worlds beyond these: some final thoughts

Please note this is non-fiction. Don't worry; I have no intention of bleeding all over the keyboard.

This post is the fourth and final in a series. If you haven't read any of the other posts, at least have a quick read of Part 1. You may want to also read Part 2 and Part 3.

To sum up the previous three posts:
  • The five stages of grief are, in no particular order, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Anger.
  • Not all grieving people go through all five stages.
  • Some non-grieving people will go through one or more of the five stages when they discover someone else is a survivor.
Now, here's the fun part. Once I actually started this blog series and mentioned what I was writing about, I found out from someone I know who does grief counselling that the five stages.... are bogus. They're not the five stages of grief at all. There is no such thing as the five stages of grief.

What happened was someone defined them as the five stages of a patient dealing with a traumatic health event: a major stroke, say, or an amputation. Someone else stole the idea and applied it to grief. Except, while there is some overlap, they're not really about grief.

So when the grieving family gets back from the funeral home and the casserole the neighbour brought over is warming up in the oven, please do me and all the other survivors in this world a favour and don't make noises about the five stages. They are a fairy tale, and my own subjective experience tells me they do more harm than good. They make people who are already going through grief feel like they have to respond in certain ways that aren't even necessarily applicable.

The stages of grief that Western society has internalised since at least the 1980s are fiction. They have nothing to do with actual grief.

What if you are trying to write actual fiction? How does death and survival and grief fit in?

What bothers me the most about survivors in fiction is that grief tends to be a Chekhov's gun sort of thing. That is, it's only mentioned when it's going to become a plot point or the cause for a character trait. There are precious few major examples in fiction where someone has a dead relative just by-the-bye. At best, they're orphans to deny them a safety net of support.

When death and grieving do get mentioned, they tend to be what's called "complicated grief", which is another thing I learnt about while writing this series. Complicated grief is when someone is so overwhelmed by their grief that they can't function. People with complicated grief wind up taking time off work for months at a time. Grieving is an unusually long and difficult process for them.

Real-life people going through real-life complicated grief deserve support and empathy, but unfortunately for the majority of us who have "regular" grief (whatever that really is), complicated grief tends to show up in fiction more prominently. Think  of Hamlet's behaviour after his father's death, or Lear screaming on stage with Cordelia in his arms. Everyone I know who has gone through, um, "uncomplicated" grief has stories about being told they're "heartless" or "didn't really love" their deceased relative because they haven't been seen in public wailing and tearing their hair out.

And you know what? It's not fair, and it makes a difficult situation worse for those dealing with death and loss. It's a great example of a situation where fictional conventions overwhelm psychological reality.

One of the few examples of regular grief done well I can think of is in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, where Laura decides to reconcile with Rob in part because she just wants a break from feeling awful. Grieving is often like that. You can go out, watch a funny film, enjoy it, then go home and spot the dead person's favourite coffee mug on the draining board and just fall apart. A lot of people are perfectly fine getting through their day-to-day lives at school or work, and then they go home and cry. They're not "hiding how they feel", or "putting on a brave face for the world". They're just doing what comes naturally.

On the other hand, there's also this weird pressure to "get over it". Grief counsellors I'm in contact with have told me stories about clients getting told to "snap out of it" one week after the unexpected death of a close relative. This too gets depicted in fiction a lot. A character will grieve just long enough to make the reader feel sorry for them, and then they shift gears and move onto whatever the next emotional prompt is. Maybe there will be some mentions of the death sprinkled later on in the book for continuity.

The consensus is that there is no "getting over it" per se. Most people say they have adjusted to a new version of reality. There is no going back.

Running in a weird parallel with the "get over it" attitude is the threat that if you don't "get over it", you'll somehow be forever messed up and wind up with "issues".

Personally I'm uncomfortable with the idea of "changed" being equated to "messed up" once death enters the mix. Yes, there's some things I'm not into because my dad died when I was thirteen. I will never, ever watch Mamma Mia or anything else with a  "search for my real dad so I can be walked down the aisle by him at my wedding" plot. My father died exactly one week before Father's Day, so I tend to arrange my errands so I don't have to go out a lot when the Father's Day sales are in full swing.

But there's crippling personality traits based on past trauma, and then there's quirks. The fictional Indiana Jones certainly seemed to be a well-functioning character despite a strong phobia for snakes.

So I'm going to wrap this series up by challenging writers to step up their efforts to depict grief more accurately. If you want a resource, I strongly recommend reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. It's a doorstop — the copy I read was over 1,000 pages — but it's worth it, it's a great read, and you can always skim the parts that don't touch you. There are more than enough wonderful passages in it to make up for the skimmed parts.

worlds beyond these: part 3 (penultimate posting)

Please note this is non-fiction. Don't worry; I have no intention of bleeding all over the keyboard.

If you haven't read Part 1 of this series, you might want to go back and at least read the introduction before continuing here. There's also a Part 2.

Parts 1 and 2 got the crazy, ugly, incredulous reactions out of the way. This post covers reactions which are a lot more understandable, and which are a lot easier to generate empathy for.

Depression

It happens. A survivor could be having a perfectly nice conversation with someone, and they'll say something like, "How long have your parents been married now?"

And so you explain, as briefly and with as little drama as possible, and the person you're having the conversation with falls apart.

I have made people cry by merely saying, "My dad died when I was thirteen." I was just giving information; it was not my intention to make them cry, and they weren't looking for an excuse to.

All that's happening is that the person is so able to imagine the same thing happening to them they have a grief reaction. All you can do is reassure them and, if necessary, change the subject.

Anger

I mentioned in Part 1 my dad died of a heart attack. While the exact cause was never determined, he smoked. He had a lot of work stress. Even though he was strongly against any and all junk food (including a lot of food which isn't even thought of as "junk food" in North America), he had trouble keeping his weight at healthy levels.

Starting about ten years after he passed away (so around 1993), I began to encounter people who would quiz me for health details. Once the ones I enumerated in the previous paragraph came to light, they would declare he was a bad father who should have taken better care of himself. They would say he was no better than a father who willfully abandons his children.

I will not provide my entire counter-argument here, but I will say it is not for them to decide how fit a parent he was.

I always wonder what has happened to these people that they feel so strongly about passing judgement on someone they never met.

Bargaining

Sometimes when people learn what happened, they don't become sad or angry. They become fascinated with hypotheticals.

"What do you think your life would be like it that hadn't happened?"

"Do you think it was harder on you or on your brothers?"

"How much do you think that affects you today?"

The answer to all of the above is that I don't know, and that I'm not sure they're even answerable.

Onwards

Those who have been keeping track of the phases will know I left out "acceptance". I can't think of anything to discuss there — people just say something along the lines of "I'm sorry" and then things move on.

The series wraps up next week with some reflections — including some things I learned as I wrote these posts.

I'm also going to tie this back to fiction writing, both to plotting and to characterisation. But more on that next week.

worlds beyond these: part 2 & some reflections

Please note this is non-fiction. Don't worry; I have no intention of bleeding all over the keyboard.

If you haven't read Part 1 of this series, you might want to go back and at least read the introduction before continuing here.

Li and John both commented that it would be a good idea to mark these as non-fiction. I've added it as a label, and put a note up top here and in Part 1 as well.

Part 2 is the second and last example dealing with denial. It's a little harder to explain, because unlike Part 1's example, I'm pretty sure I never got to witness the worst of it. It's sort of like reading a novel where the protagonist keeps on noticing people playing cards, but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything until two weeks later when you're trying to describe the book to a friend. I didn't put everything together until years after all these little snapshots of interactions occurred.

Part 2: More Denial

Snapshot A: church
I'm thirteen, my one brother is ten, and my youngest brother is four. So after my dad passes away, when it's communion-time at church, my mum goes up first, and then when she returns to the pew I go up with my ten-year-old brother. That way there's always someone old enough to be responsible with the four-year-old. Nothing more to it than that.

Except...

The whole time my mum is standing in line at the front of the church, the people behind us are whispering things like: "That's not allowed. A divorced woman taking communion... that's not allowed. Why doesn't the priest do something about it? Why doesn't he talk to her? Who does she think she is? I suppose it's the modern way... but it's not allowed. Well, if the priest wants to help her pretend..."

It was an open casket visitation. The obit was in the local paper. There was a church funeral. There was a condolences notice in the church newsletter. There were In Memoriam masses which were also announced in the church newsletter.
Even if they missed all that — Catholic congregations are big around here and you don't get to know everyone — there's no excuse.

I could have had a dad who was disabled and found it too difficult to physically make it to church.

I could have had a dad who wasn't Catholic but who agreed that the kids would be raised Catholic.

But no. They had to go there.

Snapshot B: music class interrogations
There's a girl, let's call her Vera, in music class. I only met her when I started high school. But she knows about me and my family a little bit, because her family is friends with my mum's hairdresser.

A couple of times a week, when we're getting our musical instruments out of their cubbyholes or putting them back, she asks me questions.

"Does your mum wear makeup?" she says.

"Lipstick."

"So, would you say your mum wears a lot of makeup?"

"Just lipstick."

"Do you think your mum is pretty?"

"She was a model in high school."

"You're lying."

"She wasn't a famous model. She modelled clothes from home sewing patterns."

"Did your dad know how to cook?"

"Yeah. He was good at it."

She laughs at me. "Oh yeah, sure. Hamburgers and hot dogs."

"His first job in Canada was working as a cook."

And on. Sometimes I'll interrupt her and ask what the point of all these questions is. She shrugs and acts like they're no big deal. They aren't presented like I've written them here — just one or two a day, a few times a week — but if the same question was asked more than once and I varied in my answer at all, I'd get grilled on it.

She says her hairdresser contact gave a different answer than mine. I ask her what the hell business it is of any of them and tell her I'm tired of being mined for gossip.

She says she just wants to know and that she doesn't mean anything by it.

The thing is, the incidents I described in Part 1 only started after the questions started. And Natasha and Vera knew each other.

I understand that there was a time (in some places that time is now) where a family that's been abandoned by one or the other parent will pretend the absent parent is dead. I get that. But I doubt very much that these pretending families will go through such an elaborate charade that they'll find a body to display at a funeral home for a couple of days, hold a church funeral for it, and convince the priests in two parishes to go along with the story.

Reading this post over again, it sounds like these things happened in a much smaller community than they did. We lived just outside of a small town until I was ten, but before my father passed away we moved to a suburb of 300,000 people. There were 1,800 people attending my high school the year I graduated, and the students who went there lived in two different municipal counties. The church where my dad's funeral was held had over 2,000 people in the parish.

There is a line where assumptions turn to malice. And I think these examples show two points that line intersects.

worlds beyond these: introduction & part 1

Please note this is non-fiction. Don't worry; I have no intention of bleeding all over the keyboard.

I've been wanting to write this for ten years. Just be forewarned that it's not about what you're going to think it's about from the next couple of paragraphs.

What it's not about is: death, grieving, my dad. Really.

Note, though, that the five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler are, in no particular order, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Anger.

Note also these bare personal facts: my father passed away thirty years ago this past 12 June. He had two heart attacks in one day, it was sudden, and there was no prior medical history to lead us to expect this might happen.

He had just turned forty-eight on 27 May.

I was thirteen years old, and my brothers were ten and four.

But that is not what this series of articles is about.

At the funeral home, at the funeral itself, in the months that followed, we got to hear a lot about those five stages of grief, got to have our every mood and emotional reaction pegged as one of the five.

No-one mentioned one very remarkable thing, though: that those five stages are not just about what you and the other loved ones of the deceased go through. Other people who have never met the person who passed away react the same way. And that's when things can get very, very weird.

This series isn't about me. It's about everyone else.

Because it's about everyone else, I've changed names for the usual reasons. The point isn't to embarrass anyone, although in the case I'm covering in Part 2, I'd like to. The point is to consider other viewpoints.

Some of these examples are understandable. The trick for the survivor is just to ensure they're ready for it when it happens.

Some of these examples are as inexcusable as they are unbelievable. Those are the ones I'm putting first.

Part 1: Denial

It is two years after the funeral. I'm in the second year of high school, as is a classmate I've known since before. One day we're in the corridor at lunchtime, talking to a mutual friend whose parents are divorced. The mutual friend mentions she's going to see her dad on the weekend. He lives in another city now, so she only sees him a few times a year.

Natasha, my classmate, turns to me and says, "How often do you see your dad?"

"Pardon?" I say. The question doesn't make any sense.

"Doesn't he have visitation rights?" she presses.

"Visitation rights?"

She rolls her eyes. "Well, I don't think that's right. He's still your dad, and you should be able to see him when you want to."

I finally catch up. "Natasha," I say, "He's dead."

"Whatever," she says, and flounces off with the mutual friend.

There's more to it than that. Not only was Natasha at the recreation centre where my dad had his initial heart attack, not only did she see him borne on a stretcher into an ambulance, but she represented my class at the funeral. She was front-and-centre for the entire event, but here we are two years later, and she's asking about visitation rights. When I confront her later and remind her about the funeral, she just keeps repeating "I don't remember that", as if it makes it true.

Two years later again we're both in senior year and she tells me that once I turn eighteen, any visitation restrictions are null and void. I remind her again of the truth, again she claims not to have lived through her part, and we're back in our starting positions.

Part 2 and a reflection on Parts 1 & 2 will be posted next week.

decadence done right

With the major exception of dark chocolate, I'm not a big sweets person. I actively dislike boiled sweets/hard candy, and a lot of the desserts on menus leave me cold. I mean, honestly, so you threw a bunch of brownies, fudge, and caramel on top of a chocolate cake and called it "sinful" — I don't believe in sin, and it's just not that good. You can't just pile a bunch of sweet stuff on top of each other and claim it's a tour de force. My favourite restaurant dessert, which I have had at a restaurant precisely once, is three fresh strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. That's all anyone needs if the rest of the meal was good.

A few weekends ago the ever-knowledgeable J-A and I ran errands on Queen West, and we had Indian food for a late lunch. I'm used to Mumbai Indian food, which has enough heat to please most people, but isn't overwhelming. Our food was well-prepared, but it was so mild I had to wonder if there was any spices used in it at all. J-A suggested we go to Dufflet's for dessert, and I said that sounded like a great idea. I figured I'd just get a cookie or something small.

Dufflet's was packed to the rafters when we got there — not surprising on a rainy Saturday afternoon. So we trooped over to the Red Tea Box instead.

I'd never been before. I didn't even know it was a place you could get tea and dessert at. From the streetcar, it always looked to me like a very impressive cake-decorating place (although of course they do that too). Inside was like an art gallery by way of a tea shop. J-A checked that a table was free while I wandered around the part of the floor where they sell cookies and other goodies to go. There were square cookies iced to look like pictures of Japanese cherry blossoms, gingerbread men iced to look like little Japanese girls wearing kimonos and cute smiles, petit fours with pictures of pandas. Every single piece was amazingly well-crafted.

We took the outside customer's route to the back building where the tables & chairs were, and were seated at a table with vintage overstuffed porch chairs on either side of it. J-A ordered a mulled pear drink with a fruit tart, and I got black assam tea with a honey saffron cake.

J-A's order was a poem of aromatics. The bowl of mulled pear juice came with a sprig of fresh thyme floating in it, and the tart had all the expected wonderful fruit flavours plus some twists that couldn't be explained by the visible ingredients. Unfortunately, the photo I took of her order came out blurry, but I did get some good snaps of my honey saffron cake:

Yes, that's a cake. And those decorations on it are royal icing made with 24 karat gold. It was several minutes before I could bring myself to cut into this, it was so beautiful and perfect. The blue icing came off the cake in one colour-saturated piece, but I ate it anyways (and turned my tongue and teeth blue, which was fun in and of itself!). The cake inside was light and flavourful, and the honey saffron cream filling was gorgeous.

Was it expensive? Yeah — the beverages and desserts came out to $17 per person for the two of us (the honey saffron cake alone was $12). But as affordable indulgences go, that's not too bad. That's 9.6 Kit Kat bars out of the vending machine at work. The one-time experience of eating this cake was far more enjoyable than 9.6 Kit Kat bars spread out over the course of several weeks. I'd rather just remember eating the cake than have a Kit Kat bar, and I used to really like Kit Kat bars when Rowntree still made them.

I can't see myself going for something like this more than a few times a year, but each time will be very much appreciated. This is what a treat is supposed to be like, people.

Help, please: Somewhere on the interweb is a wonderful video about a woman who is just finishing lunch with her new boyfriend when he has to leave early. He tells the server to let the woman have whatever else she wants for lunch and to put it on his credit card. She then agonises (in a very, very funny but true way) about whether or not to have some cake for dessert, finally decides to indulge, and is just getting into the cake when her boyfriend returns... but I won't spoil it for you. What I need is to find this video again. It is absolutely hilarious, but it's funny because it's true, true, true. I've just tried Googling for it, and am coming up with nothing. Anyone have any leads? Please? Pretty please?

amazons are made, not born

I am, according to my doctor, exactly 175cm tall. That's almost-but-not-quite five feet nine in Imperial measure; the actual fraction is five feet, eight-and-nine-tenths inches or something awkward like that. Since the average Canadian woman is only five feet four, that makes me stick out as a tall woman, at least in this country.

Being a woman, I talk about personal safety with my friends from time to time. It's just the usual stuff that gets distributed in those "safety tips" e-mails that float around the internet — how to carry your purse so that a mugger will decide you're not a good target, how to keep your cell phone handy so that you can call for help quickly but not get noticed by a cell phone thief, and so on. While we're on the topic, we might discuss toxic relationships, domestic violence, what to do if someone tries to assault us. Not something to dwell on and get paranoid or hateful about, but information needs to be shared, right?

It never fails, though: there's always a more petite friend who will turn to me and say, "You're lucky. You're tall, so you can protect yourself better."

This blog post is about why that is complete and utter nonsense.

Yes, I'm fully aware that many sources (like this one) will mention that women can be at risk because of their smaller size (they should say "on average", but this is rarely included). But consider: being tall just means that I'm tall. It doesn't turn me into Wonder Woman. I am most definitely not stronger than the average man my height or even a few inches shorter than I am. I don't have any special innate self-defence skills because I have long legs. It doesn't increase my pain threshold, or how likely I am to get bruised or broken when struck hard enough. I have no idea how to throw a punch, or how to shield myself while I'm throwing it.

If anything, I would argue that being tall puts me at a disadvantage to some extent. I can't move as fast. It takes longer for me to duck. It's harder for me to escape if I'm in a tight spot.

I've also got the myth going against me. I'm tall, so I'm supposed to be at a lower risk. If I do have someone smaller, man or woman, assault me, and I try to defend myself, what do you think is going to happen to me if my assailant claims I started the fight?

The thing is, height doesn't make might any more than might makes right. There's this weird perception out there that just because a woman is tall, that means she has other physiological attributes normally associated with men her height, like relatively greater strength. There's a whole host of other ways this assumption manifests itself in non-violent situations, but that's a rant for another day.

Meanwhile, stop thinking that just because tall people can reach the top shelf without a stepladder, we can "fight back" any better than shorter people.

is this the start of the breakdown?

I finally got around to watching the film Memento this past weekend. Don't worry — I'm not going to review a ten-year-old film. I just want to reflect on why it took me ten years to see it, because there are some purposeful reasons.

People have been recommending Memento to me a lot since it got released. The reason why is because for a while I had a difficulties with short-term memory. It wasn't because someone had given me brain damage by smacking my head into a mirror, though — it was because for pretty much all of the 1990s I never got enough sleep. I'm not going to get into why here, because it's not the sort of thing I'm going to blab about in public. Suffice to say I made do with 3-6 hours a night for just about ten years. I'd have a catchup day where I could sleep in maybe 3 times a year. That was it. The rest of the time I was stumbling along. It got to the point that I had been tired for so long and impaired by the lack of sleep for so long that I couldn't figure out why I was so tired all the time.

I am constantly shocked by how poorly people understand the importance of sleep, and how willing people are to attribute the effects to other things. I was told (at age 24) that the cognitive impairment, memory loss, chills, and lowered immune system were from "getting older." I was told that the irrational cravings for sugar and rapid weight gain were because of my own "lack of willpower". I now know that all of this stuff was related to the sleep deprivation. Don't believe me? Google it, or at least start with this Harvard Magazine article. Thankfully, I got control of my sleeping schedule back around when Memento was released and can now sleep as much as I need to in order to be healthy. That this blog even exists is proof of that — back in the 90s, posting three times a week like this would have been impossible.

The thing is, there are lots of people who live like I used to. They get just enough sleep to stave off collapse, and the rest of the time they're running around, trying to get done an impossible list of tasks. Often they've been burdened with too much to do from too many places. I used to work with someone who was taking care of a sick parent, doing all the household chores, taking care of her kids, and working full-time for a while. Things finally came to a head when she got seriously ill herself.

It's easy to say that those who wind up in situations where they're exhausted and overwhelmed need to learn better delegation and time management skills. It's harder to understand what it's like for the exhausted, sleep-deprived person. Things that are supposed to be short-term turn into long-term, and there's no time or energy for the long-term. Their problem-solving skills have been stolen from them by lack of sleep. Often the demands are coming from several different areas, so it's difficult to determine who to say "no" to. Friends and family are slow or unwilling to see the extent of the damage being done, and can't figure out why the person is "different."

Culturally, there is still far too much bragging going on about how little sleep this or that A-type personality needs to keep going. It's almost always an exaggeration, and it's not apples-to-apples as a comparison because it doesn't take into account how much work — efficient work — is getting done during waking hours.

The Harvard Magazine article I linked to says that all North Americans are part of a mass sleep deprivation experiment. More of us need to figure out how to be in the control group. Unless you've lived it and recovered from it, it's very hard to grasp how frightening it really is.

how's your reading health?

As I mentioned last post, one of the sessions that I went to at Book Summit was "Reading in the Digital Age." Somehow I had the impression that it would be about writing for digital instead of paper media and how that shifted story structures. It turned out I was wrong, but that was okay, because the presentation encompassed that and a lot more.

The presenter was Raymond A. Mar, who works at York University. He also contributes to the blog On Fiction, which I immediately added to my Google Reader list as soon as the session was completed.

Mar and his colleagues have been comparing the effects of reading fiction on the brain, comparing it to the effects of what he termed expository writing. This sounds similar to what I was taught at teacher's college to call "transaction writing" — non-fiction works like essays.

It turns out that reading fiction has measurable, beneficial effects. People who read fiction are better are social tasks, and better at recognising emotions. The research also shows that watching films has the same effect, but not watching television (there are a lot of theories, but they haven't figured out why yet).

I'm not going to try and repeat the entire presentation — you had to be there, and besides, I'm not a professional in neuropsychology, so I'm bound to get some things wrong.

I am, however, a recent reader of CP Snow's Two Cultures. That book recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, which is how I got to here about it. CP Snow was either a novelist who worked in science, or a scientist who wrote fiction, depending on how you want to look at it. He noticed that he was just about the only person he knew who had an interest in both fields, and he was appalled both by his science friends' lack of respect for the power of fiction, and his artist friends' lack of knowledge of basic scientific facts. He presented the "two cultures" idea originally at a lecture he gave at Cambridge University, then expanded it to book form for publication.

The interaction of science and art is much different from how it was fifty years ago, and the version of Two Cultures that I bought and read points out that most of Snow's examples were actually from when he started his career in the 1930s. Nevertheless, I thought it was interesting (and, okay, dismaying) that the newspaper articles I read asked people working in the arts science questions like "why is the sky blue" and "what is the Second Law of Thermodynamics," but it seemed as if no-one was asking any scientists what novels they'd read recently.

I was encouraged to have what sometimes gets called a "well-rounded" education. I kept taking math and science subjects long after it became clear I didn't have the talent to pursue a career in them (except for chemistry. For some bizarre reason I always found chemistry easy.). Since then I've become the woman with the English Lit. degree who likes to read about science. I really did finish A Brief History of Time (which has a very beautifully-written ending, by the way), and wish they would just hand that book to high school students who prefer arts subjects instead of forcing them to take bewildering physics classes. They'd learn more. I did — the first three chapters more or less cover my Grade 11 physics class curriculum.

Bottom line: people need to engage in both the arts and sciences to make sense of the world and each other.

Travel Globally, Present Locally

The Kingsolver and Hopp presentation last night (as part of Pages' This is Not a Reading Series, promoting Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) was brilliant. The audience got to laugh, feel doomed, watch turkey sex videos*, and learn a lot about how to eat locally.

The most amazing part, in a night of amazing things, is that the "spine" of the delivery was customised for the Toronto growing season. At the end we were presented with a list of web sites about where to get locally-grown food in and around Toronto. I have to say: this is the very first time, in any context, that I have seen non-Canadians customise a presentation for Canada and do such a good job at it. That includes some events I paid a lot more than ten dollars to attend.

Here's the list (I don't think this information is meant to be hoarded):


Thanks to Jean-Anne for helping me copy down all the addresses.

Always on top of things, culture queen Carla did her own scouting and found this public Google calendar: Toronto Farmers Markets

I haven't started Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, but I'm interested in reading it. As I blogged last, I grew up eating grow-your-own and pick-your-own, so a lot of the fascination for me is learning how to apply what I took to be common sense when I was eight to the urban environment I live in now.

It seems to me a lot of it is peer pressure. The first time I grew tomato plants on my balcony, a lot of my non-gardening friends expressed surprise that one even could grow tomato plants on a balcony. This was closely followed by musing about the propriety of such an act, for want of a better word. Most of my friends are gardeners, though, and so just said, "Cool! What variety?". I don't have a balcony right now, so tomatoes are on the local-buy list. Mmmmmm, tomatoes.... I wonder when the local heirloom ones will be ripe?

* Please note both parties participating in the sex were turkeys.

The future was in the past

Looks like I'm finally getting over being ill from some things infecting the inside of my head, other things causing emergency room visits, and other things yet requiring more images of my guts... don't worry, that's as much as I'm going to whine about it — at least until the next ultrasound three to five weeks from now. It's just annoying because my health has actually been improving for almost ten years now. It's really messed up the nice writing schedule I had all set up for myself, which means as soon as I'm done this post I'm going to re-calculate the spreadsheet and see how much I have to push out my personal deadline (doing a better job of adding in slack this time) to make this reasonable. I still need to leave time to get the Interim Project done before the next NaNoWriMo, which thankfully I have not one but two (two!) sketched-out ideas for.


Other news:
Odd sights are all around these days — check out this angel doll I found on the sidewalk when I was walking home from the movie theatre this afternoon. It was just lying there on the sidewalk, just as I photographed it, and had been around long enough to get a bit dirty (although not rained on, from the looks of it, and we just had a rain yesterday morning). Judging from the plastic base (not in the photo), it looks like it was part of some shop's window display. You think they could have at least given it a proper send-off in a garbage bag.

Last thing: Blogger now lets you post-date blogs. I wrote a quick one to try out the feature for later this week. Finally, a way for those of us who like to blog regularly but also want to get other things done to get more organised.

Neverwhere and back again

Monday. A lesson on why reading Neverwhere in an emergency room waiting area is significant, at least in Toronto, Canada.

8:00pm: The patient has a dull but intense pain directly beneath her lower ribs on the right side, plus a lighter but sharper pain on her back, level with the pain at the front. The pain started at 3:00pm and has intensified throughout the afternoon. Two extra-strength Tylenol were taken an hour ago, and have had no discernible effect. No fever present.

Recommendation: go to emergency for examination and treatment. This report will be faxed to the hospital the patient said she would visit. The patient is advised not to drive herself to the hospital, and not to eat or drink anything until a doctor confirms it's all right for her to do so.

9:00pm: The patient disembarks from a cab and queues to talk to the triage nurse. The triage nurse data enters the patient's name, health card number, contact information. She takes a list of symptoms and records the patient's pulse rate, blood pressure, and temperature. She gives no indication of whether the patient is normal or abnormal in these measurements. She tells the patient to see the registering nurse.

9:15pm: The registering nurse takes more detailed contact information and notes an emergency contact. She tells the patient to wait in the waiting room. The patient takes a seat and tries to estimate how many people are in the queue in front of her by trying to deduce who in the waiting room are patients and who are simply accompanying patients. Ironically, House is on the television. Dr. House claims that a patient's general niceness is a sign of brain infection or head trauma.

12:00am: The patient has been at the hospital for three hours. An episode of The Simpsons has just finished playing on the television, and the time of infomercials has begun. The pain has subsided to below the "scary" threshold, but is still present and worrisome. Some of the other people in the waiting room are wearing surgical masks, supposedly to reduce the risk of spreading germs. Most of them have pulled the mask down to their chin so they can talk and breathe more easily.

The waiting room population doesn't change very quickly. Once every hour or hour and a quarter a nurse comes to the entrance of the waiting room and calls out a name. Sometimes someone gets up and follows her to the examination area. More often the person is no longer there. If that happens, the nurse leaves alone, not to return for another hour.

The patient and a woman who arrived shortly before her decide to ask how much longer the wait will be, since they've both been there for three hours and it's getting very late. The nurse gets annoyed with them, but finally says that they are only seeing people who arrived at 6:00pm now. All right,, thinks the patient, on a geometric scale that's three more hours to wait. 3:00am. The patient and the woman sit down again. The patient sits closer to the waiting room entrance and pulls out her copy of Neverwhere. Richard Mayhew, the hero, is well-embroiled in the affairs of London Below, and the patient realises, as she shifts into a position that hurts less, that the waiting room is a kind of Toronto Below. Only the nurse who calls out names acknowledges those waiting at all.

1:30am The woman who checked on waiting times with the patient leaves, still unsure if it was food poisoning, an allergic reaction, or just bad luck that she had. The patient decides to wait until the deadline she set.

A jovial elderly man with a badly scraped shin sways over to the Coke machine and gets help from a young mother waiting with her husband and baby as to how to buy a drink from it. "Doesn't it sell whiskey?" he asks. She shakes her head no. "Are you sure?" he says, and checks all of the buttons himself. "It should sell whiskey," he says as he sits down with his soft drink. The patient agrees silently and continues reading.

3:00am The young woman who helped the elderly man buy a soft drink has been called to the examination area with her family.

The patient has finished Neverwhere — 250 pages of paperback read in one sitting. Richard Mayhew returns to London Above and his old, non-fantastical life, only to choose to return to the society of London Below. The patient decides to mirror his decisions. She goes to the registration desk and announces she is leaving.

"You need to see the triage nurse," the registration nurse says. "You're next."

Just then, the triage nurse walks in with a sandwich packed in a bag. The patient waits for her to get settled behind her desk and then explains she is leaving. The triage nurse says, "Okay, let's take your blood pressure and temperature again."

She also takes the patient's pulse, then extracts four vials of blood from the patient's left arm. "We should get a urine sample from you too," she says. "Here," and she hands the patient a urine jar.

The patient goes to the ladies' room and does the needful, which is pretty impressive considering she hasn't had anything to eat or drink in over seven hours. She returns to the triage desk and hands the urine jar to the triage nurse.

"Well, you've got my contact information," the patient says. "Goodnight."

"Where are you going?" the triage nurse says, surprised.

The patient takes a deep breath, mindful of the signs posted everywhere that say verbal abuse will not be tolerated. "Like I said, I'm going home. I've been here for six and a half hours, I need to get up to go to work at six AM because I get paid by the hour and my projects are in crunch mode, and the pain has subsided. Not to mention I've been up for twenty-three hours, which alone can't be good for my health."

"Then why did you let me take all this?" says the triage nurse, gesturing to the collected bodily fluids.

"You didn't say what it was for," says the patient. "And I'd already said I was leaving."

"But you're next," the registration nurse pipes up.

"And how long will I have to wait once I get admitted to examination?" says the patient.

"That depends on what's wrong with whoever's ahead of you," says the triage nurse.

"Exactly," says the patient. "Thank you. Good night."

3:30am The patient finally gets into the cab she called. She has spent the fifteen minutes' wait pacing up and down the sidewalk outside the emergency room entrance, talking into her internet tablet's microphone, making memos about all the things that went wrong with the health care system tonight. She also spends several minutes watching the hospital's automatic sprinkler system water a lawn half the size of her living room. Most of the water runs off the lawn onto the hospital's driveway, and down the drain in front of the emergency room entrance.

The cab comes and takes her home. She sleeps for ninety minutes, then wakes up to go to work, once more a citizen of Toronto Above.

Diagnosis:
For the patient, still pending; an appointment with the GP has been made.

For the hospital; dementia, possibly accompanied by catatonia.

Physicians, heal thyselves.