Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Rules of Life---Part Seven


I used to struggle with just about everything and anyone given a small difference in basic philosophy or principle or possession. There was a lot of fear around the unknown, around perceived differences between you and me. The worst inner battle would come around circumstances. Why did you seem to have it so easy and I would be demented from trying to make ends meet. Life was always so unfair.

I was in the habit of always comparing my insides with your outsides. I'd see you so lovely and confident and think, I could be so much more given your looks and your brains and your relationship and your career and even your car. Life was tinged with an air of dissatisfaction. I'd bring an air of judgement and condemnation to any place, person or event I didn't quite approve of. For whatever reason.

There was never enough of this world for me. If I could have slightly more, then life would be a whole lot better.

I little realized that there would never be enough. Happiness, for me, I learned, was a completely inside job. I could never find it out there. It was in that indefinable space within.

And how did I find it? Through a long process of tearing down every faulty tenet of belief I had held so dear and letting go of all the preconceived notions of how I thought the world, with me in it, functioned.

I had to start with accepting myself exactly as I was in the very moment of now. It was never about the money or the wardrobe or the stuff. It was about who I was. I needed to find that. And I think I did. I had to accept the changes that happened to me. It was okay to change. Nothing was written in stone about my life. I could move through it, I could create it day to day. I could write. I could dream. I could read the books I wanted to read. And re-read them. I could shamelessly like old black and white movies.

But the other side of that was I had to accept you as you were as well, disliking the old B&W's and hating Jane Austen and really enjoying your trumpet. That was absolutely fine too. And I had to really mean it. I had to accept your wealth or your fame and not be intimidated or envious of it. I needed to wish you well in everything. I had to let go of the desire to change you. You were exactly as you were meant to be too. You see, I used to get acceptance and approval mixed up. I thought they were one and the same thing. But they're not.

And I'm still learning and still slide a little backwards on this acceptance business from time to time. But my whole life has substantially improved as a result.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Rules of Life---Part Six

Take Two Steps Backwards

There are many challenges in life. New information filters in every day knocking all other data sideways. Irritations pop up, small annoyances, major catastrophes, job losses, plumbing exploding, appliances expiring.

I tend to get triggered by small stuff. The big stuff can be a shrug, but the small stuff can drive me crazy and I'm a gut reactor to boot. I come up fists flying before I can get a true handle on a situation.

I had to really work on changing myself to take the two step backwards and re-evaluate whatever is going on before I fly off the handle.

In any confrontational situation I find, inevitably, that I'm the one that has to change.

Today, I had to go and finalize some business taxes with some clients. They are meticulous about their floors so instead of wearing lace-ups and heavy woolly socks like I wanted to, I wore my birks which can be removed easily outside their door. So we sit at their table and go over their taxes and they both chainsmoked. Non-stop. I asked them to please stop as I was feeling unwell with it. They didn't, "oops, forgetting" as they lit up yet again. I raced through the rest of the meeting and as I left I took my two steps back and thought, here I am respecting their floors and here they are disrespecting the very air I am breathing into my lungs. There was no anger in me, just a clean evaluation. If they are not willing to hold off on their smoking while I am there, I'm not willing to jeopardize my health in their home so either they come to me in my smoke free office or they are no longer my clients. Simple. Unemotional.

Before I would have stormed off out of there in a rage, complaining to all and sundry about their continued shoddy treatment of me but next year going back to suffer once again in their home, so that they wouldn't be upset. And so I would retain them as clients. And on.

Several years ago I took this two step backwards approach to one of my core systems of belief - my religion. I examined it from a distance and found it laughably fictional and truly eccentric. I wondered why God wanted so much money from everyone when he wasn't spending it to feed the hungry and house the poor. I wondered at his childish demands on my time and his vengeful punishments for minor misdeeds. I wondered why he hated sex and gays, jews and muslims amongst many others. I marvelled at his misogyny and his insistence on us breeding ourselves into a coma and mating for life. I questioned why he had elevated paedophiles to be pillars of his church. I was amazed I had lived close to over fifty years on the planet and hadn't risen up and seriously questioned any of this brainwashing until now. The rut of cult. I was stuck in the Catholic septic tank.

And even when I'm far too enmeshed in a particular problem and can't see my way out, I take the two steps back and say, now what would you tell a dear friend as to how to handle this situation? It's amazing what I can come up with!

And I've done this for a while now. For the big issues like the invasion of Iraq, climate change, and the war on drugs.

And for the small issues like sitting unwillingly in a smoke-filled room.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Rules of Life---Part Five

Remain Open to Change

I think being stuck in a rut is the worst place to be, whether psychic, emotional, spiritual or physical.

I know far, far too many people who are. Fearful. Always heading for the safety factor, the government job, the pension, the same hotel, the same vices, the same breakfast.

Sometimes it just feels so damn good to get out of the other side of the bed. And to move the toothpaste to the opposite side of the sink. And try on the grandchild’s cereal. And go to the funky teenage movie. Just. Because. And not to think to oneself when someone offers to do your astrology chart, I’m too old for that nonsense. But embrace it and say, yeah, maybe some mysteries will now get unravelled.

There is nothing safe about the rut to me. It’s an illusion, like most of life. I’ve known people who collapsed and died clutching their first pension cheque (metaphorically speaking) saying, hell yeah, now I’ll head for Paris. They never make it.

Banks have bamboozled us into believing we need all this money to retire. The banks are laughing all the way to the….

I’m an accountant and no, we don’t. Unless you plan on travelling the world forever in an ocean liner like that woman who prefers it to a retirement home – sorry can’t find the link - and that’s just another rut, albeit an exotic one.

The other day, I approached an old codger who plays the accordion. I said to him, I brought an electronic piano out with me from Toronto (I know, I know, awful things but can’t find a second hand piano here yet, although I’ve put word out on the bush telegraph) and I wouldn’t mind maybe a bit of jamming if we could get a few others together? I was fearful doing it but thought damn it, I miss my music so much, it’s time to uncreak the fingers and get a few licks in before I rust away. He said, yeah, hey, yeah. And that was all I needed. Who knows how it will go, and even if it doesn’t I’m prepared to enjoy the journey back to my music.

I could have stayed in Toronto, surrounded by family, friends and assorted loved ones. Safe. But one of my dreams was to live by the ocean. Wake up to the smell, sight and sound of it. And only I could make that enormous change. Or dither indefinitely about it.

And then get too old to make a fresh start – or any other excuse I can locate in the Stuck in a Rut Directory.

Life is all about change. Try telling that to the people who are stuck and they just don’t get it.

And I resist change, of course I do, but I always go back to the thought that being stuck in a rut is like floating inside a septic tank, it’s all warm and cosy inside there but Sweet Jebus, it smells to high heaven.

Friday, May 23, 2008

La Belle France

plus ├ža change ?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Flag of Iceland

Every country on this poor pock-marked earth should yearn, no make that STRIVE, to be # 1 on this list.

What you might call the real Peace Train.

Well hats off to Iceland - # 1.

And hats off to Ireland, the country of my birth - # 6.

And hats off to my beloved country of choice, Canada - # 11.


And where does the USA rank? Well it made the top 100 at # 97. Way behind Cuba and Rwanda. Countries were rated on various criteria such as human rights and levels of imprisonment of its citizens, etc.

The index looks at 24 indicators of external and internal measures of peace, including U.N. deployments overseas and levels of violent crime, respect for human rights, the number of soldiers killed overseas and arms sales

And the response of the US state department?

Commenting on the U.S. ranking, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said to realize a more peaceful and prosperous world, "Often times, you have to do difficult things and a lot of times, people don't agree with them. They don't like them."

"A lot of times you fall down in these lists but at the end of the day it is in defense of democracy and the way of life we have enjoyed over the past several decades," he added.

More here.

Yeah, we'll bomb y'all into peace. Wait 'n see.

And PS, Iraq has been bombed into last place on the list.

Aaaand PPS, Shouldn't peace be, like, the NORM????

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Rules of Life---Part Four


Sounds like a really silly rule, doesn't it? But this is a life saver for a loner. Particularly a loner who hates housework. I joke that my standards are fairly low, one of the signs on my wall as you walk in says:
"I cleaned the house last week, sorry you missed it."
And a tea towel in the kitchen says:
"Life's far too short for housework".

I heartily agree.

But I never want to be one of those outright eccentric people you read about that has to be eventually shoveled out of their abodes, drowning in five years of newspapers and rat and cat droppings. And I often feel I could be. Like I'm a dog hair away from that. Not that there's anything wrong with what anyone chooses to do with their lives. But living like a reclusive oddball with a collection of garbage bags, cardboard boxes as decor and an excessive number of cats has no appeal for me.

I honestly believe that clutter can kill creativity and originality. A cluttered and messy house can be a reflection of the person living in it. And I get that way occasionally, piling books upon books and files upon files and not putting away the laundry and letting the dishes stack up in the absence of a dishwasher here in the outport. And between looking for missing bits of my life and stroking the same pile of files seeking the errant one, I realise what an awful waste of time clutter is, as my life stagnates around it.

So the only cure for clutter in my book is to have people in. At least once a month. It keeps me on my toes. And between thirty minutes a day to maintain a semblance of order and outsourcing the floor washing and vacuuming, I stay there. And I'm the better person for it.

And the biggest bonus of this, of course, is the vital connection with others and the maintenance of social graces. I love making pots of tea and baking scones.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Road Trip (again!)

A big mistake this, I'm in a hotel attending a conference which is about 400km from my home. I don't know what possessed me. The drive was in fog and rain and I arrived looking the worse for wear, stressed and tired. I retired to my room early.

I took a photo of my luggage before I left this morning. You'll note the trees are yet to leaf in Newfoundland. You'll observe I keep a very old licence plate on car for sentimental reasons (plate has been on five cars and is now 25 years old!). That will soon change as I need to switch the registration of the car to Newfoundland plates.

The back of the car is jammed with a small bag of dog food, her dishes, her water and her leashes. Laptop, camera, knitting, and very little clothes, just a change a day fill up the rest. I'm one of these people who never overpacks. And I can go for a month with one carry-on bag. That's my French Roast coffee in my Goofy mug (thank you, grandgirl!) and an apple. And one jacket - not rainproof - note to self, bring rain jacket always.

STUFF. It looks appallingly too much, doesn't it. And all necessary.

More Rules of Life on next post.

The picture below is one I took near Kelly's Mountain in Cape Breton a couple of weeks ago. I love the justaposition and flow of the lumber, the water, the mini iceberg and the to die for blues. Click to enlarge

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Rules of Life---Part Three

Photograph of Philip Larkin by Jane Bown


I used to. With my handy hatchet in hand, I'd scream to the skies I wasn't loved enough, was abused, wasn't encouraged, was laughed at for my aspirations. Wasn't good enough, was too tall, didn't look like them, was a bad example to the younger sibs. And on and on and on and on. I even bored myself with it all. Until it dawned. The only dysfunction around was the face staring back from the mirror. I could remain a perennial victim or I would take full responsibility for my life.

And that was a process in itself, a long process, still ongoing. And now and again a cloud of blame settles over me and the finger starts to point outward and I am reminded that when that index finger points out, lo and behold, there are three fingers pointing back at me.

And I read, and re-read, this powerful poem by Philip Larkin, I am a major fan of his work.

This be the Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

— Philip Larkin (1922 - 85)

My Rules of Life---Part Two


It seems to me, in this world I inhabit, that I am perfectly content with my alone status 95% of the time. But that other 5% wherein I dwell can be fraught with loneliness, neediness, the poor mes, and the nobody ever wants me syndrome.

I was swimming around in the Chinese Astrological Charts today and found an interesting paragraph pertaining to me, I was born in the year of the sheep/ram/goat, as was my elder daughter, interestingly enough. So here goes:

Goats often do not fare well in romantic liaisons. They are very high strung and tend to feel insecure. They are worriers. To quell their uncertainties, Goats need to feel loved and admired at all times. Goats are extremely sensitive and will fret over the most trifling things. Conflict within a relationship will make Goats retreat further into their minds or physically remove themselves from the scene.

There goes that high strung thing again. And I do worry - about the teensiest, tiniest things. Never the big issues. And I am the STAR when it comes to retreating. I am hopeless at conflict.

But to get back to embracing solitude. I do. I can honestly say I've never been bored. And this is in a world where I rarely watch TV and don't have one in this house. I fill my time with reading, writing, knitting, learning, the web, blogging, planning and plotting - oh just about anything. And I love socializing but not empty socializing, there has to be meat in it. I make room in my life for many friends and keep up with them all, along with family.

I'm very happy inside my own head and I think the secret of happy solitude is/are passion(s).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A few of my rules of life

I haven't assembled them all yet, some are even subconscious, but I'm going to try and put them on paper for the very first time.

I've been highly prone to depression all my life, several of my doctors in the good old days would refer to me as "high-strung". I've no idea what the modern equivalent of this phrase is. I always translated this label internally as "don't come too near this one, she might hurt you.". I'm also highly addictive by nature, anything to take the pain - psychic, emotional or physical - away.

I know I've always felt slights, perceived or real, far too intensely than others. Also criticism. It is only in the last five or six years that I don't personalize being criticised. Writing workshops have done that for me. I'm also overly sensitive to shouting of any kind. And if shouting is directed at me specifically I just about curl up into a foetal ball.

That's the way it is. My instrinsic nature. And rather than condemn it, I embrace it today because there are many upsides.

I think when we feel things too intensely, as I do, we attract like-minded individuals to us. And by sharing, we learn how to cope a little better in a world that seems fraught with emotional land-mines and indifference.



This one is invaluable to me. I'll give a recent example. I was at a small gathering last week and as we were getting up to leave there was much talk of a BBQ that coming weekend with a band and flowers for the mothers. I might as well have been wallpaper, no one deigned to invite me or mention it directly to me. Being the extremely sensitive person that I am (that has never changed) I left feeling ignored, unimportant and resentful. My plans were to continue in this vein, read some books, maybe knit, write, walk, but overall immerse myself in a pity party.

What was "do the opposite"?

Well, I picked up the two-ton telephone and called a friend in another outport, just to chat, to get out of myself, to ask after her and her family. At the end of the conversation she said, oh, by the way: she and her family then invited me to the BBQ as their guest and I had a ball, enjoying the music, even dancing. I was then invited to a Mother's Day dinner (midday) the following day, for a bunch of mothers whose children were all "away". As a result of that, I met a new friend who invited me to her house 'in town' to get further acquainted and to meet her friends.

Invariably, this 'do the opposite' has been like a magic wand for me. It doesn't come naturally, ever, but when I practise it, it opens up both my life and my heart.

Friday, May 09, 2008

What are the odds?

Life throws the strangest curveballs sometimes. And it struck me that if I wasn't totally anonymous on this blog I couldn't post this entry. H'm.

Here I am with massive re-writes (read: reduce content) to perform on my collection of short stories. Ordered by my editor.

I haven't done them yet as I am committed to writing thirty pages of my newest novel every week. A book she has requested first dibs on.

In January I applied for an Arts and Letters Award for one of my pieces that had received quite a bit of favourable attention. *Inspects fingers, glances shyly downward*.

This piece has not been submitted to anyone before.

It is an anonymous process, applying for this award, meaning that the applicant is anonymous to the reader but not vice versa. And guess what? The adjudicator of my piece is the blooming editor of my short story collection.

She recommended rejection. Said it was too wordy. Said 'cut the first six pages'.

Gobsmacked doesn't begin to cover my reaction.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

You think you've seen it all

{AFP File Photo}
But you haven't.
Unfortunately, I was having a comforting cuppa when I stumbled upon this:
Praying at the Gas Pump and I lost most of my tea through my nose.

I had just finished an experiment of my own, on gas use/consumption shrinkage. Hot tips given to me by this long haul driver I ran into in Sydney. It involves being more interactive with your vehicle. Coasting down hills, eliminating drag, daring to let the car hike its own way up the hills whilst ignoring the cursing and flipping of other drivers, etc.

I increased my car's gas MPG by 10%.

I wonder if I prayed hard to the Great Gas God would it have the same effect on my consumption? Not to mention the environment?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Rescue Dog Stories

Picture is of Holyrood, NL dressed in lupines taken by me, June of 2006
As we ride through Nova Scotia, I see a subtle change in Ansa, my canine companion. Her head lifts high, her ears follow, her snout finds the airvent of the glove compartment. She has smelled the ocean before I've seen it. We both whoop in glee. Well, hers is more of a tiny yip.
So barely landed late last night here on the Avalon, we decide in the glorious pink sunset of the late afternoon today to head down to one of our favourite spots, the boardwalk at Holyrood. It is built along the site of the old railway line that used to run out here from St. John's, right along the sea coast. What a trip it must have been by steam! One can almost hear the click of the wheels on the track and the faraway train whistle.
And we run into another dog, her favourite kind of all, a big blonde male. This one's a retriever and also a rescue.
It's funny that. How one rescue dog meets up with another rescue dog. And their companions trade stories. And share a spot of emotion.
Jake's owner shared his story first. He was pretty defeated when she acquired him over six months ago. She could see his ribs sticking through his matted spotty fur. His depression was palpable for his head hung low. She began grooming him and feeding him small meals three times a day but otherwise letting him assimilate at his own speed into her life.
A month later she looked up from reading the paper and found Jake had backed himself into the opposite corner of the living room and was on his back legs. Next thing he started to dance, waving his front paws at her and moving his back legs delicately. This went on for five minutes and then he stopped and lay down, snout between his front paws and just gazed at her, his dance of joy over.
Now she looked at him and said, "Jake dance". And he did, delighting both Ansa and myself.
As to Ansa, I have many stories and this is one: she was never fed anything but garbage and what she could scrounge when I got her. Her fur was dull and matted and her eyes remained focussed on the floor also. It took me a while to get her to take dog food. Quite a while. Our routine in the morning now is I let her outside and fix her breakfast. She comes in and heads right for the dog bowls, sniffs them, but does not eat and then no matter where I am in the house she will find me and thank me for the food. I have to say "You're welcome" before she trots off joyfully to demolish her breakfast. I have had a lot of dogs over the years but have never, ever been thanked for the food. It never fails to touch me or for that matter, anyone who witnesses this act of gratitude.
Jake's and Ansa's companions shared a happy tear as we watched our dogs frolic joyfully together on the shore.
And debated on who exactly was rescued here?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Blog Jam from Nova Scotia

Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

I'm making good progress, I'm in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, not too far from Sydney, from where I'll take the ferry to Newfoundland late tomorrow night.

Weather has been kind, just a slight drizzle later on in the afternoon.

Thoughts from the road:

Why on earth are there so many trucks? Are we out of our minds? One truck and driver transports so little compared to a freight train which could cart so much more with far, far less environmental impact (fuel, road wear and tear, danger, etc.) I thought then of the resultant unemployed truck drivers. Perhaps they could be employed in rail maintenance, or as station agents, who knows. But the trucks need to be removed, this is so clear to me. At times in the last few days for a few miles of highway it was just me and twenty or so trucks. I counted. One gets bored on the road ;^)

Is it just me or is there far less variety in shops these days? You think there's variety but if you look closely all the drinks and fruit juices and water are Coca-Cola and the snacks are Frito-Lay or Cadbury Schweppes Powell. They sell the illusion of choice. And the stuff is rubbish, no taste to any of it. And so few places on the road carry fruit or vegetables.

Heard in a restaurant in Nova Scotia today:
"No, we don't carry bottle water anymore." YAY and AMEN. But then again, Nova Scotia is the world leader in recycling.

Like Newfoundland being more Irish than Ireland, Nova Scotia ("New Scotland")is more Scottish than Scotland.

Pipers and kilts prevail here and can be seen sometimes, at a distance, patrolling the beaches as they practise their notes. Nova Scotia's own gorgeous tartan is everywhere, the pride in the homeland is palpable.

I've had my fill of clams and Digby scallops in the last few days and I hear there are boatloads of lobsters ready for the eating and the price is cheaper than last year.

Nova Scotia has had its share of tragedies, too, mainly related to the coal mines. There have been many appalling disasters over the years.

I leave you tonight with what I believe is the most powerful mining song ever: Working Man.
Written and performed by Rita MacNeil (in honour of her father, I think) accompanied by the Men of the Deep, the famous Nova Scotia coal-miner choir.

I dare you to have a dry eye at the end of it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Blog Jam from New Brunswick

An almost forgotten province in the overall scheme of Canada, New Brunswick is full of forest, so much so that three hours driving through the green solidity of trees upon trees has never failed but to have me pull over to the side of the highway, almost in a coma and doze off, head back, drooling I'm sure, for about half an hour. I nearly made it all the way through today, I'd about fifteen minutes to go but my head started to nod. I scrabbled myself and the car off under a tree's comforting shadow before any harm could be done. The somnolent effect of hundreds of miles of trees has to be witnessed to be believed and I have driven this road close to fifty times in the last thirty years and never managed to make it through in one swoop.

New Brunswick also has the world's longest covered bridge,(sorry Madison County) photo above.

On another note: my dear aunt Frances was buried today and a brother gave me a full report. She wished to be buried in the family plot with her mother, my father and my mother and her sister. However, the family plot is full to capacity and there were a few options, two of which would have upset my aunt. One was to cremate her and bury the ashes in the grave. As she was a Catholic of the very old school this was out of the question. The second was to try and determine if one of the other graves around had a spare apartment. But being buried with strangers would have appalled her.

The third was to build a 'penthouse' (my brother's word, not mine!) above the family plot and ensconce her, queen of all she surveyed. This was the most expensive option but as her will had been very specific regarding her eternal location, it was decided to do just that and honour her. I was very pleased and rather tickled at the idea of her, a very humble woman, rising above all those beneath her. RIP, dearest aunt, from your mouth to your God's ear. Save us from peril and from woe.

PS I wonder does the PH have its own little elevator and fireplace?

PPS Full report in September of the penthouse gravesite.