No RagweedI don't want to say that I'm losing the battle against Ragweed but it's not going well. And yeah, I know it's not even Ragweed season yet but the pre-seasonal allergy vaccine I've been taking is pretty much kicking my ass. I'm already on a very low dose because my Ragweed allergy is extreme and because of my reactions I might not even be able to continue with that.

My body doesn't want Ragweed anywhere near it and injecting it into my arm isn't increasing its fondness. It's angry—itchy, red and angry. I'm starting to think the next injection might well transform me into some Incredible Hulk type figure that will go rampaging around parking lots and fields, growling as it yanks up masses of the green stuff and then tramples it under foot. I wonder how well the Incredible Hulk would function with a Ragweed allergy though? On the one hand the sniffles and breathing difficulties would make him less effective but I bet the cranky factor would make up for it.

Anyway, I've been reviewing allergy recommendations lately and the big five on the Allergy and Asthma Foundation website are as follows:

* Track the pollen count for your area.
* Stay indoors in central air conditioning with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter attachment when the pollen count is high.

* Get away from the pollen where possible.

* Take antihistamine medications.

* If medication does not give enough relief, consider immunotherapy ("allergy shots").

As I'm following most of this advice already, it seems I'm left with relocating (the AAFA suggests going to sea, abroad or to the Rocky mountains) or purchasing a portable bubble apparatus (like in the Jake Gyllenhaal movie) so that I can leave the apartment between August and October. I haven't worked out which option is more feasible yet.

In the meantime, if you happen to spot a hulking green creature bounding around your nearest park with a wicked case of pre-Ragweed season allergies, please don't be alarmed. I mean you no harm, honestly. My quarrel is only with Ragweed and its cronies. Beware A. artemisifolia, this isn't over yet!
If you're shaking your head as you watch the U.S. media coverage of Michelle Obama and wondering why “an educated, successful lawyer, devoted wife and caring mother has been labeled 'angry'and unpatriotic and snidely referred to as Barack Obama's 'baby mama'” you'll want to check out Michelle Obama Watch for analysis.

Obviously we can't depend on the media to weed out its own racism and sexism (we can see how well that hasn't worked so far!). It's crucial that viewers/readers complain and demand unbiased reporting. You might also want to sign this petition by the Women's Media Center: Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It!
Here's some YouTube footage of the Billy Bragg portion of yesterday's event. 

Billy Bragg on record stores:

Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards:

A New England:

Early Morning Rain cover:


M for Me:

I've written about my fondness for record stores before—when Sam The Record Man's flagship Yonge Street shop closed last May and when Music World declared bankruptcy in November. Unfortunately, the record store concept is beginning to seem like yet another example of “don't know what you've got till it's gone.” But HMV is still in the fight and today, along with a slew of musical guests, they revealed their 'Store of the Future' design in their Bloor Street location in Toronto.

One of the musicians performing was Billy Bragg, in town for his Harbourfront gig later tonight. During his thirty minute set, Billy pointed out one of the many bonuses of real life record stores: live appearances. He kidded that the newly relaunched Bloor Street store is where Canada will make it's last stand against MP3s. Mentioning that HMV was one of the few record stores to feature a “Canadian” section, he also suggested that a dearth of bricks and mortar stores could make it even more challenging for Canadian music to find an audience.

As always, watching Billy play was both a pleasure and surprise—you're never sure what, from his extensive back catalogue and/or influences, he'll play and what he has to say is always every bit as interesting. This afternoon's acoustic set featured: Sexuality, M For Me, Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot cover), Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards and A New England (complete with Kirsty MacColl verse and energetic audience singalong).

I'd promised myself that in the event that Billy was signing afterwards, and that I got a chance to speak to him again, I'd tell him what an inspiration he's been over the years {gush time} and give him one of my advance reader copies for I Know It's Over.

Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008

Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008
Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008

Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008
Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008

Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008

Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008

Billy Bragg, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008

So yes, he hung around to meet fans after and that's an advance reader copy of my first novel in Billy Bragg's left hand. Let me tell you, you don't get THAT feeling from sitting at home with your MP3s. Nope, you gotta go to the record store.
Billy and Me, Bloor Street HMV, Toronto, June 17, 2008
When we were out walking a few nights ago we spotted this graffiti on the brand new half of a pillar support for a recently added extra set of train tracks. It's easy to see which portion of the pillar's the new one but what's less obvious is how anyone would've been able to scrawl their message here. Since it seems as though someone has gone to a significant amount of trouble for this, I'm glad the message is a profound and positive one.

Hope Persists

Hope Persists

This is the best graffiti message I've seen since I spotted “refuse to be led” spray-painted on a fence further along the very same train line. Good advice; I was sorry to see it cleaned off. This current message brings an Emily Dickinson poem to mind.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers
(by Emily Dickinson)

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
“I do believe that it’s very likely or possible that the Supreme Court should, could overturn Roe v. Wade.”
—John McCain on ABC'S This Week (January 19, 2006).

Planned Parenthood and Brave New Pac have created a video that neatly sums up McCain's record on choice:

If you want a breakdown, David Greenberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette examines McCain's record, which marks him as “among the most extreme members of Congress who voted against common sense measures on family planning, sex education and access to basic healthcare.”
He voted against requiring health care plans to cover birth control (3/22/03).
He voted against comprehensive, medically accurate sex education (7/25/06).
He voted against international family planning funding (3/14/96).
He voted against funding to prevent teen and unintended pregnancies (3/17/05).
He voted against public education for emergency contraception (3/17/05).
And he voted against restoring Medicaid funding that could be used for family planning for low-income women (3/17/05).
It's difficult to see what could be gained from denying people accurate sex education (STDs, unplanned pregnancies) and family planning funding (more children than people can financially support) but needless to say there's a very real risk that if McCain is elected president in November American women's reproductive options will shrink, possibly with tragic results.

Without healthy choices, women will do their best to create their own options as they've done in the past and still do elsewhere. In a recent New York Times article a gynecologist in his my mid-80s speaks about the horrors he encountered before American women were given a legal right to chose. They're not easy to read about and one can only imagine how desperate these women must have felt to go to such extreme lengths to exercise choice in the only way that was left to them.

This is not a fate women should be faced with in 2008.
I owe Megan Follows and Dawn Greenhalgh an apology. I know it's not possible to offer a standing ovation after you've left the theatre but so emotionally ragged was I after watching Soulpepper's current production of 'Night, Mother from my seat in the front row yesterday afternoon that all theatre etiquette was momentarily forgotten.

The real-life mother/daughter acting team is so emotionally honest in this production of the Pulitzer Prize winning 'Night, Mother that many members of the audience (myself included) were in tears before the end. Once again Soulpepper have outdone themselves.

If you think you can handle the raw tension that Jessie's (Follows) planned suicide and her mother's (Greenhalgh) desperate counter-arguments delivers you shouldn't miss 'Night, Mother. Follows, Greenhalgh and director Alisa Palmer all deserve a standing ovation for this one - even if the audience are too shell-shocked to realize it until they find themselves shuffling out of the theatre.

'Night, Mother runs at the Young Centre until June 28th.

Leonard Cohen played the opening concert of his four date stint in Toronto last night and words just can't express the amount of wonder you feel in the presence of such talent. It was truly a show full of high points (Closing Time, Take This Waltz, Democracy, Bird on a Wire, the list goes on and on) and just when I thought I couldn't possibly be in any more awe he delivered a perfectly transcendent rendition of Hallelujah.

Watching Leonard Cohen perform live is one of those experiences that assure you that, for those two and half hours, you are indeed in the right time and place. All is well with the universe.

As the gig neared its conclusion, and Cohen sang the words, “Goodnight, my darling” a voice called out from several rows behind us, “Don't leave us!” The other 3,000 of us gathered inside the Sony Centre last night couldn't have agreed more.

I haven't seen any June 6th footage on YouTube yet but here's a clip of Closing Time from the St. John's show on May 27th:

Sunset Blvd & Beverly
Weather permitting they're doing the photo shoot for the cover of One Lonely Degree in Los Angeles tomorrow and everything I've heard about this cover has got me super excited to see how it turns out.

It was only once I'd started typing this that I realized the irony of shooting a cover for a book called One Lonely Degree in a place where it probably never drops down to anywhere near to one degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit) but actually it's very much a summer book.

And just out of curiosity, I looked up the lowest temperature recorded in downtown L.A. and apparently it was 28.0°F (-2.0°C) on January 4, 1949.
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