Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Vacation - at work!

Ottawa has been hot and muggy for weeks now, with no end in sight. The daily chores of life seem Herculean labours when the humidex is high. Nevertheless, my husband and I manage to keep on top of things, getting the bills paid on time, fulfilling our commitments and obligations (in my case, getting certain writing assignments in on time) and trying to be good citizens by doing our laundry during the off peak periods of electricity use. We don't want to cause a brown-out.

A lot of people don't seem to be trying as hard as we are.   I'm thinking about people who owe us money and show no signs of paying up. I'm pondering my course of action. But I'm also fed up with people spending their days in air-conditioned environments where they are supposed to be serving the public, and failing to do so - like a library employee at the information desk who was rude when I asked about a program that used to be offered. Turned out I knew more about it than he did.

Then, in another workplace, there's an administrator who supports an instructor who is encroaching upon a certain seniors' program. Who cares about seniors being crowded out?

In another work environment,  a program head  needed me to write an item a.s.a.p. to meet her deadline. She said she'd get back to me with the revised item and more details. That was six weeks ago. Maybe she's on holidays.

In the late spring I snail mailed and emailed five friendly and reasonable  queries/proposals/requests to five different people in authority positions. None has been acknowledged.  Even if the answer is "No", it would be nice to get an email saying so.    If I'd dropped them down a well instead of mailing them, at least I would have heard a splash.

Let's not forget the doctor who didn't feel like taking her turn serving drop-in patients on a Sunday, and who took out her displeasure on a patient who felt so in need of medical attention that he stood outside the clinic on a sore foot for half an hour in the heat so as to be there when the clinic opened. .

And there are a home supply store staff who sit at a desk to be consulted about home improvement matters - but turn out to be unable to measure accurately or to add fractions.

None of these people were working outdoors, risking dehydration and lightheadedness from the heat and humidity. All were comfortable cool indoor environments. All seemed to be on vacation - at work.

Yes, we're all only human and we all have personal problems and concerns which get exacerbated by heat and humidity. I'm probably foolish to try to accomplish anything this summer. After physiotherapy this morning (with a wonderful, kind, capable physiotherapist)  I plan to lie low and work on the novel I'm writing.

But when things cool down, I may write a couple of complaining letters. Some years ago,  I encountered a rude a postal outlet employee who didn't undertand that I needed postage for a "stamped, self-addressed envelope" to go inside the main envelope. I went home and phoned Canada Post. Within a week, someone from Canada Post was there retraining the staff at that outlet. Soon after that, the rude postal worker disappeared.

Monday, July 23, 2012

my review of Elisabeth Badinter's The Conflict

My review of Elisabeth Badinter's latest book, The Conflict, published in May in the CCPA Monitor, may be read at

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

review of Augusten Burroughs' new book: This is How

Augusten Burroughs' latest book, This is How, (NY, St. Martin's Press, 2012, $28.99 Can) is a blend of self-help and autobiography.  The latter genre has made him famous. In Running with Scissors,  he told of his early years with two unstable, violent parents. In his early teens his mother gave him away to be raised in her psychiatrist's bizarre family.  A Wolf at the Table, another of his books that I have read, is about his father, an angry alcoholic with a personality disorder.  Burroughs has also written about getting sober and seeing his partner through a terminal illness.

Having survived all that, and having become an advertising executive and a successful author with no more formal education than elementary school, Burroughs is a remarkable human being with interesting insights.

 This is How goes against the relentless emphasis on being positive that pervades not only pop psychology books but also our daily lives. He advises us to ignore society's obsession with being upbeat and to examine and name our feelings.  "Real optimism is not the pep talk you give yourself," he writes. "It comes through the labor involved in emotional housekeeping."

Burroughs begins with an incident involving an aggressive positivity-monger on an elevator, He goes on to address some of life's challenges,  beginning with the ordinary and ending with the heartbreaking.  In his chapter, "How to Find Love", he points out that on a planet with seven billion people, it's likely there is more than just one soul mate for you.  He urges those searching for mates to get out and meet more people, to increase their odds of finding someone compatible.  When you meet someone who might be "the one", instead of putting your best foot forward,  be yourself and never try to impress anyone. "You cannot make a mistake with the right person for you," says Burroughs.

In "How to be Fat", he points out that, in order to lose weight you have to decide whether the unpleasantness of self-denial is worth it. He notes that people who are a little bit larger are statistically likely to live longer and are insulated against certain diseases. "There's absolutely no shame whatsoever in deciding you'd rather spend your life paying attention to something other than the weight of your physical body," he writes.  Instead, you can figure out how to style and present yourself so as to be "magnificently beautiful" and "sexy as hell".

With regard to smoking and alcoholism, Burrough's advice is, again, to decide whether the unpleasantness of going without the substance is worth the freedom from addiction.  I have no personal experience of smoking or alcholism, but I suspect that supporters of Alcoholics Anonymous will disagree with Burrough's claim that some of AA's concepts "undermine sobriety."  For him, the way to stop drinking was to want sobriety more than alcholol. He never felt powerless over alcohol; for him it was always a choice, so he believes that the "powerlessness" step gives people permission to relapse.  Also, he thinks that talking about alchohol every day when you can't drink it is counter-productive for some people.

For Burroughs, the way to stop drinking was to fill the space that alcohol had once occupied with something more interesting and rewarding. In his case it was writing. He thinks that those who benefit from AA fiill the gap with particpation in the AA community.

 Writing was Burrough's way of getting over his traumatic past. It wasn't so much exorcising his demons that helped, as it was having an absorbing project. If he'd been writing cookbooks, he says, the effect of freeing himself would have been the same.  Too many people, he believes, get addicted to therapy and to the story of their past, rather than focusing on projects in the present.

Burroughs' words are worth our attention because he has triumphed over some terrible things. But what of people who are busily engaged in absorbing and worthwhile projects in the present, and then, out of the blue, are felled by some incident that brings to the surface all the terrible memories?   I suppose his answer comes in his chapter, "How to Remain Unhealed." He calls "Heal" a "television word", and said that there are some things in life from which you do not heal.  Yet the hole in the centre of your life can "narrow" enough for you to rejoice at new good things that come your way.

Tackling the subject of suicide, Burroughs says that if you want to end your life, you don't have to die.  You can exchange the life you have for a better one. At one point, he decided that all he needed to change his life was "a door and a highway."

Although lacking direct experience of most of the big issues  Burroughs addresses, long ago I cared for a spouse who was terminally ill.  Burroughs is right in saying that: "The worst thing you can imagine is not so bad if viewed from inside."  In other words, when you're caught up in the situation,  coping with the present, you can bear things that you would never have imagined." Burrough cautions us not to imagine the worst-case scenario in advance, as it may never happen. When skittish friends ask if there is anything they can do, he suggests that you ask them to cook something and drop it off,  because "no one at your house has the energy to say hi."  And finally, the best way to prepare for a friend's death is by "being alive in the same room" with them.

Some reviewers have called Burroughs' observations and advice "cliched", but I enjoyed the humour of the opening chapters and the ring of authenticity in the latter ones. His conversational style and his reminders that he has "been there" make us feel that, whatever we are facing, we are not alone.