Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cinnamon Gurl's Big City Adventure

Last night was our big city adventure, and it did not disappoint. Sage looks exactly like the hot picture she posted a ways back, but I was surprised by her voice. Somehow, I expected her voice to be deeper, grittier, but it was very soft and light. I guess I expected her literal voice to be the same as her bloggy voice. I also thought that since we read each other's blogs, there would be no small talk, no minor awkwardness of people meeting for the first time, but there was, just a bit. She and Mr. Sage are lovely, gracious and kind hosts, and made us an awesome dinner, and Sugar Daddy, Swee'pea and I all enjoyed our visit enormously. Sadly we didn't get to meet Mme. L. Next time...

When we arrived at our seats on the top Massey Hall balcony, the Rheostatics were already playing at their last concert EVER (sob!). Maybe it's just because I've been writing about my past anxiety, maybe I'm just more aware of it, and more aware that I would never have gone to Toronto, eaten dinner, and ridden the street car to go to a concert with a stranger just a few years ago. Whatever the reason, those old minions of panic trotted across my mind as soon as I squeezed myself into the seat: vertigo at how far down the band was and how near I was to the railing, visions of the balcony collapsing after like 100 years of not collapsing, visions of me getting up to pee and tripping and plunging to my death, feeling trapped by the people between me and the aisle escape. I was comforted by the fact that Sage already knew about my history of anxiety so that if I needed to stand by the door, I wouldn't have as much explaining to do. By the second song though I'd talked myself down and was absorbed in the music.

They played Me and Stupid early on, which was really great, and I'd forgotten that in the recorded version they sampled Al Purdy... more evidence that the Rheostatics is the best Canadian band ever. Dave Bidini mentioned Al, and pointed in the audience, and I imagined dear departed Al up in the balcony, tolerating the ruckus like he did when I saw the old poet at the Albion. Thinking of people who have left reminded me of my grandma, and how the last time I was in Toronto, I was just around the corner at the Elgin, just hours after the last time I saw her, when I said goodbye and that I loved her. The small melancholy I felt at seeing the end of the Rheostatics grew to a moment of overwhelming sadness that people have to leave us, except they never really do, with Al and my grandma watching from up in the rafters.

Thursday night, someone from Toronto came to my request list from a blog search for Rheostatics. I like to think it was one of the band members (Tim, is that you?), just keeping an eye on what the blogosphere has to say about their concert at Massey Hall and subsequent breakup. Judging from their playlist, I think it must have been one of them. They played 9 out of my top 13 choices, which I think is pretty kickass, considering that they have 13 albums to choose from.

So I have to say that I most certainly did not have beer goggles on when I came on (or tried to anyways) to Tim Vesely, like, almost a decade ago (gah!). I spent most of the concert trying not to drool on the person in front of me, whose head was virtually between my knees. That man(Tim, not the one in front of me) is FINE, and the stage lights really accentuated his lovely cheekbones. AND, he was wearing brown pants. I couldn't tell for sure way up in the top balcony, but I'm pretty sure they were brown cords, and nothing weakens my knees like brown cords (well, ok, maybe it was just the seatback in front of me digging into them). It only made him hotter in my eyes when he asked where his kids were. AND, Sage said she thinks she knows where he lives, she's seen him doing yard work (I imagine him shirtless on a hot sunny day, biceps bulging). Swoon. She didn't volunteer where though; I guess just in case I'm some kind of Internet stalker. Can't blame her really.

Sugar Daddy has a pair of brown cords but has stopped wearing them because they're ripped. But I think I'm gonna have to ask him to put them on around the house... and maybe I'll get him a guitar for Christmas, because there was something REALLY sexy about Tim playing his bass laying on his back on the stage at one point. I don't think it would matter that Sugar Daddy can't play...

King of the Past wasn't on my list, but only because I never owned Whale Music so I didn't know all the song names. It was fantastic. I thought that that song would be the highlight of the evening, but then they played Northern Wish with their old drummers Dave Clarke (who, with all due respect, TOTALLY looked like a South Park character with his toque, glasses, beard and pale blue tuxedo -- in fact I'm gonna "draw" him just to prove it) on the drums and Don Kerr on the cello, which became the highlight.

(See what I mean?)

THEN they played Aliens... and I swooned as they sang the bit about "give me a deep kiss I've been longing for distraction," and I didn't think it could get any better. But it did. After the first fake ending, which I suspect served primarily as a pee break because they decided not to have an intermission so they could play more music, except it wasn't THAT kind because there were no beverages of any kind (for us anyways), and the seats at Massey Hall are very hard and small. I gotta give the guys credit: they played for 3 1/2 hours straight, and lasted way longer than my knees and ass.

It was a tremendously nostalgic evening... not only because it is the end of the band, but more personally. I haven't followed them for the last few years, so for me they're very much a part of my youth -- the same adolescent who adored Kids in the Hall and smoked cigarettes for the first time and drank beer around bonfires. On the one hand, it's really kind of sad that they never made it really big, because they are so talented, but on the other, I think it makes us fans feel smart and part of a select group. Actually, it felt more like regret than nostalgia, regret that I hadn't seen them in concert more when I had the chance, regret that I'd let them go like all the old friends I've lost touch with.

I couldn't help but think about how talented they all are. They all sing, they rotate instruments, and they always seem to be experimenting and having fun, while still keeping some special spark that is their own unique, identifiable sound. I love how they sampled Al Purdy reciting a line, how they created a whole album inspired by the Group of Seven, and how they collaborate with so many Canadian artists. And how they all also write or paint... they're marvels. Here they are, barely halfway through their lives, and they already know (I hope) that they will leave this place richer than they found it. That said, at one point Tim said something about opening for the Barenaked Ladies in Winnipeg, and I'm sorry, but that is just SO wrong.

They put on a great show, but those cramped seats made it feel like I was rockin' out strapped into the car, music booming and wanting to get all overcome but all I could do was bob my head in time. I felt that same mildly-pathetic-but-resolute-that-I-will-ROCK-IT feeling I do in the car on a summer day sometimes. The seats were too cramped even for chair dancing, so I just kept bobbing my head with the best of them. Dave Bidini had his signature fedora on, which contrasted jauntily with his Patio Lanterns rock star leaps, which I can just imagine him practicing as a 15-year-old in some wood-panelled basement with orange shag carpet.

There was one song that I didn't really recognize. Well, there were more than one, but one that really struck me. It was Self Serve Gas Station, which Martin dedicated to his parents and his sister, who was seeing him perform for the very first time, and that the song was only a little bit true. The lyrics punched me in the gut:

Another trucker stumbles up the steps into my kiosk for directions,
too wasted to see the map I'm showing him.
He wanted to bust the glass... 'cause I wouldn't give him gas -
I said, "You shouldn't be driving,
just take a nap until the morning-time and hit the road."
I wish I had a pistol just to take him down with myself;
who's to tell?
No one said this would be easy... but no one said this would be hell.

Their rendition of Horses, updated with snazzy 21st-century electronic references and effects, was positively apocalyptic, and I thought THAT would be the highlight of the evening... but no.

After Horses, they left the stage. I was deflated. They hadn't played Record Body Count, and I really didn't feel like leaving until they did, despite the cramps in my knees and my numb bum. I wondered if maybe Martin's voice just couldn't do it (poor guy, he was sick and his voice was pathetically, but movingly and appropriately hoarse at crucial moments). But they came out again after another standing ovation (which provided considerable relief to my old body), and Dave Bidini picked up his acoustic guitar and they all sat down on the edge of the stage, legs dangling. They talked for a moment, about nothing really, then played Legal Age Life and we all sang along. Dave Clarke came out again, and directed the audience in some fun backup "singing."

After the song, they walked into the middle of the audience, and Bidini spoke. He said that he didn't really feel emotional about the breakup unless he was talking to someone about how they grew up listening to the Rheostatics, or started a band because of them, or sang their songs when stuck in the wilderness.

Finally... finally, I recognized the first notes of Record Body Count. Bidini played quietly, and Martin sang hoarsely, the house lights golden dim with a bright spotlight on the Rheostatics, and it felt like a huge bush party around a camp fire, singing. I wondered if maybe this was why they'd chosen the beer-less Massey Hall, for a vision of this campfire moment with all their loyal fans singing with along all our might, as if our voices could keep them together, keep them from leaving us behind... I think maybe they had that moment planned all along. I wondered how the last lyric would hang in the great open space above us, the line about "Joey stepped up on the block of ice, put a rope around his neck, fell asleep before he died." It's an awfully morbid ending, but Martin deftly added a Tom Green sort of IEECE accent and a yo-yo-Homey hand gesture for comic relief, and those morbid last words floated painlessly in the air.

* * *

After such a brilliant culmination of their career, we left and took the streetcar home. I've never ridden a streetcar before, and I expected it to be kind of retro with wooden seats, but no. It's just like a really long bus. Anyways, around Spadina, it stopped suddenly, and everyone started looking to one side. Being nosy, I did too, and watched a big black SUV back up across the road, hit a parked car and drive away. We waited for the streetcar to start moving again but it didn't. Finally we went up to the small crowd around the driver. Apparently the streetcar hit that big black SUV when it had its nose in the middle of the street, and the SUV proceeded to hit that parked car not once but THREE times. Someone speculated that the SUV driver must have been drunk.

It suddenly struck me that I could have been killed (not really, but theoretically), that a drunk driver could prevent me from getting back to Swee'pea and Sugar Daddy, that other children say goodbye to their parents thinking they'll see them in a few hours and never do. The streetcar was broken I guess, so we got off and took a cab, which was also a bit hairy. At one point, we were stopped at a light for a long time, and I noticed a woman sitting on a big black garbage bag, another one beside her. She was smoking a cigarette and looking around, enormous bruise-coloured circles around her eyes, which suddenly rolled back in her head. She blinked and her eyes were normal again, but she was clearly out of it. And I found myself wondering if she had kids, somewhere out there, wondering where she was, and I wondered about what experiences exactly separated us, that I was in this cab looking at her, and she wasn't noticing. I felt very disturbed, wondering what her life was like.

But I got home to Swee'pea and Sugar Daddy safely, and dreamed of Tim Vesely and Martin Tielli, their songs playing in my head all night long.

* * *

Thank you Sage. The night will linger in my memory like the music in my dreams last night, maybe even as long as the indents in my knees.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Round the Bend and Back: Part 3

Ok, so I left off my last post with my diagnosis of IBS and my discovery of Dr. Andrew Weil. But now I remember that Dr. Weil came later.

My anxiety grew from driving and dinners out, to elevators and subways (not that I had any occasion to encounter subways in G-town but we did sometimes go to Toronto and after one terrifying subway ride where the squealing made me feel like we were squeezing through tunnels way too small for the train, I wouldn't ride another one. I still haven't. Which is weird because I loved it when I was younger, as a teenager adventuring in the big city). Not long after we escaped from our crazy enraged landlord into a really nice second floor apartment in an old Victorian house with a lovely kind and conscientious landlord, I got a new job, writing and editing, which was exciting but involved a day or two in the Toronto office from time to time, high up on the eleventh floor, too high to take the stairs. I remember one day in the Toronto office, I spent all day fretting about how I could only reasonably get up or down by the elevator, which I hated hated hated. (It was yet another place where I could get trapped.) Although I managed to put on a competent front and get my work done and hold normal work conversations, inside I was like a guitar string, tuning knob twisting it tighter and tighter, until that moment just before it snaps and frays.

I finally sought outside help for the anxiety. I think I called the family counselling unit or something, next to the general hospital. I spoke to a counsellor and he proclaimed that I had anxiety with agoraphobia and suggested I join a group therapy. It was mostly aimed at people with social anxiety, people who were shy to the point of an anxiety disorder, but that wasn’t my problem. I really didn’t want to bother with it, because I wasn’t interested in group therapy. Especially since social phobia wasn’t my problem.

The agoraphobia diagnosis didn’t sit well with me either. Literally, it means a fear of markets or something like that, and I wasn’t afraid of going downtown, or going to work. I wasn’t completely housebound. When I asked the counsellor about it, he said that anxiety either comes with or without agoraphobia, it's so common, but I still didn't think it really applied to me. Later, I came across a definition of agoraphobia as being a fear of being trapped outside the home, which made a lot more sense to me and seemed a lot more applicable to my fear. That was exactly what I was afraid of. I was afraid of being trapped in a public bathroom or without a public bathroom, unable to get home.

I never saw that counsellor again, but he referred me to a psychiatrist. Maybe it was just him, but it seems to me that psychiatrists are pushers. He just wanted to test my blood to rule out a thyroid problem, which can apparently cause anxiety, so that he could get me on some drugs. I really didn’t want to take drugs. The way I saw it, my anxiety really got out of control right around the time I stopped drinking. I think my drinking suppressed my anxiety so well that I had no idea it even existed until I quit, pretty much cold turkey because of the intense nausea. (Later, I finally figured out that it was probably the Pill, which I'd started taking when drinking started causing the nausea. Once I stopped taking the Pill, I could drink without nausea again. I won't ever go on it again.) Anyways, I asked the psychiatrist why it was ok to take pills to eliminate anxiety, but not ok to drink. And he couldn't give me a satisfactory answer... he hummed and hawed about dosage and context but I came away with my belief intact that if I was going to medicate my anxiety, I would probably be best off doing it with booze. But I wasn't really interested in rekindling my alcoholism so I looked for other answers on my own. When I refused more drugs, the psychiatrist just sort of shrugged, metaphorically, and didn't provide alternatives for me. I never saw him again either.

I decided to quit smoking. I figured that since nicotine is a stimulant setting off little mini fight or flight responses in my nervous system, it might calm me down to stop sucking butts. Instead, all hell broke lose. I think what happened was that my body had gotten used to those jolts of adrenaline, and when they were taken away cold turkey, along with all the withdrawal and psychological cravings, my body decided to take matters into its own hands, and started setting off its own stress responses even more frequently.

Then I went on strike for eight very long weeks, which is when things really got bad. I tried showing solidarity and picketing, but I hated the divisiveness. I hated the Big Bullies that joined us from other workplaces and wore balaclavas and physically intimidated women who were crossing the line. The day I watched a big faceless balaclava'd bully holding up a rubber boot and a jar of vaseline to a woman I had worked with once and who was supposedly betraying our side, the man who was supposed to be on my side but who I'd never met or even seen his face, I went home horribly nauseous, sure I was going to vomit. It had been so long since I'd felt nauseous, but here it was back again and worse than ever.

Looking back, I'm sure the most stressful part of the strike was that I wouldn't even admit to myself that I was stressed out. I had enough to savings to (probably) get me through it, and once I realized the picket line was not for me,I had my days free, something I'd been wanting for a long time. I tried to make the best of it, but I was on month to month contracts when I wasn't on strike, so I think the uncertainty was just way too much. I had constant nausea for months. Even after the strike finally ended, eight weeks later.

One of my first days back at work, I felt that old shaky, sweaty feeling and ran to the bathroom, waiting for the diarrhea and vomiting to start. It didn't. I went back to my desk, shakily, but I still felt sick, so went back and forth from my desk to the bathroom. My colleague saw me and asked what was wrong and I said I must be coming down with the flu. She said she didn't think it was flu, she thought it looked like panic. Her daughter has panic attacks, and they look just like this. I disagreed. It had never ever occurred to me before that these episodes were panic. I went home, where I felt safe, and felt better shortly after arriving.

I think it was around this time that my grandma got in a car accident, and we didn't know if she'd survive. Sugar Daddy had to work, but I took Thursday afternoon off and Friday off and drove, all by myself, to London. I made it, but it was terrifying. The 401 between G-town and London is a pretty lonely stretch of highway through a rural area; in other words, not a lot of public toilets within easy access of the highway. Luckily, I didn't have an emergency, but I was so scared of the possibility, and felt so trapped in that moving car, that just thinking about the return trip made me weep with fear. I remember blubbering away in the hospital cafeteria, not about the state of my grandma who seemed to be doing well, but about driving by myself an hour and 15 minutes back to G-town. Through the blurry curtain of tears in front of my eyes, I remember noticing this mystified look on my mom's face. I think it was the first time she really saw just how bad my anxiety was.

As much as I knew intellecually that my fear about the solo return trip was irrational, I still just couldn't bring myself to do it. So I called Sugar Daddy and asked him to take the bus to London and drive back to G-town with me. And he did, with no questions, no mocking, no attempt to talk me into doing it myself.

Throughout all this (I think my grandma's accident was in May 2002, almost three years since I'd met Sugar Daddy, more than four years since I first got sick), Sugar Daddy was gently supportive. He liked going out for dinner, although I don’t imagine he liked sitting by himself very much, but he didn’t make me go and didn't make me feel guilty for depriving him of dinners out. I could order takeout and eat at home, because then I was close to our bathroom, and safe at home. He never tried to cajole me into staying at a restaurant if I did try to go out for dinner and panicked. He never tried to persuade me to stay for dessert. In short, he never pushed me. He let me push myself.

Some time ago I saw something about how to support someone with anxiety and/or panic. I think it may have been on Dr. Phil (shudder) but it may have been in a magazine or book. Anyways, it said to do exactly the things Sugar Daddy did naturally and unself-consciously. It said to never try to convince someone to stay longer somewhere if they're having a panic attack. And not to push them into going somewhere they don't want to. If they want to try going somewhere, if they want to push their limits, they (we) can only do it knowing they (we) have an escape.

It humbles me to know that if our roles were reversed, I would not have supported him the way he supported me. I totally would have tried to cajole myself out of my anxiety if I were in his position. Perhaps it took me so long to get over it because that was the approach I took with myself.

I wondered if maybe my coworker was right, that I wasn't actually sick with a mysterious illness but suffering panic attacks, but with the constant nausea (I remember popping Gravol once I got to work so that the wooziness would recede before I had to drive home but I would have some relief over the day), I went back to my doctor for help. We tried a few things, but eventually she said, “I'm sorry. I don't know what else to do for you. You don't LOOK sick.” After I had a panic attack at home, I started to feel like nowhere was safe. I became really desperate for relief from the near constant anxiety and dread. I was desperate, so I asked my doctor for a prescription. She gave me Paxil. But it made me more wired and unable to sleep, so I quit after two days. I read on the web that in fact Paxil is contraindicated in people who suffer panic attacks, because we pay SO close attention to every single little sensation in our bodies that the effects of the drug can bringon panic attacks. I was starting to realize that my problem was likely more psychological than physical, but that feeling better would likely require a holistic approach to support a healthy mind AND body.

Dr. Weil points out that western medicine does a few things very well, mending broken bones and curing bacterial infections among them. But it manages chronic, vague, undefined illnesses (like IBS) very very poorly. For example, my family doctor threw some pills marketed at IBS at me, which I took for quite a while, and I think there was some placebo effect, at least I felt like I was doing something, anything, to make myself feel better, and it gave me a bit of comfort when driving longish distances. But I stopped taking them after a while because they creeped me out, and there was no dramatic change one way or the other when I stopped.

When conventional medicine gave up on me, I gave up on it. That's when I started reading Dr. Weil, who has a lot of good advice for making small changes to your lifestyle that add up to good results. He is both an MD AND a naturopathic doctor, so he focuses on natural, lifestyle, food-related modes of healing, and he backs it up with good research. He points out that traditional Chinese medicine, and other “alternative” healing modalities manage the more chronic and vague illnesses, which conventional medicine can't treat, much better.

I discovered Weil's Spontaneous Healing. It sounds like a hoaky, new-agey title I know, but what it offered me was hope. Each chapter focuses on someone he knew personally, and the nasty symptoms they experienced and unsuccessful conventional medical treatments that were thrown at them. Eventually, each person turned to Weil or some other “alternative” healing modality, absolutely desperate and at the end of their rope. And each person is a success story. They became well, despite the fact that conventional medicine could not explain or understand or even believe their healing. Before I read this, I believed that I would never be well again, that my life would become more and more restricted with the mysterious illness that doctors didn't even really believe existed. But reading about people who were much sicker than I was, becoming well, was empowering.

Weil also emphasizes the mind-body connection, and believes that the placebo effect is a powerful thing, not something to discount treatments, but to capitalize on. This too gave me hope, which was what I needed more than anything else.

(If anyone reading this is suffering from an illness that is not being treated successfully by conventional medicine, if you're feeling hopeless about your prospects of wellness, let me know and I will mail this book to you. That's what a difference it made to me. Of course, you could check out your local library first. His other books are good too, and he's a really engaging writer.)

I made more changes in my life. I started eating food cooked with fresh chilis, much to Sugar Daddy's enjoyment. Previously, I'd been scared of their effect on my stomach, but in fact they are, counterintuitively I know, very healing, and anti-inflammatory, particularly for the stomach and intestines. I'd already figured out that spicy vegetable curries and rice rather agreed with me. But now I knew why. Ginger, garlic, chilis, turmeric... they're all anti-inflammatory, and/or antifungal, antibiotic, etc. AND I think eating spicy foods reflects and enhances a spicy outlook on life.

I started avoiding the news. Weil advocates occasional news fasts if you can't handle longer stretches without the news, because the news is mostly sensational fear-mongering. And we really don't need more fear in our lives. I still don't really watch much news. People tell me the things I need to know.

I made sure to get enough sleep. I became almost obsessive about being in bed by ten, but it made a difference. I always felt rotten the day after even a slightly later night.

I quit coffee. This was easy because I noticed an immediate difference in my stomach. I drink strong black tea now, which doesn't seem to have the same painful and anxious effect as coffee. I once tried a half-cup of coffee years later, figuring that my system had healed enough to handle a small amount. I used to LOVE coffee SO much, surely it would be ok. But immediately, my gut got that old familiar gut rot, and my mind started racing anxiously.

I started taking vitamin B6, but didn't notice much difference. Until I went to get a new bottle at the pharmacy, and the pharmacist told me that all the B vitamins work in a chain reaction, so it's best to take a complete B-50 complex. THAT made a huge difference. I noticed that if I stopped taking them for a week, I'd start feeling more vague anxiety and stomach pain. If someone is feeling stressed and anxious, I always recommend the B complex. It clears cortisol, a stress hormone, from your bloodstream, which I believes stops the vicious circle of stress leading to a faster stress response, leading to more stress.

I added nuts and seeds to my diet, which have so many wonderful things in them: fibre, protein, good fats, which help your brain chemistry, and magnesium, which has been shown to reduce arthritis and other pain.

I still can't separate out the anxiety from the IBS stuff. It's a loop, and the one feeds into the other. The more anxiety I felt, the more my gut reacted, and the more my gut reacted, the more I panicked. The gut is a central component of the mind-body connection. When our reptilian brain starts the fight or flight response, which usually happens involuntarily in the face of ANY stress, even the modern kind for which neither fight nor flight is an appropriate response, one of the first things that happens is our gut shuts down to siphon energy from digestion to fighting or fleeing. It's not accident that we talk about gut feelings or going with your gut.

Those changes helped with the bowel stuff, but I still had near constant nausea and intense anxiety. Finally, I called the employee assistance program through my employer, and they hooked me up with a counsellor. One who I could just talk to and who wouldn't tell me to go to a group session.

That's when things finally started to get better.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Whip it good

Today, my work group had a little celebratory lunch to pat ourselves on the back. On the way to the restaurant, we saw this lovely example of the photographic store's apostrophe:

(sorry for the piss-poor exposure and composition, but I only had my cell phone with me. Plus... I was hungry)

At lunch, we were each given a little card with quotes of the nice little things we'd each written anonymously about each other last week. It was really nice to read nice things about myself. But then I became aware of a theme emerging from some of the comments about me. Apparently, I have a bit of a reputation around my team. For, among the "approachable," "fun to have around," and "likes brown A LOT," were:

"Our grammar queen who keeps us on the straight and narrow"


"hardcore with grammar"

I swear I'm not making this up. It totally makes me want to start showing up to work wearing a black patent leather skin tight outfit, knee-high boots and carrying a long whip. Just call me the Grammar Dominatrix.

Thursday 13: 13 Songs I want to hear at tomorrow's Rheostatics concert

  1. Record Body Count – My ALL TIME favourite Rheostatics song… dark lyrics of high school angst with surprisingly perky vocals
  2. Aliens - I was 15 when my brother first introduced me to the Rheostatics via their album Melville, and I was totally titillated by the line, “Let me touch your tits and keep me occupied…”
  3. Northern Wish - I LOVE how the last words in the song are the melancholy and trailing off, “This song is Overrrrrrrrrrr…”
  4. Saskatchewan
  5. Horses – I’ve seen them perform this song live before, and it is TOTALLY ROCKIN’ (Except I’ve never been able to figure out the Holy Mackinaw Joe thing… anyone? Sage, is it about a famous violent strike?)
  6. Legal Age Life at Variety Store – One of the reasons I LOVED the Albion way back when was because it had the Rheostatics AND Primus on its jukebox… this was always the song I picked from Whale Music
  7. Sickening Song
  8. Dope Fiends and Boozehounds (I can’t actually remember this song specifically, but I LOVE the title… it speaks of my university years so well…)
  9. Me and Stupid – More teenage angst/stupidity
  10. Take Me in Your Hand - I felt all smart for hearing a dirty metaphor in these lyrics
  11. Jesus was Once a Teenager Too
  12. Claire - My sister-in-law's name is Claire, so this song always feels like a tribute to her
  13. Rain rain rain
And now for Two Shocking Revelations:

1) I haven’t actually followed the Rheostatics after Harmelodia… but just based on the titles, I think I want to hear these songs from their more recent albums:

These Days Are Good For the Canadian Conservative Youth Party Alliance
Power Ballad for Ozzie Osbourne
I Dig Music

2) Somehow, I have never actually paid for any of the Rheostatics’ recordings. How bad a big fan am I? BUT through their website, I see I can buy mp3s from Maple Music, a Canadian-owned online store specializing in Canadian Music. Which I will do tonight when I’m home.

* * *

In case any of you have missed my comments elsewhere, I have been reminiscing about the time the Rheostatics played at the Trash here in G-town, and I, hammered as usual for the time, tried to come on to Tim Vesely with absolutely no success. But he was very nice.

Tomorrow night’s concert is apparently Tim’s last performance with the band. I guess I should plan to throw my bra at him, but it occurs to me that all I have are tent-like nursing bras… I suppose that might make an impression?

(I've never been to a concert with assigned seating... how does that work? Where's the mosh pit? Oh God, I'm totally dating myself, aren't I? And how long it's been since I've been to a conert... Oh well, I'm a pretty good chair dancer, if I do say so myself.)

Wish me luck that I meet expectations at my first real-life blogger meeting…

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Green Day

Yesterday was so warm and beautiful, it reminded me of a passion I've forgotten: native plant gardening. I am not a good gardener. It's way too much like hard work. But what I am good at is reading books, choosing plants, and dreaming. Luckily, I have a friend around the corner from me who is a brilliant gardener, even though he uses exotics (bleagh), and he very kindly helps out with some of the hard work in my garden (and there's lots).

So, I've decided to start a new series on my blog: Green Day (I haven't decided which day yet). Each post will feature a plant that's native to my area (southern Ontario), preferably even living in my garden. Likely, this series will bore the pants off you, but it's my wee attempt at activism. If just one of you decides to try just one native plant as a result of my blog, please tell me, and all the boredom will be worth it.

I've touched on it here before, but allow me to repeat myself. There are MANY reasons to choose native plants for your garden, among them:

  1. they're easier than exotics; you don't have to do a thing, really, except thin them out from time to time, and give a little water to seedlings if the weather is particularly dry.
  2. they use fewer resources than exotics, i.e., less water, no pesticides, no fertilizers
  3. they contribute to biodiversity and provide food and homes for fauna whose homes and food are increasingly threatened, especially butterflies and birds
  4. they don't threaten our natural, native plant ecosystems; while there are some exotics that are well behave and don't escape into the wild, many of our favourites like lily of the valley and myrtle are invasive and outcompete our native species. Lily of the valley and myrtle are by far not the worst culprits for invasion (no the worst ones are in my backyard: goutweed and Manitoba maples) but they're popular. And a lot of nurseries don't warn you or sell only the well behaved ones (I think tulips, daffodils and lilacs would count as well behaved).
  5. They're beautiful in a slightly less showy less bloomy but more appealing with nicer foliage way (to me anyways).
  6. They attract butterflies, bees and birds (just in case that point got buried above).
If you decide to give a native plant a try, try to make sure you buy the proper species. Lots of nurseries SAY it's native, but it's really a selected breed, with likely some of the traits that birds and butterflies like bred out of them. It's good to learn the Latin names too, because sometimes two different species native to two opposite ends of the continent have the same common name. There are many nurseries that specialize in native plants, which are the best and most knowledgeable sources of native plants. If you want to find one in your area, I'd be more than happy to help. Also, make sure that wherever you buy them from, they state clearly that they don't collect from the while unless it's from land slotted for development, in which case the rescue saves the plant community from destruction. Don't collect from the wild yourself either.

Ok, so now that I've gotten the preamble taken care of, I give you today's feature plant: sanguinaria canadensis or Bloodroot.

It's a woodland plant, preferring shady conditions, especially deciduous shade (the kind that means full, bright spring sunshine with shade from the harsher summer sun), but it does fine in my northeastern facing front garden, which only gets morning sun in the later summer. This afternoon, only a day or two after the snow finally melted from this shaded area, I saw its orangeish reddish greenish white pointy tips piercing the soil already. It gets lovely white blooms, bigger than you'd expect but also more delicate and prone to getting blown away. The broad, irregularly shaped leaves, though, are my favourite part of this plant. They last way longer than the blooms, and they just seem so damn whimsical to me, especially the way they wrap around the stem as it grows up, then unfurls itself like an open hand waiting for a handout.

The plant is named for its red sap, and I think it has been used for medicinal properties, but I can't remember what they are, and I'm pretty sure it carries significant and dangerous side effects.

I think it's native to most of northeastern North America. Feel free to check out some of the web and print resources I listed in this post.

And yay! Kgirl, who I love love love got awarded for a thinking blogger award. Her combination of responsible organizer yet hipster earth mother always makes me think. Yippee! AND she passed on the honour to me. Mad also proclaimed me a thinking a blogger, a while back, so I'll point you to the post I did then because I'm feeling lazy.

I will take advantage to kindly remind kgirl that I tagged her a LONG time ago for whenever she started blogging again... and look, she's blogging again... if she's up for it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Round the Bend and Back: Part 2

I wasn't planning to write about this again so soon, but I've been thinking a lot about that time, trying to remember some of the details, the chronology of how things happened... so here's the next installment:

I feel the need to interrupt myself at this point in my story, even though I don’t want to. I worry that you may think badly of me because of the casual way I treated sex. And I want you to know that "casual encounters" didn't always mean sex, and I didn't even have that many... it was a relatively short time in my life. Not that it really matters anyways, but I don't want people to think badly of me.

All that said, I really hate that I felt the need to explain that, and that I gave into it. I hate the double standard still applied to women's sexuality. I hate that our society is still so threatened by women who have (casual) sex and generally discredits THOSE women. I hate that slut is still such a gendered word, that male sluts have to be identified as male.

I suppose it was that same double standard I was rebelling against in my early twenties, in my steadfast refusal to be ashamed of exploring my sexuality, in my pride at being able to separate love from sex. Similarly, I refuse to be ashamed of pooping in public bathrooms (well – as long as no one can be sure it was me). I think that’s why I was so graphic in my last post, which likely alienated several of you. Sorry if I overshared.

Anyways, by the time I met Sugar Daddy, I’d been celibate for almost a year, after a conscious decision, not to stop casual encounters per se, but to stop mixing them with copious amounts of booze. The result was celibacy and it was good for me. It made me realize that those explorations weren’t doing anything good for me anymore.

So where was I? Oh right. I’d just finished working at Black’s and was enrolled in five courses for the upcoming fall semester so I could hurry up and get a general degree, and I’d just met Sugar Daddy. I was even reading Gulliver’s Travels IN ADVANCE of starting school. I’d lost A LOT of weight from being sick so much and not being able to eat a lot. My knees used to hurt if I laid on my side because I was so bony. Many people complimented me on my weight loss, which made me angry, because I hadn’t meant to lose weight. I’d been sick. I usually responded grumpily, “Well if you pissed out your ass for four months straight, you’d lose weight too! Though I don’t recommend it.”

I moved in with a couple of roommates in a rented house, and Sugar Daddy might as well have moved in. He was vegetarian (although too shy to tell me until weeks after we’d ordered several meat-ladened pizzas) and fit and very health conscious. I believe this may have been my first exposure to truly healthy eating. I’d seen obsessive (non) eating, having lived with an anorexic, and yoyo dieting, having lived with my mum, but I’d never really seen someone make consistently healthy food choices and enjoy fruits and vegetables for themselves.

We started our tradition of walking to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning (which we still do seven years later) and we’d eat good food all weekend. Around this time, I started to pay a lot more attention to what I was eating, trying to find out if certain foods triggered my intestinal complaints. I became convinced that I was allergic to strawberries, because I felt strangely lightheaded once after eating them. I stopped eating salads after a few unpleasant incidents. Sugar Daddy cooked curries really well, and I started eating more rice and vegetables and less meat. At one point, I had a bladder infection, and thought for sure I was allergic to the sulpha drugs when I felt lightheaded and weird while out walking.

Several times I’d go out with Sugar Daddy and my friends, and find myself on the toilet, nauseous, certain I was going to vomit any minute and unable to find a suitable receptacle (why don’t they put garbage bins in public bathroom stalls?!?), pissing out my ass, out of breath, shaking with chills but dripping with sweat at the same time – basically the same way I felt when I had food poisoning. It was terrifying, and I was trapped, captive until my body allowed me a bit of a break. Eventually, I would pull my sweaty, pale and shaken self together long enough to wobble from the bathroom and catch a cab home, praying that I wouldn’t get caught short in the cab. Sugar Daddy always accompanied me home. I soon stopped drinking altogether, because any booze at all made me feel horrendously nauseous. One night I even slept next to our toilet, I was so intensely nauseous, but I never did actually throw up during any of these episodes.

These episodes happened more and more often, requiring me to pull off the highway on the way home from my parents’ house, or stop in gas stations. Sometimes I would give up on the destination entirely and just turn around, weakly driving the shorter distance back and collapsing into bed.

Over the next year, my diet got more and more restricted as I tried to eliminate foods that seemed to bring on these episodes. I cut out most raw fruits and vegetables, and meat. Some of my restrictions were out of control and irrational but the meat one has proven to be good. I remember occasions from throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of waking in the middle of the night with horrible nausea, cramps and diarrhea. Since I gave up red meat, I haven't had a single middle of the night episode. And I can remember specific occasions when those times came the night after a barbecue when I would have had at least two beef burgers.

Sugar Daddy and I got our own apartment the next year, I finished school and graduated with my general BA, and got a well-paid administrative job as the result of a local temp agency giving me a lucky placement. So I was functioning fairly competently, but outside of work my world was getting smaller and smaller.

I stopped visiting my parents except for essential holidays, because the prospect of being trapped on a public toilet at a highway service station was terrifying. The thought of having an episode not even close enough to a service station or public bathroom was even more terrifying. If I couldn't avoid the trip, I wouldn't eat anything at all until I got to my destination, to lessen the chance of having diarrhea along the way. I started to carry a roll of toilet paper in the car, just in case I found myself by the side of the road. I’m sure it sounds funny, a funny thing to be scared of, but I was terrified. It was crippling.

I stopped going out for dinner at restaurants, because episodes happened so frequently at them. And it was so embarrassing to traipse across the dining room, and have everyone know how long I spent in there, emerging pale and sometimes still doubled over, walking slowly and gingerly back to my table.

Sometime in 2001, I sought medical help for my symptoms (the physical ones, because as far as I knew there weren't any mental ones). I was referred to a gastroenterologist, who sent me for a colonoscopy. I was very scared of this procedure. If you ever need one, let me tell you that it's not that bad. The preparation is the worst part; the procedure itself is a doddle (as much as having a scope put up your ass and seeing your insides on tv can be) and they give you good drugs. Plus you’re so exhausted from the preparation and nerves and hunger that you can’t rouse yourself to care anymore that someone is putting a scope up your ass and looking at your insides on tv. And they have warmed blankets. Mmm… when the nurse asked me if I wanted a warm blanket, I thought she was being cute. But it was really warmed, like in an oven or something. And it was lovely, compensating for my chilly, exposed ass .

But back to the preparation. I started this series with oversharing and unpleasant details, so I may as well continue in that vein. We lived in a tiny apartment, a former shed in the backyard of our landlord with the anger management problem who shot his pellet gun outside our window for stress relief. The bathroom was tiny. Which turned out to be a real advantage in preparing for the colonoscopy. I took the two bottles of slippery lemon-flavoured laxative with water, representing approximately 40 times the usual dosage. I am not exaggerating. Forty times the usual dosage. So you can imagine how I spent the next seven hours. Just in case you can’t, I’ll tell you. I had my book, and my glass of water (it’s VERY important to stay hydrated during the preparation), and I could reach the sink from the toilet so I just kept filling up my glass, and emptying my bowels in a completely involuntary way, all while merrily reading my book.

The end result of the colonoscopy (ha!) was that I didn't have cancer, and I didn't have inflammatory bowel disease like Chrohn's or colitis (thank goodness). Basically, they couldn't see anything wrong or diseased with my intestines. So the good doctor diagnosed me with irritible bowel syndrome, which is really not a diagnosis at all but an identification that you have shitty symptoms (sorry) and they have no idea why. At my follow up appointment (apparently they don't expect you to remember anything they tell you at the actual procedure, which is a good thing, because those drugs were good), the doctor told me to consume more fibre. But get this: when I asked if white rice had fibre in it, because I eat a lot of white rice and vegetables, he said, yes, he thought it did. I know now that white rice has absolutely no fibre in it (I still eat a lot of it though). (This was before fibre became a marketing ploy.) The only fibre the gastroenterologist – the person supposedly most knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the human digestive system – knew about was in a bottle at the pharmacy. That's what he told me to take. I didn't.

Despite that, the diagnosis was good for me, because now I could do research. And somehow I stumbled upon Andrew Weil, MD. But I think I'll leave that for the next post. I will tell you, though, about one thing I read in one of his books: that medical doctors don't have a single course in their curriculum dealing with human nutrition, even though the second thing that Hippocrates said after, “First, do no harm” was “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” I find that shameful. (That was from an American doctor, so maybe it's different for doctors in other places, and I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who knows about this, but my experience with doctors would indicate that most don't know a thing about nutrition.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Round the Bend and Back: Part 1

I've mentioned in a few comments on other blogs and to people in my real life that I suffered terrible, paralyzing anxiety a few years ago. Several people, on the web and in real life, have asked me for more details of how I got healthy. They have loved-ones who are suffering anxiety, or they themselves are.

I've touched on it here and there over the last few months, but I've never really written about just how bad it got, how I got help, and what I did for myself, which might helpful for other people who are suffering right now. So I'm going to start writing about it. I fear it may take me a few posts, to write all that I want to about it. I want to delve into all the nasty details and relive how some of it felt, with the benefit of hindsight and a far healthier perspective. It's ok if you're bored by this; I won't be offended. But I do apologize in advance. And also, things may get a bit graphic... sorry for that too.

Even now, it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly when my anxiety started. For one thing, I can't separate my physical health from my mental health; my anxiety has always been tied to physical, especially intestinal, illness. The McDonald's thing was significant, but I think it goes farther back than that. Back to maybe the winter of 1997-98? It was a shitty shitty winter.

In university, I prided myself on my laid-back near-apathy. I had a lot of fun, and the academic part was an inconvenience. Occasionally I dragged my hungover ass to classes, but mostly I spent my days playing pool with the hair of the dog. At the last minute, I would pull all-nighters to complete papers, and mostly got acceptable grades. I dropped courses here and there when they started to interfere with my pool education or beer appreciation. By third year, I hadn't failed a class. I'd lost my virginity in first year (finally!), and embarked on a series of casual encounters with random men. I don't think I let anyone see if I was hurt by any of them. But my sexuality was just one more thing in my life that I treated with a laid back, whatever happens happens cool disdain, like school, like eating, like drinking. I also prided myself on eating nothing but crap, and not getting sick. I was a bit heavier than I would have liked, but I worked hard to accept my body as it was, rather than give in to our culture's fucked-up pressure to be thin and go on a diet. I mostly ate Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodles, with occasional chicken fingers, burgers and poutine at the pubs I found myself in so frequently.

Writing this now, I find myself wondering when I constructed this apathetic armour. The academic apathy I'd cultivated for many years, probably since grade six at least. I put forth the minimum effort required to keep getting 80s as a badge of honour almost, and it had the added benefit of infuriating a few teachers who weren't very smart. I often played the smartass. I guess the sexual stuff probably started in second year, or maybe late in first year, after too many heartbreaks. Maybe it started when I lost my virginity. Maybe it's just a necessity of having sex without love.

Anyways, in the middle of third year, the armour started to fall apart. I was living with the roommate who brought in the street kids, and the kid who did crystal meth scared me. We had two kittens, and those street kids got one too, even though the store knew none of them had homes. We found out later, when one of our kittens (Lud, short for Ludwig van Beethoven because he had crazy long hair; we soon started calling him the Rasta Cat because he bathed so infrequently, he grew dreads, and was extremely laid back unless he heard the fridge or oven opening, in which case he would make a run for either of them; once we left him in the fridge for a bit hoping he would realize it's not all it's cracked up to be but it didn't work) got distemper, that their kitten was sick; Lud had to be put down. Our other kitten, Stevie for Cat Stevens, survived and drives me nuts to this day.

In other news of that horrible winter (dare I say the winter of my discontent?), another roommate was suicidal and I had to take her to the hospital after she took all the drugs in the apartment, passed out on the train tracks, and then when she woke up, in one piece, came back to the apartment and told me; my boyfriend stopped speaking to me suddenly at Christmas (which also involved my birthday and New Years); I developed a pilenidal cyst, very painful, followed by weeks of painful dressing changes (which required me to bare my ass to whichever nurse came to our house).

By February, I was pretty miserable, stressed out, and exhausted. My parents took me to Niagara Falls for a couple of nights to cheer me up during Reading Week... It was nice. They weren't judgmental about my smoking for once, I lost 20 bucks (which they gave me) at roulette, they won 30 at the slots... when they dropped me off back at home, I settled down with a big bag of Doritos for dinner and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, which my roommate had rented. So began the horrible food poisoning incident that I wrote about in #11 of this meme. I'm gonna get graphic here, so if you're queasy, you may want to look away. I was so sick, I was puking AND shitting yellow bile for hours before the forced expulsion ended, leaving me dehydrated and weak. Without a word of exaggeration, I didn't pee for two days. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten some IV fluids.

Ok... graphic bit over. You can start reading again.

It was seriously traumatic. Every time I felt nauseous after that, for years, I was terrified that it would happen again. My stomach was never really the same after that. I still kept up the drinking, but it was hard going.

By finals, I had dropped down to three courses. I had two final papers that were not coming together no matter how much reading I did, and the prof, who was a total sweetheart and teaching two of my courses, kept giving me extensions. I just had to get them in by the finals. The night before the finals, I panicked. I couldn't write, couldn't think. The only way to escape was to give up. So I didn't show up for the exams, and didn't submit any papers, and avoided the prof for a couple of years. A few years down the road, he told me that I should have talked to him. He would have helped. In my third course, I managed to write the exam, and dropped from something like a 78 to a 63 with my final, which wasn't actually worth that much.

My stomach just kept getting worse and worse. I learned the unspoken rules and best strategies of shitting in public bathrooms. It's ok for other people to know you're shitting, you just have to avoid letting anyone know it's you. (This, of course, can be difficult when you have a fondness for quirky shoes like I do; I just hope people don't look down.) So I'd wait and wait and wait for silence before I'd emerge and wash my hands as quickly as I could before making my escape unseen. If someone else happens to also be taking a shit at the same time, you wait. If you're further ahead and ready to emerge from the stall, they will wait for you to get out of the bathroom anonymously. If they're further ahead, you let them wash their hands and leave before you yourself leave the privacy of the stall. It's just courtesy. (Although once, a few years ago, someone breached this [previously] unwritten rule and busted me after taking a shit WHILE I WAS STILL washing my hands. Worse, it was a coworker, the kind you don't really like working with but tolerate and make occasional small talk with to keep things running smoothly, AND she had just taken a shit herself. I was furious. I really didn't need that kind of information about her. I guess I still haven't gotten over it.)

I decided to take a break from school. It was clearly making me sick, and I just needed a break. My parents let me stay at home, and paid my rent over the summer while I worked a couple of days a week at a futon shop here in G-town, and spent the rest of the week with them. I bought my first camera, a steel, fully manual Yashica FX3. I explored photography, moved in with a new roommate, and tried to heal. I worked three or four part time jobs starting in September before I got hired full time at Black's. Eventually, I realized that I wanted to work in some kind of communications and figured I'd better finish my degree.

Over that time, I tried to eat a little better, and drink a little less. I remember one day when I had only ten dollars until my next paycheque, I felt immensely proud of myself for spending it on bread, meat and cheese instead of a six-pack. I took Acideophilus to try to repopulate the little guys in my gut I must have lost with the Great Expulsion of 98. I still drank A LOT of coffee though. I think I felt like things were mostly ok. I subletted a little attic apartment and discovered comfort in solitude for the first time ever; for the first time ever, I didn't need to surround myself with people. And it was nice not to have to deal with wacky roommates going through their own shit for a while. I still had stomach complaints - a lot. But I lived and worked downtown, and always managed to make it to a toilet when I needed to. I remember once having to run the last hundred or so metres to my little attic apartment, finding my keys as I ran to reduce time unlocking the doors. I landed on the my little attic toilet totally out of breath, and it felt like just in the nick of time. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I didn't make it to a toilet on time, but I comforted myself that my body would never let that happen. I thought there was some magical mind-body connection that kept me from shitting my pants in public. Which is what made the McDonald's thing, the night before my first date with Sugar Daddy, the night after my final shift at Black's, so so terrifying. Here was a woman whose body was letting her down, whose legs couldn't move as fast as her bowels. Not only that, but her family just abandoned her, clearly disgusted by her bowels playing fast and loose. That's scary shit.

Stay tuned for the next installment, whenever I get around to writing it...

Friday, March 23, 2007

(not quite) 13 songs or albums that helped me fall in love with SD

OK, so this was supposed to be a Thursday 13 but (obviously) I didn't get it out on time. And, as you will discover shortly, I couldn't come up with 13. I got 9. I've been thinking about this ever since I got inspired by that music meme awhile back, and I still could only come up with 9. So this is a Friday Nine. Which is fine with me, because really, there's far too much catchy alliteration in our bloggy titles, isn't there?

One thing that struck me pretty soon after I met Sugar Daddy was that he had kickass taste in music. I found his taste VERY attractive. So here are the 8 albums that formed the soundtrack of his seduction of me.

Bran Van 3000 - Glee

I first heard the song, "Drinking in LA" in the movie, Playing by Heart. My friend and I saw it because it was what happened to be playing at our local independent cinema, and we loved it. Later, I discovered that the movie was marketed as a comedy, which I must say is a total crock. Certainly there are funny moments, but there are way more really sad, really moving moments. This movie was also my first introduction to Goodnight Moon. The scene that featured that classic children's book, incidentally, brought me to tears. Embarrassing, almost sobbing tears in a public movie theatre.

Anyways, I loved that movie, loved Ryan Felippe (I can't be bothered to look up how to spell his last name), loved the deliciously melancholy song, and when I discovered that Sugar Daddy not only knew who made the song, but owned the cd... well, I was toast.

(See? It's a good song! The rest of the album's pretty good too.)

Basement Jaxx - Remedy

With its tanned, shiny, naked bodies entwined on the cover, and the decidedly sexual moaning preface, this cd actually kind of embarrassed me when I first heard it. But it was also kind of irresistible in those exciting early days of a brand new relationship with someone I thought was way outta my league in his hotness factor.

Finley Quaye (eponymous I think but can't be bothered to look it up because I've already talked about it)

I already talked about how we danced to one of these songs for our first dance at our wedding... It's good stuff.

Ali Farka Toure- Radio Mali

I really admire(d) Sugar Daddy's eclecticism. And I like this cd.

Air - Moon Safari

This is such a fantastic ambient cd, it would have been enough all by itself. It's a great cd for a relaxing rainy afternoon (not that we have those relaxing afternoons anymore), or whatever.

(This isn't an Air video, but I love how the imagery suits the song so much.)

Massive Attack - Mezzanine

(I actually like No Protection better, but Sugar Daddy didn't have that one, he had Mezzanine, which is still pretty good. And, considering that I didn't have any Massive Attack, was still pretty cool.)

Africa: Never Stand Still - various

This remains pretty much my favourite compilation of African music. I highly recommend it.

Tindersticks (eponymous)

I'm not sure what it was about this cd that impressed me, except that it's pretty accoustic so it makes a nice counterpoint to all the electronic cds. Plus it reminds me A LOT of a super-talented high school band I liked once.

Indian Ropeman - Elephant Sound

I love the fusion of throbbing hip hop and more classical Indian sounds. Little did I know that this fusion thing would become more and more fascinating to me, especially after I started belly dancing in 2001(ish? 2002?) with a fusion-focused instructor. Love it.

* * *

Now, just to round out the 13 number, I offer you four tidbits that I've just picked up in Bill Bryson's Troublesome Words. I know, I'm a grammar geek.

"No reader should ever be required to retrace his steps, however short the journey."

"It is worth noting that affect as a verb is nearly always bland and almost meaningless. [...] A more precise word can almost always be found."

"The belief that and should not be used to begin a sentence is without foundation. And that's all there is to it."

"Where the authorities do find common ground is in the belief that approximate and approximate to are cumbersome and nearly always better replaced by something shorter."

Real Moms

Mad tagged me with Kristen's Real Moms meme. I have lots of ideas, but struggle when I think about speaking for other mothers, or trying to generalize my experience to other mothers. Regardless, I'm taking a stab, speaking for myself.

Real moms feel confident that they are doing their best for their kids. (Most of the time.)

Sometimes real moms feel overwhelmed, and uncertain in their decisions. Sometimes real moms start to second guess themselves, and wonder if maybe they should have done, should be doing, something different.

Real moms wonder if they are making the right choices. This is how we know we're doing our best. This is how we know that our kids are so important to us, that every little decision and choice matters.

Sometimes real moms need to step back and remember that real moms are not perfect moms. There is no such thing as a perfect mom. Real moms make mistakes, and we won't ever know exactly what they are. Because real kids are individuals.

Real moms are the foremost authority on their own kid(s). Real moms are the experts. Even if they don't always feel it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sleep Update

So, I know this is totally boring, but I feel the need to talk about this. I figure if I'm gonna whine so much here in this space when the sleep is bad, I better fess up here when it's good.

I believe that last night and the night before, Swee'pea slept for five hours straight. Now, he has done that occasionally before, but the big news is that he did it when I was also sleeping. So for two nights in a row, I have slept for five hours straight for the first time in 13 months and two weeks. Wow.

Also, he has mostly been going to bed around 8, and for the last three nights has required minimal or no assistance from us until I'm ready to go to bed myself. Also very exciting.*

And now, I leave you with a small video of Swee'pea "singing" Row Row Row your Boat while "reading" his Row Row Row your Boat book. The beginning is all messed up for some reason, but it gets clearer.

*On the one hand, I know that posting this will result in immediate and dramatic changes to Swee'pea's sleep patterns, and I really don't want to jinx myself. On the other, just thinking about how nice it's been is enough to cause the jinx (which I've now done twice: last night before I went to bed, and this morning when I woke up). So I'm screwed no matter what and figured I may as well share it here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Just asking

Ever since Swee'pea was born, people, acquaintances mostly, and sometimes barely that, have asked me, "So, how do you like motherhood?" or "So, are you enjoying motherhood?"

I never know how to answer.

Motherhood seems way too intense and all-consuming for such mild words as like and enjoy. These questions make it sound like motherhood is a passtime, something you can pick up and put down at your whim, something you can use to while away a few hours on a rainy afternoon, then pack away into a cupboard until the next rainy day. I think motherhood is much more like a calling, a vocation; something you commit your life to, for better or for worse (and there will definitely be both).

Even if I overlook the poor word choice, and try to answer simply, I don't know how.

I just don't get what they're really asking. If they were really asking whether I like being a mother, they can't actually expect me to answer anything but yes. I mean, if I didn't like it, would I choose to confide that in the grocery line-up? To a passing acquaintance? Am I really gonna say, "No... I'd sort of like to give the kid back."?

I can't quite say I like motherhood. I LOVE being Swee'pea's mother, but the actual job is messy and intense and exhausting. It's the hardest yet most joyous and amazing thing I've ever done. And since it's always acquaintances I haven't seen since I was pregnant who are asking, I don't quite feel comfortable explaining all that.

As Mad says, "Having a kid has changed just about every thought I have and just about everything I do--not in an infantalized happy Mommy sort-of way but in a cranium-exploding in a million shards of light sort of way."

I was not prepared for this kind of change in me. I spent all of my pregnancy focusing on the birth of the baby that it never occurred to me to expect my own rebirth, as a mother. I figured we'd slot the baby into our lives and away we'd go. We have done this, I suppose, to some extent, but I really had no idea of just how much our universe would shift.

I guess the simple, and perhaps expected answer, is, "Yes, thanks. And how are you?" but that feels like a lie at worst (and like Bubandpie I can't lie) or an oversimplification at best. I feel like if I just answer yes, then I'm minimizing what it is to be a mother. Which could in turn contribute to the devaluation of mothers. If I act like everything is not only fine, but easy and likeable, I'm not helping other mothers who may be struggling, not doing anything to combat the idealization of motherhood...

Or am I overthinking this? Does anyone else struggle with this question or have a better understanding of what's expected?

Boogie Fever

Pretty much ever since we got back to Canada, Swee'pea has had a runny and/or crusty and/or gooey nose. On many occasions Sugar Daddy and/or I have found ourselves mining for nuggets, and not the golden kind.

The nuggets we're mining for dangle tantalizingly close to the edge of wee caverns and look like they'd be easy to pluck out with our bare hands. But our darling little Swee'pea refuses to let go of his wealth. He twists his head left and right, throws his head back, away from the line of fire, and screams bloody murder at the indignity of our operations.

I remember before Swee'pea was born, Sugar Daddy expressed disgust at parents having to pick their children's noses. For a while, I was on my own in my mining expeditions. But now Sugar Daddy has become my partner in mine, digging in even more enthusiastically than me.

The other night, we were trying to soak the nuggets out with a warm wet washcloth during Swee'pea's bath. It had worked to dislodge the nugget slightly, but not enough to really free it. Sugar Daddy rolled up his sleeves and went at it.

It took several passes, but eventually SUCCESS! The boogie was his. We both breathed a loud sigh of relief and satisfaction.

"Did you ever think you'd actually be doing that with your kid?" I asked.

"Well, I never thought I'd WANT to!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Let's Talk

The other night preparing dinner...

Me: So... does your brain still melt down at the mere thought of another child?

Sugar Daddy: [pause] Uh, no, actually. I can consider it for half a second before my mind short circuits.

Me: And do you ever think that it might be nice to have another child sometime in the distant future?

Sugar Daddy: Well, no. But I kind of think it might happen, and I'll just have to accept it.

Me: That's the spirit!


[through my laughter] Can I blog this?

Sugar Daddy: [displaying the same grim resignation] I guess so.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


On Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 13 months and one week old, Swee'pea took his first steps. Sugar Daddy was out picking up our takeout dinner when Swee'pea turned to the closed kitchen door, threw up his arms in a Hail Mary sort of way, and took three small steps before landing on the door. I cheered, and he looked immensely pleased with himself.

When I was pregnant, someone gave us a baby calendar to follow the baby's first year. There were stickers with each month on them, so you could customize it according to the baby's birthday, and stickers for various milestones.

I hadn't thought that far ahead at all. I was still focused on trying to decide between home and hospital birth, and whether to do the gestational diabetes screening, and whether to get IV antibiotics in labour given that I was strep B positive. I agonized over and researched all of these things until I was dreaming of endless words streaming across my eyes in books and on computer screens. I hadn't once thought about getting a baby book.

Which was surprising, because I am the third of three children, and my mom did get me a baby book. I remember discovering it several years ago. I excitedly opened the first page, where my name, birthday and birth weight were recorded with some importance. As I flipped through the rest of the pages, though, my excitement turned to dismay. You see, my baby book is blank. I guess that's what happens with more than one kid. But I've always been a bit sad about that blank baby book (not that I blame my mom... it's just one of those things. And I got some great perks being the baby. I'm the first to admit I got an easier ride than my siblings in many ways).

Of course, now that I've got this calendar, I've tried to be quite diligent in recording Swee'pea's milestones. I recorded his first smile, his first tooth, his first solids. But I've been struck with guilt on a few occasions, when I've discovered that there are stickers for milestones that I haven't recorded; stickers I didn't notice until whatever the milestone was was already a regular part of his repertoire, like Grasped an Object, First Bath, Lifted your Head, Found your Hands. And there's a sticker that I can't wait until I can stick it -- somewhere, I don't know where yet, because the calendar is only for a year, and he's already finished his first year -- Slept Through the Night. But this post isn't about his sleep, for once. And there are other stickers that don't seem to me worth sticking like Wore Shoes and Drank from a Cup.

For some reason, I have become quite compulsive about recording some milestones. Like his teeth. There are stickers for each of the first four teeth. The first tooth was easy. I pretty much know the hour it came in, because I was watching so closely. But it got hard after that, because I couldn't always be sure if I was looking at a nearby tooth, or a new one. He's got eight now, and for at least six of them, I think, I noticed them suddenly, and wondered if they'd been there for long before I noticed them. I just noticed the eighth this past Tuesday, and every time, I stress about whether to record them on the day I saw them, or maybe the day before. In the end, I just record them on the day I saw them, and pretend they hadn't come through before.

Before Wednesday, I wasn't sure whether to record his first steps. For at least a month, he has occasionally thrown himself towards me if I'm sitting on the couch, in a way that could count as a step, and I wasn't sure whether that counted as a step. When we first started hanging out at Swee'pea's daycare, getting him used to her and her space and the other kids, she asked if he was walking yet. When I said no, she said, "Well, if he takes his first steps here, do you want me to tell you? Or do you not want to know?"

This set me back for a moment.

My first impulse was of course tell us. We have to know when he walks. Then I realized that I might actually miss something while I'm at work... that he wouldn't just slip back into the cocoon he came from; he would keep living and doing new things while I was at work. Do I really want to have it rubbed in if I missed it?

And then I got to a when-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest-does-anyone-hear-it kind of moment. If he walked at daycare, and she didn't tell us at our request, did he still do it? Does the milestone exist outside the parent's awareness of it?

The whole point of a milestone is that they reach it; it doesn't really matter when (within reason of course). Does it?

I have discovered that I seem to take a lot of time to clue into these things. I did manage to notice and record Swee'pea's very first point, because he used his index finger and raised his arm and finger so deliberately and slowly. But ever since, he's been using his whole hand. Who knows how long he was raising his arm, impotently, trying to direct my attention somewhere, and I wasn't noticing.

I remember at Swee'pea's four-month checkup, the doctor asked if he'd rolled over. He had, about a few weeks before, but he hadn't done it since then, and he hadn't done it deliberately. We'd been in bed, and I think the little indent in the mattress from my weight helped. But the doctor said it didn't matter, he'd reached the milestone.

It definitely seemed like a bigger deal to about a month later when he figured out how to roll over on purpose, in both directions and all the way over. It seemed more important that he could look at something dangling from his little jungle gym thing, decide he wanted to reach it, and contort his body into rolling over to do so.

When I started this motherhood gig, I just assumed the firsts would be obvious. Some have been. His first smile and rollover were clear. But the first word? Not so much. I mentioned in my last letter to Swee'pea that he has something like 7 words, and those are just the ones I've clued into. The best I can come up with for his first word was back when he was not quite 8 months old and said dada for the first time, while looking and and touching Sugar Daddy.

Maybe it sounds like a stretch, all these words that kind of sound the same, but I think that if I treat him like he's talking but I can't quite understand, it will make him feel good and interested in trying again. He's also started to make a few signs, among them, the sign for eat, and he only makes it when he wants to eat. Even if I try to prompt him, if he's not hungry he won't do it. He also makes a slightly modified sign for bath, sort of pulling at his clothes. Last night we had dinner earlier than usual, and he kept going to the bottom of the stairs and making the sign for bath like, "C'mon folks... we've had dinner, it's time for my bath now."

Some of his firsts are way more exciting than I could ever have imagined. His first smile sent my heart all aflutter, and I wondered if I'd imagined that magical moment when his eyes met mine and his mouth curved up, pushing his cheeks up and crinkling the outside edges of his eyes. Luckily my mom was there and verified the whole thing.

Most of the babies in our mums' group are already experienced walkers. I knew Swee'pea was a bit later, but I wasn't concerned. He's got his own timetable, and it seems to me that he's more interested in getting from a to b to satisfy his curiosity than he is in letting go of whatever helps him balance. I didn't really care that much. When he actually did it the other night, and every time since then, I get so excited and my heart nearly bursts with pride. Not because of the accomplishment, per se, not because he's reached this Milestone, but for the leap of faith it requires, the confidence to let go and take a stab at it. Even now, just thinking about how major that is, how brave my little guy is, my eyes are prickling in a serious way and a lump is making it difficult for me to swallow my sip of water.

This is heady stuff.

By Friday, he was a man possessed, a lean mean walking machine. When Sugar Daddy came home, Swee'pea almost immediately showed off his new moves. I just love how he laughs and squeals with such glee.

Saturday morning, he was trying even bigger distances...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Giggity Giggity

I have a ton of half-started posts percolating, but I keep being distracted by other post topics, or Swee'pea doesn't nap (like today).

Kgirl tagged me for a rockin' meme, AND she even called me one of the rockinest folks, in an email. I'm not sure it's entirely accurate, but I LIKE it, and I'm gonna do the meme anyways.

So... 5 songs I've been listening to lately:

(Actually, I think this needs a bit of preamble. Sugar Daddy keeps somewhat up to date with new music, and is responsible for any thing post 1999 in our collection. Sometimes I stumble upon something and discover I enjoy it, but most of the time I've been sticking to my oldie but goodies like the Bobs (Marley and Dylan) and Neil Young... I'm nostalgic like that. And I can listen to my favourites on repeat endlessly, which drives Sugar Daddy, or anyone else within hearing distance, absolutely stark raving mad.)

  1. "The Seed (2.0)" by The Roots

    This was a song I discovered thanks to SD. The first time I heard it, we were driving somewhere, and we'd just decided to try to make a baby, and we'd also... er... just made our first attempt (after years of practice, of course). The lyrics are silly, and actually quite offensive, but the fact that it's about conception... well, it spoke to me. Plus it's REALLY catchy. The next time I heard it, I was pregnant.

  2. AND, just so you can see how bad this song is, and how bad my taste is, the chorus:

    I only wanna fertilize another behind my lover's back
    I sit and watch it grow standin' where I'm at
    Fertilize another behind my lover's back
    And I'm keepin' my secrets mine
    I push my seed in her bush for life
    Its gonna work because I'm pushin' it right
    If Mary drops my baby girl tonight
    I would name her Rock-N-Roll

    I mean, who names their baby girl Rock-N-Roll?!?

    Note: this is not the Roots performing. It's just some guy procrastinating on his law finals. But you can get a sense of how catchy the song is.

  3. "Call to Apathy [tentative title]" by The Shins

    Just this past weekend, Sugar Daddy was on the computer and I was with Swee'pea in the living room. I didn't really notice the music, until suddenly I realized that it was nice, and just under my consciousness I had enjoyed the last several songs. It was the Shins. This one's my favourites of the ones on our computer.

  4. Lay Lady Lay by Bob Dylan

    Yeah, I mentioned this one a while back, but I STILL just can't get enough. I'll listen to it like five times a day if Sugar Daddy's not around to stop me.

  5. (Just tried to find a video or something with the song but have discovered that the person we downloaded it from must have made a mistake with the title so I don't know it) by Amon Tobin

    I loved Amon Tobin since before Sugar Daddy's time. In fact, I think I introduced HIM to Amon. Strangely, Amon Tobin played at the Trash in G-town back in about 2003, with the jazz festival or something I think. He put on a great show, except he kept calling it Gulf or Gelp (he alternated). Someone shouldda told him. Sadly, Sugar Daddy wouldn't let me name Swee'pea Tobin.

  6. Smokin' Blunts by People Under the Stairs... I had a hard time choosing just one song by the People Under the Stairs. I know nothing about them, but discovered them by accident on itunes and I love them. Sugar Daddy says they're hip hop, but they seem a lot more jazzy yet ambient than that to me. Regardless, very good stuff. (In the end, there were a coupla frontrunners to choose between for the specific song to list. I chose this one because I figured kgirl would like this title.)

So, now I'm wondering what Mimi, Alpha Dogma are listening to...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating...

in semi-recent posts... So convinced am I that this is the world's worst ID photo EVER, I will open myself to the shame of posting it. Go on... just try and beat it (and post your own if you dare!)

Note: My hair is not greeny blonde, and I do not have a gap between my front teeth (not that I think gaps in front teeth are bad, just kinda bad if you're supposed to... you know, LOOK like your ID badge). My glasses are also much nicer, I think.

And back when I talked about the need to reorganize our house? I wasn't kidding. (Again, clearly I have no shame!)


feb26 008

(Look! I was reading Mama Tulip right before I decided to document the disaster that is our dining room!)

feb26 006

Incidentally, I haven't kept a single resolution, except organizing ONE closet out of three.


(A slight improvement but still not great)

mar2b 003

Mmmm... cookies...

mar2b 002

(Yes, I know it's still not a dining room table, really...)

Note that I am not showing any pictures of the state of these spaces RIGHT NOW.

* * *

Thanks again for the comments yesterday. Sugar Daddy didn't really want me to post that because he thought it was too personal, but when he read the comments he was glad... it really is comforting knowing that we aren't the only people who have struggled this way. Yay blogosphere!

* * *

I HATE this time change! I always have a hard time with it, but I HATE how early it is. I hate that even if I get up at 7, not that early, it's still dark. Who's stupid idea was that anyways?!?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The Original Perfect Post Awards – March ‘07

ripples from a drip

The thing is, I just don't do powerless very well. I've almost always believed that I may not be able to choose what happens to me, but I can always choose how I respond. I may not be a make lemonade person exactly, but after I've grieved and/or wallowed, I might make some fish to go with a slice of one of those lemons I got served. Of course, I've never experienced major misfortune; I've never been homeless, not even for a second; I've never had a serious illness; I've never lost the material things that represent my personal and family history... I could go on and on imagining tragedies that haven't befallen me yet, but it makes me nervous and there isn't isn't enough wood for me to hold onto.

Anyways, I now find myself in a powerless position, and I'm not handling it very well. What do you do when a family member has moved from eccentric and occasionally unpleasant to be around to clearly mentally ill with paranoid delusions? What do you do when any attempt at suggesting any kind of treatment -- physical or psychological -- is met with hostility? What do you do when you're one of only a few people left who haven't been alienated by her actions? What do you do when she goes on an angry rant, yelling and saying mean things about other family members to your baby son who surely understands way more than you give him credit for?

She has suffered significant misfortune. Is suffering. Chances are the mental illness is at the root of her misfortune, or maybe her misfortune is the root of her mental illness. Probably it's both. It doesn't really matter anyways. What matters is that you can't force a person into treatment. You just have to stand by and watch her spiral into madness and try not to get sucked in yourself.* How exactly we're supposed to do that I have no idea.

How do you maintain the contact that may be one of the only grounding forces in her life, yet protect your own child from the outbursts?

I don't think it's an accident that for two nights solid since the outburst, he's been waking every half-hour or so, screaming and inconsolable. He won't let us put him down, opening his eyes wide and screaming as his head touches the pillow, no matter how deeply he appeared to be sleeping mere seconds ago. Maybe it's teeth, maybe it's an oncoming illness, maybe it's the time change. Your guess is as good as mine. But I can't help but think that Sunday's encounter scared him. I know it will stop eventually, I know it's just a phase, it won't be forever. But I'm so tired.

I went for a walk because it seems to be the only way to get Swee'pea to nap well right now. It was sunny and balmy and noisy with the melting. I actually heard an occasional sloosh as small pockets of melting snow collapsed in on themselves. As I locked the door, a man walked by carrying a loaf of bread. I figured it must be several sandwiches and he must be on his way to an afternoon shift. I followed him for a while. He stopped at the river and fed the bread to the ducks and geese. I felt ashamed of my presumption, and admired his ability to just stand there and throw bread, and watch the ducks eat it. Not moving forward, not rushing, just enjoying the sun, the surprisingly warm breeze, and the ducks swimming against the current to get to his treats.

I didn't have any particular destination or objective, so I just walked downtown. Despite the beautiful beautiful weather, I mostly grumped a silent monlogue, frustrated by my lack of time, my lack of sleep, my lack of a solution.

When I got to the square, I sat down by the fountain with the statue of the family of three, the baby held ridiculously aloft (I mean, who does that?!?).

Family with Jet Trail

I tried to watch people, to watch for potential photos but there was nothing, and the monologue in my head got louder. I barely noticed the pleasure of the warm sun on my back, and the air against my bare hands and ears. I watched a woman with a leg brace and a laboured, broken gait make her way across first one side of the intersection then the other, and I felt really sad for her when her walker got stuck on the curb in between. Every step required such effort, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other.

And then I was crying. Crying that we can't do anything for this family member, and we can't just stop seeing her. Crying that my grandma didn't get to meet Swee'pea (not really sure how that got in there). Crying for the woman with the broken gait. Crying about lost sleep and spilled milk and whatever. Not hardcore sobbing just quietly releasing what had been building in me since Sunday while people walked by enjoying the spring day. It didn't last long before Swee'pea screamed himself awake, and I set off home in the hopes that movement would settle him back into slumber.

ripples and footprints

*We have been in touch with various mental health organizations, and as long as she doesn't pose "imminent risk" to herself or others, our hands are tied. But there is a crevasse between not posing imminent risk and recognizing herself that she needs help, and she's falling into it. Has anyone out there dealt with a family member suffering undiagnosed mental illness?