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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Respite in the kitchen

Yesterday's breakfast lay hard and flat on the plate,
symbol of plenty or waste,
depending on the frame.
Snow drifts on the verge of the road,
the floured discs are thrown to the wind.
Sharp eyes find the offerings,
the frocked, iridescent ecclesiastics
dive to gather the holy rite in their sharp beaks
while Sunday's flock of gulls
circle in their wake.

Missing pieces

I have announced our plan to travel to Japan. It will be the fulfilment of a life long dream for both of my children. It is not a vacation, it is not a trip, it is a journey to find the missing pieces of their identity.

This is not a lark, not a playful decision made by a parent with itchy feet. It is their birthright which has been denied them due to circumstances beyond their control; poverty and family breakdown.

I have long wanted to give my children this gift-- this missing piece-- but was thwarted in my efforts. This year I felt an urgency to act.

We are not rich, as one child at school said when she heard of our up coming journey; according to government standards we are poor. But that is another discussion about why the poor hide their plight rather than be heard, rather than call out the system that does not work, afraid of the stigma that the word and the reality brings.

We have saved for almost a decade to afford this trip to the land which they in part belong. A land they have never seen but yearn to know as it is a part of their DNA and their identity.

This is not a trip. This is who they are and they deserve to know it with their breathe, their eyes, and under their feet.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I saw the devil today,
he looked benign,
as he always does.
He didn't wear a mask,
or sign,
He might serve you tea,
make small talk.
You can't see his truth,
you do.
And then you can't,
stop your ears and eyes,
from knowing.
The devil was outside my window today,
and I couldn't erase him,
nor his deeds in the world.
I can only hope,
that there is a hell,
and it is so unpleasant,
that the devil needed a vacation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

And that's OK

It's almost Mother's Day and people are starting to post their “I love mom” photo frames on Facebook. There are lots of different styles and fonts but the one I am looking for doesn't seem to exist. The one I am looking for says, “I don't love my mother, and that's ok.”

Every year people like me who are estranged from their mothers, get bombarded by the Mother's Day love fest. I was lucky enough that even though I didn't have a mother I could love I had other mothers in my life who were very loveable.

I never felt scarred by the experience of not loving my mother, it was when I did love her that I was most in pain. Once I got over that, life got a lot easier.

Many's the time that people have told me that I should work for a relationship with my mother cause won't I feel a deep grief if I don't? I don't feel any grief, I feel relief. My rule of thumb in personal relationships is that if you are in my life you have to either maintain the status quo of contentment or make it better. If you make my life a worse place to be – you have no place in it.

I don't feel bad. I don't feel like I am missing anything. I don't love my mother and that's ok.

While I don't love my mother I also don't hate her. I am indifferent. I treat her as I would treat any stranger on the street. I am friendly, invite her in my house, talk about the weather, offer her tea-- but that is as far as it goes.

This works for me and it might work for other people too if they didn't feel like there was a biological imperative to be 'close' to their mothers no matter what kind of hell might ensue.

I am writing this because I want other people to know that it is ok, you can be a good person and not love your mother. You may be better off breaking that toxic bond—if it is impacting your life in a negative way.

And for those of you that have those 'I love mom' frames; enjoy your moms, love them ferociously. When I see those lovely photos they highlight all the moms I want to emulate in my own motherhood. They should be fully celebrated—this is just a little nod to those of us who won't be posting those pictures.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The road to hell is paved with good intentions: a call for face to face discourse

Orangutans are pretty interesting even without tutus.

Today I saw something on facebook and I came very close to posting a message about it, an orangutan in a blue tutu. But a recent post by another friend gave me pause and made me realize that no matter what I said about this photo it would be taken in the wrong way.

What I wanted to say about the picture had to do with the back story and the function of non-domesticated animals in human ecosystems.

Where did that orangutan come from? Does this animal belong in this environment? Should this animal be used for our entertainment?

I wanted to say that most orangutangs are taken as babies from their mothers. The mothers are typically killed and the baby's fingers pried from their dead mother's bodies. Then they travel from the jungles of Borneo, trafficked to countries like Thailand where they are sold illegally on the black market.

Orangutans are an endangered species. If you could witness one in person you would see how amazing they are; never in need of a tutu to dress up their personalities. They are so human. I have spent hours watching them, entranced.

But to write anything in the space below the picture could be construed as shaming the person that posted it (for those that share my perspective) and enraging others who'd say, 'Hey, it's just a picture, what's your problem. It's funny.'

It would not be my intention to shame. It would be my intention to discuss the facts behind this seemingly innocent photo. A photo that might bring some laughs to someone on a bad day.

Some things we just don't think about until we have experienced them first hand. I have always had an interest in orangutans, studied some primatology, and have lived in the prime trafficking area of these animals. It is something I know about. There are lots of things I don't know about and I'm open to learning more.

But I don't think any posted comment would lead to a constructive interaction. Some things need to happen face to face.

I am not hostile towards the person that posted the photo but I can't imagine anything I wrote would be received in the manner it was intended.

Which leads me to the comment that stayed my hand today.

A friend recently got raked over the coals on facebook by someone who did not like that she posted a photo of her son fishing. The irate person let her know that as a person professing to care about animal welfare, my friend, was a hypocrite for letting her son fish.

Clearly this was not constructive. I am not sure what the irate poster wanted to accomplish but an assessment of the situation would have quickly lead any rational person to conclude that this attack would not lead to any change in the situation.

Here's the thing, I don't think the irate poster wanted to accomplish anything other than to vent her rage. These days people just seem to want to let their anger run rampant, they don't actually want to have a conversation about what they are angry about. You don't change people's minds by yelling at them, or posting vitriolic diatribes on your target's facebook wall.

But this is what it seems to have come down to on social media-- everyone is yelling their opinion and no one is listening.

When I was in high school I was on the debating team. I went to the Provincial Championships. I don't see debating clubs these days. And that's a serious loss. It does not seem that people can respect another opinion or offer a reasoned argument anymore.

A debate, a discussion of points of view, cannot happen on facebook. People become more entrenched and more enraged as the comment section fills up below any provocative post.

Part of the problem is the medium. The medium is the message and the message on social media is impersonal. You can say whatever you want to whoever you want because on social media neither party in the correspondence seems real. They are ephemeral. This type of discourse serves to heighten our silos of exclusions.

To debate ideas you need to debate people-- in the flesh. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing and it can be done without vitriol. It is something we need to do more often.

A few nights ago I watched a news report on the InkedHuntress, a woman who has both her supporters and detractors on social media; her detractors often issue death threats. I watched an interview with her and I thought, 'I don't agree with her but I can understand her perspective.' I would guess that for many people who watched that interview the issue was more black and white. The reporter surely did not hide his incredulous opinion of her actions.

In truth, life is often grey. That does not seem to be a colour that plays well on facebook.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

A unicorn no more

The last time I was sick put me in a bit of a tailspin. I managed to get through it without a hospital visit but when I went to a friend's house, because I was feeling low about being sick again, I ended up feeling worse. I felt worse because my friend felt the thing she should do was offer medical advice; things I should try because it had helped her in the past.

It was infuriating.

In my life people have told me things I should do to prevent myself from getting sick. As if I had not thought of those things in the 40 plus years I have lived with this chronic condition. They have offered teas, medications, loads of advice and sometimes blame-- as if I could control the sickness that upends my life.

Move around more one nurse told me the day after I was admitted with yet another bowel obstruction. I informed her that I had ran eight miles that morning before being hit with an obstruction in the afternoon.

Eat more fibre says someone else. Experience has taught me that raw fruits and vegetables send me to hospital as reliably as getting hit by a bus.

These are the things people and health professionals have typically told me all my life. They have told me these things because they have never met another person who has the chronic health problem that I am living with, have always lived with since birth. Neither have I until this summer.

After deciding that getting sick was becoming harder to take mentally after each round of obstructions I finally decided to seek help for the mental trauma that is caused by living with a time bomb in my own body. But talking to a mental health professional, while good, just isn't the same as talking to someone who knows what it is like to think of food as an enemy, to think of your body as a traitor, to know that at any moment everything your life will have to be put on hold. Arrangements will have to be made for your children's care, your job will have to be covered (meaning less money in your pocket), all plans must be shelved.

And you never know how long it's going to last; days, weeks, months...your life falls out from under your feet and all the while you know that somehow you are going to have to put it all back together again when you finally get better.

Everything stops and there is nothing you can do about it.

But the internet has finally given me answers and a community. This summer I found a group of omphalocele survivors, people who live with the same birth defect I have (a rare abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, liver, and occasionally other organs remain outside of the abdomen in a sac because of a defect in the development of the muscles of the abdominal wall). Not all of them experience obstructions like I do but we all have had health issues and worried about our ability to have children of our own (female survivors) due to complications from our condition.

Suddenly I was no longer a unicorn.

It is impossible to express how much this has changed my life – to know that somewhere out there people will understand what is happening to me, what I have lived with and continue to struggle against.

The understanding is just the beginning. There are also helpful suggestions from adult survivors- there are not that many-- on how to deal with obstructions and a dietary regiment that will help reduce obstructions. Contrary to what I had been told by the medical community all my life, what I need is a low-fibre diet, not a high fibre diet.

I followed this low-fibre diet advice while travelling this summer and felt so much better.

It may be hard for the healthy or the diagnosed to know what it is like to live with a serious health problem that is not understood and rarely known. I have explained my condition to health care providers, family and friends all my life; no one has ever not needed me to explain what was wrong with me. No one has ever said, “Oh yes, I know what that is.”

To finally find your community, to find people who can actually help; it's revolutionary. The world is different for me now and knowing this group is out there-- even if I never meet them in person-- marks a turning point in my life.

Throughout my life I have never met another O-survivor. I had never met a doctor who upon seeing my scar knew what it was.

But despite that I would consider myself lucky in the doctor department. Where I live now, in my hometown, my docs know my condition and they never hesitate to treat me when I present with an obstruction.

I have moved a lot in my life and had new doctors poke, prod and test for many hours before finally agreeing that my problem was a bowel obstruction and finally providing pain medication.

I was luckier than anyone has a right to ask for when I found a great abdominal surgeon in Bangkok – where I lived for almost a decade-- with my first hospital visit in the city to an obscure hospital not frequented by foreign nationals. It was the closest hospital to my apartment and just happened to be where Ajarn Suthep, who spoke excellent English and who had done his residency in upper New York state, practiced. He saved me from pain and torment on numerous occasions and saved my life on Christmas Day of 2003 when I presented with a obstruction that was turning gangrenous.

After 40 years this long road seemed to be getting longer. I hated being alone with this internal explosive. Finding this group was a lifeline I desperately needed. I don't comment much on the message board and I often find it difficult to see the children in the group who are now going through such horrible medical ordeals and harder still to see the poor children who don't make it into the O-survivor group; the O-angels.

I've been wanting to write this post for several months but the closer things are to the bone the harder they are to write.

I am so thankful to have found what I needed. I'm a unicorn no more and that in itself makes my life easier.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Peace in the lab

One of the first things I noticed when I started working in the lab was the lack of noise. No one felt the need to fill in the absence of sound with workday radio, podcasts, or the coffee shop buzz that is available on a livestreaming feed. The silence was only cut by the occasional hum and click of machines. At first I thought I might ask to bring in my much loved public radio broadcaster which is ever-present in my home but after a day of silence, I decided quiet was preferable.

Even on that first day, when I was inputting data into a spread sheet, I noticed the novelty of silence. It is such a rare commodity these days. As I focused on my data sets, they took on meaning and patterns appeared leading me to make observations about the research environment which I had not actually observed first hand. It was a surprise when I realized I could see the stream in my mind's eye through the numbers.

Work in the lab has progressed from data input to actual experiments and collection of data but there is still the silence; and I like it. The lab has become a kind of oasis from both noise and people. This being summer there are no students in the hall and very few people in the building. On my floor, I can easily count on one hand the number of people I see every day...and that is a very different life than the one I inhabit as a reporter where I am constantly in touch with people, it is the job description.

In the lab you get drawn into the small triumphs; when a measurement is a perfectly even number, when a specimen is quickly and easily located, when a dish of samples all turn out to be the same species – these are daily wins that give me a secret thrill.

And then there are the specimens in question. The animals I am working on are small water bugs similar to the relatively well-known caddish fly. They protect themselves by assembling a outer-case of stream debris, typically small grain particles. To the naked eye they look like small pieces of bark but under the microscope they are a mosaic of colours finished with a glistening shellac. The beauty of the world is astonishing and I am thankful that I have this opportunity to witness it. Without the lab, I never would have known about these miracle mosaics.

It is often remarked that experts know nothing in the world other than their speciality. Working in the lab I can see how this occurs. The lab is a bubble that insulates you against everything that happens outside of the lab. You become fascinated by everything in the lab to the point where there is no room for anything else. Once you open the pandora's box of scientific investigation it leads from the inaugural question to hundreds more, perhaps creating a lifetime of work on one seemly obscure insect, plant, or cellular function. Science is a rabbit hole that many plunge into like a high diver, moving deeper and deeper into the depths of the burrow. It is a comfortable place to be especially when the rest of the world is in turmoil.

The other morning I woke to reports of a shooting in Dallas, Texas. Five policemen were dead and others were wounded. I was happy to escape into the lab away from the non-stop coverage of the event. I am not saying one should ignore the news and pretend the world doesn't exist but I do think it is beneficial to turn it off. One news report a day will likely keep you abreast of all the major world events; remember when news was something we sat down to watch for half an hour an evening. We did not seem to be any less informed but I do think we were less traumatized.

The lab is good; a silent mediation focused on small insects. I enjoy their microscopically visible eyes, I occassionally talk to the specimens especially if they are easily found and measured and I appreciate the discipline of concentrating on one thing, with no outside distractions, for several hours a day. The lab is a doorway to another world where I unplug from one dimension and inhabit another. It is a good place to be.