Monday, March 26, 2007

Random March & A Contest

Accidentally flipped by Global news a day or two after the last nasty, nasty storm and heard one talking head (Global’s seem to be more idiotic than the rest of them) say “after being pelted by last week’s icestorm, victims are still reeling”. Victims? Of a storm? When they’re not discussing loss of limbs or property? VICTIMS? Global is becoming Canada’s Fox News. Quite something to aspire to.

The spam has made another jump in my inbox and the senders and subject titles are becoming more and more… a-hem, innovative. One of the best this month was one entitled penis launcher. I kid you not. Made me laugh every day for weeks (I saved it for that purpose).

And speaking of inboxes…. I lost mine. A geek I once knew who worked in systems for a large company, mentioned how the staff in that department referred to Microsoft’s Outlook as “Look Out” and boy, was he right. Note to other users: if your Outlook has trouble compacting messages, do not put that on your “to deal with later” list unless you want to lose a couple of years’ worth of incoming mail. Live and learn...

Rotten Tomatoes has a list of the 100 Worst Movies. I’ve seen 8.5 (one was so bad, I abandoned it halfway through). How many have you seen? Which was your favourite?

The lovely Lynn of the comments (who really ought to get a blog) has sent me a gift that keeps on giving. After reading this book,




she was so impressed that she felt it should be sent out into the world to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. I am the first recipient - Lynn very thoughtfully provided it in audio format - and when I am finished, she asked that I send it on to someone else, who will send it to someone else when they're finished, etc., etc. Nifty idea, no? If you're interested in reading it, please leave a comment to this post sometime before Friday afternoon (March 30, 2007). All the names will be tossed into a receptacle of sorts (I have no hats) and the winner will be drawn by a special guest next weekend.

Warning: the last paragraph will be about the part of My Sister’s Keeper I hadn’t read when I posted about it on Friday. It might ruin the ending if you haven’t read it, so proceed with caution.

I'm madder than a wet hen. On Friday, Kristine mentioned how she was completely destroyed by the last 20 pages of the book and I was, too. Overall, the book was an enjoyable read, as well (yes, I know that sounds demented). This is a heartwrenching story, frequently reduces you to tears, but in the great tradition of heartwrenching fiction, it was an oddly emotionally satisfying experience (yes, I know that sounds even more crazy). It is reality turned up to 11, fiction that presses all the buttons, makes you think and pushes you to care desperately for the characters. And then, after the author has stabbed you in the heart with a knife, ripped your heart out, wrung it out and sliced it open again, she then puts it in a blender and pulverizes it. Not only is there a convenient medical inaccuracy at the end that makes you question every other medical fact presented in the book, but the ending is mean, manipulative, unnecessary and I absolutely hated it. While I sobbed. I had planned to read more of Picoult's books, but am so disgusted and upset by the ending to this one, that I will never read another. Part of the art of writing is knowing when to stop. There was a perfect moment to stop in this book and she pushed past it. I feel used.

Friday, March 23, 2007

My Sister's Keeper

For the past week, I have been completely lost in My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. The book has been in my library for a couple of years - I remember hearing good things about it at the time, but the subject matter intimidated me. However, when I finished a book last week and was about to pick a new one, I felt in the mood to be challenged, to have a story make me think and so, it was time.

This is a story about Anna, a 13-year-old girl who is the ultimate in designer babies: she was conceived by in-vitro fertilization, selected because the embryo that became her, was the closest match to her sister, Kate, who at age 2 was diagnosed with a particularly nasty form of leukemia. A type of leukemia that at the time reduced Kate's life expectancy to another nine months to three years. The first time Anna saved her sister’s life was immediately after birth, when she donated cord blood. Since then, Anna has saved Kate's life every couple of years, undergoing increasingly more invasive procedures and now, Kate needs one of her kidneys. However, Anna doesn't want to donate a kidney and files a suit of medical emancipation from her parents.

This story is told from the point of view of several people: the girls’ father and mother, their brother, Anna's lawyer and the guardian ad litem appointed by the courts to assess the case. It a bit "movie of the week" and could have benefited from some tightening here and there. As well, I would've liked the book to have been even more ambivalent, creating a situation in which the answer to this particular dilemma faced by this particular family wasn't quite so clear - it makes it easier to choose one side over the other (when I'm being pushed to really think, I like to be pushed). However, this is not something I notice while I'm reading. While I'm reading, I am completely absorbed in the story, arguing with the characters, worrying about them, frequently weeping. I'm almost finished and still don't know what I would do in that situation.

The moral part of me, the part that has strong ethical beliefs in people's right to self-determination, find the idea of conceiving a child for the specific purposes of donating parts of their body to a sibling abhorrent. I know that were it my sister who needed something, anything, the only question I would have would be "when and where?". But I am an adult, fully capable of making an informed decision, having free will to do so. Not a child, a child who isn't asked in any way that allows them to space to say no. That's my head speaking, the part that ruled by principles and rights. When I look into my heart and ask the question there, trying to imagine what it would be like to be those parents, I understand. For a child, for your baby, you will do anything, won’t you? Anything, no matter what, to save them, to give them even one more day of life and if that means that one of your children undergoes a procedure that has no lasting effects - donating blood or bone marrow - and thereby gives your other child possibly several more years of life, then I am not sure I would be able to stay on my high, principled horse. And so I see-saw between the two - theoretical, thank various divinities - positions, between weighing costs and benefits, trying to decide the question Picoult asks in the foreword: if you have a child to save the life of another child, does that make you a good mother or a very bad one?

What do you think? Does thinking about this made your brain and your heart hurt?

I fervently hope that none of you are in a similar situation - my intent is not to hurt someone by asking this question. I'm hoping for someone to say something which will help me decide, but knowing full well that no matter what you say in the abstract, you never know what you'll do until you're faced with the situation. May none of you ever have to do that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Spring


And a very happy birthday to Janne/TinkMama - our family's Spring "baby".

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fluffy

It's been a bit of a week. Between being very determined not to think for a while while waiting for the Humira to start working, having trouble reactivating the brain - DST is so kicking my arse - the wheelchair doing that interesting thing again with the spinning around in the middle of the sidewalk (turns out I have a first generation controller-motor connection thingy, with all the first generation issues you can imagine. Replacement motor on order. Under warranty, thank the gods), plus various and sundry other uninteresting events, I am feeling decidedly fluffy. On this end, there is a lack of focus of truly stupendous levels. Naturally, this means only one thing: reality shows to the rescue! Besides, it's been a while since we've indulged in this unseemly obsession, so let's go for it, shall we?

America's Next Top Model. I wasn't going to watch this year, but then that thing happened. You know, that thing where I don't feel good so I tune the channel to a show that is going to spoonfeed me undemanding entertainment and whaddaya know, there it was. I have to admit that the last cycle made the show jump the shark for me. With the writers on strike (writers? On a reality show??), Tyra & Co. were left in charge of whatever the writers were not doing and boy, did it ever show. Aside from the stunt casting - the twin stick figures, for instance and please, it's one thing to go for skinny girls, but dangerously underweight? - the whole show just limped along until the end. This cycle looks like it might be even worse, as about three times per episode, we pause the action to watch Tyra do a funny voice or "act" some sort of meltdown while everybody politely laughs. I very much doubt I'll be watching this train wreck - and not a train wreck in the good sense of the word - except for the days where Bones is a rerun.

American Idol. Yes, I'm hooked. And incredibly annoyed that they are sticking to the six guys and six girls formula – at best, maybe three guys belong on the big stage, whereas there were six girls who clearly have places to go (alas, Sabrina Sloan has already left). I started out being convinced that LaKisha would win, but Melinda Doolittle is maybe the hottest thing I've ever seen in the show. I'm also incredibly grateful that Antonella got booted, and Jared with his "it's for the ladies" creepy hand over face gesture is not going to be missed, either.

Dancing with the Stars. Starts tonight! I'm very excited, although don't like that they kicked off Louis, who was easily the most brilliant of the professional dancers and I am a little hesitant about the addition of Heather Mills - stunt casting, anyone? I do think including people with disabilities is a good idea and considering the requirement that contestants be sort of celebrities, I guess it was hard to find anyone but her or Marlee Matlin. What makes it really funny is the site that's taking bets on how long it'll be before her artificial leg flies off during a dance routine. I know, it's awful. But also damn funny.

Survivor. Whoever came up with the idea about the haves and the have-nots division between the tribes ought to be fired. It might it look good on paper, but in reality it makes for the most boring survivor since Thailand. Actually, it may beat Thailand. As a viewer, I feel ripped off - oh, look! The "rich" tribe is becoming arrogant and entitled while they murder the tribe that hasn't had anything to eat for two weeks. Who'd have thunk it? And I think that were I a contestant on this season, I'd feel ripped off, too - being on Survivor is about challenging yourself, about testing your limits and your abilities and luxury camping tests nothing. I've watched every single episodes of the show since it started and am thisclose to bailing on it for the remainder of the Fiji cycle.

The Amazing Race. I've always liked this show - it seemed the most real of reality shows and I liked how manipulation and backstabbing were rare. I was looking forward to the All-Stars version and yes, I was looking forward to seeing Rob and Amber again. I'm a fan, what can I say? I know they're hired to be arrogant, obnoxious and the show’s villain, but it's hard not to like a team that performs so well so consistently, work well together and never scream at each other. However, the problem with casting one of the best and the best known teams in the reality world, is exactly that: we know them. And thus, the manipulation becomes obvious. No way would Rob have stayed with the sign post task beyond 2 tries – he’s the first to cut loose and ditch a challenge when it doesn’t work. That’s why they consistently win. The last episode made it very clear that they were hired to get viewers interested and hooked and then they were going to be eliminated. I didn't mind so much when they came in second the first time they were on TAR - it was edited to look relatively believable and you could suspend the disbelief. This time? Please pretend I'm not stupid. I could pretend that I'm not watching in protest, but Mirna and Schmirna are so awfully hilarious and I'm pulling for Oswald and Danny to win. But after this one's over, I'm done with the show.

What are you watching? What have you stopped watching?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Power of One

A long time ago, I put Ken in charge of my opinions. For a while, I found it incredibly amusing to whenever someone asked me a question, look at him and say "what do I think about that?". Yes, yes, I can see all of you rolling around on the floor laughing right now - so maybe you had to be there or more likely, I'm telling it wrong. Trust me: it was hilarious. However, when it comes to books, Ken can be my arbiter of literary obsessions any time. Last year, he told me about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and about three weeks ago, he told me to read The Power of One. I’d looked at the book prior to Ken's recommendation, but the mention of boxing had turned me off - I don't like the sport, I don't see the point in two grown people pummeling each other into a bloody mess while hordes of rapid fans scream themselves hoarse with bloodlust. However, Ken hasn't been wrong yet, so I humbly obeyed and am so very glad I did.

The Power of One takes place in South Africa between 1939 and the early 50s. It is an fictiona;ized autobiography, in the sense that the author, Bryce Courtenay, says that the book is about things that happened to him, but larger than life. We meet Peekay when he is sent to boarding school at the age of five (poor little mite) and follow him until he is approximately 18 years old. It is the story of a boy that becomes the story of a country, as we see the development of the official policy of apartheid, which has its basis in a horrific treatment of the South African blacks, both by the English and by the Boers, although many of the latter have an edge in terms of being particularly abominable.

And yet, sometimes, they don't. Throughout the book, we meet adults who take Peekay under their wing. Many of these are Boers who are at once horribly racist and yet, beyond kind to a small boy and it reminded me that although it is easy to decide that bigotry is bad, individual bigots may still be good people (at least to people of the same background). That we are products of our environment. Anyway, back to the plot. Peekay's mentors help him find education and support him in his goal of becoming the welterweight champion of the world. Which brings us to the boxing. There's quite a bit of it in the book, but it wasn't a turnoff for me - on the contrary, I found myself getting caught up in the training and the fights. As a result, although I am still not a huge fan of the sport, I can now see that it is indeed a sport and understand more about it that I did before. In fact, I learned so much about it, that I was able to critique a challenge in last week’s Survivor based on what I learned from Peekay and his friends!

It took me two weeks to read the book and during that time, I spoke about it constantly to friends and family, positively strong-arming them into getting the book. It is a deceptively simple story, told in a language that becomes increasingly complex as Peekay ages, peppered with sentences and descriptions of such transcendent beauty that I quite lost my breath at times. It is a bildungsroman, a story of personal development and there are literary and social themes that I undoubtedly could spend hours analyzing, but mostly, I focused on the fact that it is a ripping good yarn.

I also learned a lot, although I can't quite put my finger on why or how. Somehow, this book seems to have nudged me a bit further down my own path, helping me come to terms with some things, find peace in others. It is a kind of book that I want to read again - in fact, I had barely begun the third section of the book when I started talking about how much I was looking forward to reading it again. And I will, only not quite yet. I think I have to chew on this one for a little while longer. Oh, and read the sequel! Which, and I can't believe my luck, is also read by the same narrator, Humphrey Bower, who does an absolutely phenomenal job not only in telling the story, imbuing the words with the appropriate sentiments, but also does accents better then almost anyone I've heard and considering that this book has a vast cast of characters, ranging in background from British, to Zulu, Afrikaans, German, Russian and more, that's saying something.

One last funny… It’s changed my speech. One of my favourite characters in the book, a very enthusiastic and charming German professor, has a tendency to say absolutle! (rhymes with strudel) and for the past week, whenever I say ‘absolutely’, well… it doesn’t come out that way.

If you haven’t read this – and given it’s been out for years, I may be the last person to discover it - go get it. Run, do not walk.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wake Me Later

Daylight Savings Time started yesterday, three weeks earlier than normal and I don't like it. Aside from the fact that if you do something twice, it's tradition and you don't fuck with tradition, I have a spring ritual. The year goes something like that's: after the festivities of Christmas, you slog yourself through a cold, snowy and impoverished January. February is too depressing for words - I read an article in the paper that discussed just how depressing February is and suggested that if we renamed it, maybe it wouldn't remember how awful it is supposed to be. They even suggested a new name. George. I'm not sure that’d work. However, in March, you start being able to see the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel (as well as the literal as it's light around dinner time) and for some reason, probably the level of anticipation, this month feels really long. But three weeks in and there is the spring solstice and you start walking around with a silly grin on your face and then, before you know it, you set the clocks forward one hour and it's official. Spring is here. There is a flow, a natural progression, a delicious anticipation.

Imagine sounds of screeching brakes… This lovely flow does not happen when daylight savings time comes before the solstice. Things are very wrong. I feel offkilter. This may have something to do with the fact that despite having several conversations about "spring forward, fall back" on Saturday night, I still set my alarm clock back before I went to bed and on Sunday morning, when my attendant came to help me get up, I accused her of being two hours early. Then sat around in a haze all day. It always takes me about two weeks of exhaustion for my body clock to catch up, so that's likely to continue.

I remember last year when Ontario decided to follow the States and move the dates for DST. I remember an awful lot of arguments about how this would Save The Children - something to do with it not been dark while they walked to school, therefore resulting in less accidents (although I do remember reading one article that poked holes in the contention, but naturally, could never find it again). Clever that. What kind of churlish misanthrope would quibble with Saving The Children? Which is, naturally, why they – and ‘they’ can be anyone – always trot out The Children when they want to obfuscate a wobbly claim and/or limit questions (pardon the brief sidetrack into conspiracy theory). At the time, I remember wishing that the government would be honest – just say we have to follow the U.S. or our economy would tank. Stop dressing it up in ruffles and rainbows, just tell me the truth. Anyway, the main argument has changed. These days, now that global warming is hot (pun intended), moving DST is in order to Save The Planet and The Children are nowhere to be found.

I can't help but wonder… Isn't it a little strange that no one cares about either The Children or The Planet in the darkest winter months? Wouldn't it make more sense to just change things to daylight savings time all year round? I mean, we've already changed the universe when we demoted Pluto, so why not change Time? Of course, this could lead to major catastrophes when the gods decide to smite us for our arrogance and I think I need a nap before my imagination completely runs away with me.

Now, it’s entirely certain that there are holes in my vague arguments big enough for an entire herd of pachyderms to march through and that someone will enlighten me in the comments. I ask only that you be gentle, because I am sleep-deprived and, as my father was fond of saying, confused at a very high level. I was never quite sure whether that meant he was confused, yet very smart, or very confused. Today, for me, it's the latter.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Chained



I am better than I was - and quite sure that your kind words and wishes have a lot to do with that - really, you could bottle it and make a mint! However, I have decided to make this a low-profile week while improvement (hopefully) continues. Words will return when my energy levels increase.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Damned Disease

I’ve been in pain lately. Well, there’s always some, but we’re talking a different kind, a different quality of it. Quite loud. Pervasive. Distracting. There is too much pressure everywhere. Sitting quietly, not moving hurts. On the other hand, moving hurts, too, maybe even more than sitting still and not moving. Lying down hurts. Only when I knock myself unconscious with a large dose of drugs does it not hurt, but even then, sometimes the pain wakes me. This is the type of pain where really, all you can do is sit and whimper. Or if you do something, which if you’re me, you’ll be wont to do, as being both in pain and not getting anything done makes it worse. It’s the giving in to the blasted thing that I can’t handle and that’s symbolized by the decision to do nothing but be in pain and get through the day. That’s too close to giving up and giving up is not an option.

It all started early last week when I wasn't sitting right (cushion issue still hasn’t been solved. Verdammte shite). Nothing quite managed to fix what was going on and then I had a seating appointment where I moved in and out of my wheelchair more times than I can remember, wiggling around, trying to figure out the various cushion options were comfortable, sitting in the last adjusted seat for a couple of hours to see if "I could get used to it". And that's when I officially lost the battle, got so far behind the pain that there was no catching up.

Pain’s a funny thing really. The way it creeps into your bones, into your muscles, into every single part of you, oozing through every nook and every cranny it can possibly find, seeping through the walls of every cell, taking over. Permeating. Colouring every moment with a damp, gray heaviness that weighs you down, drags you under. And the longer it's there, the deeper you go and it doesn't take very long before it seems as if you have had that kind of pain, the life-stopping kind for as long as you can remember. That even though you know you felt pretty good 10 days ago, you can no longer remember what that felt like and there’s a big part of you that questions whether or not it ever happened. Maybe it was a dream.

I've had two doses of Humira so far, smaller doses to start with as I am very thenthitive and they worked like Enbrel did - instantaneously, miraculously. But since it was smaller doses, I wondered whether the recent change in the quality of the pain that snuck in this week, the way I started feeling soggy, was because my immune system had gotten the upper hand again. But I haven't been nauseous and usually, that’s the way it announces its presence, so I assumed that it was the way I sat, the effects of the storm we "enjoyed" yesterday (it's official, Rachel H., I've had enough) or maybe that the Accursed Neck Injury got provoked the other day. There are many reasons and maybe a combination of all of them made this happen.

And then it all became clear last night. When one of the knuckles on my left hand started swelling, reddening, getting warm. It started in my forefinger and 3 hours later, all of them were puffy. My instinct was right. It's the damned disease coming back. And whereas on one hand I am grateful that my immune system is apparently very strong and stubborn, on the other, I wish it would just shut the fuck up and stop reminding me that I have a disease. Stop rubbing my face in the fact that my life is not my own. That I am dependent. Not just in the sense that I need a crutch, so to speak, but that my life - my actual physical life, my daily life - depends on finding a medication that works, works for as long as I need it to work and that doesn't make the rest of me feel too shitty. Because I will feel shitty in various ways, but as long as it is manageable, as long as it doesn't outweigh the benefits, I'll have to live with it. And some days, that really pisses me off.

Somebody suggested that I have 'a good cry' and I think I want to. Maybe I even need to cry. But I can't. A long time ago, I learned the lesson well: crying doesn't change anything. Every time I feel like I want to give in to the tears, there is a cold little voice somewhere in the back of my head that says "what's the use?", the icy fact echoing mercilessly, cutting through the salty, soggy build-up, laserlike, cauterizing, drying the tears before they fall. And so I don't cry. Because that cold little voice is right. Crying will not help, crying will not make the pain go away. Crying, I fear, will only break the dam and the way I'm feeling right now, I don't know if I can stop once I let go. And when it doesn't help, the crying, it feels too much like giving in and I know - or at least I think I know - that I am holding it together just barely by pure willpower and letting go, letting the tears come, will be like giving up. And giving up is not an option.

I’m going to try to get an appointment this afternoon to get another shot ahead of schedule and if I can, know that the fluid in my knuckles will likely disappear, that the rest of me will simmer right down and the depression, the desperation will lift. And I resent that, too. That my mood, my capacity to cope is ruled by this disease, too.

Sometimes, I hate this damned disease.