2.28.2020

the ptsd story i promised you

A few posts ago, I mentioned having a PTSD episode, and being open about it, in a group setting. That post seems to have resonated with a lot of people. In that same spirit, I'm sharing this.

* * * *

I attended a week-long labour education event, part of the CLC's Winter School. Many different courses take place at the same time, each five days long; you're with the same people all week. My group was seven people from my own local, plus three other locals from our union, about 20 people in total. Our classroom was a very supportive environment, full of compassion and support, plus a lot of humour and fun.

Three days in, we finished our morning check-in, and the facilitator said: We're going to try something new. Find a partner, and one of you will be blindfolded.

That's all I heard. At the word blindfold, my head started roaring.

I thought, I'll just wait til she's finished, then I'll say something to the facilitator privately. But as the facilitator continues speaking, I'm going deeper -- my heart is racing, and it's getting harder to breathe. I felt myself beginning to disassociate. I've never had a PTSD meltdown in public, and let me tell you, it was scary. I felt like my body was trying to disappear.

I forced myself to raise my hand, and that action helped bring me back a little bit. It was really hard to speak. I managed to choke out, um, something to be aware of, for people with PTSD, a blindfold may be triggering -- or something like that, I'm not sure what I actually said.

The facilitator said, blindfolds will be optional -- but by then three hands had flown up. Someone said, I can't be blindfolded. Someone else said, I am hard of hearing, and I need to see the speaker's mouth in order to hear. Other people started murmuring about not wanting to be blindolded.

At that, the facilitator put down the bandanas that were going to be used as blindfolds, and said, You know what, this was just an idea, but it's obviously not a good one. So we'll leave that part out.

She was talking about the rest of the exercise, but the adrenaline was already zooming through my body. It doesn't settle down that quickly. I got up and stood apart from the group for a bit, trying to catch my breath, but I couldn't. So I quietly left the classroom.

A few seconds later, a woman (who had been my partner for some class activities) followed me out of the room. She stood beside me, and placed her hand gently on my back, and offered me a tissue. I hadn't realized I was crying. She listened to my words and my crying, sometimes nodding a bit, without saying a word. She didn't ask questions, didn't try to hug me. She also didn't act shocked or distressed herself. She just stood with me.

Her quiet support was soothing. It helped bring me back.

I went back to class. No one said anything to me. Everything resumed.

Accept and acknowledge

The next day, we started class with our morning check-in, and I decided I would address what happened. I said, "Yesterday was a very challenging day for me. Having my PTSD triggered in front of people was very hard. I'm usually open about most things in my life, wanting to smash stigmas and help other people feel less alone -- except about this. So that was really hard for me, but I'm glad I did it."

Another class rule was the shout-out to to a classmate, which would earn that person a raffle ticket. So I said, "I want to thank my team for taking care of me last night, and giving me space, and my team now includes M. Her quiet presence helped me so much yesterday, and I'm very grateful."

As I said in my earlier post, I didn't feel guilty or ashamed or like I had burdened anyone with my emotions. I was very grateful for M's kindness and strength, but I didn't feel indebted to her.

At first I thought, I've given enough to others that I'm allowed to accept some in return. Then I thought no, that's wrong, let's not measure our compassion or our worth.

If it's all right -- more than all right, it's good -- for someone to accept my help, then I can accept help, too. It's like I finally understand that I'm worthy of receiving help, by virtue of being human.

blogger's backup and restore (export and import) functions do not work properly

Allan and I have spent countless hours this week trying to backup Joy of Sox and to restore posts and comments to wmtc.

I think we are making progress, but I don't know what the final outcome will be. Which is ridiculous. This process shouldn't be this difficult and the outcome shouldn't be in doubt!

Blogger's backup function, through which you export all posts and comments and save them as an XML file, appears to work for small blogs with a few hundred posts and comments. Large blogs like ours with many thousands of posts and comments -- not so much.

We have been searching for an external, non-Blogger backup tool. Mostly we found nothing. After days of searching, Allan did find one option. To backup JoS, it took 26 hours and saved a file that is 23 GBs! That is crazy, given the most recent XML file produced by a Blogger backup was around 200 MBs. 

Right now we believe we have every wmtc post (thank [something]) and all comments except comments from May 2019 to the present. I can live with that. However, we have not been able to restore anything yet, because Blogger's restore function is not working. 

Of course we have posted on Blogger support, and of course that is being ignored.

Important update! I've learned that the 23 GB backup file from Joy of Sox is not XML and cannot be imported. So: never mind. Not an option.

2.21.2020

why this blog looks strange right now (updated) (upperdated)

A post was accidentally deleted -- an essay that took a while to write. Happily, I had recently backed up the whole blog. And thank goodness, as it had been a long while since the previous backup.

In order to restore the missing post, Allan imported the backup copy... and instead of all the posts merging, they re-posted. I think that's because they were originally posted by me, but imported by Allan, making him a new author, causing Blogger to read the imported posts as new.

Now we've got to get rid of about 7,000 duplicate posts.

Sadly, all the lovely comments on this post have been lost. There were about 30 comments; five remain. That's frustrating. Although nowhere near as frustrating as losing the post itself.

* * * *

Update. Horrible update. Now all the duplicate posts are gone... but so are all the comments. Thousands of comments. All our discussions. All gone.

I cannot even think about this being permanent. We are still working on it. Hoping to post another update soon.

* * * *

Upperdate. The 1,000 most recent comments now appear through the comments feature in my dashboard. They do not show up on any posts, but at least they exist. At some point, I could copy them into comments in each post, noting who originally posted them.

Comments from the earliest posts of this blog still exist. That's an enormous relief.

Comments on posts between July 2016 and November 2018 no longer exist. I take some comfort in the fact that I wasn't writing that much during this period!

This has happened because Blogger's backup and restore function does not work properly.

2.16.2020

help nominate tommy douglas as the face of the next $5 bill

There's a movement to put the face of Tommy Douglas on the next Canadian $5 bill. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

And wouldn't it be a kick in the pants to those who seek to privatize our health care system?

Go here to nominate Tommy Douglas.

2.15.2020

listening to joni: #12: dog eat dog

Dog Eat Dog, 1985

Front Cover
We've reached a milestone: a Joni Mitchell album I don't like.

No, that's a cop out. It's not merely that I don't like Dog Eat Dog. It's that Dog Eat Dog is not good. It's a really bad album.

All musicians, all artists, create clunkers sometimes -- especially if they're experimenting and expanding. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, David Byrne -- musical giants all, and all have released albums that aren't very good.

And although it pains me to write this, Joni is not the exception.

I stopped reading David Yaffe's biography of Joni while I was writing this blog series, so I don't know the history behind Dog Eat Dog. (I will go back and finish the book.) I don't know if Joni was pressured to try a more commercial sound, or if she genuinely wanted this album to sound and feel the way it does, or if perhaps the final result didn't reflect her intentions. The overall effect is that of a failed project, of an artist trying to be something they're not.

Back Cover
On Dog Eat Dog, Joni takes a break from writing about personal truths -- love, trust, betrayal, loneliness, being true to oneself, struggling with relationships -- to write about the larger world. Most of the lyrics are topical and political. But although Joni has written politically-themed lyrics in the past, an album's worth of that material didn't work.

The lyrics come off as prosaic, obvious, and preachy. Joni comments on the religious right, consumer culture and materialism, famine caused by misuse of resources, even the spectre of nuclear holocaust. But none of it works. There's no poetry, no flow.

The songs that aren't topical are even worse. "Good Friends" is a duet with Michael McDonald, known principally as the voice of the reconstituted Doobie Brothers. In the era of Dog Eat Dog, McDonald's voice was a mainstay of commercial radio, so at the time this song seemed like a blatant play for commercial viability, and a failed one. Now it's just awful. Even McDonald's backing vocals are a jarring thumbprint obscuring everything else in the mix.

Why would Joni want to dilute her most beautiful and versatile instrument by linking it to a one-note hack? (McDonald supplied some prominent backing vocals for Christopher Cross and Kenny Loggins. Enough said.)

The only passable song on the album is the final track, "Lucky Girl," a jazz ballad. But it's not worth the effort to get there.

Saxophone great Wayne Shorter plays on this album, but his masterful sound has been produced down to a dull, anonymous wash.

For the CD, images of dogs or wolves are
superimposed on the lyrics.
I honestly can't find anything good to say about this album. The lyrics are thin, hackneyed, and obvious. The arrangements are thin and dull. The production is straight out of '80s Central -- synth, drum samples, barely the sound of real instruments. (Thomas Dolby, Joni? Really?)

Bad critic comment of the album

This pains me... but I agree with it. Rob Tannenbaum, writing in Rolling Stone:
It's not surprising that Joni can't unravel world politics in a couplet the way she could a romance, but it is disappointing that after a three-year silence, her social criticisms are merely the sort of bloodless liberal homilies you would expect from Rush.
The album cover

Inside the LP
Here's a bright spot: I do like the album cover! Apparently the cover was supposed to be a large painting Joni had done:
"Dog Eat Dog," for instance, had a large canvas, 10-foot-by-5, all dogs, God dog, Jesus dog, you know, and racial dogs in conflict and so on. I sold that painting in Tokyo. Geffen told me that, "Okay, Joan, we know you're an artist, but stick your picture on the cover." So I did a kind of a collage being attacked by wild dogs, you know, and that was fun to do. So there were really two album covers for that. But he wanted my kisser on the cover, so I had to give it to him (laughs). The patron, the great patron, spoke.
To me, the dogs look like wolves, and Joni appears, not being attacked, but raising her arms and closing her eyes in a kind of ecstasy, perhaps singing and dancing. There's more interesting information about this cover here on the Joni Mitchell website.

Other musicians on this album

Basses, Keyboards, Fairlight CMI and Synthesizer Programming - Larry Klein
Keyboards, Fairlight CMI and Synthesizer Programming - Thomas Dolby
Guitars - Mike Landau
Drums and Drum Samples - Vinnie Colaiuta
Percussion Samples - Michael Fisher
Trumpet, Flugelhorn - Jerry Hey, Gary Grant
Saxophone, Flute - Larry Williams
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone - Wayne Shorter
Bata - Alex Acuna
Vocals - Michael McDonald, James Taylor, Joe Smith, Thomas Dolby, Don Henley

Something I learned

It's much easier to write bad reviews than good ones. When art works, it's incredibly challenging to articulate why and how it works. Ultimately whatever is written about great art will fail to capture its power and beauty. But cataloging the many ways that art doesn't work is way too easy.

I'm sorry that critics have had so much fun at Joni's expense. I didn't enjoy writing this at all.

solidarity with wet’suwet’en land defenders and their allies on the frontlines


Thank you to the Wet'suwet'en people who are courageously defending their land for the greater good of us all.

Thank you to the Kahnawake people who are courageously blocking the rail lines in solidarity.

Thank you to the non-Indigenous allies who blocked the main highway on Vancouver Island, and disbanded only under threats of violence from racist thugs.

Thank you to every person who attended a solidarity protest in cities across Canada.

It's inspiring to see that protest has moved to full-scale civil disobedience. We can't all do it, and we are indebted to those who can.

Shame beyond measure on the Trudeau government for pretending to care about reconciliation. When we doubted Trudeau's sincerity, Liberal Party apologists chided us: give him a chance, he sincerely cares. Have you woken up yet?

Justin Trudeau should never be allowed to speak the word reconciliation again. When he utters the word, everyone in the room should stand up and turn their backs. Everyone should unleash a chorus of SHAME so loud that he cannot be heard.

The pipelines must stop.

Canada must change its relationship with the people whose land this was and is.

2.08.2020

"at your library" column in the north island eagle: let your reading take you someplace new

Let Your Reading Take You Someplace New

Many of you already appreciate the joys of reading.

Reading transports us to other worlds and lets us vicariously experience other lives.

Reading helps us feel less alone, knowing there are other people who struggle with the same issues we do.

Reading helps us explore questions of ethics, morality, spirituality, politics, and culture.

It's been shown that people who read have more empathy and compassion than people who don't. That makes sense, because when we read, we are putting ourselves in others' shoes, which is literally the definition of empathy.

If you love to read, why not challenge yourself to read something different? This year, I encourage you to try reading read three books that are outside your usual comfort zone. In the next few "At Your Library" columns, I will suggest a few tips on taking your reading in a different direction.

Thousands of words in every picture

Many adults have not yet discovered the joys of graphic novels. Graphic novels – books that look like comics – are a unique art form. In graphic novels, the pictures don't only illustrate a story – they help move the story forward. The images in graphic novels convey characters' emotions and inner thoughts. The best graphic novels offer a richer reading experience, by combining words and images.

If you've never read graphic fiction, perhaps start with a graphic adaptation of a book you're already familiar with. You might try the excellent graphic versions of A Wrinkle in Time, The Handmaid's Tale, or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Or you could choose a graphic version of a famous piece of literature that you've never read, or read a long time ago. Moby-Dick, Hamlet, and Wuthering Heights are a few of the dozens to you can choose from.

I really enjoy reading graphic nonfiction. I recently read the graphic version of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. Although I've read the original more than once, the illustrated version was still so powerful. The illustrations captured Anne's voice when it was playful, sarcastic, sorrowful, yearning, frightened. The book was true to the original, and yet more than the original. It was truly an enhanced reading experience.

Your Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has some amazing graphic nonfiction. Some titles I recently saw include Dawn of Time: Creation Myths Around the World by Nel Yomtov, Hey Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, a memoir by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and They Called Us the Enemy by George Takei, about the experience of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

If you do read a graphic novel for the first time, I'd love to hear what you thought.

In my next column, I'll tell you about one of my favourite art forms: narrative nonfiction.

2.07.2020

and let others do for you: interdependence, and the strength to be vulnerable

"I find it really difficult to ask for help."

I've heard many people say this. I don't know if I ever said this myself, but as a teen and then young adult, I definitely tried never to ask for help, and seldom would allow myself to accept any. When I needed help of any kind -- physical, financial, emotional -- I would feel uncomfortable and deeply indebted, for relatively small actions.

In New York City, where, like millions of New Yorkers, I didn't own a car, if someone gave me a ride home, I would thank them profusely. Years later, living in Mississauga, I offered people rides home all the time, and realized it was not that big a deal. The same goes for being asked to stay for dinner, or being offered a cup of tea or a glass of wine in someone's home. A simple act of friendship or kindness, especially from someone I didn't know very well, seemed like Such A Big Deal.

This is certainly one area where our world makes it more difficult for men. Asking for help is weak, and weakness is for pussies, and men must constantly prove that they are not pussies -- that they are not female. After all, isn't that what all the jokes about men not asking for directions are about?

But people of all genders have issues with this. We want to appear strong and independent. We want to think we are self-sufficient.

Perhaps the biggest and most self-destructive example of this is the shame people feel about accepting social assistance, including using a community food bank. The idea of being needy, of being a recipient of help rather than a donor, is so deeply shaming for so many people, including those who support the idea of social welfare.

* * * *

By my observations, most people want to help others. Finding a wonderful gift for someone you care about, and seeing their face light up with appreciation, or being able to make someone's day easier with a simple errand or help carrying something -- even sharing an umbrella with someone who's getting soaked on a sidewalk -- these things make us happy. It's why we volunteer. Why we advocate for others. It's why we love stories about people buying coffee for strangers, why we rush to donate to disaster relief. We want to help.

How many of us realize that on the flipside of that desire to give, there is an obligation to accept? To allow others to express that human impulse. To give in return that gift of your face lighting up, or the knowledge that you made their day easier.

I now believe that we give by giving and we give by accepting.

I actually think that thought in someone else's words -- Bob Dylan's, from the song "Forever Young": May you always do for others and let others do for you.

"And let others do for you." I've thought a lot about those lyrics. I've wondered, why would Dylan include that in his benediction? (Let's assume in this case it wasn't solely because they fit the meter or completed a rhyme!)

I think Dylan understood that we are mutually dependent on each other -- and that we should be, that it's a preferred state of being. That by knowing how to both give and receive, we are more fully human.


* * * *

I first started thinking about this when I was writing about disability issues. I regularly interviewed people who used wheelchairs, and occasionally other adaptive aids. Most were very independent and valued that independence highly. But here are some comments that stayed with me.

Early on in my foray into this field, a man who was blind and also used a wheelchair said to me, "We place a high premium on independence in our society. I don't find that healthy -- for anyone." (He was a pretty independent guy, too.)

Two, I did a story on recreation options for quadriplegics. A lot of the folks I spoke with had become quads from accidents while ski racing, rock-climbing, motorcycle racing, and other outdoor-adventure activities. Now they were the same thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies, but paralyzed. One of my interviews was with a super-active guy who was a quad, and who continued to scuba, skydive, and whatever else. He said, "People are so funny about this. I say, I scuba dive, and they ask, Do you need any adaptive equipment for that? And I'm like, I'm human, and I'm under water, so, yeah."

Three, on several occasions I interviewed a woman named Brooke Ellison. Ellison is an incredibly smart woman, very engaged with the world, and also a deeply compassionate person. She's a high-level quad, meaning she has very little body functioning, and without modern medical technology, she would not have survived her accident. She graduated with high honours from Harvard University by attending with her mother.

Brooke talked about interdependence. She said that because she was physically dependent on people for all her basic needs, she felt very strongly about giving back. She echoed the visually impaired man I mentioned above, by saying that the whole concept of independence was overrated or maybe misplaced -- that society's premium on independence is somewhat of a facade, because we are all interdependent on each other.


These comments lodged in my mind. Adaptive equipment? I wear glasses. Custom orthotics. Prescription meds. When you think about it, a warm winter coat and gloves are adapative equipment for us humans. Seen that way, how many of us live without any adaptations?

Who among us is not interdependent? I depend on my partner for little things, like opening jars and reaching high cabinets, and really big things... like love, acceptance, and emotional support. I depend on my family and my friends, and I hope they depend on me.

* * * *

I'm going to throw in one more story, or at least the punchline of a story. This happened in the early 90s. I had a bad experience at work, and was dressed-down by a boss at a very vulnerable time -- and I burst into tears. (Still the only time I've cried in front of a boss or supervisor.) As soon as I did, this man's attitude immediately changed. The whole power dynamic of the room changed. We ended up talking more as equals, and the meeting ended on better terms. But I was so embarrassed, and angry at myself. I felt humiliated that I had showed such weakness, that he was able to bring me so low, and I let him see that.

After the fact, I debriefed with co-worker. She surprised me with a completely different take on the incident: "He was coming at you from an inhumane place. You had a human response, and he in turn responded in a human way. You gave him a gift. You helped him recover his compassion."

This made a huge impression on me. (That woman, who I worked with only briefly, then never saw again, had a great impact on me. Who knows who we've helped with a kind word at the right time, in a way we might not even be aware of.)

Which brings us back to Dylan's wish for us: May you always do for others and let others do for you.

These experiences, taken together as something more than the sum of the parts, have caused a change in my attitude towards asking for help. I help people, sometimes deliberately, sometimes perhaps unknowingly. And people help me in much the same way -- and that's the way it should be. They're not necessarily the same people -- and it doesn't matter, because we're all interdependent.


* * * *

This essay has been sitting in drafts for many weeks, and during that time, I had an unusual experience. So if you're still reading, please indulge me in one more story.

Not long ago, totally unexpectedly and in a room full of people, I heard something that triggered my PTSD. This is so unusual for me that I think it might be a first: my PTSD happens in private, in the middle of the night.

Rather than derail this post, I'll save the details of the experience for another post. For now, suffice to say that a stranger showed me great kindness and compassion, and I was able to accept it -- and it felt like a triumph. So much so that I was able to name my fear out loud to others, which was very difficult to do. And as often with the difficult bits, it felt really powerful. I was able to tell other people -- in person, not in writing -- that I had a PTSD episode, and thank them for their help.

And I didn't feel guilty or ashamed or like I had burdened anyone or like I was weak or... anything. And although I was very grateful for the kindness and strength of this woman, I didn't feel embarrassed or indebted.

Then a funny thing happened: people praised my strength. Someone said "You had the strength to be vulnerable."

It's easier to pretend to be strong than it is to be honest. It's easier to run from the feelings -- to lash out, or to drink or drug over them, or to grit our teeth and ride it out -- than it is to stop and allow yourself to feel the feelings, and then be honest about what you experienced.

I'm not a superhero. I've run from feelings, I've lashed out, I've tried to obliterate them, I've done plenty of teeth-gritting. Every human has done this. But a few times, when it felt safe, I've exposed my feelings -- and this was very good.

When I was a child, I was fortunate to visit many wonderful National Parks with my parents. If there was a tour or talk being given by a park ranger, we always went. My father always asked questions. I remember being embarrassed by this: I thought it made him appear ignorant. But my father explained that asking questions is a sign of intelligence -- that when you ask questions, you're thinking, you're making connections, you're being smart. I soon observed that this was true, and I never again felt embarrassed to ask a question.

This is a similar dynamic, a seeming paradox. We associate vulnerability with weakness, but really, to allow oneself to be vulnerable, to be emotionally honest, requires inner strength.

A human gave me the gift of compassion and support, with no questions asked and nothing expected in return. And maybe... maybe I gave a gift that day, too.

2.02.2020

pupdate? in which i worry about traumatizing our dog who has zero recall

Cookie does not, will not, come when called.

She is just not interested.

At mealtimes, "wanna eat?" will bring her running. And if she's in the backyard or on the deck, the sound of the clicker and the treat jar will usually work.

But at the beach, she has no intention of coming back to us.

We've done the high-value treats, we've done... everything. The beach is simply too wonderful to leave.

I am Cookie, and I answer to no one.
Last year, on a wet, cold day, I was waiting outside the library for Allan to pick me up. He was late. I knew he had taken the dogs to the beach in the morning, and knowing he soon had to clock in to his own work, I thought he forgot about me.

When Allan showed up, I learned that Cookie was still at the beach! It was getting late, he knew I was waiting, didn't have his phone with him -- so he left (with Kai)! Now he was going to head back to the beach to get Cookie.

I was worried and scared! But a few minutes later, Allan and Cookie came home. Apparently at the beach, Cookie was anxiously trotting around the parking area, looking frightened. She hopped in the car and they came home.

I made Allan promise to never do that again. But after this incident, it appeared something had changed.

Now when Allan needs to get Cookie back in the car, he gets in the car and begins to slowly drive away. Then she appears, sometimes trotting alongside the car until he stops and lets her in.

I had never seen this method myself until yesterday. We had a few hours of sunshine that coincided with a low tide and a day off, so we hustled down to the beach. When it was time to leave, Cookie was completely ignoring us. (She was "fishing", even though it's winter and no fish are visible.)

Allan persuaded me to try it. We put Kai in the car, and I drove slowly to another parking area, adjacent to where we had parked, but maybe 50 metres away, where we weren't visible from the water. I waited there nervously for less than five minutes, then drove slowly back to our usual parking area.

I saw a flash of golden colour. I called her name, and Cookie came tearing towards us, running at top speed, then overjoyed, licking and wiggling with happiness. On the way home, she was very affectionate, almost clingy.

It was very hard for me to do this! Was she frightened? Did she think we had abandoned her?

Or is this just how things work now? Has she simply learned that when she no longer hears our voices or can see us, she should come to the parking lot and look for us?

I don't want her to be frightened! But on the other hand, if it takes hours and hours to collect her, we are seldom going to have beach time.