Monday, October 29, 2012

Obligatory shot of kid frolicking in leaves

What else? Oh yeah. When Angus plays baseball in the summer and comes home and takes off his uniform we often play a game we like to call 'Blood or Snack', as in "is that where you got popped in the nose, or is that red popsicle?" Today I went to my Mom's and they had made borscht and frozen it and she gave me some to take home, but I honestly don't know whether to eat it or use it as part of a Halloween costume:

Also, a shot of my favourite family Halloween costume this year: my friend Susanne, with her husband Paul and Doctor Mabel.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ode on a Québecoise waitress

So I've been wandering around feeling crushingly fatigued and restless and irritable and wondering what the hell is wrong with me and then I thought, well DUH, I'm an introvert. And all the carousing and merriment and ever-so-mild debauchery of late has plumb drained my aloneness tanks to virtual emptiness. Even this week, when usually I'd be alone for a few hours during the day, got eaten up by errands and plans that necessitated my rubbing shoulders with the human public to an absolutely exhausting extent.

So, Montreal. With two friends from high school who now live in Halifax - three of us, down from the usual six due to the vagaries of family and employment. Anne Marie is a doctor and, it has to be said, a massive weirdo who I adore, even when she's haranguing strangers or service personnel. Sheila works at the BIO and even though I made her describe her average work day for me in excruciating detail, I still can't remember exactly what she does. She is also my age with a four-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old, so she is very, very tired.

Friday when Anne Marie got out of her palliative care conference, we asked the concierge for what I thought was going to be a restaurant recommendation but my never-drank-in-high-school somehow-turned-into-a-huge-lush-over-the-past-ten-years doctor friend asked for a bar recommendation instead. The concierge was about to send us to one place, then suddenly he backtracked and said that place would probably be packed at this point and gave us another recommendation. We took this at face value at the time, but then on the way in the cab we realized it was 4:40 p.m. and figured that he probably realized we were way too old and uncool for the first place.

We got to the bar. It wasn't open yet (because, newsflash, it was four fucking forty p.m., what the hell were we thinking? Well, that we wanted to get shitfaced AND be in bed by nine-thirty, but apparently that doesn't fly in Montreal). So we went down the street to this place and tried to order boozy hot chocolate, but they wouldn't let us order booze without ordering food and we didn't want food yet (jesus christ, it was like all of Montreal was conspiring to keep us sober). So we got a caramelia 34% and a Xocolatl épicé and some other thing that needed instructions on how to decant and drink. Then Anne Marie went to look at the chocolate stuff for sale, and Sheila started imitating Anne Marie in the cab, when she asked for money back from the twenty-dollar bill she gave the cab driver and he said something to his dispatcher but she thought he was arguing with her and snarled I NEED CHANGE while I tried to climb over Sheila who was between me and the cab door leading to the sidewalk, while he stared at all of us. Sheila imitating Anne Marie growling I NEED CHANGE now caused the people at the next table to stare at us, so I left to go find Anne Marie, tried to tell her what had just happened and ended up laughing so hard I couldn't speak, which then caused everyone else in the place to start staring at us. So now our work here was done.

We went back to the bar. It was cool. The chairs looked like big hands and the drinks menu was on records. Also, the bartender was charming and attentive, possibly because there was absolutely no one else in the joint for the three hours we spent there, but I prefer to think it was our scintillating collective personality. As far as I remember, we had a Sweet Tart, a Jacques Brel, a Captain America, and something that the waiter swore didn't have tequila in it, but it sure as fuck had tequila in it. Then we did a bunch of shooters. Anne Marie made a reservation at an Italian restaurant down the street on her iPhone. We weaved down the street to the restaurant and met Natasha.

You know when a waitress is so freaking amazing at being sincere that you know that means she's just even more insincere than everyone else, because she's insincere enough to really sell being sincere? You could have sworn this woman had been waiting all her life just to serve us dinner. And it wasn't just because of the shooters that we thought this, because after insisting that we order the charcuterie platter for an appetizer, she brought Julio the meat chopping guy over and introduced him to us, and HE did not seem that enchanted to be our meat-chopping guy AT ALL. The food was amazing, and the wine was highly enjoyable, but by the end of the night we were just there for Natasha. We wanted to take a picture of her so we said 'can we take a picture of you' and she thought we wanted HER to take a picture of US, and we were like, 'no, we want to take a picture of you and send it to our husbands so they'll be jealous of us' and she was like 'um.....' and we were like 'look, we're all totally gay for you AND we're hammered, you're getting a gargantuan tip out of this' and she was like 'cheese!' Then, as we were about to pay the bill, I suddenly clicked over from that perfect state of blissful floaty everyfuckingthing in the world is fantastic to that unperfect state of it's going to be awkward if I have to spend the rest of the night throwing up and we only have one bathroom. But I didn't. So it was still one of the top twenty-five nights in my life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'm just going to blog titleless for a while, okay?

Things are a little hard right now. Firmly in the 'first world' kind of hard, though. My dryer's busted. It stopped working just as we had decided to buy a new one BUT also just as Matt left for a week and a half in Japan, so we couldn't go shopping for a new one right away. We also couldn't go shopping for a new one the day after he got back from Japan because I left for Barrie to visit Zarah for the week-end. We're going shopping for a new one tomorrow, but who knows how long it will be before it gets delivered. In the meantime, you can't move in the basement without being slapped in the face or  caressed around the knee by a cold, clammy piece of reluctantly drying fabric. I hang a lot of things to dry anyway, but adding in having to hang sheets, towels, socks, underwear and dish cloths has made the process quite a bit more unwieldy. It's tiresome, but it's only tiresome because I'm accustomed to the ridiculously convenient way I usually do it.

Also, I'm feeling tired and mildly agoraphobic, but this is only because I've been away the last three week-ends, visiting my sister in London for Thanksgiving and then whooping it up in Montreal and Barrie with girlfriends. Poor me. This week-end we have a Halloween party and next week-end a dinner party. All the friends and plans and fun - it's misery, I tell you.

I did have a triumphant moment this morning. I got out of the shower, dripping wet and blind without my glasses and saw a huge spider sitting beside the wastebasket. I didn't stop to dry myself or put on my glasses or yell for Matt. I grabbed a kleenex and decisively swooped down on that monster, feeling like a total badass.

Yes sir. I really showed that immense piece of purple towel fluff who was boss.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rusty Gears

Should blog. Don't feel like blogging. Anybody want to blog for me?

I just spent half an hour noodling around on the internet trying to find the title and/or author of a book I read that I really liked, so I could check if the author had anything more recent. I realized, as I was googling, that all I can really remember is that the main character was an alcoholic female police detective. I can't remember what the mystery was or even what the setting was - Hawaii, maybe? So perhaps, in the event that I do remember which book it is, I should just reread that book instead of looking for a new one. In related news, I am not going to divest myself of the hundreds of books in my house and just keep a dozen or so, on the assumption that, by the time I work my way through all of them, I will have forgotten enough about the first one that it will then be new to me again.

Matt is telling us about wandering around a park in Tokyo where they have designated spots in which you are allowed to be homeless. Also, giant spiders. And baseball practices that are run like young offenders camps. Then he said something about Buddhists and Angus said "are Buddhists those people who pray?"

I keep typing sentences and erasing them, while mentally enumerating all the posts I have planned on writing that have not been written. The one about the fairy who lived in Eve's headboard. The one about the kids switching rooms, with pictures. The one about seeing the Wailin' Jennys in concert. The one about last weekend in Montreal which was AWESOME and the post should write its goddamned self, and yet it DOES NOT. The good news is, tomorrow I go to visit Zarah for the week-end, and she will indubitably give me a good talking-to, whereupon I will return to blogging refreshed and re-inspired. Or just afraid to risk the consequences.

The kids were talking about shaving the other day, and Angus said "Does Daddy shave every day?" and I said usually, but definitely when he goes to work, whereupon Eve said "well yeah, he has to shave for his report card." Then later she said she thought her junior kindergarten teacher, who was also Angus's junior kindergarten teacher, had switched classrooms. This surprised me, since Catherine has had the same room for the seven years I've had kids at the school (jesus christ, I've had kids at school for SEVEN FUCKING YEARS?) and it's an awesome room. I asked Eve why she thought that and she said "well, I saw her coming out of a different room", and I gave her a perplexed look, and she said penitently, "this is how rumours get started, isn't it?"

I hate this post. I hate being stuck. I hate that stupid fucking caramel apple bagel commercial.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Grab Bag of Bad Memory Anecdotes

So clearly my sleep machine hasn't improved my memory yet. I just realized that I've been calling and emailing my husband thinking that he's still in Baltimore (where he was last week) and thinking it's weird when he doesn't get back to me right away (because after all it's in the same time zone). I realized five minutes ago that he's actually in Japan. When people ask me where he is and I can't immediately remember if it's, say, Tokyo or Shen Zen or Germany or Italy, I usually just say "who cares, he's equally useless to me in Ohio or Okinawa", but usually I'm at least on the right continent.

Then I almost pulled one of these again, thinking I had to get my assignment done before I left to visit Zarah next Thursday and then realizing I was a whole week ahead of myself again and next Wednesday is the seventeenth, not the twenty-fourth. I'm thinking I might need to write a letter to myself every morning and put the date at the top. I've gotten so much better at writing stuff on the calendar, which helps NOT AT ALL if I keep reading the effing calendar WRONG.

The people who worked at the Tim Horton's in the On Route we stopped at on the way home from London were not great on remembering people's orders either. While we were standing there waiting for our order two other people opened theirs and complained that it was wrong. When we got ours, we checked to make sure there was the right number of sandwiches, but we neglected to unwrap them all and inspect them until we were back on the road. Fortunately, they got the kids' stuff right, but Matt and I had ordered two smoked ham and cheese panini on multigrain and, despite the fact that you'd think it was easier to make two things exactly the same, they gave us two different things - a smoked ham on white and a cheese only on multigrain. Angus said "I think if people order stuff for there they make an effort to get it right because they know they'll come back and complain, but if you order it to go they just stick a bunch of stuff in a bag."


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mental Snapshots from Thanksgiving Week-end (Because I Forgot the Camera)

1) A stand of sparkling silver birches behind a lower tier of red sumac on the side of the highway.

2) The flyers distributed by the kids for their nightly show in the attic: the "unvaling" of Eve and Charlotte's music video stylings, a news "brodcast", and a play about the Emperor of Japan and the Queen of England having tea together.

3) My Dad, slumped awkwardly on the futon in the attic before the show, saying "this isn't comfortable at all. I want a better seat next time".

4) My niece Charlotte in a top hat with her hair tied under her chin, being Abraham Lincoln.

5) Eve dressed in a magician's costume, trying to produce a rabbit from a hat but producing french fries instead, saying "I'm a little embarrassed now. For my next trick, I will make a little girl disappear" and running away.

6) My nephew Jonah sitting upright in a chair with a brown fuzzy blanket wrapped around him, fast asleep in front of the baseball game.

7) The Martha-Stewart-calibre turkey that my sister's brand new Electrolux produced with its 'perfect turkey' setting, even though we mocked it and distrusted it and second-guessed it with a second meat thermometer. We had to change our tune when it reached the perfect temperature and automatically switched to 'keep warm'. All we had to do was stand in the kitchen and drink wine.

8) Angus grabbing Eve's water glass and chugging it, then saying "I don't always steal water, but when I do, it's Evie's".

9) Freaky moment on the drive home when I looked over at the opposite side of the 401 and had the impression that every single car was a black or gray version of the same mid-sized model. I felt like I was in a commercial.

10) My dear-sweet-god-at-the-end-of-fourteen-hours-of-driving-in-four-days HOME.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Feeling snarly

I went to pick up Eve from school and came home with what feels like a nasty, tangled yarn-ball of upsetness in my stomach. I will herein attempt to untangle these grimy strands of emotion - lucky you.

Eve has had four teachers thus far: her English homeroom teacher, who she adores; a French teacher, who she likes; a male science teacher who she triple-extra-special adores; and a music, art and dance teacher who she really likes. Today she came out of the portable looking extremely downcast and handed me a letter informing us that science and music, art and dance will now all be taught by the French teacher, due to 'increased enrollment'.

1) This sucks. She was so excited to have the science teacher, who has taught Angus and who all the kids love. He had her all fired up. About rocks. Seriously - we were walking home from my Mom and Dad's the other day and she explained the entire life cycle of a rock to me, and then said her favourite rock was obviously sedimentary because hello, it's AWESOME, and then metamorphic, which is only slightly less awesome, and then igneous, which I guess is the least awesome but still, fairly awesome. On library day she got a book on rocks and minerals so she could do extra study.

2) This sucks. The teacher they had for music, art and dance runs the dance club at recess in her spare time. Clearly, she has expertise and enthusiasm for dance. Her last name is hyphenated and the second part is -- I shit you not -- DANCE.

3) This is not a huge deal. Shit happens. It's a good school and Eve is a good student and she will learn about rocks no matter who is teaching. We still have the awesome homeroom teacher. Kids are adaptable.

4) This is insulting. The letter from the principal says brightly that she is 'confident that the transition will be seamless' and that she's happy that the kids will have fewer teacher contacts. Well bullshit, the transition is already not seamless - I took Eve for a haircut after school and she started telling our hairdresser about it and almost started crying. There's no way kids aren't affected by this, even if the disruption is temporary and they eventually adapt. And I actually don't think that fewer teacher contacts are necessarily a great thing - if a particular student has issues with a particular teacher, sometimes it's a good thing if they're not together all day every day.

5) This is life. Things change, and sometimes undesirable changes are unavoidable. Which sucks.

6) I shouldn't be as upset as Eve is. When Angus started JK and he was supposed to do a book presentation and I realized near dismissal time that he'd forgotten his book at home and almost had a nervous breakdown, I had to start learning that I couldn't go through school with them experiencing all the same fears and anxieties I did the first time around at the same level. I have to keep learning this over and over again.

7) I don't have to tell Eve that she shouldn't be upset. She's allowed to be upset. Because this sucks.

Okay. I've unraveled my tangled skein of sensibilities. I've discovered that ninety percent of it is major suckage. I've just told Eve she can have ice cream before supper and watch Glee and she said "You're going to let me drown my emotions?" Yes. Yes I am. Sometimes losing a really great science teacher hurts as badly as losing a boyfriend. And sometimes, instead of unbraiding your feelings, it's better to just pile two scoops of mint chocolate chip on top of them.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mondays on the Margins: My Leaky Body by Julie Devaney

"Part memoir, part manifesto, Julie Devaney’s profoundly honest new book should be required reading for anyone who may ever have to visit a hospital – which means, in effect, everyone." Quill & Quire

Her weakest moment spawned a crusade for change. Julie Devaney takes us on a journey through the health care system as she is diagnosed and treated for ulcerative colitis. In and out of emergency rooms in Vancouver and Toronto, she’s poked, prodded, and abandoned to a closet at one point, bearing the helplessness and indignities of a system that at best confuses a patient into silence.

Raw, harrowing, and darkly funny, Julie Devaney argues convincingly for fixes to the system and better training for all medical personnel. As she recovers, she sets out to do just that: setting up a gurney on stage at workshops and conferences across the country to teach Bedside Manners 101 and to advocate for repairs to the system.

Part memoir, part love story, part revolutionary manifesto, My Leaky Body is politically astute, gooey like cake batter, and raw like ulcerated bowels. Devaney writes the book that will heal her aching heart and relax her strictured rectum as she weaves stories from professional and public interactions with tales from her gurney.

I love this book. I really, really love this book and I really, really love Julie Devaney for having the guts to lay her ulcerated intestines open before the world in the interest of making things better for other people who have to navigate the cold, forbidding expanses of the medical system. I was listening to CBC radio in the car this morning, and there was a program featuring doctors who chose to specialize in gerontology, talking about how little respect the specialty is given by other doctors. One of them said that the medical establishment is so proud of how many advancements we've made in cancer treatment and other areas which has increased the life span of the population; however, once people have lived those extra years, very few doctors are then interested in improving their quality of life at the end of it. This dovetailed nicely for me with Devaney's book, particularly the part where she discusses Margrit Shildrick's theory of "'leaky bodies', a feminist concept that explains how women's bodies don't 'fit' into the constructs of bodies set up by modern Western philosophies." The fact is, old bodies or women's bodies, medical personnel aren't trained to see anyone as an individual, but merely as a set of symptoms or a possible diagnosis, and if the body in question doesn't fit neatly into a set of checked boxes, many of them don't react well to the resulting untidiness.

Chances are that most readers can identify to some degree with Julie Devaney's experiences with doctors and nurses who fall on the spectrum from merely exhausted and irritable to flat-out spiteful and inappropriate. There was the time in grad school where I had a staph infection eating up my face which made me look like a burn victim, and a student health services doctor gave me a few milligrams of steroid cream and told me to develop better work habits - I went to a walk-in clinic a few days later where they put me on strong antibiotics and got me in to see a dermatologist the same day. I was just diagnosed with a condition that has caused me all manner of misery for years now, and it's taken this long even with a really great family doctor that I completely trust - imagine how much worse it is when you don't have that. 

There are doctors in Julie's corners, doctors who work with her instead of around and against her, but they are sadly few and far between. And if the process is this hideous for someone who is smart and relatively well-informed about her illness and the workings of the health system, imagine the Kafkaesque nightmare it must be for people who aren't.

I would love for all potential patients to read this book, and visit Julie's website, and see her show, but even more than that, I'm glad that medical students and medical personnel are seeing it, and I wish all of them were compelled to study it. I don't require every doctor to be my best friend. I understand that many doctors are intelligent people who have studied for years in order to be experts in their field. But it does no one any good for doctors to be viewed as gods - they are human, and fallible, and they should be aware that the fact that patients live in their own bodies and inside their own illnesses makes them an expert in those fields. The respect needs to go both ways. 

Memorable Quotes:

-"It occurs to me that the manufacturers of latex gloves should do something about that haunting elastic sound that happens when rubber meets flesh. The warning shot."

-"Under-resourced health care systems create situations where everyone is funneled through the same place to receive care. Patients are put into competition with one another in moments of critical health crisis."

-"So how did we get here? How did we move from the place where we invited medicine people into our homes as healers and supporters to the place where we need to check ourselves in -- body, mind, heart, and spirit -- to their institutions to follow rules we have no say in? When did the value of a professional opinion become directly opposed to respecting the deep wisdom and knowledge that we all carry in our own bodies?"

-"I remember every detail of every ravaging, injurious invasion into my body. And in these moments of pain, I find it impossible to conjure even the simplest moment of pleasure. The vague relief that comes when the pain is taken away is too tainted by the swollen aftertaste of violation to cause any joy. Hospital is the forced abandonment of control -- the violent, bloody, yet sterile bruising of flesh."

-"It's incredible how a pair of designer sandals can transform a pair of peasant grape-stomping feet."

-"Apparently, I should be more squeamish about admitting that I menstruate when I lie naked in front of a room of medical professionals. I do not claim to understand their reasoning."

-"Patronizing little shits."

-"(The emergency department resident) smirks and snickers, like we're sharing a joke, but the reality is I'm laughing because I think he's pathetic. I'm not remotely embarrassed; I feel very confident in this moment that he's the one with the problem. He's training to be a doctor and he's worried about seeing poo and intestines."

-"This fear, which I used to carry as a constant, back-breaking load, is gone. It happened so gradually I almost didn't notice it leaving, until here I am, free in my own body."