Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I don't want to offend, just inform

Cancer is a horrible, very bad, disease. It’s robbed this world of some of our best and brightest. My first “real” experience with cancer was the loss of Terry Fox, back when I was in high school. Like every Canadian at the time, I followed his journey, amazed at what someone with such a disability could do, to raise awareness, to raise money. I thought he was so freaking brave, so principled, and so strong. I cried when he died, sad that someone so strong could be strangled by this disease.

Cancer had never touched our family, until I lost my sister in law to ovarian cancer a few years ago. She was like my sister; she was a part of my family since I was little. She loved my brother and gave us a beautiful, smart, wonderful niece (who’s had her own troubles with thyroid cancer). Then, about a year or so ago, my brother in law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (I don’t know a whole lot about pancreatic cancer. I tell people that he has the “Steve Jobs” , not the “Patrick Swayze” kind. So, right now, he’s getting treatment and feeling good, able to work and play and be with his family. I have a close friend, who’s now lost both breasts to cancer. I hate this disease, I hate what it does to people, and I wish that there was a way to kill it, this “Emperor of all Maladies”.

What I’ve begun to dread now, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hate the pink appliances; I hate the “I heart boobies” rubber bracelets. I hate the “thingamaboob” and I hate the T shirts that tell you to “fight like a girl”. I especially despise the pink toilet paper. (Weren’t we told years ago that the dye in coloured toilet paper wasn’t good for our lady parts?)

I hate all of those things for a number of reasons. First of all, I think that Kitchenaid™ is making a whole lot more money from those appliances than they’re donating to cancer research/treatment/prevention. Also, there’s not a whole lot of evidence that all of this “awareness raising” is doing a whole lot. Katherine Russel Rich says it a whole lot better than I do, in this article.

I believe that the whole ‘cancer industry’ is making a whole lot more money than they’d care to tell you. When I’m at my most paranoid, it’s my feeling that drug companies would be loathe to fund research that would end up in a cure for cancer. Think of the profits they’d lose.

There’s also not a whole lot of evidence that indicates all of this awareness is working. That article in talks about the information in Gale Sulik’s book, Pink Ribbon Blues.:
The risk of dying from the disease, upon diagnosis, decreased just 0.05 percent from 1990 to 2005. A woman with invasive breast cancer today will be bombarded with many more treatments and spend a lot more than her grandmother might have on care, but she'll have about the same chance of dying from the illness as women did 50 years ago.

"Survivors and supporters walk, run, and purchase for a cure as incidence rates rise, and the cancer industry thrives," Sulik writes. She points out that "cancer drugs are the fastest growing and best selling class of drugs" in the prescription drug market, which totals more than $200 billion and is ever growing. Given the profits, Sulik questions whether any amount of pink-ribbon volunteering can alter the medical establishment's investment in the current treatments. Who needs a cure if you can make so much money without one?

Also in that Slate article, this information about where all our money goes, and suggestions about what could be done.

The CEO of the Komen Foundation, who earns $459,406 a year (more than 5,000 race entry fees), could try living on the wages of your average oncologist—$250,000 a year—and top up the fund with that extra $200,000 or so.
This way, we'd have ample resources to help directly. We could provide cab service for the woman with brain metastasis forced to drive 40 minutes each way for a scan. We could pay for a counselor—couples' or otherwise—for the women whose husbands turn mean after their diagnoses. "He tells me he's waiting for me to die," one posts on Breast Cancer Insight. Women could get housekeeping services during the molasses days of chemotherapy, child care for scan days, money for a lawyer if their jobs are suddenly declared "redundant" upon diagnosis. If we can't yet abolish breast cancer, then let's at least tackle the social ills that come with the disease. We wouldn't even be diverting the majority of Komen funds from science. Only 23.5 percent goes to research, anyway.

And what about all those other cancers, the one’s that aren’t so sexy? Why don’t we have a brown toaster to promote awareness for colon cancer? Why don’t we have panties that tell us to check out our nether regions?

What I’m suggesting is, if you really want to make a difference in the fight against cancer, one that we’re clearly not winning, don’t go out and buy a pink coffee maker to put on your counter that shows your friends that you really care.

Give a friend a ride to chemotherapy.
Look after her kids.
Volunteer at a hospital.
Crochet a beanie to cover up a bald head.
Knit an afghan to give warmth in a cold hospital.
Pay for a tank of gas to offset the costs of traveling
Sit and listen.
Do something that matters to someone, not something that impresses someone.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Force of Nature, the David Suzuki Movie, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

I had the opportunity to see Force of Nature, as part of the Huronia Museum’s Film Series. I’m not a subscriber, because I just can’t commit to going to a movie every two weeks, but I love the chance to see movies that aren’t usually available outside Toronto or possibly Barrie.

David Suzuki is a charismatic man, who I didn’t really know that much about. I remember watching “The Nature of Things” when I was growing up, but at that stage in my life, it didn’t mean all that much to me. Who knew that he was a fruit fly geneticist?

The movie starts off with his “Legacy Lecture”. I think that this is far from his last kick at the can; this man has a lot of life left in him. He did say that he is in the last stage of his life. He spoke about that, in the last part of the movie, but not in a maudlin way. Perhaps it’s his nature as a scientist, to admit facts like that in a non-emotional way. Life is a cycle, and he will always be a part of this earth.

An overriding theme in this movie was isolation. His family was isolated from their fellow Canadians, by virtue of their Japanese heritage. His parents were born in Canada, but were subject to confinement in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

He wasn’t accepted by the other kids there, because he was one of the only kids who didn’t speak Japanese. He spoke about being chased home from school, along the train tracks, where he was rescued by his father. His trip back to that camp was incredibly moving. He was seeing the place through a grown-up’s eyes, saw the powerlessness that his father and everyone else experienced, and saw his ‘people’ through the eyes of those that put them there.

After the camp, knowing that they weren’t accepted any longer in BC, they moved to Leamington, ON, a town who’s citizens were proud of the fact that a non-white person had never been in the town past sundown. Here is another study in isolation. David wasn’t allowed to date the white girls, and there were no other Asians there. He talked about spending time in the swamp, and how “the swamp saved my life”. He spent countless hours there, exploring, learning about the things that lived in the swamp, and began a love affair with science.

From Ontario, after grad school, he went to Tennessee where he was completely accepted… No, just kidding. He loved the opportunities for research that were available, that grew out of the US government’s generosity, wanting to throw money at anything that would help them win the space race. (I’m honestly not quite sure how a fruit fly geneticist had anything to add, but I’m sure he did. I just didn’t get the connection.) His family life suffered a bit there, he was spending 7 days a week in the lab, and his wife and kids were left to fend for themselves, for the most part. Isolated from his family, only at home in the lab.

Scenes of him giving these (what seemed to be) impromptu lectures in his hippie gear and requisite leather head band were… trippy, to say the least. He had this way of connecting to people, to get his point across without seeming sciency or preachy.

He found his connection, with the help of the Haida people, after joining in their fight to save their trees from the logging companies. Aboriginal peoples, more than anyone else, understand our connection to the earth and each other. I wish I could do justice to how he explains our connection to every other living, breathing, existing thing in this world. Suffice to say that the argon I breathe in and let out will stay here longer than I ever will, but it’s a part of me, and now it’s a part of you. We aren’t, we can’t be isolated, or live like we are. We are air, we are each other, and we are the earth. And the earth is us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Warhol Gang, a review

Wow. Ok. Let me sit down and take a breath for a moment. I just finished The Warhol Gang, by Peter Darbyshire, and now I need to sit and let it settle for a bit.

This book,  (and PD’s first novel “Please”) is such a departure from other books I’ve read recently. The usual is for things to have a definite beginning, middle and an end. With this, I felt like things were on the run from the moment I began reading, and, at the conclusion of the novel, were still in process. That being said, I was a willing participant from first page to last.

The book is written in first person narrative, a style recently discussed on Bookninja . I’m not one to spend a lot of time thinking about the way something is written. It’s either a good story or it’s not. (I, however, will not read anything with more than one exclamation mark per chapter. If you can’t get the reader there with your words, don’t expect your punctuation to do it for you! {That’s my quota reached.}) The protagonist of the novel, Trotsky (Warhol) works for a temp agency and is presently working as a sort of beta tester for products at a neuromarketing company called “AdSenses”. Trotsky’s not his ‘real’ name. All of the characters in the book are just that. Che, Paris, Holiday, Nickel, Flint, Thatcher, Nader, Reagan.

I guess the book can be called an ‘allegory of our time’. We are not ourselves, but reflections of what other people think of us. We are replaceable (there’s a part in the book where one of the AdSenses workers isn’t there, and then is replaced by one of the others. “You’re Nader now”. I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt like that. Just stick a new name tag on this one, and that’s good enough.

Trotsky soon begins to need more stimulation to get the same effect. Just viewing the products isn’t enough. He needs to buy them, to feel them. But not use them. Soon that’s not enough. He seeks other ways to get the same feeling. To feel real. He attends scenes of accidents, and for a while that’s enough. He needs more, and starts impersonating emergency response personnel. Soon that’s not enough. The novel speaks to the way we need more and more stimulation to feel like we’re experiencing enough, and the way we expect that having things will fill that gap.

Trotsky ends up involved with Holiday, who calls herself the “Marilyn Monroe” of security footage, a woman who seeks infamy through being broadcast on news feeds hosted by Paris. Together, and in conjunction with a resistance led by Che, they accidentally become the Warhol Gang, and, of course, havoc ensues, culminating in a violent standoff at Ikea. “Everything ends in the Ikea.”

The Warhol Gang is described as ‘black comedy’, as an absurd tale, and a story about a dystopian future. In my opinion, it’s a trip, a ride, a story that you don’t want to believe could happen, but believe too fully.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Curse of Bye Bye Birdie.

I feel a little trepidation, even as I type out the name of the cursed movie. I thought about the movie, the other day, as the rain fell, softly at times, other times seeming as if it would come through the windows… the sound of the rain took me back… to another weekend in August, how many years ago now?

The day started out, dreary and humid, much like every other day that summer. I was vacuuming the carpet, and right then decided it had to come out. So there I was, tearing up this old brown shag carpet that had seen better decades. Hauling it out to the side of the road, big pickup was scheduled for the next week. Exhausted that evening, settling in to watch a good musical on tv with my lovely daughters on the couch beside me.

The humidity finally broke, with the storm that was threatening all day long. The sky was dark, the lightning flashes breaking the sky in two. Thunder crashing, shaking the house. There were candles on the coffee table, just in case, and flashlights for all. The movie, Bye Bye Birdie on the television. Halfway through the movie, we’re laughing at the lame songs and the ridiculous premise of the movie, when one of the offspring says “what’s that dark spot on the floor?” Yeah…what is that growing dark spot on the floor.

Water. In my basement. Coming in from god knows where. Phone calls to my brother with the shopvac, sucking it up, pouring it down the sink, when I note that, not only is the water coming through the walls somehow, but its gurgling up through the hole in the laundry room floor, up from the sewer, I’m guessing. Now, I’ve got a late night call to the plumber going on. “Yes, coming up through the drain” I tell him. “It’s coming up from the sewer then” he says. “well what can I do?” I ask him. “Nothing” he says. “Nothing??” “Nothing.” I realize that, as I suck up the water and pour it down the laundry room sink, that if it is indeed coming up from the sewer, then I’m just making it worse. The kindly plumber tells me just to go to bed and get some sleep, there’s nothing I can do anyway. Nothing he can do.

A call to the insurance company the next day brings “disaster restoration” people. Well, it’s not quite a disaster. Maybe they should be called “devastation restoration” people. My basement gets fixed. New carpet, new drywall, after a few weeks time.

Fast forward a year or so. Again, just the girls and I at home, and we’re having a chick movie night. Gosh, we love those musicals. What’s on the tv schedule tonight? Why, its Bye Bye Birdie, oh good, we never did get to watch the end of that movie, as lame as it was, I always like to see things through to the end. It’s October, this time, a weekend, and the weather’s been unsettled. Snuggled on the couch with the offspring, laughing again at the goofy songs and costumes.

And then. Its déjà vu all over again. The storm starts, rain comes hard and fast… “what’s that dark spot on the floor, mom?” Again. Again the panicked call to my brother with the shop vac. Minus the call to the plumber, because this time I know it won’t help. Again, the call to the insurance company, when they tell me that this is the last time they’ll cover me for this, because, gosh knows, you’re not expected to make any claims when you have house insurance. Apparently, if we have another claim, they’ll drop us. Nice. But they fixed the basement, this one last time.

So… the connection I’ve made, through all of this, is that the classic movie Bye Bye Birdie is cursed. I cannot watch this movie ever again, because my house will flood. I don’t mean to be facetious or anything, but I wonder if someone was watching it in New Orleans when Katrina hit. It’s a dangerous movie. Should be banned.

A year after that last flood, I won tickets on the radio, to see a play being put on near here. What was the play? You guessed it. I didn’t pick up the tickets. Couldn’t risk it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I recommend the following for your consideration

It’s been so freaking long since I wrote a blog entry, I began to wonder if I was still literate or not. Please, feel free to post your opinions about that. It’s not that there’s nothing to blog about, perhaps it’s that there is too much, and it’s hard just to pick one issue to have an opinion on.

Perhaps that’s where I’ll start. As you can tell, by the title of this blog, I enjoy sharing my opinion with people. (I call it sharing. Some choose to call it being overbearing and controlling. I don’t see it that way, Mary Ellen.) This issue came to mind this morning, when I was downstairs at the coffee place at work, and someone asked for “A muffin. I don’t care what kind”. I can’t imagine having the responsibility of choosing someone’s muffin for them. Why, the wrong pastry could ruin your whole day. That’s a lot of responsibility for someone making minimum wage (actually, the canteen operators here make more than that, but that’s not the issue here).

There is another area where the sharing of my opinion causes me a great deal of anxiety. George Murray over at the blog posted a link about it the other day. Recommending books, to me, is a very personal thing. The types of books that people enjoy say a lot about them. When there are books that I’m emotionally affected by, it increases my trepidation exponentially. And yet, I’m torn between that trepidation, and wanting to share my finds with others. (I could name some, if you'd like...)

If you read that link to Bookninja, you’ll see comments from someone named Andrew, whom I don’t know (but have since learned is a writer), who uses people’s opinions of his recommendations as a friendship barometer of sorts. Works for me. I once had an almost heated argument with someone about the Time Traveler’s Wife, and ended up deciding that the woman was an idiot (no name, to protect the stupid). It’s most difficult, though, when there’s someone I truly respect, who says “yeah... it didn’t do anything for me.” So those are the people I am most hesitant about recommending a book to.

I respect the art of writing. It takes incredible courage to put pen to paper (or pixels to white space) and let people see it. I imagine (because I’ve never written anything that’s been let out into the world, save this blog, a couple of irate letters to the editor and my lame twitter/facebook updates. Oh… and my regular day to day job that involves writing reports on mentally ill offenders) that it’s like letting your child out into the world. (Which I am experiencing) You create something, edit it, perfect it … then let it go. Let it survive, or not.

Or not... how do you put something out there? Run the risk of it not being accepted, not being understood. Not being successful. Not surviving, in the real world.

Published writers, I am in awe.

Monday, April 5, 2010

One Bloody Thing After Another

One Bloody Thing After Another

I finished this book, sitting on the deck in the morning sun, with a fresh brewed coffee. If that's not a perfect situation, I don't know what is. It's the last day of a four day weekend, which is one of the most fabulous creations this government has ever made. It rained last night, but now the sun is shining (much like it did for this entire weekend). So, what better way to finish off the weekend, than to blog about a book that scared the living crap out of me!!! (well, not quite, but I was suitably creeped out. So, here I am, sitting in the afternoon sun, with another fresh brewed coffee, and my laptop. Another perfect situation.

First of all, I love the cover of the book. The picture on the front is unsettling, a wee bit creepy, and definitely intriquing. The title of the book is written in shiny letters, and the cover itself is a matte picture. It's really cool, you kind of have to move the book around to read it. Joey Comeau, the author, is also the creator of a web comic called A Softer World, which is one of my favourites. I didn't realize it until after I read the book, tho, so don't worry about any bias I might have had. I received this book through ECW Press, because i'm a Shelf Monkey.

The description of the book on Amazon gives a little too much away right off the bat, but this sentence, I think, describes things well, without going too far.

"...a cantankerous old man, his powerfully stupid dog, a headless ghost, a lesbian crush and a few unsettling visits from Jackie’s own dead mother, and you'll find that One Bloody Thing After Another is a different sort of horror novel from the ones you're used to. It’s as sad and funny as it is frightening, and it is as much about the way families rely on each other as it is about blood being drooled on the carpet. Though, to be honest, there is a lot of blood being drooled on the carpet."

This book had me from the prologue, the "title" of which is "Ann's mother isn't feeling so good today". We find out that Ann and Margaret's mother is going for a job interview, which didn't go so well, because Ann's mother coughed up something bloody. Ewww... Really? Seriously? This introduction, written so matter of factly that you might have to read it twice to see if you really read what you thought you read, reminds me a bit of Stephen King. You know how he just drops in these gross bits of horror so casually into the 'conversation' that you're having with him, that its not until you've shaken his hand and said 'see ya later' that you realize how gross it truly was.

The book follows Ann, Jackie and Charlie, as well as their families, through a short period of time in their lives. A period of time when Ann finds out how far she'll go to support her mom and sister, a time when Jackie finds out how her mom's death affects her, and a time when Charlie experiences living with his dog, losing his dog, and getting reunited with his dog.

This book has more layers than I thought it would. The first aspect of the book is about love and committment. The way Ann sticks by her family, goes way out of her comfort zone to protect and care for them is understandable. It's rare that you feel sympathetic for someone who does the kinds of things she does, but I did. I empathized for Ann. I might be reading too much into this, but I think there are many people who will find an aspect of themselves in Ann. (But hopefully not a piece of themselves in her mom...)

Jackie is a young girl, discovering that she's different from her peers in so many ways, not the least of which is her emerging sexuality. Charlie is a man who loves his dog, and is charged with helping a neighbour find out about her daughter's demise. This aspect of the book really reminds me of the way Robert Wiersema writes. There's such a sense of family and connectedness in this book, you realy feel like these are people that you might know, and might care for, just a bit.

The other aspect of the book is the abject horror. Live animals being fed to ravenous beasts chained up in the basement. A young girl with the ability to call up the ghost of her dead mother to help her escape from police custody. A headless ghost with a message for a loved one.

I absolutely reccommend this book. Maybe it's a novella, I've never quite understood the difference. In any case, its a quick and horrifying read, something to make you shiver in the middle of a sunny day. I see that the author, Joey Comeau will be reading from his book on April 27, 2010. He's the inaugaral guest at the event series "The Toronto Literary Salon". Sounds like something I'd like to hear. But I'm just a little afraid of this man.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Groundhog Day, and why it is better than Valentine's Day

For a few years now, my family has been celebrating Groundhog Day, in a way that's different than other people do. Sure, we listen to the news, and find out if Wiarton Willie saw his shadow or not, but its more than that. There is cake involved. (cake in pic made by Offspring #1, who has just been accepted to pastry arts and management at George Brown College)

Here are all the things that suck about Valentine's Day
1. Single people feel left out.
2. Lots of money spent on useless stuff like overpriced, bad tasting chocolate and bouquets of flowers that die.
3. Douchebaggy boyfriends/husbands who don't get you those things mentioned in #2 make you feel bad.
4. Husbands who give you a rose made out of panties, that come from the dollar store, but they found in the parking lot at work, look bad. (true story)
5. Men get the short end of the stick on this holiday, with having too many expectations put on them that they just can't live up to.
6. Kids who aren't as popular as other kids don't get as many valentines and feel like crap.
7. Restaurants are overcrowded.
8. Hearts aren't really shaped like that.

Here are all the things that suck about Groundhog Day.
1. Nothing.

Really... What is bad about celebrating the coming of spring? With regard to the accuracy, Wikipedia say "Groundhog Day proponents state that the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75% to 90%. A Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years puts success rate level at 37%. Also, the National Climatic Data Center reportedly has stated that the overall predictions accuracy rate is around 39%." While an accuracy rate of 39% is not great, it's not horrible.

There is no consumerism related to Groundhog Day (while, not yet, anyway). Valentine's Day, however, makes giving an overpriced gift equal being in love. We should show those we love how much we love them every day. Not with overpriced chocolate and packaged sappy sentiments, but with kindness and sweet gestures, like Groundhogs do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jann Arden... goddess of Canadian music

I’m getting ready to go to a Jann Arden concert in London, Ontario. For those of you who don’t know her… well, your life is empty. I’m sorry to be the one who has to tell you that, but surely you had some inkling of that before I wrote those words.

She’s a Canadian musician who’s been on the scene (or, actually, just outside of the scene) since her first album in 1993. The biggest single from that album was “I would die for you”, which is a hauntingly beautiful song. She made it ‘semi big’ south of the border, with the song “Insensitive”. That’s probably the one she’s most well known for. My favourite song of hers, though, is “Good Mother”. There’s a line in there, referring to her father ‘and his strength is what makes me cry’. (Actually, I have no idea if it’s about her father, I’m assuming it is, because she and her parents have a close relationship, and, in fact, live, like really really close to each other) There’s also a duet that she’s sung with Jackson Browne, but on her album, I believe its someone from her band. “Unloved”, the most gorgeous song I’ve heard. I could (and have) listened to that song 10 times in a row, in the car, singing along (to both parts).

This will be the third time I’ve seen her in concert. I’ve seen her at Massey Hall in Toronto, and in Mount Forest, in a renovated movie theatre. She is fricking hilarious. The time I saw her in Mount Forest, she told this story of waking up on a Navy ship with a trumpet in her bed, or some such thing. (That concert was the first time I actually spoke to her… well, spoke... ok, I’m misrepresenting that. She asked where people were from, I shouted out “Midland” and she replied “Finland?? Cripes that’s far”. End of Conversation. Sigh.)

Jann is someone who’s never really hit the ‘big time’(like, famous famous, i mean. She can walk the streets without being mobbed) although she’s a familiar sound on Canadian radio. You might not be able to name a song of hers, but you’ve definitely heard more than one. If I played one for you, you’d say...Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that. Nice.

I’ve had this feeling, for so long, that if we ever actually met, we’d really get along. I like to think that our sense of humour is similar, we share that love of music, and we have similar values. (Well, what I can glean of her values through her twitter and her blog, and her song)

How does one tell someone famous that, without coming off as a crazy stalker? I had similar thoughts when I went to see Robert Wiersema at a reading he did at Yorkdale Mall, in Toronto. Although “Robert” and I are... well… you know, “facebook friends”, I thought it might come off as just thiscreepy for me to tell him that he’s my absolute favourite author. I tried to play it cool, when I asked him to sign my copy of his book, and I think I did ok, but, man oh man. I really just wanted to say “Hey, didja want to grab a beer or something?” (But I would have had to ditch my mother, and that’s not cool). (And, in all likelihood, I’d be a little star struck, end up being all tongue tied, I’d be out of my league, intellectually, and I’d sound like an idiot)

So, yeah. My dream in life is to sit and have a glass of wine with Jann, shoot the shit and just yak for an hour or two. If, from there, she asked me to jam with her, or sing back up, well... who am I to turn down a request like that?