Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I See You...

In the 1970 song "Everything is Beautiful", songwriter Ray Stevens echoes the words of 17th century clergyman Matthew Henry: There is none so blind as he who will not see.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as a result of a Twitter conversation with my friends Marci and Amanda coupled with a book I've been reading.

I live in London, Canada, a city currently in a state of upheaval due to proposed changes to our transit system. We are the largest city of our size without a rapid transit system of either light rail or buses running on a separated grade. And we are bisected by two rail lines. While the southern line has many over and under-passes (as there are 3 rails), the northern line, run by Canadian Pacific, has one rail that runs at grade.

In the 11 years that I have lived here, I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a bus on Richmond Street, stopped in traffic due to a train blocking the road. To make matters worse, two of the city's main hospitals are on the north side of those tracks and ambulances sit in traffic, too. The proposed transit plans would see a tunnel built under the tracks that could also be used by emergency vehicles.

Amanda has been economizing and using public transit instead of driving everywhere. She is a naturally gregarious person and chats with fellow riders and the bus drivers, and one of the topics of conversation is the transit plan. To her astonishment, a fair number of transit riders and even DRIVERS say they are unfamiliar with the plans.

And that fact astonishes ME, because there's been no shortage of public participation meetings about both transit and the municipal plan that has transit at its centre, as well as television and newspaper coverage. But, more than that, there were information posters ON THE BUSES themselves.

The information posters were conveniently placed in dedicated frames attached to the door of the driver cubby, where they can store their coats in winter. It's one of the first things you see when you step on the bus.

But you have to actually LOOK at it in order to SEE it!

Which brings me to the conversation with Marci and Amanda. Marci asked how we make people LOOK at something in order to SEE the information?

And, of course, the answer is - we can't.

That made think of all the things we look at, but don't really see.

This introspection was brought about by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the acclaimed children's author, who died last month at the age of 51. A week before she died, the New York Times published an essay she wrote about her marriage and her husband. Having never heard of her before reading the deeply moving essay, I looked her up and discovered that she was not "just" a children's author, she had written some witty and insightful adult books, and was generally a "bon-vivant" - she lived very, VERY well!

I went to Kobo and found that her "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" was on sale and downloaded it.

It is, indeed an encyclopedia of Ms Rosenthal's life, but I was struck by how much she saw in those ordinary things that we do each day. I have an odd gift for remembering, but Ms Rosenthal absorbed life and found beauty daily in the world. She perpetrated random of acts of kindness, and hosted a flash mob at the Millennium Park in Chicago in 2008.

Last Saturday was an almost perfect spring day despite the snow the day before. So I hopped on a bus to head out to shop for groceries. I had forgotten to charge my iPad and didn't have anything in my hands to distract me on the trip there or back.

In eight and a half years of making that trip to that store, how had I never noticed that the sign outside the restaurant Piri-Piri has the caption "Eat, Drink, Repeat" under the name? Or that the Portuguese Fish Market sells juices for home-made wine and lists them all on a board on the outside of the store?

I have been making a conscious effort to see the world this week as I continue reading Ms Rosenthal's book.  With some luck and effort on my part, I will continue to do so, it's not natural for me. I'd rather tuck myself into my books and games and music on my travels - maybe so that the world won't see me.

In our transit debate, it seems more and more that the people against the plan refuse to see the people who actually use transit. "Certain types of people" use public transit a downtown merchant said to the chair of the transit commission, and the merchants are certain that "those people" don't patronize their establishments. As one of "those people", I'm tempted to ensure that those merchants don't see a penny of my hard-earned money!

This morning, someone nearly walked into me because she was too busy looking at her phone to see where she was going.  Has our connected world made us look at things - and people - but not SEE them?

It seems so; and the words written by a man who could not have foreseen the existence of cell phones ring truer than ever:  we are willfully blind because we will not see.


*****

Amy Krouse Rosenthal got less time on planet earth than I have had, and that's a sad thing. But her publisher has found a way to honour her spirit, and you can join in. Visit this web page to learn more:

http://www.chroniclebooks.com/blog/2017/03/10/amy-krouse-rosenthal-wish/

Saturday, 1 April 2017

One year on....

I was so, so wrong about so many things.

The angioedema took a 5 month break, returning with a vengeance on New Year's Eve. I am now on episode number five in a three-month period. Allergy testing found something new, but it doesn't explain this, and the blood tests were inconclusive. It's back to the drawing board, or more medical tests probably.

My job has taken an even worse turn. I've gone from a boss who barely gives me anything to do, to one who refuses to give me ANYTHING, or access to the tools that would allow me to do the few things she can't take away. I've had one interview in 15 months that went nowhere, and this is killing me. My family raised me to take pride in my work and a job done well, this isn't who I am.

My dearest friends have had major changes in their lives, and there is no place for me in those lives.

Most of all, they've found love that I now have to accept will never be mine.

My high school friend disappeared shortly after my last post to this blog over a year ago. He had a major anxiety attack and vanished.

Several months later, the two men that had been in my life for over half a decade each rejected me; one deciding he wanted my tiny perfect friend instead of me, the other for reasons I have been unable to discern.

I am desperately lonely and afraid all the time. The panic attacks I thought were behind me have returned, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, while I get ready to go to work in the morning. I have painful arthritis leaving me unable to do the things I love.

The self-loathing is worse than ever; the fears of dying alone and never being loved are even stronger.

I hold it together for my public persona; my mother called me today to praise my performance on TV 2 weeks ago concerning my community work.

In all this world, I feel there's no place for me. And no one should feel this way about themselves...

Friday, 26 February 2016

Death by a thousand paper cuts....

"Angioedema is a ... type of swelling that affects deeper layers in your skin, often around your eyes and lips." - From www.mayoclinic.org

I had my first allergic reaction as described above when I was 5 years old and my body finally said "no" to Aspirin - baby Aspirin at that! It was the severe kind, where one's tongue and throat swell as well as the lips; and spending most of your life knowing that you can react like that to a common drug gives you a healthy respect for pharmaceuticals.

Conversely, I'm also a huge believer in better living through chemicals, at least if a medical professional is proffering said chemical. While my teen friends were experimenting, I was the poster child for "just say no". But I wimped out on menopause with 6 years of HRT, and agreed instantly to anti-depressants to go along with talk therapy when I needed them.

In the intervening 50 years since the Aspirin incident, I discovered that Ibuprofen was also out of the question following a similar (though less severe) reaction to that. Which left me with the "safe" anti-inflammatory, Naproxen.

For the past week, I have been dealing with my fifth episode of angioedema since October. I can no longer blame Naproxen for it since I haven't had a tablet since January 4th and the pharmacist I talked to on Monday assured me that it would have long ago left my system.

This time around, I swear my lips made me look like the love child of Angelina Jolie and Mick Jagger, though other people said it wasn't that bad. But the corners cracked and the swelling was crooked, as if some untrained plastic surgeon had gone to town on my mouth with a vial of Juvederm! If I wasn't careful, the blood would trickle from the left side and one would think I was a vampire who'd just had lunch.

Have you ever cut your lip while licking an envelope? Imagine that times 12!

Hot beverages are out of the question, they sting too much. I caused many a laugh in my office by putting a straw in my cup of coffee. The natural acids in fruit are painful - every piece went on a fork and placed on my tongue so I could eat anything other than bananas.

The lactose in cream sauce stings, as do salty things - I found myself rubbing the salt off the bag of almonds in my desk drawer in order to have a snack.

Hot meals had to cool, cold meals had to warm....

I've finished a tub of Blistex Medicated, a tub of Aquaphor and most of a tub of Vaseline Lip Therapy. 

9 days out, my lips continue to crack and bleed and I have to soak a washcloth in warm water to exfoliate off the peeling bits twice a day.

There was one upside; a coworker complimented my beautiful full lips when I made a remark about the gorgeous lip gloss she was wearing.

With any luck, some of the fullness will last after the pain recedes; and this will be my last episode of angioedema.
  

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Lonely no more...

In the year since I drew attention to my mental health blog post and my continuing struggles with avoidant personality disorder, a few things have happened to bring more balance and happiness to my life. (http://labellatestarossa.blogspot.ca/2014/10/the-ugly-truth.html)

The first was the number of people who reached out to me to express their support; I can honestly say that it wasn't what I expected. What I thought I would hear is "that's not a real thing". I didn't. (http://psychcentral.com/disorders/avoidant-personality-disorder-symptoms/)

The second is that I took steps in order to deal with some of those things I have been avoiding in order to open my life to more possibilities. With help from the wonderful Amanda Stark, my home is a place where I am able to invite people, and will soon be a place where my friends can gather and my family will be able to celebrate holidays. I may even get a canine companion.

The third is the love I have found with my girls, Laurie Bursch and Shelley Carr. They have provided me an anchor to tie to when my mind wants me to spiral down to depression, and give themselves and their time freely. Individuals with avoidant personality disorder have limited social circles due to the fears built up in their minds; I have been blessed to find two people who were willing to help me break down those barriers. I don't tell them often enough how much I love and appreciate them. Now the whole world knows.

My personal successes with my non-work commitments to Women & Politics and now the SoHo Community Association have shown me that I can make valuable contributions to my community. It's a confidence booster. But not without challenges where I question my ability to do a good job for them. As we used to say in Brownies, "I promise to do my best".

The reappearance of an old friend from high school has certainly been the most unexpected thing of all.

One of the reasons I'm not on Facebook, and that neither this account nor my Twitter account identify me by name, is to help me avoid people from that time in my life when everything bad was happening. I'm smart enough to know that I should stay away from triggers, lest I get trapped in that cycle again. But I was persuaded to put a profile on LinkedIn for professional reasons and was discovered that way.

There are fewer than 10 people from my high school years that I wouldn't mind spending time with again; D is one of them.

Since he made 'first contact' at the beginning of December 2015, we've spent a lot of time via email, text, and phone baring our souls to each other. When you're a teenager, you don't talk about hopes and dreams and fears; and you definitely don't tell people about the darkness in your life, lest you be rejected, ridiculed, and disbelieved.

Now we're well into middle-age and a lot of those hopes and dreams have fallen by the wayside, and, shockingly to both of us, we're discussing ALL of it. Shockingly because we weren't that close all those years ago.

Is it possible to miss someone without knowing it? Because that thought went through my head more than once as we sat in my living room talking a day away recently.

I don't have an answer for that. But I do hope we'll be friends for the next 35 years making up for those we were apart (with any luck).

*****
Every day presents challenges, this doesn't just go away. I continue to find myself mired in self-loathing on a daily basis; there are many, many days when the ugly takes over and the worthlessness moves in.

In her book "Fat Girl Walking", Brittany Gibbons implores those of us dealing with this to:

Remind yourself of all the ways you are beautiful, stop the negative talk... and do what it takes to get comfortable in your skin.

I'm still not sure how to get there. For me, sharing how I feel with the world was a big step. Talking myself into self-love is infinitely more difficult.

But now it feels easier, definitely less lonely; and maybe that will be something that builds over time, allowing me to find some measure of contentment.

Next to True Love & Eternal Happiness that would be the best thing of all.
   

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Heartache tonight...

I was 13 years old when I heard "Desperado" for the first time.

There was something about the plaintive vocal and it's final line about allowing oneself to be found by love that resonated; words that continue to have meaning in my life well over 40 years later.

It was the start of my love for the music of The Eagles, a love that time has not diminished. No other band has captured the pain of heartbreak and loneliness more than they did in only eight studio albums. Yes - 8! All other albums are compilations.

But those eight albums produced some of the most iconic music of the 1970s - no one can deny that. The haunting opening notes of the title track of "Hotel California" are proof enough of the band's ability to catch your ear and hook your heart and take you on a journey to places you never thought you'd go.

Unless you're a single person who knows the words to "Wasted Time" by heart:

"You never thought you'd be alone
This far down the line
And I know what's been on your mind
You're afraid it's all been wasted time"

*****

I only got to see them play live once, on a magical, hot summer night at the amphitheatre at Ontario Place in July 1996. It was the day before I moved to Ottawa.

Despite being two years into the infamous Hell Freezes Over tour, the band were in perfect sync, and the music still held onto your heart. At the end of the encores, as the crowd filed out and my uncle and I remained in our seats, I remarked to him that if my plane crashed the next day, I would die happy because I had finally seen my favourite band play.

Now it will never happen again with the death of Glenn Frey yesterday.

I have few words to describe how much his body of work with The Eagles and as a solo artist have meant in my life, this blog entry just scratches the surface.

The Eagles' website posted the lyrics to Glenn's song "It's Your World Now" that closes out their last studio album Long Road Out of Eden:

"The curtain falls, I take my bow
That's how it's meant to be, it's your world now"


But for me, it's the title of another song from the same album that captures my feelings at the moment:  "What Do I Do With My Heart".




Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Remembrance of things past....

(With apologies to Marcel Proust, because I can never seem to have an original thought!)

In the last federal election held in Canada in 2011, the NDP became the official opposition under the leadership of Jack Layton.  A native Qu├ębecker, he had lived in Toronto for many years, sitting as a city councillor before entering federal politics.

Mr. Layton always spoke of hope - it was central to his message to his party and his country; in his acceptance speech upon becoming the leader of the NDP he said:

"Hope ... is what drives New Democrats."

And it was that message that he left to Canadians in an open letter sent around the world only two days before his death:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In the election campaign that my country just went through, it is safe to say that the former ruling Conservative party didn't believe this at all.

But, sadly, Mr. Layton's party also seemed to abandon his ideals and left the hope and optimism to Justin Trudeau.  Whatever it was that Tom Mulcair hoped to accomplish, the message that came through appeared to offer little in the way of traditional NDP values, swerving dangerously far right in a vain attempt to siphon votes away from the Liberals and Conservatives.

Yesterday, my country once again embraced hope and optimism - in the personage of the eldest son of our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.

Justin they called him, over and over again; using his first name alone to belittle him.  "Just not ready," the Conservative attack ads said, over and over, long before the election campaign even started.  The mockery and ridicule were picked up by the NDP in the last weeks, as they saw their support erode, while the Liberals soared.

Mr. Trudeau fils ignored it all and appealed to the better instincts of the Canadian people.

And they responded with hope and optimism.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Taking stock....

It was unseasonably hot in Ottawa in the early fall of 2000. The Sydney Olympics filled the airways as Canadians turned in break-out performances in all kinds of events.

But on the afternoon of September 28, the broadcast was interrupted by the bulletin that our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, had died of cancer at the age of 80.

While it was known that Mr. Trudeau had been ill, in some ways it was still a shock. He had been a larger-than-life figure in Canada for decades - how could he be gone?

That weekend, Mr. Trudeau returned to Parliament to lie in state in the Hall of Honour. Members of the public were invited to pay their respects for several hours on each of September 30 and October 1. But the people of Ottawa and many Canadians from all over our country were having none of that.

By the time the doors to Parliament were thrown open, thousands of people had lined up to honour Mr. Trudeau. My sister and I arrived in the middle of the afternoon. It was hot and sunny and the Mounties at the front gate informed us that there was a minimum 3-hour wait to get to the front of the lines that snaked from the front door to the Centennial Flame and along the driveway on both sides. Rather than risk certain sun burn, we decided to come back after sunset.

When we returned that night shortly before 9:00 p.m., the lines were even longer than before.  As we approached the gates leading to the Hill, the staff on duty informed visitors that the doors would remain open all night.  My sister and I walked across the lawn and joined the line in front of the East Block.  Groups of people continued to join the line behind us.

For the first hour or so, people talked amongst themselves.  But as we shuffled along realizing that it would be hours before we could pay our respects, conversation started between couples and families and groups.

"Where are you from?"  "Why did you decide to come here?"  My sister and I had made a short trek our apartment overlooking the city, but many of our companions had driven from other provinces and cities in order to be here.

There was the family from New Brunswick - a young couple with their baby in a carriage.  They were there to represent their parents, who felt that Mr. Trudeau truly made Francophones equal in Canada.  A group of students from the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa who wanted to honour the man who gave us our Charter of Rights.  A young Sikh couple had driven from Brampton that day; when they lived at home in India, they had seen the prime minister on television and admired him and what Canada stood for; they were grateful for the opportunities that this country had given them and wanted to thank the man they believed responsible.  Another couple behind us mirrored our own family - the wife from Portugal, the husband from Scotland.  Had their families not emigrated, they would not have met each other.  Mr. Trudeau had inspired their parents to come to Canada, too.  A family from northern Quebec felt they just "had to be here"; a young man originally from British Columbia now living in New York brought his American girlfriend for the same reason.

The conversation ebbed and flowed, and after a couple of hours, a small group of us made a run to the nearest Tim Horton's before it closed, hoping to keep our compatriots warm with some coffee.  The place was packed with others who had decided to do the same and with those who had made it through the line and needed sustenance to make their trek home.

Upon our return, our group had made it to the area around the Centennial Flame.  It was here that Canadians had placed their floral tributes to Mr. Trudeau; piles of flowers ringed the fountain, with more surrounding the base.  Someone had brought a beautifully carved canoeing paddle as Mr. Trudeau had been a famous outdoorsman who loved travelling Canada's lakes and rivers by canoe.  We grew silent as we read the notes written in English and French, most of which expressed one simple sentiment - Merci!

As the hours stretched on and we inched closer to the bronze doors, the conversations were shorter, quieter and tinged with tiredness.  I remembered the last time I had stood for hours on the lawn in front of Parliament in April of 1982, as I waited for Prime Minister Trudeau and the Queen to sign our new Constitution into law.  He had looked resplendent in his burgundy tuxedo tails, carrying a top hat as he walked beside Her Majesty, only a foot away from where my sister and I were pressed against a fence.  As the crowd shouted their congratulations to him, he said thank you with a smile so bright it broke the grey morning in two.

It was the first time I felt the total joy of what it meant to be Canadian.

Now it was time for me to say goodbye to the man who helped me to understand this.

It was close to 3 in the morning when my sister and I made it to the front of the line.  We were ushered to the cataflaque with a couple from the other line where we had 15 seconds exactly to say our farewell.

The woman next to me was whispering prayers in French, her husband was crying.  I bowed my head and silently thanked Mr. Trudeau for the feeling I had standing outside that building on that April day almost 20 years before.

A white-gloved usher came to move us away through a curtain to our right.  The woman on my left picked up a corner of the flag draping the casket and kissed it, but my sister patted the flag and said out loud "dors bien, monsieur, merci" before we stepped away.

On the other side of the curtain, books of condolence had been set out on tables for people to sign.  Boxes of tissues were helpfully set there, too.  I sat at one, nodding to one of our groups who were leaving the building.  Today, I can't recall what I wrote; I'm sure it was banal and sounded much like the words so many others had written before me.

I like to think that Justin, Sacha, and Sarah Trudeau read these books at some point, and found comfort in the words of thousands of Canadians who loved and admired their father.

*****

This blog post is obviously related to the federal election taking place next Monday, less than a week away.  It seems likely that Justin Trudeau will follow in his father's footsteps and become the Prime Minister of Canada.  I look at the polling numbers on a riding-by-riding basis and don't see how anyone thinks that the Conservative party can hang on to even a minority government.

Though I also realize that polling numbers have been MAJORLY wrong in the last provincial elections in Ontario and Alberta and anything can happen in a week; I do have a degree in political science, folks.  And while I may not have been a GREAT student, some of that stuff still sticks in my brain 30 years later (after all, I did once make it through to Jeopardy's contestant pool).

Earlier in the election, during a debate, the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, divided our country into "old stock" and "new stock" Canadians.

Many people like to defend the man by saying that this wasn't meant to be a racist statement, but I note that they tend to be white men with easy to pronounce surnames.  As a daughter of two immigrant families with a distinctly Slavic last name, that statement got "my Irish up"!

The Prime Minister didn't include me in "old stock" Canadianism, because, despite the fact that I was born here, I could potentially be deported to another country due to dual citizenship.  He obviously didn't mean my parents, or my grandparents, who fled ahead of and after World War II in order to provide better lives for their children.

This man and the government he heads make me ashamed to be Canadian - everything they stand for is so far away from what thousands of people felt standing on the lawn of Parliament on April 17, 1982.  And it is even further away from the sense of unity and community that brought thousands more to Parliament in September and October of 2000 as we mourned and celebrated and gave thanks for the life of a man who's guidance made this country great over two decades in the spotlight.

I am reminded of some words from the "Joe Canadian Rant" used to great effect by the Montreal brewers Molson as advertising 15 years ago:

I believe in peace keeping, not policing, 
diversity, not assimilation,


We've turned away from that in the past decade, since the (non-progressive) Conservative party came to power.  It's time for those of us who believe in a Canada that is truly equal for all to take stock ourselves and vote for those who will give us that.

Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them.
~ Pierre Elliott Trudeau