Sunday, February 19, 2012

Funky Sexy Manifesto #33 Become an Illustrator

When I was a child, I had many dreams. One of my dreams was to be an artist. Luckily, I had a natural skill for drawing, crafts, and painting although as I got older I began to doubt the practicality of this skill and even my talent. Nevertheless, drawing came very easily to me. (I think this skill runs in my family since all of my siblings can draw.) I never felt anxious or inhibited when asked to draw something in art class since I felt very comfortable coming up with an image from my imagination or sketching a still life. I began creating my own picture books at the age of six. In fact, I felt more relaxed and in elementary school, I often asked the teacher if I could stay in at recess so that I could finish an art piece. Often my classmates said, "You are such a good draw-er" or "You're an artist." I entered my drawings and posters into contests and received honourable mentions. At the age of nine, I had the opportunity to paint a large mural of a picture I drew at the new wing constructions site at the Hospital for Sick Children. I even won the art award at my high school graduation. My middle sister and I both shared a love for art and would spend hours drawing together as children. As I got older, I spent less time with visual arts other than a few courses in high school. Art got pushed behind things like academics when I took more and more science and math courses, got involved in extra-curricular activities, and other ambitions. By the time I got to university, I rarely put my pencil to paper for drawing. (My sister however was smart and majored in art for a time in university.)

A few years ago, I began drawing characters, characters who had stories. I dreamt of doing a graphic novel and began to recover my dreams of being an artist. After creating several sketches, I enrolled in a community college course in Illustration. At first, I loved it. I was being exposed to so many techniques and materials but for the first time in my life, I was being seriously critiqued for my drawings and I wasn't the only "good drawer" in the class but surrounded by other artists. Although, I enjoyed the weekly assignments, I felt overwhelmed with the feedback and the intensity and I dropped the course. I have also participated in my own personal growth for years with a trained art therapist.

Fast forward a few years to 2011. Since my cancer diagnosis in late 2010, on several occasions throughout my journey, I have turned to the arts for inspiration. Not only writing, as you know, and music, but visual art. I created sketches and drawings and paintings in Art for Cancer workshops and on my own. I made thank you and birthday cards. In addition to my dream of writing books for young people, I wish to become an illustrator. I never had someone take me under their wing when it came to art or give me advice on how to make a living at it or even if my art was good enough to make a living at it. So I decided that this needed to be one of my Funky Sexy Manifestos, a survivor resolution. (It's never too late!)

So earlier this year, I had my first opportunity to get a professional (that is, paying) gig as a Illustrator. I was asked by the Spinlaw Organizing Committee to design a poster for the Spinlaw 2012 Conference: A Seat at the Table. (The conference is for law school students interested in social justice and it will take place on March 3rd, 2012 at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto.) The poster features Lady Justice as a woman of colour, holding a scale with a Ma'at feather, seated at a big pink boardroom table surrounded by a wheelchair, an Ashanti seat, and Chinese and Middle Eastern chairs. Members of the committee presented their ideas and through our collaboration, problem solving, and discussed, we get the finished poster you see below. I loved this process-- envisioning, sketching, creating drafts, finding techniques, and seeing what works best. I know there will be other projects like this.

Then this weekend, I had my first opportunity to participate in an Art Exhibit thanks to Cid Palacio, the founder of the Art for Cancer Foundation who asked me to participate. The Art for Cancer Foundation is showcasing some of my art as well as that of other survivors and artists at the City Hall Rotunda in Toronto City Hall this week from February 17-24, 2012. This is a free event.

I will also sell some of my beautifully illustrated handmade cards on Friday, February 24th from 1-6pm. A portion of the proceeds from these sales will go to the Art for Cancer Foundation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Funky Sexy Manifesto #57 Do a Speaking Gig Part 4

Recently in a conversation, I was asked the question:

"What does Black History Month mean to me?"

I responded by describing the historical significance of Black History Month and I why I acknowledge it today. There was a time when I rejected Black History Month since I felt that the celebration of the accomplishments of African-descended peoples should not be relegated solely to one month but throughout the year. As an educator and a citizen of this globe, I think that there is still an important role for Black History Month-- which is, that it does exist. Just because Black History Month exists for me every day of the year, does not mean it does for my fellow citizens in Canada and the globe. So what if delegating one month-- February-- (the shortest and coldest in Canada, although it has been mild) puts it on the radar for the rest of the country? So what if many teachers are now panicking and administrators are now scrambling to include Black history content in their schools, curricula, and lesson plans? So what if many Black artists, musicians, poets, writers, dancers, and motivational speakers are booked solid throughout February at a variety of engagements when their schedules remain empty at other times of the year? So what if my local bank is sponsoring a month long series of arts events which celebrate Black history? So what if other disenfranchised or marginalized groups such as Asian, Women, LGBTQ, Aboriginal/First Nations in Canada have followed the lead of Black people and also begun their own history/pride months? (Also some Black people may also fit into these aforementioned groups.) These are all good things, right? As long as we avoid tokenist observances, it is a start. I mean, when I attended elementary school in the 1980s there was no Black History month celebration, observance, or mention in my Canadian Catholic school and when I got to high school, it was thanks to my involvement in Black History groups in high school and mentors from the community that we organized celebrations. Not the administrators at the school mind you but the students with a few required teacher supervisors pursued this project. Consequently, I learned most of my knowledge about Black Canadian history on my own not in the school curriculum.

I am now realizing how far we have come in just ten years since we high school student activists who helped to place Black History on the map. However, as you can see, there is so much more growth necessary.

I was asked to talk about Black History month to my church congregation. At first, I was not sure if I should accept. I am not a Black history expert nor was I sure what the response would be if I delivered this sermon. Nevertheless, since I had placed #57 Do A Speaking Gig on my Funky Sexy Manifesto list, I accepted. Also I am a Black woman, living in Canada, and this identity probably more than any other (e.g., survivor, vegan, Christian) shapes my lived reality more than any other and so in this respect, I am an expert at being a racialized person and living a racialized reality. Plus, I have gotten to know many of the members over the last several years so I felt comfortable enough (accept for a few pre-speech jitters).

The writer in me leaped for joy. I loved writing this sermon. It took a lot of time to edit and I had to look up more details such as dates and places of birth. I started off wanting to connect the spiritual tradition of African peoples as an enduring source of strength for my ancestors to today but I am not an expert in that area and the words would not come. They sort of fizzled away. However, one verse in Psalms really stuck out to me:

The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.
Psalm 147:2

I immediately thought of the image of the Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol of a bird with its body facing forward but its head looking back. The Sankofa means we need to look back to move forward, a proverb I personally believe in which helps me to move forward.

According to the African American Studies website at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Sankofa in the Akan language is:
"se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki" which literally translated means "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot."
Or "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today."They go on to say "whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be revived, reclaimed, preserved, and perpetuated."

After I finished telling the sermon and the service ended, I realized that there were two things that I forgot to mention. First, there are several other African influences that have remained with us, the descendants, in North and South America including rich spiritual tradition and orality. Second, I might have eliminated some details since the sermon was very much a history lesson and there was so much I wished to share. On the other hand, there was probably more I could have said about this topic but I will leave that up to you my audience to research or study on your own.

I was a little scared to listen to myself recorded as I have never done an mp3 before. My parents and my fiance sat amidst members of the audience. Once I was up there, I relaxed a bit more.

I will not say too much as I have linked the sermon below for your listening pleasure. (I do sing a in this sermon so this is a little bit of Funky Sexy Manifesto #83 Get My Voice Back.)

I have had a few reactions to the sermon which have mostly been positive. Many people thanked me for the history lesson. Others found it interesting. My mother said she learned a lot. My fiance thought my sermon was very Rasta. I am very curious to know what are your thoughts.

Click here to listen to the sermon. The sermon is called Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward.

I am standing with Minister, Martha ter Kuile.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Papillon Bleu

A blue butterfly is...
a magical creature and at the moment you see it, you must offer the blue butterfly your dreams. The blue butterfly will take your dreams to the Great Spirit. Blue morpho uses his beauty to lure people into the forest whose spirit will be lost forever.

This quote was taken from a clip in the 2004 Quebec (French-Canadian) film Papillon Bleu (Blue Butterfly). The man, a shaman from an ancient indigenous group in Costa Rica, is a member of the Bribri people claim to be descendants of the butterfly. The film is based on a true story.

In 1987, entomologist Georges Brossard founder of the Montreal Insectarium, fulfilled the last wish of a terminally ill young boy David Marenger, by taking him to the rain forest to find a blue morpho. After his return, David's cancer had disappeared and he was healed.

A little girl in the movie, calls the blue butterfly un miracolo (a miracle) and es todo (everything). The movie is sweet and endearing but predictable. Some details of the true story were changed for the big screen. For example, David Marenger is named Pete Carlton. Instead of 6 years old, Pete is 13. The boy who plays Pete in the film displays such a blind optimism and the journey to finding the blue butterfly and consequently a partner for his widowed mother. Instead of the very eccentric and extremely passionate Brossard, we get the dull, guarded, and awkward Alan Osborne played by Canadian actor William Hurt. I enjoyed Pete's journey which took the plot into the very colourful Costa Rican rainforest which was beautifully filmed and enhanced by detailed cinematography and digital special effects. The film inspired me to dream, a dream to see the real blue butterfly in a Costa Rican rainforest.

I had not known about this film until after I developed my Blue Butterfly blog. One sweet detail that I learned from the DVD's special features is that David Marenger is still alive today. Thanks to the film, he has begun to work with children who have cancer. From Marenger, he learned to capture and preserve butterflies which he then gives to sick children.

Art for Cancer Foundation Art Exhibit

I will be showcasing some of my art at the Art For Cancer Foundation exhibit at Toronto City Hall next weekend, February 17-24, 2012.

The Opening Night Reception is at the City Hall Rotunda from 6:30-9:30pm.

Please check it out (it's free) and support this great cause.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Last Thyroid Scanning?

By the way, this is the real photo of my ultrasound machine and the bed I lay in.

I went for a neck ultrasound ordered by Endo #5. Being just over a year (January 24, 2011) since my thyroidectomy (a surgery in which the thyroid is removed), Endo #5 thought it was time I did an ultrasound to make sure it was all clear. As my scar Meaty is disappearing and my thyroid treatments are getting farther and farther between, I feel like I'm moving beyond cancer. As I lay on the bed and the technician rubs the probe along my neck, I tried to croon my neck a bit to see the screen, to see what images I could decipher but it's difficult. I ain't no trained technician so I just close my eyes and relax.

She asks me if I had cancer and what kind and then what kind of thyroid cancer.

After a few moments of sliding the probe along my slippery neck, the technician asked, "Did you have a cold recently or something?"

"Yes," I said. "I had a few illnesses in the last month."

"Okay. I'm going to show these images to the radiologist."

She tosses me a towel (that lands partially on my face, hey!) and leaves.

Then, of course, in true Blue Butterfly-fashion, I panic. What could it be? Could it be another illness? Did she something? Doctors have told me lymph nodes tend to be on the larger side, did she see any big behemoth lymph nodes? Will the radiologist order me to do more tests?

I lay there. Trying to relax and breathing through the seconds... minutes... I fell asleep in the waiting room prior to this appointment so I tried to go back to my happy sleeping place without luck.

After about 15 minutes, the technician re-emerges and I hold my breath.

"Okay, you're free to go," she says.

And with a sigh of relief, I get up, wipe that nasty ultrasound gunk off my neck, get rid of this blue gown, and get dressed.

I'm out!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

E-mails to Blue Butterfly #5

I was really excited to receive this touching e-mail from Xavier in Barcelona, Spain-- one of the world's most beautiful and old cities. I am amazed that this Blue Butterfly blog can have such an impact across languages and the globe.

Hello Mrs. Blue butterfly:

OK, at first, excuse me for my very poor English. So, I'm sorry, I would like to explain my ideas better than I'll do.

My name is Xavier, I'm 33 years old and I'm from Barcelona (Spain). Actually I'm working in some many different ways like playing music in pubs (I'm guitar player), writing and explaining my ideas for a local radio called RAC1 ( and recording jingles (commercials) and audiobooks. This last job about recording book is the reason because I meet your blog (I'm recording the Lance Armstrong's book 'It's not about the bike' so, when I tried to get some pictures about him, I discovered your blog).

Tonight I had read your blog it and I had very good feelings. To read how a woman that is as younger as me is figthing against cancer is a very impressive experience. Readed it made me think about how I could feel if I discovered me in the same trouble, and I don't know if I could be strong and optimist as you were. So, congratulations and really thank you. To find people like you always is a very good reason to smile and keep fighting when the things are not as well as we want.

My best regards, blue butterfly, and thanks for share your experiences.

Kisses from Barcelona,


Ola Xavier,

Pienso que tu espanol es mejor que mi ingles. Me quiero visitar en Barcelona un dia. Mis amigos me digan Barcelona es muy bonita y vieja. Thank you so much for your e-mail. (I love letters from my readers.) I see that you have many hobbies. I am glad that you gained a lot from reading my blog. My reason for creating this blog is to be an information resource and inspire others about my journey. May I publish your letter on the Blue Butterfly blog to share with readers? If yes, may I publish your first name, Xavier?

Thank you. I think as young people, we are often not confronted with an illness like cancer but I think as human beings, we always learn to adapt to our circumstances. I am glad that you have been inspired by my journey.


Blue Butterfly

By the way, he said, "Yes".

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vex in the City: Part 19 Strictly Roots in Harlem

Uptown Top Rankin' by Althea and Donna
This was my favourite song to perform in my reggae band, Unique Vibes. The last time I performed this song was with my fiance at my sister's wedding in New York. It was so cool to see my family and relatives up on their feet dancing to this song.

Taste of the food >< >< >< ><(Very good)
Look of the food >< >< >< (The cupcakes rock!)
Environmentally-Responsibility >< >< >< >< (I did not get to ask the owner about this one but they use reusable utensils and dishware. Plus their food is organic and non-genetically modified (non-GMO).
Health Savvy (organic food, do they know a lot about the food or the plant-based foods, intentionality, informative, resourceful)
>< >< >< >< ><
Hospitality/Warmth >< >< >< >< >< (The guy at the cash was soooo patient with these two women who were in front of me in line and had lots of questions and thoughts. He took his time to speak with them as did Kelly Childs, the owner, when I spoke with her after closing time. I did not book an interview with Kelly but she took the time to chat.)
D├ęcor/Vibe >< >< >< >< >< I do not remember too much of the music but the decor is cheery and colourful and my photos do not Kindfood justice.
Added Perks >< >< >< >< >< Yes, I got a referral to another restaurant that I'll be reviewing (HOT BEANS). Plus, I got a free Dulce de Leche cupcake.
Ethical and Community-Minded >< >< >< >< >< Kindfood has a community info board plus they participated in Veggielicious organized by Toronto Vegetarian Association. They also teaching vegan cooking classes and give lessons on youtube.

Price (for a full meal including side and drink)

I love the motto of this place:

We serve nothing that crawls, swims, walks, or flies.

Nice to know that I can find vegan food in Harlem. My first stop was review of vegan food in Harlem was at the Uptown Juice Bar this past summer. Strictly Roots in Harlem is my second installment and it is Jamaican, keeping in with my island vibe. I was at this place one month ago (early January) and I hate writing restaurant reviews so far after I ate there. It becomes tougher to remember the details. (I can blame it all on my laptop being in need of repairs (the keyboard and touchpad were not working) and in the shop for two weeks afterward. Then I needed to re-upload all of the programs back on to my computer. Ooh fun!) For example, I had a nice chat with the owner and I can't for the life of me remember his name. One look at these photos and I remember how delicious the food on that beautiful sunny day with mild temperatures. And the food is Jamaican- and American-style vegan soul food at it's best (and greasiest). This place exuded hospitality with a number of folks who came by to drop off flyers, "shoot the shit" (talk), and grab a vegan lunch on-the-go. I liked the honour's easygoing laid back style and he is social. We talked for a few minutes and got to know each other a little bit. One of the guys in the restaurant recognized my accent immediately and asked if I was Canadian. "Yes," I said proudly. It's so nice when abroad folks recognize your accent immediately. I used to think I didn't have an accent since the Canadian accent I have sounds so boring. It's not like a Quebecois (French-Canadian) or Newfoundlander accent which has a very distinct sound. My late aunt said that I sound Canadian with a Jamaican slant. My uncle used to say I sounded "white". When I was in Detroit, this man told me I sounded British and I have also been said to sound like a valley girl. Ah, regional accents! Anyway enough about that let's get to the food!

The red seats and tabletops, green plants, and brickwork gave this restaurant a nice warm vibe.

It was hard to select from the buffet but I settled on what I wanted to try the most. Here you see: Shepherd's pie, plantain, callaloo, fried tofu, and curried TVP

My favourite was the fried tofu which reminded me a lot of the one I make at home. It was crispy and savoury with not too much grease.

The shepherd's pie was also tasty. The topping was light, moist, and creamy. The filling had a mild sweetness like barbeque sauce.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Adios Endo #4, Ola Endo #5

I have a new endocrinologist who I will call Endo #5. What do you get when you add a Snoop Dogg video with a Chanel No. 5 commercial?

WARNING: This is not the radio version. This video contains explicit lyrics

Gin & Juice by Snoop Dogg
There is a lyric in the song about smoking endo. Although endo is a slang reference for marijuana, this is not what I am referring to here. I am referring to an endocrinologist but if I really meant actually "smoking an endo", I would definitely end up in jail and need to get endo #6. (Smoking also refers to shooting with a gun.)


Chanel No. 5 Commercial


Endo #5

Okay, okay not quite.

I said a quiet goodbye to my Endo #4 in December. He asked why and I told him that the new Endo #5 has a specialty in dealing with Thyroid Cancer. I thought I would hurt Endo #4's feelings. Instead Endo #4 knew Endo #5 and seemed pleased. (I guess the Endo community is pretty small.) What I didn't tell Endo #4 is that Endo #5 is highly recommended by another thy'ca survivor, takes my questions seriously, and well-researched.

So I went to see Endo #5 this week for the first time. The first appointment was long (more than one hour long). Endo #5 is very meticulous and had an intern who between the two of them asked me several questions and wrote up a summary about me. (Endo #4 did not do that for me even when I was transferred to his care days before my radiation.) Since I switched my dose of Synthroid to .112, Endo #5 recommended another two blood tests-- one in April and one the same day, which would have been my third bloodtest in January. Endo #5 was also the one who told me that my surgery pathology results were amended (which meant that the report was revised) since she ordered a copy for herself. Endo #5 told me that my parathyroid glands are probably a little faulty so I got to take Vitamin D on a regular basis. Endo #5 also said I needed a neck scan and also a scanning dose of iodine when Thyrogen is available. I like Endo #5 who is thorough, listens and values my questions, and gains my confidence. Endo #5 is much easier to talk to than Endo #4. Since my relationship with my Endo will be a lifelong one, we got to be a team!!! That shit gotta' be tight. (I've been reading a lot of urban young adult lit lately.)

Now Endo #5 is part of my healthcare team which consists of:
- an endocrinologist
- a counsellor
- an optometrist
- a dermatologist
- a podiatrist
- a dentist
- an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat surgeon)
- a naturopath
- an acupuncturist
- a medical doctor
- a radiologist
- an allergist

Do my hairstylist and mani-/pedicurists count too?