Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Signs You are a Writer

I should be preparing for a presentation tomorrow, so of course, I'm stalling...Enjoy!

Signs That You Are a Writer
You covet office supplies. Sticky notes, pens, notebooks, pencils-your hands itch to touch them. The stationery aisle in the office supply store is a wonderful place. 

You regularly eavesdrop on conversations in the park, in coffee shops, in lines…and store away bits of dialogue and expressions like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter.

You stop in mid-sentence when an interesting character crosses your sightline so you can memorize the details for later. If you can get away with it, you scribble it down in the ever-present notebook.

You get distracted by poor spelling and grammar on a menu or a sign. On more than one occasion, you have offered to fix a presenter’s slides because misplaced apostrophes were driving you batty.

You not only have an opinion on the Oxford comma, you have held a spirited debate about it on more than one occasion.

You own more than one dictionary and use them regularly for their intended purpose.

You prefer an actual thesaurus to the online version because there’s a satisfying feeling to turning the pages and running your finger over the lines of words to find the right one.

At least once in your writing career, your characters have taken over the story and refused to do what you wanted them to do according to your outline. You also talk to your characters when they are refusing to toe the line.

You can clearly articulate the difference between your and you’re, its and it's and there, they’re and their. You judge people who cannot.

You use proper grammar and spelling in text messages and tweets. Your speed might be slower, but you are rarely misunderstood although the 140 character thing is challenging.

Your google search history would raise eyebrows and cause law enforcement to look at you more closely. 

Brilliant writing makes you catch your breath, and then cry with longing at being able to craft a sentence like that one day.

You express yourself with words on the page, rather than speaking. You are much more witty on paper and rather a disappointment in person. It's okay though, you would rather stay home!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Truth Will Out

There's a big controversy in Canada right now over a well-known CBC radio host and his growing number of alleged sexual assaults. I will not waste one column millimetre in acknowledging him. This one is for his victims.

I was around 12. I was wearing a striped turtleneck and jeans. I had developed breasts early, but I didn't flaunt them, and I was very naive. My mom was visiting in the kitchen, and I wandered into the living room of the home we were visiting to see what was on TV. I sat down on the arm of the chair, and this person I had known all my life reached around me to give me a hug...except his hand didn't stay there-it ended up on my breast. A worker's hand, it was callused and not quite clean...but his fingernails were immaculate. I pushed the hand away, and it returned. I jumped up, and he looked at me and said "Do you blame me. Your breasts are huge."

"Yes", I said and headed to my mom. I told her what happened driving home, but she never confronted or did anything about it. She told me to forget about it because it would cause trouble if I said anything..

 But the thing was, I did blame myself, and it took me years to put the blame where it belonged, on this person who had known me all my life, and with whom I still have the occasional interaction when duty requires it. When he tried to hand a ball to my daughter when she was small, I flew in front of her and told him to leave her alone. No one protected me, but by God, my daughter would be safe from him. She's known since toddlerhood that he is a bad man and to stay away.

I was dry-raped as a teen. What started out as flirtation and kissing progressed to me frantically holding my shorts closed.(they were light blue corduroy)  He was wearing sweatpants, with nothing underneath. He lay on top of me, slamming repeatedly into me. When he stood up, there was a ring of semen. I never said anything because I shouldn't have been there in the first place.

I was date raped in university. I went back to a dorm room and things turned rough. When I said no, he didn't take no for an answer. I shouldn't have been there in the first place.

When I worked in Customs, there was a senior member of management who had  been accused of more than one sexual assault and sexual harassment. He was using the system to his advantage and using appeals process to keep his job until it was time to retire, so if a female officer had to go to his office during a shift, she took a male officer with her, or she went with another female. Under no circumstances did she go by herself. And newbies were warned-don't go up there alone.

There is a video making the social media rounds of a woman in jeans and a t-shirt walking through the streets of New York. More than 100 sexually charged and inappropriate comments were made to her over the 10 hours of film, and all she did was walk. I can tell you as a survivor of the Toronto Transit System commute that I perfected the art of seemingly losing my balance and stepping back in such a way as to land a heel on the top of a groper's foot, between the 2nd and 3rd toe. When full force is applied, it's excruciating, and the groper would hurriedly step back from me. HE couldn't say anything because he had been trying to fondle me, and I could apologize profusely about losing my balance...except I never did. One steely glare and the groper would flee.

When I was working in the postal unit, a guy came in to claim his movies "Busty" and the "Best of Big Busty". When I confiscated them, he suggested I should look into appearing in the next one. My male coworkers laughed and agreed. The only other woman officer left the counter so she wouldn't have to defend me. I was on probation and I needed the job. I kept my mouth shut.

My early encounter had a lasting impact on me. I stopped wearing anything even vaguely revealing or form fitting. I have never worn a bikini again. I covered, camouflaged and hid, because his voice in my head said "you are to blame." I finally had a breast reduction after years of unwanted comments and attention.

 I have nothing but respect and praise for the increasing number of women who are finding their brave and telling their stories. Why is it that it took 9 brave souls before the narrative changed? Why is the first question in an assault often "well, what was she wearing?" ir "What were you doing there?"  Why is there a perpetual implication that the woman somehow brought it on through her actions , her demeanor, or her dress?

It shouldn't matter if a woman is dressed provocatively, is an initial willing participant in an encounter, had a lapse in judgement and went to someone's hotel room, house or dorm room, or ignored the trickle or flood of doubt seeping through her veins and went somewhere she shouldn't have been. No means no. Full stop. Consent can be withdrawn at any point. "I changed my mind." is a valid reason.

I don't know anyone who has experienced sexual assault and remained unchanged. It changes you irrevocably. And yet, we as a society do a very poor job of sheltering and protecting victims. Instead of saying "I believe you." we say "Are you sure? What were you doing there? Oh that's just Bob being Bob." or "What were you wearing."

So to the victms coming forward, I say: "I believe you." "It wasn't your fault." "You're doing the right thing." Because although I wasn't a victim of this particular predator, I have been a victim of ones before, I believe you, and I have from the start. The Truth will Out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Changing Expectations

I was an A student. I made honour roll, I attended a private school in Montreal that required an entrance exam. 75 was a fail and if you had 85+ in the course going into exams, you were exempted from writing the final. I wrote 1 final (in Math) in my 2 years there, and I had an 83...I completed my Masters in 8 months. I've taken a number of courses since, and I'd go back to school in a heart beat.

I'm not bragging. I'm framing my background. I had one C+ in my life, and that was in 2nd year Stats. Since I had a B in first term, my overall mark was a B-.

And then we adopted my daughter. She's been diagnosed with ARND-Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder,  due to her birth mom's alcohol and crack use during pregnancy. My daughter doesn't have the visual facial clues, but she certainly has the aftermath. And since she started school, her mother has had to shift academic expectations, which has been a tougher lesson than expected.

My parents had very high academic expectations. My father could find the typos in an A+ paper (and did). I would have to explain where the other 8 marks went if I brought home a 92. I missed an academic scholarship in university by .2% because the prof chose to round down rather than up and my GPA was .2 too low for the scholarship cut off. I had visions of my daughter following in my academic path.

My daughter is smart. She's visual-if she sees something, she can do it. If she can find the pattern in things, she can do it. She makes Rainbow Loom creations by the dozen by watching YouTube videos. She has trouble processing auditory information and misses most of the instructions given verbally because by the time she has processed the instruction, she's forgotten the beginning. She has anxiety that is exasperated by stress, and trying to learn new things in a "loud" classroom is stressful. She was always the last kid out of the school. There was an inverse relationship between how cold it was outside, how much of a human popsicle her mother had become and how long it took her to get ready. After speaking with a FASD expert, I now understand that she can't process what to do if too many people are doing it at the same time so she waits. She was getting overwhelmed trying to remember what to do to get ready-put her lunchbag in her backpack, bring her homework, change her shoes etc. So now I go later and neither one of us are as stressed or cranky.

Our school is doing its best to help her and we've been blessed with good teachers, for the most part. The very nature of the learning environment is not conducive to my daughter's challenges. We often have a massive meltdown right after she gets home. She's held it together all day, and now she's in a safe place and it all comes out. She tries hard, and once she grasps a concept, she's okay, but it can take a LONG TIME for that to happen and when she forgets to bring home her homework, or write it down then I'm flying blind trying to help her.That happens often and she's just finished Grade 3.

How that translates is that her academic marks do not reflect her actual abilities and talents. She freezes on tests or rushes through them, making silly errors. Her report cards do not reflect her actual abilities, but some of the marks have had me biting my tongue because I have to keep reminding myself that she is doing her best, and deals with unbelievable challenges every day because of the damage to her brain that her birth mom inflicted on her. Just as you wouldn't yell at a blind child for not reading from a printed text held up to their eyes, I have to remember that in my daughter's case, with rare exceptions, it's not a won't it's a can't.

It's been a tough lesson for me, and I have to keep reminding myself that she is doing her best. They may not have been the marks that I would have received, but as she said to me one day last year, "Mommy, I'm not like you or Hermione (because we were in a Harry Potter phase)...I don't like school." We work together to help her understand, and she's doing her best.

On Mother's Day, she wrote a list of things she loved about me. "Helps me with my homework" was mentioned twice. It's a painful period for both of us, but it's making a difference, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters.

So the expectation is my problem to deal with, not hers. She's trying her best, and that's all that matters. If the school can't teach how she learns, then maybe the school should change how they teach...and I'll fill in the gaps in the meantime.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Sometimes in life, you just have to say "screw it." Whether that means ordering the egg McMuffin and double hash browns, ignoring the dust bunnies in favour of a favourite show, ordering the $10 dessert or giving up and going to bed, knowing you will be up at the crack of stupid the next day. And sometimes, it means giving up a fight, taking your marbles and going home. 

I don't talk much about my faith. I believe that faith is deeply personal, and it is possible to be a deeply spiritual person without being a member of an organized religion. I also believe the God of my understanding doesn't care what building you are sitting in, what clothes you are wearing, what words you use or what book you reference, as long as you live a life that is loving to each other, peaceful in nature and which leaves your little corner of the world more loving. As it happens, however, I have been a member of the Catholic church all of my life. Recent events have shaken my membership in that institution, and in some ways, also shaken the bedrock of my faith.

I grew up in an alcoholic home, and especially when I was a teen, the only constant I had every week was the ritual of mass. I knew that I could walk into any Catholic church anywhere in the world, and it would be the same, consistent, reassuring and constant. It was the faith that I grew up in, and for more years than I can remember, it was the faith that I have practiced through my singing, by being a choir member, a cantor, a funeral cantor, a wedding cantor...Singing is how I have always prayed because music breaks through barriers that everything else resists. 

When my daughter arrived, she started attending church with us. I would sit in the side pew of the choir loft and I often fed her a bottle while simultaneously singing the offertory hymn with the aid of a music stand. When she got older, she sat in the back pew with my husband while I did my choir cantor thing at the front. Until she was in school full-time, if I had to sing at a funeral, she would go and spend time with my mom. When that option was no longer available, she would come to church with me and sit in the side pew. She was used to funerals and behaved reasonably well for the most part.

My daughter has recently been diagnosed with ARND-Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder. It is a form of Fetal Alcohol, and is a legacy of her birth mom, along with the crack. What it means, is that while she does not have the facial cues, alcohol caused permanent brain damage. Her left and right sides didn't develop equally, developed partially and parts didn't develop at all. She has trouble with transitions, she has trouble with too much noise, light and sound, and has a myriad of other challenges that we are dealing with and determining. And it is all internal, so the meltdown and movement looks like misbehaving rather than overload, and it is often judged as lenient parenting rather than understanding what my daughter needs to deal with an impending overload.

My daughter misbehaved at church. There's a lot more to it, but that encapsulates it. I made some poor decisions trying to give her responsibility...and  I was informed that unless someone was with her 100% of the time from now on, she couldn't attend mass. Choir members had complained. If I brought her alone, my only job was to "sit in the corner and make her behave." The message was delivered by someone that I would have called a friend, and more insult to injury, the mother of two special needs adults. And the message had been sent from the priest.

To say that I was shocked, hurt and stunned is an understatement. The message was delivered in front of some of the choir members. The institution that preaches acceptance and tolerance had just turned its back on one of its young members, and one with special needs. Nowhere in any of my bibles does it say "let the little children come to me, but only if they sit down and behave..." Pope Francis speaks of acceptance, didn't seem at all worried that a little fellow wandered up, sat in his chair and gave him a hug. Pope Francis patted his head and kept going. The message was clear-I was welcome. My daughter was banned. 

This has rocked me on a fundamental level. I know that my daughter is going to have a rough go, but of all places, church should have been the safe, welcome place. After a week of agonizing, praying, crying, trying to take the emotion out of it and figuring out what my daughter would learn if I stayed, and what she would learn if I left, I chose to leave. I kept coming back to "screw it." While I don't know for certain, I have a strong idea of who complained, and since it worked once, they will do it again, because let's face it, some of the least Christian people in the church are usually part of the organization and some of the least tolerant may be standing at the pulpit.

At the end of the day, if my daughter isn't welcome, then neither am I because she needs to know with 100% certainty that I have her back, even when she screws up. There will be enough people knocking her down and judging her. I need to be her safe place to fall, even when it's a crash landing. 

So the first time in I have no idea how many years-25-30? I am just a parishioner. I am no longer tied to a certain mass on a certain day and time. We church surfed for a couple of months, and I think we have settled on a new place. The priest is on a personal mission to get my daughter to smile, and upon hearing some of the reason why we changed churches (because he had been trying to encourage me to join that church for awhile) promptly turned and invited her to become an altar server. He wasn't at all concerned with her challenges, he was willing to work around them. 

It was very disconcerting to sit in the congregation during Palm Sunday. Easter is the liturgical time of year that spoke to me the most. I suspect that Good Friday and Easter Sunday will be equally disconcerting. Having my child rejected by the place that was my anchor has likewise pulled my sense of belonging out of its foundation. I attend church now, but my sense of connectedness is gone. I no longer feel a part of the institution that was my safe place all of my life. 

In much of my life, I have felt like an outlier, a square peg in a world of round holes, a misfit...but I never expected to feel that way in church. And the fact that my daughter was rejected takes things to a whole new level, since her challenges were well known. I don't feel a part of the Catholic Church any more. I'm just going through the motions and hoping that equilibrium will return. Solace and spiritual comfort are gone for me. I guess I'll have to find a way to make my own.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rant about email subscriptions

Dear company:

It's not you, it's me. Okay, technically, it's my spouse, but anyway, I have to leave you.  I don't want to, I'd like to change, but you aren't making it possible. You won't adapt, you won't meet me halfway, so I have to walk away.

I'm in email update Hades right now. My husband decided we are going to change web service providers, which is necessitating a change in email address. I've had that email address for a long time, it's tied to my business, it's a part of my communications platform, and shortly, poof, it will be gone. And the transition is becoming a giant pain in the server.

Hey, companies, it's 2013. You have Facebook and Twitter and Linked In and RSS and Pinterest and blogs and e-communications and you want me to subscribe to get all the latest updates and coupons and deals and whatever...so why do you make it so freaking complicated to KEEP doing that?

If I had a dollar for every time the last few days that I have had to unsubscribe and resubscribe rather than just update my email, I could take my family out to dinner, and I'm not talking McDonalds. We're getting into Red Lobster territory, here. Many blogs, companies and other places now have an "update preferences" option on their e-communications. Make it easy for me to stay with you, why don't you? Every time I have unsubscribe and turn around a second later and resubscribe, somewhere, a computer chip cries. It CAN'T be that complicated to add the feature-other companies have managed just fine.

A couple of companies insisted that I couldn't just update, I had to start over with a new profile. I quit those companies. If they are that hinky about an email, what would their return policy or defective merchandise policy be like?  I grudgingly subscribed to one retailer because, although it's beyond me why, my 8 year old daughter adores their over priced, oversexed $50 for a pair of jeans with rips and holes in them clothing, and I was hoping for a coupon or discount once in a while. According to the chirpy little customer service rep at the end of an email, I had to set up a whole new profile to update my email because they "didn't have the functionality to just update."  Seriously? SERIOUSLY?  Nope, I don't think so. Just take me off the list.

I have a quizillion things tied to my current email address. It's a sign on, a communications channel, a way for clients and editors and friends and colleagues to reach me...and I'm trying to remember all of them and update them. I also have listserves and newsletters and blogs and a bunch of other things that I receive email from. I know I won't capture all the changes, but hopefully I'll hit the important ones. I have every loyalty card known to creation...but don't push me.

So, really, it IS you, company. Get with the program, use the freaking technology or I'll move on. Don't make it harder than it has to be to stay in touch with you, because frankly, this whole process is making me cranky and my kid found and disposed of my candy stash and I don't plan on restocking until the kid is back in school.