Showing posts with label mental health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mental health. Show all posts

10.28.2018

i need a canada for my subconscious: the kavanaugh hearings and we go on

I avoided the Kavanaugh hearings as long as I could.

I used to take a special interest whenever survivors go public. I'd read everything I could, write letters to newspapers, speak out on social media. Send a note of support to the woman. Find the sisterhood, share the pain. This hurt, but it helped, too. I think most people who have publicly shared private pain will attest to that: it hurts and it helps.

I'm unwilling to do so any longer, or at least I'm unwilling to do it right now. I avoided all of it. I put my head in the sand. But it found me anyway, as my entire Facebook feed filled with news stories, personal essays, memes, and outrage. I could have avoided Facebook, but that felt like punishing myself.

I saved them all. I planned to do one long wmtc post with all the reaction. I found the time, but not the will. I started having PTSD symptoms again. Or I should say, I started remembering them, because apparently I have them a lot but I'm not aware of it.

Really, it all comes down to this: I am so so so so so totally sick of trauma playing out in my life. I can't stand it anymore. I just cannot stand it.

But of course I will stand it. I have to. Millions of people put up with much worse. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm just fed up. And there's nothing for it. I was fed up with the US and I moved to Canada. There's no moving to Canada for my subconscious.

* * * *

the tyranny of the subconscious

my subconscious is an annoying bitch

in which i admit ptsd is forever

6.08.2018

on poppies, veterans, trolls, and doxing

First of all, I do not apologize.

I have nothing to apologize for. No one should apologize for having an unpopular opinion, or an opinion that the majority finds offensive.

Second, I said nothing disrespectful to veterans. My utter lack of respect -- my undying contempt -- is for rulers whose policies send humans into unnecessary armed conflict. Those rulers pay lip-service to "supporting" troops, while their policies ensure more humans will suffer from the effects of war.

If you're joining us in progress, here's what you missed. 

Before the election, I took all my personal social media offline. We knew that the opposition would dedicate vast resources to digging up or fabricating anything they could use against NDP candidates. For some reason, no one directed me to remove wmtc links from the Wayback Machine (i.e., internet archives). This proved to be a grave error.

A right-wing political hack who masquerades as a journalist received excerpts from some old wmtc posts from a troll source. I know this because Hack forwarded Troll's email to me, with the identifiers scrubbed.

Hack did what hacks do, and trolls did what trolls do. Hack kept this going for way longer than any of us expected, dedicating three columns to me, and mentioning my name in several other columns. Eventually it was reported on by more mainstream media.

The right-wing attack machine moved from candidate to candidate, digging up tiny bits of online fodder, distorting and quoting out of context, in a ludicrous attempt to portray the NDP as a hotbed of wacko radicalism.

Doug Ford and his party waged the worst kind of campaign possible: they obfuscated facts, and relied on lies, sloganeering, and mudslinging.

Andrea Horwath and our party were consistently positive, focused, truthful, and precise.

That the majority of voters in Ontario chose the former over the latter is profoundly disturbing.

Doxing

I thought I knew what it was like to be attacked by trolls, from early wmtc days. I was wrong. The trolls who attacked this blog were annoying gnats who could be easily batted away. The troll attack orchestrated by Hack & Co. was a whirling swarm of angry hornets, the size of a midwest twister.

Their weapons were the most vulgar kind of personal insults, and graphic threats of violence.

I have pretty thick skin and don't tend to take things personally. My union sisters and brothers often describe me as "fearless". But this was a form of violence, and it shook me.

I'm lucky that it didn't affect my outlook, my opinions, or my self-esteem. That's down to the amazing support I had -- from the party, from my union, from friends, and from strangers who agreed with my views and reached out to me. Because of this support, I was shielded from most of the invective. I saw only a small portion of it, yet that was enough to shake me. I felt that my personal safety was threatened. That's not easy to do to me.

It's difficult -- nay, impossible -- for me to understand this kind of behaviour. The whitehot anger, the fervor so easily ignited -- the immediate willingness to attack, the assumed entitlement to say anything to anyone, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. The seeming inability to respectfully disagree. It is truly beyond my understanding.

What I think about poppies, militarism, and veterans


I wrote the now-infamous post about the poppy symbols at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was flogging the war machine in Afghanistan. I have a deeply held opposition to war, and I wanted Canada out of Afghanistan.

I also link the symbolic poppy to the general militarism that infects our society -- where "support the troops" is code for "support the war". Militarism takes many forms, including recruiting in schools, honouring military members at sporting events, using weapons as entertainment, such as air shows, and for me, the ubiquitous poppy symbol.

Naturally I understand that the majority does not view the poppy symbol this way. Hundreds tried to enlighten me, as if somehow the view of the vast majority hadn't reached my ears. But guess what? I disagree.

I have never written or said anything that disparages veterans. On the contrary, the pages of this blog are replete with disgust for the governments that disrespect veterans by slashing funding for their health and rehabilitation. My "11.11" category is about peace. If wanting peace disrespects veterans, we are living in an Orwellian nightmare.

What supporting veterans should look like

I have no doubt that for some people the poppy is a potent symbol, and that they believe wearing this symbol shows respect and reverence for veterans. I have never suggested that other people shouldn't wear poppies. I simply choose not to wear one. (I don't refuse to wear one, as the memes said. I choose not to.)

To me, if we truly want to support veterans and military servicemembers, we must do two things.

One, create and fully fund a robust array of supports for people who have suffered from war, to support their physical and mental well-being. Our society does not do that.

And two, stop making war. Stop creating veterans. Search for ways to resolve conflicts that do not involve killing people. And never use war as a means to profit.

Until these things are done, you can cover yourself in poppies, and your "support" and "respect" will be as false as the plastic flowers you revere.

A final word about respect

I don't disrespect veterans. But I don't automatically respect someone because they are a veteran.

Many people contribute to our society through their work or their passions. Others harm our society with selfishness, greed, violence, and unkindness. When people are kind and generous, when they act with compassion and integrity, I respect them. When they do the opposite, I do not. This is as true for veterans as it is for teachers, social workers, nurses, or politicians.

People who hurl crude insults at strangers because they cannot abide a difference of opinion, but who claim to love freedom and respect veterans, are ignorant wretches. I don't respect them. I pity them.

3.25.2018

from the 2018 cupe ontario library workers conference: libraries and the opioid crisis

I recently attended the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference, which has become a highlight of my year since I first attended (and was elected to the organizing committee) in 2015. It has eclipsed and replaced the OLA Superconference as the most relevant and enjoyable must-attend conference in my schedule.

When I first got my librarian degree, I was very excited about attending my first "OLA" (as it's always called). But I quickly learned that the sessions are a crap-shoot, sometimes relevant but often obvious and dull. There's also a great deal of boosterism by OLA and the member libraries. For the difference between the two conferences, for OLA, think employers and libraries, for CUPE Ontario, think labour and library workers.

In recent years, our Library Workers Conference has focused on precarious work and health and safety issues, two themes that are inextricably linked. This year's conference was called "Sex, Drugs & Bed Bugs," a light take on very serious health and safety issues. My full report is here on the CUPE 1989 website. (No bed bugs are pictured there.)

* * * * *

The most moving part of the conference -- by far -- was a talk by outreach worker Zoe Dodd. Zoe has worked with marginalized people with HIV and Hepatitis C, and now her work has shifted to the opioid overdose crisis. She and her co-workers -- who are mostly volunteers -- had been telling the government that this crisis was looming for the past decade, but their alarm fell on ears that refused to hear.

Now the deaths from fentanyl overdoses eclipse those from HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis. Last year there was a 52% increase of fentanyl deaths over the previous year. Yet Ontario has refused to call this a public health crisis. British Columbia is the only Canadian province to declare opioid overdoses a public health emergency -- and this has saved thousands of lives.

Zoe Dodd (middle) and co-workers in Moss Park, Toronto
Death by overdose, Zoe told us, is preventable. The majority of those affected are already marginalized people living in poverty. (Indigenous people are 400 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population.) Thousands who survive end up in comas, on life support.

There were coordinated emergency health efforts for both H1N1 and SARS outbreaks; lives were saved by those decisions. But when it comes to drug use, governments spend almost exclusively on enforcement, rather than harm reduction. That is, they treat drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. This is a moralistic decision -- and a lethal one.

Frustrated and angry over both Ontario's and the City of Toronto's inaction, Zoe and her comrades acted on their own. They brought 10,000 vials of naloxone -- the drug that reverses fentanyl overdoses -- into Canada before it was legal. They raised $95,000 online. They pitched a tent and opened a site, staffed entirely by volunteers. At the conference, we were so proud to learn that CUPE Ontario bought the group a trailer, so they could safely serve more people! They did this while it was still illegal, a fact that makes me feel really good about my union.

This intrepid band of volunteers forced Ontario and Canada to change their policies. Now harm reduction sites are opening across the province -- including in Mississauga.

What does this have to do with library workers? Only everything. Libraries, as public spaces, are often places of drug use and of overdose. Library workers across North America are being trained in the use of naloxone, and they are saving lives.


Zoe addressed some myths about naloxone use, demystifying the process for all in the room. Many people -- including 1989 officers -- thought there was a danger of a person coming out of an overdose becoming aggressive and violent. Turns out this is simply untrue. Typically a person coming out of a drug overdose is groggy and confused. Their brain has shut down from lack of oxygen, and naloxone is beginning to restore the flow of oxygen to their brain. Far from being violent, they are only gradually waking up.

Many people believe that administering naloxone is dangerous, as we can be exposed to fentanyl or naloxone. This is also untrue. Fentanyl must be ingested to be harmful. Naloxone, Zoe said, is virtually "idiot proof". If a person is not overdosing, the drug has no effect. But if they are overdosing, it will save their life. (Note that more than one dose of naloxone may be needed.)

The most moving and disturbing part of Zoe's talk was hearing how she and her co-workers have suffered. Outreach workers and the people they serve are often one community. The pain they witness and endure is staggering. In one year, Zoe lost 30 clients and six friends. Outreach workers have committed suicide, overwhelmed by grief. There is a secondary crisis of trauma among the workers who have witnessed so much death. Now these workers are using their grief and anger to drive change. It was incredibly moving and inspiring.

The CUPE 1989 executive wants to get involved. For starters, we've decided on a three-part course of action. One, we'll get trained in the use of naloxone. Two, we will share this education with our members and our employer. And three, we will advocate for a greater role of social services in our libraries. We hope to host Zoe Dodd in our own libraries.

There have been some good stories about Zoe and her co-workers.

Meet the harm reduction worker who called out Trudeau on the opioid crisis in Vice

Front-line workers struggle to cope with opioid crisis in an issue of Now magazine with a great cover, and

'Drowning in all this death': outreach workers want help to fight drug overdose 'emergency' on CBC.ca.

This is the video of Zoe Dodd addressing Justin Trudeau during one of his extended photo-ops.


* * * * *

This year's group exercise at the conference was listing the "Top 10 Crimes" we've witnessed or heard about in our libraries.

Toronto Public Library tops the list with a murder -- by cross-bow. Naturally, theft is big. Sex in the stacks and study rooms. Public masturbation, urination, defecation. Attempted kidnapping. Illegal drug use and drug dealing, of course. Harassment. Sexual assault.

The crimes that appeared on the most lists were crimes against children: abuse, neglect, abandonment.

* * * * *

And since this is, after all, my personal blog, I'll share that I have been elected chairperson of the CUPE Ontario Library Committee. It's not like I need anything else to do! But our long-time chair has stepped down (more on that later), and I felt like I had to step up.

10.15.2017

what i'm reading: turtles all the way down, the new book by john green

I don't usually write about a book while I'm still under its spell, but there are always exceptions. John Green's Turtles All the Way Down is an exceptional book.

One reason Green's writing is so powerful is that he conjures both the specific and the universal at the same time.

The Fault in Our Stars, for example, is about two teens who have cancer, and how they fall in love and have a relationship, even with the awareness of their own looming mortality.

The Fault in Our Stars is also about how we all love, even with the awareness of our own mortality always looming, be it far or near. We humans must love and be loved, and we must lose our loves, and they us. That is the paradox of homo sapiens sapiens, the animal who knows it knows. TFIOS is about nothing less than the human condition.

Green masters both of these, at the same time, and wraps it in an accessible package that is easy to read, to understand, and to love. The specific lives are vibrant and authentic, and the universal truths are recognizable and powerful.

Green brings that same duality to his long-awaited new youth novel. Turtles All the Way Down is a book about a girl, Aza Holmes -- her struggles to cope with her mental illness, while trying to be a good friend, find love, and cope with life after the sudden death of her father some years back.

And it is also a book about mental illness -- how it might feel, what it might make us do, how it might be survived, how our society frames it, how it impacts everyone in its sphere.

And it is a book about all of us -- our doubts, our fears, our self-hate and, we hope, our acceptance of ourselves. Aza wants to know how anyone will ever love her, given her limitations. Don't we all.

When I count the people in my life, over the course of my lifetime, who have been affected by mental illness, it becomes a long list. I think most people could say the same. We are only just beginning to recognize the prevalence and reduce the stigma of mental illness. Turtles All the Way Down will stand as a soldier in that important and necessary battle.

You'll notice I haven't written at all about the plot of this book, only the themes. The plot is excellent -- strange enough to be unique and unpredictable, and authentic enough to be convincing. You should read it to find out.

10.04.2017

thoughts on the latest u.s. gun massacre

As part of my continuing efforts to post here rather than -- or at least in addition to -- Facebook, here are some thoughts on the latest horrific massacre in the US, the country music festival in Las Vegas.

First, the inevitability of recurrence. When hearing about mass shootings in the United States, the worst part -- the most tragic, the most outrageous part -- is the certainty of knowing that nothing will change. That it will happen again, and again, and again.

A solution is known, of course. We won't end the culture of violence that permeates the US, but we can end access to large numbers of deadly weapons. The fact that the vice grip of a deadly special interest group outweighs the basic human rights of life and safety speaks volumes about the US political system. The congressmembers and senators who are bought and paid for by the NRA can never wash the blood off their hands.

Second, the true body count. Allan and I were talking about what it might have been like to be there. I admit I don't usually do this. I usually think about these massacres on a social and political level, somewhat removed from true empathy. But thinking a lot about the survivors, I know that every one of them will have PTSD. Many of them may never recover a fully healthy mental state.

Given the cost of mental health resources, the lack or absence of public mental health support, the survivors may or may not find help for this condition.

However high the final number of dead and wounded, the true numbers will never be known.

3.19.2017

what i'm reading: a mother's reckoning by sue klebold

On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, two teenagers from Littleton, Colorado, marched into Columbine High School with explosives and automatic weapons. Their plan to blow up the entire school failed -- only because their homemade bombs did not explode -- so they walked around the school shooting people. They killed 12 students and one teacher, wounded 24 others, and unleashed untold mental suffering on their entire community, before killing themselves.

I very clearly remember hearing about this, and just as clearly remember thinking that the Klebold and Harris families had suffered the worst tragedy of all. What could be worse than your child dying in a school shooting? To me, the answer is all too obvious: knowing your child took the lives of other children. I remember, too, feeling so sad and discouraged when some Columbine parents refused to allow Klebold and Harris to be memorialized along with the other victims, insisting the memorials acknowledge 13 dead, not 15.

When I saw a book review and noticed the author's last name, I knew instantly who she was, and immediately put the book on hold at our library. This is a rare opportunity to look behind the scenes at the bizarre phenomenon of mass shootings, from a perspective of kindness and mercy.

In the first half of the book, Sue Klebold details the day of the shooting, and the days and weeks that followed, from her own perspective. In the second half, she writes about her journey to try to understand her son's actions, and her long-term survival, as she finds community -- in this case, survivors of suicide loss -- and becomes a suicide-prevention activist. Her writing is vivid and intensely emotional. Some parts of this book are so raw and laden with such pain that they are barely readable. Reading this book sometimes feels like peering too deeply into someone's most private heart.

Throughout, Klebold is meticulously careful to explain that seeking to understand what her son did does not mean she is excusing it. Again and again, she writes that Dylan was responsible for his own actions and that probing his mental illness does not negate that. She writes this so often, as though she wants anyone who opens the book to any random page to read this. I found it very sad that she felt she needed to do that -- but her story makes it obvious why she did.

It did not surprise me to learn that almost everything written or said in the media about the Klebold family was completely wrong. This book is clearly, in part, an attempt to set the record straight, or at least get another perspective in the public view. And again, when one reads what was said versus what actually existed, the writer's desire to do this is very understandable.

The book is suffused in regret. Sue Klebold remembers every instance, every tiny moment, where she chided or nagged when she could have hugged, when she said, "Get yourself together!" instead of "How can I help you?" Yet these instances, as she recounts them, are so ordinary, so commonplace. She was a loving mother and if at times she was irritated with or tough on her teenage son, it was all within the bounds of normalcy.

One might say that Dylan Klebold exhibited no signs of depression or other mental illness before the shooting. Sue Klebold emphatically rejects this idea, and insists there were signs, but she and Dylan's father didn't know how to read them.

I cannot agree. I didn't think any of the instances she recounts were a red flag for such violence, nor did there seem to be a pattern. All the behaviour seemed like that of a normal, if somewhat troubled, teenager -- and "troubled teenager" can be a redundancy. After reading this book, I believe the only way Sue and Tom Klebold could have known that their son was at risk for violence is if they had constantly searched his room -- something they had no cause to do and an act that might have driven him further out of reach.

When Sue Klebold read her son's journals (found by police) and saw the videos the two boys made, she felt as though she was looking at a total stranger. Dylan Klebold led two lives. As some supportive letter-writers told Sue Klebold, if someone really wants to hide something, they will. (Eric Harris is a different story. There were many clear signs.)

I knew that many Columbine families blamed the parents for the boys' actions, which strikes me as strange, cruel, and grossly unfair. Because of that, I was very heartened to know that the Klebolds received thousands of letters of sympathy and support -- from people whose children had committed atrocities, from survivors of suicide loss, from victims of bullying who thought it lucky incidents like this don't happen more often. Many people understood the family's pain and wanted them to know they were not alone. I took great relief from this.

The latter portion of the book is largely about suicide prevention, and recognizing the signs of clinical depression in children and teens, which are different than in adults. Klebold calls for nothing less than an entirely new approach to mental health.

This is a very sad book, but in the end, it's a book about survival. Sue Klebold lived through a tragedy of immense proportions. She chose to survive and, eventually, found a way to create meaning from her loss. Her book is sure to help many other people do that, too.

3.06.2017

in which i come home and get caught up without anxiety (hooray for medication)

I recently had a very positive experience with anti-anxiety medication, and realized I should share it here.

I've written many times about the wonders of modern medicine for treating depression and anxiety, and the life-changing, relationship-saving, and quite possibly life-saving effects of using the right medication. While these drugs may be sometimes prescribed unnecessarily, I believe they are under used -- that many more people could be helped by these meds, if their own biases didn't stand in the way, and if everyone had equal access to healthcare.

My mega-wrap-up of my perspective is here: in defense of drugs: anti-depressant medication saves and improves lives.

* * * *

I've had a prescription for an as-needed anti-anxiety medication for many, many years. In the past, I used them very infrequently, less than once a month, and sometimes only a few times a year.

Two years ago, I had a sharp uptick in anxiety, and realized I should be taking the meds more often. When I asked my doctor for a refill, she expressed concern about the frequency of use, and suggested I use an SSRI instead -- that is, she wanted me to use something daily, rather than as-needed.

I was pretty resistant to the idea -- which is interesting, given everything I've said and written about this! I already take several medications, and I just didn't want to believe that I needed another. I let it go for a while, but when I needed yet another refill, my doctor was more insistent.

She explained to me things I knew but had conveniently forgotten. Drugs like clonazepam are very habit-forming. The body builds up a tolerance very quickly, so that it takes increasingly higher dosages to achieve the same results. After a time, your brain "forgets" how to feel normal without the medication. There has been substance abuse in my family, especially around prescription painkillers and sleeping pills, and I have struggled with my own addictive personality as well. So what was I doing?

That was all I needed. I decided to try one.

Wow! I could not believe how much better I felt. I discovered that I had been experiencing anxiety almost all the time. I had become so accustomed to it, that it felt normal to me. I only recognized the anxiety when it spiked, when it felt like an anxiety "attack".

I felt calm, clear-headed, and in control. I was suddenly able to look at my to-do lists and my crowded calendar without panic -- and without the not-quite-panic-but-something-approaching-panic that I usually experienced.

This has led to greater focus, and to greater enjoyment of my jobs. I can think more clearly. I can understand -- finally -- that my life is within my capabilities. I can get it done.

I don't know if there's been an external manifestation of this or not. I have no idea if I seemed anxious and now seem different, or if the whole time it has been internal only. I only talk about my health issues to a few people. This is not because I fear stigma or negative reaction, but because I prefer to de-emphasize it for myself. I do not want to identify with an illness; I find this an important part of maintaining good mental health. (I mean this with no judgment of anyone who does otherwise. There's no one-size-fits-all.)

Coming home from our recent trip to Egypt and Jordan was a big test of this new-found calm. I knew I had a ton of work waiting for me, both library and union, including some Big Things I had been preparing for before we left. In the past, I would have felt a lot of anxiety, beginning the day before we headed home. Once home, I would be in a state of semi-panic, trying to plow through all the work at once, moving as fast as possible, as if it all had to be done immediately.

This time: none of that. Anxiety was a place in the distance. I could see it, I was aware of its presence, but could simply choose not to visit it. Clear-headed, calm, getting things done.

* * * *

One more thing. When I was looking for an image for this post, I saw a lot of the mini-posters you see on Facebook, supposedly articulating what anxiety feels like. I didn't relate to any of them. None of them described how I feel. Don't know why that is.

10.23.2016

what i'm reading: born to run by bruce springsteen

This is a run-don't-walk review. Fans of Bruce Springsteen: run to find a copy of The Boss' memoirs, Born to Run. This book was seven years in the making, and (like Chrissie Hynde's and Patti Smith's memoirs) written by the artist himself. It is by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, poignant and gripping, and always profoundly insightful and a joy to read.

Springsteen is an intellectual -- a man of great intelligence who, for better and worse, lives in his own head, analyzing and at times over-analyzing the world around him and his own reactions to it. Because of this, he brings a powerful self-awareness to his life story -- an ability to articulate where his art comes from, and how his personal pitfalls have affected the most important relationships in his life.

Born to Run is also noteworthy for what it is not. It's not a tell-all or an exposé; readers looking for dirt will be disappointed. Springsteen protects his closest friends from exposure, and when it comes to blame, usually points the finger only at the man in the mirror. If there are personal disagreements, they remain personal: Steve and I had some issues to work out, so we sat down and had an honest talk, and moved past them is a typical approach. Even about his first manager Mike Appel, whose one-sided contracts hobbled Springsteen for years, and whose idol was the infamous "Colonel" Tom Parker, controller of Elvis Presley, Springsteen is measured, compassionate, and forgiving, professing a deep affection for him. The story is honest and revealing -- what was in those contracts, why Springsteen signed them -- but there is no anger or blame.

Born to Run is also not a memoir of a fast life through the great trinity of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Springsteen was 22 years old when he had his first drink of alcohol, and has never used recreational drugs. He mentions the rocker's on-the-road sex life, but only obliquely, to let the reader know it existed, and was then outgrown. That leaves rock and roll, and plenty of it.

In the musicians' memoirs that I've read, the most exciting writing has been their recollection of their moment of discovery. Keith Richards, Patti Smith, and Chrissie Hynde were all able to articulate how music -- literally -- changed their lives, how the discovery of a certain music at a certain time altered their chosen path forever. Springsteen can also pinpoint those moments, and his great self-insight and writing talents make it fairly leap from the page into the reader's heart.

Springsteen's writing style itself is deeply evocative. Sometimes his writing takes off on a flight of fancy.
Conditions were generally horrific, but compared to what?! The dumpiest motel on the road was a step up from my home digs. I was twenty-three and I was making a living playing music! Friends, there's a reason they don't call it "working," it's called PLAYING! I've left enough sweat on stages around the world to fill at least one of the seven seas; I've driven myself and my band to the limit and over the edge for more than forty years. We continue to do so, but it's still "playing". It's a life-giving, joyful, sweat-drenched, muscle-aching, voice-blowing, mind-clearing, exhausting, soul-invigorating, cathartic pleasure and privilege every night. You can sing about your misery, the world's misery, your most devastating experiences, but there is something in the gathering of souls that blows the blues away.
Other times, there's a sparkling turn of phrase: "He had the shortest highway between his fingers and his heart I'd ever heard". Or a metaphor that brings the truth home.
We'd navigated the treacherous part of the river, the part Mike and I couldn't make, where the current changes and the landscape will never be the same. So, breaking into the open I looked behind me in our boat and I still had my Clark. Up front, he still had Lewis. We still had our own musical country to chart, many miles of frontier to travel, and music to make.
I have been a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan since my teenage years, one of the millions who grew up in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia area who feel a special kinship with Springsteen and a special ownership of his music. I've been amazed and thrilled that his music has matured along with his fans. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I wondered if the latter half of Born to Run might be a let-down. The story of how a working-class New Jersey boy discovered his talents and navigated the treacherous waters to rise to fame -- that's a gripping tale. But how that now-famous musician lives the rest of his life -- is that going to be interesting, too?

Yes. Emphatically yes. In the second half of Born to Run, Springsteen explores his ongoing relationship with his parents, his struggles to free himself from the patterns of his father, and the struggles, challenges, and joys of learning how to parent. The E Street Band broke up, then reformed, and two of the original members died. There's a long, restorative motorcycle journey through the American desert, and a cross-country road trip of self-discovery. There are fascinating details about Springsteen's writing process. There is poetry in all of it.

Throughout, Springsteen is honest about his struggles with anxiety and depression. He relates the roots of his own issues to those of his father's, whose mental illness, like so many from his generation, was undiagnosed and untreated. Interestingly, Springsteen never says "mental health" or "mental illness" -- simply illness. I thought that was a very interesting and positive choice -- making no distinction between mind and body. Springsteen writes about how he found relief, from both talk therapy and medication, pulling no punches: these drugs saved his life.

Fans may also be interested in the companion CD, Chapter and Verse, which chronicles the music written about in the book, and includes five previously unreleased songs.

I'll close this already-long review with a telling passage that speaks to the style and depth of Born to Run.
I learned many a rough lesson from my father. The rigidity and blue-collar narcissism of "manhood" 1950’s style. An inner yearning for isolation, for the world on your terms or not at all. A deep attraction to silence, secrets and secretiveness. The distorted idea that the beautiful things in your life, the love you struggled so hard to win, will turn and possess you, robbing you of your imagined hard-fought-for freedoms. The hard blues of constant disaffection. The rituals of the barroom. A misogyny grown from the fear of all the dangerous, beautiful, strong women in our lives, crossed with the carrying of an underlying physical threat, a psychological bullying that is meant to frighten and communicate that the dark thing inside you is barely contained. You use it to intimidate those you love. And of course . . . the disappearing act; you’re there but not there, not really present; inaccessibility, its pleasures and its discontents. All leading ultimately to the black seductive fantasy of a wreck of a life, the maddening boil lanced, the masks dropped and the long endless free fall into the chasm that at certain moments can smell so sweet from a distance. Of course, once you stop romanticizing it, more likely you're just another chaos-sowing schmuck on the block, sacrificing your treasured family's trust to your "issues." You're a dime a dozen in every burb across America. I can't lay it all at my pop's feet; plenty of it is my own weakness and inability at this late date to put it all away, my favorite harpies, the ones I count on to return to flit and nibble around the edges of my beautiful reward. Through hard work and Patti's great love I have overcome much of this, though not all of it. I have days when my boundaries wobble, my darkness and the blues seem to beckon and I seek to medicate myself in whatever way I can. But on my best days, I can freely enjoy the slow passing of time, the tenderness that is my life; I can feel the love I'm a part of surrounding me and flowing through me; I am near home and I am standing hand in hand with those I love, past and present, in the sun, on the outskirts of something that feels, almost . . . like being free.

9.19.2016

what i'm reading: the evil hours, a biography of post-traumatic stress disorder

The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an outstanding book -- meticulously researched, but written in a compelling, accessible style, and with great humanity and compassion.

Author David J. Morris unearths the social and cultural history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the fourth most common psychiatric disorder in the US. He surveys the potential treatments. He explores the role of social justice in our understanding of PTSD.

But above all, Morris confronts the meaning of trauma, in society and in his own life. Morris was a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq. After narrowly escaping death, he returned home questioning everything he thought he knew -- and eventually having to face the reality of his own trauma. Morris' dual role as both researcher and subject give this book a unique power as history, social science, and personal essay.

People have known for centuries, for millennia, that traumatic events produce after-effects, but different cultures in different eras have explained those effects in different ways. The modern history of trauma is linked to the carnage of 20th Century war. And our current understanding of PTSD owes everything to the Vietnam War, and the experience of returning veterans who publicly opposed the war.

In this way, the history of PTSD encompasses a history of 1960s and 1970s peace activism, especially of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group that began a sea-change in the culture of the United States. As a student of peace, I found this part fascinating.

Taking this even further, Morris links PTSD and social justice. Powerless and marginalized people are more likely to be traumatized by one or more of the four principal causes of PTSD: war, genocide, torture, rape. Taking a social and cultural perspective forces us to confront a world that causes these traumas. In this view, PTSD is not so much an illness as a moral condition brought on by the worst of human society.

The United States Veterans Administration (VA) sees it quite differently. To the VA, PTSD is strictly a medical condition. And this matters greatly, because research about PTSD is almost entirely funded and controlled by the VA. Explaining trauma as purely medical or biological doesn't address the causes at all. In fact, it does the opposite -- it normalizes PTSD as a natural consequence of unavoidable circumstances.

As for treatment, Morris surveys what's out there and finds most of it useless. VA hospitals and insurance companies prefer therapies that can be "manualized" -- made uniform, with a certain number of treatments and little or no emotional engagement from the therapist. Statistically, these types of therapies appear to be useful -- until one learns that the numbers don't include all the patients who drop out! Talk about cooking the books: everyone for whom the treatment isn't working or, in many cases, is actually worsening their symptoms, is simply ignored.

Morris himself feels that therapeutic talks with an empathetic person with some training goes further than neuroscience can. "What they [the VA] seem to want instead," Morris writes, "is mass-produced, scalable, scripted therapies that make for compelling PowerPoint slides."

Readers of this blog may know that I have PTSD. Much of The Evil Hours brought a shock of recognition -- the feeling that someone else is expressing your own thoughts, saying exactly what you've been thinking all along. Morris perfectly articulates how trauma plays out in one's life, the depths of change it brings about.

Morris writes: "We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness.”

In the immediate aftermath of my own trauma, while trying to write about my experience, this is exactly the image I fixated on. We are, all of us, dancing on the edge of a great precipice, usually unaware of how terrifyingly close we are to that edge. Then something happens, and we understand it, not in some theoretical way, but immediately and profoundly, perhaps in a way humans are not equipped to understand. We talk about "the fragility of life" but we don't know what that is -- until we do. Then we spend a lifetime trying to live with the knowledge.

"One of the paradoxes of trauma," writes Morris, "is that it happens in a moment, but it can consume a lifetime. The choice of how much time it is permitted to consume is usually in the hands of the survivor."

The Evil Hours may be very useful for people who are figuring out how to stop PTSD from consuming any more of their lives. It is certainly a must-read for anyone interested in the effects of trauma on the human mind.

4.30.2016

u.s. iraq war resisters: the struggle continues

Still war resisters. Still in Canada. Still fighting to stay.

So far, the change in government hasn't helped the Iraq War resisters who remain here, nor the ones who were forced out of Canada who would like to return. The Trudeau government could do this so easily. And yet.

The CBC Radio show "DNTO" recently did an excellent segment about the US Iraq War resisters and the fight - still going on - to let them stay in Canada.
When American soldier Joshua Key fled to Canada in 2005, he never imagined that ten years later he would still be fighting a war — against the U.S. army, against post-traumatic stress disorder, and against the Canadian government.

Key is one of an estimated 15 Iraq war veterans who are fighting to remain in Canada.

The resisters left home to avoid being sent back to a war they didn't believe in. Today, they fear they'll be sent to prison if they're deported.

On this week's DNTO, you'll meet modern war resisters. Each of their stories is unique, but they all have one thing in common: they wish to stay in Canada. Should they be allowed to?
Some segments:

Meet the war resisters desperate to stay in Canada.

Who's helping the war resisters?

The Brockway family: fighting PTSD and searching for home.

A photo essay about Josh Key.

The show is really worth hearing, and you know how I feel about radio. You can listen to the full episode here.

4.03.2016

precariously yours: notes from the 2016 cupe ontario library workers conference

Last week I attended the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference, my second year, and my first since being elected to the organizing committee. This year's theme was precarious work, and nothing could be more relevant to library work today.

All three keynote speakers were excellent, with engaging, eye-opening presentations that brought our picture into sharp and disturbing focus.

Count it and name it, so we can change it

Wayne Lewchuk, professor of economics and labour relations at McMaster University, is the go-to guy for research into precarious work. Michelynn Lafleche is the Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation at United Way Toronto. (United Way is the primary social-service provider in this region.) They developed PEPSO: Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario. Its purpose: quantify the anecdotes, demonstrate what precarious work is and the affects it has on individuals, families, and communities, and offer practical solutions to this crisis.

PEPSO has produced two major reports, It's More than Poverty in 2013 and The Precarity Penalty in 2015. As Lafleche writes:
...we (as a society) got here one decision at a time. So the good news is that vulnerability and insecurity are not inevitable: we can escape this growing trend, decision by decision. It will take time, it will take clear ideas on what to do, and it will take a widespread coalition to make the necessary policy and social change, but it is not impossible. Our task, now, is to make this change happen.
What is precarity and how does it affect us?

Wayne Lewchuk must be an absolutely awesome professor, because I've never seen someone turn statistical data into such an engaging presentation.

Precarity is more than poverty. Although precarity can certainly lead to poverty, its effects are felt throughout the middle class, too. To quantify and document precarious work, Dr. Lewchuk and his researchers developed the Precarity Index, a multi-layered tool that was rigorous, far-reaching, and extremely revealing. Here are some highlights from their work.

In this context, precarious work means some combination of:
  • involuntary part-time work,
  • no paid sick time,
  • no benefits (in the Canadian context, this means no coverage for prescription drugs, dental, vision care, and other "extras"),
  • uncertain schedules that the worker cannot predict or control,
  • fluctuating hours and income.
The research found:
  • Precarious work in southern Ontario doubled between 1989 and 2014.
  • Almost half of all households in southern Ontario are now affected by precarity.
  • Precarious work has become the norm in colleges, universities, and libraries.
  • Precarity affects both low-income and middle-income households.
  • If one member of a household is in a precarious work situation, the whole household suffers.
Precarious work has many insidious and inter-related effects. Precarious workers...
  • are less likely to have access to on-the-job, employer-paid training, which obviously has long-term implications for their ability to advance into less precarious and higher-paid work;
  • are often unable to hold a second job, because of uncertain work schedules;
  • are often unable to arrange consistent, quality childcare, because of uncertain work schedules;
  • are less likely to participate in their communities, for the same reason;
  • are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues;
  • are more isolated, have fewer social connections;
  • are delaying forming relationships and delaying having children.
Children in a family where one income-earner has precarity...
  • are less likely to be enrolled in activities outside of school, because their parents cannot afford those opportunities, or don't know if they'll be able to afford them in the near future;
  • are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
And, no surprise, rates of precarity are higher when factoring in race, gender, and country of origin. Precarious workers also face higher rates of discrimination: when you have five, eight, ten different employers over the years, there are many more opportunities for discrimination. And of course, precarious workers are very unlikely to stand up for their rights in the workplace, for obvious reasons. (Very convenient for employers!)

You can read and watch fascinating - and depressing, and enraging - case studies from the PEPSO research here.

What can we do about precarity?

After Dr. Lewchuk's important but depressing statistics, Michelynn Lafleche's presentation was a much-needed boost. PEPSO has 28 specific recommendations that, together, would end this crisis of under-employment.

The first is so obvious and so overdue, I can barely believe it hasn't happened yet: reform the Employment Standards Act! The ESA, which governs the rules of the workplace in Ontario, was last reformed in 2000. The conditions of employment have changed drastically since then, and fewer and fewer workers are protected by the ESA.

Modernizing the ESA must go hand-in-hand with reforming Employment Insurance. What good is EI if the only people eligible for it are those with permanent, full-time jobs? Temp workers, contract workers, and all manner of precarious workers are not eligible for EI! This is a disgrace and must be rectified.

Other recommendations were less obvious but equally urgent. Government-paid training embedded into the system. A system for benefits for workers in precarious employment. Improved regulation of temp agencies.

You can read about other proposed solutions here, from the Toronto Workers' Action Centre, and here, from Unifor.

It wasn't always like this! How did this happen?

Kaylie Tiessen, formerly of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, now with Unifor, addressed the same topic from a slightly different - and equally enlightening - angle. It's no wonder I enjoyed her presentation so much. It was about an issue that I'm always going on about, and see very little mention of in the media.

Over the last 30 years, we have seen the erosion of both the labour market and public services. What caused that? Short answers: tax cuts (especially to corporations), trade agreements, corporate greed, and the failure of governments to act on our behalf.

The economy used to be shaped something like a pyramid: low-paying jobs on the foundation, higher-paying employment but fewer positions as you go up each level of the pyramid. At the top are the highest-paid people, but not so many of them.

This is the closest image I could fine online.
Subject to interpretation.

In theory, with education and hard work, one could move up the pyramid, at least from the bottom to the middle, and sometimes from the middle to the top. (How well that theory worked, and what social supports were needed to make it work, such as affordable education, is another story.)

Now the economy is shaped something like an hour-glass. The middle has been squeezed to a choking point. Most of the people who were formerly middle class have been squeezed downward, producing something new in modern times: a huge trend of downward mobility. And more than ever, people employed in (what used to be) entry-level jobs remain in entry-level jobs, no matter what their skills, education, or work ethic.


Increasingly, working people are stuck in a "poverty gap". If you earn minimum wage, how can you afford to buy appropriate clothes for interviews? How can you devote unpaid time to look for work? How can you afford education to improve your skills? Increasingly, our society is offering poverty wages, with no way out.

Where have all the good jobs gone?

Ontario has lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. (This happened much earlier in the US. In this case, Canada being behind the US was a good thing. But it didn't last.) Corporations found it more profitable to move their operations to countries without environmental protections and labour laws, and our governments - instead of protecting our jobs and our communities - made it easy for them to do so, entering into "fair trade" agreements with no democratic oversight. (That's what the "G8" or "G20" is, by the way: elites from around the globe making deals that benefit the few and disadvantage the many.)

Some employment sectors have seen growth. That's good news, right? Let's take a look. One area of growth is in the healthcare field. Does this mean more doctors, more nurses? More service and more good jobs for Ontarians?

The answer is no. The new openings are not for well-paid doctors and nurses. They are, for example, personal support workers. Tiessen described the working conditions of a typical PSW.

She is paid $15/hour.

The night before she sees clients, she must call each client to arrange and confirm appointments. She is not paid for that time.

She must drive from client to client, over a distance of many kilometres throughout her region. She is not paid for that time. She receives no reimbursement for the use of her car or for gas.

She is paid only for the time spent with clients.

And her client list varies from week to week, so she never knows how much she'll earn. Some weeks she has no work at all. That right there is precarious work.

Next time you hear about "jobs being added," ask yourself, What kind of jobs?

Why is this happening?

The erosion of quality services and good jobs goes hand-in-hand with the sharp decrease in the corporate tax rate. When governments are more interested in corporate profits than with human and social needs, the corporate tax rate drops. Public funds are depleted, so services and good jobs begin to disappear.

Supply-side economists claim that corporate tax cuts lead to job creation. Yet it has been proven - time and time and time again - that this does not happen. Corporate savings are "warehoused". The tax savings go into private pockets and are never returned to the economy.

Minimum wages vs. living wage

From June 2014
Living Wage Canada has created a Living Wage Index, showing what a living wage would mean in different communities across Canada. In Toronto, the living wage is $18.52/hour. Peel is still being calculated, but it can't be that much less. The minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25. Many people in Ontario are working and using food banks to survive. That should be unthinkable, but it is rapidly becoming the norm.

Obviously the minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living. That didn't begin last year or even in the last decade. The last year that a minimum wage job could lift a person over the poverty line? 1976.

We deserve more. Demand more!

At the end of her talk, Tiessen revealed that until very recently, she was one of the many "millennials" - people now in their 20s and early 30s - living with precarity. Now, at 34 years old, for the first time, she has full-time employment. She noted that when she did her taxes this year, for the first time ever, she had only one T4 slip.

We're lucky that people like Wayne Lewchuk, Michelynn Lafleche, and Kaylie Tiessen are working to change things, not just for themselves but for all of us. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Unifor, CUPE, PEPSO, United Way, Living Wage Canada, and many other organizations are working to change this.

We need a social safety net that catches everyone. And if we want to be a healthy society, we need to provide a safe route out of poverty.

7.17.2015

dogs, apartments, and anxiety: in which diego returns to school

As I mentioned (almost a month ago now), our pack of four is moving to a new den. We're going to stop renting houses, as we have done for the past ten years, and move back to apartment life. Although I've adjusted to the idea, I'm no happier about it. I'm heartsick that we'll no longer have the private oasis of a backyard.

We've found a great apartment: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, well-maintained building, lots of green space outside, dog-friendly building (it's the law in Ontario, but not always followed or enforced), good location for both driving and transit. Honestly, had I seen this apartment when I lived in New York, I would have considered it luxury. Now it just makes me sad.

But there's another factor involved in this move, a big, drooling, barking factor named Diego.

Drooly Boy
In our old house, คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019before the flood, we were working with Diego on better on-leash behaviour, especially his reactions to other dogs. Off-leash at the dog park, Diego is playful and well socialized; on the leash, a barking, pulling maniac.

This is a common issue. We were working with a trainer when the flood upended our lives. We ended up moving, and we never resumed training. This meant I stopped walking Diego, except when the four of us walk together, and Allan can take the big boy while I walk Tala. I couldn't manage him at all.

As soon as we realized we were moving to an apartment, in a building full of dogs, I knew we needed to re-boot Diego's education.

The amazing trainer we had been working with has moved out of the area, but we are working with her by email, phone, and video. We've got a fridge full of Rollover, something this trainer turned us on to: a training treat that is nutritionally balanced, and can substitute for your dog's regular food. We're using a complicated harness-Gentle Leader-collar combination that gives me maximum control, and produces a calming effect on the dog. And we're working daily in our neighbourhood.

Buster posing with some antiquated technology
Diego has already made a lot of progress. It's hard for me to imagine him walking calmly past another dog we might encounter in the lobby, or not going nuts if the elevator door opens and a dog appears, but every walk is a training opportunity, and we'll just keep at it.

And there will be plenty of opportunity! We'll have to walk Tala and Diego separately for the foreseeable future, and we're on the 19th floor of a 20-story building.

But wait, there's more. There's yet another factor at play: my own anxiety. Many years ago in New York, we had a very bad experience with Buster, our pit-mix rescue who had severe fear-aggression to other dogs. This resulted in many things, including a four-day hospital stay for Allan, a famous animal behaviourist donating time to us, and a pitbull on Prozac.

And it resulted in one more thing. Walking Buster became a source of great fear and anxiety for me... which is how I learned more about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Apparently once a person has experienced a state of extreme emergency, their neural pathways are permanently changed. The threshold to trigger the fight-or-flight response is much lower. So I'd wake up in a state of anxiety, just before I had to walk the dogs. Buster and I both needed medication to go on walks! (If only he could have understood rationally. Buster was a dog of extreme obedience - a soldier who lived to follow orders. If he could have controlled himself to please us, he would have done so in a heartbeat.)

Whoever thought she'd be the calm one!
And here we are, 15 years later. It's a different dog, who is not an emotionally damaged abuse survivor, but a part of my brain doesn't know that. Dogs, of course, sense your anxiety and react to it. If their person is fearful, there must be something to be fearful and vigilant about. So Diego has to calm down for me, and I have to calm down for him.

12.22.2014

u.s. war resister corey glass speaks out from europe

Corey Glass, war resister from Canada by way of Indiana, speaks out from his travels in Europe in the current issue of NOW.
I'm not going to bother to tell you that the Iraq War was wrong or quote the UN handbook on refugees, Geneva Conventions, Nuremberg principles or trials.

Nor am I going to try to convince anyone that soldiers should have the right to say no, that prosecution for a belief is persecution, or that recruiters lie. There's no reason to talk about that, or about how Canada didn't take part in the Iraq War. Or why Canadian troops are in Iraq now.

Everyone knows what happened and can find information on all that online. I'm fine with my choices. I have to deal with the repercussions of them every day.

I didn't take the easy road to do what I believe was right. And I don't really feel I need to convince anyone otherwise.

I will talk about what has happened to me since I quit the U.S. Army, went to Canada to escape the war and, after eight years trying to build a life there, was told I had to leave. . . .

Eventually I would run out of savings and favours. I started to understand how easy it is for war vets to become homeless, remembering the vets holding signs to that effect from my younger days in Manhattan. Would this be me? Would a government change in Canada allow me to come home? What if Shepherd wins asylum? Could Germany be a home someday? All these questions made me anxious, so I ordered a shot of Jameson.

What would happen if I just went back to the States? Maybe they would take it easy on me? They didn't on Chelsea Manning - 25 years for whistle-blowing. I'd be 57 when I get out. For quitting a job? Fuck that! More angst. Another shot.

I remembered losing friends back in the U.S. because of my choice to resist going back to war in Iraq.

A childhood friend who I had joined the service with - he hated me for leaving - called me out of the blue that night. We spoke for about an hour. He apologized for being angry with me. He was out of the military now and said I'd done the right thing. He wished he'd left, too.

He's an alcoholic now, and said the VA was not giving him support for his PTSD. After three tours, he was all messed up with nightmares. His wife was leaving him, and he was about to lose his job, the sixth in the last year. He wanted to die and wished he had in Iraq. He cried hard into the phone and said he was sorry. . . .
Read it here.

10.26.2014

kevin vickers, nathan cirillo, and canada's response to recent acts of violence

I've been thinking a lot about Kevin Vickers. By now the world knows Vickers' name: he is the sergeant-at-arms of the Parliament of Canada, and his quick thinking and courage undoubtedly saved lives. Vickers shot killed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who had already killed one person and appeared intent on killing others.

Vickers is a hero. But my thoughts of him are filled not with adulation, but with sorrow. Imagine going to work one day, a day like any other, and by the time the day is done, you have taken a human life. You have killed a man at close range. What could that be like? It would not be surprising if Vickers will grapple with flashbacks, night terrors, or other forms of PTSD. Despite Vickers' courage and his new celebrity, I'd bet that few of us would want to stand in his shoes.

I've also been thinking of Nathan Cirillo, because it's impossible not to. Although I consume very little mainstream media, a short dip into my Facebook feed is enough: the dog Cirillo left behind, the outpouring of public grief, the obligatory "Highway of Heroes" photos.

Cirillo was a victim, and he did nothing to deserve such a fate. I feel for those who knew and loved him. But what makes Cirillo a hero? Guarding a war memorial surely is not an act of heroism. Is simply putting on a uniform a heroic act? Cirillo's death was senseless and tragic, but it was not heroic.

Of course, hero is a word that's lost all meaning, joining ironic, obviously, and traumatized on the ever-growing list of words that are used so carelessly and so often as to lose all meaning. Hero just might claim pride of place at the very top of that list. But the hero-worship of anyone in uniform is part of the creeping militarization of our society.

I've also been thinking about violence, and how we choose to respond to violence. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government constantly invoked fear in order to advance its agenda: war on people who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, repression of domestic dissent, spying on US citizens.

That response also included the widespread use of torture, and a concentration camp that, more than a decade later, still exists. Even if one believes, despite all facts and evidence, that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the US's response was something like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade. By now it should be clear that the US government had its own agenda, and 9/11 provided the excuse.

Norway, on the other hand, chose a different path: it answered hate with love. After 77 people were massacred on Ut?ya island, the Norwegian government affirmed the open nature of Norwegian society and pursued charges against the perpetrator within the boundaries of Norwegian law.
These are the originals for the memorials which, from the 22 July anniversary, will be sent out to more than 50 counties across Norway, to commemorate the 77 people massacred by Anders Breivik, the far-right extremist who goes on trial this week.

On each of them, words have been carved from a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen that was recited at the memorial concert for the victims. This poem, with its message of peace, followed the tone set by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy.

"We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values," Stoltenberg said. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity." Norway, he suggested, would not seek vengeance as America had done after the 9/11 attacks." We will answer hatred with love," he said.

"It's a clear case where a politician strikes a chord," said Frank Aarebrot, a professor of politics at the University of Bergen. "The prime minister struck almost a Churchillian note in that speech. People were jubilant."

Norway has granted every legal right to Breivik, despite hearing in gruesome detail of how he coldly executed 56 of his victims with shots to the head, after attacking a Labour party youth camp on the island of Ut?ya, near Oslo.
Canada has a choice.

On one side stands fear, suspicion, bigotry, and repression, a society where people are feared and attacked because of their appearance and surnames, where people are afraid to exercise their right to criticize the government. On that side, too, stands war: the death and destruction of innocent people, citizens turned into shells of themselves because of what they've witnessed and what they've been asked to do.

On the other side stands democracy, freedom of expression, pluralism, inclusion, human rights, and peace.

What kind of country do we want Canada to be?

Do we want the Harper Government to decide that for us?

10.06.2014

what i'm reading: how i live now, excellent (youth) novel by meg rosoff

Last year, I wrote about an excellent, unusual youth novel called There Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff. I recently read the author's 2004 debut novel, How I Live Now, and I'm here to lay down a flat-out rave review.

Most of How I Live Now is told from the point of view of a teenaged narrator, in a present-tense first-person stream of thought, with long, rambling sentences and minimal punctuation. I often have problems with quirky or immature narrators as the voice feels forced and inauthentic to me. I found some famous and popular novels unreadable because of this. In this book, however, I found the voice completely authentic and utterly compelling.

In the first part of the book, a group of teenagers and children have been left on their own, without adults. They create an idyllic, natural, peaceful world, a kind of anti-Lord of the Flies - cooperating, caring for each other, communing with nature.

Then everything changes. The children are split up, the world becomes dangerous and unpredictable. Of course, the world was always dangerous and unpredictable, but the children had been sheltered from it, as most of us reading the book are, in the course of our daily lives. Now the reality of the very scary, dangerous world is hard upon them. The teenaged narrator and a younger girl are plunged into a world of survival and loss.

There is a war. To the children, it's a war without a name, without a known enemy, and without a battlefield. Rather, without a far-off, designated battlefield - a war where every place is a battlefield, where there is nothing but battlefields: a terrorist war. Rosoff imagines what this is like, through the eyes of someone trying to survive and to protect those she loves. That is, through any of our eyes.

As I read, as the girls' journey progressed, the descriptions of war and ruin began to feel very familiar to me, from blogs like Baghdad Burning by Riverbend and books like The Deserter's Tale. An invasion, then an occupation. No electricity, no running water. (What would the implications of that be? Not a temporary power outage, but no electricity, at all. The narrator fills in those harrowing details.) Food shortages. Checkpoints. Tensions between occupier and occupied, leading to random violence and retaliation. It dawned on me that the war Rosoff describes was actually happening while she was writing it. The story takes place in the UK, but this war did happen, in Iraq: it's "us" and "them" with the roles reversed. As the familiar landscape is transformed into a nightmare, Rosoff asks us to imagine what a modern-day war looks and feels like to the people who are forced to live it.

There are many other themes folded into this slim novel. Eating disorders is a subtext, as are potential psychic abilities. As in There Is No Dog (as in the real world!) teenagers have sex, but the sex is implied with a light touch, while the intense descriptions are saved for love and other confounding emotions.

This book fits easily into the "teenage survival" subgenre of youth fiction - a crowded field - but does so without creating a futuristic fantasy world. The fantasy here is a reality that exists, somewhere, right now. That's part of what makes the book so unforgettable. And although I'm describing the war theme because I was so impressed with it, the book's ultimate triumph is the way the narrator changes and grows from her experiences, from a troubled but self-centered girl into a compassionate, resilient, resourceful young woman.

How I Live Now is a fast-paced, compelling read. Although it's technically a youth novel, if you're old enough to think about love, war, death, and the aftermath of all three, I recommend you read this book.

8.12.2014

depression is to sad as cancer is to pimple (a few thoughts after the death of robin williams)

Reading a news story about Robin Williams' death, I saw a tweet from Jimmy Kimmel. It said, in part: "If you're sad, tell someone."

Depression is "you're sad" the way cancer is a pimple. And telling someone doesn't make it go away. For severe depression telling someone is... well, it's nothing.

I'm assuming Kimmel meant, if you're depressed, seek help. Yes. Good advice. But Robin Williams did seek help. He was in treatment. So was David Foster Wallace when he killed himself. So was... I could go on.

Severe depression is often untreatable. That's the terrible truth.

Today I'm thinking of a friend I've lost to mental illness. And I'm thinking of everyone I love who lives with the absence that suicide leaves behind.

I'm thinking of my friends who struggle with depression but are winning their battles. Please keep fighting.

6.02.2014

"just because it's broken, doesn't mean it's not beautiful": ashlea brockway and brokenart mosaics

The Brockway family, 2013
I want to tell you about an exciting venture: an opportunity to help make art more accessible for all, to help a low-income woman start her own business, and to help the family of an Iraq War resister, all at the same time. I hope you'll read about BrokenArt Mosaics and share Ashlea Brockway's crowd-funding page.

Wmtc readers may remember my posts about the Brockway family. Jeremy Brockway is an Iraq War veteran with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Denied medical leave and unable to return to combat, Jeremy and his family came to Canada. Wmtc and Joy of Sox helped raise funds for the Brockways to adopt a service dog. I've written about the Brockways several times: here, here, and here, among other posts.

You already know my feelings about war resisters and people who struggle with mental illness. But in my zeal to share those stories, I may have shortchanged the real hero of the Brockway story, the head of the family, Ashlea Brockway.

I admire Ashlea Brockway tremendously. Ashlea is raising three young children on her own, and also caring for her disabled husband, who cannot work, and who can help with the kids only in a very limited way. She is a patient, loving, meticulous mother. More than anything, though, Ashlea is a woman of action.

BrokenArt Mosaic magnet
Wherever she directs her energies, Ashlea is focused on others. I've never heard Ashlea speak about her husband's situation without raising awareness of the broader issue, the shameful way veterans are treated after military service. When she accessed the services of a local food bank, she became first a volunteer, and then an outspoken advocate for both the families who use social services and the workers who provide the services. Now Ashlea is using her own creative talents to make art and creativity more accessible for all.

Ashlea is starting her own art-focused business, called BrokenArt Mosaics. She recently told the Port Welland Tribune:
“Even though my life is not how I wanted it to be, it's still beautiful.”

That concept is mirrored in her mosaics, she says.

“Broken things most people throw away, but you can pick up the pieces and make something beautiful.”

Brockway first realized she had a passion for mosaics in high school and has since used the art form as a means of stress relief.

“It's therapeutic,” she says, calling it a challenge to try and find pieces that fit together harmoniously.
Grab a kit, make some art

It's a relaxing experience she wants to share with the community.

It's an activity people of all ages, with all levels of crafting experience, can take on, she says.

Brockway's focus is on ensuring her kits are accessible to people of all income levels.

“It's about making art accessible. Art is often out of the price range of everyday people.”

She not only sells kits but also plans to eventually host mosaic-making workshops.

Her long-term goal is to have a storefront to call her own.
Ashlea's BrokenArt mosaics are very reminiscent of Gaudi's trencadis mosaics that I fell in love with last year in Barcelona. Gaudi used shards of broken, discarded tiles, "upcycling" trash into art well ahead of the trend. Ashlea's art is all about searching the scrap heap to find the beauty within.

You can help fund Ashlea's venture through her GoFundMe campaign, and you can visit the BrokenArt Mosaic Facebook page. Whether or not you donate, I hope you will check out the site, and share it with your own network.


5.12.2014

giverny, plus tablet and ptsd updates

Keyboard

I love my Nexus 7. I hate the Minisuit keyboard, although the problem might be Bluetooth.

To blog, I need a keyboard, and I need to use Blogger via the website, as the Android app is too limited. (That seems silly, since Blogger is a Google product.) Using Blogger online with the onscreen keyboard is very inconvenient. I can't select, can't easily make links, and can barely see where I'm typing. 

I've adjusted to the tiny Minisuit keyboard. I dislike typing with two fingers, but I can do it. But I will never adjust to the cursor suddenly moving into a different paragraph, or characters not appearing onscreen for two minutes, then appearing all at once. 

What to do?

PTSD

This afternoon my mother confessed that the reason she didn't sleep last night is because she was worried about the strange noises I was making in my sleep. She won't say what she thought was happening (superstition) but I think she was worried that I was having a heart attack or some other medical emergency. Strangely, she never thought to wake me or to seek help. 

I told her the noises she heard were the sounds of PTSD. My mother and I never talk about my issues. I learned early on that she runs away from them (as she does from anything painful or scary), and since I found her denial painful in itself, I didn't talk about stuff, which suited her fine. So it was a bit strange to talk about my PTSD and night terrors, now, with my Mom. But we did, a bit. I feel really bad that she was worried and that I disturbed her sleep!

And now back to our show

So Connie and I both had crappy nights, for reasons known and unknown. I think she is getting anxious as the end of the trip nears.

The bright side of insomnia is that it was no problem getting out very early. By 6:30 a.m., we were in a cab bound for Gare St. Lazare; we had a coffee at the station, and took the 7:20 train for Vernon. I arranged our tickets in advance, but no one ever asked to see them!

In Vernon, only 40 minutes from Paris, we caught another cab to Giverny. We expected to stow our bags and settle in later, but some guests had cancelled their booking, so our room was ready despite the early hour. 

Les Jardins d'Helene is a beautiful B&B, a lovely mix of traditional and contemporary. In order to get a room with two beds, I booked a family suite both here in Giverny and tomorrow outside Rouen. Our suite door opens on a long hallway. At one end, there is a bedroom with a double bed (Connie's), and at the other, a room with two single beds for me. In the middle is the bath and toilette. It's so spacious, and the same price as our Paris room. 

Our host brought us coffee and we hung out in a funky sitting area while guests from the previous night had breakfast. (What we really need is breakfast-and-bed, rather than the usual order.) The sitting room has a vintage radio and record player, a collection of vintage cameras and light meters, and a collection of photography books, books about jazz, and jazz LPs. My room, meant for kids, has a huge selection of Asterix, Tintin, and Gaston graphic novels.

Connie and I set off down Rue Claude Monet, the main drag, such as it is, of Giverny. The road is narrow and rutted, and lined with stone walls and stone houses, many of which are B&Bs. Flowers are in bloom everywhere, often spilling over the stone walls. Rue Claude Monet is flat, but both above and below it are steep hills.

We bought tickets for the Monet house and gardens, then, still without breakfast, waited for a cafe to open. When it did, they weren't serving breakfast, which seems strange at 10 a.m. They were willing to serve us anything cold on the menu, so we had salads with egg and cheese in them. It was our first mediocre and overpriced meal of the trip. Which is pretty good, considering how much we've been eating!

After our funky breakfast, we went back to the Monet house. We are super lucky to be here on a Monday. Until this year, the house and gardens were closed Mondays, and the tour groups have not made the adjustment - that is, Monday is the only day without enormous crowds of day-trippers from Paris. I have heard that the crowds can be so thick that you can barely move! The moderate numbers of people there today were enough for me.

The gardens themselves are beautiful, but I guess I am just not that interested in gardens. I have heard such raves about this place; many people told me it is a must-see. Meh. Not that I'm sorry we came, but I was pretty underwhelmed. There are lots and lots and lots of flowers, in a huge array of colours and varieties, and the lily ponds where all those famous paintings were created. Monet's house is filled with his furniture and photographs, and his studio is filled with copies of his paintings.  I do enjoy taking close-up photos, so I took a lot of photos of flowers. The most important thing is that my mom loved it. This was her second or possibly third time here, and she very much wanted to visit again. So it's all good.

We had little sandwiches for lunch, and talked about why Connie had trouble sleeping. On the walk back to the B&B, we made a dinner reservation, which our host said was important. Then we got caught in a huge downpour. We had umbrellas this time but it hardly mattered. The rain and wind were torrential. I spotted some kind of shelter - like a bus shelter built by Theodoric of York - and we waited it out there. A few minutes later, the sun was shining. The whole trip, the weather has alternated between gorgeous and miserable.

Now we are relaxing in the B&B, writing and gabbing.

Photos of Giverny and Monet's gardens are here.