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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate: What's the Big Fuss?

I never really was a big fan of Bob Dylan. I didn't much like his voice, and that distracted me from his real talent; his songwriting.

Then, in 1992, PBS carried a 30th anniversary special, a concert featuring other famous artists performing Dylan's songs. I have to say that hearing those songs delivered by people who could really sing, totally impressed me. It felt like I was hearing them for the first time.

I've seen him perform only once, back in the early 2000's in Vancouver. Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell also performed that night, and it was an amazing evening. What struck me most about Dylan was that he was actually singing. It turns out he'd been taking some vocal training in the previous few months before the tour, and for the first time in awhile, his real voice was ringing through. He even bantered a little bit with the audience, and was quite animated as he performed, and his backing band was fabulous. You can't beat all of that.

So was I surprised that he received the Nobel prize for Literature? Well, sure I was. I never imagined the Nobel Committee slipping outside the usual stuffy, leather bounds of the literary world, and considering a songwriter for a change. But of course, there are plenty of people out there who have their noses out of joint. Heaven forbid that a songwriter/poet be considered part of the literature scene! Poof! Poof! Pout! Pout!

I would challenge any of those literature snobs to try to write a lyric.

No, seriously.

I'm not talking about pop lyrics, they're not meant to be deep or meaningful in anyway whatsoever. But have you ever read lyrics by Dylan, or Joni Mitchell or even Leonard Cohen for that matter? Many arguments abound as to whether lyrics are poetry. In my opinion, most lyrics don't come anywhere near poetry. But the above three songwriters somehow managed to come very close. You can sit and read their lyrics and somehow become transported. That is true art.

A great lyricist has such a limited amount of space to say such profound things. Not only that, but they have to consider meter, rhyme, stressing syllables, stretching vowels, alliteration, all kinds of things that a plain old literary writer doesn't really need to pay that much attention to.

And on top of all of that, you have to be awesome. And I tend to use that word sparingly, because it's overused these days. But you truly have to be awesome. It is an art form that only a few are very, very good at.

One of the reasons the Nobel Committee chose Dylan was because of his “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” I'm happy to see the Nobel gates open to include songwriters in the literature category. Apparently, the Times They Are A-Changin'.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past 
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

- Bob Dylan, 1964

Saturday, September 3, 2016

America: Don't Do It!

I`ve been trying to avoid temptation, but I think it's pretty much impossible now not to mention what is going on with our neighbours to the south of us. Yes, you know what, or should I say who, I'm talking about.

I have a small confession to make: I used to love watching Celebrity Apprentice. I'm not usually a reality show person; I've never watched Dancing With The Stars or The Voice or American Idol. But for some reason, Celebrity Apprentice caught my attention and I watched most of the seasons that it was on. I wasn't a fan of Donald Trump, really, I just loved the competition. The boardroom scenes, while dramatic, were mostly The Donald's chance to show off. I almost got the impression that he thought it was all real.

The 2016 Presidential Election makes me think quite the opposite; that the Donald doesn't realise THIS IS REAL. The U.S. is a big, influential, and important country, it's not a gambling casino.

But taking a few steps back, I wonder how in the heck he managed to become the Republican nominee. I imagine there are a number of Republicans who are wondering the same and I don't know that anybody really believed the guy would get this far.

There have been countless psychological assessments of the man since he started running; he has been described as a narcissist, an extrovert, misogynistic, racist, and, one of my favourites "an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul". He is obnoxious, belligerent, completely self-serving...and the list goes on and on.

He is not...presidential. In the least.

But what really worries me, what scares me to bits, are the numbers of Americans out there who think he is. They've made him the Republican nominee, they show up by the thousands to his rallies, they are absolutely and resolutely behind this madman. I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

I understand that politicians have had a negative reputation almost since the creation of the word "politician". They are often extroverts and obnoxious loud mouths, or the opposite. Boring. They can be heroes one minute and instantly unpopular the next. We adore them, then abhor them. There are some who actually do good things, but the ones who get the most attention are the drama queens. Up here in Canada we have them too. The one who comes instantly to mind is Rob Ford who was the mayor of Toronto. For those of you who don't know, Ford passed away awhile back from cancer.

But I think the real phenomenon that has become the force behind the Donald's popularity is that he isn't a politician. People like that. It doesn't matter to them that he has absolutely no experience (nor does he seem to care to), they like that he is like them. Of course, he isn't, not one bit. But that's the impression they have. You hear these followers being interviewed on TV, expressing how they love the way he talks, the things he says, because it's not the way politicians usually speak. They interpret this as a form of "honesty", but of course if you read or hear much of what he has been saying in the last few months, most of it is bullcrap. He says one thing and then the other, but he says what they want to hear with absolutely no filter. They might even be shocked or disagree with some of the things he says, but they still support him. They'd rather have him as President than someone who is actually competent to do the job.

The rest of America, and the rest of us who live outside the U.S., feel utterly helpless. Utterly.

I don't even like to think about all the terrible things that would happen if he became President, so I won't go into it here. But it would be awful, awful, awful. It would be a nightmare. I bite my nails watching the polls at this point. Of course, the only poll that really counts is on election day, but I still watch with a mix of horror and fascination. Some days I think there is still hope, other days I just shake my head in disbelief that it even got this far.

This isn't a reality show, Donald, this is real life. REAL LIFE!

So I'm begging you Americans who might be reading this: Don't Do It! Don't let it happen! It's not even funny anymore.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

H, I, J, K, L, M, N, Oh Pee!

The toilet seat was cold, but I was so happy, I didn't care. There was someone in the stall next to me who seemed a little odd, but I still didn't care. Ahhhh....

When we first moved into our house 28 years ago, the only bathroom had swirly silver, pink and purple wallpaper, a purple shag carpet and a chandelier. I'm not exaggerating. The bathtub and toilet were pink, of course, and the whole room reminded me of a psychedelic 70's drug trip.

Not that I've ever been on one of those.

Two weeks ago, the only thing that remained from the original bathroom was the pink bathtub. Over the years we had pretty much changed everything else except for that tub.

Yep, even the tub surround, which we put it to replace old tiles years ago, was pink.

Pink, pink, pink.

You'll see it to the left. I mean, it was okay. All I had to do every so often was to replace the cocking around the tub. But the sliding doors were starting to rust and there were some places I could never get clean enough.

We knew for quite awhile that we were going to get the bathroom updated, but the kitchen came first and that was a much bigger process and larger expense.

This spring we finally bit the bullet and got a quote. We've only ever had one bathroom, so we also got a quote on putting a second one in on the top floor of the house. My husband had been talking about that almost ever since we moved into the house. There's a little area that used to be part of the attic that would be perfect. We even had a skylight put in and a bathroom fan installed in anticipation. But that was years ago.

The quote for the second bathroom was a bit rich for us, so we decided to get the plumbing roughed in and maybe over time we'll finish it off. Or not.

A couple of weeks ago, it all began. The first day wasn't too bad, mostly just the plumber figuring out how he was going to do everything. The second day, all hell broke loose. There were two plumbers, and two bathroom techs running around, up and down the stairs, doing the demo on the tub and sink, and I had 13 students coming and going throughout the day. Drills were squealing, hammers pounding (and never in time with the song the students and I were playing!), and of course, there was no running water and no functioning toilet.

My nightmare is always the thought of having no bathroom. I've almost always worked at home and if for any reason the water is turned off or the toilet not functioning, I'm pretty much out of luck. My husband goes off to work and everything is normal for him, and I'm left at home, needing to pee. All day.

I swear it's psychological too. Like when you can't have something, you really want it. When you know you haven't got access to a bathroom, that's when you really have to go. I walked all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge once, needing to pee the whole way. I couldn't enjoy the experience because getting to a bathroom was my one and only obsession. The Brooklyn Bridge for pete's sake!

And when, as a woman, you come to a certain age, well, it gets even more critical. And it's unbelievably irritating when your husband is always checking on that. "You sure you don't need to pee first?" "When was the last time you peed?" "Use the bathroom now, because it's going to be awhile."

I so utterly resent that.

There were a couple of times over the first week where I snuck in when I knew the toilet WAS working and the guys were off doing something else. Other than that, I would either walk (or drive, if I was desperate) to the public washroom by the tennis courts a few blocks away from here. That goodness for that!

One of my students offered to let me borrow their porta-potty. I almost took her up on that. And then, I thought, with some trepidation, if I got really desperate there's always the kitty litter box. Um, okay, no.

In the end, I managed okay. Just a little suffering for a good cause...a new bathroom. It took about two weeks in total, replacing the tub, sink and flooring, re-plastering and re-painting. Before and after pics below :-).

We basically just replaced the basin of the sink, kept the existing cupboards and even the tap, which was fairly new.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Heart Of The Matter Part 3

An electrophysiology lab.
I became aware of a shuffling around, movement and background noise. It felt like I was in the middle of a dream.

"Irene," whispered a nurse.

My eyes fluttered open. Oh, yeah, now I remember. It's over.

The day began for me at about 5:30am when I woke up a little earlier than I needed to, but who could blame me? This would be the day of my catheter ablation, the procedure that would hopefully end my episodes of atrial flutter. I've never had a "procedure" or surgery before so this was going to be a whole new experience.

My husband and I wearily drove to the hospital, which is only 10 minutes away from our house, parked the car and wandered in to admission.

Then we made our way up to the 3rd floor of the Diagnosis and Treatment Centre, CSS, or Cardiac Short Stay unit. There was a long row of chairs for patients and their family or friends to wait, and we appeared to be the first. Slowly more patients trickled in over the next hour and a half. Occasionally a nurse would come out of the ward and call a name. "Oh, you're in the first wave, you're lucky!" they would say to everyone else. Somehow I knew I wasn't in the "first wave". Oh well. What else did I have to do?

Eventually my name was called and I met my nurse, Crystal. She checked my height and weight (crap...why do they always have to weigh you?), and then led us over to my bed for the day. Bed number 9.

The ward had about 20 beds in all and they were filling up with people, mostly elderly males, I noted, all in various states of preparedness. A couple of them were being wheeled in an out of another area, which I eventually learned was the hallway leading to the operating rooms, and the electrophysiology lab, where I would have my procedure. The nurses were buzzing about, getting patients ready as my husband and I awkwardly sat down on bed number 9. Crystal the nurse came up and asked me some questions and not long after one of the surgeons came out to speak with me about a study that they are doing regarding atrial flutter, and would I be interested in being a part of the study? Sure, I said, and he left me with some papers to read.

Eventually it was time to get into my dressing gown. I was also provided with these odd little things to put on my feet. They were a little like cloth hospital caps, but for your feet. Bright blue. And darned if I could find the hole to put my foot in. All this hospital stuff was completely new for me.

My husband stayed a lot longer than the 15 minutes he was allotted, but they didn't seem to mind. We chatted and every now and then could hear the shaver going. Yep, there goes another one, we'd say. They shave you. Eventually he was told it was time to leave, so we kissed goodbye and I was on my own.

I was hooked up to a heart monitor, given a little pill for potential reflux, had my blood pressure and temperature checked, and then an older nurse came in to put in an IV. I don't have very prominent veins, so he had to muck around a bit to find something useful. Eventually he inserted the IV on the top of my hand, not the most comfortable place, but another nurse later said he did a great job. I was hooked up to a bag of saline solution on a portable unit that I could wheel around with me if I needed to use the washroom. And then I settled in and waited. And waited.

My nurse Crystal brought me magazines. But House and Home isn't really my thing, and although Canadian Living was a little more interesting, it was filled with all of these delicious recipes, and I wasn't allowed to eat. You know?

There were mostly two types of procedures going on that day -- some were receiving heart stents which meant going through the veins in their wrists to insert the stents (I know, amazing, right?), and then some of us were having ablations, where they go up through the groin into the veins leading up into the heart chambers and freeze the cells that are causing the problem. That's also amazing. As I said before in an earlier post about it, years ago you'd be diagnosed with a "heart condition" and left to live with it. Now they do these incredible but simple procedures that, in my case, have a 95% cure rate.

The patients receiving stents were wheeled in and then out of the operating rooms, their arm in a sling and a blanket around their shoulders. There were a lot of those. I was kind of looking forward to the wheel chair, mostly because I wanted to get this over with.

The patient who was having an ablation procedure just before me was scheduled to be finished by 11 or 11:30am, and my procedure would take about 2 to 2.5 hours. My husband had scheduled his return to around 3pm. As it turned out, they told me that there had been complications, so the patient before me was going to take a little longer. So I waited some more. I entertained myself by listening to the conversations going on around me. There was a retired doctor on one side of me, and an elderly lady on the other. I couldn't see them, but I got to know a little about both of them by the conversations they were having with others.

Finally, at about 2pm, one of the cardiologists came and said they were getting ready for me. I asked if I was going to get to go in one of those chairs and he said "Nah, you're young, you can walk!" Damn! Crystal the nurse convinced me to call my husband and let him know I was going in so he could adjust when he returned. A male attendant eventually came over to my bed and had me put on a cap. "You don't think I'm the only one who has to wear a hat, do you?" he laughed. I wonder how many times he's said that line?

As it turned out, because my surgery was to be in the groin, I got wheeled into the hallway on my old bed #9. I have to say that as I lay waiting in that hall just outside the electrophysiology lab, that was the only time I felt a little apprehensive. Up to that moment, I felt pretty calm and relaxed. A nurse came out and introduced herself and helped me out of the bed and we walked into the operating theatre.

It was quite the set up. There was a tall wall of monitors beside the table I was made to lie down on. One of the nurses chatted calmly with me while the other started covering me with large rectangular stickers connected to wires all over my chest, sides and back. Then the anaesthesiologist came up to me and introduced himself.  "Have you ever had a general anaesthetic before?" "Nope, never." "No?" he seemed surprised. I guess someone my age is pretty likely to have had it at least once. "Do you ever get motion sickness?" he asked. "Sometimes." I replied. "Okay, well I'm going to give you a little something to help that first."

I felt a cold solution go into my hand. I asked the nurse "What if I changed my mind right now? Has anyone ever done that?" She looked at me for a second and realized I was just joking. "It has happened," she said "but usually it's in the ward while they're waiting for surgery." The other nurse piped up "It's your right, it's your body, so you can absolutely change your mind any time you want."

"But this is going to help you with your symptoms, you're going to feel a lot better after this" said the other nurse. She seemed to be trying to convince me that I was doing the right thing. I was starting to wonder if they thought I was going to run. Nope, not me, I was in for the long haul.

One of the nurses started to bring a mask to my face. "Breathe normally, this is just oxygen" she said. I was looking forward to counting backwards. Would I get to 99? 98? But they didn't ask me to count. And suddenly I felt a rush of very calm all through my body. Was that it? Then I felt a dark cloud start to block the sun. No, this is it, I thought. And I was out cold.

When I awoke I had to spend 4 more hours lying flat, keeping my right leg absolutely still and my head down. After that, it was another hour-and-a-half of slowly sitting up, then sitting with my legs on the floor, then taking short walks around the ward with my husband or my daughter supporting me.

It had been a long day, I was a little stiff and sore, my throat bothered me from the tube that had apparently been there during my surgery, but other than that, I was fine.

It's now two days since my surgery and other than a few restrictions, I'm pretty much back to my old self. Which is amazing to me. I've had a few very minor palpitations, but they feel somehow different and certainly less severe than what I'm used to, and I was told to expect that over the first month post-op. And the chances are very good that I will never have to go through hours and hours of heart flutter again. I was told that I may have some atrial fibrillation in future, but we'll deal with that if and when the time comes.

Mostly I am grateful for the wonders of medicine, and a medical system that can fix me without my having to take out a bank loan. And tomorrow I'm going golfing. Well, not entirely. I can only ride around in the cart and putt. But I'm going golfing!!