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Paris vs. Sweet Potatoes

Brigitte and I are an almost sickenly perfect couple. Until we have to talk about money, that is.

I entered the job market in the nineties knowing that I was never more than one substitute teaching gig away from indigence. I have always felt that I had to scrape to keep a roof over my head and to pay the bills, and that I had to put any leftover money aside so I could afford to eat the really good cat food when I was old. I am what you might call debtophobic.

Brigitte was raised in a family where everyone but her father had died by the time she was nine. There’s not much reason to accumulate and to prepare for old age when you are pretty sure you’re not going to live to be thirty. She learned to invest in the moment, to dream big, and to make things happen now. She is what you might call debtophilic.

In our relationship, my job is to make sure that we live within our means. Or, more realistically, to live within sight of our means. Or maybe have a general sense of the direction in which our means lie.

Brigitte’s job is to maintain the quality of our lives in the face of my general anxiety disorder. She makes most of the money, manages our finances, dreams big and makes things happen, and authorizes weekly take-out food when I come home tired from work.

Before it required childcare, we had all our discussions about money in coffee shops where no objects could be thrown. As it turned out, that would have been a good idea this week, when a talk about which conference Brigitte should attend resulted in me hinting that without my intervention, our daughter’s education would be squandered on trips to Paris and Brigitte observing that my real problem is spending money on anyone other than myself.

And then somehow the discussion turned to a near physical altercation we had last week over a sweet potato I was trying to scrape into the trash. She said something like, “You keep saying there’s not enough money to take our daughter to Paris but you are always throwing away good food and there are always three unnecessary new toothbrushes in the bathroom drawer!” I was literally stunned into silence, she looked at me, and then she threw her head back and laughed.

When you find someone able to laugh at herself in a moment like this, you go ahead and award one more point to Humanity on her behalf.

The Apocalypse: 26
Humanity: 21.5


Apocalyptic roundup

My therapist would say that I should stop feeling guilty and worthless for neglecting to read, comment, write, and think complete thoughts for the last month while I struggle with mild end-of-winter depression. She would say that I should talk to myself “as though I were my best friend”.

Problem is, I think what my best friend would say is “Get your froggie-pajamaed arse off the couch and write.” To which I would reply, “I have a LAPTOP, Sucker! And my flannel froggie pajamas are HOT.”

I am flu-ridden and unable to sustain even my usual level of coherent thought. Please lower your expectations accordingly.

It’s a good day for the Apocalypse. There are small stories. Like the Quebec woman who was trapped in the snow on a logging road for three days because her GPS steered her wrong. Apparently, most GPS owners are unable to check the “paved roads only” option in the settings.

Or the British Columbia hospital that is solving its space problems by treating overflow patients in a Tim Horton’s donut shop. (To which I am inclined to respond, “But it’s still free, so suck it up and be grateful. Like I did.”)

Or the Ottawa students who are whining because they have to pay the university back after cheating the laundry billing machines and washing their undies for free. When I was a student, laundry machines still used horizontal coin slots, so you could just put a piece of tape across the quarters. Now it’s all computerized and they can track the fraudulent launderers and bill them. Once again, technology fails to make our lives better.

There’s the release of the iPad 2, which will bring a hailstorm of criticism down upon me from my non-mac friends who frantically disapprove of my numerous iPurchases. Even though I just got the iPad 1 for Christmas and wouldn’t dream of upgrading it. And for the record, I also buy a lot of iron-free shirts from Eddie Bauer, but no one is reducing me to a “fangirl” for an online clothing retailer.

There is a market for ice-cream made from breast milk. The earth may be under attack from aliens in ships shaped like chewy mints. A scientist has devoted valuable brain matter calculating the resale value of our planet ($5 quadrillion). Vital questions about humanity go unstudied while research grants are used to discover that people who postpone emptying their bladders are better able to delay other forms of gratification. Back in a sec. I have to pee.

Then there are bigger stories, like Baby Joseph, whose right to be spared invasive medical procedures when all experts agree that he should only be receiving palliative care will be attacked by Sara Palin’s favourite lawyer. Because grief-stricken parents and an uber conservative lawyer from the American Center for Law and Justice (which defends Americans from cuss words at the Oscars, handgun bans, and public parks not displaying the 10 commandments) are clearly better placed to make decisions about Joseph than the two teams of medical experts at American and Canadian hosptials.

And Saskatchewan judge Robert Dewar, who allowed a convicted rapist to avoid jail time because the survivor of his attack was wearing a tube top, indicating that “sex was in the air”.  The rapist is eligible for a 2-year conditional sentence to be served in the community. He doesn’t get that saying no, pushing him away three times, and crying means that a woman does not want to have sex with him, even when he admits to telling her “it would only hurt for a little while”.  But he is not a threat to the public. Well, not unless the public wears a tube top.

All things considered, I think I’ll just go ahead and award two points to the Apocalypse.

The Apocalypse: 26

Humanity: 20.5

Let’s talk

February 9th is Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk day.

Bell is donating 5 cents from every text message and long distance call placed that day to help the 1 in 5 Canadians with mental health problems. They are also donating 50 million dollars over four years to mental health initiatives, and they have launched an ad campaign to encourage people to talk openly about illnesses like depression and anxiety, and to get help. They have even signed on my all-time favourite Canadian, uber-Olympian and one-time depressed chick Clara Hughes.


I was all geared up for The Apocalypse taking a huge lead. And now not even the potential for this being a crass marketing campaign supported by the pharmaceutical industry can stop Humanity from scoring this week’s point.

I mean, this is kind of my business. I train mental health workers to manage suicidal crises and more than 80 percent of people who commit suicide are suffering with some form of mental illness, mostly depression and addiction.

And it’s also my life. Although my mental health disorder of choice is anxiety, I have also been treated for major depression. I suspect most people who know me had no idea. One of those highly functional depressives, I went to work every day with a smile but spent every Saturday morning curled up in bed, longing for death. Eventually, my girlfriend dragged me to the doctor and, in the waiting room, handed me a sheet of paper with the title whited out. I read the checklist of symptoms, saw exactly what she was up to, and said, “I am not fucking depressed. I only have 8 of these.” She gently replied, “You only need to have five.”

I didn’t mind taking the medication so much. Well, the 40 pounds I gained in 8 months despite going to the gym three times a week was no picnic, but between having to go out and buy new bras and being a mother who frequently longs for death, the choice was reasonably clear. I found a brilliant therapist to help me take care of all the stuff the medication would not fix, and I slowly got better.

What was difficult was hearing people talk about depression. It was a lot like being in the closet again, feeling hurt and ashamed of not being able to stand up for yourself because no one can know that they are talking about you. For the record, no the whole fucking world is NOT on antidepressants. If they were, we might have fewer suicides. And not all doctors give out prozac like tic tacs. And there is nothing easy about having to take a little orange capsule every morning just to get out of bed.

My depression was painful but not debilitating. I think that makes me a little bit more responsible for speaking out. We reluctantly admit that those who are so depressed that they cannot function at all are sick. But those of us lucky enough to have symptoms that are manageable are subjected to the anti-medication backlash, and that makes it pretty damned hard to seek help.

It’s time to stop feeling ashamed of being sick. Especially since January light-deprivation and pre-menopausal hormones are causing some of the darkness to seep back. (Last week, while lying in a hot bath, my thoughts travelled with alarming rapidity from, “Oh, the caulking around the tub needs to be redone,” to, “Brigitte’s going to realize how worthless I am and leave me, so we’ll need to get a good price on this place if we want to run two households on the money we make now.”)

For her courage in speaking publicly about her own depression, Clara Hughes scores her second point for Humanity. I just hope my brilliant therapist has an opening on February 9th.

The Apocalypse: 24

Humanity: 20.5

My bad

Canadian winter has finally arrived in Montreal. When one factors in the wind chill (and Canadians do factor in the wind chill, as it accounts for 73.5 percent of our conversational matter), it is -31 C this morning. For my American readers, that is  -23.8 F. While it is not yet the kind of weather that will freeze unexposed skin on contact, it is not the kind of day that you want to hang about outside doing nothing. Which makes it a bad day to have a dog.

Deciding where to eliminate seems effortless to other canines. Not so our Captain Jack Sparrow, the tenacious and extremely masculine Bichon Frise. Deciding where to eliminate for Jack is a weighty intellectual matter fraught with controversy. He sniffs. He circles. He sniffs again. He chooses another spot and circles again, sniffing.

This morning, he went through four potential poop spots. The first one had insufficient depth– he cannot defecate in a place that I will not have to plunge my ungloved, plastic wrapped hand into at least 5 cm of snow. The second one had some strange garbage next to it. (It looked like the remnants of a wig, but I really didn’t want to know.) The third one was rejected out of hand for no reason that I could establish. The fourth looked really promising–  deep snow I would have to wade through for the pick-up, strong likelihood of me stepping on frozen turds along the way, room to pace back and forth to tamp down the snow. And then some guy walked by to distract him, and we had to move on. At this point, I lost it and yelled, “For the love of Jesus, will you just SHIT already!

Yes, a low moment for me. Even atheists ought not to invoke the name of the Christian messiah to get their dogs to crap. As penance, I’m going to shave off a half-point from the Apocalypse. Forgive me, Humanity.

The Apocalypse: 24

Humanity: 19.5

That ain’t workin

Dire Straits performing in Drammenshallen, Nor...

Image via Wikipedia

Last week I listened to CBC Montreal’s drive-home show to check on traffic and was treated to 10 minutes of listener feedback celebrating the use of the word faggot.The host had played Dire Straits’ 1985 hit Money for Nothing and then invited people to call in with reactions, most of which were euphoric.

A little background: The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which enforces ethical guidelines for private broadcasters, had just ruled that the original version of this song  is inappropriate for play on private radio stations:

“The Panel concludes that, like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.  The Panel finds that it has fallen into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.”

This should be a fascinating and complex debate, especially when hosted by our public broadcaster. The lyrics are written from the point of view of an ignoramus and his use of the word reflects at least as badly on him as the “little faggot” in the song. In this context, I was not offended when I first heard it (as a terrified closeted lesbian high school student). It seemed then to be a wink and a nod in our direction, as it does now. I might feel differently if I were a gay man, but I am not more offended by it today.

But I can see the other side too. Context is hard to establish in a short form like a rock song and it’s hard to argue that the general impact of this ironic moment is positive. I think it helps to use the n-word test in a situation like this– would we be defending the use of the n-word in a 1985 rock song where a racist blue collar worker was talking about a group of African American musicians? We might, but I think we would be a hell of a lot more tentative. The same station that contested the complaint routinely bleeps the n-word from songs by artists like Kanye West who, as a member of an oppressed group reclaiming a slur, has an undisputed right to use it. Hypocrisy at its best.

Like I said, this is a complex debate and I can see myself agreeing with both sides. (Feel free to weigh in with your comments.) In the end, I think what pisses me off most is the tone of the listener feedback from my fellow Canadians. The whole discussion was reduced to “Yay! Now we can say faggot again! Faggot, faggot, faggot!”

And that ain’t workin for Humanity.

The Apocalypse: 24.5

Humanity: 19.5

Long day’s journey into night

It has been so long since I have posted that I have gone through the shame and come out the other end. Ima just hand out the points retroactively. (Yes, yes I can do that, because I am the self-appointed judge of humanity.)

This is the post I should have written at the end of November. If you recall, I had my first entirely legitimate excuse. One minute I am enjoying a lovely takeout sushi dinner with my spouse, and the next minute I am curled up in foetal position on the bathroom floor googling “acute back pain” in between dry heaves.

Google and the nurse at triage agreed: kidney stone. So that’s where the initial retroactive point goes- to the Canadian and Quebec health care systems.

It took two hours, 23 minutes and 45 seconds for me to see an intern, and then another 12 minutes and 8 seconds to see a real doctor to get an order for morphine, and then another 17 minutes for fucking nurse Helga to hook up my meds. I just lay there on a stretcher in the hallway of Major Emergencies vomiting periodically into an ironically kidney shaped basin and whimpering gently so as not to appear like one of the neighborhood junkies who stopped in for meds.

Things are looking good for the Apocalypse. Excruciating pain. Helplessness. Annoyingly cliché blue gown missing two of the three ties that should attach it in back. And since I am parked in a hallway, I get whiplash everytime an orderly wheels some other helpless fucker down the hall. Did I mention that I am dry-heaving all this time?

But eventually I do get the morphine, when all nursing attention is no longer required by the man who is screaming that his asshole is itchy. As the nurse injects the drug into my IV, I lie back and wait for my first groovily legal opiate moment. But what I get is a lot more Eugene O’Neil than Timothy Leary, and it’s a Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

For twelve hours, I sit propped up on my stretcher with my mouth open, drifting in and out of sleep, vomiting occasionally in my ironic basin. I long to lie down on my stretcher, but I am too drug addled to ask the orderlies who keep crashing into me to lower the back of the thing.

I could go on (e.g. with a description of the food), but you get the picture. The Apocalypse is rubbing its hairly little palms with glee.

But I spent the night in a hospital being cared for by overworked but highly trained professional nurses, I saw an intern and two doctors, and had several doses of morphine, an expensive anti-nausea drug and an emergency CT scan, and it cost me $3. For the taxi to the hospital.

The Apocalypse: 23.5

Humanity: 19.5

Apparently, I don’t make a very good morphine addict

Please read my guest post over at Seeking Elevation. I missed the chance to promote it because I was at the hospital. (Insert dramatic soap opera music here.)

Can’t write more because I am still trying to get over the morphine hangover (long tragic kidney-stone story to follow) and if I look at the screen much longer, I am going to throw up. Again.