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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Cameron's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, November 20th, 2016
11:06 am
first job of the season
For many years, the first Christmas party of my work season happened on the second Sunday of November, which always felt weirdly early. Well, and it was.

The party was a family event for a very large law firm, and the set-up was pleasingly familiar every time: it was at a very posh manor, there were three caricaturists and three facepainters and a big stage show (which was different every year) and the food, and the carols, Santa's visit, the DJ. I loved it. It was Josh's gig and he was always there to look after us, hand over the cheques, and make sure the day was perfect. As an artist, I got to draw babies who grew into pre-schoolers who turned into big kids, and eventually aged out of the party. The same kids would get a drawing from me every year, which is adorable and flattering.

Driving home after, I'd listen to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe stories on CBC radio. Also a tradition.

Well, couple years back the law firm decided to switch things up and do a totally different kind of party, something more interactive or whatever. So that gig went away, alas. I trust Josh that this is really the truth, and not an agent's little white lie to gloss over anything else. Even if that was the case, there'd be nothing I could do about it, and so it's not even worth thinking about.

And so it was that this year the first job of my holiday season was not a family party at 9am last week, but a grownup dinner event this week. And readers, it was truly fab.

This party was a repeat booking, for a firm that books me directly and has done for several seasons, and believe me there is no more flattering praise for an entertainer than repeat business. I'm wondering if they tried to book me last year or the year before, and I told them I was unavailable and maybe why? No idea. Just glad that the gig showed up again.

This year, their soiree was in a glam restaurant perched high atop a tall building, affording a splendid view of the sparkling cityscape. I got there easily by public transit, which was a definite bonus.

The client met me at the door to hand me a cheque, explained that everything was running a bit late over dinner, and directed me to a nicely-lit table over near where the casino staff were waiting. And she was right: I didn't start until almost a full hour into the booked time. And during that pause, I was fed a truly delicious steak dinner.

Yes, that's right. I was on the company dime while devouring a tender and perfectly-grilled steak. Not a bad thing at all.

When it was time to work, an instant lineup formed, and many of the sitters remembered me from previous years and even showed off my caricatures on their phones. While I worked, a young photographer often hovered nearby to shoot photos and exclaim "oh my god, she is so talented! That looks exactly like you! This is amazing!"- etcetera. Every job should have such an esteem-boosting cheerleader: imagine how much better it would feel to input all those reports if someone was standing right by your desk telling everybody how good you are. I recommend it.

Even though my work started late, it wrapped up on time (the band was packing up their gear, the casino was closing down) and the client walked me to the coat cheque with praise and thanks.

Seriously, that was a lovely job, and here's hoping it's a harbinger for the season.

In truth, I don't have a lot of bookings. Just a nice handful. Gone are the days when I rented a car in order to get to one job Friday, two or three on Saturday and two on Sunday, to then spend Monday in bed icing down my drawing arm. All of that action vanished after 9/11, or such has been my experience. And closer to home, my career has stalled because I was out sick for so long and everyone knew why. They found other artists and moved on without me, in some cases. Last spring I texted my favourite agent for the big b'nai mitzvot- hey, I'm alive! All better now and ready to work!- and got silence in return. That stung a bit.

Anyway, next weekend I'm booked for a job at an airport hotel. It's possible by transit, but it's a long ride: subway and bus, something like an hour and a half in transit. Ugh. The agent got me in touch with an amiable entertainer on the same job, and I emailed to ask her if I could possibly get a lift. She wrote back at once, saying that there would be room for me, but- she had an afternoon job, could I meet her at a station far in the north end of the city, oh and there was another entertainer with her who absolutely HAD to sit in the front seat, and hopefully I only had a slim case with me because the entire trunk and half the back seat was full of gear, also the other person wanted to stop and have dinner at Tim Horton's before the job, so could I please meet her at 5:45?

This is for a job that starts at 8.

I'd have to leave my place a full three hours before that job to get a lift squeezed into the back of her car, and so I politely declined: my ass can get there on transit faster. I'll ask for a lift to a subway station after, though.

There's also the facepainting job on the Lakeshore the following week- for that I've booked a rental car. It's too early for any option other than driving. In the past two years Rob has permitted me to borrow the Jetta for this weekend, but this time he will be out of town at his new company's swanky holiday event. So, argh. Renting for the first time in this millennium.

The day after that is another Josh gig, early morning, out in the suburbs, but a fellow artist has agreed to come collect me. And the week after, Paige has booked me for an annual dinner party we've done together for years. She is the chef, I am the sous-chef and chief decorator: she hires me for my plating skills, because she says I make her food look amazing. She pays well, and the client always tips me a bottle of Champagne, so it is worth the supreme exhaustion of being on my feetsies for five hours straight.

Last year, I did that job while wearing an air cast on a broken foot, because that is the kind of BAMF I am.
Saturday, November 19th, 2016
11:57 am
well, hello there.
Yesterday morning I did my best impression of Morning Person: up at dawn (which is shockingly late at this time of the year), fed and watered and out the door while rush hour was still in progress. I was on my way deep into the west end, to an industrial enclave that houses both factories and creative endeavours. My friend Amelie, engineer and fun person, goes to a weekly circus arts class and had invited me to come draw.

Admission: I just now had to leaf back in the calendar here to find an entry containing her, in order to find her nom-de-net, and that entry turned out to be Saturday the 8th of November, 2014. And re-reading my words from that day filled me with a rush of warmth and gratitude for what a wonderful person she is. (And I don't mind telling you that OMG OMG OMG she's in the running right now to be an ASTRONAUT!!!)

Amelie and four other ladies, one of whom is a tiny, adorable, ferocious dancer, all train in circus flying arts: trapeze, hoop. A cheerful warmup was followed by incredible feats of strength and flexibility, and they all had routines to practise towards the end of the class.I was briefly distracted, looked around for Amelie and holy cats, she was way up near the loft ceiling! I can barely imagine having that kind of upper body strength and fearlessness. It was a challenge to draw, for sure, but I managed some decent fast portraits and gestures. The instructor invited me to come back anytime, which is very pleasing.

After, Amelie and I went to lunch and had a catch-up visit. Here I confess to some social awkwardness: the lady paid for my lunch while I was in the washroom, and instead of offering to pay her back immediately I said "I'll buy your sandwich the next time!" and this wrong move was making me smite my forehead most of the way home. Sorry, Amelie.

Yesterday I was so tired, though. All day tired. Coffee didn't help. I'm supposed to be giving up caffeine, so coffee is extra naughty, which should in theory make it even better, though it did not. Even so, I did a necessary chore. I got all my walking in, according to the Robotic Overlord/fitness app. I rested, but did not sleep. I went out to buy a fancy new suitcase for my trip. And I went to bed early and slept many hours. Still tired.

Better not be sick- I'm going to New York City in two days! Note to self: get on buying travel insurance RIGHT NOW.

Words are bubbling up in me after months of silence here. Lots to tell. More later.
Thursday, August 11th, 2016
9:54 pm
good milestones
I'm procrastinating a little right now. Tonight I have to finish a commissioned pet portrait- my first, come to think of it- an adorable French bulldog posing with an open pine cone.It's for one pf the clients who bought a piece from my show in the fall. Still have not met this person in the flesh, but owning two of my paintings qualifies him as a collector, and that is flattering. Very flattering.

But before I withdraw to the studio solarium, which is coincidentally the only air-conditioned room in my apartment, which is pertinent because at almost 10pm it's still as hot as Satan's nut sack in here- first, friends, let me tell you some good news for a change.

Earlier this week I met with the charming Brazilian surgeon, to discuss the results of my abdominal CT scan. He congratulated me on a great scan, because it shows no sign of mets, no internal adhesions, and also my appendix looks just fine, so that's a relief too I guess. The adhesions that attach my belly skin to the abdominal wall show up very clearly. It feels like wearing a too-tight belt at all times. Sometimes it's mildly uncomfortable, sometimes it's very uncomfortable, but it's never quiet. Never. So the nice general surgeon promised he'd write a very full note to my plastic surgeon (as this problem can only be addressed by that speciality) explaining how symptomatic I am. In other words, it's not a cosmetic procedure to fix this. So it ought to be covered.

Clear scan! No cancer spotted. That's a good milestone.

There's another one that happened this week. I decided not to go back to the group sessions at Gilda's. They helped me very much indeed- peer support, sharing stories with people who truly understand. We helped each other. We made friendships happen. But a couple of weeks ago, I realised I was done. My stories have been told. And listening to some other folks talk, it was apparent that they still had some healing to get through, but that listening to them was not helping me at all.

So, I graduated. My facilitator was delighted. That's their goal, to see members get better and leave.

That community is a special place, and I give back to them. I lead art tours, and in the fall I'll teach a workshop on headwrappings, and swear to god you guys I'm walking in there with a pair of leggings and a tshirt on my head, wrapped up in a chic turban, just to prove my point that you can jam just about anything up there if you want to. This is volunteer work that I believe in.

My three-week drug holiday has come to an end, and I am four days into a trial of a different formulation. The product info sheet that came with the prescription listed some of the side effects- "see your pharmacist or doctor at once"- and it's true, all of them hit me, and it was like that intelligence test you can give to dogs: drape a blanket over their heads and see how long it takes a smart dog to get out, or a less-bright canine accept: "well, this is my life now." I was like that second dog, thinking it was my lot to put up with always-aching joints and muscles, dark mood swings, loss of libido and related genital woes. But it is not. It won't be.

Finally, let me tell you about the DART assessment.

When you're a cancer patient, every time you visit the cancer hospital, they want you to fill out a questionnaire about how you feel that day. You rate several things on a numerical scale- your fatigue, your sleepiness (not the same thing), your mood and appetite, nausea, etcetera. These questions are to pinpoint how you feel on that day only. But the last question is an assessment on your general activity level over the last month. Have you been in bed most days? Not your usual self, but in bed or a chair less than half the day? Not your usual self, but able to do most things? Or, finest of all- normal, with no limitations?

For the first time in two years, last week I answered "normal."

That might be the best milestone of all, so far.
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
5:50 pm
Indie coffee passport: Cafe Neon and Creeds Coffee Bar
Aniko and I have basically spent the summer apart, until today. At the end of June I went to Prince Edward Island, and right about when I got back she and her husband left for a couple weeks down south, and then there were family obligations right after, so here we are- August.

So today we didn't just get together, we had a mighty Two-Cafe Coffee Passport experience.

We started at Cafe Neon on Wallace Street, which has been on passports in past years. Other than high prices on somewhat fancy menu items, it bears little in common with its other outpost, Cafe Neon on west Queen West. I tried that out in springtime, and concluded it was not exactly NOT recommended, but not worth a special trip, either, particularly in as coffee-rich an enviroment as Trinity-Bellwoods.

This Cafe Neon is in a dark grey room with marble tables and black chairs, and casual paper on the walls, with a long list of breakfast and lunch foods available in addition to the usual bakery offerings. I ordered a cappuccino while waiting for Aniko, and it arrived in a sweet white cup and saucer with a discreet flourish of latte art.

The cafe is in a brick storefront of a long building containing such businesses as the IATSE cinematographer's union, and it's right across the street from Ubisoft's Toronto headquarters, which explains the high percentage of great tattoos and unusual hair colours on the constant flow of to-go customers.

I am pleased to report that the cafe and its washrooms are both street-level, and thus accessible. It's always a pleasure to find a place that doesn't have steps up to the door and many steep steps down to the washrooms. As for the coffee, I liked it well- though in fairness, it was entirely secondary to the excellent conversation.

We had enough time to hit another cafe, as Aniko had her car handy and wasn't expected at home for a couple of hours, so we decided on the Creeds Coffee Bar on Dupont, just west of Spadina.

You guys, I may have discovered the best of all the cafe passport offerings this year.

It has parking. Not always an issue, but an awfully nice perq. It's a short walk to the Dupont subway station, and not far from the Bathurst bus, and of course right on the Dupont bus route. So there's that.

There's a patio area with seating out front under white canvas umbrellas, right next to the huge planters overflowing with fuschia-pink flowers. Inside, there's a large seating area on a polished concrete floor, with a charming collection of suede bucket seats with 60s styling, stools in the window, tables and chairs, a couch near the back, and a big round table suitable for meetings.

A beaming barista who looked like a male model invited us to order anything we liked from their extensive drinks menu, from behind a large and beautiful marble bar. Usually there's a little menu with four or five choices for passport holders, but not here. I chose the iced latte- cold milk and an espresso shot over ice in a tall glass. It was just right. Aniko had a non-dairy version, and she was offered either soy or almond milk.

We sat in the back with a living-edge wood coffee table between us, the slab perched incongruously on milk crates. A window had four sturdy succulents in pots. On the wall, edgy video art. On the floor, a few scattered pink blossoms blown in by the breeze.

The washrooms are in individual cabines, silver and black and lovely, with the single most elegant touch of any cafe in the city: linen hand towels. I am not making this up.

Overall, a beautiful and welcoming cafe, and yes- there is wifi. You don't even need a password.


Highly recommended.
5:27 pm
a tattoo addendum-
Hey, I forgot to mention the most important part of my tattoo apprenticeship idea: the reason why.

I'm pulling artwork together that shows my range, my attention to detail, careful ink work, colour sense, and black/white/greyscale imagery. It's occurred to me that it might be a great idea to do a special tattoo-themed portfolio, new drawing and paintings. But I already have what might be the single most important piece of the portfolio, the one image that explains my motivation.

A few months ago, just for funsies, I painted a nipple on my reconstructed breast (aka the "noobie"). I used a palette of eye shadows. There were no fleshy tones, exactly, but I know my colour mixing and was able to come up with reasonable shades.

I painted it to look as realistic as possible, what the paramedical tattoo specialists call "3-D illusion." A nipple that's lit from above, shadowed below, to look like it projects. An areola that's not a perfect circle, and that blends a bit into the breast tissue. The little bumps, also shadowed. It looked remarkably good, so I used my phone to take a photo.

Today I showed that photo to my beloved radiation oncologist. "That's insane," he said admiringly.

Over the weekend, I emailed the image to friend on Facebook who owns a framing shop with her mother. They printed out a nice copy for me, which Fitz delivered to me along with a compliment- that they couldn't believe how good that painted nipple looks, how natural.

That's the most compelling thing I'll have in my book to show potential mentors.

I'm already an artist with more than those 10,000 hours of practice everyone talks about. I know how to listen to clients and produce custom designs. And while I really do want to become a fine-art tattooist, my passion is to help cancer patients. To make beautiful tattoo nipples on reconstructed breasts. Or, to tattoo great areolas to complement surgically rebuilt nipples.

Maybe I can even be my own first client. Hey, a lot of tattoo traditionalists insist on the artist working on themselves. Not that this is a fair example, seeing as there's no feeling in the noobie.

At the moment there is exactly one practitioner in Ontario who does really nice nipple tattoos, and she's not in Toronto. And before you ask: everything I've heard, including from surgeons who send their patients to her, suggests she will not be open to taking on an apprentice.

There's another person with a studio and academy in the city, and she teaches paramedical tattooing, but she wants a ridiculous amount of money for a one-week (!) course, plus I don't really love her examples online?

So what I need is for someone to believe in me, and teach me to tattoo. I'm happy to follow the old tradition of being the Shop Bitch who sweeps the floor and answers the phone and fetches the coffee, proving my worth in order to earn the right to learn the craft. The way aspiring sushi chefs do nothing but cook perfect sushi rice for ages, before finally being handed a knife.

Do you know good artists in or around Toronto? Can you recommend anyone I should talk to? Help a bitch out, won't you?
Saturday, July 30th, 2016
1:46 pm
in a perfect world
We know a guy who won the lottery. Twenty three million dollars, to be exact. He promptly bought a penthouse in the city, a lakeside property in cottage country, and commenced traveling the world on scuba adventures. As one does.

What would we do? Back in the day, we- that is, Rob and I- had an idea about the perfect living arrangement.
"We'd buy or build a compound for the four of us," he said. "An apartment for us, one for Iggy, and one for Fitz, but with a big common living area and kitchen."

"No, we'd each get our own, too," I countered. Not because I didn't love him, but because it seemed he'd like his own rustic yet high-tech man cave just as much as I'd covet a live-work artist's loft. With its own kitchenette and bath, but with ready access to the aforementioned shared space. A big, well-equipped kitchen plus a hang-out area for all of us and room for friends, too.

It does sound perfect, doesn't it? A room of one's own, plus a family-like area to eat and cook and live with each other.

In today's take on a perfect world, I'd be done mourning my happy life that was. I'd be maybe in a new relationship with somebody smart and kind and engaging. For sure, I'd be happily working toward a new career, a new life. Not stalled in what feels like a pointless existence.

The other day, I decided to make a move. I put out a call on Facebook for stories and tips on apprenticing as a tattoo artist. (No actual help has come from that call, but several Likes and a few "use me when you need a model!" responses.)

I read up on apprenticing at one of the finest studios in town. They say on their webpage that age is not an impediment to apprenticing there. I know very well that they mean teenagers can sometimes be accepted, but I'm counting on them being just as accepting of mid-career (read: middle aged) artist-applicants. I've begun selecting past work to show my range, colourwork, ink mastery, and attention to detail. And I've even started on a brand new themed portfolio of tattoo-specific ideas.

If my life is going to move out of this quicksand, I'm the only one who can do the work. It's up to me to design the new perfect world, and do what it takes to get myself there.
Thursday, July 28th, 2016
12:10 am
I don't even know what to say about today. It was hot. There's a weather phenomenon called a Heat Dome, and it's been cooking us for a week or so with no end in sight. My apartment is hot. My eyelids are dripping sweat as I type this, and it's midnight.

Last night my sleep was troubled and scant. I woke up late and stale, in a welter of scattered bed clothes. My digestive tract was problematic. Just not a great morning.

I spent some time online. Dragged my way through the completion of the latest Mutant Saint icon on wood. Eventually, got myself together and out the door in the slanting heat of late afternoon.

Today, in Dumb Ideas: taking transit during rush hour by choice.

Also in Dumb Ideas: not going drawing at Toons. Not taking up Bear's Facebook general invite to see a movie. Why was this dumb, in particular? Because it was Fitz's day off, and I'd spoken to him yesterday about the possibility of getting together for a movie tonight, and then he declined to answer my texts yesterday and again today. Just a blip about starting laundry, then nada. So I kind of made a space for him over other pursuits, and he let me down.

It seems to me that he's either so mired in entropy and self-loathing that he can't be arsed to consider the feelings of this particular close friend, or he really is trying to goad me into dumping him. Or, he is confident in the knowledge that I've endured this treatment before and still relented.

It bugs. He knows that Rob starved me with neglect, with the casual knowledge that me and my feelings were no longer of much importance to him. This feels remarkably similar. It's cruel. But if I do hand him his marching papers, then I am utterly alone and will be without human touch.

And so my entire human interaction for this day was the group session at the cancer place, whereat my mood was sad and stormy, which matched the sudden epic thunder- and hailstorm that boiled up out of nowhere.

One more painting started on wood tonight. This one is the saint of the night.
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
1:58 pm
Yesterday was a good day. I woke up reasonably early, having cleverly scheduled a morning appointment. Up in the sunshine, watered the plants, fed myself, made bed, took meds, dressed nicely. Taking the time to make breakfast meant I was a little late out the door to actually take transit or walk to my destination and be on time, so I took the almost completely unfathomably luxurious option of hailing a cab.

Less than five minutes and around $7 with tip later, I was at my location a solid ten minutes early.

Of course, my companion was ten minutes late. Because that's life.

I didn't begrudge him those tardy moments in the slightest: it was my choice to take that taxi. And it afforded me some quite time to just drink in the splendour of the latest and most beautiful iteration of Rooster Coffee.

It's in what's now fashionably called the podium, ie, street-level retail of a condo building. The space is an airy two-storey box, with a narrow mezzanine seating area overlooking a luxurious marble bar, and black-grey-silver accented decor. It manages to be both casual and chic, which is a hard trick to pull off. And a bonus: everyone behind the counter was beautiful. So were many of the customers, which made me glad to have chosen a banquette seat facing that way.

Even the bathroom was gorgeous! It was wallpapered and lit like a boudoir jewelbox, with beautiful fixtures, AND it's fully accessible. Rooster on Jarvis wins. Oh, and the coffee? My Americano misto was too bland for my taste, but the double-shot plain Americano I later had was strong, smooth perfection. Just right.

My coffee date was with Iggy's brother Bram, an academic and general wit, who I hadn't laid eyes on in two years. For half of that he was out of town studying, and the other half, well... I gather it's been trying times on some level. Also, he managed to give the very discreet impression that Rob had been seeking his advice and company while trying to get over his sister. He's been gently disabused of the wisdom of that endeavour, I gathered, but they do still see each other socially. Bram definitely knows a lot more about Rob's life in general these days, but we diplomatically avoided most topics related to him and Iggy and whoever it is that he's presently involved with, though Bram agreed she was remarkably similar to Iggy.

We talked for three hours. Time flew, happily.

After we parted, I walked in the midday sun over past Yonge to run an errand near Bay, then another health-care related errand closer to Kensington, stopping to grab a fast bite on the way. Then home in the heat of the hot,hot day.

Later, on transit again to meet a burleque friend way out in Bloor West Village, who had a bagful of early science fiction paperbacks for me. Pleasant chat ensued. Home most of the way via streetcar... I stopped to buy some cider at the LCBO.

This happened: a young woman approached me with a 1.5 litre bottle of white wine. At first I thought she was asking me to buy it from her, like some people ask you to buy their (social agency provided) tokens for cash. I said no, I didn't want that wine.
She persisted, clarifying that she wanted me to buy it FOR her, with her money.

"I have expired ID and they won't accept it," was her explanation.

Again I turned her down. She asked again, brow wrinkled in annoyance, and again I politely but firmly said no.

"Okay fine, no problem," she muttered, sweeping off.

Three minutes later, I saw a middle-aged blonde in a long sundress holding that bottle of wine in a cash line, with our young heroine hovering nearby.

Here's my take: I don't care why the LCBO is declining to sell you alcohol. If they don't want you to have it, then I am not enabling your purchase, either. People get carded all the time and they know the rules. Next time, either bring the right ID, or be of drinking age, or whatever. Leave me out of it.

The other day I teased an LCBO cashier for not carding me ("sad face, right here!") and then pointed to Fitz. Would you card him? I asked.
"Absolutely," she answered. He and I giggled. He's 35, but he definitely has a touch of that ageless-Asian thing going on. Which is why he always carries proper ID.
Monday, July 25th, 2016
2:07 pm
drug holiday, yay!
It's such a tiny little pill. A wee doll-sized tablet, a warm and happy yellow, popped out from a silver blister pack. It's the drug the doctors say will keep the cancer from coming back. It's a pill I've taken every day since September.

And near as I can tell, that little pill was doing a fine job of turning me into a rickety old lady.

One week into my drug holiday, and already I feel more like myself. My energy has improved: I actually cleaned my apartment, buzzed through four loads of laundry, changed the bed, did piles of dishes.

My body has improved: my joints don't creak and complain when I stand up or get out of bed. I can take stairs like a normal person, not one halting step at a time.

Also, my body has improved in that- really, no discreet way to put this- my pussy feels like maybe it actually belongs to me again. The dormant libido stirs, waking up from its icy exile.

My mood has improved: I no longer resent having to wake up and put on clothing. The future feels interesting and hopeful instead of bleak and hopeless. I... want to be here.

We'll see if those ten unwanted kilos that showed up last fall will be a bit more willing to leave now.

In two weeks, they're starting me on a new drug in the same class. A month after that, my oncologist checks in with me to see how that's working out.

Here's the thing. At what point does prevention trump quality of life? If that new drug is just as bad as the old one, chances are I'll take the not-recommended option of going without. I'd rather take my chances while feeling like myself, than plod safely through life hobbled, heavy, and chemically castrated.
10:37 am
Indie coffee passport: Reunion Island Cafe
It's not always easy to prise myself out of air conditioning and into a heat wave, but the promise of a free cup of excellent coffee is sometimes all that's needed to get my sweaty self on a streetcar. In this case, several streetcars to counter the ongoing mess of summer rail maintenance, and that's partly why I landed all the way across town at Reunion Island Cafe at just 15 minutes shy of closing time. As the 504 plodded up Roncesvalles, it seemed prudent to abandon this particular quest and return with more leisure.

But no matter- the barista was welcoming, the cafe itself was attractive, and I was actually quite in need of a caffeine by the time I got there.

Quite of the few of the newer cafes in town are following a similar esthetic: white floors, uncluttered space, tall steel stools in the window, white-tiled bar. I'm not clear on how long this particular coffee shop has stood on its corner- Lynd, just a block below Howard Park- but to my eyes, it looks as mimimal and studied-casual as, say, Cygnet or Tucana or Fool/now Tokyo Smoke on College.

I order a cappuccino.

There's an episode of the web show Comedians in Cars getting Coffee in which Jerry Seinfeld and, I think it was Fred Armisen, are the only customers in a hip coffee shop, and yet it's taking a very long time for their drinks to be prepared, leading to a stopwatch-like timer superimposed for a joke. "That's just how long it takes."

I also buy a cookie. Of the three varieties under the glass-domed plate, I choose the oddest-sounding one: lemon-cornflake. "That's my favourite," offers the barista as he rings it up. "Well, I'll always pick the thing I've never tried before," I said.

My related credo is, I'll try anything once, and twice if I like it. And this cookie, as it turns out, will not be tried again. The texture was thick and too soft, the lemon was minimal, the too-coarse crunch of corn flakes reminded me of the cereal's origin as a health food in a sanatorium. Not my favourite. No doubt the fat molasses cookie, sparkling with sugar and crowned with a little chunk of crystallised ginger, would have been the cheerier option.

While waiting, I check out the prices on the menu posted on the wall, attractively printed on slender wooden rungs. One of my markers for coffee happens to be how the price of an Americano stacks up next to Starbucks. At Reunion Island Coffee, it's more expensive. They also over a pour-over coffee option, which costs $4.50 for one, or $7.50 "to share." (I sincerely hope those prices are accurate in my memory. In fairness, it might have been $4 and $7.) That is quite steep for a cup of coffee without frothy dairy or fancy flavour additions. In other words, it better be awfully good.

The second barista methodically pulled my espresso shot from one of the two gleaming machine heads that rose from the counter, looking like space-age beer taps. The heated milk was swirled into a small scarlet cup, the saucer and the tiny spoon, oh my!- the most perfect latte art of the year thus far, a tulip with crisply-defined nested leaves. It was just as pretty as a perfect little Instagram picture.

And... well, first let me tell you more about the space. I'm pleased to report that the cafe is one of the cherished few on my list that are fully accessible. There's a small ramp installed at the front door. The washrooms are not in the basement, but on level at the back of the space: there is a tiny height change to the floor, less than two inches up to the hall containing two rooms, each marked simply W/C. There are no grab bars for the toilet, but there is enough space in each cabine for a person to wield a mobility device. One of the washrooms also features a foldaway diaper-change deck. Both are decorated with photos of coffee growing and production.

As it turns out, Reunion Island is not just a cafe, but a coffee producing and roasting business, selling to food service companies as well as other coffee retailers. I've seen their beans at my favourite spice store in Kensington Market. The Reunion Island website is eye-opening: the company is over 20 years old and works directly with coffee producers, supporting fair trade and sustainability initiatives. They produce a wide variety of signature roasts and blends which can be shipped directly to individual buyers, or picked up at the shop. I'm strongly considering trying out their delicious-sounding darker blends, which might be worth that long ride across the city to Roncevalles.

But having said all that, it's my sad duty to also mention that the cappuccino they served me was the worst damn coffee I've encountered in this entire Indie Cafe tour to date. Not being a true coffee cognescenti (ie, coffee snob) I can't be sure whether it was over-extracted or under-extracted. I can only tell you that it was thin, harsh, sour, left a vaguely gasoline-like scent impression, and did not taste or smell like espresso in the slightest. Dear reader, it was awful. And if the cafe wasn't closing less than ten minutes after they made it for me, I might even have mentioned it to the barman.

All I can say is that it's likely I will give their beans a try. But there are a great many fine cafes in Toronto, like I mean A LOT, so it's extremely unlikely that I'll ever risk ordering a coffee drink at Reunion Island again.

accessible: yes
Plenty of seating inside, plus a small outdoor seating area around the corner
Based on the one coffee they served me: not recommended
Wednesday, July 20th, 2016
12:25 pm
the normal girl
Mae and I recently had lunch followed by an afternoon of shopping. Well, really it was me watching her shop, but good times nonetheless. I was installed on a comfortable chair in her well-appointed fitting room at Saks, while a saleslady smoothly delivered "I just thought you might like this" lovely outfits for her to try on. Which, for me, was all the fun of shopping but none of the annoyance of actually trying on clothes.

Anyway, we were having Chinese pastries at a little shop tucked away on Elm Street (Lucullus- it's wonderful) when I told her that things are lately a struggle, lacking purpose, lacking support. She wisely suggested that I look for things that bring joy- anything at all- and concentrate on doing those things, every day. It's good advice.

On Sunday Fitz and I did in fact meet, had a bite to eat and then took in a movie (The Legend of Tarzan: a pretty but pointless remake that did not need to happen) and had something of a conversation. I did not want to have that conversation, but one must at least try to be a grownup and do the hard things.

It turned out that his tantrum of frustration on his birthday, which led to me doing something I was most assuredly not in the mood to do, stemmed from what he described as a simple desire to just enjoy his day and celebrate without having to think of or defer to my disabilities.

"So you wanted me to be just a normal girl," I said.

He snorted, "there you go, making it all about YOU again."

I kept my temper. "No, seriously. You didn't want to be limited by what I can and can't do. You wanted to just have a fun day without thinking about my lack of ability. You wanted me to be a normal girl."

And I pressed on, "and if you had just told me that beforehand, I'd have done everything I could to plan a day where that illusion could happen. Why didn't you talk to me about it?"

"Have you met me?" he countered. Which is the modern way of saying "that is not in my nature."

I get it. It's nice to want things. But it's like telling a person in a wheelchair that for one's birthday, it would be great to go for a nice long walk together. Which, I can assure you, the person in the chair craves far more than anyone else.


The following day I had an eventful afternoon at the hospital. Both a CT scan and an oncology appointment were squished together, which is mostly not their fault, but it led to me dashing between floors a time or two.

Everything got done. I drank the contrast stuff. The IV nurse was called to access my chest port for the other contrast stuff. Going into the CT machine, like every other time: once, twice, the practice passes. Then the third time for real, when a light is flashing and the innards of the machine speed up and spin around, and I amuse myself by imagining going through a Stargate. This occasion was a little different in that the appointment was made some weeks ago, and was not an ER-type situation.

My regular medical oncologist is off on mat leave, and her locum is a dark-haired young man with a skinny young resident. The former was telling me some things about my meds and their inevitable side effects, and as I felt tears of frustration prickling my eyes, the resident was looking around for the box of tissues that's always there but was not, and he tore off a piece of paper towel and tried to hand it to me.

"Thanks, I'm fine." I did not cry.

So all the weight I gained in the fall was more likely due to the meds than the baking and inactivity. And the meds are why I am annoyingly unable to shed that weight despite careful diet and vigorous exercise. In a way it feels like a justification: see, I'm not just a lazy slob! But all the same, strangers in the street don't know that. They'll see me and think what people always think about larger folk: undisciplined, greedy, unhealthy, don't care about themselves. (In dating apps, "a woman who takes care of herself" is code for "you'd best be thin and fit and with a well-maintained mani-pedi." Truth.)

That drug is the apple a day that keeps cancer away. But it obliterates the libido, it atrophies vaginal tissues, it makes bones brittle and brings muscle and joint pain, fatigue, mood changes. In terms of getting all the complications and side effects, the doctor commented that I'd won the lottery. Great.

This is the best drug, but many women have a hard time tolerating it, which is a drag because it's something that needs to be taken for at least five years and preferably ten. That's why most people take Tamoxifen. It's very slightly less effective, but better tolerated. But I can't take that because it almost killed me last year.

So he'll try me on something different. Same effect, but 2% less effective according to studies. For three weeks I'll be on no drugs at all- a washout period. A drug holiday, yippee! I might even be that normal girl again! It's entirely possible!

It's good news, potentially. I should tell Fitz. But yesterday was his day off and instead of getting together as loosely planned, he slept all day. And then had the nerve to text "well you could have phoned earlier" as if it was somehow on me. Which got him called out with a quickness.

He's depressed and strenuously not dealing with it. That's my amateur observation.

In short, I couldn't be arsed to tell him this good news.

Instead I bought myself a cheery armful of pretty flowers- even paid the extra charge to have them wrapped up with ribbon and tissue and cellophane. And later that evening, went out for an unexpected drink and a good chat with Ash, rolling home happy just after midnight.

Sometimes a beer with a friend is all it takes to feel like myself again. Just a normal girl.
Sunday, July 17th, 2016
12:22 pm
happy Saturday
About once a year, I get to have a lunch with an old friend who has a great job: he's an executive producer for a science fiction channel. He's always erudite and entertaining, with long and occasionally juicy tales of famous people, or behind the scenes glimpses of things I love, and we have many friends in common. Usually we meet during the work week, when his time is limited to the hour and a bit he can afford to be away from his desk. But yesterday was a Saturday, with a luxurious lack of deadlines.

We met at the best comic shop in town, where he joshed with the owner, and the two of them talked me into buying a graphic memoir I've had my eye on since TCAF. And then we went to lunch at a pub, with decent food and good beer and a long, long rambling conversation. He eventually had to leave, having a friend's wedding to attend with his dear ladywife. And I at first thought of heading homeward, but on a happy whim took a different route. In a hurry I'll take the subway always, but with time on my hands it'll always be surface routes: the streetcars and buses, so I can see and be a part of my beautiful city.

All along College and then Carleton and Gerrard, then, off to Little India to look at pretty fabrics and maybe buy some glass bangles. And what do you know! The reason that the 506 was a bus instead of a streetcar was because all of Gerrard was closed for blocks to accommodate the largest South Asian festival in North America. And that's the kind of day it was: fizzing with unexpected happiness.

There were dancing girls and drummers, lots and lots of fantastic food served from the street: roasted corn everywhere, frozen pops of kulfi and all manner of Indian take-out foods. All the stores had sidewalk sales of gorgeous clothing and sparkling jewelry: in the end I did find an armful of turquoise bangles for all of seven dollars. I got a demo of CPR at the first aid tent, I saw politicians and a Bollywood star. There wasn't even a lineup for the portapotties. It was just that kind of happy day. I didn't even mind being alone.

After, in the gorgeous evening light, I strolled all the way down to Queen street along Rhodes, admiring the houses both big and small with their gardens. Scent of curry in the air, then the smell of barbeque smoke. Golden light filtering low through the trees. Summer is so green, so lush. So precious in a country with half a year of hard winter.

Now it's Sunday morning, another gorgeous day. Fitz issued a diffident invitation to go to the beach or to Toronto Island today, but does not respond to texts. I could go check out the fab new beaded objects exhibition at the Textile Museum. I could take myself back to the Little India festival (doubtful) or along to the music festival at Woodbine Beach (even more doubtful) or back over to the Annex to view my favourite little salon gallery and chat up the gallerist. Or I could just take the streetcar to some random pocket of the city and walk around by myself.

If nothing else, I am very determined to get in the day's mandated activity. Almost no goals were met while I was out east, but all of them have been met since I got back. It's not much, but it's something.
12:03 pm
vacation notes
When people ask me how PEI was, I first say that it was very pretty. It's just a perfect little picture-postcard of a province. Rural vistas, seaside villages, winding roads and rolling fields, forests and water and that famous red, red dirt.

When they ask me what I did, the honest answer is "not much, really." It was not what you'd call an active vacation. Bren and I went for coffee in nearby Charlottetown, we ate out at times, we cooked in a lot. We watched a ton of Netflix. We sewed. I painted, starting around the second week. I slept late. We did a few drives and the odd super-touristy thing. In the first week I went for evening walks around the forested subdivision, and then realised that this activity seemed concurrent with the ferocious number of mosquito bites that were welting all over my body. So, I stopped the walks.

My Robot Overlord was not impressed. For both those weeks away, my activity stats were frankly dismal. But I was on vacation, so okay.

I didn't write. I didn't do a lot of drawing. With rare exceptions, I didn't devote any thought to goings-on at home, other than gratefulness that I was basking in cool ocean breezes instead of the swampy hell-hole of a heat wave in Ontario.

At a different time and with a different companion I can well imagine visiting for a more concentrated week on Prince Edward Island. It really is sufficiently pocket-sized that a couple might make a base centrally, and then do day trips all around the Island. There certainly is a very noted tourist presence there: I saw a bit of the Anne of Green Gables-related frenzies around Cavendish, with theme parks and coyly-named businesses, and signs pointing in toward the actual Green Gables house, which is curious, seeing as it's from a work of fiction.

I'll write more memories about the trip, sure.

But then I came back. Delayed planes, rain in Montreal, a beautiful vista of sunshine and clouds over the vast Lake as we flew into the little airport. A taxi home, and then it was like...
WhingeingCollapse )
Have you ever floated in a bath, then pulled the plug, and stayed in there? As the water drains away, so does the feeling of floating in zero gravity: the sensation of lightness being replaced by weight creeping back into your limbs. Like the sensation of icy water stealing in through a hole in your winter boot. Like the sadness of returning to a hopeless life.

That's how it felt. Coming back to an empty, hot apartment. No groceries, no dinner companion. Back to a sad, shitty life.

I'm not saying that any of this is logical. It's not. By the numbers, I survived cancer, my wits are mostly intact, my home is comfortable, my ex-spouse is honouring our separation agreement.

But I just don't feel like there's any traction to be had. No progress, not really.
Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
11:13 am
It can be so easy to do nothing.

In winter, there were times when I didn't leave the house for days. Between a decently stocked fridge, high-speed internet and a Netflix account, my couch and bed may as well have had magnets in them to attract my widening ass.

Then I asked to see a dietician. She told me to download a fitness app and start using it. So every day I left the house to go for a walk in the snow. Two kilos dropped off in a week, and barely an ounce has budged ever since. But at least I'm walking again.

Every little bit helps.

More recently, I made my slow way back to the gym. It has been hard to re-read my old Gym Rat Reports, in which I revelled in my newly-built strength, going to the gym five days a week sometimes. The gym became my playground, refuge, sweat lodge. My body went from being the puzzling meat suitcase that my brain carried around, and turned into my true self. It was a happiness built piece by piece, muscle by muscle.

But now that body has been brutalised by years of medicalization, surgeries, toxic chemo, radiation that burnt inside and out. Not a metaphor, by the way- the pain that lingered over my ribs last summer was from burns on the inside of my body. Another one of those "who knew?" things that cancer patients learn.

Last month, I went for a fitness appointment with a trainer at the Y, a free yearly service. And then I filed away the chart with her plan, and never went back until this month.

You guys, I've started swimming. That's new! No, not lengths. I'm crap at good form, which is essential. No longer am I a strong swimmer. So I splash around in the recreational area of the pool, I do lengths with a bodyboard kicking furiously. I swim on my back, legs inert, hands sculling like mad. And I stretch, and stretch, and stretch- teaching myself balance skills with the water's support. Relearning flexibility, especially in my damaged shoulder. Making it a happy game. It's still work, though. I have to build up stamina to hold my breath, which has become a lost skill.

The self-made woman is open to trying new things.

Yesterday afternoon, after a long satisfying session in the pool, I peeled off my sodden suit and showered, and then lowered myself gratefully into the vast and majestic hot tub whirlpool in the locker room, and I wondered, why did I deny myself even a moment of this pleasure?

Home in early evening, Rob was supposed to come and collect the birds. He texted me that he was late leaving work, and thus quite late getting home via subway (and he apologized) and I asked him his ETA. It was too late for comfort so he agreed to reschedule, because I was determined to get to a life drawing night. And I did.

Last spring, I went most Mondays to a small group run by a very good illustrator, out of his workspace in a condo just across the Don river. I had very short hair. Towards the end, there were gauze bandages peeking out of my tshirt, burn dressings from radiation, and still I went, because he had really fantastic models. The kind of people that go to this event are illustrators and especially comic book artists, and they can be a bit cliquey. So much so, that more than once I was disappointed and annoyed to have the host big me goodnight and then walk into a pub with his cronies, right in front of me.

That's not what happened last night! Nope. After a good session drawing a frankly magnificent model (heroic physique and visage, awesome poses, and an entertaining penchant for Dead Celebrity numerical factoids), I was walking with the remains of the group up to the main street. They were in the crosswalk ahead of me when the host turned and waved "well, goodnight!" just as another guy said "aren't you joining us?"

And I said with a smile,"is this the part where you all go for a beer and don't invite me? Because I'd really like to be invited."

The self-made woman is bold enough to occasionally ask for what she wants.

The host made like he had not waved goodbye but was waving me over (honestly, I couldn't swear to this in a court of law, but it's sure how it seemed at the time) and we all went into the pub and beers were had. Beer, in my case, because when it comes to alcohol I'm a bit of a lightweight.

The point is, I've missed every one of these sessions this year. All of them. There was a long, long time when it was just too exhausting to consider: the night doesn't start til 8 and runs til 11, and that was just too late for post-cancer fatigued me to consider. But as I've walked myself into better energy, it became a physical possibility but something else was holding me back. Inertia, shyness, laziness. And a really good show that used to be on Monday nights. I've missed all the Dr Sketchy's and Toons On Tap nights, too. Too social. Too noisy. Too something.

But this was the last event of the season before the illustrator departs for his summer workplace and home. It would have been so easy to tell Rob to come get the birds, and then, oh no!- too late to get to the session and get a good seat. Didn't do that.

At the start of the evening, my drawings were not the best. No, that's not strong enough. My drawings were awful! I was so rusty! Like, who is holding this pencil and what the hell is happening on the page? I wanted to bail. Pay my fee, quietly pack all my art supplies, make an excuse "not feeling too good" and slip out. But I did not. Stuck it out, tried different media after the break, and got some good work in the end. Didn't take the easy out, instead I powered through.

The self-made woman attempts to hold herself to a sterner standard.

Today is my friend's funeral. That is to say, the first of two friends who died of brain cancer this week.

Tonight Rob will come collect the birds. After, I will go to an evening t'ai chi class at the Y. Tomorrow, I plan to go to the gym in the morning, to see the morning regular ladies and mourn Samsara.

And right now, it's a gorgeous sunny morning. Another coffee and I'll head out into the day. Please enjoy your days, wherever you may be- flowers and summer for my northern-hemisphere friends, winter stews and cooler days for my Antipodean lovelies. Love to you all.
Monday, June 20th, 2016
11:40 am
the great thief strikes again
Just now, Elizabeth texted to tell me that our mutual friend at the Y died last night. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour just two weeks ago.

I strictly adhere to a policy of no real names unless explicitly directed otherwise, and even though I suspect she would have breezily assented to a personal homage, she's not around to tell me that. So I'll call her Samsara.

We met when I was brand new at the downtown Y, now almost ten years ago. My locker assignment was in her pod, and my pod is one of the most vibrantly social of the morning regulars. Samsara was sometimes there early, and sometimes at other times of the day- she was self-employed, an estate agent specializing in one of the most desirable corners of our red-hot city.

You could tell on meeting her that she was a free spirit, maybe a former flower child- not just all those yoga classes she took, but her airy way of speaking. She must have been a sharp and successful businesswoman, but my view of her was the sensual, vibrant person, quite undimmed by age. She had a cloud of deep red hair, piercing eyes, a permanent smile, a dazzling great figure, and a hedonist's zest for life. She bore her twins in the Caribbean "just because." She had a happy whim to buy a place in a remote corner of Newfoundland, despite (if I remember correctly) not possessing a driver's license. Pretty sure she was well into her 60s, but she moved, spoke, and lived like a woman with a passion for all the delights the world had to offer. She was inherently sexy.

We had many interesting chats over the years, sometimes in the members lounge, often in the pod while getting dressed. More than once, I went to the gym bereft in some way and Samsara was the exact person I needed to see, with the exact wisdom to lift my sad spirits and send me lightfooted into my day. Hers was a kind, open, great-hearted soul.

Samsara was part of the core group of regular ladies who was in on all the outside socialising- garden parties in summer, holiday gatherings in the cold season. She was very well liked.

Not to say she could not be obstinate. The week I was diagnosed, which was the same week my marriage ended, she was among the first of the locker-pod ladies I saw and told. And her response was to ask, archly, "now tell me again how you think it's possible to be faithful to two people at once. It doesn't make any sense, like saying 'a pair of twins.'"

We had obviously had this conversation more than once while I described the arrangement between me, Rob, Iggy, and Fitz. Patiently I would explain the concepts of polyamorous life, the good and the bad. And so normally when she asked, I'd patiently explain myself yet again.
But not this time. Something about being told one has cancer really sharpens one's focus, a sense of what's important and what is not. And it was not important anymore for me to justify my personal life to her.

"Samsara, you know I love you, but we are not having this conversation," I said.

"Oh, but I wasn't judging you," she said. (She totally was judging me.)

"That's okay, but I'm still not going to discuss it."

After that my time at the gym fell off rather swiftly, and we did not see each other again to "pass the peace pipe" as my mother says. But it was still not the worst. We didn't argue. I think Samsara would have been pleased that I stood up for myself and my life choices calmly, and thought no ill of her. She was a many-faceted lady, with a rich and complex past and present.

She was cared for at home these past few days by those adult twins, and I can only think it was a good thing for all concerned that she passed so quickly- from what W-W told me, Samsara swiftly lost the capacity to read, to speak, she was already gone in important ways, but her strong healthy body was keeping her going.

Cancer is the Great Thief. It has stolen two of my friends in less than a week, in the ugliest way.
Sunday, June 19th, 2016
10:14 am
Our we-met-five-years-ago dinner was very nice indeed. By the time Fitz arrived, I'd done a reasonable amount of prep: the shortcake biscuits were baked, the sauce ingredients and vegetables were ready to go. The mussel pan had butter, wine, lemon slivers and chopped parsley waiting for the bivalves. And I did the whole dinner calmly, when sometimes I get a bit snappy as everything comes to finishing. It might be an aspect of the chemo-weirdness finally settling down, or maybe I was always a kitchen bitch, dunno.

There was a moment when I laughed and said that five years back, I was debating whether or not to go to the party where he and I met, and Rob was all "oh get dressed up and go have fun with your friends, it'll cheer you up," and it did.

Praise the lord for the toaster oven, so the kitchen didn't need to get even more miserably hot with the oven, first baking the biscuits and then broiling the fish.

We took our dessert on the roof, in the garden, snapping silly pics of ourselves mugging at each other. The sun had barely set, and the crossing con-trail clouds were like glowing calligraphy in the sky.

And later, celebrations continued, of which I will be discreet except to say that a happy personal milestone was reached. And in case I read this ages from now and need a further memory tweak: my body and I are finally making friends again, at least a little.

Now it's Sunday morning, and a whole summer day stretches out ahead of me. Even solo, that's okay- what will I do? Walk down to the Sunday Antique Market? Check out the sales at Saks? Go to the gym? Do a little painting? Something involving an air conditioned environment sounds like a good idea, because temperatures will soar north of 30 degrees today and that's not including the Humidex reading.

Tonight, there's a Pulse memorial happening at Nathan Philips Square- a dance party- and that sounds like a must.

One week from today I'll be waking up in Saint John, New Brunswick, ready to road trip to Prince Edward Island. Ah, summer!
Saturday, June 18th, 2016
6:31 pm
When I was writing that last entry, my friend may already have been dead. She died on the 14th, I hope surrounded by family. Her funeral is on Tuesday in a not-happy-to-reach-by-transit part of town. Of course, I'll go.

Today I heard about another friend who's in her last days, and it was a huge surprise. I was at St Lawrence Market- first time in months, really- and very happily bumped into Wonder Woman from the YMCA, the pink-hair inspiration who was my first guide to the maze of cancer treatment. She told me that a mutual friend had looked not quite right a couple weeks ago, turns out it was brain cancer, and now- this fast- she's already not really there anymore, being tended at home by her adult daughters. Receiving chemo daily, but to what end? She's got weeks, or less.

My other friend died of brain cancer, but it was a met from a different cancer. The other woman, it started in her brain, and apparently that's one of the swiftest when it's bad.

My own ongoing chemo brain meant that I couldn't place her name, despite knowing her well from the locker room. W-W showed me a pic on her phone, and my jaw dropped.

But me, I'm doing okay. More than okay on this hot, sunny Saturday. I shopped for treats and farm produce (wine, cheese, good bread, farm bacon, fresh asparagus and strawberries) and then later in the afternoon, off to Kensington Market to make up the rest of my menu (salmon, mussels, herbs, fingerling potatoes, sugar snap peas. Cultured butter and heavy cream) and, note to self: all those Ontario-fresh produce looks just as good and costs significantly less at Kensington, compared to St Lawrence.

Last night, Fitz and I went to a big steakhouse for our anniversary dinner. You guys, I had bread, and steak, with sides, and shared a bottle of wine, and a complimentary flute of Champagne, and a bite (only wafer-thin) of Fitz's dessert, and I was so hugely stuffed that it was impossible to waddle home. We took a taxi just a couple of blocks, and a food coma rapidly ensued. My more abstemious lifestyle of late means I just can't chow down with abandon. Duly noted.

Tonight- the actual date that we met five years ago- I'm planning three courses. Mussels steamed in white wine, with parsley and lemon. Broiled salmon fillets with steamed asparagus and sugar snap peas, and tiny fingerling potatoes, all napped with a dill and lemon-scented bechamel sauce (because Hollandaise is just a big Nope tonight) and most likely garnished with lemon and dill, too.

And for dessert, strawberry shortcakes: first of the season. I've baked off a slightly modified batch of Nigella's rich and tender shortcake biscuits, and the strawberries are sliced and macerating in sugar with just a few drops of very good balsamic vinegar, which somehow enhances the flavour of the berries. A catalyst.

Ah, and he has arrived. I'll report back later and say how that dinner turned out!
Tuesday, June 14th, 2016
11:25 pm
I really am getting better.

Part of it is just the passing of time, as my body heals from the massive traumas of chemo, radiation, surgeries, and assorted medical insults. (A friend teased that my graphic memoir, should it ever be written, could be titled "... and then I broke my foot.")

Part of it is my own hard work, though. Every damn day I do the walking, even if I don't feel like it. Every grocery run is innocent of bread, cheese, butter, crackers, sugary things and fruit juices. I miss orange juice, but it's sugary crack: there are a bazillion better ways to get one's RDA of vitamin C.

So I'm legit proud of myself when the Robot Overlord delivers my weekly summary, and all my percentages are up, plus I am more than doubling the average performance in my group (which is, women who use S-Health. An awfully broad sample. So to speak.)

The concrete improvements are in my energy levels, stamina, and certain aspects of mood and cognition. I don't get weepy and frustrated as much. Over-stimulating levels of crowds and noise are now tolerable, instead of intolerable. I have a much easier time following long technical conversations.

Walking to Gilda's Club tonight, I remembered the woman last year who declared that one day we'd basically forget all about having cancer. She herself had all but forgotten her experiences until it came back, ten years later, stage four. She was angry.
"I know you don't believe me," she said fervently. "But I promise you, I promise you, the day will come when you just won't even remember that you had cancer at all. It's true."

She's right. I don't believe her. My scars are too bold for that. I don't mean the mental scars, but the physical ones: the slightly odd volume of the reconstructed breast. The faded rectangle on my thigh where they harvested skin for a graft. The ugly red line that bisects the entire front of my belly, with pointed fleshy bits at each end. My chest port scar. The goddamn navel that's off to one side, slightly. And the adhesions inside my torso, that pull, that impede movement. I feel them every time I move. Every time I draw a deep breath or try to bend over.

It strikes me as highly improbable that I'll ever forget that I had cancer.

In a hospital across town, a friend lays dying. We were not especially close, but we were warm. At Christmas, she commissioned two portraits from me, for her godchildren. Earlier in the year, Anniko and I visited her in hospital, and another time when she was home.

Now she's in palliative care, unresponsive. Her shallow breath comes in groups of four or five, with a long pause before she draws the next rattling breath. It won't be long now. At least she will be as comfortable as possible, because doctors no longer have to be chased and begged into giving really good pain meds to end of life patients.
10:33 pm
Indie coffee passport: Tokyo Smoke
Do you like coffee? Do you like "cannabis culture"? Do you like to hang out near Trinity Bellwoods park? Then Tokyo Smoke might be the coffee shop for you. Blogs around town say that the owner of the space considers coffee, cannabis, and clothing to be his passions in life, and so he opened a smart little shop in a former industrial space where all three can be had.

I'm not here to tell you about the cannabis. I didn't really check out the clothing line or the hipster-curated keepsakes and objets for sale. As pretty much always, I was just there for the coffee.

That's at the front of the shop, a square white workspace with a whole side currently open to the street for the warm weather. There's a tall table inside the shop, and a number of chairs outdoors in front. A laidback barista in super-fade denim overalls showed me the passport menu, but I got the impression she'd have made me anything on their regular menu. It was late in the afternoon so there weren't many snacks under the glass domed plate, but I ordered a biscotti and she threw that in for free, too. A nice, welcoming touch.

The coffee itself is rich and dark, with an acidic edge that might be just a touch too industrial for me- I prefer the balanced sweetness of a Portuguese espresso. But Tokyo Smoke's in house beans are so smooth that the latte requires no sugar. That's tall order to fill, and they get the job done.

One special thing about the place that would deeply appeal to people who live and work in the area: Tokyo Smoke offers unlimited coffee and tea for just $20 a week. That's a damn great deal, considering how much your average Starbucks coffee drinks add up to, one or two a day every week, month in and month out.

I hear there's wifi, but didn't check it out. Another thing I didn't check out for you: a washroom. Because they don't have one. I KNOW, RIGHT? If memory serves, businesses that sell food and drink can get away with not offering toilet facilities if they have under a certain amount of tables and can thus claim to be take-out only. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

Would I go again? If at the Queen and Strachan area and not in immediate need of a pee, then probably, yes. Is it worth a special trip? Tough call. It's a unique shop as well as a very serviceable cafe, but I just can't bring myself to recommend a business that sells a noted diuretic with no means of relieving oneself.

Partly accessible: very small step up from the street
Some seating inside and patio seating at front
Recommended for locals. Travel far and drink coffee at own risk, because no washrooms!

PS: I sneaked into the customer washroom at the 7-11 on Queen across from Nadege.
Monday, June 13th, 2016
2:58 pm
Woke up feeling like ten miles of crap road, but I'm forging on with the day, because that's the kind of badass mofoI aspire to be.

Progress: put on clothes and ran an errand to the building office. The staff there- our longtime office manager and her sidekick/bookkeeper- are both lovely, funny, wise women, and half an hour chatting with them was just the human contact that I needed.

I sent out some business emails that were long overdue. Progress!

Hunger-stubbornness was happening, but I put my foot down and made up a delicious lunch of salads, a green salad with olive oil and excellent balsamic, topped with a freshly-made potato salad sparked up with minced olives and pickles. Also progress.

Tonight there is a business committee meeting here at my building, and I'm looking forward to that (weird, right?) because it's human contact and busy-ness and volunteer service.

After, a superhero movie with Fitz. We should have gotten together yesterday afternoon, but Tamar's brunch went long, and rather than texting to enquire about my ETA Fitz started a laundry chore that took until dinnertime.

Texting ensued, and I gotta say, it is THE WORST way to convey all but the most minimal information. If you're actually upset with someone, or trying to iron out expectations or whatever, then there's not just the absence of tone but also the long. long wait between replied, I absolutely loathe this. But he loathes the phone. I should have called anyway, but by then was angry-ish and didn't want to be the one to make that call.

I want to tell him that when he fails to get in touch, neglects a meeting time, doesn't bother to check in, that it conveys to me a strong message that seeing me is not a priority. That when I implore him yet again to ASK ME OUT rather than waiting for me to make all the suggestions and plans, it sends a message that he doesn't really care about my feelings. Except wait, I HAVE told him this. So either he doesn't remember or I'm not adequately communicating, or he just can't be arsed.

Now try to imagine opening a conversation like that in text, and the sort of snotty defensive replies that eventually show up, or are they? Because it's a fucking text and lacks any tone or nuance. Text is meant for things like running late sorry, see you in 10 or I'm out front or pizza or sushi? Simple information, not emotional content.

Anyway, even though it was too late for dinner or a movie, he was still wanna get together anyway? and that did not fly. No sir, I am no longer in the mood for netflix and chill. '

Eventually he got a hint and suggested a movie and a time tonight, so yay for progress.

I know. I know.

I just don't want to.
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