3.19.2023

what i'm reading: my notorious life by kate manning (madame restell, fictional version, nonfiction to follow)

I read this book last year, and have been recommending it nonstop, so it's about time to commit it to wmtc.

My Notorious Life was an obvious book for me to love -- or to hate. 

Much historical fiction feels contrived to me. An author takes a period of history, writes a piece of fiction, often a romance or family saga, and grafts the two together. I often see the scaffolding too much. 

I'm particularly sensitive to this when the subject matter is important to me. This book qualified on so many levels -- women, abortion, New York City. If anything had felt inauthentic to me, I couldn't have read it. 

I am happy to report that I loved it. 

Kate Manning seamlessly blends a dramatic story with historical people and events. Based on the life of a woman  who was known as Madame Restell, My Notorious Life tells the story of a child of extreme poverty who rises to fame and fortune, and who may be thrown back into poverty, and into prison -- not without several twists and turns, the outcome of which is never certain. Manning's Madame Restell is a very compelling hero -- daring and courageous, and also deeply principled and compassionate. 

Manning brings the reader into late 19th Century New York City, a world of extreme income inequality, where women have little control over their reproductive lives. In other words, a world with all too many parallels to our own. But there are striking differences, too. We can see the progress our society has made -- and the consequences of that progress being reversed and undone. When women are unable to control their reproduction, they suffer, children suffer, and society suffers.

Manning also manages to pull off something that must be incredibly difficult, given how rarely it is achieved. She weaves all the issues -- poverty, class, the treatment of children, women's autonomy, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion -- into a dramatic story with a great plot and several subplots. There are no soapboxes, no billboards. The lessons are gleaned through story.

On our recent trip to Powell's City of Books in Portland, I stumbled on* a title that practically leapt out at me: Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York's Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist by Jennifer Wright. I immediately put a copy in my basket, wondering how I had not heard of it before -- not realizing that it was published only last month. I will be reading it and writing about it soon.


* I was hunting for Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences (2010) by Cordelia Fine. I found that book, Madame Restell, and The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service (1995) by Laura Kaplan. I hope to read all three this year.

3.18.2023

judy heumann, rest in power

Judith Heumann, one of the founders and primary movers of the disability rights movement, died recently at the too-young age of 75. 

Judith Heumann was a force of nature. She was the consummate activist -- a brilliant communicator, a charismatic organizer, and a warm, compassionate, attentive person. Judy was the kind of person that made you want to do more, to be better. 

She is one of the leads in "Crip Camp," the brilliant documentary about a summer camp experience that radicalized a group of young people with disabilities, and became an incubator of the disability rights movement. If you haven't seen it, I hope you will. 

At the very beginning of my foray into the disability rights movement, I attended an event where Judy was speaking. I don't remember much about it -- we're talking 35 years ago -- but I remember being riveted as Judy spoke. She gave me so much clarity about the intersection of feminism, human rights, and disability rights -- that indeed they were all the same thing. 

Here are some obits: The New York TimesNPRThe Guardian. Judith's own website is here.

The headline from the NPR obit is "Activist Judy Heumann led a reimagining of what it means to be disabled". 


3.16.2023

what i'm reading: empire of pain, the secret history of the sackler family

Buried on page 364 of the hardcover edition of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty -- almost two-thirds into the book -- is one sentence that, for me, defines the most important piece of this urgent story. 

The opioid crisis is, among other things, a parable about the awesome capability of private industry to subvert public institutions.
Empire of Pain is about many things. It's the saga of a peculiar, insular, and enormously wealthy family. It's an exposé of extremely dangerous and widespread corruption in the medical profession. It's about greed -- rampant, predatory, insatiable greed. 

But if there's one thread -- one lesson -- running through every aspect of this book, it is exactly what that sentence states: how the rich and powerful can buy any public institution, and the tragic, criminal consequences of that corruption. Consequences that mostly go unpunished.

Every check on power, every watchdog agency, every hard-won safeguard -- fought for by people's movements and enshrined in law -- can be bought, their goals upended and perverted to the bidding of the ultra-rich.

There are many honest people working in every level of these institutions -- people who are passionate about what they do, who care deeply about justice, people who fully intend to faithfully carry out their duties. Prosecutors, agents, scientists, administrators who value and serve the public good. But all it takes is one former administrator who has been guaranteed a wealthy retirement, one corrupt official placed in a powerful position by the dynasty (more rightly called organized crime) -- one phone call -- and all their work is erased.

Can you imagine working on a case for five years -- five years of painstakingly hunting, tracking, and collecting evidence, five years of investigations and depositions, five years of building a case to demonstrate an irrefutable truth -- and it is all wiped out, by one phone call? 

That was inside the Department of Justice. On the outside, there are the activist families -- families who have endured brutal loss, and who use their pain to fuel a movement demanding change. What despair and frustration they must feel, when their work becomes almost irrelevant.

Families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction are not very present in Empire of Pain; they are only glimpsed on the sidelines. That's not a criticism. There are many books about the victims of the opioid crisis, but this isn't one of them. This is about how the crisis came to be. 

How the elder Sackler learned his craft -- and made his first fortune -- by marketing "mother's little helper" -- Valium. 

How later Sacklers invented a drug that they knew was highly addictive, then dispatched an army of hardcore salespeople to seduce doctors with dangerous lies. 

How the Sacklers bought FDA approval, and how that falsified approval was used to scaffold ever-increasing dosages in an ever-expanding network of addiction and greed.

How august cultural institutions didn't ask questions as Sackler millions rolled in. 

How, no matter how widespread the wreckage and how profitable, it was never enough. And how the Sacklers refused to take even a shred of responsibility, and tried to publicly frame themselves as victims.

And because they have enormous wealth, they were able to game the system, sailing gently away on their billions. 

Is it any wonder that most people are cynical and apathetic? As a reviewer writes in The New York Times, "Simply put, this book will make your blood boil."

Last year, I wrote about Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, another extraordinary work of nonfiction by the same author, Patrick Radden Keefe. I read Empire of Pain at the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023. 

Both books are true page-turners. While I'm sure most wmtc readers do not share my enduring fascination (slightly downgraded from a 10 years of obsession) with Ireland and Irish history, Empire of Pain is a book that everyone should read. The implications of this story extend far beyond the evil Sacklers, and into the systems that govern our lives.

3.09.2023

a note about subscribing to wmtc by email

This is an note for wmtc readers who subscribe to the blog by email. 

Zoho, the service I am now using to handle the wmtc mailing list, allows three "campaigns" (sends) per month on their free level. This will sometimes be enough for one email per post, but sometimes it will not be. This means that subscribers may receive a "there are new posts" email referring to more than one post from the previous month.

I don't see any way around this. As I've mentioned many times, it seems ludicrous to pay a monthly fee to have my (free, ad-free) blog sent by email. So, please scroll down.

oregon family visit, part 6 and final (portland to port angeles to victoria)

On our way out of Portland, we stopped at the home of R, the well-known baseball writer who Allan had met at Powell's. By sheer coincidence, he had some research materials that he was looking to re-home -- on the exact topic Allan is currently working on! Amazing! This took us to a lovely-looking Portland neighbourhood called St Johns, across the St Johns Bridge. (No apostrophe. Must be related to Grants Pass, Oregon.)

This lawn sign was outside R's home.

When we stopped for gas, coffee, and tea, the counterperson asked me if I would like a free banana. I was like, "Sure, and... what?" 

He said: "When you buy a drink, you get a free banana. Coffee? Free banana. Energy drink? Free banana. Coke? Free banana. Hot chocolate? Free banana." He said about 10 of these. Responding to my surprise, he said, "Free is a taboo word these days." I said it was great to give away a healthy snack -- and it seemed like he had never thought of that (the healthy part).

I went back to the car with my coffee and banana, told Allan about the bananas, so he came out with his tea, banana, and a donut. Poor Allan never got to Voodoo Doughnut, his second favourite place in Portland, so a gas station donut would have to do. That's what happens when you spend your whole day buying books! Technically he could have gone to Voodoo after our dinner at St Jack -- their downtown location is open 24/7 -- but we ate a lot and the thought of donuts was unappealing, even to Allan.

The drive from Portland to Port Angeles is pretty interesting. Passing (what appears to be) giant pillars topped with folk art, which we see when driving for Oregon family visits, I finally looked them up: the Gospodor Monuments. Because this is America, where even driving hazards are praising Jesus.

At roughly Olympia, you leave I-5 for the 101, and wind your way through Olympic National Forest to Port Angeles. It's a beautiful drive, through tiny remote villages, with beautiful views of water and dense forest. I was surprised to learn that the water is Hood Canal. Surprised, because I was looking for a human-made canal, but Hood Canal is clearly a natural body of water, and way too big to be an actual canal. It's a natural waterway -- a large fjord, one of the basins of Puget Sound, and part of the Salish Sea.

On the drive, we passed a hand-made sign for "Weatherin' Heights", a drive-in movie theatre, a giant sculpture of a moose made of car parts, an oyster farm, and the tiny hamlets of Potlatch, Quilcene, Hamma Hamma, Lilliwaup, Skokomish, Blyn, and Agnew, among others. We (finally) ate the delicious leftovers in our cooler, which included sandwiches of prime rib roast, bleu cheese from Rogue Valley Creamery, and albacore bruschetta from Gumba. Those are some serious leftovers!

We arrived in Port Angeles in perfect time to wait for our ferry, cross to Victoria, then wait a very long time to clear customs. You haven't lived until you've been trapped in a car with my partner complaining about having to wait. It's a good thing I like him so much.

The beautiful Coast Victoria had upgraded our room to an even more beautiful king suite with a water view. There was also a personal greeting card and some baked treats waiting for us in the room. The room was (is: I'm there now) so lovely, and all I wanted to do was get in my pajamas and enjoy it. We've been planning to eat sushi in Victoria -- literally talking about it for weeks -- so Allan picked it up and we ate, read, and relaxed in the lovely room.

The upgrade also includes breakfast -- not your typical free hotel breakfast, but a real meal in the Blue Crab -- so we're skipping our usual brunch at Jam Cafe. That would have been unthinkable, but after a week of nonstop eating, we can deal with it. 

Plans for today: driving, shopping in Campbell River, more driving, and... puppies!!!! We can't wait to see Cookie and Kai.

3.08.2023

oregon family visit, part 5 (portland)

Our full day in Portland was almost entirely about books and food, with a little shopping-I-can't-do-at-home thrown in. I thought I was going to do a bit of tourism -- the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden was calling -- but I ran out of time and energy. As my mother used to say, spending money is exhausting!

We had an excellent breakfast at The Daily Feast (half of mine is waiting for me in the room fridge), then briefly split up. Allan met an acquaintance -- a well-known baseball writer who he has emailed with off and on over the years -- at the Powell's cafe, and I went off to buy shoes. 

Shoe-shopping is an issue for me. The last time I bought shoes for work or for going out was also the last time we were in New York, for Springstreen on Broadway in 2017. I order sneakers (exercise footwear) online, but I haven't been able to find my go-to shoe brand in Canada, and none of the big online shoe retailers ship to Canada. (If readers know otherwise, I'll be very happy to be wrong!)

I had the idea to look for shoes in Portland, and found that the big department store Nordstrom -- which recently made headlines in Canada for closing its Canadian locations -- carry Munro shoes. I reluctantly decided I needed to spend some time in Portland shopping. 

Nordstrom turned out to be very near our hotel, so after breakfast, Allan went off to Powell's and I went to Nordstrom. I got the full-on, personal-attention shoe salesman treatment, which was lovely, and came away with three pairs of shoes. With the exchange rate, the shoes cost as much as our hotel -- but they'll last a lot longer.

I popped back to the room to drop off my loot, and then: to Powell's with my list! Last time we were here (which was our first time in Portland), I somehow ended up without The List. I reconstructed some of it and bought several books, but this time I was prepared. 

I hunted down many titles, all nonfiction. With the exception of a few favourite authors, I get whatever fiction I read from the library, and older fiction I can get through interlibrary loans. I do read some e-books, but again, mostly fiction. My List is chock-full of nonfiction, and finding some of them used is perfect. 

Finding used nonfiction is also a way of winnowing down The List, as I find titles and decide I'm not going to read them. Usually that means the book is too specific -- the topic interests me in a general sense, but the book is on a level of detail beyond my interest. In my personal book-listing universe, this title then gets a strikethrough.

I had fun in Powell's, occasionally running into Allan, and also stopping for a coffee break. Allan and I cashed out together, and took books back to the car -- then Allan, predictably, went back for another round. I can spend a few hours there, but Allan can spend the whole day, and then some. 

I was about to walk back to the hotel when the name of a store intrigued me: Made Here. The store looks like a crafts fair -- tables showcasing the work of all different vendors -- but without the vendors themselves. Everything in the store is made either in Portland, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest. The space is free to the creators, all items sold on consignment. That is very rare. And I learned that the store is the project of Michael Powell -- the husband of Emily Powell, who own's Powell's City of Books! What an amazing legacy they have created for this city! 

I bought a pair of earrings and had a nice walk back to the hotel. "I bought a pair of earrings" -- another sentence I can paste in to all travel stories, along with "there was a bookstore Allan wanted to check out" and "...while Allan was off buying books".

Eventually Allan managed to leave Powell's in time for our dinner reservations at St. Jack. On a tip from a food writer online, I had booked two seats at the chef's counter, supposedly to watch the goings-on in the open kitchen. French food in a relaxed atmosphere at a counter: that is our kind of place. As it turned out, the counter was not a big deal. The small kitchen was bustling with precision choreography, but we couldn't really see anything. However, it was nice to be away from the main dining room, which seemed very noisy, almost raucous. 

St. Jack was probably the first serious French food we've had since New York, and possibly one dinner in Toronto soon after we moved to Canada. We ordered a variety of small plates. Most were very good; two were a bit strange or perhaps just unexpected. It was certainly the most expensive meal we've had in a long time, but living where we spend so little on food and entertainment, the occasional splurge is no big deal.

3.07.2023

oregon family visit, part 4 (ashland to portland)

We stopped briefly at my mom's place in the morning. Allan was interested in some old family photos -- from my mother's childhood, and from family before I was born. (Allan does the genealogy thing. I do not.) We managed to identify everyone: my great-grandparents (who were still alive when I was born, but only briefly), my grandmother's many siblings, all of whom I knew well, and most of whom Allan met and remembers.

Saying goodbye to my mom is always difficult now, although I don't show that until we've left. I'm incredibly lucky that she's alive and well, and I always wonder if this will be the last time I see her. She will be 92 this summer.

We had an easy drive to Portland, stopping for a round of In-N-Out on the way. We're staying at the lovely AC Hotel Portland, part of the Marriott chain. I notice that hotels all do the "housekeeping on demand" thing now. This one doesn't even pretend it's because it's greener. Something to note, folks: housekeeping staff are scheduled and paid as required. Requesting housekeeping daily helps workers and their families survive. And who doesn't enjoy coming back to a hotel room with a freshly-made bed and a spotless washroom? Isn't that half the fun of hotels? You can always hang up your towels to save water and electricity.

Last night we had dinner reservations at a place recommended by one of M&M's friends: Gumba. It's a hip but relaxed space in the Alberta Arts District -- and they started out as a food truck, winning the city-wide Best Food Cart award in 2017, which in this town is really saying something. The dinner was easily the best meal of the trip so far -- and we've eaten well every day. We have a reservation at a different place tonight, but I kind of want to eat at Gumba again. (It was also very reasonable: two small plates and one (shared) large plate, plus two glasses of wine, for less than $90 before tip. That was a nice bonus.)

Today we have the full day in Portland. You know where we're headed first!

oregon family visit, part 3

On Saturday, we had a lazy day at the M&M homestead. The big outing of the day was to Harry & David, the specialty food store, where we all spent too much money and bought too much food. That night, our nephew and grand-niece, now 7 years old, joined us for dinner, prepared by our hosts plus David. (My nephew's partner, Sophia's stepmom, was out of town.) My mom was there, too, of course.

It's always wonderful to spend time with Sophia. I wish I saw her more, but at least we've seen each other enough that she knows me. Sophia is hugely into imaginative play, and she basically led us through make-believe scenarios for the entire evening. 

Today, Sunday, we had brunch at my mother's retirement community. We said hi to several of her friends and met some new folks. One gentleman asked if we were the Canadians, and said he spent time in Canada during the Vietnam War. His brother had gone to jail rather than fight in Vietnam. We exchanged some thoughts on war, peace, profit, and loss. I love to be around people who will proudly tell you they were a draft resister.

Another woman, wearing a beautiful Celtic pendant and a red toque that matched her red lipstick, told us about losing her home in the 2020 fire. She found a new place in this community for herself and her cats, Mr. Max and Mr. James Bond.

After a brief afternoon rest, we all had an early dinner at La Bricolla, my sister-in-law's current favourite local restaurant. Highly recommended if you're in Ashland. At night, we played a round of Qwirkle with M&M... and so concludes the family portion of the trip.

As I always say, I'm so grateful that I now love to spend time with family. I didn't always have that in my life, and I value it very highly now. I'm super lucky.

3.04.2023

oregon family visit 2023, part 2

The lovely little town of Phoenix, Oregon -- down the road from M&M's house -- was completely destroyed in a wildfire in September 2020. One business that rebuilt is Puck's Donuts

While I was getting a mani-pedi -- something I always do when traveling now -- Allan and Marty picked up donuts and spent some time in a used bookstore -- something Allan always does when traveling now.

In the new Puck's there are photos of the old store during and after the fire.





Later in the day we drove north to Grants Pass and visited the farm of Rogue Creamery, a local cheese business. We tried several delicious varieties of bleu cheese, which all tasted radically different; some I would not even have identified as bleu. 


We saw around 200 cows chowing down on fresh organic hay, and one coming in for voluntary milking by a robot. 

The cows are all RFID-tagged, so if the cow is choosing to be milked only to get more treats (which are given with every milking), they can't access the milking room. But if it's been a while and she's full of milk, she can walk in to the stall and get relieved of her bounty. It was pretty interesting, and it certainly looks like the cows have a nice life. 





On the way back, we stopped at another used bookstore. Among the usual paperbacks and whatnot, there were a large number of right-wing titles. There were a few progressive books, too, but I was taken aback to see this on the wall. 



Let me assure you that this is not directional signposting. There were no "left wing" books down the step. The books on display closest to the entrance were all about Hitler and the Third Reich.

On the drive to the farm and back, we passed two Confederate flags, a "Nobody Cares, Work Harder" bumpersticker, a huge wood COVID HOAX sign and more than one LET'S GO BRANDON. Given all this, it's obvious that sign was intentional. Of course Oregon is home to Portland, organic food co-ops, and all kinds of tolerance. But Oregon is also famous for militias and other wingnuttery.

In the evening, we met some of M&M's dear friends for drinks, and got a tip about a restaurant in Portland. My brother picked up our mom, and my nephew who lives nearby joined us, and we had a terrific bistro-style dinner at Bar Julliet

More food and more family to follow. 

oregon family visit 2023, part 1 (port hardy to port angeles to ashland)

Allan and I are in southern Oregon for a family visit. Last year I visited on my own, and Allan stayed home with the pups. Right now we have reliable dog care, but it's a temporary situation, so I figured we should jump on the opportunity while we could. 

We drove here, a lovely two-day road trip. Day one is Port Hardy to Victoria, then a ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. We stayed over in Port Angeles, had a good diner dinner and breakfast, then drove on Highway 101, winding through portions of Olympic National Forest. It was a beautiful drive, through dense forest and tiny hamlets and many Indigenous territories.

At the Twin Totems Convenience in Skokomish, we found a treasure trove of retro candy and snacks, a walk down memory lane -- Good & Plenty, Mike and Ike, Pop Rocks, Hostess Cupcakes, Milk Duds, Watchamacallits, and etc. (These are things I mostly know from summer camp, as I was not allowed to eat candy!) They also carry every new variation on the current candies, like dark chocolate and mint Kit Kats and fudge brownie M&Ms. (Who knew?) Allan was thrilled to finally find the mythical Zero Bar of his youth. We completely OD'd on sugar and I'm pretty sure we'll be doing the same on the way back.

From the 101, we picked up I-5 and drove the rest of the way through southern Washington State, then Oregon. North of Grants Pass, Allan suddenly yelled, "Oh My God!," scaring the daylights out of me. A while back, we had stopped at a rest stop to use the washroom and stretch our legs, then forgot to make a second stop for gas. The gas guage was on E and blinking. We had never seen that before! 

We pulled off at an exit, and while Allan went to ask at an old motel, I checked Google Maps for the nearest gas station. We got conflicting answers, and I decided to trust Google over some rando. We drove very slowly, with our hazard lights on, to the tiny village of Myrtle Creek, where we were very relieved and happy to fill the tank. Crisis averted, potential nightmare turns into funny story.

When we made it to the Medford area, we met M&M, my brother and sister-in-law, for really good thin-crust pizza at Clyde's Corner, in the little town of Phoenix, then crashed early. 

The following day, we went to my mom's place, hanging out there and taking her for lunch at Brother's, my favourite Ashland restaurant. A wonderful surprise: she's doing better than I thought. My mom is 91 and has some dementia, but it seems much worse on our weekly phone calls than it does in person. Thanks to the constant, loving assistance from M&M, Connie able to live on her own and has a very good quality of life. 

That night we had dinner at Charm Thai Kitchen, also in the town of Phoenix. It's a tiny little unassuming place in a strip mall, and the food was great. Thai food is on the long list of foods we don't have in northern Vancouver Island, so this was truly a treat.

You may notice that my travel blogs are packed with names of restaurants. Eating well -- and diversely -- is very important to us these days. I love living in a small town and a remote region, but when we travel, we really want to eat!

2.27.2023

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 38

I was covering the desk while staff was on break. A customer asked where he could find books on sex.

I asked whether this was for a young person or an adult. He said an adult.

I asked if was he looking for anything specific, such as safer sex, sexual health...?

He said he was looking for instructions and explanations. Basic information on what happens during sex.

I took his library card and put several books on hold. Most of the titles are aimed at young adults, but I think they will be appropriate for his needs.

The customer wasn't clear on the holds process, so I explained how he will be notified when the holds come in, where he'll find them, how he can check them out. 

He thanked me and was on his way.

I was impressed that this dude came to the library and was able to ask for help. Of course no one should be embarrassed about wanting books about sex, but many people would be, especially in a small community where anonymity is almost impossible.

I was also extremely glad I happened to be at the desk, rather than any of the frontline staff. I think they would have been all right, but I was able to give the customer privacy and to assess the titles quickly and likely more accurately. 

I don't do a lot of direct customer service anymore, but when I do, I get a great buzz.

2.25.2023

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 37

I have an update on R, the customer who was the subject of the previous two TIHATL posts: #35, a customer who refuses to be helped, and #36, a customer who needs so much more than a library can provide. As a friend said on Facebook, librarians, like teachers, are left to deal with the results of failed social and economic policies.

Staff and I were all worried about R. The December holiday season was days away, which meant social services and health care would be more difficult to access. Many people living marginal existences die during that time of year. 

I visited an agency in town, one that serves as an umbrella organization for many services. They were very sympathetic and supportive, and directed me to the general mental health services for our region.

The mental health worker gave me two important suggestions. 

One, I learned that the local mental health centre has a two-hour drop-in time every day. They said the slots fill up quickly, so folks are advised to get there early. I confirmed the (unmarked) location and noted the times. 

Two, I learned that we can call the RCMP (i.e. the local police) and request an assessment. They will escort the person to the hospital, and speak to hospital staff to ensure that an appropriate assessment is done.

I don't know why I wasn't already aware of these options, but I was happy to add these new tools to my toolkit. My staff were so relieved, they were in tears. We agreed that one of us would walk R to mental health services (it's very nearby) and we would explain about the RCMP call.

I also learned that a doctor's prescription is required for the hospital or another agency to provide free adult diapers. One of our staff happened to have some that were purchased for a relative, but the wrong size, and they were happy to donate them. We put the package in a plain brown bag and determined that we would give it to R the next time we saw him.

Then we didn't see R again. 

Days and then weeks passed, and he didn't come in. We speculated that the workers in the Salvation Army, who runs the overnight shelter, connected R with help. But we couldn't know, and we couldn't ask (confidentiality). So we kept an eye out for him, and we worried.

Then, in mid-February, R appeared. He was clean, clean-shaven, and had gained some weight. He told us he had spent a month in the hospital in the neighbouring town. One of our staff discreetly gave him the brown bag containing the adult diapers and he was grateful and appreciative. 

Another customer brought in a warm winter jacket that he found in the thrift shop to give to R. 

R is still without housing. He still lacks a hearing aid. He is still frustrated and upset by technology. But he's alive. He's eating, he's bathing, he has medication. He says hello to us, and to other people he knows who are also in the library. I think he has hope.

2.16.2023

what i'm reading: shuggie bain, brilliant and devastating fiction by douglas stuart

Any novel that wins the Booker Prize will be worth reading. Not all literary prizes reflect quality, but the Booker Prize carries a lot of weight. So when a debut novel wins a Booker, that is a singular achievement.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart, was the recipient of the 2020 Booker Prize, and it is indeed a stunning debut. It's a devastating story of addiction and love, with characters and stories that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

Shuggie Bain is the story of a boy who is bullied for being prissy and effeminate, and his mother, who is an alcoholic. It's about what extreme addiction, and the poverty that comes with it, does to a family. Above all, it's about the fierce, protective love of a child for their parent, a child trying to keep his own world afloat, to somehow love but still survive.

While I was devouring this book -- I couldn't put it down -- I kept thinking: this is Roddy Doyle meets Irvine Welsh. I mean that in the best possible way.

Stuart shares Doyle's razor-sharp understanding of human motivation, and his unerring eye for the details that bring the reader right inside the characters. His writing is cinematic and richly detailed, but never bogged down. The language, the pacing, and the tone all remind me of Roddy Doyle, who (as longtime wmtc readers may remember) is one of my very favourite authors.

But Doyle has never been this dark. An honest, unflinching look at addiction in the depths of the Glasgow underclass must owe a debt to Irvine Welsh. Welsh brought you fully and utterly into the world of the heroin addict, and Stuart does the same for the world of an advanced alcoholic.

I'm grateful that Stuart didn't adopt Welsh's vernacular style. I understand why Welsh and his cohorts wrote in their own dialect, but it made for difficult reading. Stuart uses some Glaswegian working-class slang without explanation, but it's easy enough to pick up the meaning through context.

In 2022, Stuart published Young Mungo, which follows a gay teen coming of age on the tough streets of Glasgow. I will definitely read it.

When Shuggie Bain was published, Stuart gave many interviews in which he disavowed the autobiographical nature of these novels. Later on, he embraced the truth that they are largely based on his own young life. I'm grateful he survived to tell the story. This interview in The Guardian is particularly good.

2.13.2023

new email list manager: apologies if you receive duplicates as i switch from mailchimp to zoho

Mailchimp recently announced that it is changing its free plan, reducing the number of contacts and sends that can be managed for free. Because of this, wmtc will no longer qualify for the free level.

As I said when I switched to Mailchimp two years ago:

I also don't want to pay for a service. I have many paid subscriptions; I don't expect to get everything for free. But since I do not (and never will) have ads on this blog, it doesn't generate income. I write for free and you read for free. All good. But I'm not going to pay so that people can read a free blog!

I did some research in my usual scattershot manner, and found Zoho. Zoho's free level can accommodate wmtc's subscriber list and has a good reputation for reliability.

It's possible that there may be some duplicate emails, as I end the Mailchimp sends and set up Zoho. Apologies in advance.

Pro tip: Forbes' listicles are proving to be very useful. I've used them for several things lately and they've been very good.

2.12.2023

"you guys" revisited: further thoughts on the language police

If you know, you know.
In October 2020, I wrote a post about the expression you guys, and whether or not using guys as a gender-neutral term excludes transgender people:  "you guys": change language, do no harm, but can we please leave space for learning and growing?

In that post, I concluded that, although I didn't understand or agree with this language prohibition, being inclusive and sensitive to other people was more important than whether or not I agreed with the view. 

Now, more than two years later, I have a different take. I've returned to my first reaction: this is too much. This is not necessary. There is no need for this.

However, in some contexts, I continue to subsitute folks (which I hate) for guys. But not because I believe it's the right thing to do.

I see no uptake

In the time since I wrote that post, I've been listening carefully to language on series and movies I watch, in public settings, on social media -- everywhere that I can. I have observed that an overwhelming majority of people use you guys as gender-neutral and inclusive. 

In fact, everyone I've heard uses you guys this way -- except my work colleagues, who purposely do not use the word. This "everyone" most definitely includes LGBTQ+ people. People of all colours and from all communities use you guys to refer to groups of people of mixed genders.

The claim that you guys refers only to men just doesn't track. Of course the words guy or guys does refer to men in some contexts. But our understanding of language is always context dependent. We understand that we bake with flour and give a flower, even though to our ears, the words are identical. We know that we can book an appointment, read a book, or cook the books. That I can chair a meeting and sit on a chair. I could give hundreds of examples. We use identical and identical-sounding words with different meanings all the time. 

People also claim that you guys excludes transgender people, but I see no appreciable uptake of this concept, including from trans people that I know. Since you guys is gender neutral, there's no reason to assume it excludes people who are gender-queer, nonbinary, or expressing any manner of gender identity. Neutral is neutral. 

Some of my peers have said that they find the word age-inappropriate, for example, a server in a restaurant calling two older women you guys. I don't share this view, and I don't know why we would want more people to make judgements based on age. There's enough ageism in this world without asking for more. But the people who shared this preference with me do not hear you guys as sexist -- and most importantly, they are not asking others not to use the expression.

But here's the catch

However, in a work setting, I don't use you guys -- because it would be considered old and outdated language. Using you guys would signal that I am either ignorant, stubborn, or worse, transphobic. So I've taught myself not to use you guys. All this means is that I've capitulated to the language police. I haven't changed my view. I've merely conformed. 

I have found articles dating as far back as 2015 that argue for dropping you guys because it is sexist or excluding. These stories usually quote a transgender person saying they feel the expression excludes them. Since this idea hasn't gotten any appreciable uptake in eight years, I'm wondering how the writer got that quote -- how many people they went through before they found someone to confirm their view.

Someone somewhere is always offended by something. But who speaks for others? Whose point of view represents a population or a community? 

And is there no limit on the policing of language? Must we all follow every new rule with equal fervor, as if every language choice carries the same import? As if you guys is the N-word? Because here's the thing. If there is no limit, there is only blind adherence. There is no critical thinking. There is just this: a self-appointed arbiter of our language speaks, and everyone must follow. 

If there is no limit, there is only blind loyalty

In the past few months, I've had some in-depth conversations with two very close friends. We are all the same age (within two years), are all progressive, and all believe strongly in inclusion. We are all white, two of us are Jewish, and we are not all heterosexual. We have all, at times, been on the receiving end of sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and/or ageism. And we all recognize our privilege in all its forms.

We also recognize the importance of inclusive language, and of using the term for a group or a peoples that does not cause offense. We are not people who insist on using outdated and offensive terms. We are people who understand the importance of language.

All three of us are at times frustrated or horrified by the use of language policing as a weapon, and have the persistent sense that language policing can go too far. 

I'm a big fan of linguist John McWhorter and his views on language. I've enjoyed several of his books (reviews here and here), and read his New York Times column sporadically (the way I read all columnists that I like). I don't agree with all of McWhorter's politics, and that shouldn't contradict or undermine anything I'm writing here. Also, McWhorter is Black.

I always appreciate McWhorter's nuanced view. Here's an example: 'BIPOC' Is Jargon. That's OK, and Normal People Don't Have to Say It. He's not saying the expression BIPOC is silly, nor is he saying we shouldn't use it, if it fits within our context. He explains why the word also can be seen as problematic, and believes that using it should not be a requirement. He cites Latinx as a similar expression.

Punishments are supposed to fit crimes

Last year, McWhorter wrote an excellent column about the over-reaction of the language police: One Graceless Tweet Does Not Warrant Cancellation. He wrote about a (formerly distinguished) professor of psychiatry who tweeted something he meant as a compliment but in fact was a racist remark. The professor apologized without reservation, and demonstrated that he learned from the experience. Even so, his livelihood was destroyed and his career was ruined.

McWhorter writes:

But must Lieberman's career be destroyed because of a tweet that pretty clearly reflects an ignorance of that history but that was, also, clearly well intended? We're often told in such cases that what matters is not the intent of the perpetrator but the impact on the recipient of the message. But impact has degrees, and we have to consider whether some are claiming vaster impact in certain cases than plausibility would suggest. Because we've reached the point that there's no room left to respond to Lieberman with nuance and prudence. To say: "We know you meant it as a compliment, but you should know that there are offensive connotations to using that word in reference to Black women, and an apology is owed." And then — crucially — to accept a sincere and full-throated apology when it is given, as it was here.

For someone to instead, almost instantly, be suspended from one job, dismissed from another and resign from a third because of such a thing is a disproportion of punishment to crime. It is extreme and unnecessary and ultimately lacks reason. There's something amiss if we're now at the point that someone's career is to be permanently tarnished and perhaps ended based on a passing error, which started as a misguided attempt at praise and which has been profusely apologized for. We must assess what the actual purpose of this kind of language policing is. We must ask: What, in terms of combating racism, is accomplished? Will it result in better and more available psychiatric care — or medical care in general — for Black people? Will it make Columbia University, where I am a faculty member, a more open-minded place?

The question that I always get back to is: what purpose does this serve? Are we trying to educate? Are we trying to not cause offense? Or are we just trying to win? To assert power. To punish.

If the goal is education, I suggest that punitive education is never effective. Children who are punished for using "bad" language learn not to use it front of parents and teachers.

If we are seeking to punish, the punishment should fit the crime. 

Are we seeking redress for past crimes, perpetrated by a group to which this person belongs? Meaning: this professor is a white man, and white men have historically harmed Black women, so this white man must be severely punished for this ill-advised tweet? 

This is called scapegoating, and it is always wrong.

Too much policing tends to backfire

For many of us, there is cultural pressure to buy whatever the language police are selling. I will never forget the disgusted expressions directed at me when I mistakenly said "Bradley Manning," very shortly after the war resister changed their name to Chelsea. I had been saying "Bradley Manning" for years -- and although I knew Manning had come out as trans, my speech patterns hadn't fully caught up. 

When people are fired based on one remark, even after they have sincerely and profusely apologized, the right-wingers -- who howl about being cancelled (while broadcasting to an audience of millions), who claim to be persecuted (while stripping rights from those who disagree with them), who persecute a minority people simply for living their lives -- are strengthened. The unyielding and indiscriminate use of language policing only stregthens their cause.

It pains me when progressives mirror the right-wing. When we figurately kill everyone who doesn't speak the way we believe they should, we are behaving like the ignorant bigots do. It doesn't matter how pure our motives are.

2.05.2023

rip russell banks: a belated tribute

I was very sorry to hear that Russell Banks, one of my favourite contemporary writers, died on January 7 of this year. 

There's a very short list of authors that are must-reads for me; I'll read anything they publish. Banks was on that list. 

Banks wrote about very ordinary people, always working-class, often marginalized and powerless. Although his egalitarian worldview was always obvious to me, he never used his characters as billboards or soapboxes. This excerpt from Banks' obituary in The New York Times is very apt.

In much of Mr. Banks’s writing, his concerns about race, class and power repeatedly surfaced, with particular attention given to the powerless and the overlooked, especially his outwardly unremarkable blue-collar characters.

“There’s an important tradition in American writing, going back to Mark Twain and forward to Raymond Carver and Grace Paley, whose work is generated by love of people who are scorned and derided,” Mr. Banks told The Guardian in 2000. “I have an almost simple-minded affection for them. My readers are not the same as my characters, as I’m very aware. So I’m glad when they feel that affection too.”

I was turned on to Russell Banks by one of my nephews, back in the 1990s: he told me about Rule of the Bone, Banks' take on the classic theme of a personal struggle between two father figures. I loved the authentic voice of the teenage narrator, and the pointed echoes to the ultimate alternative-father story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I read Rule of the Bone decades ago and can still recall scenes and images from it.

Banks' masterpiece is Cloudsplitter, his massive and powerful novel about the radical abolitionist John Brown. This book, along with the PBS "American Experience" documentary, in which Banks was featured, gave me an enduring fascination with Brown. (I was always sorry that I didn't know about the John Brown historic site, all the many times we drove upstate New York and to Vermont.) 

I also loved these books by Banks: Continental Drift (1985), Affliction (1989), and especially Lost Memory of Skin (2011). I haven't read all of Banks' novels, and haven't read any of his nonfiction, but I think I will eventually fill in the gaps. I'm sorry we won't have anything new from Banks. I hope he knew how much his readers loved him.

1.23.2023

something new: labour book club

Through my union, I've started a labour book club. This is something I've wanted to do for years, and now it's gotten off the ground. I'm very pleased! 

Everything requires persistence, even quitting

I first thought of doing this pre-covid, and imagined that I might gather members of my union in my own area. Not members of my bargaining unit, who are all librarians -- and I'm the only member of the unit in my region -- but BCGEU members in any field.

I asked my bargaining unit chair how I might go about this, and she recommended suggesting to a committee that plans events for all the different locals representing workers in different industries. 

Then came covid, and suddenly we were all seeing other all the time on Zoom and Teams. I realized this made the labour book club idea much more attractive and much easier: offer it to everyone, and host it on Zoom.

The next time I asked about it, I learned that I would need to be on this committee. (I'll call it ccc.) And in order to be on ccc, I needed to be on my local executive. So I was elected Member At Large for the local, and became the local's representative on ccc.

Then, when I attended my first ccc meeting, I somehow let myself get elected chair! This was a big mistake. Not only was chairing ccc way more work than I wanted, but now I wouldn't have time for the book club -- the reason I did all this in the first place!

What followed was a lot of maneuvering and apologizing, some very supportive union people, some selfish and unsupportive union people, a few knots to untie, and several hoops to jump through. And now... ta-da! Someone else is chairing ccc and I am leading the book club. Yay!

But will anyone attend?

When I brought this idea to ccc, there was a very enthusiastic response. But still, you never know if an idea will actually work. A notice went out to all BCGEU members in our official area, which is all of Vancouver Island north of Victoria. I truly had no idea if anyone would sign up. I was hoping for five or six people.

To my astonishment, 21 people signed up, and 14 people attended the first meeting!

We've had our first meeting -- just informational, to meet and talk about how things will work. Members ranged from avid readers with a lot of book club experience, to one member who would like to start reading and thought this might be a path towards her new goal. A few librarians from my local joined, including two currently on maternity leave, but the majority were from other fields.

What we're reading

I have only two guidelines for this book club:

  • Fiction only, which most people find more more accessible
  • No pressure!
Our first title is The Cold Millions, by Jess Walter, which I wrote about here

Other potential titles include:
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
For the Win, Cory Doctorow
In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash
Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
Gilded Mountain, Kate Manning
Work Song, Ivan Doig
Storming Heaven, Denise Giardina
Sea Glass, Anita Shreve
Damnation Spring, Ash Davidson

Know any other appropriate titles? Leave them in comments! 

Will people enjoy this? Will they continue to attend? We shall see!

1.14.2023

in which i buy eyeglasses online and am super excited about it: zenni optical

I recently bought new eyeglasses: price tag: $165.00. This is 80% less than my previous pair of glasses cost. I can see well and the frames are great. I'm going to buy a second pair -- and maybe a third. Buying glasses online: hallelujah!

At the end of this post, there's a step-by-step account of my experience ordering glasses from Zenni.

The ordeal of new glasses

Buying eyeglasses had become such an ordeal. 

I wear both progressives (distance, middle, and reading in one lens) and transitions (photochromic; automatically darken in the sun). I also like to have great-looking frames. To me, frames are the accessory I wear every day. They must be awesome. 

Taken together, this can easily cost close to $800 per pair.

We are fortunate that both our jobs include extended health benefits, so we do get some of that back. But it's still a major expense.

Now, living in a remote region, it's even worse: the nearest optometrist is 2.5 hours away. If we're ordering new glasses, that's two round trips -- an additional expense, plus time off from work. 

And there's a huge wait! This time around, I called in April to book an eye exam, and the first appointment I could get was at end of October! Welcome to the resource shortage.

I don't know how she does it

Some months ago, I saw a colleague and union sister wearing strikingly beautiful frames. The following day, I saw her again -- with different frames! How on earth can she afford to have multiple pairs of glasses??

The answer: Zenni Optical

I have known for some time that buying glasses online is A Thing, but I had only seen very simple, basic frames purchased online. I assumed that's what was available, and I never dug any deeper.

Once I saw my colleague with multiple pairs of beautiful frames -- and with an eye exam appointment coming up -- I decided to give it a try.

Why do frames cost so much?

This experience makes me wonder why buying glasses from a retail store costs so much. 

Either way, the frames are made in China. 

Either way, the glasses are not made onsite; prescriptions are sent elsewhere for lens grinding and assembly. 

Obviously there are costs involved with retaining a retail store. But can that account for such a dramatic price difference -- or is most of it markup?

Zenni has an page on this question: The Hidden Costs You Pay for Glasses.

I have wondered a bit about the ethics of this transaction. When the price difference is so great, retail stores are bound to lose a lot of business. But I'm not going to pay $800 for a pair of glasses that I can buy for $165 from the comfort of my own computer. The price difference  is too great, and the convenience is amazing.

Frames as accessories

One of the reasons I'm so excited about Zenni is suddenly I can afford more than one pair of glasses. When frames cost $800, I have to find one pair that will work in all situations -- as my Zenni-using friend said, the little black dress of frames. Now I can wear different frames with different clothes. I love accessories, and suddenly I have new options.

Another friend of mine needs to purchase glasses for four children. The expense is mind-boggling. I'm hoping Zenni will help her too.

My experience using Zenni, a step-by-step account

Here are details of my experience buying glasses online through Zenni.

Get your prescription elsewhere

First, you'll need your prescription. 

Check the prescription to see if it includes the pupillary distance (PD). That's the thing the optometrist measures when you buy glasses. 

If your prescription doesn't include the PD, Zenni has detailed instructions on how to measure it. It doesn't sound that difficult, and of course you can take multiple measurements to ensure accuracy. I was a bit wary of this, but the PD was included on our prescriptions.

Create a Zenni account

This is easy and painless.

Browse frames

Whether or not you have your prescription yet, you can scroll through a huge number of frames, and favourite the ones you like. You can sort by shape, colour, face shape,  frame shape, prescription type, price, and several other parameters. 

I definitely recommend scanning through all the links and seeing what applies best. I found frames Ioved under a "new arrivals" link. There are also amazing budget options.

I looked at dozens of frames and favourited the ones I was considering. I always try on lots of frames in the store, and I was glad to do this without using anyone else's time.

Create a Try On

You can virtually try on the frames one of two ways: uploading a photo or creating a "Try On". 

I was unable to get an uploaded photo to work. No matter what I did, the photo I uploaded was too small and needed to be rotated -- but I found no way to fix it. Because of this, I used the Try On. I learned that even if the photo had uploaded correctly, using a Try On is preferred -- because you can see both frontal and side (partial profile) views.

I did not find creating a Try On to be simple or easy, although that wasn't Zenni's fault. It took a few tries, each one getting a bit better, until I felt I had a halfway decent video to work with.

Once I created the Try On, it was very easy to virtually try on any pair of frames. 

You can also see what the frames look like on various models with various skin tones, hair colours, and face shapes. This was surprisingly helpful.

Input your prescription

Next, check the numbers on your prescription and type them in the corresponding boxes online. Check and re-check. 

If categories don't matchup -- for example, does "plano" mean no change? -- a quick google search will clarify. (Answer: it does.)

You can save multiple prescriptions through your Zenni account, sign up for reminders for eye exams, and so on.

Order

Once you've input your prescription and chosen frames, it's time to order your lenses.

There are many options available at different prices -- which kind of photochromic lenses, which kind of anti-glare coating, and so on. This is similar to my experience in any retail outlet.

I always find this part confusing. What is truly helpful, and what is a useless expense? The internet can help with that, but in the end, it's only an educated guess.

I liked doing this part without a salesperson, as I am susceptible to over-buying. I found reading online more conducive to good decision-making.

Order fulfillment

I placed my first order on December 24 and received the notice the glasses had shipped on January 5. That's very fast, especially considering the time of year. 

The glasses arrived in small padded mailer that fit in our post office box, with a hard-plastic Zenni case (pictured above), along with a cleaning cloth and a small PD ruler. 

The finished product

My glasses are great. The prescription is obviously correct, the fit is excellent, and they are exactly what I ordered. Five stars!

Had the glasses needed a fit adjustment, it would have been problematic. Most people could pop in to a nearby optometrist for an adjustment. (As far as I can tell, this is the last free, courtesy service on earth.) I would not be able to do that. This is a drawback for us, but not worth hundreds of dollars and two five-hour drives!

Other Zenni services I haven't used

Zenni has information on how to adjust and repair your glasses, and they sell a frame-repair kit. 

There's information on how to replace lenses in frames you already own. 

You can also book a frame-fit consultation with a person.

While researching this post, I discovered Zenni's celebrity endorsement pages. One features none other than Big Papi! While I won't be buying any frames worn by David Ortiz, I had a nice chuckle over this and was happy, thinking about our man Ortiz. I also enjoyed seeing the one and only Iris Apfel modeling her look

Good luck and enjoy!

1.08.2023

update: strength training without a trainer

I recently blogged about my experience working with a personal trainer. I really enjoyed it, and I was considering how to continue strength training on my own. I'm not new to the concept, but this time, I'm determined to avoid injury and to make it a non-negotiable habit.

Trainer-created workouts

Initially, I'm using the workouts that the trainer created. I have 12 workouts altogether, and I'm  cycling through them with a goal of doing one per week, replacing one day of cardio. If I forget how to do something, or need to check on form, a quick search turns up plenty of examples. 

This is not helpful for readers who may want to start strength training at home -- except to say that I'm very glad I finally worked with a trainer (covid silver lining: virtual options). I highly recommend doing this for a little while if you can afford it. I thought of it as an investment in my health, as I did when I bought my treadmill, similar to joining a gym.

The winning app: Nike Training Club

When I want more or a different challenge, I'm going to use Nike Training Club. I chose it because:

** It's simple and direct, not larded up with unnecessary features.

** It's focused on exercise only. That's all I wanted, and that's what NTC is.

** Workouts are clearly divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. 

** There are programs grouped according to goals -- many of them, for a wide variety of goals -- or you can find a bunch of exercises that work for you and save them to create your own programs.

** You can also choose "whiteboard workouts" that combine exercises for a full workout on the level you choose.

** If you choose a whiteboard workout, each exercise includes a short optional video that demonstrates proper form. 

** Most workouts require no or minimal equipment.

** Nike Training Club also happens to be free. I was willing to pay a reasonable amount for a workout subscription if necessary, but my first choice is free -- a nice bonus.

Other fitness apps

There are zillions of fitness apps. I used these articles to narrow them down: Forbes Health's Best Fitness Apps (recently updated) and Healthline's A Trainer's Picks of the 12 Best Fitness and Exercise Apps. Most of the other lists I saw are copies of these. 

For me, most of these were easily eliminated, as they focus on needs that aren't relevant to me. 

Many of the apps aim to be all-in-one health hubs -- diet tracking, exercise, lifestyle changes, coaching. I can see the appeal, but I can also see that easily overwhelming a beginner. In any case, I have those pieces under control, and I don't want to subscribe to something knowing that I'll ignore three-quarters of what it offers. 

There are also many fitness apps for body builders, and for specific needs such as pregnancy. Many are designed for use with a wearable device (Fitbit, Apple, etc.) which I don't want and will never do.

All in all, Nike Training Club was an easy choice.

How often is enough

Many people believe that strength training must be done a minimum of three times per week in order to see results, but that's either a myth, or at best, not relevant to my goals.

My goals are the typical ones for older people -- google "why strength training is important for older adults" -- and are all about health and well-being. My long-term motivation is improving my chances of a healthy, independent old age. My shorter-term motivation is improving the ease of everyday movements and tasks. Strength training also feels good and, unlike cardio fitness, you can feel the benefits almost immediately.

Everything I've read about this kind of exercise says once or twice weekly is a solid goal. I found this article very helpful: A Low-Pressure Guide to Make Strength Training a Habit.

1.05.2023

a reading plan for 2023

This year's reading plan is more open-ended -- designed to give me focus but not overwhelm. I've created what most people seem to call a reading challenge, but that term doesn't work for me. So here's the plan.

** Five current (within 3 years) nonfiction

** Five older nonfiction from The List

** Ten fiction, including five (total) from this list of authors I have not read: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Naguib Mahfouz, Margaret Laurence, Helen Oyeyemi, Donna Tartt

** Advance one ongoing goal, choose from: one Dickens (four to finish), one Orwell (three to finish), finish King Trilogy (two-thirds of final book remaining)

** Continue weekly NYC history installments

I will also be leading a labour book club with my union. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and it's taken quite a bit of maneuvering to make it happen. If anyone actually signs up, I’ll be reading for this as well. 

1.02.2023

we movie to canada: best of "what i'm watching" 2022

Here are the best movies and series I watched in 2022. They're not in order -- it's not a countdown -- just a list of all the really good stuff.

Five stars: the best of the best

BoJack Horseman re-watch
My favourite show of all time. I'm trying not to call it "the greatest show of all time," but I believe it is.

Reservation Dogs S1-2, full series so far.
Hilarious, heartbreaking, and meaningful, Rez Dogs is the first show on mainstream TV to be completely Indigenous-created, and using all Indigenous actors. The writing and acting are incredible, and the way Indigenous realities are worked into the stories is perfect. I hope everyone will watch this!

The Expanse S6
The final season of this stellar show did not disappoint. Although I am not a science fiction fan by any means, I'm glad I don't reject a show based on genre. This series is as good as it gets: gripping, moving, surprising, with complex characters and deep political and social resonance. I'll probably watch it again.

We Need to Talk About Cosby, 4-part documentary series
This deeply disturbing documentary series is a must-see. I'm grateful to Kamau Bell for making the film, to every woman who agreed to speak with him, and to all who didn't, just for surviving.  

The Power of the Dog (2021)
This is Jane Campion's version of a western: a quietly intense psychological thriller set in an isolated Montana homestead. Utterly riveting and not at all predictable. I had to watch the ending twice. 

Slow Horses S1-S2, full series so far
This is a top-notch spy thriller, full of paranoia and corruption, with great writing and great characters -- but everything pales beside Gary Oldman's incredible performance. We re-watched S1 right before S2 dropped on AppleTV+, and are eagerly awaiting S3.

The Capture S2
This thriller takes you on a wild, twisty, breathless ride into the outlandish but utterly plausible world of government surveillence and corporate media manipulation. The Capture may be the greatest show you've never heard of.

Unforgotten S4
The final season of this cold-case forensic show left us a little heartbroken and wanting more. Unforgotten is especially notable for the emotional resonance of each case. In most detective shows, the corpse is just a premise -- a prop. Unforgotten shows you the web of loss that radiates from every violent death. Nicola Walker is brilliant.

The Handmaid's Tale S5
This show continues to be one of the very best, with everything clicking -- writing, acting, character development, and of course, politics. Elisabeth Moss is surely one of the great actors of this or any generation. 

Shining Girls S1, full series
This genre-blending thriller/mystery/sci-fi series is mind-blowing, and features yet another insanely good performance by Elisabeth Moss. I'm planning on re-watching: now that I know the outcome, I can concentrate on clues and how it all fits together. 

In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The death of the great Sidney Poitier led me to re-watch several of his movies (with more to come). In this one, Poitier's understated performance and Rod Steiger's subtle character development create something truly brilliant. One of the best American films of any era.

The Janes
This documentary about the underground (and illegal) abortion network in 1970s Chicago was beautifully done. Importantly, the story is told by the women themselves. I'm grateful to Tia Lessen and Emma Pildes for capturing and preserving our history.

To Sir With Love (1967)
More from Sir Sidney. I wondered if this would hold up. It does, and then some.

Four stars: worth every minute, highly recommended

Bad Sisters S1, full series
Comedy, drama, mystery, revenge, and sisterhood -- plus Irish accents! What more do you need? Don't miss this. It's both intense and fun.

Yellowstone S4
The fourth season of Yellowstone was the best yet, packed with everything that makes this show great. 

Black Butterflies S1, full series
This French thriller is super suspenseful, twisty, and exciting. Stories are revealed in multiple timelines that force you to rethink what you thought you knew -- again and again. It lost the 5-star rating only because I found the ending unsatisfying, but it was still amazing. Not for the violence-averse.

How to Change Your Mind, 4-part documentary series
Michael Pollan's exploration of the potential for clinical use of psychedelics was truly eye-opening. The series was fascinating and sometimes deeply moving. Having seen this, I now want to read the book -- and I want to get in a clinical trial for PTSD. (Allan feels the same way.) This lost the 5-star rating only for its treatment of the CIA's LSD experiments: too short, and too neutral. Another sentence or two would have been more accurate and appropriate.

Summer of Soul
This documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is packed with astounding footage of so much great music. It's worth watching for Mahalia Jackson alone; her performance makes all the other superstars appear as mere humans.

Perry Mason S1, series so far
This stylist neo-noir prequel has all the makings of a classic. I've just learned it will be back for S2 next year, a great excuse to rewatch S1. If you like noir-ish mysteries and hardboiled detective stories, you'll enjoy this.

Never Have I Ever S3
This series was everything I love in a young-adult show: honest, funny, affirming, authentic, with just the right amount of angst. 

Sex Education S1-S3, full series so far
What a beautiful surprise this was! If some of it was a bit far-fetched, it more than compensated with laughs and tears. 

Atypical S2-4
This show grew both funnier and more meaningful as time went on. Along with the two series listed above, this was a trifecta year for young people's comedy/drama/coming-of-age. 

Nomadland
Dramatizing a nonfiction book is tricky, but the sparse, quiet production and Frances McDormand's brilliant (as usual) performance made it appropriately heartbreaking. I came to feel that using a fictional story to illustrate these issues was a smart move.

No Time to Die
Did you know I love James Bond movies? This just might be my all-time favourite. Lucky for me, I don't see spoilers.

The Laundromat
This 2019 social satire was a great surprise. What starts out as a simple family story turns into an exploration of the grievous harm done by legal corporate tax evasion. It's on this list because I want everyone to see it.

Leave No Trace
This somber story of a father and daughter living on their own in the woods gradually reveals its political heart. A sad and meaningful film.

The Blacklist S9
How can this show still be so good?? The death of a central character refreshed and renewed the series. James Spader continues to amaze me.

Louis Armstrong's Black and Blues
I know quite a bit about Louis Armstrong, but this documentary includes newly discovered footage and archival recordings of Satchmo talking to friends. Armstrong bios always try to explain away his Uncle Tom tendencies and his refusal to utter one single word of support for the civil rights movement, while he was the most famous Black man on the planet. This show is no different, and it inadvertently strengthens my disappointment in this.

Colin in Black and White S1, full series
Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernick's genre-blending (part documentary, part dramatization) film really hits the mark. Parts may seem obvious to more informed viewers, but I can hope a less enlightened audience found it eye-opening.

M*A*S*H S1-S11, full series
I started re-watching MASH years ago, then lost access. In 2022 I re-started and watched it end-to-end. Without a doubt, this is one of the best TV shows of all time. For almost the entire 11 seasons, it was funny, poignant, sometimes heartbreaking, and always unapologetically political. The show lost a lot when Gary Burghoff left, but MASH at its worst was still miles above most shows at their best. By the way, the often-repeated claim that Alan Alda demanded that his character be shown in the operating room in every episode is obviously untrue. Alda also wrote, co-wrote, or directed many episodes. Even with the solid esemble cast, Alda was MASH.

Honourable mentions: worth seeing

Kids in the Hall (2022)
The Dig (2021)
Ozark S4
Hacks S2
Derry Girls S3
Island of the Sea Wolves (Vancouver Island nature show)
The Worst Person in the World
Dead to Me
Wayne (Thank you to the wmtc reader who suggested this!)

Recap of previous years

- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12)
- big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16)
- the picket line (2016-17)
- movies (2017-18)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s
2020-21: 1-5 😷s (without the tear!)
2021: best of 2021 april to december