You Can Choose


life is all about choicesOh yes, you can choose. You can choose pretty much every aspect of your life, from the small to the large, from the clothes you wear to the colour of your hair, and the music that you listen to, and of course, to the politicians you elect to run your country and ultimately tell you … what you can choose.

But it’s not all lollipops and roses, this ability to choose. First off, once we’ve chosen, we might not be happy with what we chose, and we might not want to take responsibility for how our choice worked out.

That’s free choice. And it can be exhausting.

Now, of course, there’s some stuff that is best when it’s our choice. That’s the prime directive from our childhood – it’s all about getting out from under the right of other people to make choices for us. We can’t wait for the day when we’re on our own, able to decide what we want to eat, drink, and wear, and how we wish to behave without being told what we can and cannot do.

And yes, we find out the hard way that these choices are always available to us .. as soon as we are able to pay … financially, physically, and emotionally … for the right to choose, and the consequences of what we have chosen.

It’s a child’s parents who have to teach children how to make smart choices.

One thing that parenting magazines stress is that giving kids virtually unlimited power to make choices is damaging to the child.

Some kids are better at decisions than others; some kids shut down when confronted with too many choices.

But one thing is certain. “An infinite number of choices will make a child anxious and insecure, ” says Dr Gorski. “Think how you feel when you have a dozen important decisions to make. What we think are small issues, such as what to wear, or what to eat, are huge to a child. Having to make too many choices – even kid sized ones – can be overwhelming.”

Children are more comfortable within boundaries. “A child who acts up is begging with her behaviour to be shown limits. ”

I know exactly how they feel. It’s not so different when we get older. Yes, it’s great to be able to choose our destinies – that’s what being an adult is about! However there are times when it’s just so much easier if someone else makes the choice for us.

Take music, for instance. It’s great to be able to access any song we want to hear, and to hear it as many times as we would like, but sometimes, it’s more relaxing to let a radio station’s programmer made that decision. Not only might we hear songs we like, but we might even hear new songs we wouldn’t have found on our own.

no choice is still a choice. jpgOr TV programs. Remember how we used to follow a series for years .. like Seinfeld, or Friends, and Thursday was the night you didn’t go out because you might miss an episode?

Well, it’s not like that anymore, because there are 500 channels on the satellite, and then there’s NetFlix, Hulu, Kanopy, and a half dozen other additional outlets, and then you can also stream television episodes from any point in the history of broadcasting, and watch them at any time of the day or night.

All you have to do is choose which episode … And again .. that’s stressful. What if you decide to watch this one episode, or this movie, and there’s another better one you don’t have time to watch because there’s only so much time in anyone’s life?

You can choose. But sometimes, it is great when someone else chooses for you. Isn’t it great when you ask your official or unofficial ‘other’ what they want to do, and they tell you? In detail? What they want to eat, where they’d like to go, and what they’d like to do after that? It can feel really good to hand over the reins to someone else, occasionally.

If you are the one who is always tasked with making choices and decisions, even about petty things, like what to eat for dinner, it can become exhausting. Deciding what to make, gathering the items needed, and then preparing the meal … and doing that day after day after month after year … the excitement wears off pretty quickly.

choice is energyYou can choose to agree, or disagree, or to start a dialogue where your preferences are considered and best of all, suddenly, you have more choices!

What we learn, as kids, and what we take with us into our adulthoods, is that every group in which we are included is a community, and that not everyone’s needs can be met all of the time. Fair is not always equal. We resent if there is one person making all of the decisions all of the time. We need to spread the freedom of choice around and amongst us.

As we grow and begin to reason, we also see the consequences of our choices, and learn that what might be fun or easy in the short run, could be disastrous in the longer run. Not flossing in your teens might feel like you are getting away with something … but you’ll be making some dentist rich in your forties from the consequences. We learn that we may have to deal with the regret of making a bad choice, but that we can’t always know what is best, and that mistakes, and how we deal with them, are also a part of life.

Choice can be a liberating or a limiting thing, depending on circumstances. There are days when, just like a child, it’s best to limit your choices, to ask yourself to be responsible for just so much, and no more. Limiting the amount of decisions you need to make can be as beautiful a thing as having the reason and responsibility to make really big choices.

You can choose that too.

 

Surprise!


There was a power outage earlier this week. It was a day when I was actually a little ahead of the morning … I’d eaten, dressed, and was nearly ready to drag on my winter boots, when everything abruptly winked out.

cat speedbumpsWinter’s dark at the best of times, and the sun was barely out. I could make out the shapes of the furniture, but overall, I was just hoping that the cats weren’t lurking in the hallway, waiting to trip me up.

While I waited for the power to come back on. I was pleasantly self-satisfied for having prepared for the morning the night before. I had printed out some course work, checked that I had everything I needed for the next day stashed safely in my purse, and had my transit fare ready in my coat pocket. I was good to go.

surpriseThat’s when I started to think about how most things that happen in our life – for good or ill –  are surprises, that come without warning. You can prepare … you can anticipate … but some things are still a surprise.

We know that our lives will have speed bumps to navigate – that’s just part of the human condition. No one gets from cradle to grave without encountering difficulties. Our characters both define and reveal how we react to those complications.

And it’s always a surprise. That unplanned pregnancy; the school you went to over the school you didn’t; the job you took for the summer that changed the course of your life –  to mash up Bowie and Lennon, we never know what ch-ch-ch-changes are in store for the life that happens while we are busy making other plans.

Surprises are supposed to be fun, but not all are. Our whole world can change in the blink of an eye, a fall on the stairs, or the turn of a shapely leg. There’s virtue in steering the arc of our lives, but it’s the unforeseen that often compels its trajectory.

ready for my closeupI’m one of those unfortunates that tries to be prepared for every eventuality. That is why my purse weighs 400 lbs. I never travel light; even a trip to the corner store finds me with hair and makeup for a cast of thousands at the ready.

And yet – I’ve been known to misplace my purse. And then the whole facade crumbles. I am lost in a world where nothing makes sense, because I feel out of control.

We live in a world where the winner is judged by the amount of goods and services he/she accumulates, which is why so many of us find ourselves coming to the end of a good run with far too much detritus. Little by little, I’m trying to shed my need to so closely control the ‘what ifs’ of the day. I’m paring down the things I keep and carry ‘just in case!’ in favour of a lighter mental load.

trust fallBut it’s tricky. And it takes a faith in the future that many lose as they travel through life. If enough events that you perceive as good have lined your path, you will feel differently than someone who has encountered a lot of disappointing moments. It’s like a trust fall .. where you’re neither trusting nor trustworthy.

When I was living in the wilds of Scarberia, and carless, every trip to the grocery store was fraught with a desperation more often seen in someone preparing for a hurricane or nuclear war. I was obsessed with having enough food in the pantry, fridge and freezer to survive to the next shopping trip.

Now I live two blocks from two massive supermarkets, and know that I can get whatever I need, with very little effort. I’m working on the ‘just in time’ model, that businesses rely on to increase efficiency and decrease waste. You buy stuff when you need it, use it, then buy more as you need more. Except cat food. One should always have a surplus of tins and bags of cat food, because … cats.

But I’m still loaded up with a lot of junk that I can’t seem to release without worrying that I’ll need the item ‘one of these days.’ I’m working on it .. but I do still have a box of Furbys from the Christmas of 1998 that I couldn’t unload on eBay.

I’m not fixing to die anytime soon, but nor are most of us, and some of us won’t make the end of this year. It’s just the way it is. Pretending that we’ll always have these fragile lives in our control is what makes our leaving so frustrating to our loved ones.

swedish death cleaningThe latest big thing in organizing philosophies is the darkly named Swedish Death Cleanse. It’s the process of cleaning house before you kick the bucket, rather than leaving the job to your loved ones.

If you’ve ever had to close up a loved one’s home, you know how difficult it is to sort through the gold and the dross, while mourning and trying to lead your own life. Whether you are an aging baby boomer or just bummed with our current reality, it’s a trendy way of dealing with our hoards.

No matter how much we invested in antiques and heirlooms, the reality is that these items are worth less and less as our generation and our parents’ dies off. Our kids probably want smaller, lighter furniture for their nomadic lifestyles. I’m also gonna guess that neither of my daughters is going to want my collection of cassette tapes from the 70s and 80s. hoarders paradise

I’ve put a solid dent in the collection of holiday wrap I’ve dragged around for years, but it still gave me a pang to see how many people were recycling full rolls of wrap after this Christmas. Can’t help it. Grew up thrifty.

But I have to get real, living in a much smaller space than before, and I would prefer my kids remember me as thoughtful and tidy, rather than a packrat.

Besides, sorting and donating some of my better ‘stuff’ makes me feel not only generous, but in control of what I’m letting go.

I’m also feeling a relief and lightness in clearing away the boxes. In a small space, it’s easy to feel like the walls are closing in. Ditching the stash opens up your living space.

womens world living roomI didn’t feel the walls closing in when they were lined with books, but just having chotchkies lying around does me in. I’m actually getting to the point where I feel a little creeped out when I see pictures of a typically overstuffed living space. It feels fussy and frilly, and not in a good way.

The Swedish word dostadning is a hybrid of the words for death and cleaning. The idea may creep you out, but what it really is, is a way to formalize what matters to you, and what you want to hand down to your heirs. Keep the things you love. Trash, recycle, donate or gift what you don’t.

face meltingPrioritize the preservation of sentimental and family objects like old letters and photographs, but also keep a well-labelled  ‘throw-away box’ for things that you can’t part with yet, but would like to keep away from prying eyes, like your collection of sex toys. Tape a note to the top of the box warning that opening the box will sentence the opener to death by face melting.

life is what happens LennonLife is full of surprises; some good, some bad, but all unexpected. That’s what makes those unexpected moments a surprise.

It’s great to be prepared, and it’s great to live in the moment, but even the most happy-go-lucky person lives happier when their lives are tidy and lack stress.  It’s human nature to want the smoothest ride possible on our journey through life. Sometimes we just need to do a little vehicle maintenance to ensure the ride is both exhilarating and fulfilling.

 

 

Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep


keep calm and gobble onHappy Thanksgiving weekend! Hopefully most of us will be lucky enough to be gathered together at some point with friends and family to share the bounty of the harvest – or at least the goodies we’ve bought from our local grocers — and that most precious of commodities …. our time.

It’s crazy how fast the days and years go by. That’s not an ‘old people’ thing anymore; even kids in grade school find it hard to accommodate all of the information and entertainment they need to constantly absorb in order to successfully process their world. Those of us with much to remember don’t stand a chance, post-retirement, of guessing the day with much accuracy. (Helpful hint: Write everything down!)

Although I’m not a religious person, I consider myself blessed. I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and a husband, family, and friends that love me. I also have a keen awareness that I am more fortunate than a great many people, who often lack the things that a lot of us take for granted.

While I do try to do what I can to help others, this weekend I’m grateful to be enjoying the hospitality of two lovely friends, who asked us to share their respective feasts.

toronto-skyline-nightOn Saturday night, we joined long time friend and writer Ira Band for dinner at the Island Yacht Club, on Mugg’s Island. It was a beautiful night, with weather more like August’s than October’s. Earlier this summer, the island was horrendously flooded, but is now back to being it’s luxuriously landscaped self. After a delicious Thanksgiving buffet, we alternated between enjoying the fireplace inside, and the view of the Toronto skyline from the comfy lounges outside. A perfect evening!

Today, we’ll be joining fellow scribe/photographer/Energizer Bunny Pat Blythe for her amazing festive spread. That woman can cook most people under the table, and still sparkle as the hostess with the mostest. We will enjoy the company of friends, and Pat’s famous pies, and who could ask for anything more!

i-came-in-like-a-butterballMonday will be Bring On The Fat Pants Day and let it all hang out. I can live with that.

But let’s talk about Canadian Thanksgiving. I like when we celebrate the holiday. Let the Americans have theirs on the fourth Thursday of November; ours is just better positioned. We’ve got Halloween at the end of the month, which acts as a speed bump before we get on the tilt-a-whirl that is the countdown to Christmas, and that’s just fine by me.

So why aren’t our holidays celebrated simultaneously, you ask? It’s all about history.

According to wiki, “the first Canadian Thanksgiving is often traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher. Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean, held his Thanksgiving celebration not for harvest but in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. On his third and final voyage to the far north, Frobisher held a formal ceremony ifrobisher-thanksgivingn Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion.”

Over the years, succeeding waves of immigrants brought their own harvest traditions and delicacies to Canada, and we gratefully blended those new foods and tastes into what we now call Canadian cuisine.

And of course, we cannot forget how new Italian/Canadians brought their own tradition of the Spaghetti Harvest to our great land.

What we think of today as a traditional Thanksgiving feast owes a lot to what American film and TV has idealized as the proper fare… the groaning board that begins with pickles, olives, and hot dinner rolls (Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are a favourite for me) and carries on with mashed potatoes , roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing and giblet gravy, all but the preliminaries to the guest of honour, the roast turkey.

And when you’ve had your fill, and have moved your belt buckle over a notch, lo and behold, the desserts arrive – pumpkin or cherry or raspberry pie, carrot cake, ice cream …. Ahhh … yep, sounds like Thanksgiving at Pat’s!

I’m happy to have a day designated for giving thanks. We’re an entitled bunch of gits, and having to stop and actually think about what’s good in our lives is rare; we’re far more likely to be complaining about what we don’t have. This is a day – or a long weekend – on which Canadians can all agree that they are blessed to live in a country which, because of or in spite of current leadership, allows us freedom in so many ways.

thanksgiving-gratitudeI try to have an “attitude of gratitude” as the platitude goes. No matter what life brings, I try to remember that there are people on this planet who would kill to be in my shoes. Which is not to say that I don’t occasionally complain, but I do value what I have, and I thank those who make my life better, just by their presence and love.

 

“When we neglect to require our children to say `thank you’ when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically. The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.” Zig Ziglar

grateful-for-everythingSo, what are you grateful for in your life? I’m grateful for my husband, my children and grandchildren, and my family and friends, who continue to love me despite my many, many quirks and odd behaviour. I’m grateful for the food in our pantry and the roof over our heads. I’m grateful that I’m getting older, because the alternative sucks. I’m grateful that I get to write this column every Sunday, and some of you actually read it and even discuss ideas with me, whether you agree or disagree with my points. I’m grateful that I’ve never lived in a country ravaged by war or pestilence or famine, and probably never will.

Little girl asleep in bed.I’m grateful when I lay my head down on the pillow at night, and know that the odds are good I’ll be waking up in the morning to another day filled with possibilities. I’m grateful for every bit of my life so far, and the wonders that still await my discovery. For as long as I am on this planet, I want to be cognizant of the beauty that is all around me, and never take for granted the gift that is existence.

Even when the going gets rough and it seems like there’s nowhere to go but down, it’s best to consider the good you have in your life, and be thankful. That small shift in thinking can put things into perspective.

Never underestimate how important it is to have people in your life who are kind and loving and thoughtful. When all else fades away, love and kindness are the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

There’s a reason why this song has over 52 million hits … the simple lyrics, and the joyful delivery remind us of the things that are most important in our lives.

Have a wonderfilled Thanksgiving weekend, everyone, however you choose to celebrate.

 

 

Diva, Drama Queen, Dictator – It’s always about Power


Isadora DuncanAs a young woman, growing up in Alberta and Quebec, I loved drama. I yearned to be on stage, wowing the audience, making sweeping gestures that would evoke memories of Judy Garland or Isadora Duncan. I wanted to wear fabulous clothing, clothing so stunning that people would stop dead in the streets to watch me as I sashayed along the pavement with my scarves twirling in the breeze,  and my skirts trailing behind me like a bridal train.

The fact that, at this stage, I was only raw material waiting to be shaped into something better, totally escaped me. Children have no power beyond that which their parents allow them. My desire for fame was a comforting consolation to circumstances yet to be under my control.

Even as a fledgling muso in the eighties … and what a time that was to be dramatic! … I was wholeheartedly in sync with the stage mindset, and the need to be in the spotlight. I shunned the whole blue jeans and flannel shirt ethos of most Canajuns, preferring to be seen in spandex and Danskin bodysuits. All of which was totally acceptable, even reasonable, given the times and my career in the entertainment world.               

irreplaceable CocoMy goal was to be a Diva, a Drama Queen whose whims and pronouncements were acknowledged, and even accepted as truth. Who wouldn’t want to be the one whose outrageous outfits and still more shocking antics kept others talking about her in hushed, and often respectful, tones? I wanted the power that comes from being predictably unpredictable.

Alas, my dream was hampered by a stark reality;  I’m a fairly level headed person. Years of practicality and living in a sometimes stark environment had made me a rather sensible, responsible, and empathetic human. In order to think myself superior to others, I would first have to believe that others were inferior to me.

 Divadom was just not in my skillset.

unlimited powerTo be the Diva, the Queen, the one that must have all of the attention all of the time, requires an exhausting amount of maintenance to ensure that the public remains engaged in following even the most mundane of acts.  It’s a hard position to maintain, requiring a persistent  but oblique scrutiny of those expected to slavishly serve, and a constant pulse-taking to ensure the attention never flags. And of course, to keep the interest fresh, it requires that new and ever more shocking behaviour be always on display.

It is draining to those who orbit this satellite, who must shove aside their own needs to serve the one who has demanded their attention. Those who follow those who must be served and obeyed, abdicate a full responsibility for their own lives, in the pursuit of abject servitude to another’s.

drama queenThe Diva is having all the fun. Oh, they may occasionally frame a petty or inconvenient moment of discomfort as being equivalent to a circle of Dante’s hell, but it will be made clear that they alone are emotionally capable of suffering the tortures of the damned. Your job loss or cancer diagnosis pales at the spectre of their badly timed broken fingernail. Your real job is the alleviation of the Diva’s melodramatic – and often imaginary – pain.

The Drama Queen excels at public adulation; it is the symbol of their public finally affording them the attention and adoration they honestly feel they deserve. Crumbs from the public display may be magnanimously bestowed upon the most fortunate of their sycophants and supplicants. But always with the corollary that the best and most precious of what is available is only for themselves.

It is the essence of power, writ small or large.  Drama, excitement, egotism, the shock and awe of unbridled narcissism … chaos.

Now the thing is … we humans do like a bit of drama in our lives. It’s why we gossip, and stir our own pots of personal theatre. And we all would like a little power, please and thank you. From the lowliest beggar in the lowliest gutter to  dictators and heads of countries, most of us are all looking for a little more control and power, some magic wand allowing us to claim that we are better and more valuable than someone else, and therefore deserving of more of whatever it is that we prize. Human nature. A base desire to be found worthier than another, and an insistence of  public acknowledgement of that importance, by words, deeds, or offerings.

power corrupsThat need lies at the heart of every power struggle in human interaction in history; the only difference being in how far that desire for control is taken.

From the labourer who is afraid to talk back to his boss and so comes home to yell at his wife, to the megalomaniac who commands despotic power over a company or a country, the thirst for power and control is only limited by the one who craves it.

inertiaBut we humans also need stability, security, and the comfort of habit. Most of us embody Newton’s first law of motion – sometimes referred to as the law of inertia. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

People in the civilized world tread a familiar path, day in and day out. They wake up, go to school or work, spend the majority of their time doing a job they’ve done the day before and will do the next day, and then go home, have a meal, watch a little TV, and finally, go to bed. The next day, they do it all again.

Within that majority are some who want and need to break out of that routine. But for most of us, it may be a rut, but it’s our rut, and we’re inured to it. To abruptly have to grapple with chaos and change on a regular basis asks us to suddenly develop the ability to be mentally prepared, at all times, on a moment’s notice.

That’s just not how the average person rolls. Most of the time, it’s enough for us to look forward to a long weekend or a raise in salary. There is comfort in habit, stability in routine.

Divas, drama Queens, and dictators are the unbalanced forces that unleash chaos on inertia, alter the course of lives, destabilize the comfortable, and consume all in their paths.

pod save americaIn some situations, chaos is welcomed, at least for a short period of time. Long term frustration and anxiety over things we believe cannot be changed can lead to a need for a saviour, for a liberator who will kick over the traces of what has been, the disruptor who will fly in the face of what we’ve been told is ‘just the way it is.”

But unbalanced forces have a limited life span. We may cheer the tearing down of a wall, but a small part of us knows that it is the rebuilding that will consume our reality for years to come. Although the unbalanced force can do great damage during its arc of influence, the simple truth is that modern civilization and our social institutions are based upon a massive inertia that tends to keep the quo in status, and seeks to balance the unbalanced.

Eventually, even the most easily amused of the masses begin to look for a justification of continued devotion. Power, whether it is wielded in a high school clique or at the highest levels of society, has to be shown to be warranted, and eventually validated by actions beneficial to the majority, not just those  temporarily blinded by the harbingers of fireworks, sound, and fury proclaiming the power seeker’s arrival.

 

Life’s Been Good To Me So Far …


Life’s been pretty good, overall, since I shook the dust of Scarborough off my shoes, and returned to my old Danforth stomping grounds. danforth ave signIt’s such a treat to just walk up the street to a good restaurant, or to pop into a local bar to hear friends playing. I no longer have to pack my purse with overnight supplies before heading out to do groceries, or to visit my chums in the downtown core.

This retirement stuff seems to be working out just fine! I am totally down for the ‘Live, Love, Laugh” groove.

One aspect to the whole getting older/taking better care of one’s fragile corporeal self has been a downer … who knew all these bits and pieces needed maintenance or they would wear out? Sit down, keener nerdling, yeah, you knew, but I had more fun on the ride.

Bodies wear out, minds get warped, it’s all in the game. Some cope better than others; some win the genetic lottery. The rest seek relief at the hands of professionals, and even some gifted amateurs.

Shelley Marshall is a talented, award winning, comedienne, actress, keynote speaker and producer. She’s also the doyenne of The Mental Wellness Living Loft, mental wellness lofta comfy place for those who’ve been bruised by life to relax, meet other people of like minds, or to simply sit quietly, knitting or colouring, without fear of being asked to ‘move along.’

Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 2pm and 6pm, Shelley and her husband Jason welcome all to their home loft in Leslieville. Shelley suffers from what her doctor has called complex post traumatic stress disorder caused by childhood trauma. She’s known many people who are unable to cope with modern day life, and who struggle with mental health issues. When a bout of agoraphobia kept Shelley away from being with friends, she realized that she could have her friends come to her, and make everyone happy.

And she certainly has succeeded in her quest. If you are interested in attending, please call 416-821-1754.

https://video.vice.com/en_ca/video/the-comedian-who-turned-her-home-into-a-mental-wellness-drop-in-centre/58dc34e31cdb89ac6dbbdcf7

Laughter might be the best medicine, but music is a close second, in my case, and I was lucky to get a double dose of the good stuff when our fearless editor and modest rockstar Bob Segarini was persuaded to reunite the Alzeimer Appreciation Orchestra and Chorus for a good cause – we all needed a night out and a hang.

alzeimer orch Mar 2017Musical Director Peter Kashur brought together Bob, Drew Winters, and a motley crew of Kid Carson, Craig Riddock, Connor Walsh, Annette Shaffer and myself for a rollicking 45 minute set that grew, like Topsy, into an hour and a half of bluster and blather.

Despite the terrible weatheriness of the weather, we had a solid crowd of family and friends, and a good time was had by all.

Video courtesy of Jean E. Trivett, aka JeanDaGnu or GnuJet.

Last night was the March 17th Birthday Boy‘s final treat – a Nature Boy salon featuring Jane Siberry, with special guests Mary Margaret O’Hara and Geneviève Marentette.

siberry ohara and genevieveThe singers, ably accompanied by pianist Michael Shand, performed for an appreciative crowd in a private home in the Annex. These salons are a wonderful way for musicians to make a living, performing in a comfortable setting, where the attendees are fans, grateful for a chance to capture an intimate moment in time with their musical icons, and even have a conversation with them after their show at the reception.

Ms Siberry did not disappoint, as she wove her musical web over the rapt audience, performing several songs off her new CD, “Angels Bend Closer,” as well as takes on classic tunes such as “Nature Boy” and “The Girl From Ipanema.”

On this evening, Jane was the headliner, but on Friday night, it was Geneviève Marentette’s night to shine, and I’m very sorry to have missed that. I was not familiar with her work, but was impressed with her vocal additions when the three vocalists harmonized. I’m even more impressed since listening to her recent CD “Gigi” and watching her collaborations with luminaries such as David Clayton-Thomas and the much missed Don Francks.

Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Sunday night (tonight) show sold out immediately, and a second show has been added for Monday – but that’s sold out as well. Mary Margaret kept the crowd in stitches throughout the evening, with her trademark yips and sounds. O’Hara’s 1988 release, Miss America, is still regarded as a seminal recording, and the singer has been described as “a force of nature, a remarkable singer and composer whose crystal-clear soprano acrobatics and hypnotic songs defy accepted conventions

Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and it’s supposed to get up to 15 C/59 F today. Time to see if I can still ride the old bicycle without breaking a hip. Yeah, I could get used to this groove, especially living in Toronto, with all that’s offered.

Wave if you see me cycling by!

 

Shock the Monkey


It’s been nearly four months, and still, several times a day, it feels like a rat is trying to gnaw it’s way out of my belly. I’m still craving the instant hit of nicotine that was my constant companion for nearly 50 years. smoke_smoke

I remember precisely when I first inhaled a Benson and Hedges menthol cigarette … I was 13 years old.

A friend had come in from Edmonton to enjoy the wonders of Montreal and Expo 67, and she brought me the habit. I’ve never forgotten that day. french inhaleWe giggled even as we gagged, and blew the smoke out of my bedroom window. I felt very grown up, as she showed me how to ‘french inhale.’

She also turned me on to shoplifting, but I was such a terrible thief that my first attempt in the downtown Woolworths found me nabbed and ‘barred for life’ from the store.

But back to cigarettes.  My grandparents smoked into their nineties, and both of my parents smoked, as did most peoples’ parents back in the sixties. People smoked, and they smoked EVERYWHERE. At the local Steinbergs, a large grocery chain store, there were ashtrays affixed to the shopping carts, so that you need never go without your nic fix as you weighed your bananas.

We smoked in offices, in hospitals, in church basements, in stores, on elevators, in restaurants, on the street, on airplanes, in our cars, and in our homes. MPs smoked in Parliament. Talking heads smoked during television interviewers. Doctors recommended brands in print and TV ads. Even cartoon characters smoked.

We smoked indoors and outdoors, and few, if any, ever waved a hand to shift the smoke from their faces, or the faces of their children.

cig pack in sleeveAt that time, 50% of Canadians over the age of 15 smoked. I’m guessing it was closer to 80% in Quebec, where no macho, hockey playing, swaggering boy would be seen without a fag hanging from his lip, and a deck tucked up inside his white t-shirt’s sleeve.

Cigarettes were quite inexpensive, less than fifty cents a pack, and were even cheaper in the States. The top tobacco brands competed fiercely for market share, in both Canada and the U.S., but the magazines that came from America almost always included coupons for free packets of ciggies.

effects of smoking.pngBut there had been rumours coming from the United Kingdom (where 80% of males smoked) as early as 1950, that a Dr Richard Doll had discovered a link between smoking and cancer, while pursuing a possible link between the tar in road construction and patients with lung, stomach, colon, or rectal cancer. Over a period of several years, he interviewed patients, and over 40,000 British physicians, and came to the inevitable conclusion that smoking was a main factor in lung disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Since no one wanted to believe that our delicious smoking habit could possibly be bad for us, most people thought it was just some nonsense brought up by do-gooders who had a hate on for smokers and drinkers. After all, 9 out of 10 docdoctors smoke camelstors said Camel cigarettes were ‘toastier,’  while  dentists recommended Viceroys!  Clearly your health and safety concerns were just a question of finding the right brand.

But the evidence was mounting. In 1963, Canada’s federal health minister, Judy LaMarsh, warned that smoking contributed to lung cancer, prompting the Canadian Medical Association to urge doctors to stop smoking, at least while attending their patients.

And despite the 1964 report from the U.S. Surgeon General that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer in men, and possibly in women, despite that same report citing smoking as the most important cause of chronic bronchitis,  and despite the fact that I was studying voice and music, and considering a career as a vocalist …  I took up smoking in 1967 and didn’t look back for decades.

In 1972, the first ‘warning’ messages began to appear on the side of cigarette packages, and by 1989, it was made mandatory for packets to have a health warning . By 2001, Canada mandated picture warnings that covered 50 per cent of the boxes.

Like most conscientious, quasi-hippies of the sixties, I quit smoking and drinking while pregnant with my daughter, and stayed off cigarettes for a few years after her birth. But nicotine is highly addictive, so by 1976, I was back on the demon weed, despite now pursuing full time singing gigs. I was young, healthy, and I couldn’t feel any side effects from my habit, so why not?

For a few years I’d continue on an on-again/off-again pattern, quitting sometimes for years at a time. But despite trying every trick in the book, from acupuncture to hypnotism to counselling and medication, nothing worked permanently. I was always just an excuse away from sliding back into the addiction.

CAMH STOP_programAnd then, about four years ago, I heard about a paid research study on nicotine addiction being done by CAMH, (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Care,) and decided to give it a go. They’d pay me to be in a double blind study that focused on the use of Zyban, a nicotine replacement medication. AND they’d give me the medication for free. Only thing was, I wouldn’t know if I was on the actual drug or a placebo. Still, I was game to give it a whirl.

Beyond the medication, the study focused on mindfulness, and an understanding of what part our addiction played in our day to day lives. The study required that I make a note of every cigarette I smoked during the day, and any emotion I was feeling when I felt the urge to smoke.  Since I had been using an old fashioned cigarette making machine with tobacco and tubes for my daily fix, I hadn’t any idea that my cigarette intake had risen to 40 cigarettes a day.

I also discovered that I had certain attitudes about smoking. Years of social conditioning had convinced me that I could neither relax nor concentrate without a smoke, and that I certainly couldn’t write without a cigarette smouldering away in the full ashtray beside me.

woman smokingWhen I’d talk to other smokers, the males would commonly exhibit bravado about continuing to smoke, despite health concerns, while most of the women would agree that sneaking a cigarette break really meant allowing themselves to stop the world and it’s unending demands for a minute. Even though we intuitively knew that we were doing physical damage to our bodies by smoking, we still had a “this I do for me” attitude about the habit.

When the study concluded, I was nervous about keeping off the ciggies on my own, so I was referred to the CAMH Nicotine Independence Clinic, where I would have access to outpatient treatments, assessment, medical consultation, group counseling and medications to quit/reduce smoking.

I’m so glad that I lucked into that clinic. From my first visit, I was welcomed by their friendly staff, and treated by top notch doctors and nurses that encouraged me to fight towards nicotine independence. Month after month I’d have to face those professionals and explain why I, an intelligent, motivated, woman, could not seem to get the nicotine monkey off my back.

The first surprise was that I had spent three months on the placebo, rather than the medication. And when I was prescribed the actual Zyban, I discovered that I couldn’t tolerate the drug; I wasn’t smoking, but only because I couldn’t stop vomiting.

nic replacementsHowever, with the clinic’s support, and a constant supply of free nicotine replacement treatments, (patches, lozenges, gums, inhalers) I struggled through the next four years, promising myself and my mentors that I would indeed quit .. soon. Just not today.

During a particularly harsh Harper budget year, the rules for the clinic were changed; patients could now only receive the nicotine replacements for six months at a time, although they could continue receiving medical consultations and counselling. After a further six months, patients could again receive replacements. Those six months on/six months off made it very hard for many to stay nicotine free.

beer smoking treadmillWhen I returned to the clinic last fall to begin yet another six months of treatment, I desperately wanted to get off the addiction treadmill. I was sick of being sick, of seeing the effects of years of nicotine use etched on my face, and in it’s detrimental effects on my health. It had almost become a joke that I had been attending the Clinic for longer than some of their staff.

I waved a breezy ‘hello’ to Natalie, the receptionist. But it was the sight of a woman patiently waiting to see the doctor that really gave me pause. The woman was chipper and in good spirits, despite being hooked up to oxygen tanks, and needing a walker to get around. She happily told me that she was certain she could finally quit smoking, although it was too late to do much more than halt the progress of the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that she’d acquired through her years of smoking. The woman confided that she was a decade younger than me.

When it was my turn to talk to the doctor, I told him that I could deal with aging, but I couldn’t deal with being a sick old lady. I wanted to bang away at this nicotine monkey with everything I had, and that they could give me. The doc loaded me up with patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers, and wished me good luck.

because you're worth it.jpgFor all my good intentions, however, and even while wearing nicotine patches that added up to 63 milligrams of nicotine replacement to my blood, I still found myself smoking to ease tensions and relax. I could tell myself that the stress of selling the house and moving gave me an ‘out.’ I DESERVED  the occasional cigarette, dammit!

And the story might have ended there, in an endless loop of me going to the clinic, getting medical help, and still smoking, except for a bad thing that turned out to be a good thing.

November and December were tough months, what with the move, the weather, and all of the physical changes in my life, which culminated in a bunch of health issues, including a cold that turned into bronchitis and then into a nagging cough that just wouldn’t go away. I coughed 24/7, even in my sleep. I coughed so constantly and theatrically that I finally had to find a new doctor that might be able to help me stop coughing, and allow everyone to get a decent night’s sleep.

This doctor listened patiently to my story, and then produced a medication. “The good news, ” he said, “is that this medication will stop the cough. The bad news is that, if this medication works, you likely have COPD.  We’ll have to do testing to find out if that is the case.”

In that moment, time stood still.

Although I’d have to wait a week for the tests to be done and assessed, I knew that I had finally passed the threshold I’d always dreaded; I had done terrible damage to my lungs, and now I’d have to pay the price.

Dont just dontI stopped smoking that day, nearly four months ago, and haven’t had a cigarette since. The tests came back, and although I’d done a lot of damage to my lungs with the smoking and the coughing, I did not have COPD.  With care, and time, the damage would repair itself. All I had to do was not smoke.

So I didn’t. And I won’t. Even when the craving is so intense that I feel like screaming, my mind flashes back to that moment in the doctor’s office, and I don’t light up. I dodged a bullet – no way will I put myself back in it’s path again.

I’m still wearing the nicotine patches, although with time, I’ll wean myself off them. And I have nicotine replacement inhalers in every pocket, purse and room of the house. I have the support of my family, friends, and doctors, all of whom remain cautiously optimistic that I’ll keep on the straight and narrow.

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor am I throwing myself a ticker tape parade, but I’m very grateful for the help and support I’ve received, and quietly confidant that I’m too sensible to let my addiction wiggle it’s way back into my life.

I smell better. My clothes and my house smell better. I no longer have to worry if my smoking will harm other people, nor do I have to fear long periods of time in places where you can’t smoke. I don’t have to leave an event and traipse out into the cold or rain to have a ciggie.  I don’t look up at a gratefuldarkening sky and wonder if I have enough cigarettes to last through a snow storm. I don’t have to calculate the cost of cigarettes into my budget.

I no longer have to justify a habit that took the lives of my father and mother, amongst other millions of smokers.

I am a non-smoker.

 

(first published bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/roxanne-tellier-shock-the-monkey/)

 

An Attitude of Gratitude


I am not a religious woman. I see some that take great comfort in their faiths, and I am happy that it makes them happy. To gather together with others of like views and beliefs, to share song and nourishment, is the essence of community.

I also see some who insist that everyone must follow the same faiths and paths that they have chosen, even if it must be enforced by law or violence.  That is an abuse of the same spirit that causes people to want to come together in joy and a common pursuit. A forced faith, brought about by societal or legal pressure, is not a true faith, and is quickly discarded when the pressure to comply is lifted.

taking-for-grantedMy faith, if that is what it is, lies in gratitude. I’m thankful for so much around me, most of which is unearned except by having been born the person I am, in the society I live within. There is nothing remarkable about me. Some parts of my life have been very difficult, but, at other times, life has been very good. The me that lived through all the parts of my life is always grateful, whether it is for a little or a lot, of whatever I’ve got.

In a consumer society, all of the world’s riches are still never enough. We are constantly bombarded with urgings to buy more and more physical goods. This one is new and therefore better! This one is improved!  Buy this makeup/clothing/car and you’ll be prettier/sexier/more acceptable/maybe even loved! And for heaven’s sakes – discard what once was exactly what you thought you needed to achieve happiness. Make room for more stuff that you’ll faintly resent moments after purchase. Because  …

happy-people-are-thankfulStuff doesn’t create happiness.  Happiness cannot be bought. The feelings of comfort, joy, and community rise from not just an acceptance of who and what you are, but from thankfulness for the people you’ve chosen to surround yourself with, who accept you for who and what you are, wherever you are, whatever the conditions.

We are easily distracted. Something shiny will always come along that entices us to look at what we have, and find it wanting. There is no joy or happiness in envy or greed. The need to acquire hides our truest desire – to truly see what we have,  with loving and compassionate eyes, and be thankful, no matter the circumstances.