Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More good ink

If I dedicated a post to each new exciting development in our friend Brian's journey in publishing "Mom's Cancer", this would quickly evolve into a blog about "Mom's Cancer". Fortunately, that blog already exists, leaving me to just occasionally remind you all of this astonishing little book and to occasionally point out a particularly good or well-placed article or interview about the book and others like it.

This USA Today article
is one of those. (For non-US readers, it's helpful to note that USA Today has the widest circulation of any newspaper in the USA. Worldwide, among English-language broadsheets, it's second only the The Times of India.)

It's hard to explain why Mom's Cancer resonated with me so remarkably and affected me so deeply, given that I am one of the fortunate ones whose family is practically untouched by the particular disease. I know it had a lot to do with recognizing a family of fellow travelers in the involuntary Secret Society of hospitals and medicine, where you are initiated through trials by agony and numbing boredom, where you learn to speak the language of no-nonsense professionals and where the absolutely inconceivable ("they want to put a WHAT in my WHERE?") becomes the mundane. But it was the humour in particular - that this family was dealing with things just exactly the way that Husband and I always had, in order to avoid the alternative - insanity and panic and despair.

Clearly, we were not the only ones.

Enjoy the article and check out the other offerings mentioned therein. We need to find a better way to deal with "the big C", the Mother of all Diseases, the terror that lurks in the back of our collective consciousness. These writers and artists are helping us do so, to the enormous benefit of millions of cancer patients and survivors.


Well, that explains everything

I have been thinking and reading about conspiracy theories lately (more about that in a later blog post) and while doing some reading came across the handy-dandy Make your own Conspiracy Theory website, a kind of Mad Libs for the paranoid. Insert a few simple words and phrases and voila - you have The Truth.

My first go turned out this conspiracy theory, which is so chock full of a mishmash of conspiracy fodder at the local-looney-level it's scary.

What They Don't Want You to Know

In order to understand socialism you need to realize that everything is controlled by a Lord Government made up of Aboriginals with help from New Brunswick civil servants.

The conspiracy first started during the Kennedy Assassination in the Legislature. They have been responsible for many events throughout history, including the storming of the Bastille.

Today, members of the conspiracy are everywhere. They can be identified by the clicking of a pen.

They want to shoot evangelical Christians and imprison resisters in Nackawick using hovercraft transports.

In order to prepare for this, we all must barricade our homes and stockpile firearms. Since the media is controlled by David Suzuki we should get our information from Stephen Harper.

Of course, now that I've told you, I'll have to kill you.


Monday, May 22, 2006


Dr. Hsien Hsien Lei, (who seems from her bio to be quite an interesting person) discovered my blog while searching Google Blogsearch for a personal story about hearing loss. She's selected hearing/loss as a "featured blog" on her Genetics and Health weblog. It's a fascinating blog and I see I have quite a lot of reading ahead of me!

Hearing Loss and Blog of the Week: hearing/loss

Thanks, Dr. Lei!


Friday, May 19, 2006

An ungentle reminder

I got an ungentle reminder today of the frustrations of being deaf in a world designed for the hearing - and not designed very well for them, either.

I am about to purchase a replacement for my outdated Palm m130. The logical choice seems to be the Palm Z22, but I was a bit taken aback to see that while it's listed on the US website for $99USD, attempting to order it redirects Canadian customers to a Canadian "PalmStore" where it's listed for $149CAD. At the current exchange rate, $99USD is only $111CAD. I understand things can be more expensive in Canada than the US, but the fact that the US and Canadian prices hadn't budged since I priced the Z22 at Christmas, while the Canadian dollar has gone up dramatically since then, was kind of disturbing, so I emailed to inquire about getting a better price.

I searched around the website until I found a link to contact customer support with a question. I was forced to choose a topic - even though none of the listed topics addressed my issue - in order to send the email to Palm. I chose "Product availability" since it was, vaguely, the closest to my issue.

In response I got an automatically-generated generic email that gave a mealy-mouth, vague explanation as to why some product or other might not be available at any given time, said I wouldn't be getting any other response to my query, said I could not respond to the email, and that if I had further concerns I should call a toll-free phone number.

Thanks a lot, Palm. Using the phone is still very difficult for me. Tallking to customer service reps with their glib, musical patter is the worst. They seem to think speaking swiftly is a sign of efficiency (and maybe hearing people think it is) but even on a good day, "HellothanksforholdingmynameiskimberlyhowcanIhelpyouuuuuuuu?" is really, really tough to follow - and that's just their opening line.

When I was completely deaf, it was impossibly clumsy with the use of a TTY operator, or impossible, period.

This is what Palm considers "customer service"? Even a deaf person can hear "#@$% off".


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Following the footprints across the pond

There is a bit of folk wisdom some of you will already know that my Dad taught me when I was growing up in Newfoundland, where winter temperatures fluctuate a lot and rarely dip as low as -10C. When you have to cross a frozen river in winter, he told me, check to see if there are footprints in the snow of those who have crossed previously. Assuming they go all the way to the other side (!) you can see that the ice there has been strong enough to support a person's weight, at least since the last snowfall. Walk in the footsteps of someone who's already crossed, and you have a better chance of making it safely to the other side.

The last time I went for a tune-up, I was asked to meet with another CI candidate who lives in my area, though not in my town. I suppose the correct term for what I'm doing is peer counseling, although I hesitate to use the terminology lest I inadvertently give the impression I know what I'm doing. What I am doing is showing people my footprints and trying to point out where the good thick black ice is, and where what Newfoundlanders call "rotten ice" is.

At any rate, I emailed the lady in question and yesterday spent about an hour and a half with her.

Her path has been very different than mine, despite losing her hearing in almost identical fashion and on the same weekend. (She has a minute amount of hearing left in one ear.)

She has had a much, much more difficult adjustment, which is the reason she is now going for a second assessment to determine her candidacy for an implant. She was visibly nervous when she came to see me (imagine someone being nervous at meeting me! I would've laughed if I hadn't felt so sorry for and protective of her) and for a long time we just talked about the experience of going deaf in adulthood. She cried with relief when I reassured her about how normal her experiences were - the tinnitus, the being scattered, the forgetfulness, the inability to retain names, the overflowing sinks, the burned food, the unintentional isolation and exclusion by friends, the impact on one's marriage and family life. About the unintentional slights and hurts. The shock of becoming almost literally invisible to certain people who simply can't cope with you so don't engage or acknowledge you. About when to understand and let things go, and when to protest.

We talked for a long time about the surgery, the implant, the models available, what to expect post-surgery... She is feeling much stronger now and while I'm no professional, I think she's psychologically ready for the implant now and I wish her the very best of luck with her assessment. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her.

And sometimes, I've discovered, people will ask other laypeople the simplest and scariest questions they just haven't screwed up the nerve to ask the professionals they've been dealing with... you should have seen the look on her face when I told her that the implant surgery was not done, as she had believed, while the patient is conscious!


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hoe, hoe, hoe.

God help me, I've turned into a gardener.

I am one of those people I used to look at with bafflement and pity... the earnest people in the gardening centres who toss around terms like "PH levels" and "bone meal" and who debate the relative merits of bark mulch versus fabric weed barrier, and who know without checking whether a plant is an annual, a biennial or a perennial. The people who get excited over receiving seed and bulb catalogues in the dead of January, and who actually sketch their yard on a piece of graph paper planning what's going to go where.

The sad souls who think that spending three hours sweating in the back yard on their knees pulling weeks and raking rocks is pure heaven - no, scratch that. That isn't the part that's pure heaven. That's still hard work. But bits of it - digging a hole in rich, warm, black earth with your hands, putting a small fragile living thing into that hole, pulling the soil back around the roots like a warm blanket, and pressing it down firmly like a prayer for survival around the little thing - that's pure heaven. Gardening, any gardener knows, is all about faith and miracles, and it's the most spiritual thing I do.

The fact is, it's addictive - hopelessly addictive - and the sweetest thing is when you realize that it is not some secret club that you haven't been initiated into - instead, it is a loose collective of people who are all figuring it out as they stumble along, and that if you've read one gardening book, you're well on your way to knowing as much or more as your neigbours. We're all just figuring it out as we go along, all looking up to the experts and being delighted when something, against all odds, works out.

I've particularly enjoyed watching this process happen with a co-worker and good friend who is from India. She and her husband bought a house two years ago and she told me in no uncertain terms she could "never be a gardener" and would "never have a garden" because she didn't understand the Canadian climate, soil, or plants. It was an even bigger mystery to her, she said, than the rest of us, and she was incorrigibly hopeless.

I gave her a coneflower as a housewarming gift. Then, like a dealer lighting some poor child's first crack pipe, I helped her plant it.

Yesterday she said to me, "So. I bought a 30 litre bag of peat moss. Now, do you suggest spreading that on top of my garden? Or mixing it into the soil?"

It's been an extraordinarily busy weekend and it's only half over. Today we got "a guy wid' a truck" to come by and haul away a great pile of accumulated detritus - everything from a pile of winter backyard trash and bush prunings, to an old apartment-sized dryer, to a couple of old matresses. Then we reclaimed our front porch by cleaning it out, and then went shopping for a new microwave cart and for a barbeque to replace the several-years-old "Canadian Tire Special" familiar to any Canadian :) .

Finally, late this afternoon, there was a couple of hours of gardening, including preparing my microscopic garden plot for planting (this year I'm planting the snow peas which grew so fantastically before, carrots, tomatoes and, ambitiously, yellow zucchini) and some weeding (already!). We don't use herbicides or pesticides, on principle and because the kitties go into the back yard, so dandelions and weeds must be hand-pulled and slugs and other pests hand-tricked (beer bait) or hand-picked.

In between, via email, I've been working with a friend of mine who is applying for a fellowship grant from a charitable foundation to continue work he's been doing in his native Somalia. He had founded a charitable agency in that country and they'd started a school which at one point educated 500 children in eight grades; then the school building was destroyed by mortar fire and in the chaos of the civil war, they were unable to rebuild it. In the meantime, he emigrated to Canada with his family and now is trying to figure out how to reactivate his network in Somalia to rebuild or relocate the school and pay for teachers and books... I have been helping him with his letters and documents, just assisting with editing his English, which is his fourth language. I'm very keen to help him in any way on this because it feels like a very immediate and direct way to make a difference. Unfortunately, even as I was editing his letter for spelling tonight, I saw on the news that Mogadishu and much of Somalia has taken a fairly dramatic turn for the worse, so even if he gets the grant, his work may have to wait. One step forward, it seems, two steps back.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we are taking Husband's Mom for brunch as it is, of course, Mother's Day. She is doing really well adjusting to life without her husband, but confesses to "moments" of great sadness and distress, which is perfectly normal, of course, and I am glad she can talk to us about how she is feeling about things. She cooked me a fabulous roast beef (with Yorkshire pudding!) dinner for my birthday. She's a jewel.

I made a card for my own Mom and hopefully it got to her - the postal service to Newfoundland is pathetic. I'll call her tomorrow, of course. (You can do that now. For many many years, so many Newfoundlanders lived off the island that on Mother's Day the phone system would be completely overwhelmed and you would have to try calling all day long in order to get a line into the province. Can you imagine? Now with fibre optics, that's a thing of the past. The numbers of expats who must call long-distance to say "Happy Mother's Day" to Newfoundland moms, on the other hand, is not.)

And after that? Well, the hammock hasn't been out yet this year, and Husband did just buy that brand new barbeque...


Me and Squirrel

Mom's Cancer author Brian included a wonderfully amusing sketch of a squirrel on a recent blog post that I just had to share with you, along with a story the sketch reminded me of.

We have a grey squirrel who has been with us for years and who pulls almost exactly the same stunt to get to our bird feeder - except he has to do it hanging upside down by his back paws. It's quite a sight. He's also wrecked a number of bird feeders by knocking them down and breaking off the perches or breaking the feeders themselves while doing this.

So this spring, while shopping to replace the latest one the little bugger had broken, I said to Husband, "This year I'm going to show him. I'm going to buy a squirrel feeder so he'll leave the bird feeder alone!"

Husband: "A squirrel feeder?" Pause. "So... you win, huh?"

Me: "Damn right! Showed him."


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Happy Anniversary

Happy 10th Anniversary, Husband

"To fall in love is easy, even to remain in it is not difficult; our human loneliness is cause enough. But it is a hard quest worth making to find a comrade through whose steady presence one becomes steadily the person one desires to be." - Anna Louise Strong

- ronnie

The perils of italicism

There's been an unintentionally funny notice on the lunchroom wall at my workplace for a week or so. When Corel and Microsoft put the ability to format text into the hands of the great unwashed masses, I don't think they knew what they were going to unleash.

It proved impossible to get a really good photo of the earnest moving-sale notice, but the amusing part, reproduced with formatting exactly as seen on the poster, reads:

"#1993 Nissan Sentra 204, 000km. Very good on fuel.
needs Sticker, Strong body and sound engine: $1100 Negotiable."


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Things we said today Part II

Earlier I started "Things we said today", an irregular collection of the odd things you find popping out of your mouth when your workplace is as diverse and quirky as mine is.

- - -

Trying to order sandwiches for a meeting that will include one Jew, two Muslims, a Hindu, a strict vegan, two Christians and several assorted omnivores from a place that inexplicably "doesn't do vegetarian sandwiches":
"Oh, my God, no, we can't 'just order ham and cheese and pick the ham off'!!!"

- - -

(Hangs up phone)
Co-worker: "Who was that?"
Me: "Reporter. He wants someone from the Darfur region who 'really has a dramatic backstory' and preferably a couple of photogenic kids, and seems to think we are 'Rent-a-Refugee'."

- - -

"You want a what for your husband's birthday party? A belly dancer? Uh... well, surprisingly, I do have the number of someone who does that, yeah."


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

You win some... lose some, and some are a draw. I didn't get the job I interviewed for a few weeks ago (I got my PFO letter yesterday) but neither did anyone else... I heard through the grapevine that they offered it to one candidate who was already working on contract with the government but when she turned it down, they decided none of the remaining candidates were the fit they were looking for, and have re-listed the position with different qualifications.

I have no idea whether that makes me feel better or worse; I just know it's a hell of alot better getting turned down for a job when you've already got your ass safely in one than otherwise.

I also know that getting a PFO letter after you've been called back for two interviews and all your references were contacted feels a hell of a lot better than getting one which makes it obvious the peon who opens the mail didn't even pass your resume along to the appropriate person.

So, we chalk it up to experience and the reinforcement of the belief that I'm "government material" and am, as Husband keeps optimistically saying "in the system" (his own civil service hiring process followed this series of events almost identically, including interviewing and being turned down for a job that didn't go to any candidate; followed by being tapped for his current position).

Possibly in reaction to the moderate disappointment, the cold I've been fighting off for a week (it felled Husband for three days) overtook me by mid-morning and I left work and I am flat on my back in bed right now. What did people do when they were off sick from work before the internet?

They didn't watch daytime TV, I can tell you that much... not if they were suffering nausea in the first place...


Monday, May 08, 2006

The Creepy Cotillion

I came across a link in another blog to the creepiest thing I've seen in a very long time. Having been raised Fundie I have a pretty solid grounding in how whack fundamentalist and evangelical Christian churches can be - and that many "mainstream" evangelistic/fundamentalist churches are much, much weirder than the average person suspects - but the Father-Daughter Purity Ball even took me aback. (Note the disturbing, preternaturally mature quote put in the mouth of poor, eleven year old Anna Tullis by some publicity agent - or was it her father?)

Don't get me wrong. It isn't the concept of fathers wanting their daughters to preserve their chastity that bothers me. (To the best of my knowledge, sans the incontrovertible evidence of an offspring, my dad still thinks I'm a virgin, and if I did have a kid he'd seriously consider the virgin birth option.) It's the disturbing degree to which these men are all in their kids' sexual business that I find weird. I had a fundamentalist Christian Dad. His abstinence talks went something like this: "I love you and God loves you. Don't, uh, do anything until you're married. Seriously. God says no, and also men don't respect tramps. I'm glad we had this little talk. Go see if your mother needs any help."

The thought of my father being involved to this creepy, possessive degree in the psychology of my sexual maturation would've sent me into a fetal position from the age of about ten until, oh, I don't know, now. From taking them to this bizarre un-debutante ball with the interpretative dance and the virginal white gowns and the fathers "plac[ing] their hands on their daughters, and together we pray for purity of mind, body, and soul for generations to come", these guys are way too much into the details of their kids' sexual business. And why stop there? You can literally hang your son or daughter's pledge around his or her neck with the purchase of "abstinence jewelry" containing a note the poor child writes to the eventual agent of defloration (sample notes are provided in case your child, rather unsurprisingly, has no idea, at the age of ten or eleven, what to write to the person who will eventually take their virginity) and to which Dad literally holds the key.

It doesn't seem as much like parenting as putting a lock on a piece of property.

Keeping control of an asset.

Protecting your chattel.


Friday, May 05, 2006

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in

"The price of liberty, observed Thomas Jefferson, is eternal vigilance. What he hadn't banked on is that the price of eternal vigilance seems to entail a slow descent into lunatic paranoia."

Ask the Pilot's Patrick Smith muses on the plight of two British Clash fans who, in separate incidents, found themselves in for some serious interrogation from authorities after singing or texting Clash lyrics.

London is drowning, and we all live by the river.


Grace through mercy

How ironic it is that one of the truest measures of a country's nobility is its capacity to offer justice to those who deserve it the very least.

I have followed the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui closely, fascinated by the complex and outrageous factors involved - from Moussaoui's insane rants, to the prosecutorial shenanigans, to the stunning witness-stand confession, to the juror misconduct, to the disturbing fact, half-admitted, that he didn't really do what we all know he was really on trial for.

In my mind Moussaoui swings wildly from being pitiable for brief flashes, for his obvious mental illness to - mostly - despicable for the manifestation of it, and for the knowledge that he is one of many who would murder innocents for their own twisted ends - and they can't all be clinically crazy. Yet a jury of twelve Americans took to heart the charge to hear his case dispassionately and with justice, rather than vengeance, as their goal. And at least one of them, possibly more, rejected the "satisfying" and probably popular verdict of death, and instead judged the case on its legal merits and recommended life in prison, a verdict the Judge reinforced.

There is a measure of satisfaction in this goal, too. He is denied the martyr status he craves (although I wonder myself how much of a genuine martyr he could have been - I get the sense he is more of an embarrassment to radical Islam than a hero at this point - but he wouldn't know that) and given the choice between life in a SuperMax prison and a painless, clinical death, many would probably embrace the latter.

But that isn't the point, really. The point is that it would have been very easy to condemn him for death as a way of extracting some small, unsatisfying measure of revenge for the tentatively-related deaths of 3,000 innocent civilians on September 11, 2001. Easy, but wrong. And in the end, it is the rejection of the easy, viscerally-satisfying route that elevates the US justice system and the citizens who partook in this trial to a place of pride, in granting mercy to a man who would not extend it himself.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

White House Press Correspondents' Dinner Menu - First Course: Skewered Media, slow roasted on a spit over Stephen Colbert's righteous anger

Stephen Colbert's skewering of both George Bush and the cowardly White House Press Corps at the recent White House Correspondents' Dinner has to be read or seen to be believed.

Colbert's reception was very chilly at the event itself - unsurprisingly. Remember that this was the event where in 2004 Bush showed a video of himself searching for WMD's behind sofa cushions in the Oval Office. That knee-slapping reference to the false premise on which over 2600 Coalition forces, and uncounted Iraqis, have now been slaughtered was lapped up by a sycophantic press.

Colbert's Saturday night routine was profoundly ignored by the mainstream media in the days following the dinner. Instead news reports treated viewers to clips of the President and his bizarre, numbingly un-funny "impersonator" (whose best joke seems to have been "I could be home but no, I have to be here. Pretending to enjoy myself") with nary a mention of Colbert's scathing indictment of the administration and the press which covers it most closely.

But something happened that couldn't have before the internet. The Colbert performance is being passed around like a softcore porn magazine at a middle school and is garnering a wildly enthusiastic reception among bloggers and pretty much everybody else who is tired of the press rolling on its back and peeing on itself in the face of power in the post 9/11 world. His brand of truthiness spoke to an increasingly-fed up population, in the US and elsewhere. And maybe, just maybe, the reaction will shame some of the press that covers the media to rouse themselves in response.


It's all relative, innit?

So I had an eye test today. The good doctor is running through the relevant medical history.

Doctor: "Any family history of glaucoma?"

Me: "My husband has it."

(brief pause)

Doctor: "Are you... related?"


Monday, May 01, 2006

Jeeze Louise, how could I have missed 'em?

Brian Fies, author and artist of Mom's Cancer, noticed what I missed when browsing Venus Envy's bookshelves:

Two copies of Mom's Cancer, right above the Boondocks.

Venus Envy just got an average of 15 degrees cooler.