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Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Secret To Life

It was way back in the 80's when my friend Patsy introduced me to James Taylor's soulful baritone- well before I myself was anywhere near the top of the hill.  I admired her for knowing musicians,;  for having the sense of self to to bold about music, and which artists she loved.  I couldn't relate; being naive in every single imaginable way, and having spent my teens isolated on the farm with my clock radio volume turned down so low that it was nearly imperceptible.   I couldn't risk my protective mother  hearing me submit to the music of the masses- the music of the hellbound, sinful, worldly ones.  At such a whispering volume, it was difficult to hear the tune; the lyrics; never mind ever develop the ear to identify artists.  If that wasn't enough, my intense anxiety and fear of displeasing anyone; ever;  prevented me from forming my very own opinions of what or who to love.

So, I was grateful to Pat for her less self conscious ways, and for her confidence in popping JT into the tape player, and assuming that I would love it.  And - I did.  I loved them all: "Shower the People", "Sweet Baby James", " Steamroller", "Line em up", "Secret of Life"; there wasn't a James Taylor song that I didn't love.

So, when I got on a plane in 1987, headed for Wichita Kansas to volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Service, I was sure to pack my JT cassette tapes and walkman.  I didn't know how much I would need JT during those lonely and confusing months in Wichita; how I would find comfort in the familiarity of his voice in the wildly, weirdly unfamiliar world of work in construction and cohabitation in a near condemned house in the industrial part of town.  On nights when my housemates and fellow volunteers would head to the gym to play volleyball "just for fun" (like pulling out my fingernails and molars without anesthetic could be fun....) I would stay in the eerie house alone in my upstairs bedroom; earbuds in, listening to, and remembering James Taylor's songs as they sounded in the familiarity of Winnipeg.  After work, where I'd spent hours and hours not knowing how to frame; or hang windows or doors, or hang drywall, or how to hit a nail on its actual head, I would lay in my bed alone and have James sing his familiar songs.  "Handy Man.  I'm Your Handy Man...."  He was everything that I was not, and he sang of it so cheerfully.

A few weeks or months into my adventure turned nightmare, I fell into sort of love with one of my roommates and fellow volunteers.  He was witty, and clever, and possessed a sort of intelligence that I could only admire and wish for.  I felt myself as an imposter; and I felt this keenly.  I had always known myself to be a bit stupid- and smart enough to know it.  Not at all blissful in my stupidity, but painfully aware of my inability to hold onto facts and of regular, mainstream ways of being; I sensed the importance of hiding my real identity at the very real risk of losing my now one ally; my one chance at fitting in somehow.  So I feigned love for what he loved; I feigned understanding of what he spoke of; I laughed at his jokes even when I lacked the cultural reference necessary to understand its subtleties.  (growing up without television or confidence isn't as romantic as one might imagine!)  I "liked" the music he liked.  The only time I was utterly firm in my own convictions was when he tried to convince me to join the group in volleyball; "just for fun".  That much I knew- as my years in junior high intramurals can attest to.  A woman with twelve left feet can never, ever experience group sports as fun, and will no longer attempt to.  Besides, there was no way in any world I would make myself vulnerable in such a way.  Just getting through the work day was more than enough, thank you very much.  My evenings belonged to James, and to gearing up for the following day of failing at construction, at life, and at being.

On nights where the weather was mild, I'd open my bedroom window to the bleak parking lot beside us; adjacent to some industry or another.  There was a seedy nightclub just south of us up the parking lot; and as the night wore on, I'd hear the strippers being announced:  "Aaaaaand heeeere comes Hot Chocolate!" and I would feel my loneliness keenly, while James would sing to me "You've got a Friend".  I would remember the times I had dared a walk near our home, and how the catcalls and proposals shouted from open car windows shocked and frightened me.  How bare I felt.  How stripped , vulnerable , and objectified I felt.  And then how I found my sanctity  in being desired by the inhabitant of the bedroom next to mine.

James was there with me-  singing "Up on the Roof".  "so when I come home feeling tired and beat, I go up where the air is fresh and sweet, I get far away from the hustling crowd, and all that rat race noise down in the street...  .. And darling, you can share it all with me..."  Not that my new love knew my affection for JT-  What if he didn't like it??  What if that estranged my one link to mattering - to being halfways "enough"?   No; James was mine alone.  Alone with my Walk Man, alone in my bed when everyone else had drifted off to sleep- less worried than I was about the following workday's impossible demands.

Mennonite Disaster Service didn't last forever, thank goodness.  After five long months of working really hard at shoving my roundness into their square peg, my sentence was finally over and it was time to return home to Winnipeg.  I had "played the game; acted the part, but it wasn't written for me".   I had run, but I could not hide.  With profound relief, I returned to my old job as medical receptionist; assumed my bedroom in my prior rental; and left everything MDS behind.  Everything but James Taylor, and my disaster boyfriend.  We were both from Winnipeg, and so there was no reason to part ways.  Besides- though he knew so little of my interior life, we did share a chemistry.  There was no denying this.

But as anyone who has taken an honest look at their interior life can attest to; I knew that I was chafing.  My silence was crushing me.  My fear of having my own opinions, likes, and dislikes was taking a measurable toll.  But I knew I couldn't find or use my voice while being linked in any way with someone else's voice; likes; dislikes; and opinions.  So it was time to have a difficult departure.  It was time to set myself adrift.  It was time to take the risk that comes with no longer attaching my own significance to Any One Else.  It was time to break up.  And "breaking" is an inadequate verb for what this actually means or feels like.

Breaking was terrible.  I simultaneously felt tremendous relief, freedom, and a profound sense of being alone.  I began to challenge myself with impossible things.  I began to meet new people, and to try new experiences.  I had time for my friends again- lots of time.  I went dancing (I'm a terrible dancer).  I flirted with strangers.  I wore clothes that felt playful.  I listened to James Taylor.  That much I knew.

My old love would find me.  He found me in the university library once.  It was autumn, and he brought me a beautiful golden leaf-  It can be different- he said.  It doesn't have to be like it was before...  And I would fall into the blueness of his eyes once again.  After the exhilaration of reunification would come that familiar feeling of having to make myself small, smaller... small enough to make no waves; have no opinions; to adopt his likes as my own.  And my need for it decreased; while my need for honesty grew.  Honesty to myself, most importantly.

And so, I made the big, big break.  The "we are never, ever, ever getting back together" break.


But also- sweet freedom.   Sweet honesty.  Sweet possibility.

And here's where James Taylor comes back into the story in a whole, new , painful way.  To get over the breakup, the boy's best friend challenged him to date someone else- anyone else- who he was remotely attracted to.  Enter:  Patsy.

And she said-  Yes.
Not only did she say yes; she entered with her whole self.  She shared her favourite activities.  Her favourite food.  Her favourite music.  And he didn't want to risk being disliked, so he went her way.  He liked what she liked.  He showed interest in what interested her.  He laughed at what made her laugh.

And I lost.

My best friend.  Our mutual friends.  My boyfriend with his golden leaves and eyes of blue.  (the frost is on the pumpkin; the hay is in the barn)

I suppose James Taylor still sang to me, but I honestly don't remember.  It was a sad time.

It's 30 years later now, and I have my own "sweet baby Jane".  (not James)  I still love listening to JT, although my Walk Man is a thing of the past.

With the distance of thirty years gone, I hear "Secret O Life" a little differently now:

|"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time  (I'm glad that time is done, but still...  time sure does move on by quickly.....)
Any fool can do it (Even an anxious young woman, now not so young)
There aint nothing to it (I beg to differ...learning to be present takes intention.)
Nobody knows how we got to
the top of the hill (weird how days turn to years turn to decades)
But since we're on our way down
We may as well enjoy the ride

The secret of love in in opening up your heart (grateful to have chosen someone who I can do that with....)
It's okay to feel afraid\But don't let that stand in your way (this does NOT get easier)
'Cause anyone knows that love is the only road (I sure didn't know just how much freaking love would be required)
And since we're only here for a while (you guys noticing how people are just dying like crazy..??)
Might as well show some style

Give us a smile (don't smile just to keep the peace though... trust me on this one...)

Isn't it a lovely ride?
Sliding down (my chin and breasts and thighs mostly....)
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard (who has the time at this point??)
It's just a lovely ride
Now the thing about time is that time isn't really real
It's just your point of view
How does it feel for you   (your opinion and your perceptions matter)
Einstein said he could never understand it all  (Whaaaat??  And here I thought I was stupid?)
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race
Some kind of lovely ride-
I'll be sliding down,I'll be gliding down
Try not to try too hard
 It's just a lovely ride

Thanks, James.  Thanks.
You'll never know how your words, your tunes, your presence helped so very much.  thanks for sticking around.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


I don't often miss my mama in an aching way.  She lived a long and healthy life, kept growing in her person, and died a peaceful death.  It was very, very hard to watch her waste away.  Usually I'm just grateful she didn't have long to suffer, and usually I just enjoy remembering the way she embraced her life after all us kids finally left and she had peace and time to learn to play the piano, talk her walks in peace, and live her life with less chaos and fewer demands.

This spring, I've had mom on my mind.  In part because of our shared joy in seeing things come back to life after our impossible Manitoba winters.  In part because enough time has gone by to distance me a little from the stress of watching mom and dad die.  And because I'm just starting to miss having family gatherings at mom and dad's.  Easter really brings back memories of being at their house.  In 1996 we celebrated Easter in Steinbach on Good Friday.  I remember all of us lined up at a long series of tables in their dining room and we clutching my belly every so many minutes.  My labour with Jane Margaret had begun.  My mom is a pretty tough bird, not given to feeling terribly sorry for anyone who is "getting what they asked for".  But I remember the look on her face, and her nervous suggestions that we start our long drive back to Brandon.  It was the look of affinity.  Mom was always extremely private, and never told us a thing about her nine pregnancies and eight deliveries.   But the look on her face that Good Friday told me that she was remembering.

Growing up, Easter always felt so hopeful.  We got new dresses, and if spring was kind that year, it might be the first time we would go to church wearing just a sweater, or a shawl.  Mom would make us an Easter hunt and we'd get a solid chocolate bunny to eat, which we savoured for weeks. 

This year, mom's hibiscus plant bloomed just before Easter weekend.  This is part of a series of miracles.  A) I adopted the plant after mom died, and I don't do houseplants.  B)  I was pretty sure I would kill said plant in 5 minutes or 5 months, but here we are a year and a half later.  Not only is it not dead, its actually blooming.  C) The plant keeps going through its cycles of growing flowers, letting them die and drop, and then growing new flowers.  This is a miracle, please don't question it.

Watching the hibiscus go through its cycles of letting things die so that new things to grow makes me think about Easter as well.  Just as my yard makes me think about Easter.  My yard gets so super dead in winter.  Heaps and heaps of snow that make walking to the compost bin almost impossible.  So cold that the kids and I simply stay indoors for weeks on end.  Super dead.  And then miraculously-  spring.  The dead stuff comes back to life!  the peony (also my mom's, because she took a cut of our peony plant when we lived in Brandon) will bloom again.  The raspberries, now sad sticks jutting out of the ground, will grow leaves and plentiful berries.  The rhubarb will grow out of apparently nothing.  The grass, now sparse and largely brown will become a demanding force in our lives!

When spring comes to our yard, its a massive cause for celebration.  The kids and I get to come up out of the basement and rediscover the ride on toys and sand box in the back yard.  Every year they excitedly report the bugs they have sighted, and until they know better- the bugs they have squished.  That's before I remind them that bugs are people too, and the bugs are also happy about spring, and haven't done a thing to deserve a premature death by grubby toddler.  While the kids unearth the rusty sand toys, and laugh their way down the slide, I get to sit on the deck stairs with my thermos full of coffee and let my mind wander on the wonder and miracle of spring and Easter.

On that glorious day, a certain fascinating five year old who I spend days with discovered the rusty xylophone in the sandbox and set about making her own band.  She wanted to be the "star" and "not the back up singer", and she quickly got started on creating her own lyrics.  Racing from sandbox to deck, she sang exuberantly-  "We All Get To Die Sometiiiiiiime".

Which of course, is true.

Everything and everyone dies, and that's not scary, its part of the process of rebirth.  The good news is-  what appears to be entirely dead is, in fact, dormant.   That not all is as it appears.  That when you look at me, or my family you actually can't see everything.  That when I look at you, or your family, I actually don't see everything.  That maybe we can let go of our fear, that maybe we can trust the process more than we do.  That maybe when I see fear in your eyes, I can think of it from the place where you currently reside, but that none of our stories are finished yet.

The fact that we all get to die sometime should inform the way we spend our days in this alive part of the cycle.  Not a new concept, I know.  And to be entirely truthful, I'm not holding myself up as an example.  Much of the time I'm just hoping I can pay off my mortgage before I'm dead, keep the hounds of debt at a relative distance, not get so fat that I'd have to pay for two seats on the airline, and hoping that the kids will turn out okay in spite of my tendency towards denial and wishful thinking.

My goal though, is to believe that love wins.  That what looks dead isn't done with its story yet.  That I'm going to do my level best to believe that love could win for you too- regardless of whether you call yourself a Christian, a Muslim, or an orange tabby.  It means I'm going to give money to help the people walking across the US border into Manitoba even though Ted Falk condemns them.  It means I'm going to bake mediocre cookies for the homeless people because its better than not baking for them at all.  It means I'm going to give my change to a random guy and his dog at the intersection of River and Main because I don't get to judge whether he's gonna buy coffee or scotch with it.  It means I'm gonna look him in the eye and smile because I hope that love is gonna win there too.

I'm going to recycle my plastics and boil bones for broth and keep feeding our compost to the worms because I want to at least try to wreck the planet a little less.

It's going to be inadequate.  But I'm not in some sort of competition to see whether I'm being good enough.  (I have to keep reminding myself of this truth).

This Easter season when I saw the lilies in the store, I thought about my mom.  I wished I could buy her one.  I wished I could tell her about her granddaughter learning about permaculture in Guatemala, and hear her laugh about Arianna's first experience in butchering a chicken.  But my mama has died, and it had to be enough to remember when she was alive, and remember our shared joy of seeing things rise again out of the dirt.

This Easter season, someone brought ME a lily.  It got me right in the feels-  not because I'm a houseplant person;  I'm not.  But because the cycle goes on as it ought to.  Birth, death, and rebirth.  I'm the mama now.  I also get to die sometime.  And that's okay.

It's not the end of the story.

Monday, February 20, 2017

On Honouring You

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”  Dr Suess.

The way you think, rest, reset, get energized, or get tired- those are all unique to you.  Sometimes that's not so hard to deal with when you think of others needs, but way confusing when you think about your own.

2015 was a difficult year.  My dad went into hospital in January and lived there for nine hard months, mostly in bed, steadily losing his ability to control his mind and body.  We sat there beside him and watched the decomposition of our strong, stoic, proud father.

It felt a bit like my brain and body were on fire and crawling with ants, while simultaneously numb and catatonic.  Depression and anxiety moved in.  My mind was made hostage with thoughts of self deprecation and feelings of inadequacy, while my body went through the motions of work, family, and getting back in the car to go sit with dad.  I spent a lot of time on my phone, cycling through three apps, then back through again.  It was like being engaged with something that felt manageable, but curled up like a hurt puppy at the same time, blocking out the moving parts of actual life around me.

And I was mad at myself for spending so much time on my phone.
It's not very inspired.
Or proactive.
Or even cute. 

But if you were going through watching your dad die the most agonizing death, and you wanted my advice I might say-  is it helpful to spend way too much time on your phone right now?  Just to zone out and stop feeling so intensely?  Then-  that's okay.  You're forgiven.  You're just trying not to burst into flames and take the whole house down with you.  You're trying to create a tiny world to escape into, just to take breaks from the real world you live in.  It's okay

  But in the middle of it all, nothing felt okay. 
I envied my sisters for their boundless energy and compassion.  Their ability to interact with the hospital staff- to be an encouragement, to spread joy.   I envied their patience with our dad when he asked for the millionth time to be taken to the bathroom after we had just explained to him five million times that he was catheterized.  I wanted to yell at him.  Sometimes I did.

I often felt like my skin was being scraped off with a dull butter knife, but that I was being asked to walk around and function as usual.  No- to over function.  I don't mean that my family was asking more of me than what I was willing to give.  My family was incredibly sensitive, and we offered each other time off and time away frequently- guarding one another's sanity and well being, needing one another to stay as well as possible.  I mean life itself was demanding more than what I had to give, and so I had to go into deficit.  Overdraft.  High interest FastCash-style loan from the Bank of Emotion.

And so one of the things that I did was to not write much.  I was on fire.  I didn't know what might unintentionally burn someone else, and I could in no way afford any more conflict in my life.  I recognized that this wasn't just my dad dying, but also the dad of seven other people-  people who have their own experiences and perceptions; their own need for privacy, their own realities surrounding the loss of their father.  I recognized that the man I knew as my dad would not be the same as my siblings.  And I didn't have the emotional strength to tell my own truths at the time.

From January to August 2015, my sisters, brother and I took turns sitting by my dad's side.  My mom meanwhile amazed us further by continuing to stay in the house, actually living alone for the first time in her life.  At the age of eighty-eight she learned to cut the grass.  She learned to sleep alone.  And she went and sat with my dad pretty well every day for close to eight months.

In August, my mama got a flu that wouldn't go away.
We took her to the emergency that we'd so often taken our dad to. 
It didn't go away because it wasn't the flu, and my sweet mom never went home again.

Impossibly, we had two parents dying in hospital.  Mom's room smelled of death, and we could hear dad yelling and fighting from seven doors down.    I think that my brain started on fire around this time. 

Even now, I can't really talk about it.  And that's okay.
There is no limit on how long it might take to process.

I felt sad about not writing.  I thought about what good therapy it could be.  But I knew that my hands were on fire, and that I needed to sit on them.  Besides.  My hands were busy switching between three apps on my phone, and steering the car between Niverville and Steinbach.  It was not the time to open the doors of my heart any wider.  Not the time to risk that kind of vulnerability.

I noticed that my sisters needed to talk.  They would spend time together talking about mom and dad and I could feel the tiny callouses on my skin get ripped off and all the skin reignited.  I had to curl up.  Hide.  Run away.  I noticed that my brother needed to plan.  I couldn't stand to think of the moment after the one I was already inhabiting.

Because we're not the same humans.  One is not better than the other.
We all needed to honour who we were at the time, and what we needed both as a unit and as individuals.

I needed to drive alone through the McDonald's drive through for my eighty-ninth cup of coffee of the day.  My sister needed to watch a lot of Netflix and eat supper with her husband in the hospital parking lot.  She needed to plan the weekly hospital family schedule.  My other sister needed to work less.  To be closer in proximity to my parents, to live in their house, harvest mom's tomatoes, cook her recipes.

At the time, I knew intellectually that we all needed to process differently from one another.  But I could not believe it in my heart.  I could not keep the wolves away and their screams in my head got louder and uglier.  Even now, I have no advice for that me.  She did her best.  She showed up even though she had no skin left.  Sometimes she was crazy.  Who can help her?

It's been almost a year and a half since I lost my parents.  My  mom died in September, five weeks after her cancer diagnosis.  Three weeks later my dad died after an agonizingly long nine month hospital stay.  I believe he finally, finally gave up after mom went- it was heartbreaking to witness.  

I don't regret the mania of those nine months.  I don't regret all the evenings and weekends that I gave to my parents.  There will be no do over, and I will never again have parents to visit or care for.

A year and a half later, I'm still learning about honouring one self, and about honouring others.  I'm learning about the importance of one's own voice, whether it be audible or silent.    I'm learning about honouring one's instinct and authenticity.  I'm learning about honouring space- guarding what we let in, setting limits on it when its overwhelming, leaving room for staring into space and simply thinking.  I'm still learning about the concept of Enough, and how it applies here.  For example-  there's enough words, and enough time to find them again.  To capture those words a year and a half later when some of my skin has grown back on and I'm ready to be vulnerable again.

And my way will not be your way, we are not the same.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Honour it.

Monday, February 06, 2017

On Not Screaming

It's been a long and difficult couple of weeks-  almost like there's a line in my life  between "then" and "now"; "before" and "after".  In ways, things feel even harder than they did when the Giant Cheeto first came into power.  I won't try to reiterate all the facts and events of these past few weeks, because we all know I'm more about the aura of things than the blacks and whites.  Besides, we've all been busy (read obsessed) with consuming every variety of newscast reporting on the minute by minute mutiny by executive order and alternative facts, so you're likely at least as informed as I am.  Probably more, since my brain is similar to a colander.

I feel like I was younger and more optimistic two weeks ago when it felt proactive and almost entirely doable to attempt 100 days of kindness.  I still believe in it, I do.  But I feel more tired, more vulnerable somehow.  It sure didn't help to get hit with the worst flu that I can remember since being a little girl in my mother's arms.  It rendered me confined to bed for days on end, basically unable to do anything for myself, never mind others.

I'm scared.  I'm scared because these politics which are so obviously evil and divisive to my eyes and ears are for others somehow connected to their spiritual lives- intimately connected to people believing themselves to be committed Christians.  As in-  followers of Jesus who believe that defending Cheeto is standing up for their faith.  I've had my own long and lonely walk, working through thoughts and questions and confusions, hopes and desires around the faith I was raised in, and I still identify with Jesus.  The old testament stuff about genocide and violence and cruelty is terribly troubling to me, and I honestly don't get it.  But I'm not here to present my statement of faith because quite frankly, I don't have one and it doesn't matter much to me any more. 

I'm scared that people are identifying with the violence in the Bible.  I'm scared that they are metaphorically marching around the city of Jericho, hoping to bring down the walls- mamas and babies be damned.  I can't defend the Bible that way, and I can't ignore the thoughts of all the people languishing in detention centers and refugee camps.  And my own impotence makes me ashamed.

When my mind is clear, and I remember where my heart was at, I know what I meant by 100 days of kindness.  I meant that we all are responsible to be and do right in our own microcosms.  In our own life systems.  The way we raise our kids, the way we treat the cashier at Wal-Mart, the way we do our jobs-  all these things have a ripple effect.  When we raise kids who aren't (too) angry and frustrated, we make the world a little less ugly.  When we make eye contact at the store, ask frazzle haired cashier person "How is your day?" and mean it, we've at least not made their day harder than it had to be.  When we make an effort to stop complaining and start making a point of saying aloud the good we see in each other, we shine light into hearts and make the world a little less harsh.

It's a vulnerable feeling to suggest being kinder than necessary.  Vulnerable because one might think I'm setting myself up as some sort of standard.  One might read these blundery ramblings as "Look at me!  I'm so kind!  Be like Joyce!", and that's so not it at all.  I know what I intend, and yet my brain and body are pretty darned prickly and often downright spiteful.  So sometimes when people tell me they expect more of me (based in part of what I've chosen to be honest about here), I feel like maybe I painted myself into a corner.  It's important then to remind myself that I make myself vulnerable on purpose- its the way I've chosen to live my life.  Not everyone will understand or be particularly gracious.

When I wrote about kindness two weeks ago, I mentioned that sometimes being kind is going to mean not screaming out loud.  I had hoped that would be an occasional feeling and not sort of the predominant elephant in the room.  More accurately- the elephant sitting on my lap and stepping on my toes, its trunk wrapped around my neck and chest, threatening to shut off my air supply.

And I have managed not to scream.  I've managed to not call anyone an idiot in my out loud voice.  I've managed to do some intentional, kind things- to be deliberate in giving things away.  Giving to someone who will put what I can live without to good use.

In order to not scream, I've stopped following some people's posts on facebook.  They're people pretty far removed from my current, relevant life so its not like it'll fracture relationships or have any real consequences, outside of promoting less negativity and bullshit on my newsfeed.  But even this bothers me.  Why do good, upstanding citizens who I would call "friend" actually believe that Muslims want to remove our heads?  Why?  It breaks my heart and makes me furious.  These people are committed about their faith.  This is confusing for me.  Didn't Jesus have the audacity to say that we should LOVE our enemies?  not shun them?  I've asked myself very specific questions before cutting myself out of their newsfeed.  "Am I just unwilling to hear other points of view?  Am I being hypocritical when I promote kindness but want to pinch a "friend" from a million years ago?" So, before unfollowing, I've been honest with myself that I'm doing so to protect my grey matter, and my soul.

I don't think hating people is easier than loving people.  I think they both require a lot of personal energy.  I sure have been wondering though.  I've been extending a lot of energy reminding myself that we're all different and that I have to extend grace when people voice things that I think are ignorant, uninformed, annoying, or downright dangerous.  It's tricky and exhausting to decide when to use my voice, and when to keep my mouth shut.  And honestly, sometimes its shockingly easy to identify with the hatred route.  It's easy to think violent thoughts that require no grace, no "looking at things from another perspective".  Just- "People are awful and should go die in a hole".

Isn't that shocking and sad?  How many degrees separated are we from being cold blooded killers?  I'm sitting here in my lovely, warm little house with plenty to eat, and good people all around, and I wonder how many degrees of frustration separate me from murderous hatred.

It doesn't feel kind at all.

One of the things that makes me want to scream is when people suggest that we all calm down and just enjoy our lives.  That all this insanity is outside of our circle of influence and that we're just making ourselves miserable by staying informed and concerned.  I hear "Ignorance is bliss!  Be blissful!" and I want to scream.

Another thing that makes me almost scream out loud is when people suggest that the women's march on Washington was actually about being a loudmouthed, crass, skanky, nasty, baby killing bully who just doesn't know her rightful place as a submissive wife and mother.  Crazy.  Maker.  Way too simple.  Not in any way nuanced enough for all the complicated emotions, experiences, realities, struggles, victories, and desires of not only women, but humanity.  I'm even more annoyed now that the roads were bad that day and I could not attend.  Those marches hold historic significance, and it's disappointing that I was there only in spirit.

I feel existentially tired.

So what have I done to be kind and not scream?  I've helped feed some people.  I've sewn some things that help my mind to ruminate in productive ways.  I've refrained from swearing at people.  I've refrained from being mean online.

I'd like to hear what you have and haven't done.
I'd like to hear how your keeping your soul intact.
I'd like to know if you're having any trouble not screaming.
just like me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Resistance- 100 days of kindness

Last night I dreamed that I attended my own funeral.  I wasn't afraid.  My body lay in a casket, and people were gathered together.  I came late, and wasn't dressed really well for a church hosted event.  I stood near the back.

In the morning, when the dreams came to my conscious mind, I became aware that there was a part of me that was really okay with Joyce in the casket.  That there were things that could go ahead and die.  Get buried.  That if people needed to mourn that, and maybe simultaneously not notice that I was still in the room, that there was an element of freedom in that.

I've been learning a lot about energy- there's a limited amount of that in me and if I'm not careful and don't budget, it might get nickel and dimed away, leaving me broke and exhausted with the absence of richness in its wake.  Not unlike the big fancy truck I watched at the parking lot across from my house this morning.  It was big and had big fancy wheels.  But he couldn't move forward, and he couldn't move backward, and no matter which way he turned the wheel, that big powerful vehicle would not go where he wanted it to go.  Oh- the wheels were spinning.  He was clearly exerting a lot of energy- but he wasn't going anywhere, and he wasn't accomplishing anything.

Friday, January 20, 2017 dawned a new era in the United States and ultimately, across the world with the inauguration of Donald Trump.  I felt sick.

On Saturday, I spent a lot of the day in my old green chair, reading articles and fuming inside just a little that I couldn't get to the Winnipeg chapter of the march on Washington.  I wanted to be part of something bigger than my green chair. I wanted to walk with all sorts of women- to listen and learn and feel.  I would have walked to say- Love wins!  Diversity is an opportunity for learning!  Lying and misogyny has no place in the future of my sons and daughters!  And-  Jesus was a refugee!  I wanted to be part of a positive show of solidarity of women of all walks, religions, nationalities, sexual identities.  We are all human.  Hatred and self-righteousness are not creeds I want to adopt.

But I live in Manitoba, and the climate change that Trump claims is a hoax designed by the Chinese government has done the unimaginable and turned our typically arctic January into a weird sort of spring way before spring.  The roads were terrible.  Our driveway and deck were terrible.  I couldn't go.

So I sat in my green chair and read some more.  And I spent a lot of time thinking.
I posted some things in my Instagram and facebook accounts.
I thought about the irony of the pussyhat project- how women around the world are taking this derogatory term for a female's genitalia and turned it on its head, so to speak.
I put my cat on my head and had Brian snap some photos.

One of the things I posted was a piece I found through facebook. 
  1. "I listened as they called my President a Muslim.
    I listened as they called him and his family a pack of monkeys.
    I listened as they said he wasn't born here.
    I watched as they blocked every single path to progress that they could.
    I saw the pictures of him as Hitler....
    I watched them shut down the government and hurt the entire nation twice.
    I watched them turn their backs on every opportunity to open worthwhile dialog.
    I watched them say that they would not even listen to any choice for Supreme Court no matter who the nominee was.
    I listened as they openly said that they will oppose him at every turn.
    I watched as they did just that.
    I listened.
    I watched.
    I paid attention.
    Now, I'm being called on to be tolerant.
    To move forward.
    To denounce protesters.
    To "Get over it."
    To accept this...
    I will not.
    I will do my part to make sure this great American mistake becomes the embarrassing footnote of our history that it deserves to be.
    I will do this as quickly as possible every chance I get.
    I will do my part to limit the damage that this man can do to my country.
    I will watch his every move and point out every single mistake and misdeed in a loud and proud voice.
    I will let you know in a loud voice every time this man backs away from a promise he made to them.
    Them. The people who voted for him.
    The ones who sold their souls and prayed for him to win.
    I will do this so that they never forget.
    And they will hear me.
    They will see it in my eyes when I look at them.
    They will hear it in my voice when I talk to them.
    They will know that I know who they are.
    They will know that I know what they are.
    Do not call for my tolerance. I've tolerated all I can.
    Now it's their turn to tolerate ridicule.
    Be aware, make no mistake about it, every single thing that goes wrong in our country from this day
    forward is now Trump's fault just as much as they thought it was Obama's.
    I find it unreasonable for them to expect from me what they were entirely unwilling to give." Author unknown."
Because it reminded me of statement and poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.  (Wikipedia)

It also reminded my of the quote by Edmund Burke_
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It was pointed out to me that this "author unknown" piece could be perceived as hateful, and so I reread it through those eyes, and could see the possibility of an attitude of retaliation and revenge.

That's not love.

Still.  I believe in accountability.  I believe in truth telling.  I believe in not forgetting the least of these.  I'm not happy with lies, ugliness, narcissism, or religion that defends one principle at the cost of 5 million others.  I'm not willing to hate and fear refugees (Jesus was one).  I'm not willing to be afraid of Muslims.

This morning I decided to read a little less news.  A customary scroll through my facebook feed with the first coffee of the day brought me to a piece of writing by Sarah Bessey

Image may contain: 1 person, text

And I thought-  Yes.  This.
Be the antidote.
Walk the alternative.

Aim towards the prayer of St Francis:

"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life."[5]"

Imperfectly, to be sure.  But with that intent, nonetheless. 
With this in mind, I am challenging myself to:  The Resistance- one hundred days of Kindness. 
Its a goal and not a legalism.
It's "being the change" in whatever small way I can.
It's living with joy anyway, but not in a "la la la la la- It'll all be fiiiine" kind of way.
I'm planning to tag some things with #Resistance to remind myself to not remain inert.
Will I follow through on every single day times 100?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  And that's okay.  Some days simply not screaming is enough.

If this resonates with you on some level, I welcome and embrace you on this different kind of march.

The day will come when my body will be in a casket (or a pile of ashes, whichever).  My voice will be silenced, and my body will do no more.  There are some things I want to be able to answer to on that day.  Did I use my voice, however imperfectly, but with good intention?  Was I willing to risk living a life of authenticity?  Did I push past the fear of being ridiculed, disliked, and misunderstood?  Did I spend my energy wisely?

And meanwhile, while I am indeed living, I must be prepared to let some things die.  That's where the new life begins.  So I'm metaphorically standing in the back of my own funeral, ill dressed, and maybe ill prepared, but with a new kind of energy to really live.

The resistance.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Mama Grows a Garden

With grape vines climbing a trellis

Morning glories where you might not expect.

Surprise pumpkins from her compost

Which she did before it was cool

A peony from the first house Brian and I owned

Gooseberries just like on the farm

Corn from seed her son brought from far away lands


And poppies anywhere

the winds might blow

just like her lovely dill

tiny apples for juice all winter

My mama wears her gardening shoes

to water

her flowers

from the rain barrel

Now my brother and I gather flowers

for mama

in room 110.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Room 101

This was dad's last breakfast at home before we took him to the hospital and never moved him home again. We poured our milk from the rose pitcher that I remember since forever and ever growing up on the farm. Our milk came home in ice cream pails from dad's cousin's dairy across the road. I knew my way around the milk room, and would release the lever on the big stainless steel reservoir and watch the rich white milk fill the pails, then carefully carry them home. Ice cream pails then were made of heavy plastic that lasted for many years, and the metal handles weren't at risk of breaking.

That rose patterned milk jug says something to me about endurance. About a time before the throwaway culture. About milk that comes from actual cows, about neighbours who never move, about the security and safety of my childhood.

My dad was a respected man in our farming community, and in surrounding areas. He was a smart, fair, kind, hardworking man. Our family life wasn't perfect, and there won't be an upcoming book entitled: "Bliss in Blumengard", but looking back, I'm astounded by how safe my childhood was. No worry for food, shelter, company. Always safe. So safe in fact, that we would be shocked in years to come to learn of incest and abuse in the very circle we called our own. My mother hadn't even known that those things were a possibility, that's how safe we were.

We were taught to treat people with respect, especially our elders. We never addressed our seniors by their first names, and we were expected not to behave in casual, familiar ways, not to ask for things that weren't offered, and always to seek to be helpful.

As dad aged, he held fiercely to his independence. Mom and dad stayed in their home, cut their own grass, worked their own garden, did their own housework, and went for daily walks. They remained true to their convictions of contributing to the community by dedicating twenty + years to volunteerism.

But life has its inevitable stages, and after dad's stroke in 2006, his memory slowly but surely continued to erode, even as he and mom continued to enjoy their independence. We kids offered more time and support, marvelling all the way at their resilience, positive attitude, and appreciation of our love for them. But eventually, dad's constant bladder infections, abdominal pain, and confusion led us to the hospital in January 2015 where he has resided ever since.

Long term care homes in our area are backed up one, to one and a half years and often times, people like my dad land up in hospital awaiting placement. It's not ideal, but its pretty okay-ish. The staff at Bethesda are awesome. Mom lives four blocks away and still drives at eight-nine. We kids quickly established a visiting schedule, and dad never spent a day without family by his side, helping him work out his confused thoughts, reassuring him, helping him to the washroom, shaving his face.

But we had been warned. Although they would not send dad home, they simply could not guarantee that he wouldn't be moved. And he did. Initially he had a lovely spot in front of a large window, with room for two or more of us to visit. Then he got moved to Room 101, cramped into what felt like a corner, with two other roommates. We were sad! We liked Room 110 for dad, with its window and its relative space, and its one roommate. But! we said- it's not Morris. It's not Vita. It's still four blocks from mom, and he is still safe, and we can still dedicate ourselves to him.

Room 101 became a gift to us. Cramped in with little privacy, we soon came to know dad's roomies. Big Guy to the west liked cheezies, and his gown was sometimes vaguely orange. His wife was devoted and spent every day with him. We fell in love with her as well. When the days came that his breathing shallowed and slowed, we felt his wife's loss keenly. At the funeral it was sweet to "see" him in his younger years, full of fun and energy for his grandchildren.

Even Bigger Guy to the south was initially kind of intimidating. His loss of space was more profound- having moved from a large private room into these relatively cramped quarters with two old men and their families he looked and sounded less than impressed. But "Tiny" as we came to know him, became so precious to us all. Tiny moved to the beat of his own drum, and as he like to say- he liked anything that was bad for him. So as we loved him more and more, we began to bring him gifts of Pepsi (his favourite- he scorned water), baking, and soup (another favourite).

Tiny told us stories of growing up in residential school. He told us he wished he had a mom and dad who loved him. Tiny began to call our mom "Mudder", and she willingly adopted him, holding out a basin when he needed to vomit, bringing him homemade buns, and reading him "The Daily Bread". My teeny tiny little birdie of a mother, and this enormous man. Their relationship crossed so many of my mother's previously held boundaries and prejudices.

Tiny looked after my dad. When dad awoke in the night afraid and confused, Tiny would remind him of his family who loved him. Tiny would remind dad of his years of farming, and it settled dad to be drawn to something familiar and grounding. When dad would be convinced of his mobility when he had none, Tiny would ring for the nurse, as dad couldn't remember how to pull his own help cord. Sometimes it would be too late, and dad would be lying on the floor, having taken flight from his bed, forgetting that his legs were weak. Tiny would call out in the night until the staff would come. Tiny became our ambassador, always reporting dad's status when we came to sit with him. Tiny reported the quality of dad's night, the state of his confusion, and any perceived injustices that had occured in our absence.

And we cared for Tiny. He was so easy to love.

Then one day I got a text from Kathy: "Tiny has died." Growing increasingly sicker and short of breath, with no hope of ever going home, Tiny removed his oxygen mask and ceased to exist.

My brother and I drove straightaway to the hospital- Tiny was also ours. I couldn't bear to go the next day and see his empty space without at least showing up. Dad sensed the heaviness in room 101 and asked- "How do you expect me to sleep in a morgue?", so we wheeled dad to another room and tried to speak of more restful things, even as we imagined room 101 without Tiny in it.

I admit to resenting the patient who took up Tiny's bed, and I guarded myself against falling in love again. Tiny's presence and absence hung heavy in the room. I was happy for him to have gone in peace, but I felt sad for him and us as well. After Tiny's replacement was released, we asked if dad could move to that corner of the room.

Soon enough with dad in TIny's spot, dad's prior spot became Mr F's new home. His daughter was devoted and soon we were exchanging greetings and discussing books. I learned to worry about her, as she didn't have the five siblings that I do to help fill in the gaps. She learned to worry that her dad's hallucinations might be offensive to us, but we quickly reassured her that perceptions of mom and dad smoking cigars behind dad's curtain partition would help us pass the time!

Then another text from Kathy: "Dad is being moved to Vita. Today."

But Room 101! And Mr F! All the staff who have become familiar to dad!

We had been warned, that part is true. But after six months, we had been lulled into believing it couldn't happen to us.

When you are an elder in our culture, you have lost your place of significance in this world. We carry on stupidly glorifying youth, and shoving our ancestors wherever there's a tiny space.

My siblings went immediately into high gear, exploring options. Looking for ways to take dad home instead of moving him 35 minutes south, nearly at the US border.

Kathy and I headed over to our mom's house and suggested she sit down. Dad is fine, I insisted.

"He's going to Vita?" mom asked, joking, then the colour draining from her face as we confirmed.

When we suggested the alternative of moving dad home with lots of supports, our dear sweet brave mother wept. And wept.

So we packed up room 101. Took all the photos off the wall, folded up the calendar, and waited for the paramedics. When they arrived to transfer dad to the stretcher, I was already sad and mad at everyone so I made a fuss about the stretcher. Insisted she use the brakes when she wanted to simply brace it with her body. Not for my dad. Not today. Brakes.

"But that's not how we do it".


It was a tiny thing, but there was nothing I could do about Vita. I could at the very least insist that the stretcher's brakes be engaged before the transfer.

Bed 3 in Room 101 is likely refilled by now. It's not Tiny, and its not dad.

Dear old dad lives in Vita now, and my mom won't visit every day.

His room is large and there are no roommates. He is an hour away for me. An hour and a half for my brother and sister. And more than three hours for my other sister.

My mama in her brave resilient way insists that dad will be fine here. That he will be lovingly cared for. That we cannot maintain our schedule of daily visits with these distances.

And we will all learn to love Room 5. We will.