Requiem for the dead

memorial pictureWhat do you do with your Facebook dead? Do you make them their own list? A gruesome one almost nobody wants to join. Do you yeet them off your page entirely? Out of sight, out of mind. Or do they stay there in your list of dozens… hundreds… thousands… casually ignored unless they pop up in an autosuggest box? I’ve been doing the latter but I’m up to five lost friends now. They’re weighing heavy on my heart and I don’t know where to put them.

I joined Facebook back in 2007 (along with about 60% of North America). That was 15 years ago and the year I turned 37 years old. I got busy connecting with my friends and reconnecting with people I’d lost contact with. And some of those people I ended up disconnecting with, finding out we had less in contact than I’d thought. And some of those people really hurt. People I’d talked to for hours on messenger. People I truly thought were friends. And yet…

Lisa Staley was sarcastic enough for four but would do anything for her friends. If she saw that a friend was being treated badly she was right there, keyboard aflame. She stood up for me several times. She’d be right there in person too except she was sick and mostly at home. She told her doctor that something was wrong, but he’d tell her she just needed to lose some weight. Then she suddenly died, in her 30’s. I’m sure she would have felt vindicated. I’m also sure she’d have much rather been alive.

I first met Shelley McPherson through my ex-husband. She was outgoing, funny, and always wearing a thick coat of pancake foundation. She had psoriasis, my ex informed me. Psoriatic arthritis, she informed me, the worst kind you could get. On top of that her psoriasis was forming on her internal organs as well. But she still loved going to the doughnut store then sitting in the parking lot listening to her CB radio with friends. I reconnected with her years later and, well, we meant to get together but she didn’t like to go out anymore now that her face was disfigured from psoriasis. I offered to pick up food and take it to her place, which we’d do once her foot healed. Then a temporary PSW put the wrong bandage on her foot and it burned away her skin right down to the bone. Meanwhile, as it healed, she posted pictures of the sunset (which she took from her bedroom window) and of her cat, who she adored. Then she was at her parents’ house and then she was gone, far too soon. Like still in her 30’s too soon. I wish she had the chance to actually go on vacation and watch the sunset over the ocean. To go hand gliding. My god she would have loved hand gliding. She deserved so much more.

And Mark. Mark Stacy was a retired nurse who loved dachshunds and puttering around. He was who’s referred to as a “people person” and was generally wise. If you had a question to ask, especially about people, Mark was the one to ask. Of course he also had an offbeat sense of humour, anyone I met off the Regretsy* site did. He kept quiet about being sick, with only a few brief mentions of “treatments”, and he was dead shortly afterward. His calm, caring, and compassionate nature led him to have quite a few people who looked up to him and counted on him for support. His loss was deeply felt.

The past 3/4’s of a year has been a double blow to me. First came Topher. He too was in the medical field, but as a psw. He deeply loved helping people, physically or online. He’d had a rough life in many ways. He contracted both HIV and hepatitis as a young adult. Then he managed to track down his father, who was extremely wealthy. Then when his father discovered his son was not only gay but had HIV it went along the lines of “could you please take the servant’s exit so no one sees you”. And he met his boyfriend K and they moved in together and were together for years until Topher escaped and admitted he was being abused. But he had travelled when he was younger (he loved to travel) and he was in the process of converting to Judaism. He loved his new faith and it brought him great comfort. He was in a lot of pain and went in and out of the hospital (and back in again). A hip replacement was scheduled, which would relieve much of his pain and it was a success, at least until the infection set in. Topher always posted before sunset on Friday to say goodnight to his friends then again when he returned. Except this time there was no return message. Then I saw a message in a group he’d set up that started with “Topher” and my first thought was, “No, no… not him! There was so much more living he wanted to do.” One of his very last posts was asking what Oregon was like because he was thinking of living there and thought moving might be like travelling. I don’t believe in heaven but if it exists I hope Topher’s searching rock pools, watching the night sky for shooting stars, and exploring abandoned castles, all with an old fashioned pub nearby for friendly conversation and live music.

I just found out about the last one yesterday. Like Topher, Mark, and Lisa, Robert was from Regretsy. He was sarcastic as hell, cynical, and a total freaking marshmallow. He opened his home to his sister and niece and they’d lived their for pretty much the niece’s whole life. She had him wrapped around her little finger and he loved it. As a gay man**, I don’t think he figured he’d have children of his own and realized helping to raise his niece was the next best option. Whatever the case may be, it worked well for them and his little niece loved him as much as he loved her. He helped me too. Years ago my daughter had an online boyfriend then got concerned that he might not be who he was. I looked at the tiny amount of information she had and knew I was over my head, so I messaged Robert, who dealt with all things computer at his work. He told me he’d love to help and, within an hour, had tracked the man down to a specific address and knew he was 35 years old, married, and had a toddler. Kait was heartbroken that she’d put time into that relationship, furious that she’d been duped, and relieved that she finally had proof and could move on. I was simply grateful to Robert for finding information I had no idea how to search for. His help made a huge difference. Last night I realized I hadn’t seen one of his posts in a while and I missed him. I grumbled to myself about Facebook hiding over half my newsfeed from me then clicked on his page and a drunk driver had got him. There’s a little girl out there who must be devastated.

You know, after looking at all the options, I think I’ll leave things as they are. My friends can continue to rest in my heart. I don’t think I’m ready to let go.

* Regretsy started out as a site to make fun of and/or showcase some of the weirder things on Etsy. So many people were chatting in the comments, April started up forums which were also called Regretsy (I’m referring to these). The “making fun” was mild enough that quite a few of the recipients actually joined the site.

** I just want to reassure people that I’m not outing anyone, even if it’s from beyond the grave. Both Topher and Robert were openly and proudly gay and neither would give a rat’s arse about being referred to as such.

Facing queerphobia…

my cute little face in kindergarten filteredI can’t remember exactly how old I was, probably around five or six, but it was summer and a handful of us girls were on “the circle”, an area of grass at the end of our court. We were trying to think of something to do when one of the girls piped up, “Let’s play wedding!”

I was meh on the whole idea. She only wanted to play wedding because she had a crush on Peter and she could pretend to marry him. Then all she needed was someone to marry them, a bridesmaid, and one or two people to hold down Peter so he couldn’t escape. The rest of us were the audience and simply stood there. This really didn’t seem like much fun to me and a hell of a lot less fun for Peter. Then I came up with a partial solution. Why didn’t she marry one her her friends? That at least took Peter off the hook.

There was a song I loved when I was that age by The Vogues called “Five O’clock World” and, in part, it read:

’cause it’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows
No-one owns a piece of my time
And there’s a long-haired girl who waits, I know
To ease my troubled mind, yeah!
In the shelter of her arms everything’s okay
She talks and the world goes slipping away
And I know the reason I can still go on
When every other reason is gone

In my kindergarten mind I knew I was going to grow up someday and need to work but that when I finished work she would be waiting for me and would hug me and ask me about my day. I never said anything about it to anyone but why would I? It was my normal. And then I made my suggestion to the other girls.

The girl with the crush was horrified. “That’s disgusting!” she exclaimed, staring at me in disbelief. “Why would you even say that?”

“Peter doesn’t want to play,” I protested. “And you’re all friends.”

“Girls don’t marry girls. Ever!” she announced firmly. “That’s gross!

I nodded my head. I don’t know if she was the oldest but she felt like the oldest to me and everyone knew the big kids knew more. And it wasn’t like anyone else in the world wanted to hug or marry someone of the same gender, at least not in my world and they’re the same thing at that age. So I packed up my feelings and buried them away. I’ve gotten very good at that over the years, packing thoughts away in places only my nightmares can find.

There were some cracks in my thoughts and feelings over the years but it wasn’t until I was in my 40’s and was friends with someone who was both openly queer and willing to listen that I started unpacking thoughts and memories I’d long forgotten I’d even had. I’m still unpacking. The 80’s were pretty bad. Like, hey, I’m trapped at a school event beside a teacher and fellow students who are laughing and joking about driving to the “Gay Village” of Toronto to throw rocks at the queers because it was so much fun. “And how many have you hit? Did anyone bleed?” My suicidal ideation started around that time.

Then there was yesterday. I woke up all excited and ready to start the day and even put on my ace t-shirt and rainbow socks for International Asexuality Day. Then after my exercise class I got my bundle buggy and headed out the door, determined to get some walking in plus some necessities, which I did. I also picked up a yummy looking chocolate bar, a fresh cinnamon bun for this morning (it was delicious), my favourite peanut butter cups, and four gourmet cupcakes. By the time I went to all 5 stores (two were only for one item) I was wiped and my buggy was heavier than me. I was soon on the little On Demand bus and heading home. The driver even dropped me off at the front door of my building and helped me with my buggy (bonus good mood). And then my neighbour came running out the door to show the driver her cat.

She came back inside while I was still in the lobby and then started to talk. Soon she asked me how I was doing.

“I’m fine,” I replied cheerfully. “It’s International Asexuality Day-

“What?” she replied loudly so I repeated myself, making sure to enunciate each word clearly.

“What?!?”

Okay, obviously it wasn’t a hearing issue. Maybe she’d never heard of asexuality. No big deal but I was feeling a bit grumbly. I’d brought it up as a segue into my yummy cupcakes and a definition plus a possible q&a were going to take up more time than I’d anticipated.

“Asexuality is when you don’t have sexual attraction toward-

“That’s disgusting!” she announced flatly and with finality.

Fury flushed my cheeks. I wasn’t just going to roll over and hide. Not anymore.

“I’m asexual,” I informed her.

“Disgusting!” she replied then she stormed down the hallway the opposite direction from her apartment. I silently wished whoever she was visiting the best of luck then pushed the button for my floor. One I got home I put everything away then logged into Facebook and recounted what had just happened, ending with:

“She better get coal in her stocking this year! Also, these cupcakes are going to be amazing!!!”

I figured I’d get some support (if Facebook didn’t wander off with my post and hide it somewhere) and for the most part I did. But there were a couple of dissenters and, as always, they were a complete surprise. Two women I’ve known online since around 1998-2000. The comments hit like blows.

  • Maybe she was just uncomfortable because I was “discussing my sexuality” by saying what day it was and maybe that made her scared so she reacted.
  • It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know what asexuality is the whole idea of someone announcing their sexuality as a “holiday” can come across rather bluntly and confusing as it should be a personal topic.
  • The whole scenario, if it happened to me, I would be left feeling like a person had no boundaries and overshared details which would leave me feeling very uncomfortable and full of red flags about the person.
  • You are discussing your bedroom with someone who didn’t consent to knowing about your lifestyle.
The platform for awareness is what matters and this was not the time or place to announce you’re preferences for the bedroom.
Then I left the computer for dinner and a much needed break and came back after my lavender and chocolate cupcake (by Sweets from the Earth) and discovered that one of my friends had unfriended me while I was away from my keyboard. I guess I won’t be seeing her sunrise and lake photos this year.
And no, seriously no. Saying three words, International Asexuality Day, is not telling anyone what I prefer in the bedroom nor is it discussing my bedroom.
A “lifestyle” is country vs downtown condo or eclectic vs modern. No one says that being straight is a lifestyle. That’s because sexual orientation is not a lifestyle.
And where’s my consent? Where’s my consent when friends go into uber detail about their dates? Or when eye candy pictures get posted and people talk about dragging him into the bedroom and how hot he’s making them? Straight people discuss their “bedroom” all the time. Who their dating… who they’d like to date… that hot guy on the show… what’s going on with their husband… all of that is fine, normal, and has nothing to do with the bedroom. But I mention a holiday and I suddenly need to bring a clipboard and legal documents to make sure everyone knows exactly what three words they’re about to hear.
In short, there is nothing wrong with announcing that it’s any day, week, or month that belongs to the LGBTQIA community. It does not tell anyone anything about what someone’s doing in their bedroom any more than saying you’re straight tells them what you do.
As my friend Sylvia pointed out, there is a major holiday that celebrates sexuality every single year. I had the same two people deny it but really? They sell frigging red satin lingerie with lace for the occasion. Yes, there’s romance involved but, at the end of the day, the day’s supposed to end in the bedroom with those rose petals and itchy undies. And straight people are totally fine with that because it’s directly marketed to them. International Asexuality Day isn’t marketed toward sex or bedrooms so why is that the one that’s oversharing and overly personal?
Some days I think we’ve moved so far ahead as a society and that maybe, just maybe, it’s safe for me to peek my head out and just be myself.
Other times I realize we’re all just standing in the dust calling anything we don’t understand “gross” while throwing rocks at those we find weird.
And for the love of all you hold dear, can everyone just make enough room to stand and be myself without judgement?

It’s my day!!!

I've got an ace up my sleeve bokeh

Me in my asexual shirt from LookHUMAN

Today is the second annual International Asexuality Day, which means it’s my day (and a bunch of other people’s too but I can share) and it means I’m not broken. I’m not the only one who feels the way I do.

Someone pointed out that asexuality is tricky because puberty doesn’t kickstart anything sexuality wise. Everyone else is discovering new feelings for other people while asexuals are discovering that giraffes have blue tongues.

You notice change. How often do you not notice there wasn’t one? When do you say, “everything’s going on the same way it’s been since I was a baby… there must be something seriously wrong”?

Plus hyperbole is a thing. People exaggerate all the time (like I just did). I can’t speak for every asexual out there but I figured that a lot of sex talk was outright exaggeration, kind of like how someone hauls in a fish not much bigger than a minnow. It slips free and suddenly, when it’s discussed with family and friends, it was at least the size of my arm! People couldn’t simply want to have sex with someone, could they? Especially just because of looks. What was fun or interesting about that? It took literally decades for me to realize these weren’t “fish tales”.

The first time I heard/read the word “asexual” was in a Mercedes Lackey story in the late 80’s. Everything in me perked up when I read the word. Was this the answer to a question I didn’t even know I’d been asking? But sadly it wasn’t. Her character, Tarma, is asexual because of an oath to her deities and she’s described as, “hard, somewhat aloof, and totally asexual” with “her hawklike face, forbidding ice-blue eyes, and nearly sexless body” (The Oathbound). I recall she wrote elsewhere about her being ‘as sexless as a blade’ but I currently can’t find it. She wrote two novels, at least one anthology, and dozens of short stories about this character so I’ll just have to go by memory, either way my reaction was a sad “that’s not me”.

I didn’t hear the word again for decades, not until somewhere around 2014, when my daughter commented that her friend was asexual and explained what it was. And, this time, that was it! It was me! There actually was a label out there, with other people behind it, that fit me. I wasn’t alone.

To put it at it’s simplest, asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction. That’s the building block of the orientation. If everyone else is nearly drooling and saying, “OMG look at that hottie!!!” you’re the one saying, “Oh my goodness, that puppy is wearing a bowtie!!!” You get two asexuals on their honeymoon and they might be having sex (depending on enjoyment and comfort level) but they might also be playing Scrabble. Your mileage may vary. But if they’re having sex, it’s not due to sexual attraction. There are all sorts of reasons to have sex such as physical enjoyment, reciprocal enjoyment, wanting the closeness and attachment, and even simply wanting to conceive children.

Another form of sexuality is demisexuality. This is when someone starts out with no sexual attraction towards someone but becomes sexually attracted to them after forming an emotional bond. You’re friends, then good friends, then start to fall for each other, and bam! you’ve got the feelings!

You can, like me, be demiromantic as well. It works exactly the same as above except you never have sexual attraction all all and start with no romantic attraction until you’re good friends and suddenly there’s that bam! experience but with romance instead.

Then there’s greysexuality, which is when someone does experience sexual attraction but only rarely and/or weakly. This is not the same as having a low libido, which is not part of the asexual umbrella. That’s when you had a sex drive but it’s either faded or gone away; it’s a medical condition, not a sexual orientation.

One thing to remember is there are more attractions than just sexual. Sexual attraction is the need and desire for someone’s body (and them). It’s the love/lust, passion, and physical desire to be with that other person as intimately as possible. Then there’s romantic attraction, which is all the hearts and flowers. Hugging, kissing, snuggling, long walks holding hands, candlelit dinners… these are all romantic. And finally there’s aesthetic attraction as in when you find someone physically attractive. Often people tie this in with sexual attraction but people also find landscapes attractive too and I don’t know anyone who’s sexually attracted to meadows.

Asexuality’s close cousin is aromantic and people often fall between the two categories, like me being asexual and demiromantic. Demiromantic is under the aromantic umbrella. In simple terms, aromantics have little to no romantic attraction but can and do have sexual attraction. While they’re not looking for a life partner of sorts, what they do look for (and need) are close, supportive friends. I had a therapist (now retired) who told me I shouldn’t have any close friends, just superficial friends (like people on a bowling league). I sat there thinking, “I can’t do that. You have no idea how much I can’t do that.”

When it comes to relationships, there’s one that happens in both asexual and aromantic communities and that’s queerplatonic relationships. These are relationships that are not sexual or romantic but, instead, are intensely deep friendships which create a strong and close bond between two or more people. It’s hard to say more because there aren’t really any rules other than the ones each couple/group sets. There are “in words” like “zucchini” or “marshmallow” for a queerplantonic partner or “squish” for a platonic crush.

ace of spades splatterAsexuals have our own names and symbols too. The first one is the nickname of “ace”, which is simply an abbreviation of asexual. This, of course, spread out to the playing cards, the main one being the ace of clubs for all asexuals. Then there’s cake, which is yummy of course, but it was also picked because of the whole “I’d rather have cake” saying when it comes to sex.

One thing that’s slowly gaining recognition is wearing a black ring on your left middle finger – black as a neutral colour and the middle finger because the ring finger is for a wedding ring.

And while I was googling, the question “why do asexuals want to invade Denmark?” popped up as an option. This I have no answer to, I only hope any invasion happens a) in the summer b) uses water balloons and bubble guns as weapons and c) offers popsicles and ice water.

There is tonnes of information available online about asexuality, aromantics, and umbrella terms. I find that Wikipedia and WebMD offer the best definitions.

And that being said, I’m off to have some cake! Happy International Asexuality Day everyone!!!

You ought to be grateful…

I was on Facebook recently, just browsing and relaxing after dinner. One woman in my local community group posted that she was fed up with “such and such” location of major fast food chain. The lines are always overly long and her food is usually completely cold. Several people agreed and even more recommended different fast food locations with better service. And then a poster arrived with all her righteous judgement and proclaimed, “You should be grateful that your biggest complaint is cold food. You could be in Ukraine right now, running for your life!”

Cue the screeching brakes. What? How do these two even connect? Did she order her burger in Kyiv? Are the Ukrainians stopping for bags of cold fast food on their way to Poland? How did this even become a comparison? Besides, gratitude doesn’t work like that.

We all know what gratitude means, right? Probably? Anytime I’m predominantly using a word in a post (or in general) I look it up because most of the time we’re just mostly right. The definition starts out with what we’d likely expect, “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful” but then comes a bit of surprise because it also means, “appreciative of benefits received affording pleasure or contentment and/or pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated”. So gratitude is a two way street. You feel thankful but the other person (or people) has to provide something for you to be thankful for that’s above what you already had.

The woman in question had no reason to be grateful no matter what’s happening in Europe. She bought and paid for a fast food meal and got food that was worth less than the value of what she paid. Less than is not gratitude. However, let’s take an identical meal at an identical store and have it sitting to the side because the customer drove off. It’s been a while, they’re not coming back. But there’s someone digging through the trash outside, looking for food. You bring that bag of clean, nicely wrapped, untouched food to the person and ask if they want it. Maybe you even include a cup of water. Are they going to feel gratitude? Most definitely! Cold and clean is a huge step up from cold, half eaten, and dirty. It’s the same product but they’re in completely different situations.

Or another scenario. I live in a small subsidized apartment in a fairly small town. There’s pretty much no storage space and it’s been described, more than once, as a bachelor apartment with a bedroom. Flip side is I’ve got large windows, 10ft high ceilings, white walls, and blonde laminate floors so it looks a bit more spacious. Rent prices are horrific around here to the point where most rooms are priced too high for someone on disability and I’m on disability. The best Colin and I could find was a one bedroom for $999/m in a crappy section of town and the reviews are so bad they’d be in the negatives if that were an option. As far as I can tell the bedbugs and the cockroaches are having a turf war. But finding a hazmat suit wasn’t necessary since paying bills and rent left no food money and eating’s a bit important. So you can imagine how grateful I was to get a clean, safe apartment in a clean, safe neighbourhood that still allowed me money for groceries and bills plus some treats and a few trips to Dollarama.

However, picture someone who was doing well but their circumstances changed, be it job loss, health, divorce, addiction, or a combination of the above. They’re used to a house or a big condo. What do you mean there’s no bathtub? Where’s the heated floor? Why don’t I have a balcony? How come there’s no pool or gym or rooftop patio with barbecues? Where’s the night life? Wait… there is no night life? The apartment I’m grateful for could very well be their white cell, complete with bars on the window.

gratitude page

One of my gratitude journal pages

Our society is very big on gratitude journals these days. I get told in various groups that we should be writing down one… or two… or five things we should be grateful for every single day. And I tried, I really did. I managed to write 65 consecutive entries, each one with a different reason to be grateful but then I stalled. Do I start repeating my gratitudes? How many times can I say I’m grateful for my family? For my cats? For my friends? And some days I honestly don’t feel grateful at all. I just feel tired. I couldn’t imagine coming up with five things to be grateful for every day. That might sound ungrateful but, honestly, after the first week’s done and you’ve been grateful for your partner, your children and/or fur babies, your family members (the decent ones, you don’t have to be grateful for Aunt Gertrude who stole your candy and said you’d always be the ugly one of the family), whatever stability you have in your life, that beautiful sunrise/sunset, how lucky you are to have this food and/or water, and you can insert a few more here… then what? Five gratitude entries a day are going to have you sitting in bed at 9:45pm saying, “Crap, can I be grateful I don’t have hairy toes?” I mean there’s only so much stuff in our lives.

Do we have to be grateful all the time? Can we not save grateful for those times when our life actually has been improved and we’ve received pleasure in some way? We have so many other positive emotions to share and embrace, like happiness, joy, kindness, love, and friendship, we need to think about those too. Just not every single day, five times a day. They say everything in moderation for a reason and that I can be grateful for.

Sixteen more days…

insert me here

Photo by Kate O’Rourke

It was the end of November when my Mom casually said, during an evening call, “We’re all going to Cuba. Would you like to come too?” Of course I said yes. Who turns down a week long tropical vacation with family? That being said, it didn’t feel very real. My parents were halfway across the country, we were facing who knew what restrictions with covid, and it was freaking cold and dark. It’s hard to picture warm, sandy beaches and feeling comfortable in shorts while picking out what gloves and toque to wear.

And the snow came. And the temperature plummeted. And the sun hid herself away. And reality started to jar with my feelings. Sure, it felt like nothing could ever be warm again but the plane tickets and resort accommodations had been booked and paid for. I was visiting my parents and sister a couple of weeks ago and my Mom mentioned my sister had bought her health insurance the day before. I sat on the couch, while my Mom sat beside the fire chatting about insurance and, with a few questions, I bought mine. Mom was more than a bit surprised that I’d purchased it right there, on the phone. But the days have gone since we took everything to a travel agent.

Years ago I read a biography by a woman who wrote about her childhood in Toronto during the depression. It was a memorable book and I read it a few times (although I apparently forgot to read the title). At one point she went to a pool near the beach because, when it came time to drain the pool to clean it, they let the children swim for free until the water was gone. What she remembered was all these children flailing about in a desperate search of water until they all lay tangled on the bottom of the pool. That’s how I feel, flailing about trying to figure out what to do and when. I need my passport but what if I put it into my purse now and get my purse stolen? I’m 51 years old and have never had my purse stolen but that doesn’t stop me worrying. Flip side is what if I forget it? My passport is right. in. front. of. me. What if I don’t have enough clothes? Unless they have speed eating moths in Cuba I think I’m fine. Forget the moths, will there be something for me to eat as a vegan? According to everything I’ve read there’s a bunch of restaurants, snack bars, and a buffet, I’m sure I’ll manage. What if I get my period? Okay, this one’s valid. I’m in perimenopause and my body’s currently using a roulette wheel to decide when to get things started. So I might not get it for another half year (if at all) or I might get it tomorrow. Only fate and my endometrium can say. The rest is up to planning.

I’ve got three friends coming to take care of the cats (not all at the same time). I’ve got my medications planned because they’re really freaking important. I have quiet music bought and downloaded for the plane and for stressful times. I’ve got several books bought and downloaded onto my phone. I’ve got a battery bank bought for my phone. I mean how else am I going to take 368 photos? I need the power! I’ve even got a neck pillow for the plane, which is really important because we’re getting up at 2am to leave for the airport. I don’t do 2am, exhaustion is the major trigger for my migraines, and the only pain medication I can take with my medicine is regular strength acetaminophen. I’m sure you can all see the problem here.

Cuba tipsThe last thing I’ve been planning is tips. I’ve been told by a few people that Cuba is really struggling between the 50 year old embargo and covid-19. It’s hard for them to get most products. So I’ve been picking up items for tips. This is what I’ve got. Hopefully this is enough. The Canadian bracelets in the corner are for children and the lettering book could be for a child or an adult. I was also told that many Cubans love the Toronto Blue Jays. I couldn’t find much but I did find these bumper stickers which, presumably, will stick to any hard surface.

I’ve got my countdown list to keep me occupied and the above picture to keep me calm. No wonder so many therapists and counsellors recommend visualizing a beach while relaxing. My brain will be like, “The cats are all going to die while you’re gone and you’re going to end up with permanent liver damage from eating pineapple off the buffet” then I look at that beach photo and all it can manage is, “Aww… so pretty…” Which is amazing because I really do need a shut up button for my brain sometimes. But I digress.

I think the best reminder this trip will bring is that winter is not forever. There is green grass coiled in the roots under the snow and mud. Those trees might look barren but, hidden under every branch are tiny leaves and buds simply waiting for the warmth. The vernal equinox is five days after we get back and the cats, my healthy liver, and I will all be there to enjoy it! The inevitable snowstorm we’ll get afterwards is merely a bump in the road.

But alternative news said…

“Hi there long time”

The message came at 1:06am, startling me from my sleep. I didn’t bother reading it until the morning and was surprised to see it was from a very emotionally fragile friend I used to chat with on occasion years ago. The last message he’d sent me (and the second last message) was November 15, 2015. That was a month before my ex-fiancé asked me out. So very much has happened since then and he was interested in none of it. He certainly had tonnes to say about the “truckers”, covid-19, and vaccinations though. And I immediately noticed the same thing I’ve noticed for several decades.

There’s a group of people who simply don’t think, or at least they don’t think very much. Let me explain. Years ago I had a friend that I met while briefly running our community group. She was easy going and had a good sense of humour. Later I discovered she was a rabid antivaxxer and after that, on Facebook, I realized the depths of her hatred and distrust of all things science and medical. One day she tagged me in yet another post containing a link to an article. I read the article and was surprised to see the author had provided three sources, all of which were reputable papers. Sources weren’t exactly a common site on these pages. Then I clicked on the links and every single one of them went to an article that said the exact opposite of what the author had claimed. The author knew their audience and knew no one was going to check sources. Which is so patronizing and insulting when you think about it. The author was basically saying, “I know my article is wrong and here are three articles that prove me wrong but I know none of you will bother to look or think to question me so here it is.”

mercolaI find it ironic this crowd calls everyone who disagrees with them “sheep” for blindly following the mainstream media and “big pharma”. They scornfully claim that Reuters can’t be trusted but will totally believe everything written on a small page with no credentials or corresponding education. They claim that Big Pharma (as if every doctor, nurse, pharmacist, lab technician, and so on are a conglomerate) is only in it for the money unlike alternative medicine. Umm, yeah, about that. See the photo above? That’s Mercola’s mansion in Florida. Alternative medication’s not cheap and he’s reaping all the benefits – one hand shoveling in the money while the other hand forming a trumpet around his mouth as he yells, “Big Pharma only wants your money!” And they move on over, in herd formation, because what’s being sold is natural. Forgetting that nature kills quite regularly. Shelling out money for plain water because it has “memories” of poison. Water doesn’t have a brain, it has no memories. It has cells and if those changed it would cease being water. Besides, if water could remember everything it came in contact with, we’d be drowning in frigging memories every time we had a glass. But someone said it’s true and who needs evidence.

Then there’s the broken telephone news where bits of information are passed around and around (and around again) without anyone questioning whether it’s true. It must be true! So-and-so just told them! And so I cycle back to the friend I mentioned in the beginning who informed me that he’s seen “many times” that the pamphlets that come with the vaccines are blank. Of course I’m like “what pamphlet?” because I’ve never got one and I’m sure someone in my family would have said something if they’d been given a blank folded sheet of paper when they got vaccinated. Then he claimed it was in the package and I was still all ??? because I never got a package either. Finally he told me it was the insert that came with the vial and the pharmacist got it. So if the pharmacist got it how did he see many of them? Does he sit in the pharmacy only area with all the meds and watch? I didn’t even bother to ask. Instead I went onto Google and did a quick search. The information popped up right away. As usual, there was a slight grain of truth buried inside a ball of misinformation. Yes, Johnson & Johnson put in blank inserts… nearly blank inserts. They had a QR code at the bottom of the page. That way people could scan the code and get the most up to date information, which was the exact opposite as the rumour claimed. I’ve watched the Instagram video (the middle link in the article I shared) and the woman looks younger than me. I have no idea why she doesn’t know what a QR code is, let alone how it works. You’d think she’d be curious enough to scan it.

I was a precocious child, reading the paper and the Reader’s Digest when I was maybe a smidge into being a preteen. Most adults were impressed by my reading habits. My grandfather wasn’t one of them.

“Watch what you read,” he’d warn me. “Just because someone says something’s true doesn’t mean it is.”

“You’ve got to watch the Reader’s Digest,” he’d continue. “They publish that medical section and make everything sound like medicine that will be out tomorrow instead of research that might not be out for another decade or so. They set people up for a huge disappointment. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“Don’t take anything at face value,” he’d say. “Check the sources and check their sources if you can. Anyone can make a mistake.”

I wish everyone had a grandfather like him.

The flight, the wind, and then nothing…

TW seriously TRIGGER WARNING this post discusses my worst night when it came to suicidal depression. If you are suicidal or easily triggered, please do not read this post. Also, I have a whole slew of phone numbers, text lines, and websites on my resources. If you need one (or more) please use it.

I wrote this post for my storytelling group and shared it with them today. I’d meant to post this here in January for Mental Health Month but life, aka depression, got the best of me. I’m only ten-ish days late. And so, here it is. I hope this helps and makes at least one of you feel less alone…

hardest thingI stood at the patio door and stared into the distance, my hands leaving sweaty prints on the glass. The space between the door and railing was empty and beyond that there was nothing but air between me and the ground seven stories down. Eight if you included the slope to the basement. Who knew however many feet down down to the pavement… or the dumpster if I aimed well enough. And if I hit the dumpster no one would have to do anything with me at all, they’d just take me away with the trash. That’s all I was, wasn’t I? And this would make me a bit less of a burden. No fuss, no funeral.

I couldn’t see the ground below but I knew it well enough. The dumpsters. The cracks travelling toward the sewer. The random tossing of what Colin and I figured was white paint. Whatever it was never washed away although we couldn’t figure out why anyone would throw paint there in the first place.

Colin. He was off at youth group, on the other side of a copse of trees, and wouldn’t be home for another hour. That’s why I’d picked now, I didn’t want him to be the one to find me. But… I pictured him coming home from group all cheerful and wanting to talk about what happened and discovering an empty apartment. He knew how I was feeling. What if he went to the balcony to check and found me anyway? Or found me as he came through the back door from his group? My family loved him but didn’t understand him. They’d take him in but would it be a good fit? ‘Maybe they’d do better,’ a small voice inside me whispered. ‘It’s not like you’re a particularly good Mom, maybe they’ll get him succeeding at school and making more friends. Maybe you’re holding him back’ the voice continued.

I thought about the dumpsters again and figured they were close enough… but they held mostly garbage bags, which were a lot softer than pavement.

I backed away carefully. Was it far enough of a drop considering the relative softness of the bags? I figured it was but what if it wasn’t? I didn’t want to end up a quadriplegic, unable to try again.

Was it or wasn’t it?

Meanwhile I pictured jumping over and over; the flight, the wind, and then nothing.

My feet inched another step back and another until I was in the corner of my room, as far away from my balcony  door as I could and then I reached for my phone. I immediately went on Facebook and searched through my friend’s list for anyone who could help and M showed up right at the top of the list.

M is a mental health friend of mine who has paranoid schizophrenia. While I don’t think she’s struggled with depression, she knows too well the feeling of being out of control in her own mind and was more than willing to chat about inconsequential things until Colin got home. I have no idea what we talked about. I’m not sure I even knew while we were messaging, but she stayed online until Colin was safely inside the apartment and that was what mattered.

Then I told him what happened. And then he pulled my bookcase in front of the balcony door. And then he tucked me into bed and called me his pocket sized Mom. And I slowly drifted off to sleep with my biggest stuffy, scared but with no tears. I’d promised myself I’d never cry again a few months earlier.

The next morning I got up and carefully packed a bag full of safe items, plus a handful of quarters for the payphones on the fourth floor. Then I went to the hospital, by bus, to be involuntarily committed. They were pretty damn concerned about me, right to the point of parking me in front of the nursing station before I got to see the doctor and get that Form 42. Then they kept me in the back part of the ER until the psychiatrist arrived. And then I went upstairs where there’s nowhere comfortable to sit, nothing to do except colour with crayons, where talking to my Mom costs 50 cents (and if she calls the payphone someone has to come hollering down the hall for me), and there’s that all time favourite meal time task of buttering cold toast with a spoon. I stayed for a week, I’ve stayed for a week in all my five or six stays. And then I went home.

I ostensibly got better but I wasn’t really. I was simply auditing my life. I had one foot out the door and, if things went south, I was gone. I’d made a new plan and was all set. Life was going okay so far but I always felt like something awful was waiting around the corner. And I was ready.

Life came back in the weirdest of ways. Our local Pet Valu had two white kittens and I’d always wanted a white cat. I wasn’t worried about finances at the time, for obvious reasons, so decided now was the time. Colin couldn’t imagine the second kitten being left alone without her sister and begged for us to get her too. So we did. But the Humane Society only took cash and we didn’t have $200 between the two of us. So we ran around withdrawing money from my credit card and buying pack after pack of gum so we could get the maximum cash back at the grocery store. Then we finally had enough and took them home. Colin fussed over them but it was me who dealt with all the tiny details. I kitten proofed my balcony to the point where they couldn’t escape even if they took up pole vaulting, and supervised them outside playing every 5am.

Both kittens were tiny and still had an intense urge to nurse. Smudge on my stuffed lamb Rufus and Lara on our then 10 year old cat Blackie. I was the one who kept them in my room at night and woke to them sucking frantically. Who moved them to their food and water bowls and made sure they ate and drank. They gave me a focus and a sense of purpose. And then one night I woke suddenly just as Smudge, who was playing near my head, rolled off the side of my bed… and I somehow managed to reach out and grab her.

I was a bit shaken. That was a big drop for such a little kitten. But she was calm, staring peacefully into my eyes. She knew I was going to catch her. That I always was going to catch her. I was the centre of her world. And that’s when I realized I couldn’t kill myself. People could talk to each other and comfort each other but she’d never know. The centre of her world would simply disappear. And I couldn’t do that to her.

There are many reasons why people decide against suicide. As for me, I did it for a cat.

Uniting Canada…

It was an event that united the country. Thousands of families thronged highway overpasses, cheering and waving signs of support. The media coverage was intense. The year was 1980 and Terry Fox was half jogging/half hopping through Ontario in an attempt to run across Canada and raise money for cancer research. He didn’t make it out of Ontario. The bone cancer (osteosarcoma) that took his leg in 1977, spread to his lungs by the time he reached Thunder Bay. But he still unites. There are statues of him all over the country and umpteen thousand Terry Fox Runs held each fall in his honour.

Forty-two years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought into law a rule that states truck drivers must be triple vaccinated for covid-19 before they can cross the border. It should have been a non-issue considering that US President Joe Biden is making the exact same mandate. It wasn’t. A small minority of truck drivers, and supporters in their cars, took to the road in protest. The truck rally (aka the Freedom Convoy 2022) was organized, in part, by Patrick King who’s known for his ties to a racist Alberta party, now renamed. He also protests at anti-racism rallies and spreads blatant misinformation about covid-19 (like we don’t already have enough of that flying around). I’m going to share the link to Wikipedia just because there’s more information and there’s no point in me rephrasing it all when they did the research and deserve the credit.

So we’ve got the truckers, plus their friends in cars, all steadily driving toward Ottawa. We’ve got families thronging the overpasses, cheering them on and waving signs of support. We’ve got media coverage. The Toronto Sun was all, “They’ve got 50 thousand trucks and are going to win a world’s record”. The actual trucking organizations were all, “We don’t know these people. Please make this go away.” A group of people were cheering and saying, “This is going to unite our country” while wearing “f*ck Trudeau” hats. Because nothing unites the country more than wearing an accessory that is that blatantly FU to the country’s leader.

Dear TruckersAnd then they arrived in Ottawa. Anyone could have told them that was a mistake. I mean I love the city but it rolls up and goes to sleep at 5pm. Who are they going to protest to? The pigeons?

Several of my friends posted posted this widely shared post to much amusement but the reality was a lot less humorous. They couldn’t find a place to eat, not sure if they were unmasked or if the shops were closed. Either way they descended on a small soup kitchen called The Good Shepherd and demanded they get fed, and before their patrons too. For free. Because we all know soup kitchens have a large budget and a huge stock of available food. And they found a place to poop. That would be the snowbanks, in front of everyone.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was turned into a party place by these so-called Patriots. They drank and danced on top of it and several pissed on it too (I’ve seen the picture). They drew swastikas on the Canadian flag and someone with the IQ of a grilled cheese sandwich flew a Confederate flag. Buddy, not only did your side lose but you’re way off in the wrong country! And of course they had to let that racist side show up by appropriating First Nations drumming while drinking beer and chanting “yabadabadoo” and “f*ck Trudeau”. There were even some throwing rocks at an ambulance while yelling racist slurs at the paramedics. I wonder if this was while the paramedics were attending to their drunk buddies, of which there were quite a few.

And it’s still going on. These truckers claimed they were indispensable and that they grocery store shelves were going to be bare without them. Nada. The only thing I couldn’t buy was my favourite garlic infused olive oil and that routinely sells out. In fact, when I picked up my Silk creamy maple almond creamer (buy it, it’s so good) they were so stocked up the cartons were stacked on top of each other. I think the truckers forget that their rally isn’t very big. Big enough to be a pain in the arse but not big enough to kneecap the country. There are plenty of fully vaccinated truck drivers still working hard and doing the job. Speaking of which, how are these people managing? They must have homes and bills at home to pay for plus accommodations and food here, and I doubt anyone’s paying them to piss on the Statue of the Unknown Soldier and leave an upside down Canadian Flag in the arms of the Terry Fox statue. And there’s over 200 of them still hanging on.

The residents of Ottawa are fed up with the rabble and the mess and wish they’d all just leave. They insist they’re staying until they see Justin Trudeau (who’s wisely steering clear of them) or their demands are met. The Mayor of Ottawa is talking about suing. I think for the Go Fund Me funds. It couldn’t be the truckers because I doubt they have any money left and, if they do it’s more, “I have $20 left on my Visa” and not, “I’ve still got $150 in savings”. Hopefully they’ll have enough gas money to get home because I doubt a single person in Ottawa wants them to stay.

I am sure that someday, hopefully soon, there will be something else… someone else, beyond Terry Fox or Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity on the ISS, who unites this country. But this wasn’t it. You can’t try to unite while dividing the country by racism or by desecrating monuments. You can’t try to unite when your whole stance is “I don’t want to do something and I don’t care if it will help others – it’s me first!” We need to live in a society where we protect the most vulnerable. Terry Fox ran so that the people who came after him would have a better chance of survival even if the treatment wasn’t in time to help him. The truckers are protesting because they don’t want to have a vaccine or wear a mask, so what if it might help protect cancer patients and the elderly. And that makes all the difference.

A solitary Christmas…

me at Christmas 1971I was a tiny toddler, which makes sense considering I weighed less than 5lbs at birth. My second Christmas, while the adults all chattered, I would perch on a present and stare in awe at the tree.

“Mustn’t touch,” I’d murmur to myself, one finger mere millimetres away from an ornament. “Mustn’t touch.” And there I’d sit, awed by the shining lights and shimmering decorations.

Not much later my Mom would ask me what I wanted for Christmas and my answer was always the same; a tree with lots of sparkling lights and decorations. My Mom would assure me we would get that, it came with the whole Christmas package, but I was insistent it was all I wanted. So she’d guess and I was happy. The tree was still my first Christmas love though.

The years went on. My sisters and I discovered the Sears Wishbook and spent hours pouring through it, circling items we (along with the rest of North America) never got. I started paying attention to ads and things in stores as we were passing through. Plus I had genuine needs. But I still spent a good chunk of time just sitting beside the tree and admiring it. There was still that tree shaped space in my heart.

Finally I became an adult and then a mother. My tree wasn’t just for myself but for a couple of little ones. I began buying ornaments and decorations every year to remind me of the time we spent together. And the years went from the ornaments being placed.all.together.on.a.single.branch to “I’ve brought all the totes up from storage Mom. I’m going to play Fallout 3 now.”

And February 2020 I moved into an apartment on my own.

I’ve downsized a bit. I no longer have my grouping of three small trees (with real bark trunks) and my tree has shrunk from 5.5ft to 4.5ft. But I still have four Rubbermaid totes and several bags down in storage. I need two trips, and that’s with my big canvas wagon. It’s definitely pretty when everything’s up though.

I was out with two of my friends one evening and we were under my living room window.

“You can see my wreath,” I said excitedly. “And my tree!”

Both friends admitted they didn’t put up any decorations because, “It’s too much work just for me”.

STOP right there! It is not too much work. If you want the decorations and the glitz then you deserve them. Society acts like being single is some sort of holding pattern that you wait in until you’re back into a relationship. It’s not. You are equally valid no matter how many or few partners you have or how many people you expect to stop by over the holidays. You matter. Just that. You!

Also, make it your holiday. After all it’s your place. Got a thing for pink? Get a pink tree! Don’t want the hassle of putting up and decorating a 6ft giant? Buy a three footer and stick it on the side table. Want everything Doctor Who? Great! Just, umm, face the weeping angel topper toward a mirror. You can never be too safe, right?

But please don’t think you’re not worth it. Christmas is for anyone who wants to celebrate and that includes you. You know you’ve got some inner tinsel in you (just keep it away from the kitties). Now, here’s some vegan chocolate chip cookies and a Christmas music playlist on YouTube. If you’ve got decorations you’ve still got time left. If you don’t then you can browse for next year’s decorations to your heart’s content.

overview of apartment

The Potato Bucket…

potato bucketI bought myself a potato bucket. This is not something I thought I’d ever do except I seem to have acquired quite a few potatoes and it’s all because of the vegetable ring I’ve found myself in. And, to be honest, I never thought I’d be in one of those either. Do other people even have vegetable rings? Can I call it nefarious? Is this a normal part of adult life I’ve somehow missed? Either way I’m smack in the middle of one, zucchini in hand.

Now I like veggies, most of them at least. Carrots and potatoes… onions and celery… I even like zucchini and broccoli. But there’s a few I don’t like. Eggplant for example. I know vegans are supposed to love it and it gets stuck on vegan menus quite a bit (when the menu’s being prepared by a non-vegan) but I find it bitter. I don’t like chewy water cucumber either. Enter my friend S. She likes both of those things. So when I get gifted them (which happens surprisingly regularly in the summer), I give them to her. Meanwhile she goes to a food bank about a half hour from here and they don’t let you choose what you’re receiving, they have a bag ready and waiting for you. And she has a lot of foods she won’t eat. One of them happens to be potatoes. So I’ll be given potatoes elsewhere, she’ll have been with me and received potatoes as well then given me hers, and she’s gone a half hour away and got still more potatoes. And they’ve all been shoehorned into the bottom of my fridge.

On top of that my neighbour Cat Dad has a worker who gives him food every other Thursday. Meanwhile he’s a pickier eater than even Colin (that would be really picky). So every other week he comes next door, fusses with my cats, tries to get his cats to come over for a play date (so far they’ve ignored him on that one), and hands me a bag of food. Some goes to S, a bit goes to Colin, and most goes to me. And there are always potatoes. I swear I could serve myself potatoes every day this week and I’d still have some left over and yet I still take more then say to myself, “Well I’ll just make a few more batches of fries”. For who? Half the building?

Now Colin’s thrown himself into the mix. He’s heard me talk about veggie swapping so brought several over for me. His workers bought them for him so he’d eat healthier. Colin has food aversions. The equator will hit absolute zero before he eats a bag of baby carrots and I’m pretty sure earth will be incinerated before then. To celebrate welcoming him into this group of veggie swappers I gave him an entire bag of potatoes. It just seemed like the right thing to do.