enjoying the foliage

Rather than reading Wittgenstein’s prophetic pronouncements on philosophy and the world on Friday night, I went to see a movie with my friend Adam. It was a vampire movie, and it wasn’t Twilight. You can deduce a priori from these facts that it was a film far superior to the preachy, misogynistic, goth-lite fodder that all the world’s fourteen-year-olds have been lining up to see lately. It’s called Let the Right One In, and you might be able to find it at your local indie-flick haunt.

There is just something about Swedish winters, playground love, and bloodsucking that is deeply horrifying and yet very good from a cushy movie-theatre seat. The film features smatterings of gore, yes – self-mutilation, exsanguination, immolation – but these tidbits aren’t what leave you in want of a hug when the credits roll. It’s all about the understated love and pain, the strange and demanding moral entanglements of being twelve and a bit of a bloodsucker. It’s a lonely, messy, and desperate sort of life.


Since I turned 18 I have voted in exactly two elections. Being the age that I am, it’s fairly obvious which direction of center I have voted for, and I have no problem disclosing that information. The first election I participated in, I voted NDP in my university riding in a room on the first floor of the university centre – exactly a 15 second outdoor stroll from my first year residences. I chose NDP based mostly on health care and environment policy. As someone who was (unfortunately) raised on the Sun, I couldn’t see myself ever voting for the Liberal party. They had been in power so long! And there were all those scandals. They clearly couldn’t be counted on to form effective government. And while I respect their values, I do not hold much love for the Green Party and would never vote for a group of people who never intend to be elected. And unlike most other students I passingly discussed politics with, I do not hate Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party. I support many core conservative values that are not always reflected in how the party votes, such as fiscal responsibility or a tough on crime mentality. Also, I oppose almost every single policy they support – voting for them was never really an option.

I was not surprised when Liberal gay-marriage opposer Brenda Chamberlain won in my riding. While we are most definitely not a two-party system, in most ridings the showdown seems to be between the red and the blue. Not deterred, I was ready to vote again in the two-shakes-of-a-moose’s-tail that usually separates our elections.

I admit, from August onwards of this year I spent most of my headspace being entranced by the siren song of Barack Obama’s sensible liberalism, and wetting myself with hope that the US would elect a leader that we as a country could stand. I only really noticed that an election was coming up when a virus of plastic signs began to plague my summer commutes into the city of Guelph. Fast forward to election day because I was summarily ignoring Canadian politics in favor of the, let’s face it, more interesting stuff south of the border. 1630 Election Day I was running myself in circles on the Election Canada website, trying to find my polling station and not yet having decided who I was going to vote for. When I discovered that I was, in fact, not in the Guelph riding but two blocks outside of it in Wellington-Halton Hills, and that the Conservatives won in my riding with 60% of the vote last election, well, my decision had been made. I had never seen myself as a strategic voter, but then, I had never seen myself as living in a riding with an actual real-life Christian Heritage Party candidate. I voted Liberal to keep the Conservatives out of power. Harper won with 62% of the vote in my riding this election. No real surprises there. I sat in the library and streamed election results off my laptop. I shudder to think of the amount of money that was spent with the ultimate value of seven parliament seats in flux. What is the real value of elections to our officials?

Continue with my ignoring the state of Canadian politics to focus on other things. While I do not get the paper and have only a passing interest in the news, I assumed (perhaps correctly) that nothing was getting done as per usual. Fast forward yet again to Facebook rumblings of a “coalition” being formed by Stephane Dion and Jack Layton against Harper and the Conservatives. If you consider nothing but the way I have voted all my voter life, you would suppose I would be pleased as punch having my two favourite ladies become best friends and go on Atlantic City jaunts together.

For someone only half-following the state of politics through hearsay, it was easy to identify a knee-jerk visceral WHAT THE FUCK reaction among my fellow students. Admittedly none of us paid attention in Civics class. Come on. It was REALLY boring and we were fifteen. You can’t blame us. Our brand of Gen X/Internet/Cybertext or whatever the old folks are calling us these days immediately devolved into uses of CapsLock and the word “communism” which began spilling out into my Facebook Newsfeed. COMMIE LIBERALS!!! THIS IS A DEMOCRACY!! I DO NOT UNDERSTAND CANADIAN GOVERNMENT THEREFORE I AM OUTRAGED! Come on. We’re not fooling anyone. This coalition shit hasn’t been pulled since Borden, it’s safe to say it’s pretty new to most of us. But we all get to learn NEW FUN words like prorogue and then crawl up on our smartypants high horses and say snottily that we knew all this shit about our parliamentary system WHY, DIDN’T YOU?!? while other people that had no such knowitall pretenses threw around sentences they found haphazardly dangingly from McCain’s speeches on Barack Obama and his rampant socialism. Immediately lines were drawn all around and across what used to be counted on as being a fairly cohesively ultraliberal grouping. Suddenly everyone’s an expert on Canadian politics, and everyone has an opinion.

Well, here’s mine. I don’t care about how useless the Conservatives are in power. I don’t care that no one’s passed a bill since who-knows-when. I don’t care that we are the only ones not to have passed an economic stimulus package. I don’t care about Harper’s broken promises, words like “dictatorship” or Stephane Dion’s accent. I don’t care about the lies told to me by both parties on national TV. Here is what I do care about.

Currently, parliament has been suspended, so the EXACT definition of “nothing” can be accomplished. Harper has been instrumental in calling a useless election for our useless House, while Dion has been instrumental in doing exactly the opposite of trying to get shit done as he gathers a up a grassroots movement of left-leaners to “get stuff done that real Canadians actually care about etc etc” to maybe do stuff, in like a couple of months, if the guy with bad hair will get out of our way. So, at last count, NO ONE is currently doing their jobs.

I don’t care if you disagree. I don’t care if you think you can’t get shit done unless you play musical chairs with every fucking politician in the House. All I want is for everyone in Ottawa to take their collective dicks out of each others’ collective asses, stop pulling each others hair and get the hell back to work.

It’s going to be a long fucking year and a half until the the next election unless you jackasses can, somehow, some way, figure out how to do what the rest of us have to and negotiate with people you don’t necessarily agree with or like. Because that is, I think, the working definition of a productive politician – working being the operative word. And without a fundamental change in the mentality of Canadian politics, where we go from if you don’t like who you’re working with vote for an election, to, what can we accomplish with people who are different from us, there will be no real change in our government for a very, very long time.

In the midst of today’s snowstorm I got my wisdom teeth removed. I couldn’t imagine my face any rounder, but it is, and I very closely resemble a very greedy, geeky (the glasses) chipmunk with a ponytail. When I got home and I was waiting for my mom to come back from the pharmacy with pills, I experienced the most intense, excruciating pain ever and curled up in a little sobbing ball. Realization: I can be kind of a baby. Luckily, I now have a steady stream of ibuprofen and codeine. How did people manage to have teeth pulled before the advent of modern medicine? Huge shout out to whatever let me be born in the 20th century. And I get the internet. Score.

I can say that the procedure itself was pretty smooth though. I don’t have very much fear for medical things, and had a good time with the nitrous oxide. I was put completely under, and the last thing I remember was attempting to calculate how much money my orthodontist makes from doing wisdom teeth extractions. Apparently he does one an hour every day around this time of year, and charges $1700 each. Jeez.

Anyway, what are your wisdom teeth stories? From telling people about getting them out this past week, I know everyone loves sharing them. I have enormous amounts of baking I want to do next week and I’m willing myself to get over being able to only eat slurpy liquid things asap. Getting over my face looking like a bouncy ball with a nose would also be cool. Also, I need movie suggestions, because at this rate it looks like I’ll be curled up in my living room for at least another day. Go!

I have struggled a lot with wanting to write on a variety of topics. I consistently find myself unable to sit down and write without a preconcieved topic, or even elaborate on something not fresh in my mind or that I do not feel strongly about. However, taking two classes that almost straddled the divide in nature between undergrad and graduate work I have found it a lot easier to speak (or write, in this case) on a topic in a clear, concise, accurate fashion. Maybe scientific paper-style writing is not the most appealing medium for extracurricular bloggery but I have been backed into a corner. By this point in my B.Sc. I’m lucky I’m still literate.

I may be the most prolific TV-watcher in the bunch, and I’m not sure if any of you have seen the increasing amounts of one-hour specials TLC has been pumping out documenting extraordinary people, or extraordinary experiences, or on a very good day both. Today I had the good fortune to witness probably the most engaging “documentary” (can you call it a documentary if it’s a one-hour special?) in my limited memory. Unfortunately while I generally enjoy the nature of TLC’s programming, I’m often put off by the sensational and often nearsighted titles they attribute to people and their stories. However, that being said I found “Mermaid Girl” to be poignant, honest, engaging and thorough. Admittedly this is not a biased “review” or even a purposeful one – teratology is an interest of mine and I don’t expect anyone else to share my love of what I like to call Murphy’s Law of the womb.

In addition to taking Teratology this semester, I also took Medical Embryology next semester. While I thoroughly enjoyed the latter it definitely kicked me in the ass, but that didn’t stop me from LOVING TO LEARN. Seriously, what am I. Sirenomelia, also known as mermaid syndrome, is a condition where a child is born with their legs fused together essentially from the waist down. Sirenomelia (or so I had thought) is always fatal, and when discussed in textbooks or scientific literature is usually accompanied by grotesque pictures of stillborn babies born with this rare defect. A little bit of research into the few scientific papers available willy-nilly on Google and able to be accessed for freeee reveal a proposed mechanism, for those of us that may be interested. Like me. Sirenomelia is an incredibly rare birth defect, about on par with conjoined twins. However the vast population of people within our world have provided literature with more than a few cases. Dissection of abdominal vasculature within affected infants appear to reveal a probable mechanism for the constellation of abnormalities seen in mermaid syndrome. Infants are not only born with two legs fused together, but usually possess some combination of absence or malformations of kidney, gastrointestinal and other genitourinary tract issues. A constant feature of dissected infants often reveals existence of hypoplasia of the vasculature distal to the aorta, which would lead to nutritional deficiency in the lower half of the body, accounting for the absence of structures and fusion of lower limbs. ETIOLOGY OVER. No more school I promise.

Shiloh is one of perhaps 4-8 survivors of sirenomelia known in the entire realm of medical literature. Of all survivors known, Shiloh is the only one not to have undergone leg separation surgery, and as such remains the only true “mermaid girl”. Being the only known person in the entire world with her condition, the documentary honestly and thoroughly elaborates on the intricacies of her medical condition, her medical care, and the strength of not only Shiloh but the people that surround her. The willingness of the filmmaker as well as the people in Shiloh’s life that are featured within the documentary to share intimate aspects of their lives is what makes this documentary so compelling. When you’re the only person in the entire world with your legs fused together, being anything but plainspoken fails to address unique concerns in a meaningful fashion.

Sirenomelia can be detected via ultrasound as a rigidness and lack of movement in the legs. Shiloh’s parents obviously knew about the realities of her condition and chose to continue with the pregnancy. Evolving technology in the field of prenatal diagnostics has presented potential parents with the heartbreaking decision of whether to terminate, evolving past society’s general viewpoint on late-term abortion. Shiloh’s mother openly questions her own judgment in bringing her into the world due to the difficulties she will face in her life, which must be comforting to other parents having to make similar choices. Shiloh made medical history and was born alive and relatively healthy in regards to her condition. However, possessing only a fraction of a kidney, she required a kidney transplant at the age of four months old, as well as another at the age of eight.

Shiloh is an incredibly unique girl, even apart from her condition. By my calculations, Shiloh was eight years old at the age of filming, but it’s almost impossible to believe. Shiloh’s happiness and zest for life is so infectious it practically radiates through the TV screen. In addition to her one-of-a-kind personality, she displays a depth of maturity and wisdom in confronting the unique challenges she faces that is unheard of in most adults. Maybe some of it is genetic – her parents are also truly remarkable people. Her father quit his job to fully take care of her and in viewing both her parents’ attitudes its apparent where Shiloh gets her strength and candor. Having, at the time, the second known child born alive with this condition, they had difficult decisions to make early on in Shiloh’s life. No one expected Shiloh to live beyond a few months and her parents had to fight medical providers to put her on dialysis after her first kidney failed.

Maybe one of the reasons I’m so in love with this documentary is what we see of Shiloh’s doctor, who candidly discusses the realities of having to treat a completely novel medical condition resulting in unexpected challenges, such as weight gain and scoliosis. In the documentary, the realities of Shiloh’s mobility and the possibility of leg separation is discussed between the doctor, Shiloh’s parents, and even Shiloh. No decision is made without her, and she is amazingly, perfectly capable at age eight of demonstrating that ability. During a monthly weigh-in in which Shiloh gained wieght while on a diet regiment, Shiloh looks at her mom asking what she did wrong. It’s very apparent that we are all more the same than different.

The documentary even touches on the often taboo subject of puberty and sexuality, with both Shiloh and her parents discussing her future. Shiloh expresses that she would love to one day have a boyfriend, and even refers to her doctor Dr. Hottie. I can’t say I disagree, girl knows her doctors (and hotties). Her mother also discusses the possibility of sex with someone of her anatomy. Her doctor has expressed that it is possible to create a vagina but there will be no sensation attached. Her parents fear that Shiloh will not find someone who loves her for who she is, but after spending an hour with Shiloh I’ve already fallen in love with her. She will probably be married before I will.

I have no idea how much interest this was to anyone. But I loved this documentary and watched it twice in one night.

This came up randomly in my ethics and environment seminar. It’s pretty high quality.

I am SO RELIEVED. Things are going to be awesome, guys. Congrats Americans, you did it!

I completely acknowledge the fact that my blogging has devolved into mostly “the internet is sooo cool! check this out!” I promise I’m going to move on to actually content (eventually). But really, McSweeney’s is too awesome to not share. So, um, czech this: Dudes! Did you See the Library They’ve Got Here?

My favourite part:

I’ll sit down at a table across from the big glass windows in the second-floor lounge, so I can get a bit of reflection, check myself out. Maybe catch some chicks checking me out, too. I’ll be all cool and stuff—I’ll have my headphones on, with Nickelback going, and I’ll just keep turning pages. But I’ll know they’re watching. Getting totally hot for my mind.

Har har.