Monthly Archives: February 2016

Finished this book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Cover of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Cover of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Here’s another book I love, and one I’ve read many times. This month I started with some difficult books but finally remembered to reach for the tried-and-true, since February is hard enough without reading emotionally draining books.

I guess this one could be seen as a difficult book, given that it’s a dystopian story  about one woman’s experience in a repressive religious society in which women are severely oppressed based on their gender, while the country is at war on the outside, and controlled by a secret police on the inside.

But Atwood’s writing is so amazingly pure and clear. It is uncluttered, and yet somehow attends meticulously to detail. The way her protagonists view and think about the world around them is so real and recognisable that it is sometimes startling.  There are very few of her books that I do not love (Alias Grace is one of those, though). Continue reading

February is the Worst Month

Every year, February hits me like a tonne of bricks. I don’t know why February is so hard. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the winter has gone on so long by now, and the end is not quite in sight yet. But on the other hand, the days are visibly longer, and this is usually a sunny month (goes with the cold, dammit).

Part of it is maybe that the pattern of difficult Februarys means that I start dreading it in advance, before anything bad even happens. As soon as I stop stressing about Christmas, I start dreading February. Maybe there’s no way I approach February with an open heart anymore. Continue reading

Old Dogs: When the News is Bad

With a clump of snow on her adorable nose.

Ten years ago this month, when she was only two years old, the Brindle Dog developed a mast cell tumour in her neck. I remember very clearly the moment I first felt it, when she and I were playing and I was rubbing and tugging at the sides of her neck. She was wiggling and wagging, and I was laughing. Under my fingertips, I felt a lump deep in the left side of her neck and I thought that’s weird, I don’t recall that dogs are supposed to have a bump there, and at the same time I was reaching for the other side to see if it was bilateral. No, it was not. No matter how hard I poked and prodded, I could not find a corresponding lump on the right side, and my heart sank. I felt a deep fear in my belly and called the vet right away to make an appointment.

A veterinary surgical oncologist removed the malignant tumour, but due to the amount of structures in the neck, the margins were not as clean as desired. My then-partner and I were advised to send her to Saskatchewan for a month of radiation treatment during which time she would be fostered, undergo general anaesthetic every day for the radiation treatment, and require intravaenous feeding because her throat would be burned from the radiation. We elected not to do this. Continue reading

Weekly Pet Peeve: I Am Not a Mental Health “Consumer”

Words matter. The labels we are given or choose to use matter. Language structures how we think, and how we think structures how we use language.

Once we were victims or sufferers.

Then we were patients (and if we were lucky, ex-patients).

Clients.

Person with X.

Survivor.

All problematic in different ways, but none as problematic for me as the trend to call us users or consumers of the mental health care system. My mental illness is not a commodity. To deal with it, I am not choosing or shopping or consuming or using the mental health care system. That implies that there is actually an array of effective, accessible, affordable, respectful options from which to choose. To commercialise mental health care (and all health care), to position the people who need health care services as users, as consumers, as if we are freely choosing to use and consume resources, as if we are the same as anyone shopping at WalMart for plastic toys made by kids in factories in overexploited countries, is to make illness and its treatment on par with any other goods and services in a capitalist system. That is absurd. Getting help isn’t as simple as picking out canned goods at the grocery store. Health care is not a commodity, and illness is not a lifestyle choice. Continue reading

Finished this book: A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

Cover of A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Cover of A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay.

This is maybe my sixth or eighth time re-reading this book. It’s one of my “feel-good books,” a go-to when I am feeling the need for both entertainment and the comfort of the familiar. Some people watch movies over and over to get this, but for me it’s books. Kay’s books tell stories I enjoy in a way that I like. The storylines linger on relationships between people and how influential those relationships are, but there are also politics and wars and romances and magic and intrigues. I always like Kay’s imaginary worlds; Arbonne and its neighbouring countries are no exception.

Sometimes I am a little frustrated that Kay relies so much on problematic gender stereotypes. While I do understand that the fantasy genre is fairly reliant on those stereotypes, Kay’s imagination and transformation of those tropes in so many other ways makes it all the more disappointing Continue reading

Finished this book: Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid by Evelyn Lau

runaway

This was a disturbing book. Evelyn Lau writes about her experiences living on the street after running away from home at the age of fourteen to escape her abusive, controlling parents.

Lau had always wanted to be a writer, and had already received some awards and recognition for her writing at a young age, but she was forced to leave home to escape an unendurable situation. She stayed with friends at first, given the network of friends and fellow writers she had already established, but as the pressure from police and child welfare authorities increased, her friends became unable and unwilling to shelter her. Continue reading

Finished this book: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

LordOfTheFliesBookCover

Cover of The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Some plot spoilers ahead.

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I had forgotten just how accurately this book portrays the desperation rage malice of bullying and insecurity and competitiveness. A group of British schoolboys is stranded on a tropical island after a plane crash. The boys have to figure out how to survive. There’s a lot of fresh fruit, and some potable water, so the basic needs are met. This story is about the boys’  attempts at social organisation (choosing a chief, creating working teams, keeping track of each other, etc.) and physical organisation (forming hunting groups, building shelter, maintaining a rescue fire as a beacon for help, etc.). But all of that is a backdrop to how quickly most of the boys lose their civilised veneer when there are no adults around to enforce the rules.

Two boys emerge as the main contenders to be chief, and the other boys fall in line behind one or the other, based at various times on popularity, possessions, skills, fear, whatever moves them at the time. Despite the vivid descriptions of the tropical island, the lack of girls, and the fact that some of the boys die, it seemed like a fairly accurate portrayal of of my experience of elementary and junior high school. The bullying, the violence and threats of violence, the weird fluidity of leaders and cliques, the arbitrary rules and conditions imposed on both insiders and outsides—in my opinion, Golding did a great job of showing one aspect of children and adolescents. Continue reading

Weekly Pet Peeve: “I’m not racist, but…” (aka “Some of my friends are…”)

I got nothing against passive-aggressive a-holes, but...

I got nothing against passive-aggressive a-holes, but…

In all its various permutations:

“I’ve got nothing against gays, but…”

“I’m all for equality, but…”

“I got no problem with immigrants, but…”

“There’s nothing wrong with blue collars, but…”

And so on, and ’nuff said.

 

 

Finished this book: 11/22/63 by Steven King

While I am always a fan of King’s writing style, I am not always a fan of his actual stories. This particular book was not one of my faves. I probably shouldn’t have read it in the first place, but I gave in to peer pressure: my uncle recommended it highly at a family dinner. He had lent it to my mom (who was partway through it at the time) and was wondering when our branch of the family would be finished with it because he wanted to pass it on to one of the other dinner guests when we were done. My mom was enthusiastic about it, and my brother wanted to get in on the action, so I invoked primogeniture and got myself on the list ahead of my little brother.

The subject didn’t particularly me. While there was time travel (yay!) and some sic fi (yay!) and a sprinkling of the  supernatural (mostly yay), I’m not a big fan of alternate history stories, and I have pretty much zero interest in American presidents. This book is about a time traveler attempting to prevent Kennedy’s assassination, so yeah, not really my thing.

On the other hand, I generally really enjoy King’s style. His deceptively simple sentences remind me of Lego. In lesser hands, Lego is a jumbled mess or an awkward construction, but in the hands of an expert, you get this. So based on family recommendations, and on some of my good experiences with King in the past (The Stand! Rage! The Long Walk! Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption!), I took my turn with the book. (My brother did get to it first, and kind of freaked me out by texting me and leaving notes to Beware the Jimla! “Thanks,” dude.)

Part of what I didn’t enjoy about this book was the subject matter (I mean, yawn, how much do I really care about every move Lee Harvey Oswald made, every place he lived, everyone he met, and all the conspiracy theories around Kennedy’s death?). Part of what I didn’t enjoy is how underdeveloped the supernatural plotline was: King introduces the word Jimla early on and brings it back a few times in a way that hints at something big, but it isn’t as fully developed as one would expect. And the third thing I didn’t enjoy is how the “explanations” and “making sense of things” all kind of bunched up at the end of the book. For my taste, there was too much mundane plodding in the middle, and too much explanatory wrap-up at the end.

To be fair, though, my brother loved the middle part and was quite surprised when I complained about it. To each their own. I wouldn’t read it again, and I probably would have abandoned it in the middle if I wasn’t the kind of person who hates leaving things unread… But if you are interested in this topic, you’ll probably really like it. I’m just sorry the explanatory part wasn’t woven into more of the story because it seemed like it would have been a fascinating thing to explore a bit more.

11/22/63 by Steven King. 2012. ISBN 978-14516-27299.

Help Me Communicate With My Doctor – Please?

Q over at Le Quemada (Believe the Girl) wrote this amazing letter to give to her doctor about how her experiences of abuse mediate her experiences with gynecological health care. It is a very powerful letter and I feel strongly that in writing this, she is speaking for many of us abuse survivors, as well as providing an amazing model for how we can advocate for ourselves and each other when dealing with the medical system. Please take the time to read this and think about how this might work for you (if you’re a survivor), and what you can do to understand and support survivors (if you haven’t experienced this yourself). Be aware that some of this is quite explicit, so if you’re not in a space to read about specific triggers, maybe come back later instead.

Please join me in wishing Q all the very best with her upcoming procedures, and a swift and complete recovery!

Weekly Pet Peeve: People Talking Through the Show

This week’s pet peeve is piggybacking on For the Love of God—Make It Stop, about a person talking in a movie theatre during the movie. This is a huge peeve of mine. Not just in movie theatres but also at home. Not just during movies, but also during TV shows. Or even YouTube videos. Or when I am on the phone, and someone in the room is talking during my phone call because they have something to add or to pass on to the person on the other end.

JUST SHUT UUUUUUUUPPPPP!!!!!!!!!

OBVIOUSLY I am paying attention to The Thing. Either pause The Thing, or wait for The Thing to be over. And if The Thing is something you’re trying to share with me, please don’t abuse my patience and wreck my enjoyment with “okay, here, wait, here it comes, wait, yeaaaah!!!” and hysterical laughter even before the funny part.

Also, if we’re watching a movie together that you’ve seen before, ffs do NOT speak along with the dialogue. Especially do not say the lines right before they happen! And honestly, seriously, don’t watch my face the whole time to make sure I am laughing at the funny parts or otherwise responding immediately and obviously the way you think I should.

In general, I really prefer to experience media by myself. People can be so annoying. Don’t they know they’re causing me to miss plot development? That information is there for a reason! I need it!

The dogs can be annoying, too, if a movie doorbell rings. But somehow, watching the Brindle Dog barking wildly at the TV with a shocked and betrayed look on her face (through what interdimensional fuck-up did a doorbell appear in the living room???) is far more entertaining than biting my tongue (and sitting on my fists) when dude in front of me at the theatre is muttering into a cell phone.