December 31, 2020

Better than champagne is this gifted local cider!

It is the end of the year, in the way that we mark time and define years in Canada. I’ve always marked the turning of the year, while also believing that time is an invented construct and essentially meaningless. Holding and celebrating opposing points of view is how I do life.

By the time I finish writing this I hope to have thought of a photo to take that somehow summarizes how I feel in this moment. I thought of taking a picture of the truly excellent pizza I had DoorDash bring me, but by the time I had this thought, the pizza was no longer intact. Yes, I ordered in dinner this evening. We’re asked to do so, to help support local business. We’re asked to buy our drinks from local producers – my Milky Milk Stout is from TWB. We’re asked to stay home, which is pretty easy when DoorDash delivers and I can play an online escape room with my family. Doing the right thing is so easy, eh?

I mean, it is if you have privilege. If you work from home and have sufficient funds to pay people to cook food and bring it to you, it’s so easy to do the right thing. I tried and tried to think of light new years thoughts but right now people with ample privilege are predrinking before new years gatherings, and the callous, selfish misuse of privilege enervates me. I don’t KNOW this is true, that revel rousers are gathering, but whenever we’re asked to not gather, cases of COVID 19 go up anyway. In 2020 I put down my rose coloured glasses and because I’m in my fifties, I can’t remember where I put them.

I am enjoying my pizza and beer. I will enjoy an online escape room, and I will marvel at the fabulous technology that makes it possible. We are so blessed. We are some of us so blessed.

Posts are appearing denouncing 2020 and anticipating 2021; I do not feel this. There is no magic to the new year. Tomorrow, the CBC will report on the toll of unfortunates who did not live to see the turning of the year. As I type this someone in Canada is dying of a preventable disease. Still, I will make merry, if quietly and alone. I have always been skilled at appreciating the little things and enjoying the moment. This year that became more difficult – not because the moments weren’t there, honestly, there is an ever present abundance of beautiful moments – but because in 2020 I became much more aware of the tapestry of suffering these moments adorn.

In 2021 it won’t be magically easier to live as a BIPOC citizen in our country, nor in the chaos state below us. Women will still be raped and abused in shocking numbers. Opioid deaths will keep making news but somehow this news will not effect change. Generations in Indigenous communities will still wonder what it would be like to have clean tap water.

2021 will also bring vaccinations, and stories of people helping each other heal and recover. Everywhere, life is full of heroism. The Earth will keep spinning and summer will return and it will be safe to sing and dance once again. 2021 will hand us back our baskets of all we have been missing, and smile, and tell us it is safe to be the way we once were.

I want to hold each item in that basket and ask myself if it sparks joy. Will this relic of the beforetimes bring joy to my life in the After, or will it only distract me from the truths 2020 exposed to those not living them? With great power comes great responsibility they say. With great privilege comes great obligation. We have learned that the responsibility and the obligation are by choice only; nobody requires you to be a good person and there are rewards for discarding any sense of requirement.

I’m simply a changed person and the things in that basket might not fit. I am a changed person from before starting grad school; that isolation and that education changed me. The isolation of the pandemic has changed me that much more. I am perhaps simply more myself and I feel changed because I had been so accustomed to my many social masks. If we have not spoken for a while, we may need to be reacquainted when all of <<this>> is over. Some time next year, maybe.

It’s been a year since I dropped all my fucks; has it ever been a year. Not that I DNGAF about anything. I donate monthly to a fund supporting the legal costs of Black citizens in Toronto. I strive to minimize my environmental impact, and I am putting my all into building a career of helping people suffer less. I just might not start shaving my legs again.

That’s the lightest note I can muster. Stay home. Shop local. Be kind. I love you.

Summer Solstice to Autumnal Equinox

I had it in my mind that I would stop drinking on my birthday, for one full year. Not that I drink to any great degree, not that it impedes my living. But my mom did just die from her alcoholism. And it does run down every branch of my family tree.

But it’s more than that. You ever meet people who have heard “the word of god” and they thirst for it, they long for it, they yearn? That’s kind of how I feel about sobriety. I actually really like drinking, though. I don’t like being drunk and I loathe being hungover but otherwise I like everything about drinking. I like smokey scotches and hoppy beers and charcoal porters. I love full bodied red wines and the liquid Christmas tree kiss of gin. I’m into the ceremony of champagne and the ritual of patio beers. I like drinking.

But it is inescapably true that alcohol causes cancer and that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. It’s a Group One carcinogen – so it’s like saying there is no safe level of asbestos consumption. I mean, obviously. And alcohol robs you of your awareness. It’s also fattening and expensive.

I am loving life so much. I’m having honestly So. Much. Fun. I’m excited for school. I love my job. I’m proud of my kids and am looking forward to watching their adventures. I don’t want to miss a thing. I’m acutely aware of my mortality and of time ticktickticking away. I don’t want to lose anymore time to the fog of drink, or the pain of hangover. And I don’t want to consume something that I know has a proven ability to cause cancer.

So tomorrow – no, later today – I’m drinking my last drinks, for a year and a quarter at least. I said I wanted to quit on my birthday, but the weekend after my birthday I’m attending an event that is marked by copious amounts of free alcohol (I don’t know about you but honestly, free alcohol seems to be everywhere). If I’m going to do a thing, I like to set myself up for success. By my birthday, I want all the effects of alcohol to be gone, so it’s a truly clean year. I read this book called Sober Curious and I like the idea of being sober curious. Not “sober sober” as she calls it. I mean, I’ll be sober sober until Fall 2020 but then, whatever, it’s my life. I expect though I won’t return.

I miss being just naturally weird, you know? I miss sliding along a natural high, blissing out on the colours of the sunset or perfect harmonies or cool lake water. I’m lucky in that my brain naturally likes to take those routes. If I just let it, my brain goes places that some other people use substances to find. If I give it enough fresh food and sunshine, it piques those peaks with no side effects.

I think it’s going to be an interesting summer.



Cold Case of Cancer

Maple syrup instead of liquor with a Sunday morning coffee

The following is a speech I wrote for and delivered at my Toastmaster’s Club:

Let’s have a little quiz. I’ll read you a list of facts about alcohol and you raise your hand for each fact that you already knew.
1 Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects.
2 The recommended maximum number of drinks is 2 per day for women and 3 per day for men, with at least 2 non-drinking days per week.
3 Alcohol increases the risk of violence and abuse.
4 Alcohol can cause cancer.
According to a survey in 2018, only 28% of Canadians were aware that alcohol causes cancer.
Each “fact” in my survey is actually a warning label used on alcoholic products – or that have been used. In November 2017, a Health Canada study was launched in the Yukon to study the effect of warning labels on alcoholic beverage purchases. Bright yellow labels were used, one stating that alcohol can cause cancer, and the other speaking to recommended maximums.
Four weeks into the study, the Yukon Liquor Corporation gave in to pressure from the national alcohol brands and stopped affixing the labels to bottles and cans sold in their stores out of fear of expensive lawsuits.
Ten weeks later, the study was allowed to proceed, but with pregnancy risk labels instead of ones mentioning cancer risk.
It would appear that the alcohol lobby was afraid that if more people knew that alcohol causes cancer, fewer people would consume it.

According to Spirits Canada president, Jan Westcott, it wasn’t about fear of reduced sales. When asked about the studies linking excessive drinking with increased risk of some cancers, he said, “We’re not denying any of that. We’re just not sure that putting the word “cancer” on a label is the most effective way to convey that information.”
However, a study commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society indicates that putting the word cancer on a label is an excellent method of communication. They found that two thirds of Ontarians would likely reduce their consumption if they learned that drinking alcohol increased their risk of cancer.
Another 2018 study, this one from the Global Drug Survey looked at how different health messages would affect people’s drinking behaviour, and found that the message “Drinking less can reduce your risk of 7 different types of cancer” could get almost 40% of drinkers to reduce their consumption.
So if harm reduction can be achieved by knowing the connection between a crisp cold beer and colon cancer, let’s look at some stone cold facts.
The World Health Organization classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen similar to arsenic and asbestos.
The National Cancer Institute states that 3.5% of cancer deaths are due to the consumption of alcohol. Not “correlated with” but rather “due to”. The causal relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer is known and proven.
8% of breast cancer is caused by drinking – the risk of breast cancer increases even at light levels of consumption, meaning no more than one drink a day.
Moderate drinkers – two drinks a day – are one and a half times as likely as non-drinkers to wind up with colon cancer.
The risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed and there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
Is knowing a laundry list of alarming facts sufficient to decrease alcohol consumption? We can look at our history with public-health-initiated anti-smoking campaigns for an answer.
In 2017 the Centre for Disease Control surveyed five years of mass-reach communication campaigns and found a significant number of smokers decreased the amount they smoked, or quit altogether. When Graphic Warning Labels were introduced for cigarette packages, over 90% of smokers surveyed reported having read and thought about the warnings, over 80% considered them to be personally relevant, and over 40% intended to quit as a result of having thought about the warning labels.
While not everyone – and possibly not even half – the people who read and consider the warnings on harmful products will quit their use of the product, it does appear from anti-smoking efforts that SOME consumers WILL change their behaviours based on warning labels.
What about you? If you do drink alcohol, and didn’t know before today that drinking alcohol causes cancer – will you now opt for soda over scotch? How will the struggle to choose between a glass of merlot now and an increased risk of colon cancer five years from now play out in your life? Are you amongst the two thirds of Ontarians who would consider reducing alcohol consumption?
Knowing might only be half the battle – but hopefully it’s a half you’re now better armed for.

The alcohol version of this is delicious. The non-alcoholic version tastes awful!


Logistical Fail

It’s 8:30 pm and they just brought me a Super Bock stout. They’re gonna pair it up with some olives, because olives. I took a selfie to attach to this post but I couldn’t recognize myself so I’ll take a picture of olives. Ah maybe the selfie too. We’ll see.

I didn’t go out this morning because I discovered how nice the sunroom can be with the windows open wide. I wrote out there with my morning coffee. I meditated in the sun. Naked even. I watched a neighbour watch their cat.

I made breakfast for lunch and spent an hour or so trying to figure out places and events for my remaining ten days here. Mostly just ended up with a list of places to eat. I’m sure a lot happens here but to an outsider it looks mainly like lots of haircuts, cafes and cerveza.

The next X unit of time, I applied for a Ontario Arts Council grant. That sounds so casual. I wrestled with my will and self-doubt and forced myself to apply for an Ontario Arts Council grant.

I lost time in some conversations and in trying to decide if I can see the Fantastic Beasts movie here now and then it was 7:30 and I hadn’t dressed yet and low blood sugar was making me dumb and clumsy.

So I exchanged my comfy clothes for only slightly more acceptable comfy clothes and put on a hat to cover my day old bed head. Threw my Visa card in one pocket and two bags in the other and I was off to the local grocery shop. They know me there now. I thought they’d be proud I finally remembered to bring bags.

They were closed.

I can’t keep track of when places open and close here; though, I am also losing track of what day it is.

(just realized this artisanal burger joint is streaming an english jazz station)

Anyway so I can’t get food to eat at home and I’m dressed like a middle-aged, too lazy to bother, tourist hipster. I lurch down the street, past the understated whore house, around a corner that houses a restaurant I want to try but they’re full and find this burger place that has English on their menu with the Portuguese which is good because by now my eyes are getting blurry from hunger.

Luckily there’s no real way a tourist should look. I don’t take my hat off. Feels rude but it’s for the best all round. And anyway, my hat matches my hair.

The burger is one of the best I’ve ever had. Probably they eat all the time here because the food is so damn good.

Anyway, I could have planned that day a whole lot better. But I didn’t and it didn’t really matter and I got to bask in the sun and I beat the grant demon and I look bizarre but noone cares and that dinner was amazing. The only real downside is I have no cash so I can’t tip.

I don’t even remember why I started telling you all this. This jazz is smooooth. I think it’s Friday. Oh right. The olives. And the selfie. Maybe you’ll figure out who I am now.

The “Why Does This Exist” File

Riding the bus into Montreal, I gleefully read all the French billboards to myself and only once did I turn to read the back of one, as if I would find English there, like on a box of Shreddies. One billboard advertised Coors Edge – seemingly the cold beverage choice for straight-edge, middle-aged folk.

I am generally, casually in the market for booze-passing, non-alcoholic drinks. I often prefer not to drink but I still like engaging in the behaviours – cracking open a cold one; gesturing dramatically, glass in hand while telling a story; sipping from my glass thoughtfully, while actually scrambling for a witty reply. Beyond the desire to “act” like I’m drinking, I find it’s easier to drink beverages that pass in public as being alcoholic. It stresses people out when you sometimes drink, and sometimes don’t. So, my first day in Quebec, I found a Coors Edge and tried it.

It was pretty terrible.

And what was I expecting? I drink coffee stouts and milkshake IPAs and craft beer that ingeniously incorporates, I don’t know, Christmas trees and maple fudge. I don’t drink Coors so why did I think taking the alcohol out would make it better?

It tasted like a combination of stale soda water and unmet yearnings. It tasted like kissing someone who drank a crappy beer hours ago. It tasted like how watching someone play Scrabble and not being allowed to help feels.

And it really made me want a real beer. So I’m filing it under “Why does this exist?”

Of note in the same file is instant decaf. Why does this exist? Who needs their cuppa nothing RIGHT NOW? I can understand instant coffee in general, I guess – stores well, contains caffeine, easily prepared. You get your morning hit albeit with not even a modicum of pleasure.

And decaf real coffee, well-brewed, has the lovely flavour notes and late-night social grace without the all-night jitters. It serves a purpose.

But instant decaf? It’s just a sad, sad cup jonesing for meaning and worth.