Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Pandemic Project, Part 5

Back in March 2020, I posted about my voluntary participation in a survey from the University of Texas. The Pandemic Project is studying how people's lives are being affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, how they are coping and how reactions are changing over time. 

Each time I've received a survey, I've consented to be contacted for follow up. I received invitations to complete a second survey in May 2020 (and posted about the results here), a third survey in July 2020 (results here) and a fourth in October 2020 (results here). 

Today, 17 months after completing the fourth survey, I received another request to complete a follow-up survey -- my fifth (although the title of the email read "The Pandemic Project Version 7").  :)  The surveys take about 15-20 minutes to complete, and at the end, you receive scores in certain categories and suggestions on coping strategies (which can be emailed to you). 

It's been interesting to track my scores in the same categories from survey to survey to survey! 
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, my Social Connection score was 8.2, which is higher than average. "This is a very good sign given the restrictions on social behavior," I was told. I received the same score in the second, third and fourth surveys.  In the first survey, my Social Connection score was not quite as high -- 6.2, or average. 
  • My COVID Obsession score was 7.1 -- in the high range. "You may be following the coronavirus stories too much."  (Moi?? lol)  My score was also 7.1 in the second survey I received. It was a whopping 10 out of 10 in the first survey, early on in the pandemic (!), 6 in the third and 4.8 in the fourth. "Yes, the COVID-19 outbreak is stressful. Yes, it’s good to know if there is something new you can do. But don’t overdo it!" I am advised. "Watching or reading too much news about the coronavirus is bad for your health... Limit yourself to watching/reading information about the coronavirus to 30 minutes a day – maybe 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the early evening." 
  • My Healthy Habits score was 5.4 -- the same as it was in the last two surveys I received -- which means that my general health habits are about average. In other words, my life style is generally good but there is still room for improvement. This score was down from 6.2 in the first two surveys.  
  • My COVID-related Anxiety and Distress score was 7.9 -- in the high range, and my highest score in this category ever, "which suggests that the coronavirus is disrupting your life more than you would like." (Let's just say that after two years of this, yeah, some normalcy would be nice... but I still don't see it happening anytime soon...  :(  ) Previously, my score was 6.7 (mid-range, and similar to the average person), down from 7.3 in the second and third surveys, although up just slightly from 6.6 on the first survey.
Did you take the quiz?  What did you learn from your results?  (If you haven't taken part yet but this has piqued your curiosity, check it out here.) 

Monday, March 28, 2022

"Charlotte Fairlie" by D.E. Stevenson (re-read)

My D.E. Stevenson online fan group recently finished reading & discussing "Charlotte Fairlie" (also known as "The Enchanted Isle" and/or "Blow the Wind Southerly"). The book was originally published in 1954 and was out of print for many years -- until this January, when new paperback and e-book editions were released! I read the book over the Christmas holidays, ahead of our group discussions, and reviewed it here.  

Plot recap: Charlotte is the young headmistress at Saint Elizabeth's School for girls, where she was once a pupil herself.  It's a dream come true for her, career-wise -- but the responsibilities of leadership set her apart from her staff, and with few friends or relatives around to support her, it's a rather lonely life. She finds herself becoming involved in the life of a new student, Tessa MacRynne, and Tessa's friends, the Eastwood children. Then she receives an invitation to spend part of the summer holidays with Tessa and her family at their home on a remote island off the coast of Scotland.  

As I said in my original review, I'm not sure this would count among my favourite DES novels -- but Charlotte is a very appealing heroine, a successful career woman in a time when that was not so common as it is today, and I think that, even today, some women will relate to her loneliness and longing for the happy family she never had (although -- mild spoiler alert! -- there is a happy ending!).  I was also pleasantly surprised to find a few (mostly thoughtful) passages that speak to the childless experience. 

I didn't mention this in my original review, but was also fun to get a glimpse of the hoopla around Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in June 1953, as we now approach her 70th (!) anniversary Platinum Jubilee. 

My original rating of 4 stars on Goodreads still stands.  

Coming up next: "The House of the Deer," a sequel of sorts to "Gerald and Elizabeth" (and featuring a few characters we've met in other previous Stevenson novels), which we read just before "Charlotte Fairlie" (reviewed here and here). 

This was Book #16 read to date in 2022 (and Book #5 finished in March), bringing me to 36% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

#MicroblogMondays: The slap

I had a couple of potential topics in mind for my #MM post today -- and yes, I was thinking I might post something about last night's Oscar awards ceremony, something I've often posted about in the past. (Who wore the best/worst dresses? Who gave the best/most bizarre acceptance speech? etc. etc...) 

The Oscars aren't what they used to be (and I haven't been inside a movie theatre since January 2020) -- but I haven't missed one in the 50+ (!) years that I've been watching. (Aside from 1979, when I was a high school student working part-time at Woolco, and missed the first hour of the ceremony, and 1989, when I unwittingly bought us tickets to "Phantom of the Opera" for the same night. We set the VCR, got home in time to see the final few awards presented anyway, and watched the whole show the following evening with popcorn, fast-forwarding through the commercials. Which is not actually a bad way to do it...!) 

But I've never seen anything quite like what transpired onstage last night. 

As I later said to a few people on Facebook (and on my own page) -- it was a pretty dumb joke from Chris Rock. Even if he didn't know about Jada Smith's alopecia, it shows there's a good reason why you should never make jokes about people's appearances. (And as I watched the replays this morning, you can see that Will Smith actually laughed, at first -- I guess until he saw his wife's reaction.) 

But violence is not an acceptable reaction (nevermind onstage at the Oscars!). He obviously realized that, by the time he gave that tearful, rambling acceptance speech, trying to mansplain away what he'd just done. 

It's the crowning moment of your professional career, dude (or supposed to be) -- and in a matter of seconds, you just destroyed a lifetime of careful image-building by letting your temper get the best of you. 

(You also robbed every other nominee and winner in the room that came onstage after that slap from their own full, rightful moment of glory in the spotlight.) 

Not his (or Chris Rock's, or Oscar's) finest moment. 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Chips, Coke, Oscar ballot
(to track the winners on) and a pen.
Ready for Oscar night!! 
(But totally unprepared for what happened!) 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Odds & ends for the weekend

  • I haven't posted since Monday -- but let's just say I was rather preoccupied this week. I had a colonoscopy (!) on Thursday afternoon -- my second. (I had my first one 10+ years ago, at age 50, and wrote about it, here and here.)  I had to watch my diet on Monday & Tuesday (low fibre, no seeds, etc.), and spent most of the day Wednesday following a diet of clear liquids only (including a lovely (NOT!) cocktail of laxative pills and specialty drinks designed to clean out my colon) -- and then dealing with the results...!  
    • Everyone will tell you the prep is the worst part about having a colonscopy, and that was and is certainly true for me. I had hoped the absence of Aunt Flo this time around would make things easier than they were 10 years ago. I did NOT miss having her around! -- but the prep was (still) gawdawful. Last time (at a different clinic), I had to drink just two glasses of citrus-flavoured prep stuff to clean out my colon (this kind);  this time around it was a different regime that tasted nauseatingly fruity. I had to mix up and then try to down FOUR (4) LITRES ( = more than one full U.S. gallon) -- 2L (about 8 glasses) in two hours on Wednesday night, and another 2L in two hours on Thursday morning -- all on an empty stomach, of course. 
      • I managed to choke down all 8 glasses on Wednesday night, but only six glasses in the morning before I had to stop drinking liquids altogether, a few hours before my appointment. It made me literally sick to my stomach, several times, and I spent some time in the early hours of Thursday morning laying on the freezing cold ceramic tile of the bathroom floor, enveloped in a cold sweat and unable to move (while dh slept on, blissfully unaware -- and hugely remorseful later, lol). (It seemed like a long time, but it actually wasn't.) 
      • Tip for anyone else using the same prep regime (which I got from the pharmacist I bought it from): it goes down slightly easier if you chill it in the refrigerator first. I also added ice cubes to each glass I downed to make and keep it even colder. 
    • The last time I had a colonoscopy, I was completely out. I remember nothing between the anesthetist starting the flow of sedatives into my system and the weird sensation and sound of the tube being removed from my nether regions when it was all over. 
      • This time around, I remember hearing snippets of conversation among the staff, and feeling a couple of twinges and nudging sensations inside my abdomen. I also remember opening my eyes at one point and staring at the screen beside me and thinking, "Hmmm, I guess that's the inside of my colon."  (I got pictures later! -- along with a written report outlining what they'd found.)  
    • The doctor found and removed three small polyps, and sent them for biopsy -- standard procedure -- but he assured me everything looked fine. I will hold onto that thought. Results should come in two to three weeks. 
    • The clinic is practically next door to my condo building -- a three-minute walk, tops -- but since I was feeling pretty rough, dh drove me over and picked me up again afterwards in the car. (Covid protocols meant he was not allowed to wait inside for me. He returned home after dropping me off and I texted him to come pick me up later when I was cleared to leave.)
    • I was very tired for the rest of Thursday, but mostly back to normal on Friday. :) 
    • I am not clear on whether I will have to return in 5 or 10 years? (My family doctor will let me know.) Obviously, it's not my favourite way to spend a few days -- but I'll do it in 5 years if I have to, because it's the smart thing to do. (But I think next time, I'll ask if I can do a different prep regime...!  I still got sick with the stuff I had the first time around -- but it was just two glasses to drink versus 16...!!)  
  • Please spare a thought for our bereaved and childless sisters in the U.K. & Ireland this weekend:  it's Mothering Sunday/Mother's Day there. (Plus, they get to suffer all over again in May, along with the rest of us. Even though they won't be celebrating then, the hoopla is overwhelming & pervasive enough to span continents, especially these days with social media, etc.)
  • (Not especially ALI-related, but worth noting:)  Margaret Atwood was a guest on Ezra Klein's New York Times podcast recently. I haven't actually listened to the podcast yet, but I read the transcript. They talk about the power of stories, The Handmaid's Tale (of course), the differences between the U.S. and Canada and much, much more. :)  
*** *** *** 

A couple of my favourite Substack writers had some interesting comments about the U.S. Senate's hearings to confirm Judge Ketani Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, zeroing in specifically on the issue of motherhood -- in particular, the very different treatment afforded previous nominee Amy Coney Barrett,  a white mother of 7 (!), versus Brown, a Black mother of two. 

Jill Filipovic (who is childfree by choice) weighed in with "Isn't She a Mother? Ketanji Brown Jackson, Amy Coney Barrett, and the protection of the white mother." It's worth reading the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts: 
Judge Barrett’s status as a mother was used to justify her confirmation and shield her from criticism. Judge Jackson, by contrast, wasn’t afforded that presumption of maternal virtue and feminine vulnerability; her children afforded her no status at all as she was made to answer for other peoples’ actions and ideas, simply because they share the same skin tone...

...Judge Jackson’s maternity was used as neither an argument for her moral character nor as a defense against criticisms of her record. [Note from me: And isn't that the way it *should* be?] While legitimate questions about how Judge Barrett might rule on the Affordable Care Act were swatted down with an indignant how dare you, she’s a mother!, Judge Jackson was afforded no such defense when she was essentially accused of being soft of pedophiles. While Judge Barrett’s reproductive choices were broadly lauded, Judge Jackson’s were largely ignored.

Judge Barrett was broadly portrayed as an icon of modern Christian womanhood: the matriarch of a large family, including international adoptees rescued from poverty and brought to a life in Christ, who would use her seat on the nation’s highest court to ensure that other women would have fewer reproductive choices and be forced into the childbearing that she chose for herself. Her family life was an implied rejoinder to feminists concerned about her clear intention to end the era of safe, legal abortion in the United States — if Amy Coney Barrett could have seven children and a successful career, why would any woman need abortion or contraception?

Counterfactuals aren’t always particularly useful, but I think this one is: What would conservatives on Fox News be saying about Judge Jackson if she was a mother of seven? Are Black women with large families typically lauded by conservatives as symbols of feminine virtue? Or are they more likely to be portrayed as welfare queens and irresponsible breeders?

Filipovic does make a specific nod to the inherent pronatalism on display:  

For the record, I think it’s a good thing that we focus on women’s professional accomplishments over their family decisions, and I found the obsession with Judge Barrett’s family to be regressive and anti-feminist. Mothers, after all, are people who are no more or less moral or decent than anyone else. Some are wonderful; some abuse or even kill their children. Begetting a child does not beget goodness. [emphasis mine] 

But socially, we do continue to treat certain kinds of mothers as paragons of virtue, while denying that presumption of virtue from others. Motherhood afforded Amy Coney Barrett significant status and respect, so much so that her status as a mother was put on near-equal footing as her professional credentials when she was being interviewed for one of the most important jobs in the nation. And her status as a white mother also implied vulnerability — as a virtuous woman, she was also one worthy of protection. That’s one reason why you saw Republicans so angrily defending legitimate criticisms of her judicial record and philosophy with references to her children.

By contrast, Judge Jackson was made to answer for a universe of ideologies and works she has never endorsed and didn’t create, from the book Anti-Racist Baby to Critical Race Theory to contested definitions of the term “woman.” While Judge Barrett’s personal family choices were leveraged in her defense against questions about things she has actually said or done, Judge Jackson was held responsible for works and ideas she had nothing to do with, simply because she shares a skin color with their creators. Judge Barrett was allowed to speak in response to questions, and was afforded significant deference and protection against taking responsibility for her own statements and decisions. Judge Jackson was constantly interrupted, and made to shoulder a kind of collective responsibility for whatever racial bugaboo Republicans think will enrage their racist base.

Judge Jackson will take her seat on the Supreme Court. But we shouldn’t forget what an appalling spectacle her confirmation hearings were, and how they revealed exactly what kind of woman Republicans — and too many Democrats — believe is worthy of power and respect.

Lyz Lenz also commented:  
The hearings were also a reminder of who in America is allowed to hide behind the mantle of motherhood and who isn’t. When journalists and pundits criticized and questioned the now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett, they were attacked as anti-mother. I should know, I (a mother) was one of them. I criticized Barrett’s use of motherhood as a cloaking mechanism and was attacked by the Catholic League as anti-mother. 

This time, it was those same defenders of Coney Barrett now attacking Brown Jackson’s (also a mother) record on sentencing for child porn offenders. The implication being that Brown Jackson did not get the same protective mantle of white motherhood because she is a Black mother...

I personally think motherhood is not a protective mantle of any sort. Many mothers actively make the world a terrible place for their children and others. And becoming a mother is not an indicator of virtue of any kind. The only thing it indicates is that a child or two is in your care. [emphasis mine] Also, vehemently crying “I am a mother!” is usually a smokescreen. To be clear, Brown Jackson did not do this. But the side-by-side comparisons of her attackers using QAnon dog whistles about her versus their impassioned defense of Barrett solely because she is a mother is worth pointing out...
(Lenz has previously written about white women and motherhood, including re: Barrett, which I've noted and linked to in my blog, here and here.) 

Both pieces beg the question: what would the conservative on Fox News be saying if a female nominee was childless or childfree?  How would she be portrayed? What happens when you don't have "the protective mantle of motherhood" to shield you, to hide behind, at all? 

I don't recall Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan and/or Sonia Sotomayor being grilled about their lack of children during their confirmation hearings (and thank goodness for that...!) -- but, at least in Kagan's case, it was definitely noted in the press at the time -- and not always in a complimentary/supportive way. (See my blog post from 2010.) 

While I recognize both Filipovic & Lenz were focused primarily on the racism being displayed -- and the points they make are valid -- I appreciate that they also recognized the pronatalism at work too (even if they didn't use that exact term). I just wish they had delved into that angle a little more deeply.  Why does motherhood need to be mentioned at all at what essentially is a job interview? What does a judge's parental status have to do with their ability to do the job, i.e., to interpret and apply the law? (Asking questions about a candidate's parental status is illegal in many jurisdictions;  simply mentioning it probably isn't, but nevertheless, it might be considered treading on thin ice.)  

Monday, March 21, 2022

"Run Towards the Danger" by Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley, now in her early 40s, was one of Canada's best-known child actors back in the 1980s and 1990s -- most notably as Sara Stanley, the Story Girl, in the TV series "Road to Avonlea," an adaptation of several of Lucy Maud Montgomery's novels & short stories. As an adult, in addition to acting, she's written and/or directed some highly acclaimed (some Oscar-nominated) movies, television and documentaries, including "Away From Her." a beautiful adaptation of an Alice Munro story about an aging (childless!) couple (played by Julie Christie and Canadian national treasure Gordon Pinsent);  "Alias Grace," a six-part mini-series adapted by Polley from the Margaret Atwood novel, and "Stories We Tell," a documentary in which she delved into some of her family's stories and secrets, including the matter of who was her biological father.  She's also a political activist. 

Now she's written a book, "Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations With a Body of Memory." It's not a comprehensive memoir, but a collection of six personal essays, including the one that gives the book its title.  In October 2015, Polley suffered a debilitating concussion when a fire extinguisher fell on her head as she rummaged through the lost and found bin at a local community centre. Three and half years later, still feeling the after-effects, she consulted an American concussion specialist in Pittsburgh:  

He says, "If you remember only thing from this meeting, remember this: run towards the danger." 

I should now view my symptoms, he says, not as something to be avoided, but as "opportunities" to increase my threshold of tolerance. I must learn to run into the discomfort instead of away from it.  

Polley has adopted "run towards the danger" as her motto, and uses the essays in this book to confront and reflect on some of the more traumatic experiences from her past. "These are stories that have haunted and directed me, unwittingly, down circuitous paths. As these stories found echoes in my adult life, and then went another, better way than they did in childhood, they became lighter and easier to carry," she writes in the preface.   

  • "Alice, Collapsing" recounts Polley's stage debut in the title role of "Alice in Wonderland" at the prestigious Stratford (Ontario) Festival at age 15. Comfortable in front of a TV or movie camera, Polley had never acted onstage before (let alone at a major venue like Stratford), and developed a severe case of stage fright. She got an "out" when her doctor agreed to perform back surgery to correct her scoliosis sooner rather than later, but the guilt she felt over the episode lingered for years.
  • In "The Woman Who Stayed Silent," Polley describes how she was assaulted as a teenager while on a date with well-known CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Some years later -- just ahead of the Harvey Weinstein case and #MeToo -- several women publicly accused Ghomeshi of assault; he was charged, tried and later acquitted on all counts. Polley wrestled with the decision over whether to go public with her story and join the court case. She decided to remain silent at the time (for understandable reasons), but tells her story here.   
  • In "Mad Genius," Polley remembers making her first major movie, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," with director (and Monty Python troupe member) Terry Gillam. It was a terrifying experience for young Sarah (then 8 years old), who was mostly unprotected by the adults around her (including her own parents) and traumatized by the risks she was obligated to take, including many scenes involving explosives. 
  • In "Dissolving the Boundaries," Polley and her husband take their young family on a spur-of-the-moment, dream-inspired trip to Prince Edward Island, where she comes to terms with her experiences starring in the iconic "Road to Avonlea" series (set in PEI but mostly filmed in Ontario). (This was timely for me, as my L.M. Montgomery Readathon group on Facebook is currently reading and discussing "The Story Girl.")  

Curiously, the essay I'd heard about the least in the press and reviews surrounding the launch of this book was #3, "High Risk," in which Polley describes her high-risk first pregnancy and its aftermath, interspersed with memories of her own mother (an actress and casting director, who died at age 53 of colon cancer when Polley was just 11).  Polley's reproductive history included painful periods, ovarian cysts, stage 4 endometriosis, miscarriage and infertility (albeit she did go on to have three daughters). Her first pregnancy included gestational diabetes, placenta previa, an ambulance trip to the hospital, a stay on the high-risk ward until her C-section delivery, and a premature baby who spent time in the NICU. (Her subsequent pregnancies were less eventful.)  

Some readers may find this chapter traumatic reading. Some might find it validating.  All I can say is, proceed with caution.

For me, it was both. It was also a delightful surprise to find Polley singing the praises of her obstetrician -- who also happened to be MY very own beloved Dr. Ob-gyn, who saw me through my doomed pregnancy in 1998, ran my preliminary fertility tests, referred me to Dr. RE, and remained my gynecologist for 20 years afterwards, until his retirement a few years ago. (She affectionately describes him as "a legend" -- rightfully so!) 

These essays are honest (sometimes brutally so), thoughtful, introspective and self-aware, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, sometimes infuriating. (Anyone with any thoughts of ever letting their kids go into show business at an early age needs to read this book.)  The writing is stellar.  

An enthusiastic 5 stars on Goodreads.  

This was Book #15 read to date in 2022 (and Book #4 finished in March), bringing me to 33% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

"Prolonged grief disorder?"

Back in 2012, I posted about a proposed amendment to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM -- used by psychiatrists & psychologists to diagnose and treat mental disorders), which would allow patients grieving a loss to be diagnosed as "clinically depressed" within just TWO WEEKS.  (The previous time frame was two months, and previous to that, a full year.) 

"In other words," I wrote, "after two weeks, grief could be classified as abnormal behaviour. You could be categorized as mentally ill if you're not deemed to be sufficiently "over" the death of a loved one. After just TWO WEEKS." 

Fast forward 10 years.  "How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer," read a headline in the New York Times this past weekend. The latest edition of the DSM now includes a new diagnosis for "prolonged grief disorder," which would apply to those (an estimated 4% of grieving people) who are "incapacitated, pining and ruminating a year after a loss, and unable to return to previous activities." Its inclusion in the DSM also means that "clinicians can now bill insurance companies for treating people for the condition," the article says.

...critics of the idea have argued vigorously against categorizing grief as a mental disorder, saying that the designation risks pathologizing a fundamental aspect of the human experience.

They warn that there will be false positives — grieving people told by doctors that they have mental illnesses when they are actually emerging, slowly but naturally, from their losses.

And they fear grief will be seen as a growth market by drug companies that will try to persuade the public that they need medical treatment to emerge from mourning.

As in 2012, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore is speaking out: 

“I completely, utterly disagree that grief is a mental illness,” said Joanne Cacciatore, an associate professor of social work at Arizona State University who has published widely on grief, and who operates the Selah Carefarm, a retreat for bereaved people.
“When someone who is a quote-unquote expert tells us we are disordered and we are feeling very vulnerable and feeling overwhelmed, we no longer trust ourselves and our emotions,” Dr. Cacciatore said. “To me, that is an incredibly dangerous move, and short sighted.”

As I said when I flagged this article on Facebook, if they've found some new approaches to therapy that have proven helpful to some people (and if you read the article, it sounds like they have), well, fine. But I reject the idea that there's a prescribed length of time that it's acceptable to grieve, that "prolonged" (by whose standards?) grief is a disorder or mental illness. 

Grief needs to be normalized, not pathologized.

Read the whole article (the comments are interesting too). Your thoughts? 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

"The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

Back in the early 1990s, I read an amazing debut novel (that I keep meaning to re-read someday) called "The Secret History" by a talented young writer named Donna Tartt. Tartt went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for her third novel, "The Goldfinch."  I bought a thick paperback copy that languished on the shelf, eventually to be replaced by an e-copy -- which I still hadn't gotten around to reading, until it was chosen by my Gateway Women book club as our next read, covering both March & April (because of its 700+ page length -- my e-book copy, when set at a comfortable-for-my-eyes typesize & line spacing, was 1,400+!). (I still haven't read Tartt's second book, "The Little Friend.") 

As the book begins, our protagonist/narrator, Theo Decker, is holed up in a hotel in Amsterdam, thinking back to the fateful day 14 years earlier when, as a 13-year-old in New York City, he and his mother decided to pop into the Metropolitan Museum of Art to kill some time before heading to an appointment -- at the same time that a massive explosion occurs -- a deadly terrorist attack. 

Amid the chaos, Theo comforts a dying elderly gentleman, who gives him a ring and directs him to take one of the paintings (which happens to be his mother's favourite) -- a small, exquisite picture of a goldfinch, chained to its perch, by Dutch master Carol Fabritius (and it is an actual painting). Wrapped in newspapers and an old pillowcase, the priceless masterpiece -- the one thing he has left that connects him to his mother -- accompanies Theo over the next 14 years, as he moves from his mother's apartment and in with a friend's wealthy family on Park Avenue -- then to the completely alien environment of Las Vegas with his previously estranged father and his girlfriend -- then back to New York again (Greenwich Village).  

First -- what I didn't enjoy: the book is very (VERY!) LONG, and very leisurely paced. Maybe it's a sign of our shrinking attention spans in the age of instant gratification, but it did feel like a bit of a slog at times. (At 700+ pages, shouldn't I be able to count it as two books read on Goodreads??) 

(As an aside: Scanning the reviews of both the book and the movie version online, the word "Dickensian" kept popping up. There are some parallels in the sprawling, meandering, twisting plot, and large cast of colourful characters -- and one of the characters references Dickens, drawing a parallel between another character and the Artful Dodger from "Oliver Twist" -- but most especially the length!)(I explained my history with reading Dickens in a review of "A Christmas Carol" a while back, here.) 

It's all well written, but some of the material felt extraneous -- there's a lot that probably could have been cut or condensed. Also, there are lots of foreign words & phrases throughout, which was slightly annoying, because I felt like I either had to stop reading and start typing into Google Translate, or keep reading but possibly miss out on a key piece of information, or at least some little nugget that would add to my understanding &/or enjoyment of the novel. 

Still. Just when I felt like things were going nowhere, they would pick up again -- and I'd keep on reading. 

What I enjoyed about this book: Tartt really is an amazing writer. The characters are all vividly drawn. As I said, I kept reading -- because I wanted to know what happened to Theo, and his best friend -- the charismatic rogue Boris (who -- timely footnote -- is Ukrainian);  and to Hobie, the kindly craftsman and expert restorer of antique furniture, who gives Theo a home and a future; and Pippa, a fellow survivor of the terrorist attack, and Theo's dream girl; and the Barbour family, and more. (Apparently Luke Wilson plays Theo's dad in the movie version -- and I can see that -- but really, the only person I could envision as I read the book was a young Michael Douglas. ;)  ) The descriptions of New York City and Las Vegas were cinematic. And Tartt's descriptions of the lingering effects of grief and loss, trauma/PTSD, guilt and anxiety, all of which hang over and colour the entire book, are BANG ON. There are several coincidences and plot twists that, while somewhat improbable, also keep things interesting. 

So -- not 5 stars on Goodreads. There were parts of the book where I was thinking 3.5, but I wound up bestowing a solid 4. I will look forward to our upcoming discussion about the book, later in April. 

(Have you read "The Goldfinch"? I would love to know what you thought of it, if you did!) 

This was Book #14 read to date in 2022 (and Book #3 finished in March), bringing me to 31% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 5 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Odds & ends

  • It's spring break this week here in Ontario. Even in pre-covid times, dh & I tended to hibernate during this week to avoid the masses of parents & kids running amok in stores, malls, movie theatres and restaurants -- and given that covid is still with us (really, it is! -- despite what certain politicians & others might be telling you...), AND our provincial government recently abandoned capacity restrictions and vaccine passports (and will soon abandon mask mandates as well)... needless to say, we are (still) staying home this week.  ;)  
  • It is 0C/32F and it has been snowing outside ALL DAY (again). It does look pretty -- but as I said to dh and to a few friends on social media, "it would be prettier if it was December instead of mid-March...!"  (Not that it's uncommon to see snow here at this time of year -- but it's been a LOOOONNNNGGGG winter! and most of us are more than ready for it to be over...!) 
    • It IS gradually getting milder. And the first day of spring officially arrives this weekend...! 
  • I noticed, as we went to & from the car on Saturday night, that the property managers (or -- someone??) have already taken down all the posters around our building reminding people about the requirement to wear masks in common areas. Just a wee bit premature -- the provincial mask mandate is lifting -- but not until March 21st.  
  • Dh & I were thinking of ordering takeout from a local restaurant we hadn't tried before. It's close by (within walking distance), with an extensive menu and good reviews. Then I looked at their social media accounts.  It seems they were not checking vaccine passports when they were in effect (and posted to that effect), and they also openly supported the convoy in Ottawa (although they also claimed they were not anti-vaxx or anti-masks). I understand these past two years have been extremely hard on restaurants and small businesses, and I suppose they got a lot of business (and good reviews) from people who also objected to the passports and/or other restrictions (and knew they could go to eat there without questions), and/or supported the convoy (judging from the number of "likes" and enthusiastic comments), but... they lost this potential customer.  :( 
  • I saw this review in the Washington Post of a new memoir by Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who got caught up in the first Trump impeachment scandal and ultimately lost her job because she refused to do the President's bidding. I knew she was Canadian-born (moved to the U.S. as a child), but I did not know that she is both single and childless. Adding it to my reading wish list. 
  • I listened in live earlier this afternoon to this week's New Legacy Radio podcast, with Christine Erickson interviewing childfree-by-choice activist, researcher and author Laura Carroll about her new book, "25 Over 10," a longitudinal study of 25 childfree women over 10 years. (Laura is also the author of "The Baby Matrix," an eye-opening and thought-provoking look at pronatalism, which I read & reviewed here and highly recommend.)  They also talked about how to bring together the childfree and childless communities, to build a shared movement for meaningful change. ("We have more in common than we think," says Carroll, and I agree!)  You can listen to their discussion here, or on most podcast apps. 
  • Also available today on most podcast apps:  Jody Day of Gateway Women was a guest on the "1 in 5" podcast with journalist Geeta Pendse, which focuses on life without children, whether by choice or chance. 
  • Lots of buzz among UK CNBCers about "Again, Rachel" a new book by Irish author Marian Keyes (and a sequel to her 1997 novel "Rachel's Holiday"). I've never read any of her books, but I feel like maybe it's time to start. ;)  Keyes is in her late 50s and childless-not-by-choice, and apparently her heroine Rachel is too. She (Marian, not Rachel) is a regular on the BBC podcast "Now You're Asking" with Tara Flynn, and a recent episode talked about the pain of infertility (the first 10 minutes of the 28-minute episode). Worth a listen (plus you get to listen to those wonderful accents...! -- I wound up listening to the entire episode because I loved their voices and loved their advice!). 
    • I can also recommend this article by Keyes in The Times (UK) where she writes about the obstacles she's overcome in her life (including alcoholism, loss, grief, infertility and childlessness). You may need to register to access it. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: Escape through books

I don't often get "triggered" these days -- but the photo in this link -- a newsletter/article from the books editor of the Washington Post -- had me in tears and reaching for kleenex. 

(Rest assured, it's nothing graphic or gory.) It's the photo of a little girl, bundled up in winter clothes, sitting on a suitcase at the train station in Warsaw, leaning against her mother, who is masked and reading to her from a children's book. 

They are Ukrainian refugees who had just arrived in Poland from Kyiv. 

It grabbed me for so many reasons. As a bereaved mother who never got to read books to her only little girl (except briefly in utero) or to have that little girl snuggle up to me as I read to her. As someone who loved books as a child, and who still loves them today, who can't imagine a life without books, or a child without access to books, or having to leave ALL my precious books behind and flee from my home. As someone whose ancestry is half Ukrainian. As someone who's been dealing with this global pandemic for two years and who (like the mother in the photo) is still wearing a mask, even as the mandates are being lifted. As someone who grew up on the Canadian Prairies, playing outside for hours in the winter snow and cold, bundled up much like the little girl in the photo.  

"In such horrific conditions, periods of imaginative escape are essential for children — and books are the perfect vehicle," the article says. 

There's a link within the article to a Polish organization that is buying and distributing Ukrainian-language books for Ukrainian refugee children. Doing so will also help to support the Ukrainian publishing industry through these difficult days. 

I made a donation. How could I not? 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Odds & ends

  • This five-year old TED talk popped up in my Facebook feed last weekend... the speaker, Christen Reighter, is childfree by choice, and her talk focuses on the difficulty she had persuading doctors to perform a tubal ligation on her.  Although she came to a life without children from a very different place than I did, I found her words inspiring. "Motherhood is an extension of womanhood, not the definition," she says. She got a standing ovation.  :)  
  • I listened in live as Christine Erickson of New Legacy Radio celebrated International Women's Day with Gateway Women's Jody Day -- fabulous conversation! You can listen here or on most other podcast apps. 
    • This coming week, on March 15th, she'll be interviewing Laura Carroll, a longtime childfree activist, about how we can bring together both childless and childfree people to build a shared movement for meaningful change. 
  • Pamela of Silent Sorority talked about being an infertility survivor, ethics in the fertility industry, and what happens when fertility treatments don't work, on Slate's "The Waves" podcast. Read Pamela's blog post here and listen to the podcast here or on your favourite podcast app. (Pamela appears about halfway through, around the 23-minute mark -- but the entire episode is worth listening to. Have kleenex handy!) 
  • From Elle magazine's March 2022 issue, a rare article that spotlights the experiences of some working women without children during the pandemic. I'm retired (and very thankful for that!), but this echoes the experiences I've read & heard about on various childless/free forums. Sample passage: 
For two years, as COVID fortified the divide between parents and nonparents, women’s respective experiences have been framed in terms of work: emotional work, care work, career work. The image of the exhausted, overburdened mother has been emblazoned on the collective imagination. We saw it in the hard numbers—nearly 33 million Americans resigning from their jobs between April and November 2021, mostly women and extremely burned out. And we heard it in the “primal scream,” as a viral New York Times package called it, of mothers struggling to balance the demands of career and family in a time of virtual schooling, curtailed childcare, and not-so-secret disparities between men and women at home. The childless working woman, presumed frivolous by extension, her problems trivial by comparison, often quietly dissolved into her job. In the absence of contact with family and friends, the remote workplace became many white-collar workers’ stand-in for community. No doubt, work is work and, all told, parents had more of it. But career work, unlike parenting, does not offer love in return....
Throughout the pandemic, childless women who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs, and who could do those jobs remotely, comprised a privileged minority within a privileged minority. Their struggles were different from those of working parents, but they were no less real. Among some high-achieving women, the elimination of boundaries between work and nonwork life became a recipe for disaster—and, from there, a catalyst for a major reevaluation of priorities and purpose. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Two years of pandemic living

Last year, at the one-year mark of the pandemic, I posted on March 12th about "'The Last Normal Day,' one year later."  At the very end, I wrote, "Things may never be quite "back to normal" again.  But I hope that things will be different (better) by March 12, 2022... " 

So -- here we are, one year later, and two years after the "official" declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization (on March 11, 2020). What's better now? What's not? 

What's good/better:  

  • Vaccines!  When I read my post from this time last year (and some of the others from early/mid-2021), I'm reminded that vaccines were JUST beginning to roll out here in Canada then -- and of how HARD it was to wait until we could get ours too (and how hard it was to book those elusive appointments!). (Our first shots -- AstraZeneca -- were on April 5th, second (Moderna) on July 1st and third/boosters -- Pfizer -- on Dec. 16th.) There's no doubt the vaccines have made a huge difference, if not in the number of infections (particularly since the rise of the omicron variant in late 2021) then certainly in the numbers of people winding up in hospitals and in the ICUs on respirators. 
    • Canada has one of the world's most-vaccinated populations (81.6% fully vaccinated).  
    • For me personally, being fully vaccinated (plus the end of interprovincial travel restrictions) meant that we were (finally!) able to head "home" to Manitoba to see my parents and sister for (Canadian) Thanksgiving in October (and then again for Christmas), for the first time in almost two years, knowing it was much less likely that we could pass on the virus to them.
      • It also meant that we could start seeing BIL & family, more safely, more often, AND spend more time with Little Great-Nephew (born in November 2019, just slightly pre-pandemic). He has been such a joy and such a welcome diversion, this past year especially!  Our visits with him are the highlight of every week.   
  • Two years in, and so far (KNOCKING WOOD, VERY LOUDLY) dh & I remain healthy. 
    • Of course, we are extremely privileged in many ways. We are both retired, so we don't have to go out to work every day. We don't have children or grandchildren (this makes us UNprivileged in some respects, but...), so we don't have to worry about trying to normalize the situation for them by letting them play with their friends and keeping up with friends' families and doing things we might not otherwise do. We don't have to worry about the germs they might pick up at school or extracurricular activities and pass on. We're both pretty happy (most of the time!) staying at home and reading a book. While we both like to get out of the house once in a while and socialize with people, we don't especially feel the NEED to do so (and certainly not in the middle of a pandemic...!). We have the financial and technical means to order takeout and have things delivered to our door, so we can minimize the number of shopping trips we need to make. And while we both enjoyed going to the movies and eating out in restaurants in the "before" times, we're not desperate enough to risk it yet (particularly without vaccine passports &/or capacity restrictions in place). We've been supporting some of our favourite restaurants by ordering takeout instead. 
    • While people close to us have had covid (especially in late December/early January) -- including Older Nephew, his wife and (sadly) Little Great-Nephew -- nobody has been hospitalized with it, and nobody has died (again, knocking wood).
  • We did go through extended periods of "lockdown," where most things were closed, other than supermarkets, pharmacies and takeout food services (followed by capacity restrictions that were gradually lifted in stages). As this story mentions, Ontario, where I live, has spent more time under "lockdown" than any other province or U.S. state, and students here have missed more in-person classes than anywhere in North America and most of Europe. (This BBC story is from May 2021, just before restrictions began to lift.)  But -- we've recorded fewer deaths per capita than other provinces and bordering U.S. states, including Quebec, Manitoba, New York and Michigan. And -- despite the very vocal complaints of some -- it's really been quite possible to live a pretty normal life over the past year -- go most places you would normally go and do most of the things you would normally do -- so long as you were vaccinated (and prepared to show your proof of vaccination at some venues) and/or wearing a mask. 
  • The quality and supply of masks available to the general public, both in terms of comfort and effectiveness, has improved immensely. 
    • In the early days of the pandemic, there was a real scramble to find masks. BIL provided dh with a couple of construction-grade N-95s that were uncomfortable and hard to breathe in, and I was cutting up old socks to make no-sew face coverings (with instructions I found online).  (I've still got some of those masks -- I wear them when I'm scrubbing the bathroom shower cubicle to minimize the fumes from the cleaning products I'm using, lol.)  Mask mandates will be lifting soon (whether they should be at this point is debatable...), but dh & I will be continuing to wear masks in crowded public venues (and certainly when flying -- the mandates will continue there for a while yet) for a while to come. Even when covid ceases to be the threat that it is now, there's still the flu and the common cold...!  
    • By summer 2020, cheap and colourful cloth masks were being sold, and I bought a bunch online from Old Navy. They've been good (and we still wear them, especially for short trips down to the parking garage en route to visit BIL & SIL). 
    • These days, plenty of N-95s or equivalents are available from a variety of sources, and they're quite comfortable and breathable, not to mention far more effective than cloth or medical masks. 
  • Rapid tests FINALLY started becoming more widely available here in late 2021. Many schools and workplaces are providing them for free. 

What's (still) not so good:  

  • Two years later, the numbers are staggering:  Worldwide, more than 450 million people have been sick with COVID-19;  more than 6 million have died.  In the U.S., there have been nearly 80 million cases and almost 1 million people people are dead.  In Canada:  3.3+ million cases, 37,000+ deaths.  Here in the province of Ontario, we've had 1.1+ million cases (likely a vast underestimate) and 12,000+ deaths;  the region near Toronto where dh & I live (population 1.2 million) has had more than 99,000 cases (again, that's probably a low count) and almost 1,000 deaths."  
    • By comparison, here's what I wrote at this time last year:  "Worldwide, 118 million people have been sick with COVID-19;  2.6 million have died.  In the U.S., there have been 29 million cases and a staggering 530,000 people are dead.  Canada has fared better than a lot of other countries (especially on a per capita basis), but the numbers are still sobering:  900,000+ cases, 22,000+ deaths.  Here in the province of Ontario, we've had almost 320,000 cases and 7,100 deaths;  the region near Toronto where dh & I live (population 1.2 million) has had nearly 30,000 cases and more than 530 deaths."  
    • The long-term effects of covid won't be known for quite a while, although there's growing evidence (and it's not good).  "Long covid" is a very real thing for many people. 
    • There are plenty of other, more intangible costs revealing themselves: mental health issues, isolation and loneliness, families unable to see each other for long periods of time, families split over vaccination and masking, the disruption to children's education and social development, the incredible stress placed on frontline workers, particularly in medical roles and in education... 
  • And -- it's not over yet. New case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have been declining since the mid-January omicron peak, but still remain at levels that would have been thought unacceptable earlier in the pandemic. The BA2 variant (even more contagious than omicron) is becoming more prevalent; recent wastewater analysis has shown a slight uptick in viral load (just as Ontario is abandoning all restrictions, of course...!). 
  • Unfortunately, too many people seem to think that it IS over, declaring they are "done" with covid -- including the politicians who -- with a provincial election coming up on June 2nd -- have lifted almost all remaining restrictions, while at the same time suppressing data. Capacity restrictions and vaccine passports were lifted on March 1st, and mask mandates in all but a few high-risk settings (hospitals, care homes, public transit) will be gone as of March 21st.  All mask mandates will be gone by April 27th. The legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test? That's gone too. 
    • The government has vastly restricted PCR testing, meaning the number of actual new cases is far higher than what's being officially reported. (The chief medical officer has admitted that new case numbers are likely TEN TIMES HIGHER than what's being reported -- i.e., 12,000 cases a day, not 1,200.)  Reporting on cases in schools is also limited. With most restrictions now lifted (or soon to be lifted), citizens are left to fend for themselves. How are we supposed to assess risk and make wise decisions in the almost complete absence of meaningful data?? 
  • Although the struggles of parents (and mothers in particular) during this pandemic have been well documented, far less attention has been paid to those of us without children, partners, and/or extended family support around us, and how we've been coping -- or not. Dh & I have been fairly fortunate in this respect, but I know there are others out there who are lonely, isolated and struggling to get by, without a whole lot of help or acknowledgement. 
  • As mentioned above, it's great that rapid tests are (finally!) more widely available and being distributed for free in many schools and workplaces.  Not so good: Since dh & I are neither employed nor have children or grandchildren, we've had to buy some. The provincial government did recently distribute some freebies in supermarkets, pharmacies, etc., and we did manage to snag a box of those -- but I haven't seen or heard of any being given out lately.  
  • A new study released this week by the CBC and Angus Reid suggests that the pandemic has brought out the worst in people and pulled Canadians further apart. :(  
  • While vaccines have clearly made a difference (certainly for me personally), there are still too many people -- particularly outside of wealthier nations -- who haven't yet been vaccinated or even had the opportunity to do so, because they simply don't have easy access to them yet. Until more people in more countries get vaccinated, this virus will continue to be a problem for all of us.  

What will year #3 bring? I guess we're about to find out...

Monday, March 7, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: Annoying things & small pleasures

Annoying things: 
  • Grey skies, freezing drizzle. :p  
  • The numbers of people talking and acting like the pandemic is over, now that almost all restrictions have been lifted here (or soon will be). Spoiler alert:  it's not. 
    • I have been reading post after post on social media from people who say they have gone these entire past two years without knowing anyone who had been sick -- who are suddenly surrounded by them, and/or are getting sick themselves. Apparently covid is rampant among kids' hockey teams in the Toronto area right now...! 
  • BIL telling us he'd told Younger Nephew, when they visited this weekend, "I thought you might have some NEWS for us."  I couldn't help myself, I groaned aloud, "Oh PLEASE don't say ever say that to anyone!"  Sigh...  NOBODY of childbearing age needs that kind of pressure, especially not from their parents!  :(  
  • Finding a hole in the crotch /inside thigh area of my favourite pair of jeans. It's not that large or noticeable (yet) and I can probably get some further wear out of them before tossing them. But it's still annoying.  :(  
    • More annoying still: they're a style of jeans from Old Navy that seems to have been discontinued (Curvy Straight, ankle length). 
Small pleasures: 
  • Some great reading lately. :) 
  • Chicken and dumplings in the crockpot for dinner.  Perfect comfort food for a cold, rainy/snowy grey day -- and smells so good while cooking!  :) 
    • I use this easy recipe, found on Pinterest... I found it overly salty the first time I made it, but you can cut (way!) back on the salt, and use reduced or no-salt chicken broth and cream of chicken soup. We use a bag of fresh baby carrots (cut into chunks) & frozen peas for the veggies (in addition to the onion). For the dumplings, I use a can of 10 Pillsbury Country Biscuits, and flatten them before chopping them up. I cut them into smaller pieces than the picture in the article shows, but of course you can make them whatever size you like!   
  • Getting haircuts this past weekend. I feel like I'll never take a haircut for granted again, after going for up to 17 weeks without one during this pandemic!  
  • Taking some spring/Easter-ish decorations to the cemetery for Katie. 
  • Getting to see both nephews as well as Little Great-Nephew at BIL's house on Saturday night. 
  • The knowledge that it's March (February is over!!), and spring will be here, sooner versus later...! 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

Sunday, March 6, 2022

"All the Queen's Men" by S.J. Bennett

"All the Queen's Men" by S.J. Bennett is a sequel to last year's "The Windsor Knot" (which I loved! -- my review here). 

This book picks up shortly after "The Windsor Knot" left off, mid-2016, after the Brexit vote but before the U.S. election. But 90-year-old Queen Elizabeth II has something else on her mind:  a favourite painting of the Royal Yacht Britannia that mysteriously disappeared from the wall outside her bedroom years earlier turns up at an exhibition of maritime art that she's attending. The Queen asks her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi, to investigate how it got there -- and how to get it back! 

Meanwhile, several staff members have been receiving nasty poison-pen letters -- and then one of them turns up dead by the swimming pool in Buckingham Palace. It looks like an accident -- but could it be murder? Whodunnit, and why? With Rozie's help, the Queen is on the case! Prince Philip, Princess Anne and the corgis/dorgis all make appearances.

As with "The Windsor Knot," this was a fast, easy read -- and quite simply a whole lot of fun.  A bit convoluted, perhaps (lots of characters to keep track of), but still, highly enjoyable. 

The last chapter made me teary. 

4 stars on Goodreads. Further sequels are planned, and I for one can't wait.  :) 

This was Book #13 read to date in 2022 (and Book #2 finished in March), bringing me to 29% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Odds & ends

  • Someone on the Gateway Women private community flagged this blog post about a childless-not-by-choice life (after infertility and attempted adoptions) -- which is unique because it's written by a guy!  The author is a Canadian living in New Zealand -- a chiropractor, yoga instructor, marathon swimmer and triathlete. He's written a book too.  Read the post and have a look around the rest of his site! 
  • I couldn't cheer loudly enough when I read this post from The Uterus Monologues: "You can't 'manifest' a baby."  YES.  I have a few friends who talk on social media about "manifesting" various outcomes (albeit not babies, thankfully!), and it always gets me grinding my teeth...!    
  • Donor-conceived children are using DNA analysis to unravel the secrets of their parentage -- and sometimes with unexpected results. This New York Times story reveals how, starting in the 1960s, not just one, not just two but THREE doctors in Rochester, New York, secretly used their own sperm to impregnate their infertile patients. In recent years, more than 50 (!) doctors in the U.S. have been accused of fraud related to donor sperm. Ugh. (Beware the comments... there are several people there (presumably men?!)  who don't seem to get why this is such a violation of women's bodies and trust.)  
  • Yael Wolfe -- who is single & childless not by choice, and one of the "regulars" on Jody Day's quarterly Zoom chats with childless elderwomen  (another one is coming up on March 20th -- registration info here) -- recently wrote on Medium about "How I became a hoarder." I could totally relate to her post about planning and accumulating stuff for the life she thought she was going to lead, only to find herself facing something completely different. (For me, that resulted in having to get rid of a TON of stuff before moving into a condo that's much more suitable for the life we are living today...!) Some good comments, too! 
  • New podcast alert!  Tune in on your favourite podcast app (or follow the next link) for New Legacy Radio, hosted by CNBC-er Christine Erickson, with new weekly episodes. In the first episode, from a few weeks ago, Christine chatted with Irish journalist Hilary Fennell about her groundbreaking radio documentary on childlessness (which I wrote about here and here).  She'll be speaking with Jody Day of Gateway Women on March 8th (International Women's Day). 
  • As if the prospect of long covid isn't reasons enough to get vaccinated, mask up and avoid crowded public spaces, this New York Times article says researchers have discovered that the virus may infect tissue within the male genital tract -- with potential effects on fertility: 
Men infected with the virus are three to six times as likely as others to develop erectile dysfunction, believed to be an indicator of so-called long Covid.

Patients have also reported symptoms such as testicular pain, reduced sperm counts and reduced sperm quality, decreased fertility and hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes produce insufficient amounts of testosterone, leading to low sex drive, sexual dysfunction and reduced fertility...

Even if just a small fraction of men experience such complications after a coronavirus infection, millions may suffer from impaired sexual and reproductive health in the aftermath of the pandemic, simply because the virus has infected so many people around the world, Dr. Hope warned... 

He will also look at whether the virus infects tissue in the female reproductive system.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Emotional labour and educating others

I thought this article from the Washington Post (by Cole Arthur Riley) was highly thought-provoking:  "Black History Month is over. Thank goodness."  A couple of excerpts:  

Over the course of February, I received 21 requests to speak or write for Black History Month. Of those requests, 18 were from White people.

I’m not alone. Every year, what is intended to be a time of remembrance and storytelling becomes a month of additional labor — usually with very little notice — for Black people. It becomes a season when we must sell our stories and ideas to sate the appetites of White folk who want to feel as though they’ve done the right thing.

Whiteness is permitted the freedom to explore (or neglect) its history on its own terms, spreading the practice out lavishly throughout the year, without deadline or expectation. Black people are expected, in just four weeks, to do everything we can to preserve our stories and take up the space we are often denied... 

To pass on and inherit our stories can be beautiful, but when we are expected to teach the outsider — to convince the outsider of our intellect, our contribution — Black History Month becomes less a tradition of memory and inheritance, and much more a path to exhaustion under the relentless weight of what Toni Morrison called the “White gaze.” “Black excellence,” at its worst, can devolve into the mere act of proving that Black people are capable of the excellent. Or worse still, of proving that Black people are human at all.

For me, the article was thought-provoking -- not only for the reminder about the additional emotional (and actual) labour required from Black people during February (not to mention other times of the year) to "educate" the rest of us about their history and experiences -- but because it provided me with an "ah-ha!" moment with regard to sharing my own experiences about pregnancy loss, infertility and childlessness. 

There are days, weeks & months dedicated to these subjects, of course -- and there are some amazing people out there who work tirelessly to create programming around then and to bring these important issues to the attention of policymakers and the fortunate majority who don't have to think about these things -- unless and until they are suddenly affected by them personally. And goodness knows, people need educating about them!!  (Obviously, the parallels here, between Black History Month and Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month/Day -- or National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), or World Childless Week (WCW) -- only go so far. I don't see a huge demand from people outside of our communities to hear our stories. On the contrary...!)  

But I'll admit my record on taking part, on posting something on my blog (or -- less often -- social media) is hit and miss. I often have the best intentions, but then Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day (or month) or NIAW or WCW rolls around, and... I've got nothing. And I feel guilty about it. There are so many people out there doing so many great things for our community(s), and I feel like I should contribute, be a part of it. But sometimes I'm just too tired (and too afraid of the consequences of "outing" myself) to make the effort, lol.  

If I do anything, I'm more likely to do it here, on my blog.  Let's face it, posting here is much less of a risk. For the most part, it's preaching to the converted. But making myself vulnerable by posting about these aspects of my life on social media? Scary stuff!  It's not like the (other) people in my life don't know that I don't have kids, and some of them even know why. But very few of them know the full story. 

In recent years, I HAVE started posting a few memes, etc., on my Facebook & Instagram accounts for Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Week (and International Bereaved Mothers Day). But posting publicly about NIAW & WCW -- let alone sharing about my own experiences with infertility and childlessness -- still feels more risky to me. Pregnancy loss is common enough (1 in 4 women experience it) that there's at least some level of awareness and sympathy, I think. The majority of people do become parents, and perhaps the idea of losing a much-wanted child -- however painful that is to think about -- is something they can relate to, at least a little. Having difficulty conceiving a child -- or not winding up with a much-wanted child at all, despite all your best efforts -- is less common statistically (albeit much more common than most people realize), less visible/recognized and thus not as easy to relate to. 

I've recognized that posting about my story outside of this blog leaves me vulnerable. But I've never thought of it before in terms of emotional labour. (Although I've written before about the emotional labour required of childless people in a pronatalist world.)  Like I said, it's labour that's badly needed, and I am so very thankful for those among us who have taken it upon themselves to educate others and make a difference. There's a lot of misinformation and stereotyping out there about loss, infertility and childlessness. If people are going to learn something about our lives and experiences, our preferences, our concerns -- to paraphrase Riley, to be convinced of our humanity -- it's probably best that they hear it directly from us instead of through (or at the very least in addition to) a third party (e.g., a doctor, researcher, social scientist, etc. -- however knowledgeable & well meaning), right?  

But putting ourselves forward in this way, on these highly difficult, emotional issues -- "[taking] up the space we are often denied" -- does take a toll -- and I don't think it should be required of us, or that we should feel obliged to participate, simply because of the hand that we've been dealt. It's OK to sit on the sidelines sometimes! (Most especially if we are newly grieving and adjusting to a life that's very different from the one we had expected and planned for ourselves. Or even just if we're having a bad day/week/month/year.) 

What do you think? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

"Recipe for a Perfect Wife" by Karma Brown

"Recipe for a Perfect Wife" by Karma Brown (who is Canadian! and like me, lives somewhere near Toronto -- Oakville, I think?) is an upcoming pick for my Clever Name book club, which has been on hiatus since before Christmas. I'm not sure if or when we'll resume our discussions -- but this was a book I'd been eyeing anyway, so I thought I'd pick it up for my next read.  

The story:  Alice Hale has just quit her publishing job to concentrate on writing a novel. (At least, that's the story she tells her husband, Nate...) He thinks it's the perfect time to move out of Manhattan, buy a house and start the family they've been talking about:  Alice can take care of the house and work on her novel while he commutes. Without her job, stuck in a slightly creepy fixer-upper house in the dreaded suburbs, and facing a severe case of writer's block, Alice flounders and feels stifled -- until the day she finds a vintage recipe book with handwritten notes in a box in the musty basement, and starts experimenting with some of the recipes (some of which are reproduced in the book -- chicken a la king, tuna casserole, baked Alaska and more!). 

From her next-door neighbour, a retired doctor named Sally, Alice learns more about the previous owner, a 1950s housewife named Eleanor (Nellie) Murdoch.  The story cuts back & forth between Alice in 2018 and Nellie in 1956. Like Alice, Nellie has secrets she's keeping from her abusive husband, Richard. Each chapter (whether about Alice or Nellie) is prefaced with a piece of advice from various early 20th-century marriage manuals -- some screamingly funny, some eye-rolling, some shudder-inducing.  

I'll be honest -- as I started this book, I wasn't sure what sort of a book this supposed to be or where the story was going. (And even after I finished it, I still wasn't quite sure... although I did guess where one plotline was going almost immediately from a clue provided early on.)  The cover design and back-cover description suggested it might be social satire. There were elements of suspense/thriller/the supernatural. (For example, the house is always chilly -- but the more Alice explores traditional homemaking, the warmer it becomes.). In some ways, I was reminded of "The Stepford Wives." 

It was thought-provoking and unsettling, with an ending that was somewhat ambiguous -- and disturbing.  It left me thinking (and I suspect I'll be thinking about it for quite a while to come) --  about patriarchy and gender roles and women's empowerment -- about how much has changed since 1956 -- and how little.

This was a hard one to rate. The premise was really interesting (and well executed) and the writing was good -- but I closed the book feeling a tad queasy.  3.5 stars. I debated whether that should be rounded up to 4 or down to 3 on Goodreads. I'm making it 3, for now anyway.  I can see this being a great book to discuss in a book club! -- lots of fodder for discussion!   

Content warnings (with some potential spoilers):  pregnancy, childlessness, miscarriages, abortion, maternal ambivalence and domestic violence. 

This was Book #12 read to date in 2022 (and Book #1 finished in March), bringing me to 27% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 5 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."