Monday, October 4th, 2010

Alston Adams 1974–2010

Filed under: Alston,anger,death,illness,motivational,reality check — alison @ 15:40

We met, oh, six years ago? at a YULblog meeting. He was young, social, full of life and angry. Our names sounded sort of the same. I’m the oldest of five, he was the youngest of five. He was in an interracial relationship, I’m from a mixed-race family. We had little in common but there was a feeling of kinship anyway.

Three years ago he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Two weeks ago we took him for a drive in the country. We thought that sitting in the car being driven around would be about all the activity he could handle, and as it turned out we had overestimated him.

His goal was to make it to his 36th birthday, which would have been November 8th.

He didn’t make it.

You know what they say about doing whatever it is now, not putting it off because there may never be a later? Yeah. What they say.

Carpe diem.

Sunday, January 11th, 2009


I often have interesting conversations with taxi drivers, but it’s usually me who starts them.

Yesterday I gave my destination and we discussed the route. Then the driver cautiously asked me if I were Québécoise pure-laine? Well, I said, I’m anglophone but I’m born here.

Because, rushed on my driver, he had read a story in the newspaper that morning* and couldn’t stop thinking about two countries, on two continents, separated by history and religion but united in their misery. La Guinée, in Africa, and Haïti, where he was born.

He was satisfied with his life in Canada, he wanted me to know that. His children didn’t eat steak every day, but they could have meat every week. Canada is a good country, built by people who were not his parents, and he was grateful for the welcome he had been offered, the opportunity to make a life here. But he couldn’t stop looking back to his people in Haïti, feeling for their suffering.

Yes, I said, and feeling responsible but helpless and not knowing what to do. I told him I’d lived in Nigeria in the seventies when people were doing very well, that I knew a little about how people lived who didn’t have a lot of stuff, and even a little about what children looked like who didn’t have enough to eat. That I felt a bond with people in other countries and circumstances that I had no idea how to act on.

Yes, he said. One doesn’t need to have a lot of stuff to be able to care for a family. His father had been a cultivator and he had worked with him. They rotated crops with the seasons, rice and yams and vegetables. In between crops, his father fished. There was always something to do. His father had also been a judge. This was in the time of Papa Duvalier. He had disappeared one day. Both his father and his mother. The children had all found their way out of the country. It had been hard, but the children were now all over the world and managing fine. Even their cousins had left.

But now, he said, Haitian rice farmers can’t make a living any more. They can’t compete with the price of rice imported from the US, where agriculture is heavily subsidised. When rice can be bought so cheaply, people would rather buy it than grow it themselves, so they leave the farms and go to the city. But of course there is no work in the city. People struggle, women prostitute themselves.

Yes, I said, and you and I look on from our comfortable spots and don’t know what to do. I told him my father had recently returned from Bangladesh and was struggling trying to help a woman he had made friends with there. He was helping her, but it was hard. It’s hard for one person to help another person, for a country to help another country. And for one person, like him or me, to help a country – it’s very hard to know what to do.

The kind of work my parents do makes some difference directly. The kind of work I do does not. I can only donate to local and international aid organisations, but it doesn’t feel right, or like enough.

Yes, my taxi driver said, he gives to aid organisations too. To Centraide and Jeunesse au Soleil. But they’re all local.

Yes, I said, to support international aid means donating to different organisations. And then it can be hard to know if the help being offered is really useful; for instance, free american-grown rice is even worse for farmers than cheap american-grown rice. I contribute to one that gives agricultural animals. The people who receive them must commit to breeding the animals and sharing the offspring. It sounds like a good program, though I can’t be sure of its impact in practice.

My taxi driver got very excited at the thought of country people receiving such a useful and community-minded gift as breeding animals, but pointed out that it takes so much more. There has to be water, for instance. And transportation. And fertiliser. And there has to be a market.

You know, I said, we aren’t going to solve the world’s problems parked here in your taxi. But I will shake your hand and wish you a good and happy new year, and know that your frustrations are shared.

He shook my hand, and thanked me for telling him about people who work in international aid, who travel and care. He feels better now, knowing that he isn’t alone in caring.

I feel better too, knowing that I’m not alone in my lack of direction.

Happy new year to all, and may we continue to shake hands with our neighbours and share our challenges!


* That would have been these articles:

Saturday, September 13th, 2008


Filed under: housekeeping,illness,motivational,travelling — alison @ 06:55

I got a stomach bug on my last trip to Winnipeg. I ended up wasting a day in my hotel room, unable to leave for fear of shitting my pants. I dozed and internetted during most of the day and in the evening I watched television. I ordered a small, light meal from room service, ate it slowly and cautiously and kept it down. Then I rolled over and shit the bed without warning.

Staying in a hotel has its advantages. I stripped the bed and dumped everything in the hallway; washed up in the bathroom and put the soiled towels out in the hallway; called Housekeeping to pick up the soiled linens; and moved into the other bed. Cool. It happened again in the middle of the night, but then I didn’t have a clean bed to move in to. I wrapped myself in a complimentary bathrobe and spread a towel on the bare mattress. That’s when I started feeling sorry for my future self, imagining myself living alone and poor in an HLM with a laundromat in the basement, wondering how long it would take me before I stopped changing the sheets when I was sick. 

Then I realised I hadn’t been paying attention to all the television ads I’d been watching. Of course. When I am that sick, in that situation, I will just wear diapers. 

The next morning I didn’t try to eat right away, but took a taxi to work and set my things up in my usual conference room. Then I walked to a drugstore and bought myself a package of Depends and changed into them before getting breakfast at the company cafeteria. They are surprisingly comfortable, which is good to know. I kept a couple of changes in my purse for the flight back to Montreal that afternoon, but I didn’t need them. The bug seemed to have run its course. And all day I was thinking of the Active Woman in the Depends ads, who can leave her home to lead a Busy Life. And I thought how liberating the availability of a disposable consumer product can be.

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008


Filed under: dreams — alison @ 18:20

I had two dreams just before I woke up this morning.

The first was about eggplant parmesan. I decided it should have béchamel sauce in it, and that the egg yolk in the sauce would give it a rich yummy colour.* What to do with the remaining egg white became a problem generating some anxiety.

The second dream was about my Uncle Kevin. He was explaining to us that he hadn’t travelled as much as he would have liked, and that it was time for a change. He would quit his job at the Cleveland Clinic and practice overseas. He would join the army and go to Kandahar!

At which point my Uncle Kevin ripped off all his clothes and started boogying backwards down a busy street, naked, on roller-blades, joyfully singing Kandahar! to the tune of the Village People’s YMCA. This was an unexpected development, but deeply moving.

The first dream was easy to decode. My mother and I made an eggplant casserole for Easter dinner today and I was mentally rehearsing it.

The second dream was also easy. I recently finished reading a book in the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana.** Our heroine spends a certain amount of time in each book looking forward to retirement in a village with her husband, where they will putter and enjoy their memories. I realised that the life I lead, in which my dreams, challenges and ambitions do not rise above the level of preparing a vegetable casserole and making good use of leftover egg whites, is not going to supply me with many interesting memories to get me through old age. It hadn’t really occurred to me before that I would need to lay down memories for future use, assuming that I would just keep busy. In fact, people slow down as they age and have the time to review memories. Which they do, as they rest in between being busy.

I don’t know if Kandahar is where I need to be, but I think I need to learn to roller-blade.

*No, real-world béchamel sauce does not contain eggs. Only in dreams.
**Nostalgic and sentimental, but I like nostalgic and sentimental. Totally which makes sense, because I am totally white people.

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Love, health and all you desire

Filed under: wishes — alison @ 13:39

In Québec we don’t simply wish people a perfunctory “Happy New Year.” Ideally we compile a thoughtful list so that when we meet someone the first time in the new year we can wish them something personal, philosophical and comforting. A good relationship with their new dog, for instance; insight into the kind of work they really want to do; or a peaceful recovery from a difficult divorce. Since people resemble one another more than we differ, this is often simplified to a universal « L’amour, la santé et tout ce que tu désires »* or « Les trois S … Santé, Sexe et Sous ».**

Over the holidays this year the health bit was a bit sketchy. Mark’s mother actually died, first of all. Mark has been fighting an infection for the past two or three months and his doctor is starting to worry about deeper issues. I’m recovering from the tail end of six weeks of some sort of bronchitis deal. My father came back to Canada to spend the holidays with the family and promptly checked into the hospital with typhoid fever for ten days. Pepe’s kidneys appear to be failing, which means… I’m not sure, or rather I know it means he dies, I’m just not sure when. A cousin younger than I am has leukemia.

But everyone else including my mother and grandmother and Poupoune is glowing with radiant health. Bertha and Matthew went to the hospital to glow with health at Patrick’s bedside. Nora flew to Ottawa with her infant daughter Daphne to smile, watch videos and glow with health during Patrick’s first days post-discharge. Steven glowed with health over the phone from England. Those of us experiencing the ills that flesh is heir to are either on the mend or doing well despite them, so not succumbing.

Health is good. I wish it to all of you. Even more importantly, I wish you someone who loves you anyway, whether that’s a pet, family or a friend. Those who have that kind of love from more than one source are extravagantly wealthy. May you enjoy it! Material wealth gets short shrift these days, we’re supposed to be above worrying about it. But realistically it facilitates both healthy bodies and healthy relationships, so I wish for all of you to avoid the grind of poverty.

And, of course, may we all gain insight into the kind of work we really want to do.

Happy new year!

* love, health and everything you desire
** health, sex and money

Tuesday, August 13th, 2002

Michael Aronin – success handicap

Filed under: disability,motivational — alison @ 19:13

Okay, so it’s mushy, so you can’t help thinking about Dr. Johnson’s comment on women preaching. But I will defend to the death anyone who tells me to embrace my limitations.


My name is Michael Aronin, and I have been a professional speaker for five years. Prior to speaking, I spent six years as a professional comedian. Somehow trying to make people laugh while ducking beer bottles helped me develop my stage presence (at least the Blues Brothers had chicken wire in front of them!)

Being born with Cerebral Palsy has been a challenge, but becoming a professional speaker has been more challenging.

The way I walk and talk makes some people uncomfortable. When I walk on the platform, I can sense the tension in the room. Once they realize that first of all, I’m not going to fall, and secondly that they will be able to understand my slightly over-enunciated diction, they begin to relax.

One way I try to help this process along is through humor. Sometimes I say something like, “Gee, by the time I get up here, my time’s done. Thank you for coming!” My humor helps to break the tension when I hit the platform. I love feeling the transition from my audience laughing out of nervousness to laughing with me and seeing me for me, not my disability. And it happens every single time.

Having a physical handicap is not a laughing matter. But there is a big difference between a laughing matter and being funny. Humor is the highest form of social interaction and can relieve tension from the most uncomfortable situations. I am not comfortable to look at or listen to until my humor starts to flow. At that point my handicap becomes my greatest asset.

What kind of handicap can you turn into your biggest asset? C’mon, you have lots of handicaps. If you can’t list them quickly I’ll just call your spouse. He or she knows them all.

I deliver a two-pronged message. First, that people who face challenges can move forward and succeed. I use myself and my humor as an example. And second, that everyone – yes everyone – has a disability. Mine just happens to be physical. Yours might be physical too, or it might be something you try to hide within.

Handicaps are everywhere. From parking spaces to people who get on the airplane first. I didn’t choose to have a handicap, but I did choose to do my best to deal with it in a manner that fulfills me. Interestingly, as I seek my fulfillment, it also encourages others to seek theirs.

When I speak, I show and tell people that they have the choice whether they are going to let their disabilities drag them down, or help them to push on and become better people. I had the same choices. And somehow when people see me wiggling around on the stage almost falling with every step, but howling with laughter after I say something funny, it makes them feel as good as it makes me feel.

Handicapped people also have goals. One of mine is walking for two straight days without falling (just kidding). When I achieve a goal I set for myself, I give myself extra credit (my mother was a teacher!) by recognizing the extra challenge I faced in achieving my goal. This extra credit makes the achievement even sweeter. How much credit do you give yourself after you achieve a goal? How much do you celebrate? How much should you celebrate?

Isn’t it interesting that the words handicapped and celebration can appear in the same thought and the same sentence? One of life’s blessings is to take your best asset and share it with people so that they can realize their own gifts, which may be disguised as a handicap.

If you’re ever in an airport and you see someone walking down the aisle that looks like a drunken pilot, that would be me, and I’ll look forward to shaking your hand.

Michael Aronin is a nationally acclaimed speaker who teaches his audiences how to get past personal shortcomings and move forward productively in their careers.

For more information contact Michelle Joyce at 800-242-5388 or go to his website at

[Originally transmitted by e-mail August 13, 2002]

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