01 September 2014

mental health mondays :: are we doing it wrong?

there's a small but growing body of evidence that everything that we know about depression and treating it may be at best misleading. for many years, scientists and psychiatrists have operated on the belief that depression is triggered by the brain's inability to maintain proper levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. for decades, medicines developed for the treatment of depression have hinged on the belief that in order to overcome the condition, it was necessary to ensure a greater supply of serotonin in the brain. maoi's [monoamine oxidase inhibitors if you feel comfortable pronouncing it] were designed years ago to retard the enzymes that broke serotonin down, leaving more of it to enjoy. newer drugs- developed because maoi's have difficult side effects and can cause significant problems when taken long term- slow the process of serotonin being sucked out of the part of the brain where it is needed for mood regulation, allowing it to baste in its own delicious juices for longer. these ssri drugs [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors] have become some of the most widely prescribed drugs in north america and there has been a lot of criticism that they are in fact over-prescribed, handed out too soon and to people who may not need them.

now, there are questions about whether or not serotonin even has any effect on depression. a study tracking mice bred without the ability to produce any serotonin [if i think too hard about the creepy implications of that, i'm going to need more than an antidepressant] showed no signs of depression. according to what we "know", that should be impossible, but it turns out that the little buggers were hyper-aggressive and compulsive [perhaps backing the theory that serotonin is important in treating behavioural disorders like ocd and drug addiction], they functioned fairly well under stress.

this is one more disturbing bit of news about a class of drugs that is given to millions every year and whose long term effects are only now coming to be understood. it dovetails with an earlier study [actually an analysis of several studies] that indicated ssri's are don't provide much more help than doing nothing. more interestingly, the study showed that they were only helpful in treating the most severely depressed people and that the milder the case of depression, the less of an effect they had. you would think that the opposite would be the case- that those with the mildest forms of depression would benefit the most, while those who were more depressed would need higher doses or additional treatments to pull them out of their black holes. instead, the results indicate that while having more serotonin is better than nothing, it's more of a bonus than anything else. the real cause [and cure] seems to lie elsewhere.

there are those who have voiced the opinion that the reason that ssri's don't function on people with milder depression is that their serotonin levels aren't what's at issue and that they might be better treated without drugs, rather than toying with neurochemicals that aren't out of balance to begin with. and that viewpoint deserves consideration. but the fact that even the most severely depressed patients saw only a slight improvement from the use of ssri's indicates that there are probably better areas to look for a panacea.

the complexities of the human brain are such that we may never be able to definitively say what causes and what inhibits depression- or rather that, every time we say it definitively, further research is likely to undermine our assumptions. for now, the debate continues and, one hopes, research into better treatments does as well.

31 August 2014

five years

it's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood...
one of the really fun things about shooting conversion was the fact that we got to make our beloved city of montreal a sort of omnipresent background character in the film. we selected locations that showed the montreal we know and love- full of hot lighting, gaudy street painting and decrepit but picturesque byways. one thing that i did not think of at the time, however, was that we were actually recording bits of montreal history. however, all cities are in a constant state of flux and while the best known areas tend to remain in place, those that really show off the glory of urban grit tend to be swept aside by the giant backhand of progress.

i'm not saying that to argue against progress. during one of our longest shoots, our lead actor paul ash ended up with a hypodermic needle embedded in his boot courtesy of one of the montreal areas less frequented by tourists. some of our background shots were taken in areas where i didn't even feel comfortable leaving the car unattended. at the same time, there is always something lost when a city "progresses". i'm not just talking about the dangers of gentrification, either, but rather the unique character, art and history that is paved over to make something cleaner, more modern and possibly better.

i was reminded of this today when i heard about the closing of the notre dame de grâce institution, d.a.d.'s bagels. d.a.d.'s doesn't make a direct appearance in the film, however, during long nights shooting in the neighbourhood, we were constantly taking advantage of their cheap and delicious food, both the eponymous bagels and their delicious homemade indian food. since they were open at all hours, they were a godsend to a team of guerilla filmmakers working through the late summer nights.

:-(
sadly, d.a.d.'s, a family-owned enterprise with a devout following, has been forced to close [today] because their landlord refused to renew their lease. instead, the space has been let to d.a.d.'s next door neighbour, dollarama, who are willing to pay top dollar to secure the adjacent property for an expansion. and so a local business once again falls to a larger corporation [albeit one with montreal roots, although none of their products are manufactured here] and both the city and the neighbourhood lose something distinctive [seriously, where are you going to get your jewish and indian cravings satisfied now without going to two separate locations?] in favour of something streamlined, something which is the same no matter where you encounter it.

notre dame de grâce is a great neighbourhood. there is a distinctive community feel to the place, reflected in many small, unique businesses. it probably has the most vibrant mix of cultures of anywhere in the city and is among the most densely populated. it is also remarkable for its lush, verdant streets [see photo of a typical street above], something which is not particularly common in montreal. it has sections that are quite posh and others that are rough, but all of them seem to coexist fairly easily. but ndg is also a neighbourhood in transition. a mammoth hospital being constructed in its southern extremity has resulted in a building boom and its shabbier side is being clearcut in order to make room for the usual mix of modern office space and shiny new condos for young professionals.

so i thought i would take give you a look at a couple of the locations where we shot and what's become of them since.

28 August 2014

making faces :: made for me [or you]

all makeup aficionados go through this: there's one colour [or several] that you want, but you just can't quite find. this is how most of us end up with seventeen colours that look close enough to each other: they aren't exactly what we're looking for, nor can we achieve that exact shade by mixing what we have. it's a frivolous but frustrating cross to bear.

luckily, if you're looking for a lipstick, bite beauty can help you out. you can travel to their one of a kind lip lab, where they will work with you to come up with the exact shade you want and will mix it up right before your eyes. of course, if you can't get to the lip lab in new york city, you might be able to get a version of the experience with the bite mobile lip lab, which is currently touring sephora locations in north america. it passed through the downtown flagship store this past weekend and, of course, i took full advantage.

the experience begins with a consultation where you can look at the different shades available. these are mixed especially for these events, so they aren't a match to any available bite products. the base colours are generally quite saturated and there are a lot of options, especially in the berry-pink-red range. [it's possible i was just paying closer attention to those, since they piqued my interest.] you can choose one of the colours as is, or try a combination. my consultant jackie helped me get the right mix to achieve the shade that i wanted. i came prepared with a pretty good idea of what i wanted, but they'll also take the time to go through what sort of shade you might be looking for. jackie helped me applying different mixes until we had the right one- a combination of two shades. [to go off on a tangent for a moment, i have to mention that jackie was an absolutely textbook true winter in sci/art terms and completely owned her colours. i wish i'd gotten more photos of her, because she really was a great example of how great you can look in shades that are best-suited to you.]

the adventure starts here
you then choose from one of three finishes- matte, luminous [satin] or sheer- and a scent. they had about a half a dozen scents to choose from and i went with violet. there was also a delicious vanilla that smelled a lot like crème brulée, but i was afraid that if i took that, i'd just eat the lipstick. [which, incidentally, i could have done. bite uses food grade ingredients that are 80% organic. but then i wouldn't have had a lipstick when i got home. just pink teeth and a lot of explaining to do.]

do not nom!
a sampling of scents
jackie noted my mixture and then handed me off to the lovely lady standing behind what looked like a counter full of macarons, but which is actually a counter full of "colour cakes" alongside translucent "cakes" [i'm sorry, it's what they looked like] for finish. she mixes the cakes in proper ratio, adds the scented oil and pours the resulting slurry into a metal mold. i was surprised at how little time it takes to set- maybe five minutes, which passes pretty quickly when you have pleasant ladies who know everything about lipstick to talk to. interesting detail i picked up: everything at bite is made by hand, right down to the application of the labels. because of the success they've enjoyed at sephora [the brand's exclusive retailer], they are in the process of moving to a larger facility.

checking the specifications.
the resultant lipstick was as nice as everything i've come to expect from bite. the formula for the custom made lipsticks is closer to the deconstructed rose products than the regular luminous creme. my shade, which is, as you'll see, fairly bright, lasted about four hours [one layer applied directly from the tube] before starting to fade, which is on the long side for me. it was incredibly comfortable and slightly moisturizing. [bite lipsticks are the only ones i've ever tried which actually seem to hydrate my lips. some do a good job of keeping them soft if they start out that way, but after wearing bite lipsticks, i find my lips feel slightly better.] i experienced no feathering at all and the shade faded to a very visible stain. applying first with a lip brush and then using a layer over top straight from the tube makes the colour pretty much like a beautiful piece of armour. it extends the wear time and mitigates the fading.

almost ready!
it seems strange to talk about a colour that was custom made for me, but if you have the opportunity to visit the bite mobile lab and think you'd like this exact colour yourself, i do have the recipe and would be happy to pass it on. [i believe that the premixed colours they use in the mobile lab are always the same.]

i wanted something with elements of pink, purple and red in more or less that order, cooler in tone and a little bit more muted than really bold fuchsias like mac show orchid and lighter than something like guerlain gladys. i've named the lipstick "flora mundi", which is sort of a personal reference, but i really wanted to give it a name more interesting than "kate's personal lipstick". here it is, in all its glory:

"flora mundi" made just for me
if you want to try something similar, i thought i'd provide some comparison swatches for you. nars "funny face" is similar in terms of the base colour, but has a blue sheen that makes them look different, especially in the light. bite beauty "crimson" is darker and redder. guerlain "gladys" is darker, redder and slightly shimmery. mac "catharina" [l.e. but returning for this holiday season, apparently] is redder, warmer.

l to r :: bite crimson [l.e.], guerlain gladys, flora mundi, nars funny face, mac catharina [l.e.]
closer look :: flora mundi, nars funny face
and finally, here is the lipstick adorning my allergy plagued face. there was seriously nothing that would fix those puffy eyes for most of the week, so it's good that i had a bright lipstick to distract from them.




products used:

the base ::
vichy bb cream "light"
ysl teint touche éclat foundation "b10"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
mac paint pot "painterly"
mac prep and prime finishing powder "translucent"

eyes ::
mac e/s "unbasic white" [dirty white]*
mac e/s "seedy pearl" [grey-tinged light pink]
mac e/s "copperplate" [warm matte grey]
mac e/s "print" [deep iron grey]
stila sparkle liner "starry" [gunmetal grey with multicolour shimmer]

cheeks ::
dior creme blush "pareo" [bright magenta]*

lips ::
bite beauty creme lipstick "flora mundi" [bright cool berry pink]

*suggested alternates :: unbasic white = mac crystal avalanche [more of a pure white, without the grey tinge]; pareo = nars desire

the lip lab experience is a lot of fun and takes less time than you might think. any beauty lover who has the opportunity should avail themselves. the cost was approximately $35cad plus taxes, which means it's about $7 more than a regular bite lipstick, but still cheaper than prestige brands like chanel and yves st. laurent. so that price gets you a great lipstick and a fun experience.

26 August 2014

mental health mondays :: belated and brief

i feel like the last week has left me inundated with mhm material, but i haven't had a lot of chances to do any quality research, so i'm going to have to leave this short and sweet, with something that i'd intended to write about, but had my intentions changed as the story continued to unfold. 

as some of you may be aware, henry rollins penned a column about robin williams and about suicide in general recently. it got a lot of reaction, some of it positive, but a lot of it negative. very negative. although i rarely feel compelled to leave comments on pieces i read online [because comment threads are usually where the last vestiges of our humanity are butchered and their carcasses hung in the window], i did leave my own comment on this one. it's buried in there somewhere, but this is what i said: 


I think that your intentions are probably good here, but sir: you just don't get it. What's worse is that you're using your public platform to repeat one of the ancient tropes about mental illness that actually stops people from getting treatment- that people with mental disorders are in control of what's happening to them. People who are clinically depressed don't choose suicide the way that you choose an item on a menu at a restaurant. They are compelled to suicide the way that your body compels you to eat. It's not a matter of "feeling your pain", it's a matter of understanding that people who are severely depressed don't see the world in the same way you do. It's like going through your life convinced the sky is purple and not understanding why people keep insisting it's blue. 
It's all well and good that you've seen depressed people and sympathized with them and maybe you want to help, but what you're doing is damaging and if you'd paused to read up on the issue, the way you do on so many other issues, you might have realized that giving into your gut on a subject with which you're only anecdotally familiar was the wrong way to go. I've read things that you've written and seen you do spoken word performances several times. You're better than this specious, easy-bake logic. Act like it.

it was disappointing for me to see that someone who is so logical about a lot of things get thrown back to an unwise state of relying on gut feelings rather than knowledge on the subject, which is what we're dealing with here. fortunately, my disappointment was short-lived, because rollins published this statement on his website, wherein he basically cops to all the problems that i [among many others] had found with his original piece. [note: when i say he responded to the issues i had, i do not mean that he responded to me directly. he didn't, of course. i simply mean that his apology incorporated points that addressed my concerns.]

the best thing about this is that it speaks to the possibility that people- smart people- can realise what is wrong with their reasoning about depression and mental illness. feeling sorry and realising that you have reason to be sorry is a big first step. admitting that you don't understand as well as you thought is a big step. once you've made those, when you've realised [as i have about many things] that you really don't understand the mechanics of something, then you're in the ideal place to find out more about it. no one ever learned anything by staying convinced that they already know best. 

good on rollins for seeing and admitting his mistake. it's a relief to once again be able to see him as leading, rather than following. 

24 August 2014

like a unicorn pooping rainbows of pure happy

for once, i am starting the week on a positive note.


also known as:

omgifinishedwritingsomethingforthefirsttimeinmonthsandi'msogoddamnedhappyicanbarelystaystill!!!

yeah, i wrote something. *struts mentally*

i mean, obviously, having a blog, i write things all the time. i even [sometimes unwisely] publish them. but recently, i'd been fretting because i'd been unable to just start a fictional piece and work through it until i felt it was complete. [meaning a piece of fiction writing. the things that i started weren't fictional, although since they weren't ever getting finished, they might as well have been.]

what's worse, i found that the few things i had managed to complete showed a rather frightening trend.


i was trying to deal with the concept that i might actually be destined for a life of writing fortune cookies, but instead, i decided to just sit down and try to get myself in the correct frame of mind.


doing this involved basically ignoring everything that was going on around me, strapping on a pair of headphones, putting on something that most people would find objectionable and opening a document into which i could vent my frustration and fears.

lo and behold, within a few minutes, i came up with an idea that i wanted to try. at first, it was just another passing thought that i believed might yield one more piece of micro-fiction and push me further along my path to fortune cookie super-stardom. but as it turned out, it blossomed into something that appears to be a draft of an actual, honest-to-god short story, almost four thousand words in length, which might not seem like a lot to some people, but short stories are my thing because novels are really hard and so i'm plenty happy with having written a thing that doesn't fit on a postcard.

truth be told, i hadn't realised just how afraid of losing my ability to write [fiction] i was until after i'd finished this piece. reflecting on it, it occurred to me that i'd had no idea how to reignite my relationship with the muse and this had been causing me a lot of background stress that i hadn't acknowledged. the immediate result, though, was that i wanted to stand up and punch the air, because doing something that you think you've lost the ability to do makes you feel like a god in your own home.


now that i've broken through the wall, i know that i can finish something with a plot and structure and all that. so i've moved onto worrying about my ability to write anything that can't be completed in a single sitting. because something must always be worried about.

but don't follow my example all the way. take pride in something you've done this week. take huge, emphatic, out-of-proportion pride. and know that you too can vanquish your demons, no matter how much they seem to have insinuated themselves into your life.
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