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Of

Of words. Of thoughts. Of the indistinguishable hum of your body and the city, moving together, crumbling in tandem. Of your smile through teeth, your laughter through emptiness. Of the definition of your life, laid out before you as a dissembled puzzle needing a steady hand to help you piece it back together.

Of the words to family and friends, kind whispers that what they see is true and real and nothing else could be held beneath your skin, buried within your bones, guiding your every breath.

Of the break of blue in the swell of grey, so rich you feel your soul spoon it from the sky and consume it. Nourishment where none exists. Of the spread of air through lungs and veins, igniting the flame within, reminding you that it is possible to feel beyond the tinder and the match. Of the blaze that can feed and grow, if only you knew how to tend it right.

Of the crystalline, the shattering, when the blue is no more and the fire is out and you curl upon yourself to protect the spark that surely must stay alive. Of the life you live, in spite of it all.

Of the crunch and the craze and the sense of existing as nothing in a world packed full of people and their everything. Of the beauty in the mirrored city and the anonymity it reflects back, reminding you that to be faceless is to be fresh and clean and without sin or struggle to your name.

Of the first breath in Spring, reminding you that even beneath all the dead and dying, a crocus may still emerge and create colour.

Chronic Pain Diaries – The Menial

No one celebrates the menial tasks when you have chronic pain. No one celebrates any accomplishment when you have chronic pain, because there is an overarching belief that you should just do it.

Bullshit. I want a tickertape parade for getting out of bed every day this week. I want a plaque engraved with Kathleen Sawisky Managed to Make Dinner Instead of Ordering Skip the Dishes. I want a round of applause for being able to walk to and from the bus stop every morning and evening (approximately 4 minutes worth of consistent walking, traffic notwithstanding. Might as well be on the other side of Canada.)

I’d like a certificate that acknowledges my ability to continue smiling through the pain while I interact with coworkers, or listen to the troubles and woes of others. I’d love to get some sort of trophy for not throttling the next person who tells me I have back pain too. Pulled a muscle working out. I’d love an all expenses paid vacation out of chronic pain for a week, a day, even an hour.

I’ve earned a commendation from the Mayor, noting my supreme ability in being able to sit for a 45 minute bus ride without crying from every bump and jolt. The Prime Minister should proclaim the 22nd of June a day in which we celebrate my skills in being able to bend over to put my shoes on while what surmounts to lightning shoots through my lower back. The Queen herself ought to sassily remind everyone that I am a goddamn champion for cleaning the bathroom or wiping down countertops or giving the hardwood a cursory sweep.

No one celebrates the menial tasks when you’re normal. But when you live with chronic pain every day, these things are taken for granted. To get out of bed, to make sure you eat, to put your clothes on, to have the same work ethic of those around you, to appear as normal as possible while your body rebels in abnormality. These menial tasks take everything out of you, and no one knows it, because you are very, very good at playing pretend. Still, a certificate acknowledging your skills in basic survival might be nice.

An Open Letter to Doritos- “But is it yogurt flavored?”

Dear Doritos,

I imagine right about now you are asking yourselves what happened. Why has your glorious decision of soft-ish chips, directed towards the females of the planet, been targeted by trollish harassment and mockery since its announcement. Somewhere, I imagine there is an R&D specialist who is gazing woefully at the trending hashtags of #LadyDoritos. They lurch every time the phone rings, expecting the call to be from their immediate supervisor, alerting them of their immediate termination over what can only be described as a social and cultural misstep that fails to recognize the needs of specific user groups and imposes values and desires on a specific group without proper consideration.

Somewhere, that R&D specialist is weeping into their bag of chips, making them soggy, gazing malignly at a bowl of orange mush vaguely resembling Donald Trump’s face in both skin and, I imagine, texture, wondering how did we get it so wrong?

                Was it the concept of soft Doritos? No. I know plenty of people who detest the sound of crunching chips. They equate it to a leaf mulcher eating human bones. To them, it is worse than finger nails down a chalkboard. There are others still, who hate the feeling of your equilateral products scraping the delicate corners of their mouths, cutting in like a foodie’s Glasgow smile. Some of us hate the feeling of chip bits falling down our shirts, getting caught in our bras or man girdles. We all have our neurotic likes and dislikes when it comes to our snack foods, but I’ll let you in on a secret for the general population…

Never once, when discussing my snack food choices with my coworkers, loved ones, or strangers on the train, have we ever considered semi-raw potatoes rolled in fake cheese and sodium as an appropriate alternative to our chip problems.

You know why, Doritos?

Because no one fucking cares.

Look around you. Look at the state of the world. Have you seen who the President of the United States is? Did you notice that there is still war and famine across the globe? Did you notice the opioid epidemic on your streets or take into account the rate of homelessness around you? You probably did, but like most corporations, you saw it as a by-product of the time and instead opted to focus your research and energy into a literal half-baked scheme that no one asked for.

                Least of all women.

And there’s your second issue right there. I’m not sure. Maybe your R&D group is a bunch of old white men raised on some cotton farm in southern Alabama where women still wear petticoats and do declare things with appropriately subdued enthusiasm, but the ladies I know are not marching for softer chips for our delicate lady palates.  Unless your Doritos are going to be extra absorbent when it comes to dealing with my period blood, or, I don’t know, fucking yogurt flavored (because apparently we are really into yogurt too), I could quite literally not give a single shit about the crunchy level of your product. I’m too goddamned busy worrying about, and coming to terms with, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the fact that my male coworkers are paid more than me, and the assholes that think me smiling at them is an invitation for them to call me things like “sweet cheeks” and “sexy” that, hey, if I don’t return in kind, suddenly turn into alarming forms of aggression and derogatory comments like the goddamned c-bomb or even fucking grabbing at me

                Who, just tell me who thought women wanted softer Doritos? Who thought, in an age marked by struggles for equality among gender and sexual orientation and race, it would be a great idea to market fucking slightly softer Doritos to an entire group of people. Are you shitting me? No, you’re not, though an over-indulgence in your product would certainly lead to plenty of distressing shits that I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy.

Here’s a better question for you.

Who asked you for this? And, follow up question, did they also ask you if you really think you should be vaccinating your kids? Because I’m guessing someone who shows the passion for one probably has enough time to waste on the other.

I understand as a snack product you need to stay on top of things. You have to keep up with trends and constantly be producing the next best thing. In a market saturated with delicious treats and snacks, it is vital that you are always in. Here’s an idea. Try a new flavor. Goddamned novelty flavors are all the rage. People love trying new, stupid flavors that they know will only be around for a short period of time. Hell, Japan has made a name for itself offering up weird-ass chip flavors that we can’t even dream of here in North America. You can be damn sure that if Doritos put out a Seafood Jazz Dorito or Cheesy Enchilada Dorito flavor people would eat that shit up. Again, literally. Lays has made a name for itself having contests about chip flavors! Doesn’t that seem like a good idea? That seems like a good idea to me.  Much better than trying to market an insulting snackfood to half the world who, just to remind you, never asked for it.

Times are changing, Doritos. You have to use a measure of social intelligence and recognize the values of the culture in which you are trying to market your product.

Spoiler alert: our current top ten values do not, and I would guess will never include slightly softer chips.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Sawisky Esq.

Photo by Nancy Wong, 1977

Let’s Talk About Cults

Or more, let me introduce you to my new favorite obsession. Three years ago it was biker gangs, last year it was viruses. This year is the year of cults, and I am so giddy that my astral cocoon is fit to burst!

I’ve been busy working on Book 3 (reminder, you can buy books 1 and 2 on Amazon), but as always I’ve also been working through replotting book 4 (because writing a series, let alone one nine novels long requires a bit of foresight on my part.) And as with all the previous books, something about the plot of #4 just wasn’t sitting right.

And then I listened to Cults, a comedic investigative podcast that looks into various cults throughout history, their activities, recruitment methods, all that fun sort of jazz. As hosts Paige Wesley and Marie Bello explain on their inaugural podcast, they’re interested in cults because they live in California and cults are literally everywhere. Oddly enough, that was the same thing Gregg Hurwitz said in an interview about his second Tim Rackley book.

I love comedy. I love cults. If there were a cult based around the Marx Brothers, I would probably join. (The password is always Swordfish). As it is, I live in Canada and the only Cult I have access to has a history of cutting off people’s arms and I need mine for writing purposes (Hello, Ant Hill Kids.) Therefore, I live vicariously through the work of people like Paige and Marie who are deeply ensconced in the cult-scene and, on at least one occasion relayed to listeners about a weekend visit to a farmer’s market for a massage (which might just be the most hipster thing I’ve written in the last few months) about how they were nearly swindled by a cult.

The point is, knowledge is power. I have a notebook chalked full of notes thanks to these two lovely ladies about the cult that will be dominating book 4, and I am excited to see where it takes me.

However, as with all things in life, they couldn’t have expected to poke the hornets nest for so long before something came out to sting them. A couple days back a message was posted on the Cults Facebook page regarding the removal of Part 1 of a particular episode. It doesn’t take a backrub peddling pontificator to know that someone got a little uptight about being called a ‘cult’ and didn’t appreciate having their presumably very white, identical pants and shirts all laid out to bare for the public to see. It looks like they have avoided litigation, at least for now. But that sort of subtle threat against your creative work can be a serious downer, and word can spread and sometimes impact that potential audience you are trying to reach. That’s why I’m encouraging all of you to go to your favorite podcast provider and give Cults a listen.

Okay. Maybe not the first few episodes. Pre-Armando episodes, or Pre-Mando episodes as I will now call them. Armando, their hilarious sound guy, was sorely needed in those early days. But don’t bring it up to Paige or Marie. They know their sound was crap. If you can deal with ratcheting your sound up to eleven, they’re still worth checking out. I promise, there are no audible jump-scares to ruin your hearing.

Cults are fascinating. They’re all around us (some more than others, I guess. Stupid, lame Canada with its lack of interesting cults.) They prey on the weak and most vulnerable in society and manipulate them into acting outside of the social norm. They are awful, but sort of cool, but really actually awful, but also, like, sort of really cool in a sick sort of way.  I have a lot of different feelings, but given my history of writing explosive, violent scenes, I suppose an interest in cults isn’t that unusual.

The point is, go listen to it. The crimes of these cults and leaders aren’t exactly friendly jaunts through fields of daisies. Paige and Marie are dealing with dark, uncomfortable topics on a weekly basis, and interjecting an overtop level of humor that a person could argue reflects the overall nature and response of general society when we hear about people getting caught up in cult activities. Ha ha, look at those chumps! This could never happen to me! That’s about as academic as I’m willing to get on the topic at the moment given the high levels of morphine currently in my system.

Anyways, give it a listen. It’s well worth it. Also buy my books. Those are also well worth it.

Or don’t. See if I care.

(I do.)

Header Photo by Nancy Wong, 1977

Extra Life 2017 – Fundraising

This Saturday, November 4th, 2017, I will be buckling down for another 24 hours of gaming misadventures, all for the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

I could give you the same schpeel I do every year; this was my home away from home, where I had 4 of my 5 spinal surgeries, where a pseudo-father figure surgeon helped me grow up and hone my sarcasm to its current needle-like state. I could tell you about how the smell of hospitals still makes me nauseous, and that the only way I can go into them is by holding my breath as I walk over the threshold, imagining how I carry a piece of the outside world with me as I go.

I could talk about the hours and hours of x-rays and appointments and surgeries. About sitting awake at night, watching night turn to day and nurses change shifts and fellow patients grow, heal, and leave.

When you turn 18, you effectively ‘graduate’ from the children’s hospital, but you never leave it. Not really. A piece of you stays behind, clings to the shadows. All the kids who walked in and never walked out, all the ones who gave up their innocence to surgeries and experimental treatments and promises to do the best they can.

The Alberta Children’s Hospital was built on the memories and shadows of those kids. Shadows insulate the walls from the coldest of the winter winds, taking the brunt of it so those who are still alive, who are still innocent, get a marginally better chance.

This year’s Extra Life seems a little more melancholy to me, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the sensation of pain getting worse over the last year, or realizing that I am so far away from the comfort of those walls now. I’m as much an adult as I was ever a child, and I feel remarkably listless in between the two worlds.

Still, ACH remains my home away from home, even if I haven’t been a patient there in 10 years. The Good Doctor remains a remarkable influence on my life, even though I haven’t seen him since just after I was married.  And the little slice of shadow, that tiny bit of me, still lingers at the hospital, connecting me to it.

On Saturday, November 4th, I’ll be gaming for 24 hours and raising money for Alberta Children’s Hospital.

You can watch the stream here, or donate money directly to my campaign here. All donations over $20.00 get tax-deductible receipts, and any donation over $25.00 will get you entered to win prizes, including a limited edition BB-8 Funko Pop and a Dogmeat Funko Pop.

Every dollar donated goes directly to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Thank you

An Open Letter to Ken King “You can’t emotionally blackmail that which is already dead inside.”

Recently, Ken King decided to double down on the crazy pills vis a vis CalgaryNext. Presumably that means KathleenNOW is off the table.

Dear Ken King,

I can only imagine the frustrations you must be grappling with in the face of our refusal to indulge your petty desire for more hookers and cocaine. It is difficult, I know, not getting what you want. Much like my one-year-old nephew, you have opted to throw a tantrum and beat your fists desperately against the floor in the hopes that Mayor Nenshi will take you back to Walmart so you can finally purchase that Paw Patrol action figure you want.

I know, man. Paw Patrol is really cool.

But Ken, Kenny baby, life doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to stomp your feet and threaten to hold your breath until you turn blue until you get what you want. Incidentally, our colour is red so that is really what you should be aiming for.  You don’t get to threaten to take away our Flames just because we won’t pay for you turbo mansion with the T-rex leather sofa ball pit and the gold toilet that your (presumably) trophy wife throws up into every night after she comes to terms that she must do the sex with you.

You don’t get to be a total wad just because you don’t get what you want.

Look around you, Kenny.  The unemployment rate is fluctuating badly. In December we were at 10.6% unemployment. At this moment it’s 9.4%. How many glorious new jobs would this new Cocaine-and-Gold-Boobs Stadium bring? Is it worth the tax expense that would be levelled against all of us, just to fulfill your desire to shit on the Saddledome as the walls explodes around you?

And here’s another thing. When you say, “There would be no threat to move, we would just move, and it would be over.” Well, Ken-Kill-Kenney, that actually comes off like a threat, and I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but in general folks don’t take well to threats. In fact, threats generally cause us to dig in our heels, drill nails through our feet, and prepare for the worst outcome. And trust me, Ken, if the worst you can do is take away the Flames, and it is, then you are about to get an unpleasant surprise. I, for one, have already painted my toenails to show off my brand new, lovely, hobnail accessory.

See, despite what you think, Ken King, the Calgary Flames are not the be all and end all of our city. We are made of many patterns and colours. We have many loves and interests. As a community, we have the remarkable ability to come together and find enjoyment in a variety of activities. Some, like the Comic Expo and the Stampede are an annual event. During the brief days that these events take place we come together to indulge in our silly side and explore our history in quasi-drunken escapades that will never be repeated here nor anywhere else.

But Calgary has so much more to offer as well. The Glenbow, the Telus Spark Science Centre, the Calgary Zoo. Walk down Stephen Ave during the Christmas Holidays and a person would be hard-pressed to not feel themselves spurred on by a sense of community. Except you. I imagine whenever snow touches your lily-white skin you are forced to vigorously towel dry yourself with the nearest louse-free homeless person. Float down the Bow, get a treat at Village Ice Cream, visit one of our many farmer’s markets. Climb the Tower (or ride a sherpa as much like my previously mentioned nephew, your stubby legs would never make the climb, and I’m sure the speed of an elevator ascent would cause you to get a nosebleed.) Have you seen our craft beer community? Big Rock, Village, Last Best, Toolshed, Dandy, Wild Rose. Every single thing I’ve listed, including the sherpa, laughs in the face of your ‘threat-but-totally-not-a-threat’ to take away our Flames.

We’ve got some sweet-ass malls, some bitchin’ walking trails, and some cool-as-shit libraries to visit. Those are places where you can get books for free, by the way. You might want to try picking one up some time. I recommend something by Charles Dickens, as you will surely recognize yourself in the robust, eccentric fancy-man villains that occupy those particular plotlines.

We’ve got an eclectic variety of religions and ethnicities, all offering their own individual services, celebrations, and cuisine to try. We have street festivals, and hipster paradises like Kensington and Inglewood waiting to be explored.

We have one of the foremost children’s hospitals in North American. By the way, I’d love a donation to my Extra Life Campaign.

We have old and new architecture that, if you have the time to remove your head from betwixt your asscheeks, you might just notice and, perhaps, admire.

Have you heard our symphony or seen the concerts that are hosted at the Jube and the Epcor Centre? Bob Dylan is coming this July. Bob-Fucking-Dylan. You know who else is coming? Distant Worlds, which is a Final Fantasy based orchestra performance. We get video game music and Bob-Fucking-Dylan all in the course of six months. The breadth of our cultural landscape stretches the length of the Rockies, which, by the way, are only a short drive away.

Calgary is a hundred thousand colours and sights and smells. It is a hundred thousand loves and passions and hates, dreams and desires. It is over one million voices all chiming together to tell you that you, Ken King, are a gargantuan asshole.

Go ahead, King. Take our Flames. Take our team. The one thing you can’t package up and ship off to another city is our spirit. That passion, that joy, that team loyalty, it isn’t for sale, and we won’t suffer your emotional blackmail.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Sawisky, esq

Integrity Commissioner

 

PS: I have heard you, and others, mention the good charity work that comes from the Calgary Flames. I am unaware of any charity that threatens those it helps the most, although I see a nurse shaking down a child with leukemia at ACH, so I guess you never know.

Chronic Pain Diaries “The Luckiest”

I’m lucky, I’m lucky, I’m lucky. It’s a mantra that I force myself to live by. I am lucky. I am well-adjusted. I’m okay. I repeat it every day religiously because if I don’t, if I miss a moment of it, I run the risk of revolving into something heinous. It’s a something that is a wreck, a destructive force that runs the risk of devouring my sense of ‘self’. I don’t know what I would become, but I can’t find out.

Because I am lucky. I am lucky.

Today is a bad pain day. I knew it the moment I woke up. My skin ached, my bones felt like they weighed a thousand pounds each, and my muscles pulsed. I know these bad pain days better than I know good pain days, if there can really be such a thing. I know them and I dread them because they bring me as close to the edge of the ruination of my ‘self’ as I ever want to come. I continue to remind myself, I am lucky, but somehow the words are more hollow. They echo in my mind, absorbed by the heavy darkness that infiltrates all my senses.

I am lucky.

I never understand how it happens. Yesterday my pain was awful too, but for some reason it wasn’t a struggle. My brain woke up, acknowledged the pain, and then kicked it into the back corner where other, more important things could overshadow it. Funny pictures, my Codsworth FunkoPop arriving, lovely emails from people I work with, dinner with the husband. It’s all good, everything is fine because I am lucky. So what changed in the eight hours of sleep (or lack thereof) that my mind, so irregularly wired to handle the concept of chronic, unending pain, now seems like a mountain I can’t climb, let alone reach the summit to plant my flag? Brains are remarkably fickle things, I suppose.

I am lucky. I am alive.

It’s so damn exhausting. On the long walk through the Plus Fifteen from where we park downtown to my office I listen to my Chronic Pain Mix. Songs that are dark, or peppy, or make me feel good. The Lament of Eustace Scrubb by The Oh Hellos; Alright by Pilot Speed; Safe and Sound by Hawksley Workman. They calm the sense of aggravation, of unease. Some songs are so melancholy, I could revert to a teenage frame of mind and think Yes, this song perfectly fits my mood. Some are so energetic, I wonder how I could possibly feel depressed. Because that it was it is. Depression. A big, black swath of angry, vitriolic depression that clings to me.

I am lucky, but I can feel it in my heart, like it is encased by a cloth that is too warm, uncomfortable. It makes me feel sick. And I can’t express it properly, because for over half my life now I have lived with this I am lucky persona. I thrust out my chest, I bang my drum, and I declare Look at me! I am lucky!

The drumming drowns out the little voice in me that is sad and exhausted by the weight it carries.  Lucky as I may be.

I am lucky.

I see others who are also lucky, but don’t know it yet. I speak to them and listen to their frustrations and I nod and commiserate, because on some small level I understand. Yes, it is overwhelming; yes, it is depressing. Yes, it is never going to end. But you will live. We will live. We are lucky. But there is the part of me that knows that I will never be part of their club. Like high school, like all the places I’ve worked, like any social circles, I sit on the periphery of this world because my day-to-day sensibilities do not lean towards sadness and anger and frustration, but relentless positivity.

I am lucky.

Chronic pain is lonely enough as it is. Social isolation is a monster. But to be isolated further from those who suffer as you do? Unfathomable loneliness that eats away at you.

Still, at least you are lucky.