Sunday, September 30, 2012

Summer reading

Since the advent of the Internet, the number of books I read every year has sadly declined. (The number of books I continue to BUY, on the other hand, is quite another story...)  I still manage to read several books on every vacation, though. Even thought I now have a laptop that I bring along with me, there is still enough down time to accommodate both activities, along with numerous games of cards & dominos. ; )  While we were visiting my parents in late August, I read 4.5 books in two weeks -- two hard covers, one paperback & 1.5 on my e-reader. (I have since finished the other 0.5, lol.)  And I would gladly recommend any & all of them. : ) Here are a few details:

I don't remember which came first -- whether I saw or read an excerpt from Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain -- but I was immediately intrigued. I consider myself an introvert, and I've long noticed how it's the extroverts of the world who tend to get more than their share of the spotlight. (During journalism school, we took both print & broadcast for the first two terms, then specialized in the third. Surprise! -- all the quiet, less talkative types wound up in the print newsroom, while the talkers and class clowns vied for attention in front of the TV cameras & behind the radio studio microphones.)

Cain does a great service by pointing out how our culture favours extroverts -- and the undervalued contributions made by introverts (who make up an estimated 1/3 of the population). She examines the role played by Dale Carnegie in the rise of the extrovert ideal and the culture of personality;  visits a Toastmasters Club, a Tony Robbins seminar,  Harvard Business School and Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church; examines the role that extroverts may have played in recent upheavals on Wall Street;  and uses specific examples from her own experiences, as well as other well-known introverts such as Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi. She examines some of the scientific aspects of introversion -- research on brain and emotional development in children, whether introversion is genetic -- and even tackles the question of whether cultures can be introverted or extroverted (Asian cultures vs American, for example).

She even addresses the topic of introverts & extroverts online:
"Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the "real me" online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend those relationships into the real world." (p. 63)

I marked one other passage that struck me as having great relevance for those of us going through infertility or loss, and the effort it sometimes takes for us to function in the "real" world -- the struggle to hide our emotions and maintain a brave face -- and how exhausting it can be. She tells the story of Brian Little, a highly popular, high-energy professor at Harvard, who is actually an introvert who recharges between classes at a rural retreat: 
"Double pneumonia and an overscheduled life can happen to anyone, of course, but for Little, it was the result of acting out of character for too long and without enough restorative niches. When your conscientiousness compels you to take on more than you can handle, you begin to lose interest, even in tasks that normally engage you. You also risk your physical health. "Emotional labor," which is the effort we make to control and change our own emotions, is associated with stress, burnout, and even physical symptoms like an increase in cardiovascular disease. Professor Little also believes that prolonged acting out of character may also increase autonomic nervous system activity, which can, in turn, compromise immune functioning.
"One noteworthy study suggests that people who supress negative emotions tend to leak those emotions later in unexpected ways. [emphasis mine] The psychologist Judith Grob asked people to hide their emotions as she showed them disgusting images. She even had them hold pens in their mouths to prevent them from frowning. She found that this group reported feeling less disgusted by the pictures than did those who'd been allowed to react naturally. Later, however, the people who hid their emotions suffered side effects. Their memory was impaired, and the negative emotions they'd supressed seemed to color their outlook...." (p. 223)

Near the end of the book, Cain tackles some practical issues, such as how to communicate better with a partner or child who is the opposite of your own personality

Introverts like me will find this book affirming -- but extroverts will find it valuable too, in gaining insight into the introverts in their life and how to deal with them more effectively.

Next, I dove into How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, as recommended by Mrs. Spit and J9, my longtime penpal from NZ & occasional commenter here. 

I had never heard of Moran before, but I gather she is a well-known newspaper columnist in Britain. As the New York Times review describes it, the book is part memoir, part feminist polemic, written in that frank and insanely funny style that is unmistakeably British. I cannot imagine any North American woman (with the possible exception of Tina Fey) waxing lyrical and at length about the joys of... not waxing. Moran is anti-Brazilian (and I'm not talking about people who live in Brazil) and anti-stilettos, but pro-big girl panties and adamantly pro-choice (the mother of two children, she had an abortion when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant with a third, and writes about it without regret). 

I was particularly amused that the book included a chapter titled "Why you should have children" -- immediately followed by "Why you shouldn't have children" -- both chapters equally well argued. "If having children is hard work... in many ways, it's the easy option for a woman. Why?  Because if you have children, at least people won't keep asking you when you're going to have children," she writes in the "not" chapter. Sing it, sister.

I think what I loved most about the book was that Moran is an unabashed, self-proclaimed "Strident Feminist" -- and makes it sound like fun. If you think you aren't a feminist, or aren't sure, Moran has this to ask you:
"a. Do you have a vagina? and 
"b. Do you want to be in charge of it?
"If you said "yes" to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist."
There's so much more... I've only scratched the surface here. Go, find it, read it (but beware of reading in public -- you may get some peculiar looks when you start laughing out loud-- as you almost certainly will).

I'd read some rave reviews of Wild by Cheryl Strayed -- and, of course, it had that ultimate seal of approval, the Oprah Book Club pick. At first glance, it didn't seem to be a likely choice for me. While I appreciate a leisurely stroll through some nice scenery now & then, and have been camping in my childhood (in a camper, usually one with hard sides) -- hiking, tenting and roughing it in the wild -- solo -- with occasional scary encounters with snakes, frogs, bears, moose and lecherous strangers is generally not my thing.

Nevertheless, I devoured this book in less than two days. It's beautifully written and a highly compelling story -- not just your average travelogue or girl versus nature tale. Strayed envisioned her trip as a personal quest for salvation after the death of her mother and breakup of her marriage left her broke, homeless and teetering on the verge of heroin addiction.

She -- and we -- quickly realize how woefully unprepared she is for the challenge. As Strayed points out, today, hikers on the trail can go online to plan their trips and pick up tips from other, more experienced hikers. The was 1995, in the early days of the Internet. All she had was a guidebook, burning the sections for the parts of the trail she'd already covered to reduce the weight of her overstuffed backpack. (The book burning parts made me wince.)

This is an amazing book by an amazing writer, and I heartily recommend it.

I have confessed in the past to my weakness for Hollywood memoirs & bios. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe is one of the better ones I've read in awhile (in the e-reader version).

It's not so much that Lowe's story is so unique -- average midwestern boy from a broken home in Ohio, gets bitten by the show biz bug, moves to California with his mother & brothers, finds fame, struggles with alcoholism, eventually gets sober and finds love and more success -- but he tells it very well, with humour and some keen observations. Lowe and his fellow Brat Packers are just a few years younger than me, so I can relate to the times he grew up in and the movies he made. "The Outsiders" was one of my very favourite books, growing up, and Lowe's stories of how the movie was cast and made make for some interesting reading, along with his stories of growing up in Malibu with his buddies, the Penn brothers (Chris & Sean) and the Estevez/Sheen brothers (Emilio & Charlie) -- whose dad would later play his boss on "The West Wing."   

I am generally in bed long before Craig Ferguson's The Late Late Show show comes on TV (11:30 p.m. my time), but whenever I do see him on TV, I always enjoy him, and I have fond memories of him as Drew Carey's department store boss, Mr. Wick. (Of course, I am a sucker for almost any message delivered in almost any kind of accent, lol.)  I knew he had acted in a few movies... but his past incarnations as a bartender, standup comedian and a drummer in a punk rock band (!!) came as a surprise.

I hugely enjoyed Ferguson's memoir, American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot. Ferguson is a year younger than me, so I can relate to the times he grew up in, if not the setting. He grew up in a working class family in a dreary suburb of Glasgow, Scotland, and it's the stories of his youth and how he worked his way to Hollywood that are the most interesting parts of the book. Like Caitlin Moran, he has that unique British (oops, sorry, Scottish) sense of self-deprecating humour and way of expressing himself -- you can pratically hear him talking as you read. He is cheerfully frank in particular about his descent into alcoholism, what it did to him and how he eventually embraced sobriety. This is another one of those books you need to beware reading in public, because you are likely to wind up laughing out loud.

How about you? Any good reads this summer?

Sunday, September 23, 2012


So last night just before 10, I was half asleep on the couch, laptop in my lap, when a "ping" alerted me to an incoming e-mail.

It was from a Canadian pregnancy and parenting magazine -- which, for obvious reasons, I haven't touched for years.

"Your Pregnancy: Week 5: Taking Care of You." it read.


I said to dh "What the...??!!!" and showed him the e-mail.  

"Umm, is there something you're not telling me?" he said.  

"I'm almost 52 years old, with not exactly a stellar track record in these matters. What do YOU think??" 

The first line of the e-mail reads, "Still trying to process the fact that you're pregnant?" And a little below, a section that reads:  "Surprise?... If your pregnancy was planned, you're probably feeling overjoyed right now. If, however, you were taken by surprise by that plus sign on the pregnancy test, you probably have some mixed emotions right now. You're not alone."

Needless to say, "surprise" doesn't even BEGIN to describe what I was feeling at that moment. Was someone playing a cruel joke on me?

I thought about sending a return e-mail saying, "You are barking up the WRONG tree, people!" Instead, I just clicked on the "unsubscribe" button and went to bed, shaking my head.

Then, this afternoon, I logged into Facebook -- and there was one of my ALI friends posting that SHE had received the exact same e-mail. Many of her friends chimed in that they, too, had received an e-mail, and that, if the buzz on Twitter was any indication, half the female population of Canada had too.  

There is nothing about it on the magazine's website at the moment -- but they did post an apology on their Facebook page, saying they are trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Some people think it's hilarious -- but not surprisingly, there are also quite a few people who are (quite rightly) pissed off, many of them mentioning infertility & miscarriages, and many wondering how the heck their names got on this particular mailing list. I'm guessing it's either some weird technical glitch, or some hacker's idea of a practical joke.

But it's comforting to know I wasn't the only one.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A blog post of sorts ; )

The date of my last post looms large and reproachful whenever I open up my blog -- and unread posts continue to pile up in my Google Reader. I open a "new post" window & stare at it and nothing comes. Even if I have ideas, I don't seem have the energy to get them out & onto the screen.

Time just seem to whiz by these days. I'm not exactly sure what I've been doing besides blogging. Working (most definitely -- busy year end season has begun :p). Some great progress on the genealogy front, in collaboration with cousins in the States and Scotland -- some great detective work among us, all made possible by the Internet!  Skyping with my mother. Entertaining my aunties, who were visiting my cousin, who lives nearby. Helping dh coach our nephew through a rough patch at university.  Feeding my inner political junkie by staying up WAY too late watching political conventions, several nights in a row, then scouring the online newspapers and blogs the next day to see what's being said (& how -- marvelling over the clever turns of phrase some columnists manage to come up with -- on deadline!!).  Finishing off a book that I started while on vacation (which seems like eons ago already).  I do have a post in the works, reviewing my vacation reads. Eventually, it will get done...!

Actually, two cool things happened this week that I'd like to write about. First, I went to an event sponsored by my company's employee Pride group -- a panel discussion about how to be an ally to the LGBT community. The panellists included three of our executives and a special guest, Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was blunt, profane, funny and touching.  Burke admitted that he's an unlikely ally and never thought he would find himself in this spot. Like most of us, what made the difference for him was someone he knew -- in his case, his son Brendan, who came out to his father and then to the world before he was killed in a car accident in 2010 at age 21. Since then, both Burke & another son, Patrick, have become high-profile supporters of organizations such as PFLAG and anti-bullying initiatives.  Patrick has cofounded the You Can Play project, which has been supported by athletes from all four professional sports leagues.

Someone asked Burke if he does a lot of speaking to students. He said he's visited about half a dozen schools, but admitted, "I don't like doing it, because I have to talk about my son, and then I feel s***y for a long time afterwards."  As a fellow bereaved parent, my heart went out to the man, because I knew exactly what he meant. It can be so difficult -- and exhausting -- to dredge up the pain, even if it is for a good cause -- nevermind in front of a couple hundred kids who might not understand what it means to lose a child. 

The other cool thing was Friday at lunchtime, the city of Toronto held a parade for the Canadian Olympic team members, who recently returned from the London Games. The parade went right past my building, so I couldn't resist popping downstairs to watch it pass (I even remembered to bring my camera!), and I am glad I did. The athletes looked like they were having a blast (several of them had their own cameras, filming the crowds as the crowd snapped pictures of them) and it was fun to see so many people lining both sides of the street, waving Canadian flags and cheering as they passed (including lots of parents with young children).  As they passed, I recognized the legendary Clara Hughes (who can miss that smile?), gold medallist Rosie MacLennan & Karen Cockburn, Simon Whitfield & Paula Findlay, Alex Despatie (eye candy, lol), Adam van Koeverden (ditto), the women's eights rowing team, and chef de mission Mark Tewksbury & assistant Sylvie Bernier, bringing up the rear. It was a nice way to kick off the weekend. : )  

(I guess that wasn't so hard after all.) ; )

Monday, September 10, 2012

Splish splash ; )

Another great Facebook find sent to me by my friend... of course, puddles aren't always a negative thing. Whenever I see a puddle, I have the irresistable urge to find a pair of rubber boots & splash around in it like I did when I was a kid.  : )

Sunday, September 9, 2012

High school (!)

Msfitzita had a great post this week about Thomas's first day of Grade 2.  Entirely theoretical, of course, since her Thomas, like my Katie, never has and never will set foot inside a school. I could so relate to her words: 
"Back to school pictures, which began popping up on Facebook back in mid August as children of my American friends headed back, reached their agonizing peak this week. The annual assault... It was wearying...  I don't tell people that eleventy-billion milestone pictures coming at me for two solid weeks eventually starts to erode the stitches holding my heart together."
I wrote once before on this blog about how I can take it and take it and take it, and then, like raindrops eventually start to erode stone, my brave face starts to crumble. As I commented to Msfitzita, I don't mind the odd photo here & there... I don't want my friends to feel they have to hide their kids from me... but day after day, to read update after update & see picture after picture (and entire Facebook album after album of back to school pictures)(and they are STILL being posted...)... to read thread after message board thread and hear conversation after conversation focused on back to school stuff... it IS wearying to deal with -- still, even 14 years on.

I had already recognized, as I wrote a few posts ago, that this year (being Katie's first year of Grade 9 = high school hereabouts) might be a hard one for me. I welcomed our end-of-August vacation as one way to avoid dealing with the subject.

But a Monday (Labour Day) morning visit to the cemetery had tears rolling down my face. I had a hard time getting ready for work on Tuesday.. and I had to gulp back tears again as we drove to the commuter train station.

You see, our route takes us right past the high school Katie would have been attending -- would have been heading to that morning for the very first time (albeit not as early as we were driving by...!). And of course, the big sign out front that morning read, "Welcome Grade 9 students." For the next four years, I won't have to guess what Katie might have been doing at school. It will all be there for me to read on that sign -- report cards, pictures, exams, fundraisers, school holiday dates and early dismissals, drama productions -- all announced to the community via the sign outside. From now on, the kids we see hanging around outside and walking home in the late afternoon, won't just be any old kids -- they will be Katie's peers -- schoolmates and classmates and might-have-been friends.

I mentioned on Facebook to a few old friends from my pg loss support group, while complementing the back-to-school photos of their kids, that Katie would have been in Grade 9 & I was having a hard time with it. I guess I was fishing for support from people I knew would "get it." Thankfully, they did.

But as Msfitzita points out in her post, it would have been nice not to have to go on a fishing expedition -- to have someone remember and recognize that it might have been a difficult day for me.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When the going gets tough... the tough get going

A (childless not by choice) friend sent this to me on Facebook, with my blog in mind. : ) Isn't it great??

Sometimes it's hard to believe, I know... when I started off down this road less travelled 11 years ago, I didn't know exactly what I would find. I hoped and believed that, because my husband & I had had a good life up until that point as a family of two, that we could still have a good life in the years ahead, even if things hadn't turned out exactly the way we had planned.

And while there have been bad days (and weeks... and months...) -- there HAVE been good things down the road. 

And I hope there will be more as we keep on walking,