Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Journey to Canadianness (the exciting conclusion)

Oh, the drama. That I create all in my own head.

A month or so ago I got an order to appear today (January 30) at 1:15 (or actually 13:15) at the train station, which is apparently where you do this sort of thing, to be sworn in as a citizen of Canada.

It also recommended ‘business attire’. The issues are as follows:
  1. I’m not sure I know what ‘business attire’ means anymore
  2. It is the dead of winter, so I'll have a coat of some kind
  3. I find it difficult to manage both a jacket and a coat, particularly if it's not a giant 'over'coat and just a coat-coat
  4. I will undoubtedly not have my coat on inside anyway
  5. I have a paucity of shirts that I can close around my fat neck
  6. I look like an idiot in a tie without a jacket  
  7. I look slightly less idiotic in a button-front shirt and a jacket, or a button-front shirt without a jacket, but that strikes me as potentially insufficiently 'business attire' to be swearing (or affirming) to God and Queen and so on
  8. The lining of my black jacket is not doing particularly well, so wearing it out and about is potentially problematic
  9. My only other sports jacket / blazer thing is seersucker, which is a no go from both the ‘dead of winter’ and ‘business attire’ angles, I reckon
Much consultation, with Facebook since that’s where I do all my socializing, and especially some Messengering with a bud who’s gone through it recently, convinced me that a nice shirt and big-boy pants were adequate. Last night a friend confirmed that ‘a shirt that doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be worn with a tie’ might be best if I wasn’t going to wear a tie. So I think I have nice black pants, and a black button-front shirt with a broad plaid in white.

This morning I get up and it isn’t going to be quite dead-of-winter-y as previously predicted. It’s windy, visibility is compromised (but not quite blizzarding), but it’s supposed to snow a few centimeters around 1pm. It’s about -11C and it was going to climb to around -5C in the afternoon. 11C is sort of on the edge of ‘medium jacket’ weather, and -5C is definitely too warm for any kind of ‘winter coat’. So hm.

There was also the comment by a friend who will remain unidentified, except that it was Richard Maritzer, speculating that the reason I didn’t want to wear a tie was that I didn’t own any nice ties.

I have a dozen or so (maybe 10?) ties. All are nice. Except for one or two, I’d in fact say they were downright pretty. I don’t mind wearing them. I mind trying to close a shirt collar around my fat neck (see #5, above). But I was running around, getting dressed thinking “if it isn’t going to be that cold, I could wear the jacket. And I could wear the tie and show that Richard Maritzer who doesn’t own any nice ties.

I also convinced myself that wearing a shirt that was effectively a white-on-black grid would likely just emphasize the misshapen body and weird tucking that I do with shirts like that. So in the end, Richard Martizer notwithstanding, I went for a color-blocked check shirt in dark red, gray, and black, which I like and think looks pretty good on. Skip the tie. Skip the jacket. Stick to your guns.

So dressed as ‘business attire’ as I’m likely ever to be (I wore a tie to the Winnipeg Theatre Awards, but since I was backstage most of the night it hardly mattered—and I’ve been known to say things like ‘If you want me in a tie, you have to be getting married, getting buried, or getting a PhD’.) I head out.

The train station (known as the Via Rail station and Union Station, depending on who you talk to and the context) is downtown. I’m halfway up before I realize I have no idea where I’m going to park. I know where there’s parking. I just usually have an idea of where I intend to park even if I don’t end up there, because I’m nothing if not flexible, but dammit you have to have a plan.

There’s smallish lot next to the train station which I have driven past, quite a bit, but have never pulled into. In the end since I get there around 12:30 with plenty of time, I drive around. I know that on the non-Main-Street side of the train station is a large parking lot that serves, among other things, the Forks Market (important shopping, meeting, and touristy kind of spot), the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, and the baseball park. So I drive down there and poke around to make sure that there is parking and that there’s a way into the train station from that side.

Since I have no idea how long this is going to take (reports vary), I paid for ‘all day’ parking until 6pm. Readers of this blog may recall that I paid $10 to park for all day for approximately 45 minutes when I took the exam. I know I have friends coming, with vague plans for drinks or something after, so I figured I can leave the car there, and worst case I’ll have to move it to someplace more convenient when we go out after.

Got inside and friends Ron and Sheila were already at the canteen, or whatever you call the snack bar area, and we sat and talked for a while, joined a bit later by friends Wendy and Patricia. A few minutes after 1pm, we head into The Room, which turns out to be built like a largish lecture theatre with a dais in front that looks like a bench in a court.

Some nice ladies (I believe volunteers) direct my buddies are directed into the room, and I’m directed around the corner to line up to verify my document(s), which consisted mostly of presenting my notice to appear and surrendering my Permanent Resident card, and signing the oath form on the pink line, getting a bunch of propaga—er, literature, and being shown to my assigned seat (#10).

Now, I like my PR card. I tend to keep things like that. Every drivers license I’ve ever been issued in Manitoba used to live in a bin in my office until I tossed them, and just about everything else in that bin, in a fit of organizational pique. Including several old parking passes, pages from a word-a-day calendar from 2004 or so that I was keeping for some reason, my ERII flag from the jubilee, and so on.

But since in a few minutes I’ll be a Canadian citizen, I don’t need a PR card, so whatever.

The ceremony goes like this. Frank (readers will remember my interviewer/language assessor/document verifier) is there to keep things orderly. Everybody in the room has indicated that they’d prefer to do the ceremony in English rather than French, so the proceedings will be in English. There’s no amplification because they can’t get the mic or speakers or something to work, so everybody is going to have to be quiet. The ceremony will begin, the judge will come out, say a few words, then the oath will be administered. After that, everyone will be called up to collect their certificate of citizenship, which we are directed to check to make sure everything is spelled correctly. Then a representative of the Canadian Armed Forces will speak briefly, then there will be the singing of the national anthem, and then those who want to can have their picture taken with the judge, the Air Force captain, the Mountie, and the guest from the government, who turned out to be my Member of the Legislative Assembly (the provincial parliamentary body).

I won’t go into who said what, because they actually all went on a little longer than I think they needed to. The judge started with pointing out that we’re doing this on Treaty 1 land, meaning basically it was claimed by Canada (or whatever the analogous body was at the time) from the native population, which in our case is the Anishnaabe more than anyone else. There’s mention of Louis Riel and the formation of Manitoba. There’s talk about how Canada is the second largest country on earth (by area). There’s lots of talk about freedom and safety and respect, that was clearly very meaningful to many in the room, who may not have come to Canada entirely by choice, who leave behind persecution, or poverty, or martial conflict, and so on. Coming from the US, I am moved, but I’m used to freedoms guaranteed by the law, nominal equality, freedoms of expression, religion, and so on, so I don’t relate to these reminders quite as I probably should.

The oath itself is a little weird. You start by swearing loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, Queen of Canada, and her heirs and successors, which as an American just seems weird. You also swear to obey the law and fulfil the responsibilities of citizenship. Interestingly enough, in spite of this being an explicitly English-language ceremony, you have to do the oath in both languages. It was a rare moment of pride that I was only one in my little group of proto-citizens who spoke (or pronounced) enough French to be able to do it plausibly in French. You’re repeating after the judge, who did not always have the best French anyway.

They call you up individually (or as a family) alphabetically. Frank makes a really good attempt at not butchering your name. You go up and notice that your friends Kevin and Shayna have also come in to watch and take pictures. You shake hands and receive your certificate from the judge, who engages in chit chat about where you’re from (“I’m from the US.” “Oh.” “Yeah, not really as inspiring a journey as most.” “Where in the US?” “Well, Seattle, originally.” “Oh.”), and you go down the line to shake hands with the Captain from the Air Force (who gives you your little flag pin), the Mountie (who gives you a little flag) and (in my case) your MLA. Then you go down and sign the oath form again, this time on the yellow line. You say hi to Will (readers of this blog will remember Will, the young man who administered my exam) who with a bunch of friends (including, I think, his friend from the exam who’s name I didn’t catch) is overseeing all the paperwork. You hear your friend Wendy hiss something at you so she can take a picture, and then you go back to your seat.

When everybody is done, the Captain from the Air Force tells us a little about the role of the Armed Forces, that the Forces are for the protection of, and service to, citizens (which is not always true where some of these people come from). Winnipeg, it turns out, is the Canadian headquarters of NORAC (which along with NORAD in the US make up the North American Aerosomething defense program). It’s also headquarters of his own unit, which is often involved in search-and-rescue operations, and his boss, who apparently is a two-star general basically in command of the forces from Manitoba across through Alberta, and north up into the Arctic. Which was interesting, but since everyone had their certificates at that point, there wasn’t a lot of paying attention going on. He closes by imploring us to pay attention to the many cenotaphs and to the sacrifices made that we commemorate on Remembrance Day (Veteran’s Day in the US*).

The judge says welcome and congratulations, you all sing the anthem, and it’s over.

Except then you can (if you wish) (or in my case, if your friends wish) line up for your opportunity to take pictures with the judge, the Captain, the Mountie, and the MLA. Your friends stake out a place in good photographing position and, being Canadian, eagerly volunteer to take pictures for others while you’re trudging up in line.

Then you and your friends try to figure out whether we’re going out for a drink or food, or what, and exactly where. At this point, it’s almost 3:30pm. That’s how long a ceremony that lasts ‘about an hour’ that started about 1:45 takes.

You end up going to The Forks, because you’re practically already there, and you spent a couple of hours gabbing with friends, take a few more pictures, and then buying Evil Cinnamon Rolls on your way home.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

But it was a pretty good day, if a little long, but now I’d better get to some work I need to do for tomorrow.

But aujourd’hui, je suis canadien, and that’s how it all happened.

*The ‘business attire’ drama was made particularly comical by the young man next to me, who was wearing a t-shirt, a hoodie, jeans, and hiking boots.




Saturday, 20 January 2018

Discomfort and disquiet

I get that what I experience as pain is probably nothing compared to what others experience. But this is my blog and I’m uncomfortable. In the sense of “you may feel a bit of discomfort”. In the sense of “you will know great pain.”


I have had three serious back spasms in my life. The first in 1984, then in 1990, and in 1996. Each had a similar progression: Rob is fine; Rob falls to the floor in blinding pain; Rob is unable to move for about four hours; usually with the help of a handy dorm-mate or friend Rob gets to some kind of medical service; and then Rob spends several weeks in various degrees of pain and discomfort while things work themselves out.


I am currently experiencing something akin to a back spasm, but have skipped steps 2 and 3, having not had an obvious 'event'. Since just before Christmas, my lumbar back has been ... off. Ranging from a little twingey to sharply owie to basically okay. With better days and worse days. Starting Thursday I guess, I went from ‘not great’ to ‘downright owie’. Which I’d still characterize as ‘occasional’ or ‘episodic’. There are times, particularly if I’ve been standing up straight for a while, or lying down for a while, when I actually can’t tell much is wrong. Until I move.


But similar to previous experience, the pain is in my lumbar back. In previous episodes it started clearly in one spot (one doctor looked at my back, and saying ‘oh yeah, right there’ was able to shove his knuckle into the middle of it). This didn’t start in one spot all at once, but sort of started ‘vaguely my lower back’ and has started to concentrate in a spot just to the right of the base of my lumbar spine. Which as I recall is actually a vertebra or two lower than I think it was in the past, but that could be just not remembering exactly correctly. Or it could really be different. We’re definitely approaching the sacroilial end of the lumbar spine, I think.


So depending on how I move, I get an acute (both in terms of sudden and in terms of sharp) pain that happens when I try to move, particularly going from relatively curved over (slouched) to a properly curved lumbar spine. I’m better the straighter I can keep my back. So standing up or sitting down, or lying down is kind of an adventure of trying to realign my spine. I can actually bend over (a bit, with my back straight), get down to one knee (for instance, to pick up the slice of turkey I dropped on the floor because I dropped it trying to get it onto my sandwich from the wrong angle), get myself in and out of bed, in and out of the shower, on and off of the toilet, and so on. But twingey twinge. I have taken, apparently, to trying to turn my gasps or squeals of surprise and pain into warblings of familiar songs. Most recently the Star Spangled Banner. “Owie, Ow ow ow Ow”, like a one-man Muppaphone.


I’ve also noticed a familiar post pain-flare symptom, which is that a dull ache seems to radiate around and down my right ilium (hip bone), as if those muscles that attach there (notably quadratus lumborum) are either working really hard either trying to keep me upright, or are getting yanked on by my (erector spinae?) muscles in spasm. Which is why I have decided this is an actual muscle spasm, and not just me getting old and decrepit and increasingly out of shape. I mean, I’m sure it doesn’t help, but this is different.


What I learned from three previous trips to the doctor is once you get vaguely ambulatory, it’s best to stay that way—there’s no benefit from three weeks of bedrest. Also heavy muscle relaxers don’t really help a lot, especially if you get so depressed on one you become afraid to take it in the third day.


So I’m not just going to crawl into bed and hope it goes away, although I plan to spend as much time as possible flat on my back for the rest of the weekend probably. My immediate problem, aside from being in variable degrees of pain, is that weekend was meant for the reading of manuscripts and marking of papers. I could probably still read, standing up, with the tablet, but this plan doesn’t allow me to make notes trivially, which is kind of the point of reading. I think marking papers, which pretty much requires me to bend over a stack of papers for a couple of hours, is not going to happen.


If I feel better tomorrow, I might try to rig up something that will let me stand at my desk so at least I can read on the screen comfortably, and possibly type notes with the keyboard. But for the moment, I’m just going to try to not collapse in pain crying.*


I used to own a pair of forearm crutches that I bought cheap off a friend who had CP (I think she was switching to a wheelchair--anyway she had a set she sold me for $20 or something), because it was easier to bear my weight on my wrists and shoulders than my back. I also made my mother buy me a drafting table when I went off to grad school so I could sit more upright when I read. I left the drafting table in California because I couldn’t figure out how to move it to Wisconsin in my car, and I finally got rid of the crutches when I moved in 2015. So of course I’m wondering if having kept them would have made anything easier. On the other hand, this is Canada and it can’t be that hard to get a pair of used forearm crutches from somewhere. Which I probably won’t need again for another 20 years, in which time I will get rid of them just in time for my next spasm. I guess.


In brighter news, this is Canada, and you can get OTC methocarbamol, which I’d never even heard of before I came here. Marketed specifically for back spasms, it may not help, but it isn’t going to hurt—I’ve never gotten depressed or scared on it, and its potential for abuse is extremely low.


*I’m not actually a crier. That is, about pain and horror. It has been known for me to lose it over a coffee commercial**, or the odd sporting event, but that’s not the same. So I don’t actually cry, unless I’m actually in personal despair, which I’m unlikely to be unless I become seriously disabled by this. Which is, to say the least, unlikely. But knowing I have, likely, a week of serious hobbling is going to get me down, especially if it means I can’t get what little work I was looking forward to doing done.


**It’s an old Folgers one that comes around again every once in a while, with the teen boy bouncing a basketball in the kitchen, when his brother comes home from the army, and the coffee he has wakes up the mother. “You two never could let us sleep. My baby! My baby!” That one. Excuse me for a sec.***


*** Also, it’s been about 40 minutes of me sitting here typing and not doing any work, which I can already tell has been a huge mistake. In more ways than one. Ow owie ow, ow ow ow owie ow.****


****O Canada.