Thursday, May 18, 2017

#Thatsharassment A series of Sexual Harassment videos that need to be talked about

Today I'm going to do my best to tackle a hard subject, a most difficult one. But when the president of the most influential country in the western world brags about sexually assaulting women, maybe it’s time we had this conversation.

I am talking about sexual harassment and recommending that you watch six very short videos, part of a new campaign called #thatsharassment. 

Click here. Watch all six. 

I’ll wait. 

After I read this Parents Magazine article about these videos and watched them in their entirety, I felt I had to tell you about them. 

Film director Sigal Avin and actor David Schwimmer of Friends fame have produced these videos portraying what sexual harassment looks like in 2017. 


I had seen only the first half of the very first video, and already there were spiders under my skin. It was like I had crawled into the skin of that young women. Watching all of them, one right after the other, I needed a shower. It was like had I been thrust into each and every situation, and could remember what it felt like. Reading further into the article I was not surprised to learn that most women (not “some” women, or “a few” women, but “most” women) can identify.

I am an older woman now, and have gracefully and gratefully passed into the stage of “invisibility” mentioned by Margaret Trudeau in the book I recommended in my last blog post. (The Time of Your Life). There is a certain freedom in that. I no longer have to totally be on my guard.

But before we go on, let’s have a look at the videos in the order they are presented in the article.

In Video #1, it’s a young woman’s first day on the job at a bar. Her male co-worker is showing her all about how the men will come onto her—in graphic detail.

Video #2 has a woman who is some kind of a wardrobe or costume person for a famous movie star. She is naturally star-struck that day, and trying to do her best, until he reveals all to her.

In Video #3 we move to an office where a married boss comes on to a young, new female admin assistant.

Video #4  has a doctor “examining” a female patient.

In Video #5,  a young woman (Oh, she looks SO young) involved in a photoshoot of some kind, is asked to do some things she feels very uncomfortable with. In my opinion, this is the scariest one, because at the end, it cuts away to all of the people watching, all complicit in his instructions.

A woman journalist is interviewing a famous politician in Video #6. He asks her to turn off the tape, and then he tries to come on to her. But, she needs that interview. She needs that article.

I think what struck me about all of these were the subtleness of the suggestions. These were not lewd, greasy, horrid men, these appeared to be sort of nice guys. If it ended up being a “he-said she-said" in court they would probably win. And the women, all who want to keep their jobs, know this.

First there is the nervous laugh—women have that "nervous laugh" down pat, don't they? These same women probably went home thinking, “Did that really happen? No. Maybe it didn't." And then imperceptibly shoving the blame onto themselves.

In most of these videos it’s powerful men, and the women who work for them who “want to keep their jobs and so they must go along.” 


Sadly, in recent days we’ve seen this. The most recent fallout goes to Bill O'Reilly one of Fox News greatest assets. He lost his job after a number of women came forward to accuse him of doing just this.

And before him, Roger Ailes also of Fox News. And before him Bill Cosby.

But lest you think it's just a Fox News thing, or an American thing, and that we are who live in Canada are somehow immuned to this, may I remind you of Jian Ghomeshi, who was once the darling boy of CBC. As well, there have been long and ongoing investigations into sexual harassment in Canada’s military and RCMP


Yes, our military who are admired all over the world, as well as our RCMP.

"Is it okay?" the office boss in Video #3 continually asks. “It is okay? No hard feelings? We're okay? We're good?"

Nervous laugh. “It’s okay.”

“You sure it’s okay.” Sad voice. Contrite voice.

“It’s okay.”


"You sure?"

"It's okay."

No. It's not okay. 


I applaud Sigal Avin and David Schwimmer for tackling this project, and I would hope that these videos are shown in HR programs throughout the country. 

(Interesting sidebar: The man who brags about sexually assaulting women, complete with lewd x-rated language, gets elected president. The man he was talking to from Access Hollywood, gets fired. What's wrong with this picture?)

My one complaint with the videos? They are not Closed Captioned. They need to be.

Next Time: A look at hoarding, in a compelling new novel, The House We Grew Up In.




Thursday, May 4, 2017

No Rocking Chair Sitters Here

Today I am recommending Margaret Trudeau’s self-help/memoir The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future. If her name sounds familiar to my readers south of the border, she is the mother of our current prime minister here in Canada and wife of a former prime minister.

Hand on my heart, I admit it—I am a Margaret Trudeau fan-girl. Forty-five years ago when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, I married a Canadian and moved to this wonderful country. (I became a citizen ten years later). The country was vast and beautiful and unknowable, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and his wife was the charming, spunky, oh so pretty and often misunderstood Margaret.

Because I was determined to be a well-rounded Canadian, I read all the novels of Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood and page by colorful page through the history books of Pierre Berton. (I also began to wonder if your name had to be either Margaret or Pierre to live in this country.) I was learning to love my new adopted country.

In 1976 on Haida Gwaii (known when I lived there as the Queen Charlotte Islands), I had the privilege of meeting Margaret Trudeau. My husband was a school teacher in Queen Charlotte City, and the prime minister was there to open the brand spanking new Haida museum.

Click on that aforementioned link and croll down until you get to Haida Gwaii Museum. On that day forty years ago, it didn’t look anything like it does in these pictures. I remember rickety folding tables outside laid with salmon and all sorts of food, Haida dancing, displays of Haida button blankets and mud. I remember lots of mud.



It was there that I met Margaret Trudeau. My baby daughter was fussing and I retreated away from the press of people and stood under a tree. It may have been raining slightly. A friend of mine came over and pointed, “That’s Margaret Trudeau over there. See her? Why don’t you go over and say hello?”

There she was. Standing alone. By herself.

I went over and we struck up the most wonderful conversation. She was friendly and kept going on about my beautiful little baby girl, and how she had sons, three of them, in fact (of course I already knew this) and how her youngest was with his grandma in Vancouver because he “has the sniffles.”

(Oh, and I must mention this here. All kinds of things were different back then. You could walk right up to important people without security keeping you away. Partway through the ceremony my husband hoisted Justin, our now prime minister, on his shoulders so he could see his dad better. I wish we had a picture. Sadly, we don’t. But, then again, maybe that’s a good thing!)

Since that meeting I have followed her through the years, her antics (which are legendary), her books, even her early ones, and of course, her mental health struggles. Because I had met her and she was so gracious to me, I was always prone to forgive her her many transgressions. I always stuck up for her.

Truth was, she wasn’t being difficult, she was battling bi-polar and depression. It wasn’t until later in life that she finally got a handle on this with medications and therapies that work. She now travels extensively through this country lecturing on mental health issues.

If you are interested in reading her personal story in its entirety, may I suggest Changing my Mind.

I was pleased to be able to meet her a second time this past fall when she came to my city to tell her story and speak about mental health.


In this blog are two photos. The first is of Margaret and me on Haida Gwaii back in 1976, and the second is of Margaret and me this past fall. My, how we both have changed from young mother hippies to serious women with lots of grandkids and lots of stories to tell.


.
But all of this is by way of introduction. Whew! 

My intention today is to recommend her latest book,  The Time of Your Life. If you are a baby boomer woman, especially a Canadian baby boomer woman, then this book is for you.

I found it to be uplifting, inspirational, funny and personal. I could relate on almost every level. The subtitle urges women to choose “a vibrant, joyful future” But we are women in our mid-sixties. We’re mostly retired now. Choosing a "vibrant joyful future" gets to be something you do in your twenties, maybe thirties, not your sixties, not your seventies, right?




Wrong, according to Trudeau. She calls on older women to “reinvent what it means to age.”


She begins the book by stating:

Women should prepare in their fifties for the rest of their lives. What we do today will affect how long we live, how healthy we will be where we will live, how much fun we will have, how solvent we will be.

She calls on women to “rediscover” their purpose. No sitting and rocking for us, she cites numerous stories of women who have found purpose in continuing to work at their careers well into their dotage, women who have found fulfillment in volunteering, in traveling and finding adventure and personal fulfillment in helping others across the globe. She also encourages us baby boomer women to take up new creative pursuits.

All through the book I thought of the quote which is attibuted to CS Lewis: “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

The book is full of many, many stories of older women who set new goals, dreamed new dreams.

One of my favorite sections was “embrace the freedom of invisibility.” And let’s face it, women "of a certain age" become unnoticed, invisible. Instead, of wringing our hands over that, we should embrace it. We can do more. We can do more good with nobody watching, nobody noticing. She calls on women to find the upside of “being invisible.”

Did you know that statistics state that women tend to become happier as they age? That’s in there, too.

Trudeau is not afraid to share personal stories, even very personal ones on her own older dating experiences.

There are chapters on health, housing, finances, and finally grief, for that is the one thing we know, or will come to know as we age - grief and letting go of loved ones. I loved that chapter very much, and I’m sure it’s one I will read over and over.

I will end with this Native American saying:

“No Wise Person ever wanted to be younger.”

NEXT TIME: a timely, serious topic, I will be exploring and recommending a series of sexual harassment videos #thatsharassment. Watch them here.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dark, but oh so watchable

Of all the dark, nuanced British crime dramas, I think Luther is one of the best. So, today as part of this “I Like It” blog, I am recommending that on the next rainy weekend you hunker yourself down and watch all four seasons. I watched them on Netflix, but I think there might be other options (iTunes?) depending on where you live.
Luther has all of the attributes which make a good series—a flawed handsome character, a multitude of difficult to solve, almost “personal” crimes, weird and compelling mysteries, and an overarching theme which will make you come back for more. John Luther is the handsome, flawed character. He loves his wife, Zoe—but she’s leaving him, and yes, that is mostly his fault.  And as much as the “established” police force would like to let him go, his talent and instincts for crime solving are much needed.

In the very first episode we meet Alice Morgan, a young sociopath who Luther (and everyone else) believes murdered her parents. He can’t prove it. No one can. And throughout the entire four seasons, she and John develop this most strange and convoluted psychological relationship. That over-arching story line weaves its threads through every episode in the four seasons.

Some of these British crime dramas are so complex and nuanced that a second watching is almost required. I have watched the entire series twice, and the second time around picked up things I had missed in the first go round. Sets are brutal and noir. The stories are brutal and noir, the photography amazing.


Episodes include serial killers with strange fetishes, art museums, and even the murders of people close to him.

If you read this blog you know that I am a lover of first lines. It’s hard to do that in a TV series, so instead I offer you the music of the opening credits. The opening song 'Paradise Circus' by Massive Attack is haunting in its bleakness. Click here for a listen

I think it's because I love music, that I notice things like songs within television shows and movies. I've been known to scramble for a piece of paper when I hear a particularly compelling song that I wish to purchase on iTunes. I have actually filled my iTunes library with songs I have heard on Longmire, Luther, and many of the other dramas I have watched. 


And because I pay attention, I noticed that Massive Attack also do the opening song for the TV show, House. Here's a link to Massive Attack's Teardrop which is used there.  

Next time: It’s back to books this time with a part memoir, part self-help book by Margaret Trudeau entitled The Time of Your Life.




Thursday, April 6, 2017

How ASL Changed My Life

Today in "I Like It," I am taking a u-turn away from books and I am recommending that you acquaint yourself with American Sign Language. 

I live with someone who is hard of hearing. He has worn hearing aids since his forties and understands maybe around 50% of any given conversation. Each year his hearing deteriorates just a little bit more.

Here’s something that a lot of people don’t understand: In most people, glasses can pretty much correct vision to 20/20. Hearing aids do not do this. What they do is amplify everything. If you get a chance, place someone’s hearing aid close to your ear and you’ll see what I mean. It’s certainly better than nothing, but not like glasses.


Helen Keller once said that blindness separates you from things. Deafness separates you from people. 

Any hard of hearing person will tell you this is true. Plunk them down in the middle of any church pot luck with its decibels of ambient noise, and they’ll sit there, and do what is called “the deaf nod.” It means - I’m smiling and nodding, but I cannot be a part of this conversation because I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

Last fall, my husband enrolled in an ASL level one course (American Sign Language). I did not. I decided to wait and see if he would “like it or not.”

Well, he likes it. Loves it, actually. It opened up a whole new world of communication to him. I remember one evening after he came home from "deaf chat” at the mall. He said that for once, he didn’t have to lean forward, hands like funnels behind his ears, straining to hear, and missing most everything. He even said it was a joy to completely turn his hearing aids right off and be a full member of the conversation.

How has ASL changed my life? I have a new appreciation for what my husband goes through. I always thought I did, but this opened my eyes even a bit wider. I am realizing that it’s okay for him to be who he is. And sometimes being “who he is” has him “talking too loud,” because his hard-of-hearing ears are telling him that his speech volume is perfectly okay.

We spent the past few winter months in Florida where we got quite involved in the deaf community and ASL learning. I took a four-week beginner’s course, which turned into six weeks. He took an advanced course and twice a week we went to evening “deaf chat.” I’m learning that most communities have something like this, usually in a mall, where deaf people, hard of hearing people, interpreters and family members just go, buy themselves a coffee and talk. In ASL, of course.

I treasured our Tuesday evenings at Dunkin Donuts, which were always followed by Taco Tuesdays at a pub called Lollygaggers.

Some of the highlights of this winter:

- Attending Children of a Lesser God, a play put on by a local troupe in an eclectic theatre in Tampa called The Space. The play was interpreted and the main character, as in the movie, was deaf herself.

- Learning that deaf people are quite capable, thank you very much. After one of the Dunkin Donuts meeting, I, my hard-of-hearing husband plus two deaf friends were headed to Lollygaggers. When we walked into the pub I thought, “Well, I’m the hearing person here. I guess it’s up to me to get us a table and take care of everything.”

I had barely put my jacket down, and the deaf gal had already very well communicated to the waitress that we wanted those two tables over there shoved together because we were expecting more people, and that she wanted a pitcher of beer. She did all this with smiles and miming. The waitress understood perfectly.

Okay then.

The fact that the bar was so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think? Made no difference at all to this group of talkers.

- Even though we are beginners, my husband and I are finding it a useful language to communicate. It’s great when you’re out kayaking, or across across a crowded and noisy room.

- Chances are you already know some sign language. The word “Crazy”? The forefinger going in circles around the side of your head. Ask any teenager how to sign the word “Loser,” an L shaped with the thumb and forefinger and placed against your forehead while making a dumb face. Also, “come here,” “goodbye,” and “hello,” are all pretty universal in this language of pictures.

So then, why should you learn ASL?

1. You can communicate with deaf people. Even being able to say “thank you” is important and nice to the deaf community.

2. You can talk to babies. Seriously. Many parents are teaching baby sign language to infants before they learn to talk. My grand baby twins already know the signs for "more," "milk." "finished," and "again." There is some research in its infancy, that is suggesting that nonverbal autistic children are benefitting from learning and using ASL. Click here for that study.

3. You will learn a new culture. I have studied the Spanish language for most of my school years, and then a few university courses. It's a language I love. But not only did I learn a new language, but I learned to appreciate the culture that goes along with it. Culture is how a group of people thinks, and how better to know how they think, than by their words and how these words are put together. The deaf community definitely has their own culture. They are an accepting and huggy lot. They are perhaps a bit more blunt than us non-deaf. If you learn their language you will come to appreciate their culture.

4. There are many studies which indicate that learning a new language, at any age, is good for the brain. It’s especially good to learn a new language in your dotage. It gets your brain treading down a different road. I have found this to be true. I find when I’m scrambling for an ASL sign which has eluded me, I'm suddenly thinking of Spanish words. Or long-forgotten Chinese words, which we studied briefly forty years ago. I can just see the computer neural cells and synapses in my brain saying to one another. ”Okay, This is a language. Spanish? 
Wait. No. Chinese? Here’s the Chinese word. It's got to be Chinese. No. Wait...” Until my brain figures out the correct sign. There's a part of the brain devoted to language.

Here's an article about learning a language and Alzheimers. 


Here's an actual study about the same thing. 


In Two Weeks: A look at the TV series Luther.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A New Voice in Literary Thriller

I’ve written extensively here about the genre of "literary thriller" and how books that bear that classification are my favorite goto reads. I love a suspense novel that is so well-written it could stand side by side next to any "literary" novel at any time of day. I have also written here about the late Ruth Rendell and how her "literary" mysteries and short stories were so influential in my own writing and early years as a mystery author. 

I am now discovering that there are a whole new generation of suspense writers who are taking up the torch and producing quality work that leaves you turning page after page (or pressing screen after screen) far into the night.

Today I would like to recommend one of these "new to me" authors: K. L. Slater. Her book Safe With Me is today's blog recommendation.

I love books with twisty-turny plots and well-developed  “strange and mad” characters—who you might not realize are “strange and mad” until quite near the end.

In Safe With Me we meet Anna, a solitary young woman who lives by herself in her family home and works as a mail carrier. She witnesses a road accident where a young man, Liam, on a motorcycle was injured badly. The story begins when she recognizes the driver of the car as the woman who destroyed her life so many years ago and contributed to her own little brother's death.

In true "Rendell” form, we get to know all of these characters through flashbacks, which don’t distract from the story, but add to it. That is an art, having flashbacks appear seamlessly through the story.

Is Anna sane? Or is she, perhaps, the crazy one? How about Liam? He seems so normal. Maybe he is, or maybe he isn’t. How about the neighbor, J
oan Peat, who has known Anna since she was a child. Maybe she’s the nuts one. And what about all that mail that Anna has to deliver? I don’t give spoilers here at all, but that little subplot had me nervously biting my nails. Because mail is important. And what if it was mine?

Just to give you a taste of what is to come, here is the first line of the book.

So, they’re tucked up in bed at last. 

You take a handful of matches and you light each one, 
watching the burn die to a powdery black dot.

Can’t you just see those matches one by one burning right down, almost scorching the fingers that hold them? And who is tucked up in bed at night? 


I was hooked.

Right now I’m reading another of her books, Blink, and enjoying it as much.

If you like well-written thrillers and wish there were more Ruth Rendell books to devour,  I highly recommend this British author.




I found this online article on why women read thrillers. I think I’m right up in that demographic. Even though this article is a couple of years old, I don’t see the psychological thriller genre falling off any time soon. I'll certainly keep reading them. They have always been my favorites—from Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier in my teens, to Ruth Rendell and PD James in my younger adult years to authors like K.L Slater and others today.

Next Time: "I Like It" takes a look at how ASL (American Sign Language) is changing my life.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's about time I read this author's work!

Before reading Five Quarters of the Orange, the novel I am recommending today, I was not familiar with this author’s work. I never even watched the multi-academy award winning movie Chocolat.

Watching the trailer I get a sense of what the movie is about—Woman comes to town. Woman takes over abandoned building. Woman turns it into a successful eatery. In the case of Chocolat, it’s a chocolate shop across from a church.

In Five Quarters of the Orange, it’s a crêperie. 

And, that’s where the similarities end. The trailer for Chocolat calls it a comedy. Five Quarters of the Orange is anything but. I would call it a tragedy cocooned in mystery. 

I guess it’s the mystery reader/writer in me, but I love stories which revolve around mysterious tragic secrets. For that reason, Five Quarters of the Orange does not disappoint.

Framboise, the main character in this book, was driven out with her family from their small French village during the war, following a tragedy. She returns fifty years later in disguise to try to rebuild her family’s abandoned farm. 

The book deftly moves between "past" and "present." During the “past” portions of the book, we get a glimpse of small town France during the German occupation. Framboise is nine then, and along with her older sister and brother and single mother they work on the farm, collecting eggs and and helping to make jams and other things to sell at the local market.

The river Loire plays an important role for the children. I
t’s their secret place, their swimming hole, their fishing place, a place where they store their “treasures,” and the place where "Old Mother" resides. She’s not anyone’s actual mother, but a huge pike, a fish that no one can catch. 

The story's mystery revolves around one particular German soldier who befriends the children. I won’t say more. Somehow I knew that the catching of Old Mother would usher in the deadly end of the book. And that it would involve him.

Fifty years later, the now widowed Framboise, under a new name and in disguise, returns to her childhood abandoned farm, the place where her family was cast out so many years ago. She has a copy of her mother’s recipe book which also includes scribbled margin notes by her mother which give Framboise a new and different look at the grim, sickly and stern mother she grew up with and never knew. Framboise wants to restore the place. And she does, finally opening up a successful crêperie. 

But the past can never be truly erased, can it?

Food is a constant throughout the book, and I hadn’t noticed this, but one reviewer mentioned that a lot of the characters are named after foods. Framboise being the main character and also there is Pistache, Noisette and Prune. (I admit I stumbled a bit on the name “Prune.” Who names a child Prune? Well, maybe in French it sounds different.)

The writing was superb. Every sentence sings.

Here is the first:

When my mother died she left the farm to my brother, Cassis, the fortune in the wine cellar, a jar containing a single black Périgord truffle, large as a tennis ball, suspended in sunflower oil, that when uncorked, still releases the rich dank perfume of the forest floor.

This beautiful prose progresses and and a story that captured my attention until the dark climax, which was worse than I had even guessed.


If you love extremely well-written historical fiction and demand a good plot at its core, I highly recommend Five Quarters of the Orange

I will read more of Joanne Harris, that's for sure.

In two weeks: Another thriller - Safe With Me by K. L. Slater

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Songs

Another beautiful Sunday Song for you. 

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need comes from The Book Of Praise, my favorite hymnal of all times, the one used in the Presbyterian church. It's a beautiful song, one that I have also sung as a solo. 
Please click on the link here and listen along with the words, and be transported to some other place.



My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
His presence is my stay;
One word of His supporting grace
Drives all my fears away.
His hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
His oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.