Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Random January

I'm cutting it a little bit closer this month, aren't I? It's moments away from being February, so I'd better get on with it if I want to squeak this by while I still have the chance.

I have been a bad, bad blogfriend. Honestly, I'd fully intended to post this much sooner, but I appear to have misplaced my brain for much of the past month. Diane came to Toronto to see the Rockettes and we met for a chat at the St. Lawrence Market. Outside. It was lovely, but also very weird to sit at a picnic table in December and not be cold. She brought me a number of yummy goodies, most of them homemade and I would love to show you pictures of them but... erm... They've been consumed. However! She also brought a present for Mojo - the loveliest little catnip pockets. For the first 10 years of her life, Mojo has been rather uninterested and unaffected by catnip, but it turns out that it was just a matter of a) presentation and b) getting primo stuff. She really, really likes these.

And Patti (sadly blogless) also thought of Mojo and sent the cutest little mouse via Harlot mail. Tiger striped, no less. This has also been a huge success, although my darling kitty’s insistence on playing with this (and demanding my participation) in the middle of ER is wearing a bit thin. Many thanks to both Diane and Patti for being so nice to us.



I don't like the new kind of horror movies. The Ring scared the crap out of me (it didn't help that a friend of mine knew I was watching it and timed a phone call just as it finished - I'm still percolating revenge for that) and I refuse to go near a theatre or video store for The Grudge, solely based on the creepy little child in the trailers on TV. I'm having the same reaction to The Messengers - the television trailer frightened me so much that I still have the images (especially the creepy little child) burned into my brain. I don't know what it is about them. I love horror - scaring the bejesus out of yourself can be quite delicious at times. Let me rephrase that: I love certain kinds of horror. Dog Soldiers, for instance, and I suspect that I will love his new movie The Descent, as well. But The Messengers? I think that the fact that I close my eyes and mute the TV whenever the trailer's on is a big hint that I won't be watching it. And that I’m a wuss.

I recently read an article in the New York Times that talked about new and interesting ways of making sure ads hit our eyeballs. It's estimated that we already see approximately 5000 ads a day - shall we take a brief pause to boggle at that number? - and marketing companies are forever thinking of new and interesting ways to publicize things. Ads for CSI on eggs! Ads for Tylenol on the paper sheet in your pediatrician's office! (these were actual examples cited in the article) Am I the only one who would like my doctor to be less obviously bought?

A 67-year-old woman has just become a mother. I'm all for people having children if they feel that they will be good parents, but shouldn't there be some sort of age limit? I do know some people who have become parents later in life - my dear brother-in-law, father of the Tinks, is one of them - but there is a big difference between fiftyish and almost 70. I'm aware that I should probably tread carefully here, but isn't part of being a good parent doing your best to actually be around to do the parenting? There are an awful lot of things you can't guard against - accidents, disease, etc. – but what are the chances of that happening if you give birth at 67? What do you think?

I found a brilliant article about depression via dooce that taught me a lot. Turns out that it also had something to say about arthritis.

And lastly, a picture that should be entitled "be careful what you wish for". My windows haven't been opened in almost two weeks.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Escape

I dream of other places. Maybe that villa in Tuscany that I wrote about so long ago, thick walls cooling the inside of the house, while the heat of the sun caresses the gardens and the fields of sunflowers beyond. Or, staying on this side of the pond, a cabin somewhere, almost in the wilderness. Sampa’s log cabin in Big Eden, with its rich, woodsy colours, surrounded by tall pines reaching for the never-ending sky and with a view of the lake framed by distant mountains. It's a toss-up between that and the other log cabin in my imagination. The other one is in Montana, too, big sky country, but in a place less forested, a place of open vistas and rolling hills. There are many horses here and one of them grazes in the corral next to the house. I go for long solitary rides, far into the quiet of the wilderness, the only sounds the soft clop of hooves, the creak of the saddle and towards sunset, the far-off howl of wolves. Or one last maybe, this one a weatherbeaten house on a beach somewhere, where I can wander in the sand, the surf breaking over my feet and the sunset turns the ocean into molten gold.

All my maybe places have this in common: they are far away from everything and offer blessed solitude and silence. No distractions intrude with the breakneck pace of the modern world, no being tied to schedules and meetings and appointments. There is just me, my computer and the wilderness and so, I spend my time writing and reading and going out there, out there where the beauty and stillness of nature usher in a quiet in my soul.

What I escape from in these sanctuaries of my mind, I don't quite know. Maybe it is the relentless demands of what it takes to maintain life and a home these days. Or maybe, since in these places I am unconstrained by a disability, it is my body. I hurt that place in my neck and shoulders again, this time attempting to operate an elevator button that was stuck and so am right back in the place where what I want is different from what my body wants.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn't matter why. All that matters is that I have places to go in my mind, places of beauty and stillness that help me find quiet in my soul.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Much Too Much

I have to stop paying quite so much attention to the news. For medicinal reasons. The following is a short list of fairly recent news stories that I can't get out of my head:

2006 was declared the hottest year in Britain since 1659.
One of the six ancient ice shelves remaining in the Canadian Arctic (this one was 41 mi.², containing ice that was 3000 years old) broke off.
A pig farmer in British Columbia is charged with 6 murders, because that's all the remains that were found. He allegedly claims to have killed 49 women. And dismembered. Don't forget about the dismembering.
The Middle East is more destabilized than it has been in living memory.
The doomsday clock has been beset. It was seven minutes to midnight, now it's five.
Every 30 seconds, a child dies from malaria. These are preventable deaths - all you need is mosquito netting and aids programs are cutting back.
Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada and he’s leaving his mark.
Ashley was bonsaied.
Tigers are becoming extinct.

I can't take it anymore. It's too much horror, it hurts too much. In order to continue being plugged into the news, I'd have to deaden myself to the impact and that would hurt too much, as well.

I believe in keeping myself informed, of being aware of what goes on in the world around me. But after I've been keeping myself informed for a while, it takes on a different quality, an almost compulsive one. The more news I read, the more news I need to read, the more information and news analysis I must process. The more intent I am on being informed, the unhappier I get, becoming increasingly unable to prevent the horrific acts and images from swirling around in my mind during dinner, brushing my teeth, paying bills, laughing with friends. I feel such despair, such fury, such impotent rage at a world in which we let our leaders get away with screwing over the earth and the world, because let's not forget: we elected them. Based on ridiculous promises of e.g., tax cuts that don't actually save you more money than a cup of coffee a day, we usher them into power where they proceed to slash and burn the programs that make us civilized, help for those who need it, education, healthcare, environmental policies and once they have razed the country/earth sufficiently, we replace them with another government, but don't actually give them the mandate to do anything but the smallest changes. The first time David Miller ran for mayor of Toronto, his opponents were promising tax cuts. Miller didn't. Miller said that in order to have the kind of Toronto that we could be proud of, the tax money was needed and there’d be an increase. He was elected. Why can't that kind of integrity and vision be repeated on a national basis? Hell, on an international basis? Maybe then we would leave the world a slightly better place instead of continuing to treat it and other living creatures with such wanton disregard.

And this incessant 24-hour news cycle isn't helping.
Whenever I swing by the Toronto Star's web site, new stories have been added with a small notification of when: 112 min ago, 62 min ago, 17 min ago. Knowing that it has only been 57 minutes since a hundred people were killed by a bomb contributes to the sense of urgency, makes me feel that I'll never catch up. And I don't know what it is I think catching up will do - I guess some part of me feels that if I read about it, maybe it will help. Maybe bearing witness will at least honour the dead and maimed. Maybe it will help stem the tide, but it doesn't, does it? And so, after awhile, inevitably I return to the same old point where I feel utterly helpless in the face of such unrelenting nightmares.

I watched an interview with Dan Rather when he talked about how the 24-hour news cycle and its constant appetite for the new - hence the "27 minutes ago" - has meant the demise of news analysis, of thoughtful discussion of historical trends and so, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes, because we don't stop long enough to learn from them.

I've decided that I'm going to learn from mine. I'm going on a news fast (well, except The Daily Show). So last night, I stayed far, far away from anything to do with the State of the Union address and watched Bringing Up Baby.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Broken Record

I'm going to repeat myself today, probably at great length and hopefully in a way that is just different enough that I don't bore you senseless. Today, prompted by this entry on Go Fug Yourself, I'm going to rail against the thin (rail... thin… oh, ha-ha!).

I, too, watched the Golden Globe's awards on Monday - so much more fun than the Oscars - and couldn't help but notice that there seems to be a very slight move away from the superthin (except for Angelina Jolie, who used to be slim, but healthy-looking and now just looks... well, like she very much needs a sandwich). Or maybe it was that the focus for once was more on substance than style, actors there for reasons to do with ability and talent first and foremost such as America Ferrera, Meryl Streep (was she beyond fabulous or what?) and Helen Mirren.

Maybe it's yet again living through a prevailing female body image that glorifies dangerously thin as supposed to be beautiful - I'm old enough to remember when Karen Carpenter died from complications of anorexia and not too long ago, a Brazilian model named Ana Carolina Reston died for the same reason. I look at the teenagers around me and sure, many of them are naturally gangly, in the throes of growth spurts that make them look like coltish giraffes, but on the other hand, I don't know any women, especially those under the age of 40 who aren't in some way deeply concerned about gaining weight (once you hit 40 or so, it seems to simmer down a little bit. Well, sort of). Not too long ago, I stood behind a woman at my marvelous local fishmonger, waiting to pay for the pound of tilapia that would feed me for two days. The woman in front of me had purchased several small pieces of different kinds of fish, requesting them to be vacuumsealed, each piece clearly representing a dinner for her. Each piece being less than half of what would satisfy me and my mind boggled. How many of us pick at a salad for lunch? Or don’t eat after six in order to keep our weight down? Or only share dessert? Or didn't quit smoking because we didn't want to gain weight? Or regularly don’t eat enough to meet our nutritional needs? I don't think it's a coincidence that Red Bull and other energy drinks have become so popular at the same time as severely underweight is considered beautiful. Our bodies need fuel in order to function and if you're not eating, that energy has to come from somewhere.

About a decade ago, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf was hugely popular and I read it (and tried to make every woman I knew read it). In it, she talks about models being on average 23% underweight and I frequently yelled (ok, still yell) about the distorted image of beauty that the average North American woman - estimated to be much shorter and heavier than your average model - is trying to attain. Since then, models have dropped another couple of sizes and are now dropping dead because of it. Madrid and Milan have banned models with a body mass index of less then 18.5 and about a week ago, I read a story in the New York Times (reg. req.) regarding the guidelines issued by the Council of Fashion Designers of America designed (!) to address this issue. Of course, the guidelines have absolutely no teeth, no requirements for a certain BMI, in the grand tradition of "let's look like we're doing something, while we continue business as usual".

Maybe it's getting old is that has made me realize even more than ever before that true beauty doesn't develop until you get old enough to care more about your health than your looks. It's then that you put on a little bit more heft, your centre of gravity changes a bit, making you seem grounded and stronger and there are lines in your face that show that you have lived and loved and laughed. You have opinions and are unafraid to share them and you’ve stopped making excuses for yourself (or others). And that's why Meryl Streep was a goddess on Monday night, both in looks and giving the speech of the night, it’s why America Ferrera was one of the most beautiful women there and it is why in my eyes, the sexiest woman of the night was Helen Mirren (61, thank you very much). She clearly doesn’t have a plastic surgeon, hasn’t wasted an hour of her life worrying about her arms being perfectly toned, wearing a dress cut down to her midriff showing off a truly spectacular cleavage and whose energy, warmth and spirit gave her more class and sensuality in her little finger than most of the younger crowd had in their entire bodies.

When I grow up, I want to be Helen Mirren.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Who'd Have Thunk It?

I never thought I'd say this but… I miss winter.

And now I will be considerate and have a brief pause before moving on, in order to allow for those among you who have known me for a while and who are undoubtedly gobsmacked at the moment, to catch your breath and pinch yourself. Imagine Muzak.

Better? Ok, then.

Normally, January in Toronto is a month that tries my sanity. It is usually
-20, with a windchill of -40, my windows are frozen shut preventing any fresh air from entering my apartment for weeks on end, but that's okay, since when you brave the outdoors, the frigidity of said 'fresh air' is enough to freeze your lungs shut.
Staying out for longer than a few minutes means that even if you are wearing handknit socks (and from January to March, I normally wear nothing but and consider myself a very lucky woman), you'll soon feel as if your toes have turned into little icicles and at times will seriously consider whether not that clinking noise you just heard was them falling off. When it's not too cold to go out, there's too much snow to go out. Or rather, there’s so much snow that I can walk up and down the sidewalk in front of my building, but as the piles from the snowplow clearing the street tend to accumulate by the curb cut and make passage by a wheelchair impossible no matter how good your tires are, I can't actually go anywhere. Cabin fever sets in sometime in the middle of the second week and by the time February arrives, I'm a raving lunatic, full on in the throes of SAD and foaming at the mouth to get outside.

This year, I am not even close to starting the raving lunatic process and it is the middle of January already. We had a bit of cold early in December, but since then, my windows have been open every day and I've been traipsing off to the grocery store in nothing but a sweater. Most of the time, I tell myself that it's lovely and whereas not being confined to your apartment is indeed wonderful, there's a big part of me that keeps chanting "this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong". There’s supposed to be cold. There’s supposed to be snow and lots of it. This kind of weather makes me nervous. This kind of weather convinces me that we are going to fry the planet and by the time the Tinks grow up, there's going to be nothing left for them but melting polar caps, smog so thick you can cut it and I am really afraid that they will never know what a tiger in the wild looks like. Not that I have personal experience in the latter, but you get my point.

About a week ago, Stephen Harper - the Prime Minister of Canada, a conservative who when first elected wasted no time in declaring that under his reign, Canada would not meet its Kyoto commitments - did an about face regarding his environmental policy. Probably doesn't hurt that a poll performed at around that time showed that the environment was the biggest concern of all Canadians - male, female, all ages, all political persuasions - and that the Liberal party elected the former environment minister as its new leader. So now, all of a sudden, the environment matters. Sure, I'm glad that he got there - who cares why, as long as something is done, right? - but it still makes me mad that it was not until Canadians essentially revolted (because all agreeing in a poll is about as revolutionary as Canadians get) that he did something. Smog, slimy rat bastard (it should say 'smug' there, but Dragon interpreted its as ‘smog’ and it seemed so apropos that I decided to leave it).

Last week, we had a couple of days where it was pretty cold. And I loved it. I meandered around the neighbourhood, taking photographs, running errands, my hands cold and enjoying being able to see my breath. I felt better, I felt happy, because I'm supposed to be able to see my breath in January and for a day or two, all was right in the world. Turns out that despite all my protestations, I have internalized the Canadianess to such a degree that unless it regularly looks like this in what is supposed to be winter (picture from 2004)



I get depressed.

Who’d have thunk it?

p.s. people keep trying to tell me that my sense of personal responsibility is too well developed and that really, I don't have nearly as much power to change the world as I seem to believe. However, I'd like to point out that I started writing this post Saturday afternoon and that a mere 24 hours later, it got cold and snowy. Toronto’s currently being if not walloped, then at least dumped on with a mess of ice pellets and snow. Coincidence? I think not!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Midterm Report

I don't know about you, but I need an antidote. Something light and fluffy and superficial. So I'm going to follow up on a post I wrote at the beginning of the television season and delight (?) you yet again with my TV opinions

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I'm still watching, I'm still liking. It is a bit smug at times, but the excellence of the writing and acting more than make up for it (besides, every now and again, I like indulging my own smugness).

Bones. Love it, love it, love it. In the beginning of the season, I wasn't sure about the new character of Cam - I cared deeply about Dr. Goodman and don't want to see him replaced - but she's added a certain something that has gradually won me over (I still want Dr. Goodman back, though). And thinking of the episode where Brennan and Hodgins were buried alive still gives me chills.

Criminal Minds. In the fall, I put the show on notice that unless it smartened up, I'd be gone. It did smarten up some and I'm still watching. Despite the strong streak of sexism - is almost always women in peril and there was clearly some degree of discomfort with a strong woman as profiler, but nonetheless, I watch. Sometimes only for Garcia and Morgan

Grey’s Anatomy. Thoroughly satisfying season so far. Bailey is a wonderful, especially now that she's gotten in little bit of the Nazi back in her, I worry about Richard and Adele, McSteamy is a wonderfully obnoxious addition, I like that Alex has become more three-dimensional, I like that Izzy is back and that there are consequences and that there are going to be consequences as well for Preston and Christina. I could go on - I haven't yet touched on George and Callie, Mer & Der, Addison, and I sure I've forgotten something else. Bottom line is that I love how flawed these characters are and I love how they make me think, even as they make me laugh (or cry. I'm not afraid of admitting that).

CSI. Off the probation list, I'm back to watching obsessively. I hope Grissom won't be gone for long and that when he does return, he'll have grown the beard back. The beard was hot. I've heard that William Petersen wants off the show, but I would miss him terribly - I'm not really sure it would work as well without him. Greg is wonderful and I’m happy he’s playing a bigger part now, I love some of the ongoing storylines (crime related, not so much the soap stuff), Catherine is starting to annoy me and overall, I'm still a fan.

ER. Carrie has left. Very upsetting. I know that she didn't really seem to have a place there anymore, but she's been there for so long and I like her so much that I'm going to miss her. Archie continues to be wonderful and I continue to not care about Sam. And is it just me or is Pratt very aptly named? He annoys the crap out of me, always have.

Numb3rs. Not on my original list last fall, as I had decided to give it up – it’d gotten somewhat boring towards the end of last season. However, I'm back and so is the show. I'm going to miss Larry Fleinhardt (lover of monochromatic foods, owner of the best car on TV - 1931 black Model A Ford - unlikely sex symbol [smart is sexy!] and even unlikelier astronaut), I like the touch of humour he added, although it seems like they're going to continue lightening up every now and again, even without him. I like Charlie, I like the dad, I like Don, love the new character Millie, I like Megan. I don't quite get the presence of the two young "hot" guys - bland as dishwater, both of them. Guess they're there for eyecandy. Unnecessarily/

Brothers and Sisters. Still watching, still liking, especially Rachel Griffiths. I like that they have a gay character who actually has a love life, instead of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that most shows seem to employ (Scotty so needs to come back). I will admit that I missed the dark side the show started out with, but I'm pretty sure that if they hadn't changed to something a tad fluffier, it would've gotten cancelled and as I thoroughly enjoy my Sunday evenings with the Walkers, I'm going to not complain too much.

Men in Trees. Got tiresomely precious. I left.

There are a few other shows that I watch occasionally. Medium, Law and Order: SVU, 30 Rock and I'm trying to catch Ugly Betty every now and again, but the last one conflicted with Survivor and the first two… well. You can only handle so much darkness, can't you? And speaking of... Much as I love procedurals (rather obvious after this list), it's a lot of crime, isn't it? Do they ever do shows that aren't about doctors, lawyers or crime?

What are you watching?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Taking It On the Chin

Just before Christmas, I wrote about how excited I was in to find an online community of people with disabilities that reflected the spectrum of what real people are like. I also talked about how I was going to be reading and catching up with what was going on out there and how much I was looking forward to this. I quite enjoyed being challenged, laughing, commiserating, feeling angry and then, on Friday, I read a story that has made me think seriously about running screaming for the hills, into Ostrich Land where I can pretend that life is all kittens and rainbow-coloured bubbles.

Have you seen this? Have. You. Seen. This? I mean, really, HAVE YOU SEEN THIS??? (I'm not quite sure how to convey in writing a banshee scream of rage, please use your imagination) I found this post on the Women in Media News blog via Ragged Edge, read the story over breakfast, which caused me to almost throw up on the spot and then I spent quite some time trying not to cry.

To summarize: a nine-year-old girl by the name of Ashley, severely physically and mentally disabled, has received a rather controversial treatment. Two years ago, her parents asked doctors to stop her growth/development. She has therefore received 2 years worth of hormone treatments and had her uterus and breast tissue removed. The reasoning for this "treatment" is that if she is smaller and lighter, if she has, in effect, been made into a little bonsai girl, it will be easier for her parents to take care of her at home for longer. An ethicist at the hospital that “treated” her is quoted as saying he was convinced the parents were “motivated by love and the girl’s best interest”.

What to do when your disabled child grows up is a fear shared by all parents of children with disabilities and rightfully so. It's a scary pile of issues, all tangled up in the scarcity of assistance, decent care facilities, dealing with sexuality, and fears of what happens when you are no longer able to provide the care. These all very real issues that shouldn't be ignored and which require dedicated work and commitment for change from not only the parents to solve (yoo-hoo? Government? Use my taxes for something good, will ya??). But that isn't what this is about, I think.

The WIMN blog entry quotes an article in the Times of London, where the reporter attempts to pick apart the issue of human rights by asking "[T]hose who talk about fundamental human rights should imagine themselves changing their daughter’s sanitary dressing; or worrying about what might happen if, after they’re gone, she ends up in a care home where some unscrupulous, or perhaps uncomprehending, co-patient takes advantage of her”. Let me get this straight – your fundamental human right to not be grossed out supercedes your child’s right to… erm… grow? And should we really believe that the absence of height, breasts and a uterus prevents you from being raped? Shall we have a brief discussion about how – willingly? - na├»ve the reporter is in the ignoring the most frequent source of abuse of people with disabilities: their caregivers. Everybody also seems to have forgotten that this procedure only delays the inevitable: Ashley will need to go into an institution at some point in her life when her parents become too old/poor/divorced/etc. to take care of her anymore. Unless of course said parents at that point manage to persuade a doctor to euthanize her. Y’know, “motivated by love and the girl’s best interest”.

What I cannot understand is how a doctor agree to do this procedure – what happened to “first, do no harm”? What Board of Ethics of a hospital would agree to this? Of course, another medical ethicist, this time at a children's hospital in Chicago is quoted as saying that this treatment is "probably OK", so that makes it all just dandy, don’t it?

The WIMN post asks you to imagine this kind of "treatment" being given to someone without disabilities, which nicely puts a glaring spotlight on perceptions of the worth of a disabled person (ableism is alive and well). The WIMN article also quotes a blogger who asks whether or not this would've been done had Ashley been a boy (and thus, the sexism of the situation puts our -ism tally to two). And then there is an -ism that I'm not sure has a name - what would have been done if Ashley "only" had physical disabilities? Isn't it great how this entire situation neatly illustrates the hierarchy of worth? Able-bodied versus disabled (disability loses), male versus female (female loses), physical disability versus mental disability (do I even need to say it?).

This came hard on the heels of reading a post on My Beloved Monster and Me about a developmentally delayed girl who, despite meeting every single qualification for a needed kidney transplant, was rejected – rather clearly because of her disability. As Rob said “it’s a hard, rough, shitty world for broken people”.

I don't even know where to start with this – I can’t connect to the part of me that can analyze and discuss coherently and effectively and so, I am back to alternating between the urge to scream and cry and vomit. But before I do so, I would like to thank my parents for always insisting that I was a person first and foremost, someone who deserved being treated with respect and dignity and who had the same rights as everyone else.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fearless

One of my favorite things about the holidays is celebrating by getting together with people I love, especially the people of the younger persuasion. This week, I have had meals with three outstanding members of my chosen family who, despite being of different ages and having different life experiences, have one startlingly brilliant quality in common: they are completely fearless each in their own way.

Amanda, who has known Mojo since she was a brand new baby and who is the reason that my cat adores children, knows no trepidation when it comes to trying new foods and therefore eats things normally not associated with children's menus. Her and I (and her lovely parents Daniel and Sue) had dinner at a local steakhouse and Amanda was bursting with excitement at the thought of having snails. She happily munched away, at times being careful to nibble off the wee antennae first.


Scott, the youngest of my friend Michele's boys, is a highly energetic and incredibly funny almost-teenager. Among other things, he likes iced cappuccino, soccer and House (a series that I have forbidden myself to watch, as it pushes all my hypochondriac buttons). Not only does he have more intestinal fortitude that I when it comes to watching medical procedures, but he throws himself into life and physical activity with complete abandon.


Jason, Scott's older brother, is a thoughtful, caring soul who protects his younger sibling, while remembering to subject him to an appropriate level of big brother torture. At an age where conformity and peer pressure can put a lot of stress on a teenager, Jason has the courage to walk to the beat of his own drummer. He seeks his own truth with dedication and spirituality and has already figured out things about life, the universe and everything that I am just learning.


I am lucky to know them all.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In Defense of Romance Novels

Between ages of 11 and 16, I was hospitalized more often than I was home and although I did read many, many books, in the later years of my "sentence", I devoured romance novels. If you’ve ever been in the hospital, you know why: it's impossible to concentrate in such a place and what little focus I did have, I used on my school work. I remember once sharing a room with a girl whose horrified parents brought in books by Francis Bacon in the fervent hope that it would provide an antidote from the magazines and books she was borrowing from me. I'm still not sure why they thought two teenaged girls would have the remotest interest in serious literature when they could dive into torrid tales about damsels in distress and true love, complete with heaving bosoms and tall dark and handsomes. At the time, I think it served a multitude of purposes: they passed the time, were an outlet for newly rampant hormones and served as an escape from a reality that was at best incredibly boring and at times rather unpleasant.

Notice how I was defending spending a good portion of my time reading ‘trash’? Admitting to reading romance novels is almost like fessing up to having an extensive pornography collection - one feels squirmy and more than slightly ridiculous in speaking of one's filthy little secret. Except, here's the thing: I don't feel guilty. Not at all. And I will happily admit that since I got out of the hospital, I have continued reading them. Although books in other genres dominate my reading list, when I am in need of a mental vacation, I pick up some fluff.

And here's the other thing. As I've grown older, I've realized that quite a bit of my knowledge base comes from - are you ready for this? - those selfsame romance novels. For instance: as a teen, I used to read a lot of Barbara Cartland's books - in fact, she might be the author of that started my fascination with the regency period and many of the things I know about that era has been learned in 'trashy' novels – hers and others - and they have prompted me to learn more. And isn't that what books is all about - prompting learning? Does it matter where it comes from? But that's a post for another day...

In my 20s and early 30s, I moved from the innocent universe of Barbara Cartland (where the most action anyone got was a kiss in the end) to the more adventurous and highly entertaining bodice rippers and that's when I realized that there were an awful lot of good writers that not a lot of people admitted reading. Tight stories, with accurate historical detail, snappy, funny dialogue - everything you can ask for in the alternate universe between the covers of a book.

These days, they seem to be a new trend, mixing romance, the supernatural and serial drama. I'm discovering books that although they are published by e.g., Harlequin, are adventure stories, thrillers, with strong female protagonists and an ongoing relationship with Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, so ongoing in fact that the relationship is barely begun by the end of the first book. Usually, there are vampires or other supernatural goings-on. I wrote about Full Moon Rising awhile back, am eagerly anticipating the next Sookie Stackhouse mystery (apparently being made into an HBO series with Alan Ball – creator of Six Feet Under), as well as C.E. Murphy's third in the Walker Papers, and laugh my arse off when reading about Betsy, Queen of the vampires. These are the novel equivalent of a good popcorn movie and help me relax and recharge without asking anything of me other than I go along for the ride. And as many of them give you one hell of a ride, that's an easy thing to do.