30 December 2013

mental health mondays :: enough to drive you crazy

angelina in the blue dress, second from right
just because i have no patience for shows like "american idol", "the voice" or anything involving the karsahians doesn't mean that i'm entirely immune to the meretricious charms of reality television. i try to take a moment every day to hate myself for finding "duck dynasty" amusing, despite my fundamental disagreements with the robertson family on just about everything and my awareness of the artifice of the show itself. but one reality show that feels less guilty and more pleasure is "canada's worst driver", a distinctly canadian take on a show that's appeared in different national versions for over a decade, starting [as many reality shows do] in great britain.

the canadian version has actually had a longer run than any of the other "worst driver" series not because our drivers are that bad, but because the focus of the show is not an anti-celebration of the bad drivers, but on educating them on how to become good [or at least competent] drivers. which makes the whole process somewhat redemptive rather than just infuriating. relatively few of the drivers are the risible characters you would expect [and in fact, those that are truly unrepentant are summarily dealt with and removed from the show so as not to impede the others]. most of the candidates are perfectly aware of how terrible they are, if only because they have the record to prove it. many are inexperienced and/ or lack confidence. others are in denial without being bellicose and it is those people who tend to wind up with the end of season trophies.

although there is no shortage of mockery on the show, the candidates are also treated in what i would see as a uniquely canadian fashion: through the season, we get to know them, get to see their humanity, get to hear their side of the story. it becomes easy to sympathize at least a little with most of them, even if you wouldn't want them driving in your city.

this year, the show has done their "worst of the worst" series, inviting back the "champions" of previous seasons along with those selected by viewers as deserving of a repeat performance. of those, the person the host said he believed to be the most likely candidate for the title of "canada's worst driver ever" was eventually removed for mental health issues. in removing her from consideration, the show actually does a public service, highlighting a serious problem in the treatment of mental illness in canada.

FIND OUT WHAT, ALBEIT WITH SHOW SPOILERS, AFTER THE BREAK...

29 December 2013

canada post's monkey business

canada post management retreat, not exactly as pictured
i've written recently about my own tribulations with canada post, but i've effectively avoided discussing the new "five point plan" that was unveiled by the corporation earlier this month, their strategy for maintaining profits in an era when less and less mail is being sent. this strategy has nothing to do with my recent tribulations, because canada post hasn't even started to implement it yet, but i will say that the same organizational "intelligence" that has caused the issues that i've written about is pervasive in the five point plan. which is a very long way of saying that this plan looks like it was put together by a gang of paste-eaters taking a break from shoving bottle rockets up their noses.

now, not all of the plan is bad. an infinite number of monkeys might be able to write all the great books given enough time and slightly further down the evolutionary scale, canada post managers have been able to come up with two points [well, one and a half, at least] out of five that aren't bad:

point #3 :: expanding franchise postal outlets. this is an excellent idea, because postal outlets located in retail locations are ultimately more convenient for consumers and less costly for the post office to maintain. so rock those franchises, canada post.

point #4 :: streamlining operations. this is the "half good" point that i mentioned above. first of all, streamlining operations isn't part of a visionary plan. it's a normal part of business and it's something that you have to do on an ongoing basis. work smarter, not harder. we've all heard that and at best, this should be mentioned in a section on "other things canada post is doing in order to limit costs". it's not a point on its own. furthermore, not all attempts to streamline operations are good. the process of streamlining was begun in 2010, but the brand new "five point plan" cannot point to any cost savings that the process has achieved in three years other than through attrition [positions eliminated with the retirement or resignation of employees]. if all this streamlining can't save money without eliminating jobs, canada post is going to start to see a pretty sharp decline in returns. but efficiency has advantages and the move to more fuel-efficient vehicles is a laudable one, so we'll give them a half point for this.

the rest of their plan involves relying on concessions from employees- no specifics given- and by reducing services while at the same time increasing costs. yes, that's right. canada post's grand vision is to ask their consumers to pay more in order to receive less.

the business diamond at the core of their planning tiara is to eliminate door-to-door service for the one-third of canadians who still receive it. these people are mostly in cities, as suburbs have already been transitioned to multi-unit "community mailboxes". canada post dresses this up as being a safe, convenient alternative, because apparently their managers live in a land where reaching their front door is too much of a chore. reading this section of the plan, i have to wonder exactly how much weed had been smoked when they were coming up for their entirely specious explanations for why this solution is, as they put it "optimal".

STAY WITH ME ON THIS...

25 December 2013

making faces :: we all need something to warm us up in winter

it's officially winter. it's not just that it's christmas, or that it's -25 celsius here in montreal. it's that we've
passed the astrological dividing line and now the days are getting longer. of course, the coldest days are still ahead, since temperature extremes are always reached the month after a solstice, which is why it's nice to think warm thoughts and drape yourself in warm things.

for me, warm things include warm colours and luckily for me, i recently had an order from beauty habit arrive with just what the season ordered to heat things up as far as my face is concerned. only one of these is a new item, but both suit my style perfectly at this point in time. in fact, i think that both items i'm reviewing will be things that i can turn to throughout the year, which makes them all the more valuable.

up first, let's look at the new: chantecaille hydra chic lipstick in "persimmon". this was released as part of their fall collection. of course, attention for all of chantecaille's collections is always directed more towards their animal-themed shadow and blush palettes, like fall's "wild horses". there's a good reason for that, because chantecaille has made it a feature of their seasonal business that each palette helps to raise money and awareness for animal and ecological causes. but that's no reason to ignore the sideshow now, is it?

"persimmon" is a colour that's extremely trendy right now. it's a warm, bright red-orange shade. hydra chics are supposed to be more pigmented than the brand's much-loved lip chics, which i can see, but i still find "persimmon" well short of opaque. i think that makes it more approachable for people who might steer away from a full-on flame red.

persimmon
it applies as a very warm semi-opaque red shade, a red with orange undertones and a lot of shine. after about half an hour of wear, the shine fades and the colour sets to more of a stain. i fond that as it set, it looked increasingly orange rather than red, which actually irritated me a little, because i loved the juicy shade that it applied right out of the tube. reapplying does perk it up a little, i just wish that it maintained its original tone a little better. the formula is light and moderately hydrating- less so than the lip chics, but still pleasant, even at this time of year when hydration is an important consideration.

THERE'S MOAR!!!!!

24 December 2013

it's that time again...

that time when i swallow my seasonal humbug and say that i do sincerely wish all of you who have stopped by to read this blog a very happy holiday season.

if you're trying to find something to pass the time while waiting for the food and present action, might i suggest doing a last minute check of whether you're on santa's nice or naughty list? if you're already sure where you fall, you can also check for friends and acquaintances, which is what i did:

no, i didn't rig it. that's seriously what happened when i typed that name and hit "submit.

oh saint nicholas, there's so much more to you than we thought...

23 December 2013

canada post is guaranteed to drive you a little crazy

i want to make this clear, right off the top: no one envies postal employees at this time of year. it's harsh work tramping through snow and sleet and driving in dangerous conditions or even just standing at a counter with a line up of people who are all convinced that it's your fault that they waited too long in order to mail your holiday packages. those jobs are thankless and everyone should bear that in mind when dealing with postal employees close to xmas.

however, there is a sort of mentality that seems to permeate the upper echelons of the postal organisation that i would like to characterise as an absurdist conspiracy. they're all mad there and they want you to join in the fun. to illustrate this [again] here is a conversation i had with a canada post employee when trying to ship a package to halifax.

me :: hello, i'd like to ship this box overnight to halifax

customer service rep :: we can't do that.

me :: it says on the sign behind you that you do.

csr :: [double checking] oh yes, that's our overnight service.

me :: so i'd like to ship it overnight for it to get there tomorrow.

csr :: well i don't know if that would work.

me :: it's 8 in the morning. your counter just opened. doesn't that mean that the package will go out today and arrive tomorrow?

csr :: well i wouldn't bet on it.

me :: i don't understand.

csr :: well the guaranteed next day service only applies when you're shipping to a city.

me :: halifax is a city.

csr :: yes, i know.

me :: so why wouldn't the guaranteed service be available?

csr :: it is. i just don't know if it would get there by tomorrow or not. it's very busy.

me :: so your guaranteed delivery service isn't guaranteed to get there?

csr :: well i would never guarantee that. but you can ship it for next day delivery and if they don't deliver it, you can call canada post and ask for your money back.

me :: but will they still deliver my package after?

csr :: i can't say.

me :: [ponders length of time it will get to fed ex counter and determines it is not an option] ok, well, i want to ship my package.

csr :: are you sure?

me :: yes.

csr :: and when would you like it delivered?

me :: um... how soon can you get it there?

csr :: well we have the overnight delivery service.

me :: i think i'm going to go lick an electric socket now.*

csr :: pardon?

me :: i'd like to ship it overnight.

*it's possibly definitely true that i didn't say this out loud. but i really wanted to.

note :: while checking the postal code to which i was shipping, i noticed that canada post's web site will soon be limiting the number of postal codes you can look up on line. i believe that the restrictions will only limit the number you can look up in one day, but there's very little information available. i have to wonder who in hell thought this was a good idea. looking up postal codes is one of the few things that would drive people to the canada post web site. in particular, it seems like a spectacularly bad idea for a company that is poised to start laying off thousands of employees. wouldn't they want to get people used to going on line rather than calling for this sort of information?

18 December 2013

making faces :: let's talk about this nars guy thing

i'm late, i'm sorry.

i say that phrase all the time, but it's the first time i feel the need to apologise for my tardiness here on my blog, because the fact is that i'm about to discuss something that's already been discussed and review things that are already somewhat hard to find... i am truly sorry. you can't see my lack of sarcasm, but i assure you, it's there.

you still love me, right?
this holiday season, which starts in october at retailers, never in advance of november for me, but certainly before the sixteenth of december for everybody, nars has released a collection that is about as holiday-friendly as i am. it's inspired by the work of fashion photographer guy bourdin, who in turn inspired francois nars as an impressionable youth.

bourdin's photography is graphic in every sense- he uses stark imagery and bold colour, but often the scenes presented are violent and shocking, in contrast with the haute couture beauty of his subjects. this propensity towards violence, particularly violence towards women- the objects of his lens/ eye- makes him controversial as an inspiration and as an artist. some would argue that bourdin wasn't an artist at all, since the commodification of women's bodies in order to sell fashion [or cosmetics] is usually perceived as a crass commercial venture rather than something artistic. there are fashion photographers whose work is seen as having artistic merit [including bourdin's contemporary, helmut newton], but that merit is often spoken as if an asterisk is appended to it- it's not really art. and those whose work is generally considered as at least being "art-influenced" aren't nearly so difficult to confront as bourdin.

bourdin for vogue magazine
there does seem to be ample evidence that bourdin's relationship with women was troubled. and that bourdin was troubled. and that he was involved with some women who were troubled. psychologists could have a field day with the man's history. i'm not going to go into details, but it has all the elements of an inter-war tragic novel. or a 70s/ 80s video nasty. both, really.

the extent to which bourdin's personal life bled into his work [yes, i chose that phrase carefully] is unknown and it's unknown because the man himself chose to remain largely unknown [unknowable?]. there are stories of his mistreatment of women with whom he worked, but likewise tales of successful working relationships, like the one he had with the editor of french vogue for many years.

16 December 2013

mental health mondays :: d for depression?

one of the things that makes depression so difficult to treat is that it can be difficult to distinguish whether it's a condition in itself or a symptom of something else. you can be depressed for no reason other than being depressed, but you can also be depressed as an effect of a condition that has nothing to do with your mood, your outlook or your neurotransmitters- kinda.

because if you've ever tried to diagnose yourself on line, you've probably noticed that depression is a
symptom of just about everything- as ubiquitous as headaches or stomach upset, which means that just because you're showing all the symptoms of depression doesn't mean that it's necessarily your problem. excessive drinking causes depression. so can surgery. a lot of medications can cause depression. thyroid problems can too. chronic or long-duration illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia or diabetes are known to cause secondary depression at much higher rates than are found in the general population.

on top of that, the brain is vulnerable to imbalances in hormones, enzymes, vitamins and nutrients which can trigger depression. so if you're ever wondering why it can be difficult to find a treatment for depression, keep in mind just how fantastically complex you are.

evidence on dietary methods of controlling depression and other mood disorders is often controversial, often because it isn't conducted using the same standards as pharmaceutical testing [double-blinding, use of a placebo control]. unfortunately, that is more than likely to continue, simply because the financial incentives to conduct these sorts of tests is pretty lean. however, i was sort of interested to see the results of this new study conducted by the stritch school of medicine at loyola university in chicago.

the study is pretty specific in its scope: the effects of vitamin d on pain caused by depression in women with type 2 diabetes. but that may be the way of the future when it comes to controlling mental disorders without relying on powerful pharmaceuticals for years or even decades- rather than taking one thing to treat a broad condition like depression, it may be necessary to address the syndrome bit by bit.

after all, while it might seem obvious that vitamin d- which we get from sunlight, among other sources- might be effective against seasonal depression, research has shown that that's not necessarily true. and yet the loyola study shows that it is a very promising treatment for a specific symptom of depression within a particular sub-group.

clearly, we're only beginning to understand the complexity of the long term treatment of mental and mood disorders. but for now, especially if you're a woman with type 2 diabetes, make sure you enjoy the 5 minutes of daily sunshine we've been getting. 

13 December 2013

could the postman at least ring once?

me :: hello, is this canada post customer service?

csr :: yes

me :: i got a notice that there was an attempt to deliver a package today.

csr :: it should say where you can pick it up.

me :: yes, i know how that works, thanks, but what i'm wondering is why the deliverer didn't just ring the doorbell. we've been home all day. and this is actually the second time i've had to call, because we got another package delivered a couple of weeks ago, except that the guy forgot to leave the first notice, so we only got a final notice.

csr :: i'm sorry, that's not supposed to happen.

me :: well thank you, i already spoke to someone who apologised, which is cool and all, but the thing is that the apology doesn't mean much if you keep doing the same thing, that is, leaving us notices saying that there was a delivery attempt, but not actually attempting to make a delivery.

csr :: well it's now canada post policy that we don't ring doorbells when we're delivering a package unless we can be sure that the apartment is on the ground floor.

me :: i don't understand. how do you expect to deliver the package if you don't ring the doorbell.

csr :: it's just that the mail carriers don't have time to be going into buildings to deliver packages.

me :: isn't that their job?

csr :: no, they have to complete their route in a certain period of time and if they have to go upstairs to deliver packages, that slows them down.

me :: um, ok, but by that logic, they could just drive the route and not deliver anything at all and get finished even faster.

csr :: well, yes, but then they wouldn't be doing their job.

me :: but part of their job is to deliver packages.

csr :: yes, but they do that by leaving the notice and then you go have to pick the package up. it's a way of making things more efficient.

me :: for whom? [pause] hey, did i mention that these packages we're receiving are medical devices? my husband was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. the stuff we've been receiving is stuff he kind of needs so that he can do things like leave the house. oh, and while we're at it, i had surgery a few weeks ago. i'm doing ok, but i'm not actually supposed to lift anything heavier than a couple of pounds for a little while longer.

csr :: and is the box you received very heavy?

me :: i don't know, because i haven't received it yet. it could be. or it could be light. my point is that i have no way of finding out until i go to the post office to collect it, at which point, i'm kind of stuck.

csr :: ok, would you like me to try to arrange for a second delivery?

me :: what does that mean?

csr :: the package would have to be shipped back to our depot and then it's sent out again for delivery.

me :: with the same postal carrier?

csr :: yes. but there will be a note on the file that says he should ring the doorbell.

me :: will he read the file? [note :: i'm not sure if this carrier is a man or not. i'm just simplifying.]

csr :: he'll have access to it.

me :: sure, but i know what happens when you mark a package 'fragile' and how much difference that makes.

csr :: well at canada post we don't deliver fragile packages anymore.

me :: i see. i guess that's one way around the problem. [pause] so, if you send this package for re-delivery, is the carrier likely to just fill out another card and drop it in my box without ringing the bell?

csr :: that could happen, yes.

me :: and this will take how long?

csr :: it depends. a few days to get back to the depot and then to send it out for delivery again.

me :: when does the efficiency happen?

csr :: pardon?

me :: sorry, rhetorical question.

csr :: so would you like me to go ahead and arrange for re-delivery?

me :: no, because i'll probably end up just having to call back again to find out why the carrier dropped off a notice without ringing the doorbell.

csr :: i understand, but like i said, it's our policy that we no longer ring the doorbell when there's a package to be delivered.

me :: so why does the delivery card that i received have a check mark next to the box that says "no answer"?

csr :: [pause] i can't really do anything to change the policy, but i'll note the complaint and pass it along.

me :: thank you.

[note :: the csr was completely polite and patient with me, even when i was being sarcastic, so i want to make it clear that what makes me angry is not canada post's customer service people. i truly believe that she was doing what she could. and i did pause in my snarking at one point to tell her that i knew it wasn't her and that i didn't want to make her feel bad, or be that person who takes out all their frustration at a stupid corporate policy on the person tasked with answering customer calls. that's not fair.]

09 December 2013

mental health mondays [rewind] :: bonkers for benzos

yeah, i'm even recycling an image i've used before
consistently, one of the most searched terms that leads people to this blog is "benzo". that's interesting
and not just to the authorities who have probably put me on watch lists because they think this blog is in some kind of drug dealer code.

i've lapsed on the "regular" sections of this blog as i've been in recovery mode lately, but after wading into a conversation about the drugs we love to hate to love, i thought i might just re-post this one. i have been thinking about doing a piece on the comparative experiences that people have with benzodiazepines, but that is quite an undertaking. everyone has their favourites and their betes noires in this category. of course, the fact that everyone has opinions could probably be seen as an indicator that too many people are taking them to begin with. but i'm not a medical professional.

so pop 'em if you got 'em and enjoy the more like space mental health mondays benzo primer [again].

*

originally published 1 march 2011

last week, i blogged about psychiatric medications that are rarely (or, if you're in canada, never) prescribed, despite evidence that they are effective. as a counterpoint, i thought i'd write about a category of drugs that i find to be frighteningly over-prescribed: benzodiazepines. these are the drugs that are most likely to be handed out if you go to your doctor to complain of anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, recurrent headaches, generalised pain... well, put it this way: there are a lot of things that are likely to get you a prescription for benzos.

librium, the original benzo, was discovered in 1955, but was originally thought a disappointment. however, further testing and refinement resulted in a marketable drug, first made available in 1960. despite some concerns over the poorly-understood long-term effects of the drug and the potential for abuse, benzodiazepines were a marked improvement over their predecessors, the barbiturates (which, i discovered today, is a word i've been misspelling and mispronouncing my entire life). barbiturates had been the go-to medication to basically cure anything resembling a state of stress or even wakefulness for the first half of the century, but it was widely known that they were prone to abuse and that the stressed patients who took them had a tendency to use them for suicide. plus, of course, there were a number of soldiers in world war ii who were given "goofballs" to help depress their respiratory system, making it easier to work in the subtropical conditions of the south pacific (and probably making it a heck of a lot less stressful to risk their necks at war). the drugs seemed reasonably effective, but it unfortunately lead to a lot of pill-popping zombies coming home from the war, who were either forced into lengthy rehabilitation, or who continued as they were, leading to a widespread problem with barbiturate abuse in the post-war years. compared to that record, these spiffy new benzo drugs seemed like a good deal.


08 December 2013

making faces :: xmas kisses from guerlain

MINE
there's no denying that the holiday season is upon us. i was in the drug store today and while i was waiting for a prescription to be filled, there was a quebecois country hoedown version of "jingle bells" playing and i was consumed with the urge to set things on fire. i always like to take a moment every holiday season to consider the poor sales associates who are forced to work day in and day out with the most insipid holiday music in their ears all the time. they are truly the heroes of xmas.

but even i'm drawn to overcome my seasonal avoidance syndrome enough to risk venturing out to the retail environment when i don't have to in order to try out the season's makeup collections. and none tempts me more each year than guerlain. 

after last year's operatically themed "liu" collection, the company has gone in another direction for this year's "crazy paris". everything is touched with neon, including the packaging, which is black [rather than silver or gold] and features highlights of either fluorescent orange or pink or, in the case of some of the compacts, given a faux 3-d effect. reactions have been mixed, since the look is definitely a leap away from guerlain's normal high-class image, it's like watching a group of wealthy society ladies get tarted up to investigate the seamy scene around broadway and 42nd street in the late 70s/ early 80s. 

personally, i sort of like that guerlain can show its wild side and i find the look in keeping with the colours offered. they're not at all typical holiday shades, at least not as far as the lipsticks are concerned. what you have there are three glowing, unnatural, almost eerie colours that command attention. again, whether or not you enjoy that is a question of personal taste. and anyone who knows my personal tastes knows that these will have been pretty irresistible to me. 

04 December 2013

making faces :: orange you glad

i have already established myself as a defender of orange, the redheaded stepchild of the colour wheel and at no time of the year do i find the freshness, fruitiness and friendliness of orange to be more welcome than during this last sprint towards the winter solstice, when i basically feel like a mole person living in a land where the light of the sun is rarely seen.

since i'm still stuck close to home most of the time, i have the opportunity to get creative with what i wear on my face. after all, there's no pressure on me to look professional for the cats or for dom, so the worst that's going to happen is that someone coming to drop off mail is going to think i got all gussied up just for him [or her].

so today, to combat the fact that i didn't feel particularly well in any sense, i decided to do battle against the gloom of perpetual twilight [an ugly thought in all its forms] with an army of orange shades. well, a small army. three. but they're pretty incredible soldiers.

LET'S HAVE A LOOK, SHALL WE?

02 December 2013

wherein i become a flavour of paranoia

personally, i'm kind of happy to relate any story that involves me and the term paranoia that doesn't also 69 flavours of paranoia".
contain the terms "forcibly sedated" or "detained for questioning". but i'm especially happy to report that my short story "spook house" is now available through the grace of the lovely folks at "

please feel free to visit it and read it to your children as a bedtime story, assuming you don't like your children very much. ok, don't read it to children, they won't like it anyway. but i do highly encourage you to peruse the story as well as the rest of the 69 flavours web site. [i particularly enjoyed this nice recap of some of the more bizarre conspiracy theories you're likely to run into. nasa impersonators and great white yiddish sharks.]

a big thank you to writers' carnival for introducing us!

the image above comes from the magnificently creepy carnival of souls. if you haven't seen it, stop reading this stupid blog and go watch it. then go visit 69 flavours of paranoia. it'll be there when you're done.
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