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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Banal


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,
until
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.



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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.







Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reality check

Photo by Linda Gerrior

Graduation is always a time of excitement and expectation. The future is laid out before the grads full of possibilities. It is a time of change, of evolution, of movement into adulthood and the real world that many graduates have been clamouring to see and experience.

I always feel the rush of excitement every graduation season. It gives me a thrill to think of all these graduates will do in the coming years. But this year is a little different, a little like a wake up call.

I know many of the graduates this year and the thing is, I first knew them when they were aged nine or 10, the same age as my kids now. And somehow these kids are graduating. How did that time from elementary school to graduation go so fast?

This graduating class leaves me feeling a little scared as it has become clear that in a blink of an eye it will be my own children walking across that stage and then we will all begin a new stage in life; a stage where my favourite people will no longer be living in my house. That's the thing about being a parent, you raise your kids to be the sort of people you want to be around, and then they leave.

It's a day of mixed emotions for parents and this is the first year that I caught that sensation as well as the excitement. It will be my turn to cry soon enough.

Congratulations to all the graduates. Here's a toast to the parents for bringing them up and letting them go.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A man walks into a coffee shop...

This weekend my family spent a few days in the city which is something that only happens once or twice a year. One of the city's features that my children comment on during these urban interludes are the beggars on the street. We don't have street people where we live and my children react cautiously when someone asks for money as we stroll along the sidewalk.

On Sunday afternoon we went for lunch at a waterfront fast food restaurant. We had gotten our food and were tucking in to some sandwiches after a tour of the provincial art gallery when a ruckus erupted at the service counter behind us.

I did not see what happened but I heard a man, who would likely be pigeonholed into the category of street person, raise his voice in complaint. He said the server had thrown the change across the counter at him. She claimed that she dropped it by mistake-- I don't know what happened and it soon became irrelevant. Rather than apologize for the accident, the staff got into a heated argument with the man with one staff member eventually yelling, “Get the fuck out of my store. I am calling the police.”

The fire was lit and the man continued to loudly accuse the staff of showing him no respect. Another staff member, with a cooler head, asked the man to leave and added that there were children in the restaurant (mine) and that the man was scaring them. The man pointed out that he was not the one swearing, true; but he was yelling and my kids were definitely nervous. Despite the calm and rational voice of this particular staff member, the fire once lit took a while to burn out.

After a few minutes the man finally left and the staff regrouped behind the counter. The manager, the one who had swore at the man, came back out from what one assumes was the office and was heard saying, “I don't have time for this.” Then business resumed as usual with the manager apologizing to the remaining customers for the incident-- but not apologizing for his own hostile behaviour which exacerbated the situation.

Everyone was incredulous at the man's outburst. They sided with and supported the staff. There was not a single comment heard which considered the man's perspective.

When we left the restaurant I asked my kids what they thought about it all. They had been scared by the confrontation and they repeated the types of sentiments echoed by all the customers after the man's departure.

So I asked them, “What about the man? How do you think he felt? Imagine that every place you went people didn't want to look at you. That when you bought something in a store the clerk threw the change at you because they didn't want to touch you. Imagine that every day is like that. Imagine there is no place that you can go that people will treat you with respect. That is what that man is living. And when you live that way, every little incident piles up and weighs you down so that what seems like a little thing to us onlookers becomes a huge, intolerable offence.”

They began to consider what I was saying but I don't know if they would think of such an incident differently in the future; if they would try to see the outsiders point of view.

These incidences, the so called microaggressions that have often been cited in terms of race relations in North America, are a daily reality for many people. The million slights and put downs foment frustration and incredulity that the world can treat people this way and not recognize the harm done.

I read about an example of microagression recently on facebook; an incident at a local store where a woman of colour casually mentioned to the clerk that she was just getting off work and that she taught at a nearby school. The clerk's next comment was to ask the woman if she was a Teacher's Assistant to which the woman replied that she was a teacher which elicited a 'Wow' from the clerk.

People constantly face this everyday devaluing of their worth and questioning of their position in the world. The teacher in her post was quick to point out that being a TA is an admirable profession but the assumption that a woman of colour could not be a teacher, which was clearly subconsciously (or consciously) what the clerk thought, was a hard wall to run into at the end of the day.

I am a white woman and have never experience racism directed at me but I have felt the sting and judgement of others for being poor, for being from a 'broken home', and occassionally for being female. And I have seen countless examples of people being disrespectful to those among us whose lives hover on the edges of society rather than nestled against her soft, exceedingly white, bosom.

When I was a teenager one of my first real jobs was at a fast food restaurant in Edmonton. Edmonton is a cold place. It's not for the faint hearted or the unhoused.

There was a man who came to my restaurant every evening. He ordered coffee; nothing else. He sometimes asked for the advertised free refill. He wore big headphones back in the day when that was not cool. The headphone wires hung freely from his coat searching for a nonexistent walkman.

This man was homeless, or at the very least housing challenged. Headphone man was not exactly clean. He kept to himself and he didn't talk much.

After a few shifts of observing his behaviour I started buying him lunch and then sitting with him to eat during my break. I don't remember talking to him about anything although I am sure we did. I don't even remember his name although I must have known it at the time. I remember his beard, his headphones, his quiet.

My lunch dates with headphone man lasted for a couple of months but then the hammer came down. I was instructed by my manager not to give headphone man food. I explained that I had paid for it, I was not giving him my free lunch which was part of the benefits offered to workers at this particular establishment. That made no difference. The manager was clear, they did not want headphone man in the store. He wasn't good for business.

I told headphone man I could not eat with him anymore or I'd lose my job and he stopped coming. Shortly after that I quit my job, not directly because of the headphone man incident but in some ways it was related. I looked forward to lunch with headphone man. He made me feel like I mattered because he mattered to me. Without him there was very little to look forward to at work.

What's more he was an outsider. He wasn't part of the machine. He was not one of the worker drones that thought the company was the most important thing in the world. There would be no fascination with company training videos which instilled a cult like following in employees for headphone man. He'd utilize the machine but would never become part of it.

Headphone man wanted a warm place to sit and drink coffee. A small request of the universe, of civilization. His money was the same as every other patron yet he could not be tolerated.

People are jerks. They are convinced of the correctness of their actions especially when they have society praising their discriminatory behaviour. People want to be treated like people, not like rabid dogs whose food must be thrown from a distance to avoid contamination. When you treat others like they are uncivilized animals, it is best to stop and reflect on who the actual beast may be.

I missed an opportunity this weekend to say something to all those people in the restaurant who were upholding the status quo. I have to admit that I did not want to get involved; my kids were with me and I was not sure where the confrontation would go—I couldn’t risk my or my children's safety. The best I could do was make the incident a talking point, a means to discuss different points of view of the same incident; a chance to shape my children into the people I want them to be.

June 13/ 2016