Monday, April 30, 2007

Sick & Tired

It’s the unpredictability that gets to me.

Which, given that I've lived with not knowing how I'm going to feel the next day for over 40 years, seems a fair indication that I just can't be taught. To be fair, I know how to live with a certain amount of unpredictability - the daily kind, the one that varies within a certain set of limits. It's my reality and I live with it (sometimes, even halfway graciously). Of course, it explains why I'm an unmitigated control freak - when your body has a will of its own, you attempt to control what you can. A lot. Although I'm getting better at controlling (!) the urge to run other people's lives. Personal growth, y’know. Anyway, it’s this other unpredictability that’s driving me ‘round the bend.

Also the tired. I’m tired of the tired.

This new adventure with Humira hasn’t exactly worked out like I expected. At the start of February, things went well – I was riding the tail end of the Enbrel that remained in my body, while having started Humira and let me tell you, that was fun. I got my sense of humour back, became more patient, started laughing and as a friend of mine noted, the "death warmed over vibe" was gone. The energy levels were pretty spectacular, too - I started cleaning out the piles that had accumulated while I was busy getting through the days and began a large project to digitize my music collection and create more room on my shelves. Then, as the Enbrel vacated the premises and I started experimenting with the dosage and schedule of my injections, things changed. A third of the time, I felt pretty good, another third, I felt a range of mediocre and then? The bloody arthritis came back with a vengeance. In 12 hours, I went from sorta fine to fucked.

It felt like falling off a cliff.

The funny thing is that I'd forgotten what a real flare feels like. In the last couple of years, so much of my pain has been mostly from muscle and tendon issues, with a helping of the arthritis muttering irritably in the background, but this? This was very much Not Fun. I'd forgotten that a real arthritis flare feels like you're being wrapped in an old soggy, lead-lined comforter, making every parts of your body incredibly heavy, that somehow, it manages to raise counters and tables everywhere in your home so you can barely make a cup of tea. I thought I knew what stiffness was, but had no idea about that, either.

And then I disappeared again, after having re-emerged from hibernation briefly to initiate all kinds of get-togethers because now I had energy to do something other than getting through. Which I then had to cancel. Again. This disease is hell on relationships.

Things are a little better now – although I’m still getting to know Humira, a pattern is gradually emerging. I get my shot, feel like a wet dishrag for a few days while I mainline orange juice and drink gallons of water in an attempt to beat back the flu-like state that is the immediate aftermath of the shot. Then I feel pretty good for a week and then things start ebbing away and certain joints – the toe next to my left big toe (what's that called? The index toe?) is my canary in the mine – start telling me to exhibit Humira-seeking behaviour Or Else. But still, between the medication and the arthritis, most days, I’m somewhere between pretty tired and exhausted. And I want to get back to my life (and that massive clean-up project littering my livingroom), instead of spending half my time catching up and the other half having just enough energy to sit and drool while the days blend into each other and the months slip through my fingers. Although, it does mean I get to watch a lot of reality shows and other kinds of very undemanding entertainment. If I wanted to be fair about it, I’d acknowledge that there are tiny, infinitesimal improvements. But I’m not in a mood to be fair, because I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I have a fantasy. In it, the arthritis is sitting in the middle of my couch, looking nervous and intimidated. I am positioned in front of it, levelling my index finger in a determined and aggressive pointing gesture. In a stern, take-no-prisoners voice, I say “You may share my life – I will accept that. But you may not control it!”. And the arthritis cowers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

'Salem's Lot

Between Peter and I, there seems to be a cross-Atlantic trend towards reviews in the middle. Which doesn't mean that we don't finish the books, just that... Well, I'm not sure what it means. On my part, certainly a lack of patience appears to be the case. And a compulsive need to talk about a story that's affecting me profoundly.

A few days ago, when I came upon the idea of writing about the bogeyman, I was quite impressed with myself for coming up with such a brilliant idea. It took me until yesterday to realize that maybe, just maybe, it was triggered by reading 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King. Of course, I'm having the kind of week where on Monday, I spent quite some time wondering why the water was pooling in front of my eyes while I was taking a shower, only to realize that I'd forgotten to take my glasses off. For the first time ever. Apparently, my brain is busy doing other things. Yeah, that's it.

I've read 'Salem's Lot before, 20 years ago and at the time, I didn't like it, but for years, haven't been able to remember why. As I am re-reading it, I'm pretty sure it's because it scared the crap out of me 20 years ago and continues to scare the crap out of me today.

The second day of reading, which is quite early in the book, as I tend to read about 1 1/2 to two hours a day, I realized I couldn't read this book too close to bedtime at night. The fourth day, I had a vampire nightmare. The day after that, I started a new reading rule: Salem's Lot may be read only up until one hour of going to bed, to be followed by something inane and vapid which will clean out any residual images, words or feelings from my brain area. Which, considering that I am an old pro at the horror genre, is tantamount to admitting that I should be kicked out of the club for being a wuss.

The book is a reinvention of sorts of Bram Stoker's Dracula, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it was inspired by the classic. What if Dracula came to a small town in Maine is the central premise and given that the book is over 20 years old, I'll refrain from talking too much about the plot, as I assume most horror fans will know it and non-horror fans won’t care. Suffice it to say that it gets the Stephen King treatment. Despite how nervous it's making me, it is a fantastic novel. I believe it was his second book and although it does bear the odd mark of being written early in his career while he was still a bit raw, the display of sheer storytelling genius is very much present. It builds slowly and effectively, drawing beautiful and detailed sketches of small-town living like I'm beginning to believe only King can and by the time you, as I am now, are halfway through where it all starts going terribly, terribly wrong with the speed and abandon of a roller coaster barely gripping the rails, you feel like it's happening to you, to your town. This book has me nervous when I read it in bright sunlight, but I can't stop, because I have to see what happens. Not in a normal "I really want to know" way, but in a "if I don't finish I don't think I'll ever sleep again" kind of desperation. Of course, reading it makes me want to not sleep. Ever. Just in case.

The audiobook is read by Ron McLarty, who reads it brilliantly. I have mentioned before that I didn't realize how brilliant Stephen King is until I heard his books read aloud, that they are scary campfire stories that benefit from being told, rather than read. I also mentioned how having listened to King read one of his own books made me realize how his stories are written using his voice not just in a sense of the author’s voice, but the actual way he talks. McLarty is the closest to King’s voice that isn’t King’s I have heard and makes it that much easier to get pulled into the story, existing only in some otherworldly realm consisting of his voice and the pictures in your head.

King has always excelled at pushing the subconscious, primal buttons. Not just Dracula, but dogs that turn on you, cars that develop a personality. Clowns. Yes, I've read your comments and I agree wholeheartedly. I've never liked clowns. They freak me out. Pennywise in It scared the living daylights out of me (I most definitely will not be rereading that one). However, given how much I adore rediscovering Stephen King, I'm tempted to read almost everything else he’s written all over again, except this time by listening to them. And undoubtedly do halfway-through reviews of several.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Bogeyman

When I was little, we lived in a tiny, one-story rowhouse. The living and dining room was a long rectangle that ran the length of the house and my room was down by the dining area. We didn't get a TV until I was about seven - one of my earliest memories is watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon through a haze of static (my parents were in Spain and my grandmother, who was looking after me, had no idea how to adjust the antenna).

It must have been some time that year that I got the fright of my life. I'd been put to bed and my parents were watching Frankenstein at the far end of the living room (please keep in mind that 'far end' is a relative term. This was a very small house). I wanted desperately to see it, too, and stood by the crack at my door longing to join my parents, saying nothing, but undoubtedly communicating very loudly that that a) I was there and b) I wanted to see the movie, too. Eventually, they relented and allowed me to join them briefly. I remember the scene with the monster and the little girl, but that's about it. My hands were firmly planted over my eyes and I didn't really see anything else. I suspect I was put to bed soon after that, but even that brief exposure marked me.

My tiny, narrow room had a window and below that window were at the stairs to the basement. Which means that it was the perfect height for a tall-ish person of the monster persuasion to stand at the bottom up the stairs and be able to peek in my window. I was terrified. For years. I had had scary ideas before - I once had a dream about a very frightening man/otherworldly demon-type thing standing behind the kitchen door and afterwards, was always freaked out when I had to pass that area. For years, I also had a lion living under my bed and every night, we had to check whether it was there. I am fuzzy on the details – I can no longer remember whether the lion was a good thing or whether we were hoping it wasn't there. Anyway! Frankenstein's monster beat everything else and haunted me for years, the perfect bogeyman, the pinnacle of unknowable horror. Although we moved into another house when I was 12, the monster moved, as well and stayed with me. Looking back, I wonder if it represented the monster in my immune system, the unknowable horror lurking around me, poised to pounce any minute, altering my body and my life.

I was about 16 or 17 when the movie Young Frankenstein came to Denmark. One day, when a couple of my friends were over, they talked about going to see the movie. My mother jumped at the chance - she'd have to drive us, but wanted to see the movie, too. Only because I couldn't bear being exposed as a wuss did I not stay home. The thought of going to this movie frightened me so much that it was almost worth it to admit to cowardice, if only it would save me from having to go. However, my pride seemed to have outweighed my fear (but only just) and I went. And was cured. I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe and after that day, the monster didn't haunt me anymore.

However, although I since watched Young Frankenstein many, many times, I have never made it through the original in its entirety. I love old movies, especially the really, really old movies and I love the old horror movies, but to this day, I have only watched Frankenstein in bits. Not on purpose, it’s just sort of worked out that way. Amazing how the subconscious can rule your life.

Who is your bogeyman?

Friday, April 20, 2007

50

All families have their myths of creation and building, myths that are retold, over and over again. All families have shorthand expressions, part of the fabric that binds them together. Expressions that, for the initiated, tell everything in a few words, but leaves everyone else baffled. For me, these three words sum up the perfect marriage: “Portugal’s fishing policies.

We started weekends slowly, back in the days when I lived with my parents. We slept in, had a late breakfast together - often in our jammies – and after eating, I’d take my second cup of tea and retreat to my room to read, Janne would do the same and my parents would take theirs to the livingroom and talk. About anything and everything. Once, after hearing distant sounds of heated debate for a couple of hours, I emerged from my room to investigate what was so absorbing. “Portugal’s fishing policies”, they told me and collapsed in peals of laughter. At the time, they’d been married for over 30 years.

Both my parents were born with… a-hem, strong personalities (which may – just may, y’unnerstand – have been passed on to their daughters) and there were never a dull moment in the house. Loud moments of intense disagreement, sure, but also much laughter, interesting debate and love. Lots of love.

My parents were never indifferent about their feelings for each other – the bed of roses was thorny at times, but they never wavered in their passion for life, commitment to the family and constant challenging of each other to grow and be present. They became my role model for relationships, effectively rendering me unable to see the point of anything not turned up to somewhere in the 8-11 range. They taught me that it’s got to be about passion in all things - my father even mowed the lawn with passion - and most of all, between partners, passion about the mental connection. After 30 years, they were still each other’s favourite debate partners. We should all be so lucky.

Today is my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. If my father hadn’t died in their 44th year of marriage, we’d be celebrating the Danish way today, like we did at their silver anniversary 25 years ago. An early wake-up call with friends and loved ones gathering in front of the decorated door (madly waving flags, naturally), enthusiastic singing accompanied by a small brass band, a large breakfast for everyone and later, in the evening, a delicious dinner with many songs, written especially for the happy couple (a Danish specialty, done for most big occasions). Instead, today’s celebration will be quieter, but it will still be there.

Tillykke med guldbrylluppet, mor og far.



(Birthe & Ole, April 20, 1982)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Random April

I read an article about a man who collected antique computers and he had gotten his hands on a vintage machine – an Apple Powerbook 3400C. From 1999. I thought 'antique' meant 'more than a hundred years old'. Seriously? A computer is antique when it’s eight years old? That just makes me want to cry...

Spam of the month: Riproaring Addition! I spent hours giggling to myself while I womdered what that meant. Raucous Math Olympics? A really fast supermarket clerk? Laughing your arse off while you’re balancing your chequebook? What?? (no, I didn’t open it the email – remaining ignorant was far more entertaining) Leave your best guess in the comments.

Ever wondered what happened to the news? Diane sent me a link that explains. In song.

A couple of days ago I accidentally flipped by a rerun of The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll - although I am a fan of many reality shows and not ashamed to admit it, I draw the line at this… this... is abomination too strong a word? I mean, I'm sure that it is the campy pinnacle of ridiculous reality shows, but I have issues with the Pussycat Dolls which, as far as I can tell, are group of exotic dancers masquerading as singers. Nothing wrong with a career in adult entertainment, but do you have to shove it in the face of impressionable young people? Who’ll imitate you? Anyway, I watched some of the contestants participate in a stage show. Clad only in what can best be described as a sparkly handkerchief that barely covered their naughty bits, hair teased into two schoolgirl-like ponytails, they gyrated behind the regular Pussycat Dolls, while the lead 'singer' moaned into the microphone. After the applause, one of the contestants said to the camera "I hope my mother is proud of me". Sure, honey. I'm certain that when she dreamt of her little girl’s future, this was exactly what she had in mind.

One of the less well-publicized aspects of sharing your home with a long-haired cat - the picture serves as additional illustration of just how fluffy she is - is the delightful, annual spring shed. As the weather warms, the winter coat departs, leaving enough hair on the couch on a weekly basis to knit another cat. Oh, and the hairballs increase, as well. Get someone please explain to me why the barfing always happens early in the morning? Being awakened by it is one thing, but must it sound like that? It scares the crap out of me.


Another restaurant encounter, this one not related to etiquette… or maybe it is. It’s a fashion thing. The way I view bras is that they’re supposed to discreetly and largely invisibly do their job and I so don’t understand the recent trend with showing off your bra straps under spaghetti strap tanks, etc.. Someone once explained to me that there’s a rule: your bra may show if it’s the same colour as your top or as pretty as your top. I still don’t get it. Anyway! Out to dinner and a couple of tables over, a gaggle of women were gathering, clearly out celebrating someone, as everyone’s dressed up a little and there are giftbags. One of the women is wearing a beige/gold top with a scooped neck in front and back. So scooped, in fact, that her black bra is showing its straps on both shoulders, plus the strap that goes around your chest (I’m sure it has a name, but I’m having an immigrant moment). This is sexy?? Wouldn’t it be sexier to not have any signs of a bra showing? I never got the thong showing above your low-cut pants, either. Can we do a petition to get underwear back where it belongs – under clothes? Who’s with me?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Imperial Life

Kurt Vonnegut died this week and despite not knowing him personally and not having read any of his works for a decade and a half, I feel oddly bereft. It was good to know he was out there and now, he isn’t. I bought his last book, A Man Without a Country a few years ago and once I’ve finished my current book, I’ll dive back into his universe.

I finished reading Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – Lynn’s Gift That Keeps On Giving (Kurt would have loved this book). Or rather, I zoomed through it. Couldn’t put it down.

Candrasekaran was the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post for several years before, during and after the US invasion. Imperial Life is the story of the year-long occupation immediately following the war to topple Saddam Hussein and details the attempts of the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by viceroy Paul Bremer, to rebuild Iraq. The goal is a grand neoconservative experiment – to recreate Iraq in America’s image. To ensure commitment to this goal, most staffers and contractors were selected based on political affiliation and loyalty to the Republican Party instead of skill, experience in post-conflict development or knowledge of the region. In fact, many appeared to have deliberately avoided familiarizing themselves with the history and culture of the Arab world, preferring instead to “go in cold” so they can “make up their own minds”. Then proceeded to bumble around, not consulting Iraqis, ignoring religious leaders and focusing on ridiculous initiatives, leaving basic ones ignored. For instance: creating non-smoking policies when the hospitals have no equipment or medication. So it goes.

The pace is unrelenting and the events so surreal, it’s easy to get caught up in the hugely entertaining absurdity and start laughing. This books reads like Catch-22, like Slaughterhouse-Five, like watching M*A*S*H and then you realize that it’s all real and that the actions you’re reading about contributed directly to the current mess in Iraq, that the actions (inactions?) of the CPA played a direct and large role in destabilizing the region and the world. And then you want to throw up and stop reading, but you can’t because it’s so gripping.

Towards the end, someone – I forget who (that’s the trouble with audiobooks – it’s hard to check facts later), but he was an Iraqi academic, maybe? has a brilliant quote: “[t]hirty years of tyranny do terrible things to people. It breeds a culture of dependency, it breaks the spirit of civil responsibility”. By not taking into consideration the effects of living under a dictator for that long have on the population and refusing to consider the factors of culture and religion, the CPA’s efforts to create a “mild and moderate” democracy were doomed.

Although I spent days being alternately frustrated and terribly sad, I am glad I read this book. I never quite understood what went so terribly wrong, couldn’t quite manage to untangled the players and Imperial Life brought some clarity to that. Chandrasekaran avoids the newfangled trend of “emotionews” and instead writes the book as old-fashioned journalism: reporting the facts, keeping his opinions and reactions to himself. And that’s what makes the book so absurd and subversive – that everything he writes can be corroborated elsewhere, that it is not an opinion that can be easily dismissed as liberal claptrap. Brilliant. Can’t recommend it enough. Go read it.

Which brings me to the next recipient of The Gift That Keeps On Giving. I promised I’d try to find some cute replacement for the Tinks and who better than Her Royal Catness? The draw involved a highly sophisticated selection method – I threw the wee pieces of paper with contestants’ names on the floor and picked the one she batted at first. It took some time as apparently, she found the game beneath her, but finally, we have a winner! Lucia, if you send me your address (landers5ATgmailDOTcom), I’ll get the book in the mail for you.



Mojo, expressing her opinion of my little games.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

That Old Double Standard

Can we talk about Heather Mills?

The - what do you call it? - estranged wife of Paul McCartney is currently dancing her arse off on Dancing with the Stars and many people on both sides of the Atlantic have decided opinions about her. Most of which appear to be negative, along the lines of gold digger, evil bitch, opportunist, etc. There also appears to be some very nasty, gleeful yapping about her past in porn. Now, I will not claim to know her after seeing her compete four times on a reality show that's mostly about dancing, but I've been thinking about this and I'm getting more and more annoyed.

I got curious and did a quick search on the net. The porn she is currently being lynched for by the British tabloids turns out to be posing for explicit pictures for an obscure German book in 1988. One book. Nineteen years ago. When she was 20. How shameful! How titillating! How delicious! And what a load of rubbish. Most of us have done something stupid when we were young and are just lucky that there are no pictures of it. It's not like she had a long and distinguished career in adult entertainment (so what if she had?) and I find the way the media and public are falling upon the morsel as a pack of rabid, slavering dogs not only distasteful, but also incredibly sexist.

A
nd speaking of sexism. Without knowing anything at all about her and McCartney's marriage, she is being denounced as a gold digger, someone who married McCartney for his money and now that she's put in four years, is divorcing him so she can get millions out of it. There are so many things wrong with this that I don't know where to start. Isn’t it interesting that the fact she is 25 years younger than her husband automatically means that she's a gold digger, but no one is accusing him of being a pervy old man, the quarter century difference only being proof of ill intentions for the woman. I find it astonishing that no one realizes the logical extension of this argument being that apparently, McCartney is so stupid he can't accurately judge a person's intentions, even after having spent years in a relationship with them. Of course, we've never really liked any of the Beatles wives, have we?

I
t bugs the snot out of me, this judgment of the woman. I don't know if she's a nice person or not - none of us do. And we don’t know what McCartney is like as a husband, either. No one knows what happens in other people's relationships, in their marriages, but still, we judge her, whereas Sir Paul, who as a former Beatle, apparently has reached a level of infallibility unattainable by the Pope, and it’s therefore inconceivable that perhaps he might share part of the blame for the collapse of the marriage. No, no! It is the evil witch, moneygrabbing whore and sure, we have proof of her unsavoury nature, because look! there are nekkid pictures in her past!

And they say there is no more need for feminism...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What Would Your Mother Say?

I'm big on etiquette. I realize this makes me sound as if I am an aging retainer to the Queen, but I grew up in a country where children are raised in such a way that should they at some point in their life be invited to have dinner with royalty, they can without embarrassing themselves. I don't know if it's a European thing, but there it is. When I was a kid, I ate the proper way with a knife and fork simultaneously, curtsied when introduced to adults (it was the 60s, I'm perfectly okay with this not being the norm anymore), knew that you RSVP’ed to an invitation, were never more than 15 minutes late and called or sent a note the next day to say thank-you for a lovely time. North American society is more casual, there are different rules of etiquette here and I have tried to adapt. However, the older I get, the more incensed I become about bad manners and fully expect that I'll be a nightmare when I'm 80. These days, I manage not to approach ill-mannered people to teach them the error of their ways, but I suspect it's just a matter of time before I become a huge embarrassment.

Monday night, the urge to become the etiquette police was overwhelming. Mor and I went out to dinner to celebrate her birthday and had a lovely meal at our favourite restaurant in the neighbourhood. A couple in their mid-to-late 20s were having dinner two tables over and looked quite enamoured of each other. When they were served their entrées, I noticed that the man was on the phone. I was somewhat shocked, but assumed that it would be a short message and he would soon direct his attention back to his food and his companion. Except, he didn't. He stayed on the phone. Mor and I spoke of going over to the table and whispering to the woman "you can do better", but when she got tired of waiting for him to get off the phone and picked up her own, we decided they deserved each other. By now, both mor and I were aghast, yet hugely entertained by keeping track of how long this nightmare would last. The couple spent the remainder of the entrée having separate conversations on separate cellphones. And it gets better. Once this paragon of gentlemanly behaviour had finished eating, he proceeded to pick his teeth. Not discreetly, with a toothpick hidden in his hands, looking as if he was just sitting with his hands by his mouth - which is still not really done, old chap, but if you must, you may do this for a very short period of time, before you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom where you can pick out the food stuck between your teeth in privacy. Oh, no! This dreamboat did it with his fingernail. Not discreetly, but completely out in the open, while still on the phone. When that didn't work, he employed his fork! Repeatedly. Waving it around in the air, gesturing in between attempts to excavate his teeth. Then he got up from the table, phone still plastered to his ear, walked to the bathroom (still talking) and came back a few minutes later, cell phone apparently not having moved 1 millimeter and still talking! Soon after, they both got off their respective cellphones and kissed deeply - with tongue - for some time.

I'm pretty sure that this little display of…. I don't even know what to call it, would be considered heinous even by a pack of wolves. Hell, what am I saying? Wolves have excellent manners (within the context of wolf society, naturally). The world is in a handbasket, I’m telling you. The youth of today...

p.s. I have finally written up the end to My Sister's Keeper. I'm pretty sure there were more than two people who wanted me to tell them the ending so they didn't have to read the book, but I lost track of the list of names. If you haven’t received a message from me about this and would want to, email me at landers5ATgmailDOTcom and I’ll send it to you.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tri-Birthday/Tink Fest

We did the family Spring Babies festivities this weekend, celebration 3 birthday people: Ken, Janne and mor. The Tinks came, too. I'd planned to have the kidlings do the draw for Lynn's Gift That Keeps On Giving, but... erm... well. The children were so cute and did so many new things I hadn't seen before, I forgot all about it. My bad. I'll figure something out this week that'll hopefully be just as fun - have patience, please.

Liam found the mirror by the elevator.


I'd brought presents for the kids - hey, it was a birthday party, right? People should have presents (even if it's not their birthday) - and Morgan fell in love with the apparent bastard child of a cow and a giraffe (cow-raffe?). Mormor had fun tickling her with the fur (yes, that's my finger in the corner).


Ken used Liam as a model to check the progress of his sweater.


Morgan is a natural soccer player.


Liam did acrobatics with his dad


while Morgan moooved with the Christmas Mooose.