Category Archives: Uncategorized
“Carrie Fisher blazed a trail by setting fire to everything blocking her path, to all the debris and overgrowth that stood in her way, leaving open ground behind her that made those of us following behind her so much easier. She blazed and burned and lit the way for others. She lived fully and touched many.”
Words of comfort and wisdom from The Bloggess.
Source: Stay afraid. But do it anyway.
Bilingual Brains, Geriatric Gains: How learning a new language can help slow age-related cognitive decline by Donna Sherman
Learn a New Language!
Ask people what their number one fear of getting old is, and many will say they’re most afraid of “losing their minds.” Losing our memory, our ability to reason, our very sense of self, is a horror that makes Alzheimer’s and other dementias some of the most frightening diseases out there. Everyone knows that incidence of dementia increases with age, but scientific researchers is only slowly managing to untangle the reasons why some people get it, and some people don’t.
The Mayo Clinic lists several well-known risk factors that you can control, such as not smoking, limiting heavy alcohol use, and controlling weight and blood pressure. But did you know research shows that simply learning a new language can act as a buffer for resisting cognitive decline?
So what, in short, are the benefits of being bilingual?
The Benefits of Being Bilingual
At one point, people actually thought that teaching children two languages stunted intellectual growth! But while it’s true that there are some signs that bilingual children have temporary delays in some language skills, due to confusion between languages, or time spent switching between languages, they are usually able to catch up to their peers (Marian & Shook, 2012). In fact, it is precisely that exercise in mental switching that strengthens the brain in areas commonly affected by aging (Kroll, 2009; Ramscar et al., 2014).
Learning a second (or third, or fourth) language can help you improve your native tongue, and language skills in early life are associated with lower levels of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive declines in old age.
Scholars and artists have lots to say on the wonders of language learning.
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” – Frank Smith
“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” – Charlemagne
“There is one very important advantage of learning other languages that I think beats any gains in cognitive control or delays in the onset of dementia. When you learn other languages you can then actually speak those languages, read those literatures, talk to new people in their native language, eavesdrop on their conversations on the bus, order off the menu, pick up that gorgeous stranger in the piazza. I think that’s cooler than having a few extra points on the Wisconsin card-sorting task.” – Lera Boroditsky, psychologist at Stanford
One website asked older people why they chose to learn a new language. Here are some common reasons people gave:
Learning a language opens your mind, takes you deep into the history and flavour of a culture, makes travel more meaningful, and, of course, is an impressive skill to show off.
Then there’s the increase in social interaction that comes with attending new classes and being able to talk to a wider variety of people. Studies have shown that bilingualism can increase your empathy and make you smarter – speaking more than one language increases the ability of the brain to reason, make decisions, and switch between different tasks (Marian & Shook, 2012).
But you’re worried about your health. Specifically, your brain’s health. And learning a language takes care of that too! People who speak more than one language are diagnosed with dementia an average of 4 years later than people who speak only one (Bialystok et al., 2007). It may increase your cognitive reserve, a popular theory in determining ways to decrease cognitive decline (Stern, 2009). And Birdsong (2006) reports that second language use is “less automatic and less efficient” than native language use, and therefore declines in performance as a result of aging are “likely to show up earlier and to be more pronounced” in the second language. So your new language can act kind of like the canary in the coal mine when trying to detect early signs of cognitive decline.
“That’s great,” you might say, “But so many of these studies talk about learning a language before adulthood. What if it’s too late for me? What if it’s too hard?”
I have some exciting news for you.
It’s never too late.
“Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the ageing brain.” – Dr. Thomas Bak, University of Edinburgh
Bak et al.’s 2014 study was widely reported by the press (some of those news reports are listed in the links at the end of the article). The study used participants from a pool of subjects from the Lothian Birth Cohort, who were first measured in 1947. The Cohort, which consisted of 1091 Edinburgh natives born in 1936, were 11 years old when they initially completed the Scottish Mental Survey (Scottish Council for Research in Education, 1947). Between 2008 and 2010, Bak and his colleagues followed up with 866 of them to test their hypothesis that “bilinguilism improves later-life cognition and delays the onset of dementia.” Some 853 participants (about half of whom were female) completed a bilingualism questionnaire, as well as cognitive tests including measures of memory, fluid intelligence (the ability to access and use knowledge), speed of processing, and vocabulary.
This study was notable because unlike many others testing similar hypotheses, it controlled for childhood intelligence, which many people worried might lead to bilingualism, rather than the other way around.
They found that people who spoke more than one language had better cognitive abilities in older age than their monolingual peers. What’s more, age of acquisition was not a factor! The measured areas that showed the greatest impact were general intelligence and reading.
Bak et al. said that the effect of learning a second language was “comparable to those reported for […] physical fitness, and (not) smoking” (Bak et al., 2014).
“It’s not the good memory that bilinguals have that is delaying cognitive decline. It’s their attention mechanism. Their ability to focus in on the details of language.” – Dr. Thomas Bak, University of Edinburgh
Although it is quite well known that second language acquisition gets harder as we age (you know how hard it felt to learn French in middle school, even!), harder does not mean impossible. You may never speak like a native, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be fluent (Birdsong, 2006; Doidge, 2007, pg 86-87).
We learn differently as adults than we did as children. Children learn languages implicitly, from being immersed in them. Ask a native speaker to explain the rules of their language’s grammar, and that person might have difficulty putting it into words. They know what sounds right, but they don’t know why. Adults are better at learning explicitly, studying and making sense of rules (Dekeyser, 2013). Because implicit learning happens implicitly, it doesn’t feel like work. But it is.
Let’s look at it this way: a baby is learning a language from scratch. It still needs to learn how to distinguish different types of sounds and then make them itself. It needs to learn body language and tone and to understand context. It needs to develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills. It needs to practice making the thoughts in its head become words and motions with its body. You don’t have to worry about any of that.
Apart from the base work you’ve already completed, think of all the stuff you can do that a kid can’t. You can choose which language to learn. You can choose how. You can form groups with people to practice, and travel to a new place and immerse yourself in the language and culture. You have control!
“…[L]earning a new language in old age is so good for improving and maintaining the memory generally. Because it requires intense focus, studying a new language turns on the control system for plasticity and keeps it in good shape for laying down sharp memories of all kinds.” – Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author (The Brain That Changes Itself, pg 86-87)
Caveats and Cautions
So learning a second language is hard. You know your native tongue like the back of your hand, which can highlight the effort involved in learning a new one.
Since it’s hard, motivation may be a factor, so choose a language you’re interested in. Maybe you want to learn Russian to read the classics in the original, or Korean to understand those K-dramas you enjoy. Pick something you’ll stick with! Some research has indicated that bilinguals who do not actively use one of their languages do not experience the same benefits as those who use both, although Bak et al.’s 2014 paper found the opposite.
Bak and his colleagues also admit that their bilingualism questionnaire, as a self-report measure, has inherent risks of bias (people misremember events or misrepresent themselves), and measured people’s view of their own fluency, rather than any objective measure of their language proficiency.
We also need to keep in mind that there is no magic bullet. These studies show trends among large groups of people, and so can’t predict the outcome of an individual (Calvo et al, 2015; see this article for an exhaustive list of problems with many studies of language acquisition).
Bak et al.’s study specifically raised some questions. Although they started with a large sample size of 853 people, only 262 participants in the study reported learning a second language. That’s still a pretty decent size, but while 195 learned the language before age 18, only 65 learned the language after 18. From over 800 people, the sample size for the particular group that we’re interested in has been whittled down to under 70, not even a tenth of the original.
Most importantly, “late” language acquisition, in most studies, refers to people who learned a new language after the age of 18. Although the samples theoretically could involve people from age 18 to age 112, the average seems to be around the early or late twenties, depending on the study. Age tends to blunt effect sizes, not eliminate them, (Yang et al., 2015), but I would love a large, longitudinal study focusing on people learning a new language in late adulthood (for example, age 50 and older).
I would also be interested in further research examining ways to teach language that are particularly effective for older adults, and see if any of these methods lead to better improvement in cognitive function, or bigger effect sizes.
Finally, what kind of language is preferable? One with the same alphabet, or a different one? Similar grammar, or something entirely foreign? And precisely how well do you have to learn it for it to ‘count’?
(See Antoniou et al., 2013 for more suggestions for future research.)
There are lots of questions that still need to be answered, and lots of areas left to explore, but let’s end on a high note:
Evidence has shown that multi-modal methods for slowing age-related cognitive decline, and strategies targeting specific activities of day to day living, are usually more effective than single-modal methods, or strategies targeting tasks you would only ever find in the lab. Language is something you use every day, and it leaks over into other areas of life – working memory, fine motor skills (writing and speech), visual and auditory functions, attention switching, and more, as we’ve discussed above. These are far reaching effects; getting better at a new language improves so many aspects of your brain! What’s more, Bak et al. found absolutely no negative effects of bilingualism. So why not learn a language? What have you got to lose?
This is all good news! You feel so excited! So motivated! Now what?
There are thousands of websites out there offering strategies for language learners of different types; why wait? Here are some to get you started.
Online language learning resources:
- This BBC series on learning a language, hosted by Alex Rawlings
- This TedTalk, book, and blog by Bennie Lewis
- Lindsay Does Languages
- The Benefits of Being Bilingual
- Am I Too Old to Learn a Language?
- More Languages, Better Brain
- Learning a Second Language as an Adult Keeps Your Brain Young
- Bilingual Benefits: Keep Your Mind Sharp, No Matter Your Age
- Myths About Bilingualism
- Mapping the Bilingual Brain
And, if you’re interested in some more technical info, this lecture on “Age effects in language learning: controversial, but crucial to understand,” by Robert Dekeyser.
Bak, T. H., Nissan, J. J., Allerhand, M. M., & Deary, I. J. (2014). Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?. Annals of neurology, 75(6), 959-963.
Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Penguin: New York
Snowdon, D. (2008). Aging with grace: What the nun study teaches us about leading longer, healthier, and more meaningful lives. Bantam.
Antoniou, M., Gunasekera, G. M., & Wong, P. C. (2013). Foreign language training as cognitive therapy for age-related cognitive decline: a hypothesis for future research. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(10), 2689-2698.
Arkin, S. (2007). Language-enriched exercise plus socialization slows cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, 22(1), 62-77.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Freedman, M. (2007). Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia,45(2), 459-464.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 16(4), 240-250.
Birdsong, D. (2006). Age and second language acquisition and processing: A selective overview. Language Learning, 56(s1), 9-49.
Calvo, N., García, A. M., Manoiloff, L., & Ibáñez, A. (2015). Bilingualism and Cognitive Reserve: A Critical Overview and a Plea for Methodological Innovations. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7.
DeKeyser, R. M. (2013). Age effects in second language learning: Stepping stones toward better understanding. Language Learning, 63(s1), 52-67.
Keysar, B., Hayakawa, S. L., & An, S. G. (2012). The foreign-language effect thinking in a foreign tongue reduces decision biases. Psychological science, 23(6), 661-668.
Kroll, J. F. (2009). The consequences of bilingualism for the mind and the brain. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10(3), i-ii.
La Rue, A. (2010). Healthy brain aging: role of cognitive reserve, cognitive stimulation, and cognitive exercises. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 26(1), 99-111.
Li, P., Legault, J., & Litcofsky, K. A. (2014). Neuroplasticity as a function of second language learning: anatomical changes in the human brain. Cortex,58, 301-324.
Lustig, C., Shah, P., Seidler, R., & Reuter-Lorenz, P. A. (2009). Aging, training, and the brain: a review and future directions. Neuropsychology review, 19(4), 504-522.
Mahncke, H. W., Connor, B. B., Appelman, J., Ahsanuddin, O. N., Hardy, J. L., Wood, R. A., … & Merzenich, M. M. (2006). Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: a randomized, controlled study. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(33), 12523-12528.
Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012, September). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. In Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science (Vol. 2012). Dana Foundation.
Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P., & Baayen, H. (2014). The myth of cognitive decline: Non‐linear dynamics of lifelong learning. Topics in cognitive science, 6(1), 5-42.
Scottish Council for Research in Education. Mental Survey Committee. (1949). The Trend of Scottish Intelligence: A Comparison of the 1947 and 1932 Surveys of the Intelligence of Eleven-years-old Pupils (Vol. 30). University of London Press.
Stern, Y. (2009). Cognitive reserve. Neuropsychologia, 47(10), 2015-2028.
Yang, J., Gates, K. M., Molenaar, P., & Li, P. (2015). Neural changes underlying successful second language word learning: An fMRI study.Journal of Neurolinguistics, 33, 29-49.
Get my stupid degree [In progress since the dawn of time][completed November 10th, 2012]
Bachelor of Journalism with a Minor in Classics, bitches!
- Take a voice acting class
Take a singing class[completed January 29th, 2013]
I did take one class. I think I’d like to take more.
- Finish the first draft of my book (The King) [In progress]
This is…still in progress.
Get my driver’s license[ In progress] [completed April 28th, 2014]
OH MY GOD I GOT MY G2! Counting this as complete for now, the G will go on another list.
- Volunteer at an animal shelter
Sustaining Memories program at Ryerson University [In progress][completed May 29th, 2013]
- Play an instrument in a big band
- Learn to play Rhapsody in Blue on piano
This is way, way harder than I thought. I’m not sure I can learn it without some help.
- Learn to play Somebody to Love on piano [In progress]
I can play it, but it’s not yet memorized, therefore it does not get crossed off.
Paint something[completed February 20th, 2011] Start drawing again( buy a sketchbook[completed March 27th, 2011] – fill it up)
- Stop picking [In progress]
Do some fun creative baking (ask Po for help if needed 😛 )[completed April 1st, 2011]
- Finish a scrapbook -> 0/3
- Finish another scrapbook
- Finish another scrapbook
- Join an improv class
- Act in a play
Do an archaeological dig[completed June 15th, 2012]
I had such a great post planned for this, but how do you distill 6+ weeks of Italy into one blog post? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do it one day. Until then:
Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter[completed December 26th, 2010]
- Watch all of Farscape (an 11th TV show for #65, since my movie list also had a random extra title) [In Progress]
Technically, this is also done, but I wanted to re-watch, and also watch the special features, because I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH.
Go to a San Diego Comic Con[completed March 9th, 2013] Participate in a NaNoWriMo [In progress][completed November 30th, 2012]
- Get computer organised once and for all [In progress]
- Make website for photographs (e.g. travel photos, portfolio photos) [In progress]
Learn to Scuba dive (note: this means go one time; if I like it, I’ll take the certification classes)[completed in spirit on August 2nd, 2013]
I tried so hard, you guys. I booked a lesson in Hawaii, and it was cancelled. I booked it again, and it was cancelled. I tried to book one for Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and I couldn’t get a bus in time. I tried to book one in Toronto and I couldn’t make the first couple of classes because of work. Now I have no money, and therefore won’t be booking one for a while longer. BUT! In this time, I did manage to go parasailing (a fun and exciting quasi-water sport that I’d never done before) AND SNUBA diving (which was amazing, and is half way there, after all), and as soon as I have the moolah I will be signing up to get certified, so I consider this item completed in spirit.
Stop biting nails AND start doing nail art[completed January 22nd, 2012 to present]
- Volunteer at a Toronto Distress Centre
Get TEFL OR Live in a different country (i.e. not Canada; pay rent; longer than 2 months)[completed February 14th, 2014]
Taking a 140-hour online course plus 20 hour in-class component through i-to-i TEFL.Got TEFL. The rest will happen in August. Play paintball (followed by a dinner for winners at Denny’s)[completed August 8th, 2012]
- See The Daily Show live
Visit Marina in Hawaii[started June 30th, completed July 5th, 2013] Watch 20 [21, apparently] great old movies (I haven’t seen a LOT of the classics, so this is a selection from IMDB’s Top 250) -> 21/21 [In progress][completed July 28th, 2013] The Shawshank Redemption[completed November 12th, 2012] The Godfather[completed July 17th, 2011] The Godfather Trilogy[completed July 28th, 2013]
This one also contributed to me getting truly drunk for the first time.
12 Angry Men[completed January 28th, 2013] Goodfellas[completed April 1st, 2013] Se7en[completed February 17th, 2013] Silence of the Lambs[completed February 26th, 2013] Memento[completed February 20th, 2013] Dr. Strangelove[completed July 20th, 2011] Citizen Kane[completed February 28th, 2013] The Shining[completed January 19th, 2013] Spirited Away[completed April 1st, 2011] Alien Quadrilogy[completed May 14th, 2013] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind[completed February 4th, 2011] Requiem for a Dream[completed February 8th, 2013] Back to the Future Trilogy[completed January 1st, 2012] Ghostbusters[completed December 31st, 2011] Die Hard[completed August 5th, 2012] Annie Hall[completed February 13th, 2013] The Social Network[completed March 27th, 2011] Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid[completed December 24th, 2012] Run a marathon of sorts [In progress][completed in spirit on May 26th, 2013; will be completed in name on October 20th, 2013]
Ok, it might take a little bit longer than I’d hoped, but I still intend to run a marathon before 2014 is over. However, due to multiple injuries (the ones I can pronounce: fallen arch, right tibial tendinitis, and shin splints; the one I can’t: piri-motor-something something – whatever, I hurt my hip rotating thing, okay?), I’ve had to downgrade my big October marathon plan to a half-marathon. I’ve still run a 5k and a 10k since writing this list, though, which is more than I’d run before, so, again, mission accomplished (in spirit).
Knit something[completed October 17th, 2012]
- Whiten teeth [In progress]
Go two weeks without drinking coke (shut up)[started March 16th, completed March 30th, 2011] Participate in/skate in a Winterlude in Ottawa[completed February 19th, 2011] Get a bottle of vitamins and finish it without missing a single day (yeah, some of them I just stole right from Heather of gofugyourself fame) [In progress][completed July 29th, 2011] Read one bookshelf’s worth of my unread books -> 36/36 [In progress][completed December 31st, 2013]
Still have two more shelf-books to read, I’m afraid: Exodus and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I so would have finished this one if I hadn’t read 10 OTHER books during the same amount of time, though. Still, I’m getting there.Complete. And I read 76 books that year, too.
- Complete a Cannonball read (pajiba.com) -> 46/52 [In progress]
Six more reviews to write before I can count this one as complete. I am on track to finally read 52 books in one year, though, so that’s something.
- Get past fear of diving
- Watch some finished/cancelled TV shows -> 7/10 [In progress]
Watch all of Terriers[completed January 31st, 2012]
- Watch all of Battlestar Gallactica
Watch all of Better Off Ted[completed January 9th, 2012] Watch all of Slings and Arrows[completed February 12th, 2013]
This has to be my favourite of all the shows I watched for this project. Please, everyone, give it a chance. And don’t judge by the first two episodes.
- Watch all of the West Wing [In progress]
On season 4 of 6.
Watch all of Blackadder[completed June 2nd, 2013] Watch all of Buffy and Angel[completed January 11th, 2013]
I watched TWO LONG-ASS shows for this one. No one can say I was easy on myself for this list, okay?
- Watch all of the Wire [In progress]
By September 21st, I’d seen the first three seasons. I’m mid-way through the fourth season as I write this.
Watch all of Freaks and Geeks[completed January 17th, 2013] Watch all of Spaced[completed March 16th, 2013] Take a long-exposure picture[completed June 26th, 2013]
- Learn to juggle
Solve a Rubik’s cube[completed December 29th, 2012]
And I can still do it, too!
- Donate blood [In progress]
I TRIED! They didn’t WANT my blood. I’m working on building iron now. Sort of. I will, I swear. And then I’ll try this again. At any rate, I’m putting it down as in progress – I went to the damned clinic and they pricked both my fingers and told me to go home.
Witness an eclipse[completed May 24th, 2013] Do pottery (make a pot or a vase) [In progress][completed April 6th, 2013]
- Learn 5 card tricks -> 2/5 [In progress]
I’ve bought a trick deck for those last three. This oughta be fun.
Go camping[completed May 3rd, 2013]
- Do the splits (every day) [In progress]
Ugh, I did this every. single. day. For about a year, and I got nowhere. I’ll try again with a trainer or something, because just stretching everyday didn’t get me much closer to being able to do the splits (which was the actual, albeit poorly stated, goal of this item).
- Learn glass blowing (take a course)
Again, lack of funds is a problem when these courses cost a minimum of $300.
Renew CPR/first aid licence[completed October 14th, 2012] Make a candle[completed July 27th, 2013]
- Finish Learn French in 10 Days book [In progress]
I have done…3 more pages since I made this list.
Grow a plant – do a picture a day and make a stop motion film [In progress][started February 11th, completed February 27th, 2013] Creatively ice a cake[completed July 20th, 2011] Throw bachelorette party for Nataly[completed January 22nd, 2012]
- Make a gravy train
Learn to do that two-fingered whistle[completed July 15th, 2013] Spend a day tree planting[completed June 1st, 2013]
- Allow a spider to crawl on me without screaming
Do a 1000+ piece puzzle [In progress]*asterisk* [completed July 26th, 2011] Get my ear cartilage pierced once and for all[completed September 23rd, 2012]
- Pay back mom and dad [In progress]
Donate $10 to the Cyril Ross Nursery for each goal not completed by the end date[To be done after this post] Begin world traveling[Completed, but in progress]
Since writing this list, I have been to Barbados, Finland, Thailand, Italy/Vatican City, Various North America cities and states including: Montreal, Florida, South Carolina, Hawaii (Oahu, Kauai, Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, AND Molokini), Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. So even though I haven’t quite reached 26 by 26, I think I can safely count this item as complete, with the understanding that it will never be really complete, and it will always be on my list.
So what this means is that I have completed 64 things (which is just barely a passing grade), am in the middle of 19 still, and have not even attempted 17 yet, which is actually way better than I was anticipating. For #99, I will give $10 for each un-attempted item, and $3 for each item in progress, for a total of $227. Half ($113.50) will go to the Cyril Ross Nursery in honour of Mr. Gillman, half to the Alzheimer Society of Canada in honour of my grandfather.
It has been almost three years since I first started crossing things off this list, and a lot has changed. Five of my friends have started lists of their own (which is awesome). I’ve graduated, I’ve been to 8 countries, I randomly have 41 awesome WordPress followers, I have a new dog named Shado, and I’ve started running fairly regularly. Some things have changed for the worse; my grandfather died last September.
A lot has stayed the same too, though (or become the same again); I’m living at home again, I’m working at my old job again, I have another unfinished degree to add to the top of another list of things to do.
And there’s a lot still to come. I’m currently applying for TESOL jobs in Korea and Japan, and intend to leave Canada to live in another country in February. I’m going to South Africa for the first time in 11 years in January, I’m chipping away at that second degree by taking correspondence courses, and some time next year, I will run a full marathon. I’d like to start a new list.
But before all that happens, I’m giving myself a bonus round. New Years is the perfect traditional and cliche time to start off a list like this, so I’m giving myself until December 31st, 2013 to see if I can’t cross a few more things off this list. I’m considering it a bonus round. Anything left over will be carried over to the next list, which I’ve already started planning.
So all in all, not a bad little project.
Oh, and by the way:
OTHER Awesome Things I’ve Done While Attempting To Do 100 Things In 1000 Days
- Gone on a submarine
- Gone ziplining
- Learned to surf
- Made a card
- Finished entire phone Sudoku game
- Attended a Pride Parade
- Attended a Jazz Festival
- Attended a Just for Laughs Festival
- Attended Pixar animation masterclass
- Broken a world record (albeit accidentally)
- Learned chopsticks! (INCLUDING FOR SOUP!)
- Was maid of honour!
- Went to Casa Loma
- Appeared in a commercial (next time – do it while not looking like a complete fool)
- Went to tiff! (But I did it wrong – I didn’t see any celebrities)
- Saw Avenue Q
- Posted once a day for a month
- Did a mindfulness course
- Started/completed (so far) watching: New Girl, Raising Hope, Go On, and Elementary
- Went to Stratford (saw Tommy: The Musical, and it was amazing)
- Snorkeled with Manta Rays! In fact, did quite a lot of snorkeling!
- Drove the Road to Hana! (Well…was driven. But I provided directions and stopping points! Well, I say directions…there’s really only one way to go on one road…NEVERTHELESS!)’
- Watched the world get formed (lava hike)!
- Went zip-biking!
- Ran a 10k!
- Went to FanExpo! MET NATHAN FILLION!
This actor, with this piece, has convinced me to not only watch Hannibal, but also everything she’s ever in, ever. It’s thoughtful, sensible, intelligent, and passionate. If you’re interested in the fridging of ladies and minorities, and the privileged white hetero male show-runner, please read this.
I’m an American actress and I play Beverly Katz on NBC’s HANNIBAL created by Bryan Fuller. (Spoiler Alert coming right now!!!) And she dies in episode 4 of Season 2. That episode got a lot of positive reviews, but it also incited an on-line storm of vitriol directed to Fuller himself for killing off Katz, or more specifically, for being racist and sexist. I caught wind of this myself via Twitter from our beloved Fannibals. And I thought maybe it’d be productive to talk about rather than ignore it.
Fuller cast me in a role that I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting. I rarely if ever see minorities, women, minority women, let alone Asian women, get to play characters like Beverly Katz. I rarely if ever see characters like Beverly Katz period. And her last name is Katz for Christ’s sake. Pretty open-minded, non-racist, pro-feminine…
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Well, 61 things and change, anyway. I’ll do a more thorough report when I get hold of a computer that works, because texting a post from my phone doesn’t really seem like something I want to do.
Now imagine I just shouted that in your ear.
Yeah, you heard me.
When I put “run a marathon of sorts” on my list of Things To Do, I knew so little about running and marathons that I thought this was a perfectly reasonable goal. I honestly had no idea that the actual definition of “marathon” was “42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards).” Which is several more than what I was thinking. So I signed up for a charity 5k to take place in May, with all proceeds going to research for kids with cancer (click here if you would like to donate, and also I love you), and which is way more in the spirit I had intended that original goal to be (reasonably short, and reasonably charitable). With that, I considered the list item all but complete; I mean, sure, I’d have to actually run the race, but I didn’t even have a time goal. If I decided to crab-walk or Breakfast-Club-shuffle the whole way, #56 would still be complete as of May 26th.
And as May 26th drew nearer, and I started to actually do some running, I got interested in the whole marathon culture; the 5ks, the 10ks, the half marathons, the full marathons; the walkers, the joggers, the runners. And I started playing with the idea of maybe, one of these days, when the time is right, at some point, thinking about perhaps training for one myself.
Right now, I have had no luck finding a job. I find myself in the default setting of the modern 20-somethings these days: drifting. I’m living at home again. I’m not ready to go back to school, but I’m not ready to settle into a career. I’m over-qualified for the work I want to do right now, and under-qualified for the jobs that everybody thinks I should have. I’m trying to save money for the next step, but in which direction is that step going to be?
You know. The usual.
I’m really good with big ideas. I’m really bad with figuring out how to make them happen before spiraling into an overwhelmed basket-case of depression and self-utter-loathing. “How dare you set yet another goal for yourself and not achieve it? God, you’re utterly useless.” I want to be a marine biologist, or a travel writer, or a photographer, or a genetic counselor. Or all of those things. I want to be finished my B.Sc. I want to finish writing my book. I want to start that travel website. This isn’t a new thing. Sometimes my life feels like a trail of half-finished or discarded projects. When I was in middle school, I wanted to start the “Cids Can Do Anything Club.” We were going to raise money for charity and collect the tabs off coke cans for wheelchairs, and we spelled Kids with a C because a 10 year old Donna thought it was clever. In high school, I wanted to sell Creative Memories supplies and host scrapbooking meetings, but I never even made enough money to pay for the first sales kit. I haven’t yet managed to read 52 books for the CBR. It’s been 10 years and I haven’t cleaned my room. I’m just filled with the best of intentions.
I’ve always wanted to be doing big things, great things. I tested high in IQ, and I thought that meant I’d be finished grad school by now. Instead, I can’t even get hired by McDonald’s. I don’t apply for awesome internships or challenging workplaces because I cannot see myself succeeding in them. All I see is myself letting everybody down. I see in my future an under-realised life. I’ll work temp jobs for a while, I’ll be the crazy aunt in scarves, I’ll end up getting a small apartment and dying alone with my dogs, probably in a bit of debt. It will have been a reasonably happy, mostly mediocre life. My family and friends will be sad, and in 5 years, it will be like I was never on Earth.
So there’s not much going on in my life right now. I’m 4 years from 30 (only 4 years? already 4 years?). I need a goal. I need a self-esteem boost. I need something to do for the next 6 months. The time is right, and the time is now.
I am running a marathon.
All 42.195 kilometers of it.
And I’m sharing it with family, close personal friends, and complete strangers on the internet because I need to believe it.
I’m keeping track of my progress through Spark People and a journal, I’ve got my obnoxiously coloured running shoes, my treadmill, and my mp3 player filled with episodes of Cabin Pressure. I’m using The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, because – duh, and I have absolutely no goals with regards to time. This is my first marathon. My only goal is to finish, and to prove to myself that I can.
And if you have anything skeptical or hostile to say about that, you can shove it.
Let me tell you something about myself. One day, about 4 years ago, I was curled up next to my bed trying to psych myself up to go write a personality psychology exam, when I worriedly put my hand on my leg and rubbed my shin absent-mindedly. It was winter, and exam time, so I hadn’t bothered to shave.
A couple of months ago, I got my first wax in preparation for a trip to Cuba. I have always wanted smooth, beautiful legs. I can’t do anything about their height or their stubbiness, but I can dream that they feel like baby skin and look like those that appear in razor commercials. My skin is very fair, and my hair is quite dark and thick, however, so even when I use their magic razors or Nair, there always seem to be dots leftover. I have a 5-o-clock shadow on my legs. I feel gross. I try not to wear shorts. So for this vacation, I tried a waxing.
I examined my legs, and noticed a few stray hairs sticking up. How could the wax have missed them? “What am I supposed to do about these?” I asked my mom. “Just pick them out with tweezers. You’ll probably find that they slip right out.” She was right, they did. It was like I was supposed to be doing this. The hairs didn’t seem like they were attached to anything, they slid out easily, and my legs looked pretty smooth. I wore bathing suits and shorts in Cuba, like a real human woman.
Half an hour before my exam, all I can think is that I need to do it again.
My whole brain screaming at me, “UNCLOG IT. It’s rough and unclean and out of place and it needs to go.” I can see it in my head, there’s so much work that needs to be done, a nice, self-contained little project, but it never ends, because the hair always comes back, how do we have so much of this?
I spend three hours methodically picking each and every hair our of my legs with a pair of shiny, silver tweezers a friend gave me when she taught me how to pluck my eyebrows. It feels great, refreshing, like I’m letting air in. It’s so obvious and straightforward, what I need to do and how I need to do it.
I don’t write my exam.
Even if I, Ms. “A+ or bust,” hadn’t actually missed a final exam due to this behaviour, I would have been disturbed by it. I remember saying to myself, “Alright, Donna, time to stop. The exam’s in 5 minutes, put the tweezers down. Put them down. Why aren’t you putting them down? LISTEN TO ME, I”M YOUR FUCKING BRAIN, I CONTROL WHAT YOU DO PUT THEM DOWN PUT THEM DOWN.”
So I went to Health Services to try to talk to someone. They put me through to a woman. Who, and I remember this vividly, said to me, “You did that for how many hours? That is so weird.”
Don’t worry, that wasn’t what sent me down the spiral of self-doubt and shame. I was already there. I’d been there for years. I merely raised my eyebrows at her and excused myself, thinking, “Surely, no matter what path of medical training you take to get to this spot, somewhere along the line they suggest to you that telling confused and emotional young adults who already feel like ridiculous failures and oddities that the behaviour they came to see you about, to ask you for help with, surely they advise you not to call those people and their problems “weird.” Not to their face. Ridiculous woman.”
At the best of times, it looks like my legs have measles – the skin is pink and raised from being disturbed. Other times there are tiny scabs on almost every pore, like a thousand tiny pin-prick stab wounds are slowly healing themselves. Sometimes there’s a grey shadow of a hair beneath the skin. It’s not disrupting the smoothness (there is no hint of smoothness anymore, I’m like a poorly plucked and scarred chicken, at this point), but it is disrupting me. It’s not supposed to be there, and it needs to go. Hair grows out, it doesn’t tunnel beneath your skin and grow forever, what if it’s 12 feet long in there, looping in on itself, taking up valuable space for other things that are supposed to be inside your body? It doesn’t matter how many biology or anatomy courses I take, this train of thought isn’t going to derail, because it’s not about logic or sense, it’s about perfection, and I am all wrong.
So I go after these ingrown hairs with a vengeance. I dig into the skin with my nails or tweezers or scissors or whatever’s handy. It doesn’t really hurt that much because I know what I’m doing. I make a little hole. I can see, raising like a black pinch out from the blood. Sometimes I still can’t get at it, so I make the hole bigger. I unhook that damned hair from its hiding place and I pull it out of me. Sometimes it’s as short as usual, other times it’s grotesquely long and I feel a gloating thrill that I defeated this gross sneaky little snake trying to burrow its way into my leg. I hate them all. This is triumph.
The scabs take weeks to heal. I still can’t wear shorts in public.
I have been doing this now for years. I’ve told a couple of close friends. Some of them laughed. I get that – it’s not a commonly known disorder, this trichotillomania (WordPress doesn’t even think it’s a real word). They have nothing to compare it to, out of nowhere their friend has just told them, “Hey, let’s have McDonald’s. Also, sometimes I pull hair out of my legs instead of doing important things like showering, or eating, or going to class.” It’s nervous laughter, not mocking laughter.
On and off, I have tried to stop this ridiculous, time-consuming, unhealthy, and annoying habit. The original goal was smooth legs, and that’s never going to happen now. The current, twisted goal, is get all the hair out no matter what, at any cost. Anyone can see that there are more important things to spend time on, that using bloody and rusted tweezers to poke yet more holes in yourself is not only stupid, it’s actually dangerous (although I’ve been lucky – only once did I ever get an infection from this picking).
I have tried so. hard. to stop, and it never seems to work. I always break and go at it with renewed vigor. Right now, I am writing this because I just spent 20 minutes jiggling my legs and tapping my fingers and clenching my fists. I even cried a little bit. I promised myself that January 31st would be my last day. I abused the hell out of my legs that night, because this time, really for real, it was truly going to be the last time ever. I gave myself permission to go nuts. I am trying so hard not to do it right now, as I type. But it’s all I can think about, so I’m writing this instead.
In other news, I feel vaguely dirty.
Today, I ventured out of my residence hole to hang out with my brother and watch Cougar Town. It was nice. I left a couple of hours earlier than I needed to, to give myself ample time for homework and relaxation. It was a good plan. Except, you know, that I was the one carrying it out.
For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with my flaws, here is a quick rundown:
- I have no sense of direction. I make James May look like a homing pigeon.
- I am a massive idiot.
So I took Michael’s directions to the bus stop, and what’s more, I made it. I was very proud of myself. I waited until I saw a bus that looked promising. Billing’s Bridge, I thought. Yes, I’ve heard of that. It’s close to Carleton. I will go there. Forgetting, of course, that it was Sunday, and the 111 doesn’t continue to Carleton on weekends. That’s fine, I can see Dunton Tower from here. I’ll just walk towards it, said my brain, and I’m still deciding what its consequences will be.
Ottawa’s not that big. Neither is Dunton Tower. If I could see it, I was sure it couldn’t be that far away. So I started walking. And walking. And walking. Through muddy baseball fields and icy bike paths and sidewalks with St. Patrick’s people existing obnoxiously.
It was at this point that I started taking pictures of my progress. You know, in order to give myself something to do.
So I kept walking, thinking I was bound to come across a bridge sooner of later. People had to be on the other side of the river all the time, surely provisions had been made for this eventuality.
I bet you can guess where this is going. Another 15 minutes and I was ready to fucking swim across. Eventually, I did come across the bridge. The massive, high-way adjacent once. And behold! A bus stop! I could take off the backpack that OF COURSE I WAS WEARING and ride the bus the rest of the way! Thank goodness for OC Transpo! Bus 111 to Bil- oh, fuck it.
There was more walking, which I’m sure is as interesting to read about as it was to experience, so I’ll spare you. When I finally got the to sidewalk, an orange sign greeted me.
SIDE WALK CLOSED it said. I was so mad I forgot to take a picture.
Anyway, so I walked to the opposite side of the damn bridge, crossed over, and took the side walk back to Carleton. Dunton Tower was farther away than ever.
But finally, in the distance, I saw a sign. It said “Carleton.” Of course, I was on the wrong side of campus, but that was to be expected. The point was, there was no freaking river to keep me from my destination now.
MORE WALKING OCCURRED.
And then I made it to residence. Where I realised I didn’t have my student card. So I had to wait for someone to let me into my room (where, it should be noted, I still didn’t find my card).
Now I get to spend the next 7 hours serving pizza to drunk people on St. Patty’s Day night. Hooray.
In conclusion, kill all the humans.
I wrote this at night because I was listening to Les Miserables and felt like I needed to be in the band. I felt like the opera singer who has taken a deep, purposeful breath before his big solo, but with nothing to sing – nowhere to go. I wanted to try and express myself in some way and I haven’t written anything that wasn’t school related in ages, so I said to myself:
JUST WRITE let’s see how it goes
I’ve just gotta get out of this prison cell, some day I’m gonna be free – no. It’s not like that this time.
There’s a thing inside me, it wants to escape, it is literally making my heart skip beats, but it’s not depression or anxiety or a need to be outside myself this time, it’s a need to MAKE SOMETHING.
Some people sing, some people jam, some people make art, some people write. I’ve tried running when I get in these moods – full of unfocused energy, tingling, happiness, intensity, because nothing I can sing or draw or play on the piano is good enough is adequate gives this need in me release because I’m not good enough or talented enough or whatever, who cares? This isn’t a self-pity paragraph, it’s exploration. What happens when I just let myself write and fuck the rest? What comes out? This I have control over. I understand English, and the tools make sense, and they’re at my command. My voice is weak, I don’t know music theory or note patterns, I can’t make what I hear come out on an instrument and I can’t make what I see turn up on a piece of paper, but I can write what I feel.
For over a year, I have wanted to write a tribute to my dog. Let’s get that off my chest.
This is what I always thought it might be like to be high – uninhibited.
I asked my mom the other day – if creativity is supposed to go along with mental health issues, where’s my special talent that makes it all worth it? I WOULD USE THAT FOR RELEASE. Instead, I’ve been running.
I’m shaking right now, because this isn’t a plea for sympathy or support, I JUST WANT TO WRITE, to make something, to express something and see how close I can make to what I mean to say, and to see what comes out when I give myself permission to go crazy.
Fudge. I miss you. I love you. There’s still a hole where you left. Just because someone’s talked about missing holes and broken hearts and bursting chests before doesn’t mean that isn’t EXACTLY WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. I wish I could have known that you were ready to go. I wish you could have lived forever. You were more suited to immortality than any human – if you don’t question life’s purpose, you can’t question the purpose of its end. You would have been content to live and eat and play and be happy and be with your people for the rest of time. You were the only thing I’ve ever loved unconditionally by choice. I could see your imperfections, and they didn’t annoy me, they endeared you to me. Sometimes you had a silly little goatee and ridiculously bad smelling breath, and I know other dogs might have been cuter, but it didn’t matter, because you were my Fudge. You were better than them all just because you were you. It didn’t even matter to me that I wasn’t your favourite. I just wanted you to be happy. You taught me about love, and you taught me about selflessness. You were a pet, a friend, a family member, a brother, a child. You were so smart.
I loved that you weren’t a particularly social dog. You weren’t aggressive, and you were kind, but you cuddled when you were in the mood to cuddle, thank you very much, and just because you wanted to be in a room with people you loved didn’t mean you actually wanted to interact with them in any way. When we told you to stop barking, you always slipped one more in there before resentfully shutting up. My funny Fudgie.
You lay quietly next to me the summer of 2010 when I thought I was dying and wanted to get it over with. When for weeks at a time I tried to convince myself that the lump constricting my throat and my breathing was an anxiety attack and nothing more, but it wouldn’t go away, and the thought of living the next 60 years of my life in an endless panic was too terrifying to contemplate, you lay quietly next to me and let me hug you. When I felt like I was floating a foot above my head you grounded me. I never had to explain myself to you.
I have never forgiven myself for how I treated you when I was young. I was learning power. When you did something bad, and I smacked your nose, and you cowered and looked so sad and pathetic and adorable, I felt a thrill. I continued to yell at you until you ran from the room. I felt big. Whenever you were a “bad boy” – you went into the garbage or made a mess in the house – I was happy because I got to do it again. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised how sick that was.
You forgave me.
You were always so happy to see us. No one believes me, but I know you loved Let it Be. You weren’t a huge fan of my room, but when that song was playing, you wandered in and didn’t leave until it was over. I love that a dog had a favourite song.
You didn’t cower when I lifted my hand in your presence (but you cowered at everything else, my silly boy). I loved comforting you. I loved that despite the fact that you would never fully understand this big, ridiculous world with its stools and CD cases and thunder, just being held by someone familiar soothed you and made it better. That was why I wanted to be there.
Am I wrong for feeling this way? Is this weird? I’m not trying to belittle my relationships with friends and family. But by virtue of them being human, those relationships will always be more complicated. Less pure? I don’t know. Is that patronizing? You were just a dog. 50% or more of what I loved about you was probably anthropomorphised. There was never any danger of you questioning my motivations. You don’t speak English.
I just want to express how much I miss you, and how much the 15 years you were with us is worth to me.