Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Let the sun shine in...

Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous here in Toronto. I can't even put into words how lovely the weather was. But I can tell you how it made me feel. Like living. Like dancing. Like walking. Like being.

I spent the afternoon walking our downtown core, perusing shops, enjoying some sushi, stopping along the way to read a book and sit quietly while the sun beat on my face and the light spring wind wooshed across my skin. Every cell in my body breathed a little sigh of relief. None of us thought this winter would ever end.

There is a lovely calm that comes from being in nature. There's something very sacred about sitting in the sun, feeling its warmth, feeling its constancy. Tears came to my eyes yesterday as I sat. I was overwhelmed by the possibility of the new that surrounded me. Spring brings forth new life. I feel new somehow. I feel reborn.

tall penguin

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Seeing the Light...

I bought a light therapy box a few weeks ago, under the advisement of my sleep specialist. He thinks that perhaps my anxiety/depression issues have a seasonal component. This means that the lack of daylight in the winter could be fucking with my brain chemistry. Who knew it was all so connected?

Every day, for thirty minutes after I wake, I sit in front of this very bright box and bask in what feels like sunlight. Not quite as glamorous or warming as lying on the beach, but I think it's affecting me in some similarly positive ways. My body clock appears to be resetting itself. I'm now getting sleepy earlier in the day and getting up earlier, and generally not needing a nap during the day. For me, this is progress.

I have not, as of yet, seen any changes to my mood. I am still the ever-pensive, overwrought penguin I've always been. I'm beginning to think more and more that this is part of the genetic cacophony my parents, probably my mother, passed along as their conception gift to me.

Brain chemistry is a very peculiar thing. I have been on mind-altering drugs and it amazes me the myriad of effects they can have on the brain and body, making me realize that being able to find a "cure-all" for any type of mental/emotional disturbance is naive.

There are so many things that affect how our neurons fire or do not fire. The human animal is a complex creature. In years past, I have attempted to find the box in which to put myself and my health concerns. If I could find the one label that fit everything I was feeling, then I could also find the one magic cure to make it all better. No such luck.

As I've explored my beliefs on god and religion, I have explored my beliefs around health. As an alternative health, self-help-toting new ager (actually while still a jw believe it or not...not that far off from each other as a matter of fact) explanations abounded for why my health was as it was. Each practitioner could explain the cause of my ails from the perspective of their particular modality.

To the practitioner of Chinese medicine, my kidney chi was under-active. To the chiropractor, sublaxations were causing my grief. To the homeopath, I needed some Lycopodium or some Staphasygria. To the naturopath, I needed to take certain vitamins, herbs and make particular changes to my diet. To the energy worker, my root chakra needed to be strengthened. Each person saw things from the perspective of their specialty.

Over the past year, I have returned to mainstream medicine for a different perspective. I have found that many specialists are not that different from the alternative practitioners I saw in the past. They see things through the eyes of their specialty. The main difference I have noted is that many of the doctors I've seen have said, "I don't know."

Now, I used to be really uncomfortable with "I don't know." I figured that "I don't know" meant that the person was just not trying hard enough or not looking in the "right" places for the answers. Funny enough, that's what the jw's taught me. Time and time again, I received this message, "Other churches can't answer these deep Bible questions. But we can. Therefore, we're the true religion." Of course, it takes faith to see that they're right. Circular logic at its best.

Now, I have suspended faith. I have suspended belief. I am in no hurry to accept what anyone says, be they preacher, doctor, alternative practitioner, friend, foe, whoever. Health, god, life---not so easily put into a box. So, I'm making it up as I go along. And the more I learn, the less I know.

tall penguin

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

For Josh...

Josh's last words as he left for work this morning were: "I want to see a happy blog post today." So, here ya are baby. I don't have anything happy to say for myself but I can link to things that make me happy. Much easier.

If you haven't seen The 40 Year-Old Virgin, my sympathies. Rent it now. For those of you who have, you will recall this scene with great fondness. Makes me laugh out loud EVERY time!

tall penguin

p.s. Thank you You Tube for greatly improving the quality of my life.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Funeral Viewing...

I went to a funeral viewing yesterday. A good friend's father died. I don't know if you've ever been to a traditional Italian Catholic funeral viewing. If not, let me tell you what it's like.

Before you enter the viewing room in the funeral home, there is a guest book to sign, a row of prayer cards and usually a card of remembrance, showing a photo of the deceased and his date of birth and death along with a Biblical reference or poem. And sometimes, the family will put out a photo montage of the deceased.

When you enter the room at the funeral home, there are a bunch of rows of chairs or pew bunches set up, all facing the open casket containing the deceased. The immediate family of the deceased sits in the first few rows closest to the casket. There are large baskets of flowers scattered around the edge of the room and lavish spreads of flowers, usually roses, on the casket itself, only outdone by the ornate crucifixes towering over the deceased.

The traditional protocol for this type of viewing is to come into the room, go to the casket and pay your respects to the deceased. Then you turn to the family, who rises, and you greet each person standing, much like a receiving line at a wedding. Once you have given your condolences to each immediate family member, you take a seat in the room and sit in silence. Almost like at a church service, but in this case the focus is not on any preacher but on the deceased lying in the casket perpetually staring at the back of closed eyes.

If you've never seen an embalmed body, it is truly a strange thing. The body doesn't seem real. Without the loved one inhabiting it, it is just a shell, much like a discarded Halloween costume. Rubbery face, formless lips, no visible eyes. Very odd. It's hard to imagine that anyone used to live in there.

As I was sitting there in silence, focused on this man who used to be, I was overcome by the grief of knowing that all that is left of this man is the memories that others hold of him. And I watched as each guest filtered into the room and paused at the casket. I wondered what memories will filling their minds as they said their goodbyes to this loved one. I listened as the deafening silence was occasionally broken by crying and sobs as these memories floated up into the minds of those left behind.

Shortly after my brother and I had arrived, my grandmother, the matriarch of my family, entered the room. Her husband (my grandfather) and the deceased were close friends. The deceased and his wife came from the same small town in Italy as my grandparents and spent much time together. He and my grandfather worked together, drank together and shared much of their golden years visiting one another. As my grandmother approached the casket, she began to wail. And the widow of the deceased joined her. The memories the two would have shared must have flooded their consciousness as their eyes met and they embraced.

I couldn't help but be moved to tears as well. I thought of my grandmother's grief over her own dead husband who died 15 years ago. And I thought about how much longer she would be here with us. She turns 90 next month. I shed tears over the thought of her passing. Soon she would be just a collection of memories in my own mind. And I thought of myself. Soon I will be just a collection of memories in someone else's mind.

Today, the melancholy is passing. I am reminded of the words of Robert Frost from his poem "Out, Out -":

"No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."

tall penguin

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


I had an epiphanous (no, it’s a not a real word...not yet anyway) moment today while writing a grammar test. I have great difficulty explaining the “why” of things. I write incredibly well, intuitively. But as soon as you ask me to break down the sentence and explain why it’s correct or incorrect to be written a certain way, my brain begins to shut down.

It’s the same thing that happened way back in Grade 12 Math class. Once we entered the section on proving triangles, I was done for. I couldn’t get my head around how to explain why angle ABC was equal to angle DEF and how it all went together to prove that triangle ABD is 90 degrees. (I know this is probably a mathematical improbability. It’s just an example. Don’t send me an email.)

And it’s the same thing that happens when I attempt to analyze my own behavior or responses to certain stimuli. I think it’s what happened the other day at the psychiatrist’s office when he began barraging me with questions about why certain situations make me anxious as opposed to others.

When I’m asked “why” my stomach starts to churn and I literally feel the hairs on my neck begin to bristle. Most of the time, I don’t know why. And to be asked to explain things feels like the person asking me is judging me. It feels like they will think I’m stupid unless I can explain my reasons, in detail, for something I think or feel. And I don’t like being judged. I want to be accepted, not judged.

And yet, the funny contradiction is, (as evidenced by every piece of writing I’ve ever done) I am filled with “why” questions. I am always wanting to know the why of things. But really, it’s the existential “whys” I want to know. I couldn’t care less about why my computer works when I turn it on or why triangle ABD is 90 degrees or why it’s improper grammar to say “I feel badly that your mom died.” (It is, by the way. The proper grammar is “I feel bad that your mom died.”) I just don’t see that the answers to these “whys” impact my life in any significant way.

The other “whys” though are the ones that keep me up at night. Why are we here? Why will I die one day? Why do birds suddenly appear…? You get the point.

I remember a story that my High School History teacher told the class one day. According to it’s an urban legend, but it’s a fun example of the “why” dilemma. In the version we were told, a University Philosophy class was given a final exam with only one question: “Why?” One student received the top mark on the exam with the reply: “Why not?”

I’m that student.

tall penguin

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Post Secret

This is one of the postcards on the Post Secret blog this week. I hope this is me one day.

It's sad that this is something that many women would keep a secret. And yet, I can understand why. I have secretly dreamed of being a mother, a stay-at-home mother, since I was very young. But it's not something I share with many people because it seems a rather outdated notion in our society to think that a woman might want to stay home to raise children and feel fulfilled in this choice.

Despite all the issues I've had with my mother over the years, I am grateful that she stayed at home to raise my brother and I. I liked coming home at lunch and after school and finding a loving parent there to greet me, complete with snacks and a listening ear. My mother enjoyed being a mother and when all is said and done, I think she did a pretty good job.

As a child watching my mother, I aspired to be like her. I have a school project that I did when I was about 11 where I had to write about my future and what I saw myself doing in 15 years. I saw myself being a stay-at-home mom, like my own mother. And that seemed to be enough for me. In some ways, it still does.

I have battled with this in recent years, having bought into the post-feminism world we live in, where women are expected to be everything and do everything, where just being a mother couldn't possibly be enough. But as with most of the status quo life that I have come to abhor, I am slowly releasing my beliefs around what I should be doing. I admire the woman in this postcard. I admire her courage to do what she wants to do. Isn't that what feminism was supposed to be about anyways---creating the space for women to lead fulfilling lives no matter what they choose?

tall penguin

Friday, March 2, 2007

Okay, so I lied...

I allowed my mind to wander today. You may even use the word dream if you are so inclined. I was imagining myself as a dancer. I could see myself on stage. I'm wearing a royal blue sari with elaborate silver embroidery. The curtain rises. A traditional Indian raga begins to play. I slowly swirl the glittery blue fabric around me. My bangles begin to clink. I raise my kohl-lined eyes to the audience and begin to dance. It's me. I'm dancing. And I'm happy.

Okay, move along now. Dream over. Nothing to see here.

tall penguin