31 December 2014

slow death

dom and i are lucky people. that may seem odd given the title of this post and it may seem odd if you know a bit about us, but nonetheless, it's true.

a couple of years ago, dom started having incredibly painful and inexplicable attacks in his right leg. we were convinced it was sciatica, or at least some type of nerve pain, probably the result of an important nerve being compressed between vertebrae. the attacks came and went, some lasting for hours, some lasting a few minutes. they came without warning, at any time of day or night. sometimes they were bad enough that he'd have to go to the emergency room. those visits generally lasted between six and ten hours each and all produced the same result: it was probably a nerve problem, he should get an mri to make sure, but in the meantime, there wasn't much to do except try to relax and put hot and/ or cold packs on his lower back in the hopes that the problem would just sort itself out.

time went on and the attacks did not sort themselves out. even more worrying, his affected leg started dragging. we thought it might be some kind of muscle weakness because he had been trying to rest a lot and maybe in the process, his musculature had become compromised. but the muscles didn't look any different. they just weren't working anymore.

he got the mri scan on his lower body, which told us [and his doctors] nearly nothing: he did have two slightly herniated discs in his lower back, but that's actually pretty common. [apparently most people over thirty exhibit some kind of degeneration in their vertebral discs.] more significantly, there was absolutely no sign that any of his nerves were being impinged. there was no sign of anything that could explain what he'd been going through.

on our final trip to the emergency ward, it so happened that the head of neurology at the jewish general hospital was conducting and on site lesson with several of his students. one of them got assigned to look at dom and he brought his teacher over for a consult. the class assembled, asked him questions, took notes and got him to walk up and down the short hallway again and again, observing his gait and the leg that just couldn't move as smoothly as the rest of him. the problem, they determined, wasn't anything to do with his sciatic nerve or with the discs in his lower back. the problem was higher up.

dom went for a second mri and, indeed a third, on his thoracic and cervical vertebrae and his head. at one of those visits, he was telling the lab tech about everything he'd gone through in the previous months and how there still wasn't any real clue as to what was causing all of these problems- problems that were getting worse as the search continued. the tech asked: "are you sure it isn't m.s.?"

you can probably guess where this is headed.

late last year, more than a year since dom's first attack, he was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. it's a diagnosis of elimination, which means that even if you have all the signs, doctors need to rule out all the other things it could be before they can tell you for sure that you have it. during that time, they can't treat you for anything. if you're lucky, you can get a prescription for something to dull the pain, but chances are it won't work very well, because analgesics and anti-inflammatories aren't particularly effective on nerve pain. but finally, we knew what was happening and we had a team of medical professionals who were there to help.

the first type of medication that dom got to try was in the form of preloaded syringes, one per day injected into the stomach, inner thighs, underarms or basically any place where you have a little bit of fatty tissue. if you miss the fatty tissue, the injections are incredibly painful and sometimes the injection site will become incredibly hard and sore for days. you need to switch the place where you do your injection every time, so you start to behave like a heroin addict, constantly looking for a spot that's not damaged by an earlier needle.

after six or seven months, it became apparent that the injections weren't working. at the very least, things weren't improving, but the truth is that they seemed to be getting worse. a decision was made to switch him to a different sort of treatment, a much stronger one, administered by perfusion. that means that once a month, he gets to go to a clinic and get an intravenous injection that takes about an hour and a half. it's very similar to chemotherapy, although fortunately, it doesn't have the same side effects. it does, however, leave him feeling sick and achy for a few days afterward most of the time. also, since multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder, the medication acts by impeding the function of the immune system. that stops your immune system from attacking the parts of your body you actually need, but it also stops it from doing the things that immune systems are supposed to do, like fighting off infections. for several days after a treatment, he's extremely vulnerable to just about anything. that's important not just because being sick on top of having multiple sclerosis is pretty damned unpleasant, but for other reasons i'll get to shortly.

the perfusion treatment that dom gets now takes around four months to show even slight improvements and seven before you start anything like real progress. six treatments in, there have been a couple of moments where he could move easily- literally ten minute windows where the condition seemed to have disappeared like an unpleasant dream. he's also taking pills daily that specifically target his ability to walk and move his legs. every few months, he does a little walk across our apartment and times himself to check for improvement. he's shaved about a second off his time which, apparently, is good news. it's a little difficult to hear that, though, because the fact is that dom can't even walk from one room to another without significant difficulty. some days, he can't do it at all.

patients with multiple sclerosis are also given various sorts of therapy: physio, kino, occupational and psychological. this is crucial and, i might add, the only time i saw a marked improvement was when dom was regularly attending physio and kinotherapy. unfortunately, the waiting list for those to start is about eight months. you can, of course, go to a private clinic, but you'll pay out of pocket for those services and you won't get the advantage of having your whole team under one roof, able to compare notes and meet with you to go over your progress. until they can fit you in, you just have to wait. m.s. is all about waiting.

earlier this year, i decided for various reasons to strike out on my own and start my own business. for the time being i'm working from home. i feel like that decision has helped me a great deal and that it's something i'll benefit from even more in the future, but the fact is that i probably couldn't work outside the home even if i wanted. there are a lot of days when dom is weak or pained enough that he can't even get up to get himself a glass of water. forget about making himself a meal, or doing any kind of work around the house. reaching over to pick up a phone adjacent to where he's sitting involves a herculean effort. when he can walk around, his balance is questionable and he often can't lift his leg over things like the edge of a rug that can cause you to trip. he's taken spills at various times, although thankfully he hasn't been injured. hopefully, this will improve a great deal as the perfusions take effect, but until then, someone needs to be here to make sure that things are ok.

about a month after his diagnosis, dom took a leave of absence from work and hasn't been able to return since. even as the treatments [hopefully] start to show an effect, it's highly likely that he'll never be able to handle a full-time forty-hour a week job again, because his body just won't be able to provide the necessary stamina and energy. you can't cure multiple sclerosis and you can't reverse the damage it causes. you can stop it from progressing and you can allow your body to work around it. there's also the question of treatments. the perfusions could continue for the rest of his life, meaning there would be a few days of each month where he'd either be getting the treatment or recovering from it.

and then there's the issue of safety. after all, someone working in an office is bound to come in contact with other people's germs. have you seen what happens when someone comes to work with a cold? it's pretty much a lock that half the people there will get it, and the others will carry the germs home with them, infecting friends and family. those are people with healthy immune systems. for someone whose immune system is suppressed for several days a month, being around sick people is dangerous. someone with a suppressed immune system will contract more infections and their symptoms will be worse and last longer. and even assuming you could find a job that would allow you to go to therapy two or three times a week, every bought with illness is a serious setback. dom contracted a throat infection this fall, more than likely something i tracked home with me but was able to fend off. it required antibiotics and laid him flat for a week, but it also meant that he couldn't go to any therapy. even if he had been able to get there, the centre couldn't have allowed him to come in, because they have people coming in and out all the time with immune problems and they can't risk having one person spread a contagion like typhoid mary. the timing was lucky, in that he wasn't taking antibiotics when he was scheduled for a monthly perfusion, because then that would have had to be rescheduled.

this is, of course, another reason why it's better that i don't work in an office. i'm a pretty hearty individual, generally speaking, but that doesn't stop me from bringing home unwanted gifts and making him sick. at a recent family gathering, the two of us basically had to huddle in a corner, warning everyone with the sniffles to keep their holiday cheer at a safe distance. they were very amenable, but it didn't work. dom still developed a cold afterward. one of my closest friends has had a terrible flu for a couple of weeks now. i'd love to be able to visit and cheer him up, but i don't dare.

because he is unable to work long-term, dom is eligible for financial aid. this is independent of my earnings, since the idea is that people deserve something to keep them from being entirely dependent on another person. [it's actually not as clear-cut as that, but there's no need to get into that here.] the paperwork for that was submitted eight or nine months ago and is still under review by the government. it took more than four months to even get a letter of acknowledgement that they'd received the paperwork, which is crucial because until you get that acknowledgement, you don't have a case number. without a case number, you can't even call them to find out the status of your application, because the people you talk to wouldn't have any way of checking. we assumed that something was wrong but we've been advised that this delay is completely normal. his medical consultants assure us that these applications normally take at least eight months to generate a response and the response may well be "we need you to get us more information that will take months longer to process".

but to bring these things back to where i started, i do consider us to be lucky people. i don't mean in the typically seasonal "we have the love of our family and each other" we do have that and it's an incredible cushion waiting to catch us when we stumble. but i have a pragmatic mind and there are a lot of more practical ways in which i still say: we are lucky.

first of all, we are lucky to have the love of our families, but more than that, we are lucky to have them to help us out. they've been able to lend financial support if needed. dom's parents have done grocery runs for heavy items i'd struggle to carry by myself. they picked up a stationary bicycle from a kijiji seller in the suburbs, so that dom has some method of getting a little exercise when he can't get to therapy, one that doesn't put him at any great risk. we have a circle of really good, caring friends who've made it their business to make sure we're ok both physically and mentally. those things matter, not just in the emotional sense, but in the practical sense and i'm fully aware that it's something that others don't have. i know lots of people who aren't close to their families either physically or emotionally and who don't have the kind of network that we do.

second, we're lucky that i am who i am. that's not meant to be egotistical, because it's not about whether or not i'm a great person. the fact is that we're lucky that my specific set of skills and employment experiences lends itself easily to working from home. if i were a lab tech, or a construction worker, or a surgeon for that matter, we'd have problems. i'd have to choose between leaving work entirely, working part-time or hiring someone at our expense to be here for at least some of the time that i wouldn't. many people who go through this don't have a significant other to help out and i honestly lose sleep worrying about them. how do they wash their clothes? how do they eat? for that matter, how do they get groceries into their homes? canada has some pretty remote areas and not all of them have grocery stores that deliver. seeing what m.s. can do to a man in the prime of life, i struggle to imagine how it would affect someone who was older, or weaker, or, god forbid, suffering from another ailment at the same time.

third, we're lucky to live in a place with decent public health care. all of the medications that dom has been given are experimental to some degree, which means that you need special dispensation for the public health plan to cover them. mercifully, that dispensation is a lot faster to get than financial aid. even if the medication isn't fully covered, the provincial health plan caps individual drug expenditures at just under a hundred dollars a month. [ironically, if you have workplace health insurance, you can end up paying more, since there is no cap if you are covered by a private insurer.]

fourth, we're lucky to be living when and where we are in the world, because within both of our lifetimes, treatment of multiple sclerosis has advanced by leaps and bounds. it's no accident that dom's treatments are so new they're not covered yet- when i was a kid, a friend of mine's mother had m.s. and basically had to live with it as best she could. as it happens, canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis of anywhere in the world [a combination of geography and genetics that's really quite fascinating], which means that there is a great deal of research being done here and a large number of doctors with experience treating the condition. it sounds a bit crass, but you couldn't pick a better place to develop m.s.

fifth, we're in a position to wait. we have adequate resources to wait out the government and their interminable review process for financial aid. we were lucky not to be dependent on dom's income when he was forced to leave work. the fact that i'm here to take care of practical things means that we were able to get through the waiting period for therapy. and that makes us very lucky indeed.

it's fine to say that the government has a long turnaround time for financial aid, but it's worth considering what that means for people who aren't as lucky as we. eight to ten months is more than enough time for a person to be evicted from an apartment or house if they had no income, which means that someone could end up homeless before a decision was rendered on their case. since receiving aid is dependent on having a permanent address, being evicted would mean that they wouldn't be able to collect their benefits anyway. wait times in the months for therapy needed just to help patients move likewise greases the wheels to oblivion. the basic elements that most people would need to be able to take care of themselves and live independently are effectively denied, possibly until the person's condition has progressed to the point where their independence is compromised for good. these long delays aren't just a matter of inconvenience: for the poorest, loneliest and most vulnerable, they can be tantamount to a death sentence and the fact that the government is aware of this means that they are saving money by simply waiting for the problem to fall off the books. think of that the next time you hear a politician brag about the budget-trimming they've been able to do.

so now, i guess you see where the title of this post comes from. it's ultimately not about me, or about dom. i'm not crying poor. i'm not complaining that the world has abandoned us, because clearly it hasn't. i'm not letting myself be run down by the hand we've been dealt and neither is he. this whole story about our experience is a way of pointing out how much worse it could have been; how much worse it is for others who don't have our advantages. and that's why i say without irony: we are very, very lucky.

30 December 2014

making faces :: in the pink

another week, another group of lip colours to share. this week was pink/ mauve week, however, in view of my predilections, it's really pink/ fuchsia week. it's not that i don't have mauve shades that i love [although i maintain that "mauve" is one of those words that needs an intervention when it comes to cosmetics], but if you're going to throw regular pinks, hot pinks and fuchsias in the mix, then i'm not going to have room for much else. and indeed, there was not room for much else. although i made sure to wear some softer, more traditional pinks, the week was dominated by more muscular shades. even the softer options i chose had a distinctly modern twist.

pink is the colour that girls are socialised to love and then to hate. pink is the colour of femininity, associated with all things girly and light. the angry rejection of pink has become synonymous with a rejection of the traditionally feminine, but also the rejection of an imposed idea of femininity- posh, refined, precious, fragile femininity. as much as i think that it's important to break free from antiquated ideas of gender, i think that it's equally important that these sorts of things not be tied to particular objects [e.g., dolls], activities [e.g., cooking] or colours [e.g., pink]. after all, by insisting on playing along with the association of those things with femininity and deeming them therefore worthy of contempt, it only reinforces the idea that things which are perceived as "feminine" are frivolous, silly, and worthless. but i'm getting off topic.

my take on this week is, of course, punctuated with the sort of bold shades to which i tend to gravitate. i do like various shades of pink, but i did make an effort to avoid very natural ones, since those are a separate category for me. [a lot of nude or "my lips but better" pinks don't look especially pink on me, but more on that later. much later.]

i have to admit to a certain level of blogger frustration at this point. yes, this week marks the darkest point in the entire year and yes, it's very overcast most of the time [which is a relief, actually, since it's been indicative of very mild temperatures], but this week really tested my patience in terms of getting decent photographs. the result? i really didn't get decent photographs. although i tried at different times to capture exactly what was happening on my face, i had no luck. i struggled the whole week with light that was so feeble i struggled to get the camera to focus, much less get an accurate record of what it saw.

nonetheless, we persevere...

26 December 2014

armchair centreback :: an argument for jose mourinho being the antichrist

you have to admit, he looks evil.
in the spirit of christmas and following a day of enjoying the annual boxing day glut of premier league action, i think it's time to call everyone's attention to the fact that chelsea is currently being managed by the prince of darkness.

i know that you might normally think that it's a little ridiculous to think that, if the scion of evil was among us, he'd be working at all, let alone attacking us through the world of sport, but hear me out. sure, it sounds more reasonable that the great satan would be a banker or a political leader, perhaps some sort of terrorist revolutionary or, if he were obvious, a religious figure. but the thing is, people think about what those guys do. people may analyse the professional choices and performance of sports figures, but they don't really pay attention to any underlying message they may be conveying, like gutting humanity of all hope, destroying the concept of a just universe, and pissing on the concept of good will.

sour grapes you say? well of course it bloody well is. chelsea have beaten everyone and everything so far this epl season and it seems possible that they might end up cruising to victory in the premier league and the champions league, but that doesn't mean i'm wrong. let's look at the evidence.

a year and a half ago, mourinho was at a low point. he left real madrid, probably the highest profile club in the world right now, by "mutual consent", which is employment speak for "if you agree to go quietly and take this bag of money, we won't say that we fired you". at a press conference, he mentioned the possibility of returning to the premier league by saying that he knew he was liked by england teams, "one in particular", a clear reference to his glory days with chelsea. a few days later, chelsea manager rafael benitez was unceremoniously fired, just a few weeks before the premier league season.

all pride, no fall
it's also worth noting that chelsea owner roman abramovitch, who is the sort of power-crazy psychotic who fires managers for showing up in the wrong colour shirt [or for having a bit of a rough run after bringing home the coveted champions' league trophy], is completely cowed by mourinho. he just lets him do whatever he wants, which is fine if what he's doing is winning, but last year he didn't win anything and still got to spend all the money he wanted over the summer.

that brings us to the topic of money. many managers believe in acquiring talented players when they're young, cultivating them and helping them find their form within a team. mourinho believes in buying guys who are already at the top of their game and that's now become the norm. chelsea greatly expanded the amount that they were spending on players after last year. now their winning. it's not about watching someone grow into greatness, it's about winning everything right now, because that benefits the manager. think of the horrid lesson that teaches children who are into the game. rather than being evaluated for their actions over a long period of time, everyone should be judged by what they did in the last few weeks.

it's also worth remembering that it was mourinho's chelsea that ultimately denied surprise contenders liverpool the premier league title last year, something the chelsea manager celebrating by pumping his fist up and roaring, despite the fact that it made absolutely no difference to his own team's placement. it did however pretty much ensure that the title went to the highest spending team in professional sport, manchester city, so i'm guessing that the fist-pumping was about mourinho's happiness at restoring misery and injustice to the world.

evil triumphs, bitches.

which leads us to the great comparison. arsenal manager arsène wenger has been at his job for nearly twenty years. he is firmly committed to the concept of team-building and working with younger players to help them shine. he has a reputation for it, most notably with superstar and recent retiree thierry henry. often criticized for being overly parsimonious when it comes to buying players, he is very much about the long term. plus, everything you see from the arsenal team show them not just working together, but having fun together. their social media accounts are popular [more followers than any other team on twitter] because they make the content entertaining, as if they remember that it's a game- it's supposed to be enjoyable, even at the highest level.

no small wonder, then, that mourinho hates wenger with a passion. in an arena where one is just supposed to be polite and deferential, mourinho [who, to be fair, doesn't exactly ooze humility at any time] takes pot shots at wenger at every opportunity, calling him a "specialist at failure", baiting him at every opportunity, even going so far at their one meeting this year to provoke a physical confrontation.

you can't just shove satan out of the way

he's like the bad guy in an eighties teen movie grown up and rolling in piles of money. except...

mourinho wins every time. arsène's reputation has suffered in recent years anyway, but when it comes to direct clashes between the two, the guy who believes in taunting, insulting and solving his problems with money always trumps the guy who shows loyalty, patience, friendliness and basically all the qualities that we like to think of as positive. doesn't make for the greatest argument about the importance of character and morals now, does it?

stare deep into his absence of a soul
i'd really love for wenger's team spirit-oriented, positive method to be the example of how to succeed at the highest level of anything. hell, i'd take the "i'm the goddamned boss because i do my job well, so shut your cakehole before i stuff a boot in it" style of sir alex ferguson, because at least you can argue that it instills the concept of respecting someone who succeeds through merit. what i don't like is the clinical, soulless tactics of a mourinho, which have now spread like a modern-day bubonic plague throughout europe. [note :: mourinho actually learned a lot of that from his old tutor louis van gaal, sort of like darth vader studied under obi wan kenobi.]

it's a sad fact that more people follow sports than follow the news, which means that by operating in that arena, the antichrist is actually ensuring that his message is diffused to the widest possible audience. soccer/ football being the most popular sport in the world... well, you see where i'm going with this. and at the moment, mourinho and chelsea seem unstoppable.


meet our lone beacon of hope, alan pardew.

know your place, son

known as cantankerous, tough, plain-spoken type, pardew holds the distinction of being the one manager to beat chelsea so far this season. interestingly, in a typically pardew-esque mix of grace and gruffness, he also took arsenal fans to task for booing arsène wenger and telling them they should appreciate him, since he was one of the best managers in history. a terrible run at the beginning of the season and streaky form since means that pardew's newcastle side has precisely zero chance of challenging chelsea for the league title. at best, he could play a sort of spoiler role against chelsea the way that mourinho did last year against liverpool. [sadly, that would most likely result in rich kids man city winning the title again, but we're talking about stopping the antichrist here. the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that.]

at the very least, there is the tantalizing possibility that pardew could unleash one of those headbutts on mourinho during a game. i think i could live with that.

25 December 2014

world wide wednesdays :: you're in santa country now

merriest of christmases and post-yuletide greetings to all! i hope that you're enjoying some down time with family or friends or a bottle of bourbon, whichever gives you the most pleasure. since pretty much the entire world is forced to observe this euro-pagan-turned-christian holiday in some way or other, i figured i'd just use this week's post as another way for you to think about the northern nether regions. if you're in an area of the world where celebrations are more of a minority cultural event, take heart: your observant friends will only keep wishing you the best for a holiday you don't celebrate for a couple more days, tops.

i'm not exactly sure how the birth of christ got all mixed up with a greek saint [although he'd be turkish now], a pre-christian figure associated with yuletide, or the winter solstice, and some kind of toy workshop at the north pole. i mean, clearly the early christians took some poetic license that allowed european pagans to slip into a new religion almost without noticing and you can trace lines from the legends of saint nichloas the fourth century gift-giving bishop of myra to odin, bearded king of the norse and teutonic gods, to the renaissance era "father christmas", who brought gifts to children in december. time and the fluid nature of folklore mean that it's not a clear line, simply a gradual procession, picking up bits and pieces from various cultural norms over the centuries. [side note :: st. nicholas was actually kind of bad ass, as ancient saints often were. one of the miracles attributed to him is that while visiting a town struck by a terrible famine, he resurrected three children who had been captured and killed by a particularly evil butcher who stuck them in barrels to cure, planning on selling them as ham. no one mentions what the children were like once he'd brought them back, but raising the dead does tend to increase you profile. the church clearly concurred on his bad-assery, because when he was given a saintly portfolio, he became patron of children and sailors, but also of thieves and murderers. so don't fuck with jolly old saint nick, kids. also, make sure you go to a reputable butcher.]

hippie boho wizard santa
while neither birthday boy jesus or saint frankenstein had any ties to the north, the association of saint nicholas, or father christmas, with the north is branded on our brains. we might chuckle when we hear a fox news puppet reassure children that santa is white, because historically, it's hogwash. that said, centuries of representation of the santa character have been white, because he's not really saint nicholas at all- he's more likely odin, the heathen god who led the wild hunt. while not associated with a particular time of year, there is reason to think that the idea of odin thundering around the heavens on his eight-legged steed sleipnir, might have been a precursor to the idea of santa claus riding the skies in his sleigh. in particular, it could be related to the idea that it's considered a bad idea to stay up and try to see santa. in modern times, the tacit understanding is that if you stay up waiting, santa just won't visit you. where the wild hunt was concerned, however, seeing it portended calamity. if you saw the shadowy hunt rumbling just above the horizon, you might have your soul sucked out of your body on the spot, or you might just die shortly afterwards. those were considered the best possible results, since seeing the wild hunt could just as easily mean that your entire town could be wiped out by disease, or that war would break out, or that mass unpleasantness could befall basically everyone you'd ever known. if i were a parent, i'd be interested to see which one of these stories got my children in bed faster, which is just one more reason why staunch childlessness was a good decision for me. [side note :: it's kind of fascinating how many cultures have myths that seem to align with the wild hunt. germanic tribes re-enacted the hunt as far back as roman times, but there is also a similar legend in hinduism, mentioned in the bhagavata purana, indicating that the original story is much older. it's also apparently an extremely persistent myth, as it surfaces again in the folklore of comparatively modern quebec, as a "phantom canoe" and even in a country song "ghost riders in the sky". why is this cryptic myth so widespread? damned if i know.]

kinda scaring the shit out of us here santa
some of the santa myths aren't rooted that far in the past at all, but that doesn't necessarily make their origins any  clearer. for instance, the idea that santa claus lives at the north pole seems to have taken hold in nineteenth century america, but it's not immediately clear who exactly came up with the idea. you'd think that it would be a pretty quick thing to check, but no, it seems like the idea of santa's polar domicile just sort of sprung up out of virtually nowhere. if there is an originator of the idea, it is likely american political cartoonist thomas nast, who drew the earliest representation we know of santa's workshop, which was accompanied by a poem that gave its location as the north pole. why the north pole? well, you have to admit, it's a place that people couldn't just run off to and check to see if there was really a factory there. and it does tie into santa's northern roots, assuming we're not taking jesus or saint nicholas into account. [side note :: it's worth looking into the life of thomas nast regardless of his connections to santa claus. he did give us the foundations of santa's modern image, updating the portly, pipe-smoking man in green who was created originally as a sort of joke about how dutch people were fat and smoked and were generally silly. so american santa is descended from a racist caricature that witty progressive nast made more user-friendly. but santa is really just the tip of the cartoon barrel. you might be surprised at how many of his creations are familiar even now.]

jolly old saint nick
it's somewhat clearer that santa's reindeer came from a couple of nineteenth century children's books, especially "a visit from saint nicholas", which we've all heard millions of times and which you may know more by its first line "twas the night before christmas". aside from giving us a slew of reindeer names to memorise, the poem was responsible for taking a whole bunch of santa mythology and bringing it together. bringing it together extremely effectively, considering how the poem and its imagery have endured. one of the few things that's been lost is the idea that santa is supposed to be very small- more of an elf or fairy than a human analogue- which may again hearken back to the wild hunt. [the spectral hunters were thought sometimes to be souls of the dead and others to be fairies or other supernatural beings. one assumes no one wanted to check them out too closely, what with the whole bringing down the wrath of the gods business.]

the modern history of santa is, of course, better known: his career in advertising; his various doppelgangers who listen to children expound on what their greedy little hearts desire; his conflicts with devout christians who believe that he distracts from the true meaning of the season. [hey, maybe trying to stamp out every other religion in the world while also appropriating much of their lore and iconography to make your own look more palatable was a particularly schizoid dick move.] so remember when you're telling your young ones that santa does or doesn't exist that you're actually speaking of a multiplicity of characters who may or may not have existed in different forms for widely different groups of people. and if going through all that doesn't bore the kids to sleep, maybe you should just tell them about santa's history with the wild hunt.

23 December 2014

making faces :: purpleberryvamp!

i'm a little late on the draw with this post, as i've been trying to do my weekly lip posts on sunday, but 'tis the season and that means i had family commitments on sunday, followed by mental health mondays yesterday. it also means that there's a significant chance that this week's "world wide wednesdays" will be delayed, although i'll try to avoid that if i can. [since you completely missed it the week before last. -ed.]

that said, part of me was delaying my review of last week's challenge results because i has an angry. for those who haven't seen my posts on this subject yet, i've been engaged in a challenge with a few other beauty lovers to go a week wearing different shades of a single colour family for a week. last week was something i dubbed "purpleberryvamp", because it encompassed several different, but related groups. for a lot of people, those might be shades that were on the fringes of their collections. for me, they are the heart. or the backbone. or something else that kind of keeps the rest organised and alive. so really, the last week was my moment to show off my lip-related crown jewels. and yet, i has an angry.

first of all, the weather was the worst it could possibly have been. i'm used to the dark around this time of year, but this was like living in the arctic circle, where it never got beyond that sort of twilight haze. there were a couple of patches of sunshine, which you'll see in the photos, but those were so slanted that they made things more difficult than the overwhelming gloom.

second [or perhaps the second part of the first point], an inordinate number of photographs went awry. many, many of them were out of focus, which shouldn't happen, given that i take a second to adjust focus for each shot. also, because of the poor lighting, three of the seven lipsticks look the same in the photos, but this was absolutely not the case in real life. and taking photos under such conditions makes my skin look duller, my eyes look heavier... well, everything looks worse than it did in real life. so i feel like a lot of the colours here are getting the short shrift. ah the travails of beauty blogging at yuletide.

third, given the number of options at my disposal, seven days turns out to be a really short time. i wanted to make sure to feature at least two each from the groups of purple, berry and vamp colours. however, i could easily do a week from each of these and be happy [provided i had better lighting conditions]. i have already done individual lip colour posts on each one- purple, berry, vamp.  i originally thought that i'd force myself to do one shade per brand only, but that fell apart one morning when i was getting ready in a hurry.

fourth, i have no idea what was going on with my hair last week, but clearly it was nothing good. fine, hair, you just do what you want and i'll think about how i'd look with a shaved head.

moving on...

22 December 2014

mental health mondays :: stop. just stop.

i really hope that this is the last time i have to write this piece. because i feel like i've written it a lot, in different ways. like here. and here. here too. oh, and here*. i've probably written about it more than that, but i just can't be arsed to find every instance.

people who have mental disorders are not any more prone to criminal behaviour than anyone else.

as i said, i'd like this to be the last time i write that. but i hope for a lot of things that are never going to happen and i have the feeling this is one of them.

the latest thing to set me off [people who know me have heard this rant from me more times than i've written it on the blog, that much i can guarantee you] was actually something that kept coming up in publications that really should know better.

as you no doubt heard, [now ex-] police officer darren wilson was not charged with the murder of unarmed teenager mike brown. there are probably a number of reasons for this, but a great deal of the grand jury testimony that served to sway the decision came from "witness 40", a woman by the name of sandra mcelroy, whose version of events backed wilson's to the letter.

jurors were advised that she suffers from memory problems as a result of an accident in 2001. you would think that that alone would be enough to raise some concern, but apparently not. she also made made comments about the case on facebook as early as mid-august, although she didn't contact police until almost a month later. in the days surrounding her first chat with the police, she became even more vocal on facebook, going as far as to post something that read "michael brown already received justice". she's also an avowed racist, who said that part of her reason for being in that particular ferguson neighbourhood that day [which she wasn't] was to help her become less prejudiced against black people and to help her stop calling them n----rs [which was actually her second story of how she ended up in the neighbourhood]. oh, and she has a history of lying when it comes to making criminal reports. all of these things make it clear that she was anything but a reliable witness and that, no matter how well she prepared herself for her actual appearance in court, the prosecutor should have known better than to present her as trustworthy. [although it's been alleged that he was aware that she was unreliable and that he called her to testify anyway, which is worse.]

so why is everyone getting hung up on the fact that she's bipolar?

the original report on the smoking gun calls it out in their opening paragraph, giving it equal importance to her lying and racism. democracy now went further, putting that information in the headline. "hip-pop culture" site global grind, decided that her bipolar disorder was the only thing worth mentioning in the headline, that the lying, the memory problems and the racism were secondary. i could put more links in here, but i think you get the point. which is more than the media seems to be getting.

the fact that she has bipolar disorder, even the fact that she doesn't take medication for that disorder, says precisely nothing about her reliability as a witness. to say otherwise is to tacitly make the claim that people with bipolar disorder are unreliable witnesses, either because they are incapable of remembering events correctly [there is no science to indicate that is the case] or because they are given to criminal malfeasance and likely to lie to a jury. by making it a central argument in their case against mcelroy, otherwise progressive media [mainstream and right wing media aren't touching this story with a ten foot pole] are choosing to marginalize an already misunderstood group and perpetuating a really gross sort of ignorance.

the logic here is specious. at first blush, it sounds like it should be related, but the only reason for that is because of the pre-existing societal prejudice against bipolar people and people with mental disorders in general. there seem to be so many good ways to discredit this person, why are all of these media outlets choosing to put such emphasis on the one that denigrates another group? is it just lazy reporting, playing on popular assumptions? or is it indicative of the same sort of ignorance and prejudice that sandra mcelroy exhibits?

i'd love for somebody to explain this to me, because i don't want to write another version of this post in a few months and because i don't want to see something that makes me want to write on the subject again. i just want this sort of "crazy-baiting" to stop.

* the magical asterisk is there because in that particular case, there's some disturbing indications that the jury may be about to acquit a man who carved up a human body because that's just what crazy people do. i know that there are people who are mentally incompetent when they commit crimes. there was a gruesome case a few years ago where one man cut another man's head off on a greyhound bus because he believed he was a demon. that's what being clinically insane is. when you make an attempt to hide the remains [which he did, other than those he sent through the mail, which was done anonymously] and then make an attempt to disappear in europe, it's pretty obvious that you're aware that you've done something bad. however, the jury in this case is now into it's eighth day of deliberation because he might just be a crazy person who had a bit of an off day. i'll be off planning my crime spree if anyone's looking for me.

21 December 2014

you asked, i answered [with some trepidation]

most of the time, i know how people end up here. it's easy to make the link between a referring search term and a post here.

other times, i'm confused, but i'm more than happy to see that someone stumbled into my head space and thought to poke around a little bit.

still other times, i look at what people are searching for and want to hide under the bed for a while. then i remember that my bed doesn't have a raised platform underneath it and i'd have to reduce myself to liquid in order to hide under it. then i go google how to do that and wonder if the search will lead me back here.

nonetheless, i do see it as some opportunity to offer the people what they want, so i thought i would take a stab at answering some of the indirect questions and to pose a few myself.

let's start with some easy ones that turn up all the time.

angelina marcantognini :: i don't know what happened to her. i've actually tried to find her just to let her know that there are so very many people looking for her. there are people who come here every day looking for her. i don't know anything more than they do. if you don't know who she is, you can see my post about her here. you could also visit/ like the canada's worst driver facebook page. sorry, that's really all i can do...

i agree smedley :: yes! more people should search for this! because if enough people search for the ad that i wrote about here, then no one will have to go to youtube and find a whole bunch of videos on assisted suicide when they search for it.

donair cité :: read the review here, but note that they've since moved to 2070 st-denis, across the street from the original location. oh, and as of december 23rd, you'll be able to order alcohol with that. two great tastes that taste great together.

and of course, i get a lot of people who end up here on the endless quest for soccer-related man candy. i salute you and your remarkably specific search terms.

"sergio aguëro dimples" :: as long as we're talking about the ones on his face, you could check out this post. [if there are other dimples i should be finding for you, please let me know.] but i'll make it easy for you.

more good news! since he's currently leading the premier league in goals, he should have lots of reasons to keep smiling.

"alexis sanchez eye colour" :: light brown. after long and careful research on this subject, i'm going with light brown. i was thinking maybe hazel, but on close analysis, they don't have that green tinge that distinguishes hazel. just lovely, soft brown eyes that catch the light...

you can see more of him here

please let me know if you need me to look into this further. i aim to please. [also, belated happy birthday to alexis, who turned twenty-six yesterday. damn, i'm a lot older than twenty-six.]

from there,  we move on to slightly stranger territory...

"math cry" :: it does that to all of us sometimes. keep at it.

"man and woman polke 1978" :: at first, i thought maybe this was in relation to artist sigmar polke, about whom i've never written anything before this blog post. he's done some interesting things and the museum of modern art in new york had a retrospective of his work, but i couldn't find anything related to him and the other terms in the search. google helpfully suggested that i might be looking for the angie dickinson television show "police woman". i don't know much about that show. in fact, when i hear about it, this is the only thing that comes to mind:

i realise that this doesn't help you, but if it makes you feel any better, here's a video of a group called the polish kid polka band [made up of middle aged men, unless polish kids are just born that way] performing at the frankenmuth music festival

or i could just post more photos of alexis and sergio with their shirts off. that always cheers me up.

"guerlain poop" :: no. there is nothing you can do to make your waste product smell like shalimar. and you shouldn't try. but if you do try and it makes you constipated, don't attempt to solve the problem by pushing an eel up your rectum.

"jenny pelletier bernard me is wearing pink cult blush up her nose" :: she's doing it wrong.

"rogge heroin to bastak" :: i would like to state for the public record that i have no idea what this is about. none.

"pictures of kate macdonald sitting on facebook or instagram" :: i was thinking this was a really weird request, but then it occurred to me that there might be a typo and i decided i didn't want to look into it any further in case i was right.

please feel free to keep the off the wall requests coming.

17 December 2014

world wide wednesdays :: have a cigar

whoa. this is a big day. i mean huge. i usually try to skip happily from one area of the world to another in this series and i had just featured another state in the central american region, but after years of waiting for a breakthrough and then getting blindsided by the news this morning [that seems to be a thing with obama; he must be amazing at planning surprise parties], today just had to be dedicated to cuba.

so in the interest of promoting understanding and celebrating this new openness, i offer you the brief, inadequate but well-intentioned world wide wednesdays cuba primer. but first, here's a little cuba-centred trivia question to get your brain activated. can you tell me what american said the following? [answer given at the end of the post.]

I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country's policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.

stand back, c.i.a., i'll handle this

while i can't say that i was surprised by the contents of the recently released "torture report", detailing the various means by which the american central intelligence agency and their military counterparts dragged ultimately useless information from prisoners. if college fraternities can get shut down for hazing, i see absolutely no reason why the central intelligence agency should be able to keep its charter after this fiasco. i've never been a fan of the agency. i think that the world would be a better, safer, more peaceful place if they had never existed. nothing in the "torture report" surprised me, because nothing in it went beyond claims i've already seen documented about c.i.a. activities. it did introduce me to the term "rectal hydration", which is supposedly some sort of medical procedure. what josef mengele did were medical procedures as well.

however, another thing i hate is seeing people screw up a relatively easy job. what i hate even more is seeing them screw up a job that i could have done a lot better. i'm not a supporter of torture through music, but if i had to do it, i could sure as shit come up with a way better playlist than the tight-assed pencil-pushers who were apparently tasked with finding the most disturbing, disquieting, unbearable sounds that humans could create [well, more on that later]. when was the last time any of these people even bought music?

choices included a lot of pop music [christina aguilera, matchbox 20, the beegees], some hip hop [eminem, tupac], a sprinkling of children's music and, of course, some metal. well, rage against the machine and metallica, which don't really count. there was one song by deicide, which i'm guessing was a suggestion made after someone thought to google "most evil music ever". you can see a list of songs used here, with "deicide" misspelled as "decide", just to show how on the ball everyone was. [i'm also going to venture that everyone assumed that all these detainees only ever listened to islamic religious music. because if any of the prisoners happened to have a secret love of hip hop or metal because of its subversive history and imagery, the c.i.a. were basically arranging a prison dance party.]

i should really be charging for this, but for all you government spy-drone bozos out searching the internet for signs of free thought, here is the soundtrack you need to get the next time you think you're going to spook someone with sounds. [and i better not find out you downloaded it illegally you hypocritical dipshits!!!!!]

einstürzende neubauten :: armenia
i'm pretty sure hearing this could convince anyone they were in hell's vestibule.

burl ives :: holly jolly christmas
guaranteed to offend both the beliefs and hearing of islamic extremists. 

diamanda galas :: plague mass trilogy
it's a woman. shrieking and howling. quoting large sections of the old testament. for three albums. [link only goes to part one.]

winterkalte :: sustainability
really, there's a lot of winterkalte that fits the bill; this is just an example. crank it up.

alvin and the chipmunks :: christmas song
high-pitched sounds are abrasive to the human ear.

clock dva :: the sonology of sex
all religion involves some level of sexual repression and religious extremists are extremely repressed. this is just going to crack open all that backed up stuff and let it coming pouring like acid into the brain. [while you're at it, try "the connection machine". sure, it's just chopped up bits of coppola's "the conversation" set to creepy background music, but most prisoners aren't going to know that. hell, most c.i.a. agents aren't going to know it either.]

controlled bleeding :: knees and bones
you could probably start with this and get whatever information you wanted if you play it at loud enough volume right away, but that would spoil your fun.

the owls
who the hell said it had to be music of any sort? that link is to a series of owl calls, some of which are going to be pretty creepy if you here them in the middle of the night in the dark. lots of animals make lots of scary sounds. find them. [find already existing ones, assholes. if you hurt animals to obtain them, i will find you.]

naked city :: demon sanctuary
it might only be forty-two seconds long, but i can pretty much guarantee that you will have their undivided attention when it's over. not only does it have an intense blast of jazz-noise-scronk and the dulcet tones of erstwhile boredoms vocalist yamatsuka eye, but there's even a hint of zorn's jewish heritage sprinkled in. i'm spoiling you people.

frankie yankovic :: beer barrel polka
well, in case you were worried that smattering of judaica would go unnoticed, we might as well bring out the big sonic guns. i can't think of anyone better than weird al's dad to ramp things up a little.

incapacitants :: ministry of foolishness
the whole twenty-odd minutes at maximum volume. mercy is for the weak.

whitehouse :: i'm coming up your ass
practically perfect in every way!

nurse with wound :: dueling banjos
if you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em? trust me, by the end of this, they'll be so confused you'll be lucky if they don't think you're their parents.

in heaven everything is fine
you could also just play the entirety of the eraserhead soundtrack. or make them watch eraserhead.

so there you go, central not-much-intelligence-after-all agency. i've just come up with a list off the top of my head that's about a thousand times more effective than anything you dreamt up and, moreover, i was limited to tracks for which i could find videos. i can do worse. i can do far worse. you don't want to know how much worse i can do. furthermore, i didn't choose shit that sounds like you're flipping the dial during drive-time.

as i said, i think that the entire c.i.a. needs to be shut down. i think its leaders past and present need to stand trial for what they've done- not just the things covered in this latest report, but all the horrible things they've done. and when the government is finished dismantling this monster, perhaps they should hire some people for intelligence work who are actually competent. because if the agency is this bad at doing something as simple as picking out a song list, imagine how bad they are at the difficult stuff.

16 December 2014

mental health mondays :: your holiday primer

most of us have heard that there's a bump in the number of suicides every year, as the good cheer of others makes depressed people sink even further. it's not actually true, but it does sound pretty believable, doesn't it? after all, things are rough enough when you're dealing with mental health issues, let alone when the entire world seems to be trying to force you to smile and be "merry". it's easy to believe that the added pressure and the projected happiness of others is enough to nudge someone over the edge.

but the fact is, even if people aren't throwing themselves off bridges like a bunch of lemmings [also a myth, by the way], the holidays can be a pretty stressful time. for my american readers, that stress started a few weeks ago, with thanksgiving, but for the rest of us, it's just starting to hit fever pitch now. i may not be able to help you with your last minute shopping, but i have come up with a list of tips that might help keep you from losing your cool and contributing to the annual holiday rise in crime, which is real.

  1. drugs are important :: things can get very busy around the holidays. offices have irregular hours. you may have irregular hours. make sure that you stock up early on whatever medicines you need to get you through to the new year. while pharmacists generally frown on renewing prescriptions early, they're more likely to be understanding around this time of year. this is absolutely not the time to reduce, skip or change your medication. if you're in the process of doing one of these things, talk to your doctor about possibly putting that on hold until things normalize. [if you are looking to reduce or stop your medications, you might want to have a look here for some extra tips.]
  2. do as much and as little as you can :: it might be tempting to crawl in bed and hide for a month, but that's not like you to leave you feeling any better. on the other hand, dealing with large numbers of unfamiliar family members and friends and coworkers and... well, being around lots of people might not be advisable either. so pace yourself. let those close to you know your limitations and why you might not want to participate in every holiday activity. if you don't feel comfortable with coworkers, you can politely back out of the office party. if you want to participate, but think you might feel overwhelmed, have an early exit strategy.
  3. sleep it off :: don't think sleep is a mental health issue? it absolutely is. so make sure that you get the rest you need. even if you can't sleep [and that in itself is a problem you should address], make sure you at least take the time to rest in a place that's dark and quiet and where you're not going to be interrupted.
  4. the big d :: you can find more information in this post, but here's the bottom line: there are lots of good reasons to take vitamin d and while the science on its efficacy against seasonal affective disorder might be inconclusive, there's enough evidence that it might help to make it worth a try. the sun is our major source of vitamin d and there's no getting around the fact that we get precious little of it at this time of year. it will likely do you good on some level and it's not going to harm you. 
  5. and while we're talking about natural highs :: consider adding a good quality omega-3 supplement or increasing your intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. you can read more about them here. [note :: omega-3 means omega-3, not 6 and not 9. north americans normally get those in more than sufficient quantities already.]
  6. watch the holiday cheer :: lots of people will tell you that you shouldn't touch alcohol or illicit drugs if you're on any kind of psychiatric medication. i am not one of those people. [i do, however, strongly suggest you read  up on any possible interactions before indulging and making an informed decision.] but the fact is that whether you are or aren't on medication, alcohol is a depressant. if you're already feeling depressed, alcohol will only pull you further down.
  7. plan for the last minute :: if you've already completed all your shopping, you have one less thing to stress about. however, if you've somehow managed, like many, many others to leave it until next week, you can still reduce your anxiety and your time fighting the throngs. take a few quiet moments to think of things you've heard people close to you mention that they planned to get, or that they admired when other people got them... you get the idea. then go online and find out where to get them. if you can order them in time, great, but if not, find out what local stores sell what you need. call and confirm they're in stock and find out the best map that will allow you to get everything you need in the fastest, most efficient way possible.
  8. be nontraditional :: sometimes, family traditions that have formed around the holidays are a comfort for people with mental disorders. they provide a sense of calmness and security that can relieve stress. for others... not so much. if there are traditions that your family practices that are unduly stressful for you, talk to them about it in advance. see if there's some change that could be made to the plan [keeping in mind that others have a right to enjoy their holidays too]. it's all well and good to have established traditions, but it's also fun to find new ones. you might also want to have a think about why certain holiday activities are so stressful for you and see if you can link it to other things that cause you stress. even better, talk to your therapist or doctor about it. it's good to avoid causes of stress when you can, but it's even better to be able to stop them from causing stress at all.
i don't pretend that this is a comprehensive list, but i think it's a starting point. the idea that we make ourselves suffer through something that is meant to give us a break from the stresses of the rest of the year and remind us of how lucky we are to have our loved ones in our life is quite sad. and none of us needs anything to make us more sad at this time of year.

sit back, relax, feel the world slow down around you. no lives are at stake. take a few moments to think about what you need and what you can offer. happy holidays need not be an irritating, chipper slogan. it can be a statement of fact.

p.s. :: if you have a friend or family member who is suffering from mental illness, or if you think you might face [well-meaning but possibly infuriating] questions from your loved ones about your own struggles, you might want to look at this handy list of what to say and what not to say to people with mental disorders.

p.p.s. :: à propos of the image above and as an inveterate hater of christmas movies, i do in all seriousness recommend watching grumpy cat's "worst christmas ever".  its total self-awareness makes it charming where it should be corny. for the season, i also recommend "die hard" [i'm a purist and go only for the original, but dom also likes the second one], "blackadder's christmas carol" and the "holy" episode of bottom. i've also been known to watch old religious epics [ceci b. demille is the man] and add audience participation à la "rocky horror picture show", but your enjoyment of this will depend on your own spiritual outlook and your comfort level with going to hell if it turns out you guessed wrong.

14 December 2014

making faces :: coral orange crush

continuing in the challenge of "one shade a week" lipstick, i bring you part two, which actually has two colours included, one of which has a huge subset of shades to its name. interestingly, i've already done features, way back, on both coral and orange, which is kind of interesting since i don't believe that either one is particularly flattering on me. i can find ones that i like, but considering the number of available options, the ones that i can pull off are surprisingly limited.

a while back, mac cosmetics did a limited edition series of lipsticks [most of which have now joined their permanent collection] called "all about orange". there were both coral and orange hues on offer and a decent range too- bright, subtle, yellower, redder, shimmery, matte- and although i really liked some of the shades swatched on my hand, they all looked terrible on my face. i wanted to make them work, but for different reasons, none of them did. i have managed to put together a week's worth of shades that i think i can pull off [to varying degrees], or at least that i like enough that i'm willing to overlook the slight incompatibilities with my skin tone.

it's been stupidly bloody overcast here for what seems like a month and so some of the photos- i'll explain which further on- are not as accurate as i would like. damn you mother nature!

11 December 2014

hell awaits

this happens to me more often than i like to admit. i'm perusing my writing files and come across a title that i don't remember. part of the problem is that i usually name files according to the first word that jumps into my head as i'm working on something, which would be awesome, if i could keep track of the things that my brain is thinking while i'm writing, but i can't even keep track of the things my brain is thinking when i'm doing nothing but thinking. my brain is not a multitasker.

so i opened up a file intriguingly titled "hell". really, i was thinking that it would be very cool if there was actually a portal to hell on my computer that was fiendishly hidden in a folder where i am most likely to open files wondering what they are. i mean, if there was a devil and he thought that up, it would be evidence that he was really wearing his clever pants. but it turns out that file "hell" was actually just a piece of writing that seemed exactly like something i'd do, except that i had no memory of it whatsoever. i mean, the first few lines were clearly like me, but i was staring at it and wondering if i should let dom know it was finally time to check me into a facility.

it's not just that i'd forgotten writing it, or anything about it. it's that when i checked the creation date [i'm really thrilled about that feature normally], i realised it was something i'd written around the end of august. normally, when i find things that i've no memory of, they at least have the decency to have been fermenting on my hard drive for a few years, but this was something that had evidently been done three and a half months ago. and who knows what else i was getting up to in my literary fugue state?

as i read, i realised that it was, in fact, something that was based on a dream of mine. a dream i'd written about here. more shocking yet, i'd written about writing this thing. of course, the downside of this is that i still can't remember writing this thing. that's right. despite the fact that i wrote out some of the inspiration and despite the fact that i wrote about the feelings i had on completing this, i still have no memory whatsoever of doing the writing itself. i know the writing happened. if i stretch my brain, i like to think that i can remember the writing. except what i'm remembering is me sitting at my desk and typing, which is something that happens every day. it's happening now, for instance. i do sort of remember creating the visuals from the "unicorn poop" post.

anyway, i sort of like the way this came out. it's about halfway between a poem and a prose story, which makes me link it to "spook house", which also struck me as some kind of halfsie. so please enjoy my version of hell. at least, i think it's mine. it might actually be a portal to hell that's trying to fool me. one never knows...

09 December 2014

making faces :: journey to the heart of light

i'll never understand why some brands launch things so quietly. yves st. laurent snuck in a whole new range of blushes without so much as a ripple, it seems, and that is such a disservice. for starters, it seems that these new blushes, dubbed both "blush volupté" and "heart of light" are replacing their existing powder blushes, which is something i would like to have known before they started disappearing on me. i also would have liked a little more fanfare surrounding the introduction of these new shades in a new formula.

now, i've always liked ysl powder blushes. they've never been the highest profile items in their collection, but yves has a lot of hidden gems and the new "heart of light" blushes look to fall into the same category. trusting my instincts, when i saw that they were available [which is a while ago now], i immediately ordered one to try out. there are a number of cooler pinks that grabbed my attention, however, i decided to go a little out of my comfort zone and order something that looked more like an orange-coral, shade #6, "passionée".

mental health "mondays" :: problem or no problem?

perhaps harold has a problem?
the first time i heard about "social anxiety disorder" was in a discussion with my mother. at the time, i believe that both of us gave a derisive snort and one of us said "great, now shyness is a mental disorder". frankly, i suspect that a lot of people had that reaction, because many of us have some level of social anxiety. what we missed in the initial evaluation is that the important part of the name, however, is that the emphasis should be placed on the third word. disorder means that something is clearly wrong, that the person is suffering and prevented from engaging in certain activities that they would otherwise want or have to do. it doesn't just mean reticence or a tendency to withdraw a little in public situations. a few years ago, i was going out to get some groceries and i became so terrified of going outside, of having to talk to a cashier or even of passing others on the street that i had to sit down on the stairs to get my breathing and heartbeat under control. i sat there for more than half an hour, paralysed between the knowledge that there were things we needed at the grocery store and the overwhelming dread at the thought of venturing beyond the doors. that's when i realised my mother and i had been wrong to snort. it's a real problem. but our reaction did point to a conundrum: how do you distinguish the harmless personality trait from the disorder?

the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that the two things are not entirely separate. if shyness is severe enough, it can indeed be called social anxiety disorder, so there is space where the two overlap. however, social anxiety is not only a disorder of the shy. many sufferers are quite extroverted, but their internal dialogue prevents them from being able to do so.

shyness generally manifests itself as a discomfort in front of others, especially strangers. shy people are quiet and can be unwilling to talk about themselves or their opinions, but they can be comfortable listening to others and participating more passively in a social situation. for a person with social anxiety, the fear of interacting with people is so strong that they'll try to avoid it whenever possible. avoidance is a key factor in differentiating social anxiety disorder from general shyness. when a person avoids doing things that are perfectly normal or beneficial [like going for groceries] out of fear. shyness, even acute, will not cause this sort of panic and debilitation.

another factor to consider is how the person progresses in social interaction. shy people may lack self-confidence, but they may simply be slow to adjust to unfamiliar situations. this is an understandable evolutionary holdover. unfamiliar often meant threatening to our ancestors and so remaining guarded around strangers or in new surroundings served as protection. people who are shy will tend to relax and open up a little more as they realise that they are safe and accepted. people with social anxiety disorder never reach that point, because their anxiety is not driven by a fear of the unfamiliar. it's driven by an exceptionally low sense of self-esteem.

people with social anxiety disorder don't just feel awkward in front of people- they feel judged. they are usually terrified that others are finding fault in them, because they find great faults in themselves. this is not alleviated with time and sufferers will often recall incidents where they felt they humiliated themselves long after anyone else. social anxiety disorder is characterised by harmful thoughts, self-hating and defeatist ideas that are projected onto others. people with the disorder believe that they are subject to greater focus, with negative consequences.

a final key factor in separating routine shyness from disordered thought is anticipation. shy people might feel uneasy in social situations, but they don't generally think too much about it beforehand. they might have a distaste for public events, but the thought of attending one isn't enough to trigger panic attacks. people with social anxiety disorder become stressed just thinking about social situations. the anticipation in itself is enough to trigger panic and dread [and this in turn leads to avoidance].

one thing that most psychiatrists agree on is that social anxiety disorder is rarely the sole problem for sufferers. most often, it is comorbid with other conditions, such as depression, where low self-esteem triggers a number of other issues. people with social anxiety will often "self-medicate" in order to overcome their fear, which can lead to substance abuse. social anxiety can also be symptomatic of broader anxiety problems, such as generalised anxiety or panic disorder. the presence of other disorders makes treating social anxiety more complicated, as you might imagine.

if you think that you might have social anxiety disorder, the good news is that there is treatment. the first step is to consult a medical professional for their opinion and diagnosis, but since talking to others might seem problematic, you might also want to take a look at the following resources:

the criteria used to diagnose social anxiety disorder
the liebowitz social anxiety scale test [a very helpful quiz that evaluates levels of both fear and avoidance in a number of situations]
a self-help guide to differentiating social anxiety from shyness

07 December 2014

making faces :: a week in the red

i've been participating in a sort of "lipstick challenge" for the month of december, where each week features a different colour in all its glory. week one was all about red lips and i thought that i might share my results.

honestly, i could do a month of red lipsticks. i already did a ten-part look with different reds a couple of years ago [you can check the recap here] and managed to do a week this year without repeating a single colour. that wasn't actually on purpose, either. i sort of intended to work hourglass "raven" into my plans, but ran out of space. i wanted to showcase a variety of reds, especially some that were softer and less "in your face", but i ran into a couple of problems. first of all, my lips have been in rough shape this week, which made me cautious about the formulas that i wanted to use. [you can see a writeup i did of formulas that are better and worse when your lips are feeling the winter blues here.] second, i do really love bold reds and there are a lot of those i wanted to feature as well.  my thinking was that bolder reds also suit me better, although the week held some surprises in that regard.

one of the things that surprised me was that i didn't end up reaching for anything from chanel. a few years ago, i felt that they were the kings [or queens] of reds. i still love my chanel reds, but the formulas have been outpaced by others and i feel like guerlain has really stepped up with shades of red that are as good or better than what chanel offers. at the same time, chanel is discontinuing a lot of their great reds. [the rouge coco line is being revamped in 2015, so you can kiss existing colours goodbye.] neither the rouge allure nor the rouge coco shine formula loves my lips, so while i'm perfectly comfortable wearing them under normal circumstances, i hesitate a little when there are problems. at the moment, though, i'd have to say that if i were to recommend one brand for a really perfect red lipstick, it would be guerlain, just because they have enough options that i believe anyone could find their own version of the best one. plus, of course, their formulas are top-notch.[and i would probably say that, owing to great formulas, armani would now be my second choice.]

so, shall we proceed to individual looks then? face spam follows...

05 December 2014

the style fyle :: sweater girls

who doesn't love sweater weather? not too hot, not too cool, just enough that you need something warm and fuzzy [and more portable than a cat] wrapped around you when you venture outside. but in my case, i just love sweaters. i have a particular thing for cardigans, as any who know me can attest. since i was in my early twenties, unless the heat was truly overwhelming, i have always had a selection of cardigans that accompany virtually every outfit i put on. of course, it's not only cardigans, of course. i'm just enamoured of the sweater.

part of the appeal, to me, is that adding an extra layer makes anything look more polished. it's like putting on a top and bottom is something anyone could do in their sleep, but throwing on one extra item takes style. ok, it's possible i'm the only one who thinks that way...

at one point, sweaters were purely functional. they weren't the kind of thing that you wore for how they looked, ever, unless you were trying to look like a fisherman. they were big, bulky things that you put on when you were going to be at odds with the elements and needed the sartorial equivalent of a saint bernard to defend your delicate skin. [fishermen have never been known for having delicate skin. -ed.]

in the twentieth century, however, saw a rise in fashionable knitwear, starting [as many fashion trends did] with coco chanel and her choice of jersey fabrics for her women's suits in the 1920s. the gradual move from hand to machine knitting through the great depression made such clothing more affordable and the use of wool blended with synthetic fabrics made the shape and fit less bulky than its progenitors. indeed, the 1940s saw the emergence of the "sweater girl" [typified by young superstar lana turner] as a sex symbol. young women wore sweaters that fit snugly and showed off their curves, something that was seen as especially provocative when paired with the era's highly structured bras.

i'm not a tremendous fan of the rocket bra- when i've felt crowded at shows, i've given it some thought- but i do still think that there is something sexy about a fitted sweater. it's no longer as scandalous as it once was [in the 40s, people took it as a sign of moral decay... wonder what they'd think of tights as pants], in fact it's quite the opposite. it offers the hint of feminine curves, while still looking conservative enough for most situations. plus, of course, there's that slightly retro appeal of a sweater worn with a pencil skirt, which is a favourite of mine.

so after that lengthy preamble, i thought i'd share a few of my fashion adventures in the world of sweaters...

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