How many details do famous people owe you about their health? None

Joni Mitchell’s recent health issues are capturing headlines. Speculation is to be expected when the person in question is an icon.

It was reported she was taken to hospital a few weeks ago, condition unknown. I’ve watched concern pile up among music lovers and here in my own small heart because Joni Mitchell is, well, Joni Mitchell. Her work stands alone. News of her being unwell reminds me of all the things I take for granted, the things I think about sporadically or intensely or sometimes not at all for long stretches; Joni’s music is a friend of mine.

But I also watched one paper publish an opinion piece along the lines of What Joni Has Always Meant to Me that read more like an obituary. I thought that was the height of bad taste until I read another that flat out stated if she was suffering mental health issues, we needed to be told because how else will we ever reduce the stigma if someone like Joni Mitchell won’t discuss her personal issues? It made the near-obituary look a wise editorial decision. It wasn’t, but there’s nothing like terrible to make bad look better.

You’ve heard of peak oil, the terminal decline in readily available oil, terminology now being applied to water. Have we reached peak garbage yet? Maybe our brains are at last so saturated in nonsense that we can finally stop entertaining ourselves to death and start to have conversations about things that matter. Joni Mitchell is no real housewife, no fame whore kindling notoriety into headlines because talent was just too elusive.

Yet, a newspaper article in one of this country’s major players opines she owes us more. She owes us the nitty gritty, down and dirty details of what might be playing out with her health. Specifically, her mental health. Because Mitchell – intensely private – has alluded to struggles in the past, we deserve details. A 75-year-old heavy smoker is taken to hospital; speculate on that if you require fodder. Don’t pretend her mental health is about education and information by deciding within a moral vacuum what she owes us.

I talk openly about being bipolar. I spill pretty much everything if I think it might nudge others to find help, or gain a little empathy. I live out loud, but never in a million years do I think anyone else is obliged to. You don’t demand someone share details of their life because you think it’s the right thing to do. You don’t get to decide that Joni Mitchell owes you anything.

I love when people say they’re just tryin’ to reduce the stigma, helpful little busybodies that they are. Discussing an individual’s mental health in a conversation they are not participating in is not about boosting awareness, it’s about chasing ratings. There’s stigma about a lot of things, like adultery or hemorrhoids. By a certain age, you’ve probably dealt with one of them. Shall we speculate, so we can remove the stigma? Care to have people publically debate your association with either of those topics?

Car manufacturers have started making something they call “infotainment” systems. It’s a horrible word, colliding information and entertainment together as if we’re too stupid to be able to process one without the other. At least they’re just trying to physically maximize space with the idea. I’m tired of news sources hiding behind a veneer of advocacy that is simply sensationalism, little ‘info’ to go with the ‘tainment’.

Before you take part in this kind of speculation, first decide what you would owe a bunch of strangers.

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What’s a little OCD between sisters?

When you’re a kid growing up with an older sibling, you get used to deferring to that sibling. In some ways it’s just one more person giving you orders, but it’s also someone who has beaten the path ahead and worn down Mom and Dad. Roz is five years older than I am, and did enough bad things to let me to later slip under the radar. For this, I thank her.

It’s funny how patterns and roles established in childhood hold firm. Gilly will forever be our little sister; I think she should be grateful she never ages. She thinks we should stop picking on her.

The problem with Sommerfeld women? We’re all a bunch of bossyboots. We’re all stubborn, though we’re each stubborn in our own charming ways. We’re outspoken even if nobody has asked for our opinion. We’re like my Dad in that regard. He kept all of his opinions in a satchel he carried around and handed them out to anyone who looked like they could use his opinion. He believed this was everyone.

I’m out in Toronto on Tuesdays to do my show, which is not far from Roz’s house; I head out early and take her grocery shopping when her husband has their car. Or rather, I scroll through my emails as she looks at every single red pepper in the display before selecting one. We move onto celery. Then chicken. She does it with lemons and limes and cucumbers and things I can’t even name. I throw a bag of Cheezies into the cart.

She tells me which route to take; she tells me when it’s safe to turn; she tells me where to park. We have an agreement. She can tell me where to drive, but she may not tell me how to drive. On an incline last week, she quietly said, “this would be a good time to use your emergency brake.” I looked at her. “You can’t help it, can you?” She shook her head.

When she said Easter dinner would be at her place, Ari looked at his girlfriend Taryn. “Don’t eat; we will be feasting”. He was right. This attention to detail I tease her about has awesome results. ‘Attention to detail’ is polite; she readily notes her OCD tendencies. Her nickname is One Two Three Four. In one store, I found some darling little spice jars and bought all they had. When I got home, Pammy took one look and said, “Roz let you buy nine?”

In her kitchen one day, Roz reached into a drawer and brought out a small screwdriver. Without missing a beat, she turned a screw in a light plate a few millimetres so it was perfectly horizontal. At Easter, Gilly showed us a picture of her spice drawer to compare cooking tips with Roz. The labels were in alphabetical order. I have little envelopes of spices that all fall on the counter every time I open the cupboard. I think I was adopted.

When the boys were small and the divorce was fresh, it was Roz who bought them back- to -school clothes and made up the shortfall of no medical benefits. It was Roz who helped me corral two tiny kids at the cottage over and over and called it a vacation. It was Roz who drove home on weekends to get up at 5am with two little boys so I could get some sleep.

After Easter dinner, I put a knife in the dishwasher. She turned it around. I pretended not to notice. She pretended not to see me pretending not to notice.

What do little sisters know?

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You can lead a woman to the gym but you can’t make her shrink

I haven’t worked out in 6 months. I make plans, I make appointments, I make goals but mostly I just make excuses. My Year of Tumultuous Living is now months over, and I have to get back to it. Christopher, 23, decided to start going to my trainer, Adam Higson, so I introduced them. Christer is 6’4” and works as a bouncer.

“He came out of you?” asked Adam.

“Not yesterday,” I replied.

Ari has hauled his bike out and re-upped at his gym; Pammy started going with Christopher to see Adam because I promised he could give her washboard abs. She and a girlfriend are ramping up for a vacation somewhere that requires such a thing. I think Christopher should go along as a bouncer.

I alone continue to eat cheese and experiment with ways to deep fry lettuce.

I know it has to be a group effort, this return to health. We recently acquired 2 kittens and I’ve been trying to juggle their dietary needs with those of 12-year-old JoJo and 2 year-old-Pip. Feeding them all has been insane; the kittens will eat anything and everything, JoJo is supposed to be eating her Special Fat Girl food, and Pip has adopted a sulk that has been going on since the kittens arrived and refuses to eat anything.

It reflects the situation of the people in this house. We either all eat the same way, or we all go to some hell saturated in fat and rolled in salt. When I’m working out, I can toss myself the tiny rewards. Right now it’s mostly just rewards.

Kitten food is much higher in fat, and somehow JoJo has sneak-eaten her way to gaining half a kilogram in 3 weeks. She can ill afford to do this, and she doesn’t care. She blames me for the tiny interlopers and she also caught me telling a vet who wanted to update her shots that her next shot will be her last one. I put her bowl of Special Food in front of her, telling her it is just as good as kitten food. It’s not. It’s shaped like those little stickers you used to put on three-ringed paper when it tore, and I’m sure it tastes like them, too.

The kittens immediately leave their bowls and stick their heads into JoJo’s. JoJo casually strolls over to their bowls and settles in. Pip howls pitifully from upstairs because she’s still pouting. I am reminded that you can’t make a creature eat, or in my case, work out. I have little control over any other living creature, so I will focus on myself.

Knowing success in this area begins at the grocery store, Pammy and I headed out with an actual list. We were going to make recipes. I’ve already perfected smashing chicken breasts with a hammer and rolling things up in them. I use the hammer in the tool drawer, which Roz says is not what Dad intended. I say he’d be proud of my ingenuity.

En route to the vegetables, I paused in front of a display of SmartFood popcorn. It isn’t smart, but it is yummy. Pammy shook her head sadly.

“Let’s go, Mama Lorraine, “ she said. I craned my neck around the display. I spied a different label.

“Wait! What’s this? Diet SmartFood?” It wasn’t, but a woman I hadn’t noticed earlier whipped her grocery cart around so fast it left skid marks.


Seems I’m not the only one who has the reward system in reverse order.

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Colonoscopy prep: turning inside out, fast

“This is the GI Health Centre calling, is Lorraine Sommerfeld there please?”

“I’m sorry, she’s out of town just now,” I replied.

I delayed a colonoscopy for over a year. I’d been dreading the rotorooter part; I should have been dreading The Prep.

Before they play up periscope, they have to make sure the coast is clear. You buy a kit, follow exacting instructions and clear the pipeline. I headed to Shoppers.

“Hi, I need the Pedi-something,” I whispered. The clerk just stared at me. “The cleaner outer thing,” I elaborated. Nothing. “I have a colonoscopy and I need that kit,” I finally told half the store. Because I couldn’t remember the exact name, she put 3 types on the counter. As I selected a smallish box that looked promising, she held up a jug as big as a keg of windshield wiper fluid. I cursed my doctor, grabbed the box and fled the store.

I had to closely follow The Prep instructions, and then show up at the appointment with clean, warm socks. The Prep begins by dissolving a couple of envelopes into 2 litres of water, and refrigerating it to improve the flavour. This is a lie. I used four water bottles for easy measuring, and then let the lie begin. Pammy opened the fridge.

“You know Christopher takes water bottles anyone puts in the fridge,” she informed me. We looked at each other. I hid them under some vegetables. We both noted I was passing up an excellent opportunity to cure him of his thieving habit, forever.

It’s hard to know how to prepare for a poonami. I’d heard horror stories, but I also needed to set a good example about preventative healthcare for my sons. Ari asked what I was doing; after 4 words he cut me off saying, “we’ll never speak of this again.” At 5:00, I took 3 tiny pills and told everyone to stay out of the bathroom. I had no clue what was about to happen. For three hours nothing did, and then there was just a lot of noise and more nothing. I called them Parliament pills.

Time to start guzzling the special water. It tasted like chemical Kool-Aid. The instructions said there would be a few hours of action. I waited. My sister Roz called, asking what was going on.

What goes on is you run back and forth to the bathroom. Then you get too scared to even leave the bathroom. Then you wonder how there could possibly be anything else in there. Roz called again and I said I hoped it was over. I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours, and I wondered if any fools ever broke the rules.

“You should have eaten corn, like a mile marker,” she suggested helpfully. At midnight, I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I took a sleeping pill, something Roz said qualified me as the bravest woman on the planet.

The next morning I had to guzzle more crud before taking my clean, warm socks to my appointment. I debated whether I should shave my legs. I would be lying there wearing socks and nail polish, which I decided was as close to a date as I was going to get. I shaved my legs.

They knock you out so you can pretend lying amid 5 people who are about to go spelunking in your admittedly clean butt is normal. It isn’t normal, but it is painless. Getting the all clear, so to speak, is even better.

Ari picked me up, holding up his hand before I could say a word. I’ll live another 30 years just to laugh when it’s his turn.

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When the natural look just isn’t cutting it anymore

Three times Pammy has asked me to go with her to get a manicure. Three times I’ve said yes. And three times I’ve found a reason not to go

Pammy has been dating my son for 5 years. She is Tiny Perfect Pammy. She does things like hair and makeup and nails. She wears jewellery and accessories and outfits that are planned. She is all the things I am not, and she continues in her mission to make me a grown up woman.

I had a manicure once, probably 25 years ago. I’m sure my mother talked me into it. I’m just as certain I smudged the polish reaching for my car keys as I left the salon. For the record, lipstick also remains a mystery to me.

One recent Thursday afternoon, I triumphantly pushed back from my computer announcing that I was, for a change, done my work. “Good. We’re going for a manicure, then,” announced Pam. Oh. Okay. Before could change my mind, she had me in the car.

Salons interest me because they are essentially sausage factories. Disappear through the front door, and you will soon see the process of beauty which is somewhat less beautiful than beauty itself. Pammy sat flipping through a handful of colour choices, asking which one I would like. We have two new kittens with colds; I’ve been wrestling pills into them twice a day.

“What matches cat scratch?” I asked

As I made my way to the magic tables where the nails would happen, a tiny lady approached me and peered into my face. “You here for eyebrows?” she asked me. When someone asks you this unprompted, the answer is apparently yes. “Yes,” I replied. Because why not get all the beauty I could while I was here?

My sister has warned me repeatedly that before you let anyone wax your eyebrows, you discuss with them what you want. She had a negative experience that haunts her to this day. I waited for my little lady to start our discussion. Instead, she shifted me onto the bed, shoved my bangs out of the way and stared critically at the untamed wilderness running roughshod over my face. Before I could say a word, she had me in a gentle headlock and was going at it. Rip. I remained quiet, far more scared of making her angry than I was of any outcome that might haunt me for years to come.

“Upper lip?” she demanded. I didn’t even argue. Ari and I grew a moustache at the same time, 7 years ago. What’s the point of perfect brows and elegant nails if you have a 13-year-old boy’s upper lip? Rip.

I emerged from the tiny room a new woman. I excitedly showed Pammy my eyebrows; my tiny wax lady was beaming, and Pammy’s technician smiled along with us. The smiles reminded me of something I didn’t figure out until later: it was the smile I used when I was potty training the kids.

My beauty tour wrapped up with nail polish. Things have changed in 25 years; they use this stuff that adheres to your nails like paint to a car. It doesn’t chip or fade. They bake it on in tiny little drier portholes in the table, and as I thrilled at each new discovery, Pammy sighed a little and gave me that potty training smile.

She was right to nudge me and make me change my mind. I’ve spent too long thinking my way is the right way, all the time.

Maybe I’ll even give the lipstick a go.

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When having half a tail means you won the fight

Spring got here overnight. It happens inside at the same time it happens outside; we have two new kittens and they discovered squirrels at the same time the squirrels discovered tossed bread that didn’t immediately disappear beneath a new wave of snow.

Ari, 20, wandered downstairs to a flurry of activity on both sides of the glass. “Close Call is back,” he remarked. I watched a squirrel flit by, half of its tail sadly missing. Though my father has been gone over 18 years, he remains here very much in spirit. He named every wild animal that crossed his path, and renamed all the domesticated ones.

With squirrels at home and chipmunks at the cottage and all of us with a bunch of cats, he had a rotating cast of creatures to christen. Unfortunately, when it came to name selection, he had as much imagination as George Foreman. My small black and white cat was Black and White Cat. A calico was Pizza Cat. A black cat was Panther. Another two were FurFur and Ringtail, because, well, you can figure it out. Every black squirrel was Blackie, every chipmunk Chippie. I’m eternally grateful my mother named me and my sisters.

He named every squirrel and chipmunk with half a tail, Close Call. To his thinking, any animal that made it out of a dire situation by only surrendering half a tail had had a close call but nevertheless done well.

I remember him explaining this to me when I was a child, and I watched him explain it to each child who came along. All accepted it with a nod as if it made perfect sense, and in a way it did. The true test, of course, is that we have continued without pause to carry on the tradition. Dad didn’t live long enough to even explain his theory to his grandson, and yet Ari knew this squirrel’s name.

Dad grew up in rural Saskatchewan, and as I imagined a literal farmyard of animal names to investigate, he patiently explained that you didn’t name something you were going to eat. He had two horses, Blackie (of course) and Betsy. Betsy was also the name of our 1966 Rambler. My father invented recycling.

I often watch Ari when he doesn’t know it. He is much like my father in ways that are both fleeting and forever, an aspect, a phrase but more often than not, it’s a trait at a cellular level. The way he approaches a knot – a real one or a metaphorical one. The way he sizes people up and the way he brooks no trespass against some inner compass I don’t always understand. He is my Dad without the anger, the rough edges finally sanded away.

Our kittens needed names, of course, and Ari was ready. I was nervous; when he was six, he’d named two of his toys Paul and Todd. Upon discovering we were finally getting a boy cat, he had four names ready to choose from: Steve, Greg, Mark and Jeff. He suggested Susan for the girl kitten. We suggested something else.

It’s this economy, this directness, which he shares with my Dad. He has pre-named his next three cats and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him recycle the names as he gets older. Why replace something that is perfectly good?

We watched the squirrels chase through the yard, indoor kittens losing their tiny minds. Close Call was fine, I was looking for a different sort of survivor. “Any squirrels this year with no tail?” I asked Ari.

“You mean Lucky?”

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We may get the government we deserve, but who really deserves this?

If you follow American politics, and you really should, you might have seen the latest from one of their elected officials, Nevada assemblywoman Michele Fiore. I don’t really have to put the “R” after her name. You’ll see why in a moment. She’s a lawmaker. She is also the CEO of a health-care company, so you would think her insight and experience would be helpful in the crafting of health-care law, right?

“If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a PIC line into your body and we’re flushing, let’s say, salt water, sodium cardonate (she probably meant sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda) through that line, and flushing out the fungus … These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective …”

Fungus. Cancer is fungus. Well, that makes a ton of sense. I mean, fungus thrives in warm, damp environments and, you have to admit, the insides of your body are pretty warm and damp. I cannot believe nobody ever thought of this before, that researchers were so busy thinking cancer was something serious that they overlooked the basic fact that it’s merely an extension of that nasty stuff you get under your toenails, or something like a truffle that a chef will dust over your eggs and charge you a fortune for.

Maybe she’s onto something. I mean, if I take a mushroom, which is surely a fungus, and subject it to a little salt, some baking soda and swirl it about, is that a low-cost cancer procedure? No, that’s a recipe.

Here’s the scary part: people will believe her. She’s trying to find ways to let people think they can cure cancer for a buck fifty. This means the medically ignorant will try this do-it-yourself home cure and die; it means those who know it’s crazy will be forced to overcome a loved one throwing this wrench into their treatment considerations. I’ll be clear: I think people have a right to refuse treatment, but it should be illegal to offer the garbage protocols this woman is suggesting.

People in positions of authority, in elected positions, people who have platforms, have a responsibility to those they serve and those they inform. If you have an overarching belief in something that compromises how you perform those duties, get out. Why did you ever get in? How did you ever get in?

I don’t want people like this assemblywoman dictating crucial health-care bills; I don’t want people who don’t believe in evolution within spitting distance of school science curriculums; I don’t want homophobic mouthpieces telling our children it’s wrong to be gay.

I want voters to actually listen to what is being said. Show me any one of these “leaders” who rush their child into a church — or a kitchen — instead of an emergency room when that child becomes ill.

I got this ferinstance from Nevada, because everything rotten in American politics is coming here; count on it. The idea of tolerance was supposed to be about those historically transgressed against, not those who would stand at a lectern with a straight face and say we can cure cancer with baking soda. I’m not tolerating people who couldn’t pass a basic science class because their ideology or ignorance gets in the way.

History texts are being rewritten as I write this. In Texas, Moses was now one of the Founding Fathers. Here at home, our history is having the word peacekeeper bleached out and replaced with warmonger.

When you know better, you do better, right?

Apparently not.

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That heart stopping moment when you realize you didn’t brush your teeth

I was halfway between home and my destination, already running late, when I realized I hadn’t brushed my teeth.

I don’t think this has ever happened before. Brushing my teeth is the second thing I do every day when I get up, without fail. Sometimes the first, even. But due to some excellent unplanning, Ari, his girlfriend Taryn, Pammy and I all got up and had to leave the house at the same time. This is very rare occurrence, mostly because I barely leave the house. But there it was, the shower going when I needed it, and no way was I going down to the other bathroom because it was a million degrees below zero. I waited.

I put the kettle on, reasoning that I could get in to brush my teeth before tea would be ready. Because my day needed another wrench thrown into it, I discovered I had a frozen cold water pipe in the kitchen. I pondered a good course of action, while realizing I had twenty minutes to get showered and out the door. This frozen water would have to wait.

Where was I going? I change up cars every week for work, and I frequently have some really cool, fun, expensive or interesting cars. That week I had a 2015 orange Ford Mustang GT. It’s got a whopping V8 engine in it, a 6 speed manual transmission, and is basically a testosterone rocket. I’d read that Niagara Falls was frozen over, so like any normal person, I made the connection. Must see the Falls; must take the Mustang. That frozen water couldn’t wait.

I occasionally go on Twitter and just post “tomorrow, great car, you’ll be home by dinner”. The first person who contacts me gets to go. I strongly believe in the social component of social media. I don’t post what car and I don’t post where we’re going. I make arrangements to pick them up; it’s fun. My sister Roz thinks a serial killer will get to me, but I leave all the clues on Twitter. By going to their home I have an address, and the first thing I post is a picture of us together with the car so witnesses will know what to look for, should witnesses be required.

A car fan on Twitter threw caution to the wind and I said I’d pick him up at 10:30 the next morning. This was the crowded bathroom morning. I stopped to gas up, and went in and bought a toothbrush. At his house, I met the man willing to live in the danger zone, and his lovely wife. After “hi, I’m Lorraine,” I asked if I could brush my teeth.

Displaying an excellent poker face, his wife asked if I needed a toothbrush. I held up my gas station toothbrush and said I only needed a little toothpaste. I stepped into a powder room off the foyer and brushed my teeth, careful to tidy up like I never would have at home. I have very good manners for a person who does some slightly unconventional things.

I called Roz that night and told her what had happened. “Please tell me you didn’t actually do that, ask to brush your teeth in a stranger’s home,” she said. “Why not? Would you say no if someone asked you if they could do that?” I asked her. “No, but I’d think they were a freak.”

Tom and I had a lovely day taking pictures of the frozen falls, and chatting over lunch before heading back.

I think my sister spends too much time worrying about the wrong person in that car.

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Freemasons and The Flintstones: At least one didn’t lie to me

As I tried to stuff Christmas decorations back in the little cold room in the basement, I saw a small box that was familiar. Opening it, I discovered a trove of pins and a tiny book. I recognized it all; at some point, this had been stored in the top drawer of my father’s dresser, and we weren’t allowed to touch it.

He’d been a Freemason. Growing up, I found this endlessly confusing. My dad was a bricklayer by trade, which he also called a mason. And once a year or so, he’d get dressed up and go to some mysterious meeting, where I pictured a bunch of men building brick walls. My father did not usually go to meetings, and he sure didn’t get dressed up unless someone was dead.

The problem with mysteries and little girls? We had to know. My mother tried her best to explain it, but telling us a bunch of somber men would meet to talk and there were no women allowed and there was certainly no wall building and it was all very mysterious just made us more inquisitive. We took what we did know and used it to understand what we didn’t.

We decided my father was a Water Buffalo, like Fred Flintstone.

My dad didn’t find this very funny, but his choice was to reveal secret codes and handshakes or endure us asking him if he was going to his Loyal Order of Water Buffalos meeting. We asked if they wore tall furry hats with horns. He ignored us. I asked what was in the box, and one time he actually showed me: several little pins and a small book. It looked like the little book I had for being a Brownie. I asked if that was the same thing. Dad said, no, but I too had a few little pins and a tiny rule book, so I decided that all of these groups were pretty much the same thing, except being a Brownie wasn’t a secret.

It took a few more years for me to put together the connection between my Dad’s secret meetings and that other secret group, Shriners. The Shriners used to put on a circus, and we were told we were going. I didn’t want to go, but some friend of my Dad’s was a Shriner, so we had to go. I asked what a Shriner was, and got an answer very similar to what a Mason was, and the confusion simply escalated. If both of these groups were No Girls Allowed, I didn’t think that was fair and wasn’t interested.

My Dad caught me snooping once, holding one of those little pins in my hand. He barked and I dropped it, then he apologized and realized he’d have to give me more if he wanted to keep me out of his sock drawer. They do good deeds, he told me. They help people. I asked what Shriners were. He said they sort of like Masons, but they did other things, too. Like the circus? Like the circus.

We’d see Shriners in parades riding around on little motorcycles wearing small red hats. We knew one of them but we weren’t allowed to say he looked silly but I’m sure that was why my Dad never became a Shriner: he liked to help people, but he didn’t like to look silly.

In the ensuing years I learned the creators of The Flintstones were absolutely basing their Water Buffalos on Freemasons and Shriners. A wedge between a man and his daughters unravelled by a cartoon.

Thank you, Fred and Barney.

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My concentration is fine, thank….hey look, a squirrel!

I had intended to write a column about the anti-vaccinators shoving their children into a time capsule back to the 1800s, but I realized I have a word count and can’t just write “stupid” 600 times.

Instead, I will use this space to try to understand the way my brain is morphing because of technology. I do not have Attention Deficit Disorder. I never have. And yet, I can’t focus anymore. I open a multitude of windows on my computer, which I could explain away as research except, it’s not always the case. I fall down rabbit holes; one search leads to another.

I was perusing a favourite website, Atlas Obscura, and found a German structure that reminded me of Stonehenge, so of course I needed to check out Stonehenge, and wonder how old it really was and whether aliens built it and thought I better check on crop circles while I was at it, and because I was contemplating mysteries I thought I’d better see if anyone had solved the Jack the Ripper case yet, and of course they hadn’t but that reminded me the show Sherlock is quite good but I remembered I wanted to check out why Dr. Watson looked so familiar, and I was right! He was the naked guy in Love Actually!

I use my laptop to watch television and stream movies. Beside me, I have my iPad so I can look up actors and writers and trivia about what I’m watching. No more calling a sister to put me out of my misery when I can’t place a face, no more wondering if Jack Palance is dead or alive. Because there is no such thing as “we interrupt this show to bring you this important announcement” I have Twitter open to let me know if the world ends. I don’t call it “what’s on,” I call it “what else is on”.

My focus is splintered. It never used to be. I’d sit and read a hard copy of a newspaper (or three) every day, absorbing not only headlines and sections I preferred, but all of it. I’d take civil wars along with hockey scores, rapes and recipes and buses plunging off cliffs. Where I would crawl through the news absorbing every bump and motion, I now flit like a bird drawn to shiny things, or worse, things others have declared shiny.

The upside is having world news at my fingertips. The downside is having world news at my fingertips. It’s worrisome knowing how computer algorithms work, knowing that things are dangled in front of me based on how similar they are to things I’ve already read. It’s planting seeds to form my own personal groupthink; if what I believe to be right is only bolstered and never questioned, I risk burrowing deep into ideas that comfort me instead of those that challenge me.

Order a pair of boots on line, and prepare to be offered more boots every time you log on. It’s intensified as websites seek to nail down advertising dollars and target clicks as precisely as a sniper looking through his crosshairs. The internet is the Sirens luring our attention spans onto the rocks.

Some say our attentions spans have been shortened; others say every generation says that about the next. I don’t know how they measure such things, but I’ll tell you this for free: the only way I can focus is to shut down the seemingly innumerable alleyways to information that carpet bomb me as I work.

Multitasking, you say? That’s just doing a lot of things badly at the same time.

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