eats about a third more than the Fluffy Dog who outweighs her by a good twenty pounds.

Until recently, I fed the dogs raw food. I hope to do so again soon, but there’s been a glitch in my system, so for now, they get grain-free Canadian kibble with extra toppings of delicious (ugh) organs like liver and kidney and spleen. After consulting with several vets (my regular vet, my friend who is a vet, and the complementary / alternative / holistic medicine vet), I’ve made some changes to the Brindle Dog’s diet. For the most part, she approves of these changes: Continue reading

Finished this book: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (by Jonas Jonasson)

Cover of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

Cover of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

This book was passed on to me by a friend who liked it when she first started reading it but was more ambivalent by the time she finished. I was curious and started it that same night. I read the first two-thirds of the book fairly quickly, but then put it down and wasn’t too motivated to go back to it. I wasn’t sure why, since I enjoyed the writing style (or, I should say, the translation), the plot was fast-paced, the bizarre twists were definitely bizarre but still had internal consistency, the politics involved were interesting, and the characters were entertaining. Continue reading

Finished this book: Animals Make Us Human (by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson)

Cover of Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin

Cover of Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin

Last month, I browsing the sale shelf at McNally Robinson Grant Park, and I was excited to find Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Years ago, I read Animals in Translation by the same authors which—as far as I remember—was somewhat dryer than this book. But I enjoyed that first book very much and was surprised and pleased to see how much work Dr. Grandin has done to improve the lives of factory-farm animals. Continue reading

A Musical Adventure on Earth Day

Last Tuesday afternoon (April 19), I saw a post asking for a DJ to play at a fundraiser on Earth Day. It was for a pancake breakfast being put on by Aveda to raise money for WaterAid. I’ve been on the lookout for morning DJ gigs ever since I read an article about New York early morning dance parties that people go to before work, with smoothie bars and yoga warmups. I’m really a morning person, so night gigs are hard. I work Monday to Friday 8 to 4, so if I’m DJing on a Friday night, I have to take the day off, sleep in, have a long nap, and drink a pot of coffee with my evening meal.

So when I saw an ad for a morning gig, I jumped at it! Continue reading

The Brindle Dog Bares her Teeth

Have I mentioned that the Brindle Dog doesn’t like other dogs? The dog we had before her was very dog-aggressive, and the Brindle Dog learned it as a pup when she came into our home. Since we didn’t realise that would happen, we took no steps to prevent it. So the Brindle Dog learned from old Ratna how to sit, how to stay, how to play, and how to fear and charge at other dogs. Continue reading

Finished this book: The Art of Racing in the Rain (by Garth Stein)

Cover of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Cover of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This is a lovely book, telling the story of Denny (a racecar driver), his partner, and their child over the span of a number of years. The story is told from the point of view of Denny’s dog, Enzo, is a canine philosopher who bases his musings about the world and the afterlife on television and racing. Enzo is convinced that in his next incarnation, he will be a human, and he works hard to practice human traits so he will be ready for his next life

The book avoids being cutesy in its use of a canine perspective, but instead manages to capture Enzo’s love for and admiration of Denny, as well as Enzo’s fervent (and sometimes conflicting) desires to both please and protect his master. The way Enzo relates his ponderings back to the words and actions of racecar drivers, whom he views as philosophers in their own right, is sometimes surprisingly moving.

This book is a quick read, and is one of the better “from-a-dog’s-perspective” books I’ve read. Very different from, but as well done as, one of the first books I reviewed on this blog: Dog On It by Spencer Quinn. I like a dog book that doesn’t rely on the stereotypes of canine simplicity, good cheer, and blind loyalty, but rather treats dogs respectfully as the complex and alien people they are. That actually goes for any animal-perspective book.

I’d highly recommend this book. Even though I have no interest whatsoever in race cars, racing, or even cars in general, Enzo’s commentary and insights on his own life and the lives of his humans used images and experiences in these areas to tell a great story. I will read this one again.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

 

 

Finished this book: Playing with Boys by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Cover of Playing with Boys by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Cover of Playing with Boys by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

I picked up this book rather hoping for something fluffy and light. It’s set in LA in the entertainment industry, and I expected it would be a long list of designer names, descriptions of people’s clothing, wheeling and dealing, parties, romantic drama, and a predictable ending where the love interests overcome misunderstandings and barriers to finally declare their undying devotion. Continue reading

You’re Gonna Screw Up

Everything April Hathcock writes in this blog is amazing. But this post? Wow. A great reminder: I will screw up, and that will suck, then I’ll learn from it and keep going.

At The Intersection

Yesterday, I guest-hosted a session of #radlibchat on my article about whiteness in the library profession. It was a fabulous discussion.

One of the more common threads that came out of the chat were the fears many white people have about screwing up when getting involved in race work. Several people expressed apprehension about doing the work and making a mess of things. So, I thought I’d take a moment to address some of those fears.

Fair warning: I’m going to say some encouraging things here. But I’m also going to share some hard truths. And it is vitally important that you absorb both if you’re serious about doing this work.

Another note: I’m going to focus on race work and the ways white allies get involved. But the fact is that all of this applies intersectionally, as well. I—as an ally to LGBTQ folks, to poor folks, to disabled…

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Weekly Pet Peeve: Distracted Drivers

Content warning for traffic accident, gore, and trauma.

Last night, a friend and I had dinner at the Marion Hotel. It looks kind of scruffy on the outside, with the beer vendor out back, the parking lot full of pickup trucks, and the line of gleaming Harley-Davidsons out front all summer. But the sweet potato fries are fabulous, and the servers are great.

But my friend told me a shitty story. Her sister-in-law was killed last year by a distracted driver. The SIL was out cycling with a friend. A driver was weaving all over the road because she was texting. She struck my friend’s sister-in-law and killed her pretty much instantly. The friend cycling with her wrote a Victim Impact Statement for the court about how she saw her friend’s brains crushed out of her head onto the roadway, and her pretty blue eyes go lifeless, and blood everywhere, and how she now has flashbacks and nightmares in which she relives the event.  The victim’s daughters wrote impact statements, too, about how now their mom won’t ever know her first grandchild (one of the daughters is currently pregnant).

The sentence was handed down recently. The “distracted driver” got her driver’s license suspended for ninety days. That’s it. THAT’S IT. I put “distracted driver” in quotations because my preferred term is MURDERER. It’s not involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide or whatever. It’s pure and simple murder.

If you text while driving, if you drink and drive, if you smoke pot and drive, if you are distracted or impaired in any way—especially ways that you KNOW are illegal!–then you are an asshole, a shitbag, a waste of fucking skin, and you deserve to have your license revoked forEVER, your car impounded, and your name made public.

I can hear the whining now: “But the punishment should fit the criiiiiime!!! It’s not faaaair to do that to someone just for having a couple of drinks / toking up / texting!!!”

You’re wrong. It’s entirely fair. If someone puts my life at risk for the sake of their own convenience or recreation, they deserve to be charged and convicted with Attempted Murder.

 


Edited 13 May 2016 to fix a typo.

 

The Brindle Dog Smiles for the Camera

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It’s been about eight weeks since I found a lump in the back of the Brindle Dog’s left thigh that is almost certainly a mast cell tumour.

The tumour grows a bit, and then shrinks suddenly as it releases histamines, heparin, and proteolytic enzymes (which break down proteins) into her system. Eventually, as the tumour grows and more of these substances are occasionally released all at once, she might start getting allergic reactions, stomach ulcers, and other damage.

Continue reading

Stuff I Did in March, Part Three: Asking for Help

Every year, I dread February. But March usually brings some relief. Even though it’s still winter, the days are obviously getting longer, and spring is coming. March is a often sunny month here in Winnipeg, and most years, I start planning my garden, spending a bit more time outside, and generally perking up after the February slump.

This year, though, I just kept sliding downward despite the longer days, the mild weather, and the promise of spring. Continue reading

Weekly Pet Peeve: Toast-Related Injuries

You know when you make the perfect toasted tomato-and-cheese sandwich? With a tasty, juicy tomato in thick slices, and some sharp old cheddar, and coarsely-ground black pepper. With the stone-ground whole wheat bread toasted to the exact perfect crispiness, and the layers of tomato and cheese perfectly constructed. When nobody interrupts your progress, so by the time you slice the sandwich in two and sit down to take the first bite, everything is still fresh and warm.

And then, with that first bite, the top layer of toast scrapes the top of your mouth raw, so that every chewing motion hurts, and the pleasure of savouring your perfect sandwich is lost.

I hate that.