31 May 2016

making faces :: bombshell

she's everything you want
at some point, i fell behind on reviewing new members of the nars audacious lipstick family that i'd purchased and never recovered. there are a few that i have picked up since last i blogged about these remarkable lipsticks, but i've just not prioritised them, because they're not new and shiny anymore. [behold the beauty blogger at her consumerist worst.] but i am making myself go back to these because:
  1. it remains a great formula
  2. all the shades are permanent [and there has never been a limited shade released], so they're still easy to get
  3. what "they" want is for all of us to continuously give in to the allure of the new, so revisiting existing products is a way of resisting "their" commands

those are all good reasons, but i specifically felt compelled to review the newest of my acquisitions, because i felt like it was the answer to a rather difficult colour analysis question: what does a bright season neutral look like?

bright seasons are those whose main requirement is saturation and clarity of colours. normally, that's associated with bright shades and, truly, the bulk of the shades that will suit people with these complexions are bolder, but what if you want to do something understated? what if you want to do a smokey eye and would prefer not to look like an extra from the "addicted to love" video or like your lips decided not to go with you when you left the house? neutrals tend to achieve their neutral-ness by incorporating either brown [autumn] or grey [summer], neither of which will be flattering on a winter/ spring blend.

enter nars "brigitte".

surely i don't need to specify that, in a line of lipsticks inspired by goddesses of the silver screen, "brigitte" is named for brigitte bardot, the iconic post-war symbol of femininity and sexuality. marilyn monroe might be better known, especially in north america, but bardot is the more complex character. simone de beauvoir said bardot was the first liberated woman of the post-war era, on the vanguard of women's transition from the home into the broader world. bardot was the original "sex kitten" [as in, the person for whom the term was coined], but she was also a serious actress, nominated for numerous awards. she made a name for herself starring in fluff comedies, but she also worked with the likes of jean-luc godard. arguably still at the height of her fame, she retired from the screen in 1973 and has never returned.

beyond the screen, she is no less a contradictory figure. for decades, she has been an outspoken advocate for animal rights, confronting national governments about the slaughter of seals and dolphins and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to animal welfare causes around the world. [the sea shepherd conservation society has a boat named for her.] in 2008, she characterised then vice presidential nominee sarah palin as a disgrace to women, particularly for her opinions on climate change and gun proliferation.

on the other hand, she has been convicted five separate times for inciting racial/ religious hatred, specifically because of her views on muslims. her most recent husband [who she has been married to for over twenty years] is a former advisor to jean marie le pen and she has expressed sympathies with the national front's anti-immigrant stance. she has derided gay men for being too "showy" about their sexuality, while still claiming that she was sympathetic to their cause since she was "entirely surrounded by homos".

so with all of those complications bound up in one woman, is it any wonder that nars "brigitte" is something of a paradox? it is a light neutral shade, the kind that she made popular and the kind that symbolised a sort of revolt against the more conservative deep reds of the forties. the age of bardot was the age when cosmetic companies began expanding their colour range, eventually shades that were frosted to make them as light and shimmery as possible, miles away from the shades worn before and during the war. but, as might befit a blonde bombshell, this is not a brownish or muted nude, but a clear peachy pink. it isn't one of those difficult to wear white-based pinks, either, but one without a hint of brown or grey that still remains understated and wearable anywhere understatement is required- work, court, or with dramatic eye makeup.

so from the paradox that is brigitte bardot emerges a lipstick shade that is a paradox as well: the perfect neutral shade for a bright season.

trust me, i've tried a lot of neutrals and i like many of them, but i can tell they aren't perfect on me the way that bright pinks or berry shades almost always are. this lady is the exception. she never leaves me looking washed out, but is never competes with stronger colours elsewhere on my face either. like so many men in the 50s and 60s, i am completely enamoured of brigitte.

brigitte

brigitte

given that bright season neutrals are rarer than hen's teeth, i'm not surprised that i didn't have a match for this in my collection already. hourglass "fawn" is warmer, glossier, sheerer and more muted, but it's the closest thing i could come up with. nars has done an amazing job with these shades overall and this one tops the list in terms of uniqueness.

l to r :: brigitte, hourglass fawn

of course, i couldn't pass up the opportunity to share a look with you, just to prove that, yes, a bright season person can wear a neutral lip without looking weird. or without looking weirder than she does normally.




on the eyes, i'm wearing  armani eyes to kill shadow in "madre perla" and nars dual intensity eyeshadow in "pasiphae". i don't know why, but i got kind of obsessed with putting these two together. i think it had to do with the fact that they each have a green sheen, despite the base colours being quite different. i dunno, i think it works. i also have urban decay "smoke" eyeliner on there.

so, while "brigitte" may not be new, she is still groundbreaking, no matter how soft or [heaven forbid!] ordinary she might look at first glance. i think this would be a nice colour on many, many complexions, but if you're someone who always seems to look better in brights, but who still wants something subdued, you must give this lady a place in your collection. 

30 May 2016

mental health mondays :: you've got the power

when you have mental or emotional troubles, it's easy to convince yourself that everything is out of your control. after all, the one thing over which we're supposed to have unquestionable mastery is our own mind. it just doesn't work out that way for a lot of us. indeed, going through the process of dealing with a mental disorder can mean a giving up a certain amount of control  and allowing oneself to be open to new ways of processing the outside world before reacting to it. or, it could mean that one needs some chemical assistance to feel in control. regardless, it's a bit of a scary process when we're told all our lives that the one thing we have is our free will and our ability to think our way to our own destiny. [side note :: a belief that increasingly looks like a load of crap in most ways.]

but there is one way in which you can take your mental destiny in hand and steer things in a positive direction for yourself: you can find your own therapist. now, in many cases, you can be limited by finances and time. if you're in acute need, you may not want to wait a few months for an opening with your prefered candidate. alternately, you access to certain doctors may be impeded by finances and/ or insurance. or, if you live in a more remote area, there just may not be many therapists close enough for you to consider them. but chances are that you will have at least some kind of choice and you should take advantage of that.

choice is particularly important when it comes to people who are outside of the mainstream. what does that mean? a lot of things. if you're queer or transgendered, it means that you want to find someone who can understand the challenges you face. if you're religious, it's important to find someone who can respect the role that plays in your belief system. if you've been diagnosed with a specific disorder, you will want someone who understands that. [opinions on whether or not certain conditions even exist are just as split within the psychiatric community as they are outside it.] a friend of mine posted this article a little while ago, which deals mostly with issues facing lgtbq and transexual people, but the points can be extrapolated for other groups.

but even if you're lucky enough to have been born into a dominant/ privileged group, there can be some problems. you can be white, cis, straight, middle class, and an adult male and still find it difficult to work with a therapist just because you're beliefs are a bit unorthodox. to use an instance close to my heart: if you are a woman who does not want to have children, you will make limited progress with a therapist who thinks that this must be indicative of a problem. likewise, if you're someone who is more comfortable working at lower paying but less demanding jobs, your therapist should not automatically be assuming that this means you have issues surrounding employment and wealth. these aren't core, life-changing things the way that being gay in a world organized around straight people is, but a therapist is someone you can't afford to have judging you based on their own biases. if it's going to help, you have to be comfortable being completely honest.

so with that in mind, i've put together my own little list, based on my own experiences and what i've heard from others, of things that all of us weirdos should be able to do in order to get the most out of therapy.

1. don't make snap judgments :: sometimes someone may obviously be inappropriate for you, but unless it's at the level where they say that they believe in gay conversion therapy [in which case, whether you're gay or not, run away; that person is crazier and more dangerous than you'll ever be], give it a few visits. people can have gruff manners, or a bad day, even when they're supposed to be helping others, so if you don't love them at first, give yourself a chance to see a bit more of them. remember that one of the reasons you may need therapy is because you perceptions are skewed without you realising it. so go to a few meetings at least and see if things improve.

2. if something sounds troubling, ask :: if your therapist makes a statement that sounds like it could be a real problem for you- something that conflicts with one of your deeply held beliefs, or even something that implies it, speak up immediately. you don't need to get defensive or angry, but just pause and ask them to explain what they've just said. if it really is something that you think is going to be a problem, e.g., if your therapist believes that healthy people automatically seek to be in monogamous, long-term relationships and you don't feel that way, you're within your rights to ask them how that belief is colouring their perspective. it could be that you are avoiding relationships because of your mental issues, or it could be that you'd be perfectly happy being single, celibate or polyamorous for the rest of your life. if your therapist holds a strong opinion one way, it could limit his or her ability to address your needs.

3. ask around :: all your friends are probably just as crazy as you, right? if you feel comfortable, ask them if they've met or know anyone who's met your therapist. but to get an even broader perspective, use a website like rate mds.  i've found that this site is more accurate than i would have imagined, with most reviews giving the same compliments and criticisms that i or my friends have experienced in person. one thing to note is that doctors who evaluate patients on behalf of insurance companies almost always have much lower ratings, since much of their work involves cutting people off from benefits by declaring them fit to work. so you might want to dig a little deeper into the comments for those people if you can.

4. think about how you react to people :: if you're an introvert like me, you may not automatically feel comfortable sharing stories about yourself with a complete stranger, even if you know that's their job. in order to get the most out of therapy, i've developed the habit of telling doctors that i will feel more comfortable if they talk more at first and ask me fairly specific questions. if that doesn't happen, my tendency, even as i try to fight it, will be to stop talking. however you feel most at ease getting involved in a conversation, have a sense of what that is before you go in for an appointment. a good therapist will be flexible enough to let you wade into the pool from the shallow end rather than forcing you off the diving board.

5. you shouldn't let them should you :: one thing that seems to be a common, but often ignored, red flag is when a therapist gets into the habit of telling you that you should do things. that's not helping you. that's telling you how they think you should behave. the goal of therapy is to make you cognizant of your own harmful thought patterns, not just to replace one faulty set of instructions with another. even when the advice seems well-intentioned, like telling you that you should drink less coffee, it's still telling someone rather than working out how that might be a problem. and often, it's indicative of bias, either against a particular thing [like drinking coffee] or a type of thinking.

everyone is going to have their individual make or break points with therapists, the same as any medical professional. the difference is that your gastroenterologist can still give you a colonoscopy, even if he insists on boring you with tales of his golf game while he does. a therapist who has very different beliefs in the world than you do may be a lot less capable of attending to your psychological needs. 

26 May 2016

save me from my brain-children

my brain is all backed up. call someone.
i don't have writer's block. i've had writer's block many times. i know what it feels like and this is absolutely not it.

instead, my problem at the moment is that i've had several ideas that i wanted to work on come to me in the last few weeks, or seeds that i'd planted deep in the darkest soil of my brain-garden have suddenly started sprouting like dandelions [which you should not uproot and discard, because they are actually pretty awesome]. that's wonderful, right? i've gone from struggling to get any sort of creative traction and suddenly everything is working.

ok, if you've been struggling with a creative block, you might be a little pissed at me for this, but no, it is not a good thing. i have one computer, one semi-functional brain, two tiny little hands [maybe even smaller than donald trump's!] and a finite amount of time in which i can write and cook and do things to earn money and all the other stuff that takes up my day. so as a result, i've become completely paralyzed. i have a half dozen projects that are competing for my attention and no idea which of them to start first. some of them, i could work on simultaneously, although that would slow progress down on both. some would likely prevent me from working on anything else. some are possibly more lucrative, while others are assuredly less so.

and all of them want to come running out of my brain right now, pushing all the others aside. it's like each of my brain-children needs to be reassured that it is my favourite, or at least my priority, but that's just not the case. i'm fond of all of them and i want each one to see the light of day, at least until i start working on them and decide that i need to send it away somewhere i won't ever have to see it again. [the world is harsh for brain-children.]

i even tried making myself a nice little graph, in the hopes that applying science would eliminate my creative problem. science failed me.

this is what i'm left with:

codename :: saturn
time required :: high
arguments in favour :: although they need to be edited, large chunks of the story and a pretty detailed outline are already done. the bits that are done contain some of my favourite things that i've ever written.
arguments against :: some of the bits that are done require a lot of work themselves, because they're either meandering/ pointless or have continuity errors, so not only is there new work to be done, there's a lot of repairs. it will be a considerable amount of work and my guess is that it will never generate much money. [i'll just say this now, to clear things up: i am not in this for the money. that would be crazy. very few authors can make a living on fiction alone and those who can are generally a little more accessible than the bulk of what i do. but money matters and the less money i can generate from writing, the more time i have to put into things that will bring in the geld.]

codename :: copper
time required :: medium
arguments in favour :: there is a chunk of it done and a fairly detailed outline completed. the style and story are not terribly complex, so while i might not have made as much progress on it as other things, progress will likely be faster. it's something i've never tried before. although there's certainly no guarantee, i would say that this one has a greater chance of generating cat food money than some of its siblings.
arguments against :: it's something i've never tried before, so i'm not convinced i'd be any good at it. but the chief argument against it is that i'm not sure what it's going to turn into; my preferred form has always been the short story. i've honestly never attempted anything that wasn't short, but a few of the things just kept growing and became longer. i'm not really sure where this one would end up. normally, that wouldn't be an issue, but with everything else, i have a good sense of where it would end up, so i feel more comfortable with what my "plan" for it would be.

codename :: tutu
time required :: medium-high
arguments in favour :: i have a very solid outline of this one and it's a style where i know i can work pretty quickly. there isn't a good chance that it would bring me much money, but there is a chance. in fact, if i were able to move it along successfully, it would likely be the best "payback". it's something that arrived in my head more or less fully formed and i always feel i need to respect those ideas. i can't explain why, but having an entire idea for a story handed to you on an imaginary platter feels like means something.
arguments against :: if i'm not able to push it up the ladder of success, it will likely be useless to me, forever. i mean, i'll have it and if i ever manage to get famous, it will be an interesting curio, but that's it. i also think that writing it and trying to get it "out there" is likely to dredge up some past pain that i've learned to live with, but haven't dealt with. so there's the possibility that this is the thing that breaks me for good.

codename :: boathouse
time required :: extremely high
arguments in favour :: it's the thing that has the greatest creative energy around it, something that excites me more than the others at the moment. it's very much in the "seedling" stage, so new "leaves" keep appearing in the form of ideas that just seem to fit perfectly into it. it would likely be the largest project i ever completed, assuming that i did, in fact, complete it.
arguments against :: with the exception of rough notes, everything about this is in my head. this is really picking up something from scratch and it could well end up as a long-term project that ends up going nowhere. before i can even begin it, i have to make a decision about the format it will take, which will have a substantial effect on what i can do with it once it's finished. i think it could possibly bring me some money, but that's a long way off and by no means a guarantee.

codename :: island
time required :: medium-low
arguments in favour :: another project that would take me into an area that i've never tried before and that would be more accessible than my other stuff. there is a good outline established for this one and i even futzed around with writing the first part of it when the idea first came to me a few years ago. has a better shot at some short-term financial success [again, nothing is given] than anything else.
arguments against :: i'm not sure if i can even do this sort of project, because it feels alien to me, more so than anything else. although it could be fun to try, it's different enough that it would be difficult to reconcile with the rest of what i've written. if it doesn't work out, i'll feel more like my time has been wasted than with any other project.

codename :: wheel
time required :: very high
arguments in favour :: it's based on a group of characters i've had bumping around in my head forever. i've seriously written about eight different stories for them and i've never been happy with how they flowed together. more recently, i feel like i've hit on a story that works. i've written sections of this that are still useful, assuming that i can find them, because some of them were actually scribbled out longhand. if i don't do something with this persistent little gang, i'm going to die feeling incomplete.
arguments in favour :: i've never loved this enough to work on it exclusively. i might say now that i have a story that would work, but i've also said that about seven times before and all that's happened is that i've ended up pilfering bits of what i've written and sticking them in other stories. [if you've read tricky, the opening segment, where the heroine margaret reflects on her family history, was originally something i wrote for one of the characters in this story. it was literally copied and pasted into the initial draft of tricky.]  lots of time, lots of work, very high chance that i'll give up again, pretty low odds of a reward.

codename :: lego
time required :: low
arguments in favour :: something i'd be extremely comfortable doing and most of the work is already done. i'm happy with the content that's completed and i think that revisiting some of it could give me ideas that would let me add to it before saying it's "complete". by far the fastest turnaround time to get it finished and out in the world.
arguments against :: if i'm lucky, it will generate enough to take dom out for a nice, but not lavish dinner and maybe a few trinkets besides. the fact that i'm very comfortable with the project is a bit of a double-edged sword, because it also means i wouldn't be pushing my boundaries at all. of the work that remains to be done, i will despise 90% of it.

so now that i've made my handy little pros and cons list, i can say that 1. i'm not really any closer to making a decision; 2. i've just managed to distract myself from doing any work on any of these things by writing a blog post about them. please send help. i've gotten myself in over my head with my own brain.

25 May 2016

united nations of kate

if you follow me on twitter [and you probably shouldn't], you may have seen this tweet earlier:

tree. arbre. arból. baum. medis. kasht. zuhaitz.

the most embarrassing thing about this is not that i felt it necessary to advertise that i talk to myself, but that i'm dead certain that i can say the word "tree" in more than seven languages, but went with the ones that i could remember off the top of my overstuffed head. [seriously, the inside of my skull probably looks like some hoarder nightmare. tonnes of stuff, but there's no way of finding any of it when you need it.]

of course, there are things that i have learned to say besides "tree" in other languages. i've been documenting my adventures in language learning this year, where i've basically been working towards becoming a one-woman united nations meeting. of course, if you've seen some of my social media posts, you'll be aware that my general assembly would appear to be discussing some pretty dubious subjects.

here is the dutch delegation, clearly negotiating the terms of a business deal:

some things are deal breakers

and here is the dutch delegation doing nothing to dispel the idea that their country has a racism problem:

worst red carpet hosts ever

here is the spanish delegation congratulating themselves on their fine sartorial choices:

aren't they always?

and from the sounds of it, their architecture is pretty amazing:

picasso would be proud

the italian contingent has a leader who isn't quite so advanced:

maybe he brought the rhinoceros for the dutch

the outside world is a little confusing for him:

no, but your friends are

the french have some slightly macabre gifts in their designer bags:

you probably don't want to make any more jokes about them losing wars


and the germans just seem a little ashamed of the people they've sent as their representatives:

i hope they washed their hands

i think that some of the parties might need to work a little bit on their public demeanour: 

jesus, germany, go talk to spain about their pants

but some are willing to do their bit to solve the problem:

give them to germany or you don't get any rhinoceros

[my favourite part of that last one is that it uses the formal "you".]

my internal u.n. is currently eurocentric, which i aim to change in the future [once everyone has pants, or at least a sarong]. but more seriously, i hope this helps you all appreciate just how much fun it will be to talk to me in other languages. as it turns out, it's probably going to be a lot like talking to me in english. 

21 May 2016

making faces :: bite me

i was sort of shocked to find out, earlier this year, that bite beauty was discontinuing their original "luminous creme" lipstick formula and launching another called "amuse bouche". [side note: an "amuse bouche" is a sort of pre-appetizer, generally served in a bite-size portion, meant to excite the palate and whet the appetite.] unlike a lot of cosmetic fans, i'm a bit neophobic, particularly when it comes to tinkering with my favourite lipstick formulas. i haven't forgiven chanel for messing around with my beloved rouge cocos. that said, as much as i loved the luminous creme formula for being kind to my lips, there were a couple of areas where i felt it could be improved. first and foremost was that the colour faded rather quickly on most shades and often in an uneven, unattractive way. second, i felt like they could have been more original in their colours, since a lot of the permanent items seemed easier than not to match. but i really loved their commitment to natural, food grade ingredients and their clever names that reminded one that each lipstick contained all the resveratrol goodness of five glasses of red wine.

the new "amuse bouche" lipsticks continue with the natural and food-grade part of the equation, but they seem to have done away with resveratrol in favour of a number of other things that promise to care for lips without skimping on pigment or longevity. there are 34 shades, almost all of them new, although there are some that approximate the favourites from the luminous creme range, so we don't have to feel totally bereft. there are also some that are close to previously released, limited shades in different formulas, which will be a sweet relief to those who missed out on some of them.

being a little nervous about all this newness, i limited myself to buying one shade on the first go-around. i didn't want to grab everything that looked vaguely appealing, only to find out on first application that my lips hated them. i did, however, lay my hands on a sample size of one of the shades that was being offered by sephora in conjunction with the launch [back in february, because i am really, really late getting to this]. so i have two shades to show you.

first up, we have "beetroot", which is the shade i actually purchased. i've always longed for a lipstick the colour of stewed beets. it's a deep magenta that just leaps out from the natural world. it doesn't hurt that i absolutely love beets, although, since dom really doesn't, i rarely get to eat them. it's described as a "bold berry", but it's called beetroot, so i mean it pretty much has to look something like beets, right?

beetroot

beetroot

well, it does... sort of. it's definitely redder than beets, the colour of which tends to run cooler. it definitely has that eye-catching combination of brightness and depth that makes the colour of beets so breathtaking. "bold berry" could mean a lot of things and while it's an accurate enough description, i think it would be even more accurate to say "deep but but berry-beet". maybe not quite as succinct. even if it's not quite my perfect beet-shade, it is something that i'm going to be reaching for a lot.

"radish" doesn't look exactly like the skin of a radish either, but it does compare to beetroot in much the same way as the colour of a radish compares to the colour of a beet. it's lighter, brighter and pinker, although not exactly in a different universe than beetroot. bite describes it as "deep magenta", but since beetroot is noticeably darker, i feel like the naming gnomes could do a little better on differentiating bold and deep.

radish
radish

this is the shade that i received as a points perk from sephora and i'd say that you only really need both beetroot and radish if you adore these sorts of colours. as i do. the amuse bouche lipsticks have more shades that seem harder to match, but they're still don't have the subtle undertones of a truly remarkable colour. [in all honesty, with the trend towards unidimensional mattes in the last few years, it's gotten harder to find shades that have those sorts of nuances.]

i made some comparisons from my collection, which might be heavier on these sorts of colours than the average person's.

l to r :: rouge d'armani 513, beetroot, radish, rouge d'armani 402 [d.c.], nars vera
rouge d'armani 513, maharajah, is cooler than radish and has a fine shimmer. the discontinued rouge d'armani shade 402 [i think it's discontinued; the rouge d'armani line is kind of in chaos right now] is pretty close to beetroot- definitely the closest that i have- but is darker and more muted. i honestly expected/ worried that nars audacious lipstick in vera would be an even closer match, but it's darker, softer, a bit greyer.

the bottom line is that the colours are beautiful, but not necessarily unique. some of the more neutral shades look like they'd be harder to match.

but what about the formula? isn't that what's really the issue here? well let me assure you: the formula is killer. the lasting power is as good as i've seen from any bite product, and while it isn't quite as soft going on as the luminous creme formula, it still does feel like a treat to wear. the longevity does not cause dryness or flaking, and when the colour does wear down, it does so much more evenly than before.

the feel of the formula actually reminds me of the deconstructed rose lipsticks that came out a couple of years ago and a bit of the nars audacious lipsticks. [yikes! i've fallen behind on reviewing those in the last year... there are more i need to share, even though they're not new anymore.] like those formulas, the amuse bouche lipsticks read as nearly matte on me and quite glossy on everyone else. i've never understood why that is, but look at my photos, then go look at the ones on temptalia or the beauty lookbook. clearly, our skin is made of different stuff.

the one slight problem i had was that i found it tricky to get a really crisp line around the outside of my lips. i would have forgiven this if it had just been the mini, but it was actually worse in the full size product. i suspect that this is because the edges of the bullet are softly tapered, with a precise point only at the top, so if you want a sharp line, you have to be very careful that only the point touches the edge of your lips. and even then, unless your hands are rock-steady, it might be tricky. [you could use a lip liner, of course, but i generally don't because they never look like the right colour, except with shades of red.]

i've worn both of these shades a few times, but a series of misadventures with smudged lenses and poor lighting meant that i have very little that shows these shades as they look in real life. i do have a couple that i was able to salvage of me wearing radish, which give you an idea of what it looks like in the context of a full face.



i'm also wearing shades from the tarte rainforest of the sea palette and on the cheeks is [i believe] a combination of dior pareo and hourglass incandescent ambient strobing powder.

in addition to the 34 permanent shades, bite has just launched 6 limited edition shades for the summer. i haven't purchased one yet [because i can't choose just one, or two, or...], but i can tell you that they represent bite's most unique and daring shades to date.

i will miss the wine-themed names and, clearly, i will have to be sure to drink more wine in order to get my resveratrol, but the amuse bouche lipsticks are a definite step forward, and a very welcome addition to the world of lipstick formulas. 

18 May 2016

scottishnotscottish

as scottish as mjölnir
probably the first thing i ever learned about my ancestry was that i am scottish. the scottish part of my family are way proud of their scotch-ness. they know their particular tartan. they have their family crest displayed in their homes. they've been to the town from which the family first sprouted. they like their bagpipes and burns and gaelic. and indeed, the clan lines in scotland go far back.  [not as far back as the irish strain of the family they won't admit exists, but that's another story.]

but in my continuing genealogy project, wherein i am endeavouring to trace my lineage all the way back to its pre-human form, i've come across a little "hitch": my scottish family, at least the part of them that gave us our clan name and identity, isn't scottish. well, they are. but they're also not. in fact, they were enemies of the scots, even though they were, in a way, scots themselves and related to the scottish royal family. of course, that didn't stop them from pretty much declaring war on the scottish royal family, since, in olden times, being family didn't imply loyalty so much as the right to take all your stuff.

here's how this works:

my family, the macdonalds of keppoch, part of the larger "clan donald" were actually descended from the "lords of the isles". these were the people who lived, as the name might imply, in the islands on the west side of scotland "proper": the hebrides, mull, islay, arran and generally every place where scotch is made. the kingdom of the isles even stretched as far south as the isle of man. although it wasn't always a well-defined entity, the kingdom was distinguished by the fact that it had a turbulent relationship with the scottish crown since the scottish were always a little concerned about have people basically sitting on their shoulder and occasionally trying to murder them.

so what? i hear you say. they were all "scottish" anyway. well, yes and no. the rulers of "the isles" were actually norse-gaels, which is a term that means exactly what it sounds like: a mix of norwegian and scottish gaelic blood. the norse-gaels were partly scottish, but they were mostly just nose-gaelic, and considered themselves their own sweet entity, equally norwegian and scottish, but not either.

the norse-gaels reached the zenith of their power under a figure called somerled, "lord of the isles", in the twelfth century [yes, i know i'm going pretty far back there, but it still counts]. he's revered as a highland hero in scotland, because he supposedly drove the vikings out of the country. however, the truth is that he came from a prominent family of norse-gaels, which meant that he was part viking himself. furthermore, in order to curry favour for his plan of world domination [well, at least scottish domination], he married a daughter of the jarl [earl] of orkney. the orkneys at that time were a colony of norway, and hence closely tied to the royal family of that country [although the orkneys had, over centuries, also evolved into their own separate thing, which would persist for centuries]. and the vikings that somerled expelled from scotland were actually just one ruler, whom he deposed from the throne of the isles in man, and who happened to be his brother in law. so to recap: somerled was a half-norwegian, who married a norwegian, who deposed another half-norwegian from the isle of man and is now credited with saving scotland from the vikings. wish i knew the name of his publicist.

what's more shocking, at least if you're scottish, is that the lords of the isles were closer to the english and irish royal families, or at least more inclined to make alliances with them, than they were with the scottish royal family. [although they weren't above marrying into the scottish royal family, as somerled's sister was married off to the scottish king malcolm.]

so where does that leave me, almost a millennium later?

well, the clan donald is descended from one of somerled's two sons. so all the macdonalds [as well as several other clans] trace their heritage to him. and that's not just a legend. genetic testing done on members of the clans who claim him as a progenitor found that a huge percentage of them have dna markers indicative of a single common ancestor. it's entirely possible that somerled's extended family numbers in excess of half a million people, which is impressive, but kind of sucks if you're looking for any inheritance you might be due.

that means that the oh-so-scottish macdonalds, the most scottish of all the scottish clans, are just as much norwegian as they are scottish. many common scottish names, both surnames and forenames, are actually english corruptions of gaelic corruptions of norse names like rōgnvald [gaelic ragnhall, english ronald or roland] or Þormóð [gaelic tormod, english norman]. and while we can brag about how our heritage goes back to times bc/ bce, that's really only true of the norwegian [or, alternately, the irish] parts of the family, because the actual scottish parts get pretty foggy, which is par for the course in scotland.

so, in celebration of my scottish family, i would like to wish a very hearty, although slightly belated, national day to my norwegian progenitors. someday i hope to visit your exquisite fjords and experience the true nature of my scottishness.

p.s. :: i would love to close with a salutation in norwegian, but it's not one of the languages i've started learning and i don't want to do the obnoxious thing and say something in swedish under the assumption that all you scandinavians speak the same language, even though, from what i understand, your languages are at least close enough that you'd probably understand me. i'll speak proper norwegian someday.]

p.p.s. :: the photo at the top of the post is taken from this post on the history of the vikings on the isle of man. 

16 May 2016

mental health mondays :: #mentalillnessfeelslike

a few weeks ago, i posted a notice in honour of canadian mental health week. however, i failed to mention that our neighbours to the south dedicate an entire month to mental health awareness. of course, if you take into consideration the difference in population, canada is still dedicating more time per capita, but, you know... it's a whole month. and it's one of the long ones, too.

the theme for this year's campaign, as you might have gathered from the hash-taggery in the title of this post, is "what mental illness feels like". that can encompass a lot of things, because mental illness covers depression, psychosis, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, panic disorders... but you know all this already. the idea is to simply get people to talk about mental illness as much as possible, to give a sense of all of the different ways in which it can affect people's lives, the number of people who suffer from it, and also to let people know that others feel the same way that they do.

you can get information on mental health month here. i've already spoken quite a bit about my own experiences with mental health on this blog, so i figured i would share these adorable drawings from british artist gemma correll, created to mark the month.





i've felt all of these things and a lot of people i know have felt them too. 

other observations about how mental illness feels that i've heard from people include things like: 

  • being paralysed :: when panic attacks and anxiety are at their peak, you feel physically as if you can't move- like your brain isn't in control of your body. 
  • painful :: when you're stressed, your body releases inflammatory substances capable of causing real, physical damage to the body. you're not imagining that it hurts and you're not being overly sensitive.
  • being crazy :: one of the saddest things i've ever heard [and it's come from more than one person] is that many people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder are perfectly aware that their rituals/ ticks/ beliefs are irrational, but that doesn't do anything to reduce their power. 
  • having no idea who to trust :: john nash once said that the voices in his head came to him in the exact same way as his ideas about mathematics, so he couldn't discount them. it's something i've heard from others as well- your own brain is lying to you, often using the same channels that it uses to allow you to do really important things. 
  • not knowing what anything feels like :: this is a little understood problem with dissociative disorders and one that's often used to portray them as unfeeling monsters. dissociative disorders can cause people to "split" from their emotions, so that they can be unaware of what they're feeling, or unable to feel the "appropriate" emotions in certain situations. 


and none of this gets into what mental illness feels like for those close to someone with a mental illness. 

whatever your experience, i encourage you to make your voice heard over the next two weeks. join a conversation, start a conversation. it won't bring about change on its own, but no change can happen without it. 

11 May 2016

mental health mondays :: bad mood disorder

or is it?
monday, you say?? yes. it's wednesday. more to the point, it's 11:48 on wednesday night, which means it's technically close to being thursday. but this is the post that was supposed to appear on monday, before my own mental health decided to rewrite the week's script a little.

thanks very much to those of you who sent well-wishes here and on facebook. i am doing better than i was yesterday and certainly better than i was on monday. things are gradually returning to normal, as they say.

so this is the final instalment of my look at personality disorders, wherein i look at psychiatry's red-headed step children, those ones we never like to talk about...

*

a friend posted this article on facebook a little while back, which raises some very good points about some very maligned mood disorders. lots of us are proud to say that we support those with mental illness, that we want increased funding to study and treat mental illness, and that we believe that the stigma against those with mental illness needs to be addressed and eliminated. but, and i believe this is entirely without meaning to in most cases, a lot of us also struggle to sympathize with certain disorders. and let's be honest: those conditions can be very difficult to sympathize with.

a few years back, dom and i visited toronto and i was showing off the city's collection of indie/ edgy video stores [pretty sure they're all gone now]. while we were inside one on queen street, a homeless person, speaking loudly to himself [i'm making a conscious effort not to use the word "raving" there] walked up and stood in the doorway, blocking it. he then proceeded to whip out is visibly filthy member and start masturbating. so there we are, wanting to escape, but also not wanting to get caught in a shower of hostile stranger jizz and not particularly wanting to live the waifish young woman at the counter alone in the store.

on reflection, i'm aware that this man was probably a victim of the massive cuts to hospitals in ontario [particularly toronto] in the 1990s and early 2000s. among the facilities that lost a large number of beds and staff was the centre for addiction and mental health, west on queen street. when i first moved to toronto, i remember being struck by the tragic spectacle of those who had been pushed out of the facility, still addicted, still psychotic and still in desperate need of help. unable to think of anything else to do, they had set up camp directly outside the centre, as if they were waiting to be let back in. i sympathized deeply, but i'd still make sure to walk on the other side of the street.

over the next six years i lived in the city, the abandoned gradually started to spread out. as a result, toronto, particularly queen street, has not just a homeless problem, but a psychotic homeless problem. these aren't just people who will ask you for change, but people who will stop in random doorways and masturbate in the middle of the afternoon.

i was aware of these things at the time, but i have to admit that the principle thing going through my head was "i want to get away from here". as the author of the linked article points out, psychosis, whatever causes it, can feel like a punch to our sympathetic gut. logically, we know these people aren't truly aware of their surroundings, or of the effects of their actions. but "trapped inside because a man is jacking off in the doorway" has a sort of immediacy that pushes everything else well into the background.

there's also that fear that interrupting, whether to escape or to try and engage such a person, could trigger aggression. statistically, people who are psychotic aren't prone to violence, but that doesn't help quell our natural inclination alerts us that we can have no idea what the person will do. our brains are hardwired to be cautious of unpredictability.

that said, i would still argue that psychosis is better viewed than the other disorders mentioned in the article, because we can clearly see there is something terribly wrong. it never occurred to me that the man masturbating in the doorway was just a selfish asshole who felt entitled to gratify himself wherever he wanted. as much as i was put off by the situation, any anger i felt was towards the government whose cuts had deprived him of the help he needed.

mood disorders are very different, because they are largely invisible. anyone can have them, they're difficult to treat and they can have a massive effect on a person's interactions with others. the internet is replete with advice about avoiding "toxic people" and how to judge if you're being manipulated by one. what's less commonly addressed, however, is that the people we categorize as "toxic" might have issues that go beyond being harmful, manipulative, and abusive. they may be sick in the same way that depressed people are sick. they may need help in the same way that the people turned away from the centre for addiction and mental health needed help.

mentioned in the article is borderline personality disorder, which is certainly one of the most problematic diagnoses a person can get. bpd is controversial in almost every way: there are those who debate whether or not the condition even exists, others argue that it should be treated as a subset of either bipolar [because of the characteristic swings in mood or emotion] or post-traumatic stress disorder [because of its high correlation with incidents of childhood abuse, gross neglect, or catastrophic separation]. in fact, there appears to be both a genetic and an environmental component, both of which are necessary to development of the disorder, which would actually indicate that it falls somewhere between the worlds of bipolar and ptsd.

one of the most controversial aspects of bpd, however, is its "gender gap": those diagnosed with it are overwhelmingly female. that has led to accusations that the disorder is a way of stigmatizing behaviour in women that would be acceptable in men [frequent anger, sexual promiscuity]. alternately, it's contrasted with antisocial personality disorder, where the overwhelming majority of sufferers are men. there are clear distinctions between the two, but both seem driven by an apparent callous disregard for others and frightening shifts in mood and emotion.

when you read a description of so-called toxic people, the characteristics look a lot like a list of symptoms of both borderline and antisocial personality disorder. they're generally manipulative and dishonest in order to get what they want, prone to violent emotional outbursts, they can be incredibly paranoid, hostile and negative about the rest of the world, and they tend to be focused on themselves, what they want, and on the benefits that any situation brings to them.

that sounds horrible, right?

well, consider what i said about the correlation between borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma. the same goes for antisocial personality disorder. so if these are people who are self-centred and harmful, it's usually because they were forced to learn some pretty extreme methods of self-preservation in order to survive their own childhoods. if they are manipulative or have a pathological fear of abandonment, it's because they were "programmed" to be that way in their formative years. if they are violent or prone to emotional aggrandizement, it's likely because they have a lot of righteous and unresolved anger about the circumstances in which they were forced to live their early lives. if they are unapologetically dishonest, it's because they were brought up in an environment where telling the truth was dangerous and where lying was, again, essential to survival.

interestingly, though, the original article that inspired this jog through the dark corners of personality disorders, has one glaringly obvious omission: narcissistic/ histrionic personality disorder. [i'm treating these two as a single subject, because the distinctions seem entirely driven by gender.] aside from the most extreme examples of antisocial personality disorder [serial killers, violent abusers of people and animals], i don't think that there is any group that is easier to hate than those with narcissistic personality disorder. perhaps because it's because their pain is hidden so well behind a wall of entitlement, self-importance and mistreatment of others. perhaps it's because, even when caught in criminal behaviour [you can read my theories on two high-profile cases here and here], they seem not just unapologetic, but still possessed of a sense that they are the ones who have been wronged.

this is where speaking up for the rights of people with mental disorders gets thorny. the vast majority of people with any of these disorders are not dangerous to the public at large, but that doesn't mean they can't inflict some pretty significant damage on those close to them. how far is sympathy supposed to extend? how much do you really want to defend someone who's caused real harm to others?

the fact that these people are potentially harmful is the reason we're told that their symptoms are a checklist for people we should make significant efforts to avoid. as if isolating them will solve the problem, rather than reinforce it. but how much personal risk is acceptable in the name of helping someone who is suffering? even lifesaving courses caution us not to put ourselves at risk to save someone else, lest we both end up dead. even if we realise that these people need help, it's likely that most of us would take a "nimby" attitude towards actually having one of these people in our lives. someone else can take care of them, thank you very much, we've all got our own problems. what's the point of treating someone medically if having them acknowledge their condition only makes people run away from them?

this just scratches the surface of what there is to deal with when it comes to dealing with "ugly" personality disorders, but the fact that it's not often addressed [or if it is addressed, it's often mocked as excuse-making for bad behaviour] shows just how uncomfortable subject is. in a world where we struggle to de-stigmatize and advocate for sufferers depression and anxiety, asking people to consider that manipulative, dishonest, or even violent behaviour might be deserving of some sympathy is a tall order. but the flip side is that we simply write people off as permanently damaged, unsalvageable. i don't even want to start going through the uncomfortable arguments that raises.

i've written a lot and thought more about the issue of mental disorders and, in the last month or so, about personality disorders in particular. a brief perusal through the history of mental health mondays should reveal that i'm a pretty passionate advocate for better mental health treatment. but i'll be honest: even i struggle with some of this. assuming, for the moment, that we leave out the extreme cases of antisocial personality disorder- the sadistic/ serial killers- and focus on the majority, there are personal risks to having someone with narcissistic, borderline, antisocial or histrionic characteristics in close proximity, especially if their disorder is untreated or inadequately treated. but a few decades ago, public discourse about mental disorders at all was rare. we enable progress by challenging ourselves to think and talk about things that are uncomfortable. so while it might not have provided much in the way of answers, i hope this little post has given you some things to think about. 

10 May 2016

mental health mondays :: ...to be continued

mental health mondays should be up tomorrow. i had started the post and then had to stop, because i had an overwhelming panic attack. then i couldn't do anything but sleep. so basically, one attack- about something that turned out to be fairly easily resolved- robbed me of several hours of my life, stopped my productivity dead in its tracks and, since my sleep schedule is somewhat derailed, threatens to mess me up for tomorrow as well. as a special bonus, even writing this short post about my evening is making me extremely edgy, because i'm desperately afraid of triggering another attack which, in the middle of the night and with very limited resources available to me to calm myself, is a terrifying thought. i'm trying not to panic over the possibility that i could panic.

post-panic, i even look different. my face is puffy and my eyes look swollen, although there's no reason for that. i haven't been crying or yelling or using my facial muscles in any abnormal way. nonetheless, the face i see in the mirror tonight is not the same as the one that greeted me this morning. anyone who tries to tell me that these things are all in my head had better have an airtight explanation for how my head changes my face.

i am sharing this with you because, 1. i think it's sort of hilarious and ironic that i have to postpone mental health mondays because of my mental health; 2. i want people to understand how suddenly a real crisis can throw someone off-kilter and how the after-effects can cascade from what seems like a fairly minor event. for people who suffer from anxiety disorders [which is part, although not all, of my profile], an attack isn't just upsetting, but crippling. and not everyone has the good fortune, as i did tonight, of being at home and able to work through these feelings in relative comfort. anything can set off this chain reaction, not just known "triggers", but virtually any obstacle or any of the causes of stress that people deal with every day. obviously, regular sources of stress are more dangerous when you're already prone to panicking, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you will have an attack when exposed to regular sources of stress. in fact, people with panic or anxiety disorders can often manage what seem like stressful situations just fine, only to crack under the pressure of having to decide what to make for dinner. [no, in case you're wondering, that wasn't what set me off.]

for those of you who don't regularly have full-blown panic attacks, be happy, because it's nothing you would ever want to experience. imagine getting in your car, driving somewhat faster then you feel comfortable doing and turning your car in a direction of a large tree. then imagine closing your eyes and trying to steer away from the tree without touching the brakes. that's an approximation of a panic attack, only it can last for hours, not seconds. that combination of helplessness, mortal fear, and responsibility for the situation.

for those of you who do suffer from anxiety and/ or panic disorders, i'm putting this up here so that you know you're not alone and so that you know that it's ok to say what's happening to you in public, even on the internet, where anyone in the world can see. the world we live in often places unfair and onerous demands on people, including a lot of people who are more fragile because it might be damaging to their interests. it's a hideous thing. i feel it and i know many of you do too. stress is a natural reaction to that.

but anxiety and panic are thieves. they rob you of time, of happiness, and, as is increasingly evident, of life. what's worse, they rob the world of you, because often your inner self, your real self, just can't fight through the fog and be present. that's a loss for everybody.

breathe as slowly and deeply as you can for ten minutes, focusing on nothing else. hug your cat or dog or rhino, whatever you have, i'm not judging. use whatever tricks you can find on the internet to keep the thieves out of your house and if those start to fail you, learn more. protect yourself. don't let them steal more than they already have.

i can't get back the time i lost today, but i can at least try to turn it into something that might help someone else. 

08 May 2016

making faces :: the workplace conundrum

one of the easiest topics on which to find a plethora of advice online [at least on the subject of beauty] is what kind of look is best suited to a job interview, or to the workplace in general. and there is an overwhelming consensus on the subject, which is that makeup should always be minimal and unobtrusive. wear a very natural lip colour! stick with matte eye shadows! always wear mascara! definitely put on blush! don't put on too much blush! never wear bold colours!

i'm sure all that advice is well-intentioned, but it starts from a ridiculous presupposition, which is that every person wears every colour in more or less the same way. if you've followed any of my adventures in diy colour analysis, you'll know that that simply isn't the case. if i'm being generous, i could say that what's being implied is that women should stick to the colours that are natural for them, but even then, i think that there's a difference between what's sold as natural [nude lips, soft, neutral eyeshadows, etc.] and what appears natural on an individual. some people [particular "light season" people] wear the "no makeup makeup" look exceptionally well. some people ["soft season" people] wear muted, earthy tones like they were born to do so. but that's far from everyone.

this is partly driven, of course, by the fact that, as a "bright season" person, i fall outside the groups that do best in very delicate or understated colours. in fact, i'm the exact opposite. the best shades on me are very saturated [my personal favourite is an ultra-intense cobalt blue] and significantly brighter than what's usually recommended in workplace situations. but that doesn't make them wrong for those situations. it makes them wrong for other people. and this is why i think that at least some toying around with colour analysis can be good for everyone. [yes, gentlemen, i mean you as well.]

when we're talking about what colours "work" for us, it's a significantly more in depth matter than what we think looks good on us, or something that seems to complement something else that we're wearing. the idea behind colour analysis is that there are certain shades, be they in clothing or in makeup, that can make each individual look better or worse. those can be grouped according to general criteria [although, of course, everyone is different] and the closer you are to the criteria that matches your underlying colours, the better.

but you don't have to take my word for it, or the word of any colour analysis gurus, because we have a magical thing called photography. to whit:


au not-quite-naturel
let's leave aside questions of whether or not what i'm wearing is workplace or interview-appropriate. pretend that it is. there i am in an understated but dark-ish [because nothing conveys seriousness like dark colours!] olive green and black. my makeup [details about that here] is what one would consider appropriate for an interview or workplace. but is it showing me to all my potential?

is that a woman who looks at her best? or does she look a little washed out and weakened? although i actually like the look, i'd argue it's the latter. although these are generally the sorts of colours that are recommended in the workplace or for an interview, i think i can do better.

for instance, let's use the same sweater [still a muted colour- not ideal for a bright season], but amp up the makeup a little:

let's turn up the saturation
is that too much for an office? maybe. or maybe not. to me, the face looks more balanced here. the eyes don't have that overly intense, slightly scary look that they do when there's very little colour anywhere around them. [i should add that the light is much lower in this photo than in the first, which makes everything look darker.]

alternately, this is what happens when we stick with the softer makeup colours, but use a more bright season-appropriate top, something like the blue i described as being particularly good on me:

true blue

i think that, right away, you can see a clarifying, calming effect on my skin. this is why i say that this information works for men too. makeup aside, just having the proper colour next to my face and neck improves things. this is the sort of colour that people are generally discouraged from wearing in the workplace, lest it draw attention away from them. but i'd argue that it's doing the opposite here. this looks more natural on me than the ostensibly more natural colour i'm wearing in the two shots above.

the cardinal sin in the workplace, especially in an interview or presentation, where you're trying to highlight yourself and don't want anything to distract from how awesome you are, is wearing red lipstick. so how awful would that be?

fire this woman

she's clearly insane
again, maybe it's just my opinion, but i think that if you were asked to listen to a presentation from this group of [eerily similar looking] women, the one at the bottom would command your attention more than the one at the very top. and, contrary to popular belief, i don't think you'd be distracted by her makeup or the colours she's wearing. you'd notice them, but i think that the reaction upon seeing that first face would be an underlying thought that what you were about to see would be boring. fast forward to the lady wearing that ill-advised tomato red with a blue necklace and i think the impression that's given would be one of authority.

again, that's not going to work for everyone. put a person who wears lighter or more muted colours better in that red and they'd look like a kid playing dress up- not a great impression to leave. hence the importance of knowing what works for your particular complexion. on a bright season, bold, saturated colours and high contrast seem balanced, because they are balanced with what's already there. the softer colours normally recommended for office wear are fighting nature, not enhancing it.

of course, if you're a bright season person [or, really, anyone in the spectrum from dark winter to true spring], you may not be comfortable with going all out on colour and you may want to appear just a little bit softer. that can easily be done.

the kinder, gentler kate
the green, black and warm pink would still be gaudy on someone whose colouring doesn't support saturation, but i find that they have a nice balancing effect on me. my skin looks even both in colour and in texture, my eyes don't seem to be bugging out, but i'm not quite the powerhouse you see in red. i'd probably wear this sort of thing while pleading my innocence in court.

if you're curious, the lipstick shades used here are, from the top, nars "bilbao" [full look details here], tom ford "something wild" [full look details and review here], guerlain kiss kiss lipstick "rouge insolence", guerlain rouge g "garconne", nars satin lip pencil "golshan" [review here] and guerlain rouge g "gracy". i don't have a review of gracy, but you can see her swatched alongside "grenade" rouge g and rouge dior "times square", both of which are excellent, slightly toned down alternatives that still work for people who wear saturated colours well.

if you're looking specifically for lipstick suggestions, you should have a look at my recommendations by seasonal type for spring, summerfall, and winter.

now, the bad news is that none of this will help you if what you're saying is absolute bullshit. but assuming that you do have things you want to say, that need and deserve to be said, and keeping in mind that humans are primarily visual creatures, it helps to put the best version of you on display to ensure that your message is heard the way that you intend.

and, while the advice might be well intended, it's always a good idea to view rules that are supposed to apply equally to everyone with a little bit of skepticism. [well, maybe rules like "don't kill people randomly" should work for everyone, but even then, there's no reason why murder-you can look their best either.] now go out and knock 'em dead.
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