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Friday, April 15, 2022

You will do foolish things but do them with enthusiasm. –Colette

  

Who among us has not done a foolish thing—so long as no one dies or goes bankrupt –it usually all comes out fine in the wash.

 

The most foolish thing I did recently was print copies of my memoir—the wild years in the Kingdom of Thailand—and give it to my kids.

 

Of course, there were a few things I didn’t write in that book. There are some things from those days that I can hardly admit in my mind, let alone put them on a page. But there’s still plenty of foolish things which I hope my children, now in their teens, don’t try to replicate.

 

The hundred million times I rode on motorcycles—side-saddle. The one-night stands. Bribing police at roadblocks. Dancing drunk on tables; which got me fired.  Buying beer and condoms in front of one of my students. Kayaking in snake-infested mangrove forests. And about fifty more pages of adventures that I never want them to repeat. Or at least if they do—tell me long after it’s over.

 

My foolish twenties were a response to my extremely cautious teens. I lived precariously in that decade though not due to my own negligence but that of my mother’s, who all but disappeared from my life save for money in the bank and the occasional week at home.

 

When other kids were sneaking out, I had no one to sneak out from. When other kids planned parties when their parents went out of town for the weekend, I forbid people from coming to my house when they knew my mother had just left. When I did have friends over, and they started to get a little rambunctious—I cleaned up behind them and scolded them until they stopped and acted like the reasonable people I believed them to be.

 

I took care of the money. Paid the bills. Mowed the yard. Let the dogs out and the cats in.

 

By the time I was in my twenties - I was ready to be young and foolish before the time passed and I would be old and foolish. I never liked old and foolish, I’d seen it sometimes at the LiquorDome in Halifax—more mature women vamping it up and lounging on the arm or lap of young men who were half their age.

 

There was one lady I remember well. She was a fixture in one area of the LiquorDome and she was there most weekends but not usually in the crush near the dance floor. She’d be upstairs, near the bar, handy the pool tables. She had big hair, as you could in the early nineties- all the 80s hairspray had not yet been completely consumed-and she wore some of the first spandex pants I’d ever seen. Looking back now I realize they might have been hotpants from the 70s which would have been her rightful time frame.

 

Skin-tight, black, shiny pants that had a full body, in colour, drawing of Mickey Mouse on the outer thigh of one leg. That’s what she commonly wore. I don’t remember the shirts as the pants were so fetching.

 

She was a regular and though she tried, I never saw her leave the bar with anyone. Us young folks watched her with a mix of scorn and admiration. Wasn’t she too old for this shit? Wasn’t it great that she didn’t give a fuck what we thought?

 

The older I get, the more I realize how foolish I was to roll my eyes and share snarky glances with my friends when I saw the lady. If you're 40 and you want to go out wearing Mickey Mouse hotpants and think that’ll pull a stud from the bar some night—power to you.

 

I did other foolish things then too. I could not take it when guys were too nice to me. I guess it was a bit of a creep-factor when it came to some of them—but others were just genuinely nice and fumbling through trying to express an attraction through imprecise words and hormones.

 

I passed up so many princes. Sad to say it’s mostly true—at least in your twenties; nice guys finish last.

 

There was the guy from The Mira who invited me back to his place after a Northern Pikes concert and as a foolish move, I went. Nothing happened. Nice guy.

 

There was my friend from high school who I knew didn’t want to be just friends. I gave him a week of being my boyfriend but ended it when he showed up at my house with flowers. He had seen someone outside working in their garden and commented on how lovely the flowers were and asked if he could have some for his girlfriend—nice guy, they gave him a tremendous bouquet. I kicked him to the curb.

 

Somehow, we’re still friends—which only proves what a nice guy he is. I often wondered how foolish I was to leave these guys in the dust. Where would I be now if I hadn’t? I’m satisfied in this life—but those are untravelled roads that I suspect would have been good trips.

 

And then there was my first long-term relationship. Made some beginner mistakes in that one. Faults on both sides but some great times—both of us foolishly took for granted the good thing that we had until it was no longer good.

 

For many years after I thought, foolishly, that my boyfriends should be a listening post for all my emotional crises—I‘ve learned running, psychologists and massage therapy are the correct vessels for such concerns and stress.

 

And then there was Italy—I accepted a ride from a stranger on an island I did not know, on a road where I’d seen no other pedestrians or vehicles. Foolish but fun; luckily. Giovanni took me all over the island, down the steep hills and shallow stairways, through one small village to another, the crest of a hill overlooking the nude beach, the ruins of an ancient empire, and home to the Villa where I was staying for a few days. We communicated by sign language as neither could speak the other’s language and it was a day the likes of which kicks off romance novels. But that was where it ended, at the beginning.

 

He did invite me, through our limited communication skills, to meet him at the dance club that night, but I didn’t go. I was cautious in all the most foolish ways.

 

As I get older, the opportunities for foolishness have decreased. I’m searching for a few right now. But I’ve mostly passed the baton to my children, who are entering their peak foolish phase.

 

Be foolish, be enthusiastic; I’m here to catch you.

 



 

 


Thursday, March 17, 2022

Vacation Anxiety


Think of the long trip home.

Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?

Where should we be today?

-Elizabeth Bishop


I will soon embark on a vacation the likes of which I have never had before.

 

While it is almost a full four years since I last had a vacation day, let alone week, I have boldly booked myself into a house, for one full week, alone.

 

Such aloneness is not something I have ever experienced before – it’s an experiment that I hope will unleash creativity although it may possibly result in madness.

 

I am not used to being alone. In my house there are kids, pets—outside there are neighbours and a village I have known and that has known me all my life.

 

I have travelled alone a great deal, before I had children, but never lived in such seclusion as this promises to be. Here I shall find no breakfast companions silently sitting at adjacent tables as you might in a guest house or hotel. It’ll just be me.

 

There’ll be no one there when I take a break from my purposeful struggle at the keyboard. No one to say good night to as I shake off the day's work before I go to sleep.

 

I’m sure to be lonely at first, I’ll miss my children, I always do—even as they walk out the door heading for school – I miss them.

 

It may take a day or two of adjustment, settling into what will be a kind of monastic lifestyle except for the provision of kitchen appliances, spare rooms and beds.

 

This will be an adventure, one where nothing much happens, yet keeps you tight with anticipation about what will happen next. How will it end?

 

It is my proposed goal to excommunicate the world while I see what alchemy solitude presents. No news, no social media, no email. What precipitates from an unusual mixture of concentrated time and empty space?

 

My career is sodden with the weight and necessity of the tools of modernity, my mind overheated with the endless input of data.

 

I am afraid of silence- in silence there is nothing to hear but yourself. What will I say, will it be worth saying?

 

Despite my plan to plumb the depths of my mental and creative capacity—some allowances must be made. I plan to take walks, read books—finish War and Peace for the third time, hit the reset button on my attention span which has been greatly diminished by the pitter patter of too many monsoon seasons of information.

 

There never seems to be enough time to think. I try to carve out one hour of the day – no radio, no email, no social media—just me and a hundred more like me, tapped into a collective silent space on our computers where we do our best to think and write big or small things in the London Writers Salon.

 

Sometimes this is difficult; there are distractions—many of them internal. Knowing this foretells the difficulty I may encounter during my vacation. I will need discipline of purpose to fend off the urge to engage with social media, to starve myself of the affirmation of views and likes for whatever it is I create that day. To keep writing beyond my inner critic, beyond the certainty that it’s all a useless pursuit.

 

A week of reflection may be a lot to endure. This will be the strangest vacation I’m likely to ever have. I am both anxious and excited to see what will transpire behind that door and in my head.

 

And I do hope that I can rest—that is something I am not good at. I have a hard time stopping. That may prove to be the biggest challenge on my vacation itinerary. I’ll soon find out. My vacation is only two weeks- and two hours drive away.


Friday, March 11, 2022

Behind the headlines

 

The phone rings

Ignored on the table

 

The house jumps to the rhythm

Of incoming mortar fire

 

The vacant swings are caught

In the squalling blast wave

 

The volleyball net shimmers

With cushions of concrete and glass

 

The hammock billows

With ghost weight

 

Sirens blare warning

To absent residents

Another unanswered call

To the dead and displaced

 

The door hangs moodily on the frame

Like a mother before morning coffee

Head hungover from incessant shelling

 

The child who

drank milk

ate breakfast

and blew out birthday candles

At this table, in this chair, behind that door

Now sits with a blanket, wearing donated clothes

Surrounded by unfamiliar walls and floors

Safe but uncertain their luck will last





I wrote the beginning of this poem at a Writers Room evening hosted by the Mulgrave Road Theatre with guest author Andre Fenton. Revised this morning during LWS Writers' Hour. Grateful for the time and space to get back on track.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Capital gains



Nothing survives capitalism

Even my consumer driven

Advertising influenced

Teenager

Bemoans this fact

As news spreads

About the sale



Our daily respite

From the COVID

World

Subsumed by the amoeba

Of market forces

 


I cannot blame

Mr. Wardle

Who could refuse

Unexpected millions


But

I do blame

The Times

We live in

Where everything

Must be monetized

Capitalized

Owned


 

Happy New Year

It’s the same

As the old

Exchanging an Ox

For a Tiger

Has done little

To assuage

The machine of greed

That consumes the world

One

word

at

a

time


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

As it was—once again

When is a negative a positive—two years into the global pandemic, many people know the answer to this question. But it was an answer I had forgotten until my household was ensconced in the floor-pacing, nail biting experience of being in close contact with a case of COVID-19 last week.

We in this house, and in this corner of the world, have been very lucky over the past two years—there have been very few cases in this province of Canada, and even fewer in this area of the province—the eastern tip of the mainland. But that all changed this month and now we are the epicenter of an outbreak covering the entire province.

 

While we were waiting --and eventually breathing a sigh of relief after we received our negative test results – a friend of mine commented that the world was a strange place when a negative was a positive.

 

Upon thinking about this comment, I concluded that personal and cultural memory was fleeting, like the pain of childbirth, we quickly forget about past plagues or perhaps we were young enough, naïve enough or lucky enough not to be touched by them.

 

And by this I am not talking about the 1918 Spanish flu – which is a complete misnomer as it was neither Spanish nor confined to that year --what I am talking about is AIDS, the most recent global pandemic before COVID.

 

When I was 12 years old, my family moved to Vancouver, B.C. It was 1985 and the city, to my memory, was the focal point of the emerging HIV/AIDS pandemic in Canada.

 

Although it might have been odd for a kid of that age to be cognisant of this disease, for me it was part of the household miasma. My mother was a nurse in the city and there was suppertime talk of needle sticks and blood borne pathogens. In 1986 a co-worker and friend of my mother’s died of AIDS.

 

My mother had a few accidental needle sticks; one of which happened while she was tending to a known IV drug user. I remember her waiting for test results to come back and the relief that flooded through our two-bedroom apartment in North Vancouver when the word ‘negative’ was delivered over the phone from the hospital.

 

A decade later I moved to Thailand – a country that was well-known as an HIV/AIDS hotspot due to the thriving sex-trade. And equally well-known for combating the disease with a public health campaign delivering condoms and safe-sex messaging across the kingdom.

 

I lived in Thailand for most of my 20s and with my background and knowledge of HIV/AIDS I was cautious in my approach to sexual encounters but there are always missteps; a few too many drinks, fumbling hands –etc.

 

Inevitably, I found myself at an HIV testing site doing the right thing and freaking out while I waited for the results. Fortunately, the blessing of the negative result was mine.

 

That wasn’t the last time I had an HIV test, but it has been over 15 years since the last time I had one. That's a long time to hold onto the memory of the relief a negative test result can deliver.

 

Since this COVID-19 pandemic became reality – I have, on more than one occasion, compared it to the AIDS pandemic – likening the contact tracing to the sexual partner notifications of that earlier era.

 

Now we’re back to negative thinking in the positive, and at least here in Nova Scotia, being asked to contact those we’ve had social intercourse with to notify them of our disease status.  

 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

 

 

 

 


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Thanksgiving 2021

 


 

Two years ago, my children—aged 11 and 14-- made Thanksgiving dinner, alone at home. They connected with me via video chat to show me the abundance laid out on the table.

 

I was in the hospital an hour away with yet another bowel obstruction, facing the prospect of surgery.  

 

The first thing on my list to give thanks for this year, is that I am home with my children. Surgery wasn’t necessary two years ago, and unlike any run of good luck I have ever experienced in my life, I have not been admitted to hospital for an obstruction since Thanksgiving 2019.

 

I am thankful for my children, their wonderful talents, teachings and love.

 

Thankful for their friends who give me a few more people in the world to love.

 

Thankful for my father and stepmother and for living nearby so we can visit each other often.

 

That I have so many memories of all my grandparents and some of my great-grandparents and that I knew many of them in my adult life, not just as a child.

 

Thankful for my neighbours who keep an eye out for me as I keep an eye out for them.

 

For my friends who don’t care when I drop by.

 

Dogs that make me laugh numerous times every day.

 

For the man that showed me pictures of his dogs as we waited in line this week.

 

The dog trainer who has taught me so much—and the dog groomer who has similarly taught me so many things-- with patience.

 

London Writers’ Salon – that brought me a global writing community.

 

People in my community that say hi, smile and know my name.

 

My job feels impactful and has a purpose for the community.

 

Being part of the arts community in this rural area.

 

Working with others to bring good things to our community—arts, child care, Truth and Reconciliation, the fight against racism, etc.

 

The ever-changing beauty and calm of the beach.

 

When things break, I have the money to fix them.

 

My backyard which holds wonders.

 

That beauty is everywhere.

 

My house is warm and is heated by a southern exposure on sunny days.

 

That people appreciate my work- professional and volunteer.

 

When Hannah laughs at a poem I wrote.

 

The parents and community members that have helped me over the years to make my children’s lives better.

 

The local library: books, books, books—and the time to read them.

 

Going to the grocery store takes me a very long time because I have so many people to talk to.

 

Wonderful fall weather.

 

Cats that catch mice in this old house.

 

Sunset, sunrise and cotton candy skies.

 

Darker evenings so I can see the stars and put my Halloween lights on.

 

That apples have grown so well this year.

 

The things I take for granted most of the time in this place: power, water, food, housing, freedom, good governance, and police I trust.

 

Everyone in this house is vaccinated.

 

Repairs are starting on the house.

 

That when one bathroom is out of order—we have a second that works.

 

I successfully grew gladioli this year.

 

That we have pet fish again- I missed the sound of the fish tank.

 

The internet which makes my work possible and lets me stay in touch with friends and acquaintances around the world.

 

I have a big bed where my kids and I snuggle and have evening chats.

 

Dance parties with my girls.

 

The silence of a Sunday morning.

 

Days when I can take a break from being online.

 

The art in my house; that which was created here and reproductions of the masters.

 

I am thankful for all these things and more and I hope anyone who reads this list will make one of their own and add to it every day of the year.