Thursday, November 29, 2012

Memento Mori

What does one say?

The card lies flat on the table.  The pen poised above it.


A late in life marriage for him, when he retired, having spent many years travelling for an international company, she was twenty years younger. They were married eight years. He died yesterday, aged seventy. A long slow process of cancer, eating his blood, then a lung, his facial skin. This cancer ran in the family. It had a complicated name.

He had a life most of us can't even imagine. His father died suddenly at forty leaving five children and a mother with a nervous breakdown (Oh, this happened a lot. I know. I've seen it.) All the children put into care. Mount Cashel Orphanage  for the boys, Littledale for the girls. Horror stories abound about these places where children were so casually abused. I wrote about a Newfoundland orphanage victim here.

Glen (pseudonym) always maintained that he was treated like a prince in Mount Cashel. And insisted, almost violently at times, that he had never even seen abuse. One of his sisters suicided. Another has an extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder - a frantically hygienic woman, twenty four hours a day. Exhausting to watch her. Another sister is alienated from the family and his brother, an artist,  reinvented the past so as to delete Mount Cashel completely.

Patricia, his wife, has her own issues revolving around food and semi-starvation. She is terrified of a complete meal and only likes tiny portions on those wee plates you'd see at afternoon tea at a grandmother's. She has no friends and tolerated Glen's. Barely.

I think about all these things as I stare at the card on the table and ponder on what to write. Words come easy to me. Normally. I find it easier to write all this down here than to write a few words on the card. I'm not one to ever trivialize a card with cliches. Never have. Never will. And I'll face the funeral home tonight. A card is de rigeur, especially for one who will not be buying a mass for the deceased parish committee president.

I lit a candle for him over the last few days and reflected on the parts of his life that he had shared with me. He loved poetry. He was an amateur astronomer and if he could have afforded it, would have played golf every day at dawn.

A horrible time for him was when his new wife had found an old diary of his and read it. And didn't speak to him or look at him for a week after. He told me he was so terrified he felt like a little child again. He burned all his diaries after that.

We were alone in his SUV when he told me this, driving for a good hour over the barrens. I let the silence float around us in the vehicle. Waiting.

But he never told me what was in that diary that was worth a week of freezeout.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Merry Mas

As a person who celebrates the solstices, yeah, call me pagan, whatever, I find the constant harassment of Christmas worshippers around me, well, stressful.

"Put Christ back in Christmas!!" bleat many, nearly in tears as they stagger from Mallwart with two laden trolleys of Chinese tat, clanking their way awkwardly across the parking lot. 

"Well, who took him out?" I want to shout back, "Happy Mas!"

And then I see a confidential note from Jesus (see picture above) posted and reposted across the vast etherworld of Facebook as an antidote to the - heaven forbid!  - admonition-wish-heresy of "Happy Holidays!"

I am forced to picture Jesus, on his not-birthday (born sometime in the spring, not winter as noted by eminent scholars) sobbing, broken-hearted, over the absence of Merry Christmas being said out loud by the English speaking section of this tiny planet. Mostly Mallwart people I'd surmise. 

I've never seen so many Jesus fans freak out so much at the innocuous sound of "Happy Holidays!" It gets savage, far, far removed from any Merry or Happy.

Do they not realize that Solstice was appropriated by the early Christians?
The Archbishop of Constantinople wrote that church fathers fixed the Nativity during the pagan holidays because "while the heathen were busied with their profane rites, the Christians might perform their holy ones without disturbance."
I'll let you dwell, but not for too long, on all those holy rites which make the profane of goat offerings seem seriously mild in comparison. And "without disturbance" brings starkly to mind centuries of child abuse.

Maybe I should respond to the hostile anguish of the Christ grievers:

"Return my stolen Solstice!"

I've got an excellent case.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Going Off Half-Cocked.

Going off half-cocked

Idiomatic, colloqial

"To take a premature or ill-considered action."

So you thought I was perfect, didn't you?

Well, surprise!  I'm not.

One of my defects of character is running off with some hare-brained scheme and being forced (usually by others) to come up short, in terror and a kind of awe to think I nearly got away with it.

I think I've been this way since I was around three and a half when I tried to smother my brother with a pillow. I was Queen of the Home and his arrival destroyed my royal life. He was very sick, had a nurse in attendance, was not a girl, cried all the time and I thought if I could rid us all of this defective baby, life would be simpler for everyone concerned.   I was banished to the grandparents for what seemed like an eternity of paradise. But all ends badly as started badly when I was returned to my parents and forced to attend school on a daily basis away from the scene of my attempted fratricide. Low Babies Class was how we began school in Ireland then -  for any of you older and familiar with this particular Irish terminology. You would graduate at the age of four to High Babies. The visuals are awesome for those unfamiliar with the term. But they bear nothing to the reality of nuns with rulers in damp and dreary stone convent classrooms where a good day was when you were allowed to wear your woolly coat in class to keep the chills at bay and didn't have to extend your palms for blistering from the above mentioned rulers.

Anyways, as I was saying.  I've been blessed in my life by staunch and trusted friends who prevent me from half-cocking myself. One time it was a seedy motel in Nova Scotia, another time it was a house in the back of beyond that would have involved an hour and half's commute to work. Yet another was where I was clinging to the marital home, completely overwhelmed.  I've lost track of most of them. But a few nights ago, another Staunch sat me down and said seriously to me:

"WWW - this two car business in your driveway has got to stop."

"But I use the second car for my camper. And my daughter can drive it when she's here. It's got the hitch, it's...."

"No. The car is only used once a week, if that. Its value decreases the longer you leave it and the rust can get at it while your newer car is in the garage. And how many offers have you had on it - fifty?"

"Yeah, but..."

"I can't see any buts in this.  You sell the older car. You install a new trailer hitch on the newer car and you pocket several thousand dollars in the bank even after you pay for that."

And as soon as he said it, I just knew.

Another half-cock averted.

I am so bloody lucky with the friends in my life.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blog Jam

With apologies to Grannymar who really dislikes the term "BlogJam"  but it's my blog and I like it as it's like a big jar full of unconnected thoughts and observations. Much like bramble jam which has all the wonders of the late summer in it, rosehips, blackcurrants, late rhubarb, gooseberries. Not that I'm saying this post is full of wonders, mind you. 

It's Black Friday. I'm so, so glad I don't have teevee as I'm sure I've been spared the spectacle of the near death experiences of insane shoppers hunting down the latest can-opener or camping for 7 days outside a Best Buy or a Walmart. Black in the truest sense of the word. Soul death.

Log Toasting
I imagine it is symptomatic of the time that's in it. How can we all be going to hell in a handbasket if we can shop will we drop? This way for a massive disconnection. The experience is so far removed from the little farmers' markets and fairs I see around here. Where you get to know the maker of the hat or the mittens or the table runner or the gorgeous canned goodies. Where things are kept simple. Not that we don't have Black Friday here. They tell me you can't find parking in all the major shopping centres for the past week. Imagine. How would we behave if we could Skype the workers of our latest gewgaw (fridge, stove, washer, I-Everythings) and have a chat with them? But no, they remain anonymous. We are completely detached. We don't want to know of forced labour and sterilization, or child labour, or dormitories and unregulated hours. Otherwise our flatscreens would cost $5,000, wouldn't they? We are all culpable in the outsourcing of our manufacturing industries.

I was with dear friends last night who replaced their 4 year old noisy dishwasher with a more silent, far more expensive, one. The old one, hardly used (it being noisy 'n all) will go to the dump for they wouldn't inflict it on anyone. And we complain about the constantly increased costs for the disposal of our detritus. We are all mad.

I was putting the fire together this morning. And marvelling at how connected I am to the source of my heat for the winter. The wood is harvested on my land and hewn into kindling and logs. Some of the wood was slightly damp but I've learned to dry it on top of the stove. It dries quickly. But you pay attention as it could get too hot.

Log Harvesting
A friend is dying, he was brought into palliative care last night. Actually an ex-friend. Which is weird, you know?  We had a few heavy disagreements where he revealed a truly ugly side to his nature. I went so far off him as to be on another planet. And yet. He's dying. I called a few times over the past few weeks and was not surprised when he didn't return the calls. My mind races ahead to the funeral (selfishly, abominably) as in wouldn't I be a complete hypocrite if I showed up? And yet he haunted my thoughts for hours this morning as I lay in bed. Nearly always, I can take the bad with the good in a friendship but I felt there was a hidden side to him. A darkness, his rage was so ugly. And frightening. And I told him this at the time. How unsafe I felt. He did not acknowledge my feelings  at all but demanded a book back that he had lent me on the effects of WW1 on Newfoundland.

Black Friday. Indeed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Same Old Conversation

I'm driving back from the shop with Leo where we had to get gas for the chainsaw and the ATV.  Leo picked up a 40 ouncer of rum and a few bottles of coke.

Me (M) I know it's your birthday tomorrow, but you're going to be so sick after drinking that 40 pounder of rum.

Leo (L) *giggle* yeah, I know.

M: So that means you won't be able to work for a couple of days.

L: Yeah. *Laugh*. I'll have a grand old time.

M: You'll have about 10 minutes of a good time, then about 48 hours of a really bad time.

L: Ah, who cares?

M: Well I do, because there's still wood to be sawed and put in the barn and you won't be around for a couple of days to fill the bin in the house.

L: I wish you drank with me.

M: No. You really wouldn't want to see that wish fulfilled, buddy. That bottle would end up in a right old battle between the two of us. I'd have to buy another two or three, or four hundred.

L: *excited* We could party for a week!!

M: Well, party wouldn't be the word I'd use. Alcoholic poisoning and wet brain comes in there somewhere!

L: Ah, it's a shame you had to stop!

M: No, buddy.  Everyone around me needed me to stop. And believe you me you wouldn't want to see me start!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Peace Bench

Cupids, NL. Yesterday.
If I could bring you all together. And you all could take turns sitting on this bench.

Yes,  I know it would take a long time.

But it would be worth it.

And then I would tell you to cast your eyes outward and tell me what you see.

And tell me what you hear.

And tell me your hopes and your dreams that didn't involve possession or theft or anger or self-righteousness or hurting anyone else. 

We could put an end to all of it now, couldn't we?

Monday, November 19, 2012


Parts of the story I remember. Not the most gruesome parts, but the ordinary stuff, the mundane. Ever find yourself looking at a photograph and just focusing on the everyday bits around the subject? The cups on the table, the glasses on the bureau behind them, even the blanket on the couch, the wallpaper on the walls? That's the way it was with me and this story.

He came back to the old place and patched and plastered, painted and puttered around it. It looked an awful mess from the outside but inside, if you got in and very few did, it was cozy. He'd even matched his dishes, white with a blue stripe. The old Enterprise stove was always glowing with the old black kettle on top.

You'd have to walk by the place when you went berry picking and he'd wave if he was outside. Friendly like. But he'd turn away right quick and you got the message he wasn't open for the chit chat.

You couldn't get the reasons for coming home out of him, though many tried. Why did he come back from all that money out in Alberta? And his boys left there, three he had, along with the wife, though Bernie had it she was Chinese.

What does it take to uproot yourself and come rushing home to the falling down old place that his father had died in twenty years before?

It was late Christmas Eve when they noticed the flames shooting up over the trees. And they all drove over and took the cover off the well and started passing buckets of water over the meadow and dumping them on the house. The firetruck came soon after and lashed the place with foam and flood but it was all too late.

The heat was intense and they had to wait for it all to cool down a bit and then they found him sitting on the remains of a chair next to the old Enterprise. Like he was warming himself.

When I was walking past there, and I was told the story, I noticed all the broken rum bottles in what used to be a flower garden. And then they told me he was deaf. From birth. Like his sister Jenny. Genetic or something. Second cousin stuff.

And I saw something white and blue in the grass and it was a dinner plate and I picked it up. Not a crack or a mark on it.

And I took it home.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dongles and E-Readers and Geraniums and an Author

My brave geraniums on the deck today, 2012/11/17

I read a few blogs on the topic of pleasure today. What makes us happy?

I commented on one blog that we all need to think about the things that don't cost money.

Well almost.

I tallied up my airmiles.  And realized that I could get two items on my wish list for free. One was a dongle for my computer that would allow me to listen to radio in my house rather than sitting in my car in my driveway.  You read that right. I can get reception in my driveway in my car but the house radio does not work unless I hang it off the deck and that gets mighty cold in the winter. So this dongle thing I saw in someone's house. It hooks up to the computer and you can set the speaker anywhere in the house wirelessly and endless radio stations are yours for the taking.

Next thing on my wish list was an E-Reader. And my airmiles covered that too. I can download from the library now without leaving my house. Imagine. You're all probably guffawing at this point. Many of my readers have been enjoying their  E-Readers for like, centuries, now. I'm a latecomer. I just love the feel of a real book with its paper and bookmark and often notes and how cosy it is in bed. I'll let you know how me and the dog cuddle up to the Ebook.

And like this is all free. Well I'm not a fool. I had to buy a lot over the past year to cover those two items. But once I found out I could get double the airmiles on my groceries I was off and running.

And then, Michael Redhill, AKA Inger Ash Wolfe,  whom I wrote about in Alter Ego was kind enough to comment on my blog. That pleased me. Muchly.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Outrage in Cork City yesterday.

A victim of the back rooms

Of clinking glasses

With the best brandies

Underlain with guffaws of the

Old Boys in striped school ties

And holy Roman Collars

In union with the hearty

Fellows of the Dail

All hardy-harring to keep uppity

Women in their places.

A world where zygotes in

Uteri are revered, unattainable

As the rest of their mythology.

Until birthed of course

When they are fair game.
Update: Here is a link to the Guardian's article on Savita.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Alter Ego

I just finished reading a rather long but engrossing book. "The Calling" by Inger Ash Wolfe. Not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, it is over 500 pages of unputdownable suspense.

The two main characters are a 61 year old police chief with a bad back and her 87 old mother who lives with her.

I scooped this review on the net and it puts my thoughts into words so well I just couldn't improve upon it.

But the really interesting thing about this book is that it was penned by a famous male author under the above pseudonym and I would never have found out about either of these if I hadn't listened to Writers and Company on CBC.

I won't disclose his name here but a quick web search will do it for you if you're so inclined.

It's such a joy to find books that are unashamedly Canadian (the story is based in small town Ontario) and also so unremittingly good. And are about older people doing their jobs, with interesting backstories: broken marriages, remote adult children, etc.

I love a good yarn.  And bonus, a yarn behind the yarn.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Muse has fled.

I've been struggling with this loss. I'm seeing how I can write umpteen and eleventy million posts on my blog but put a word into the plays (yes, there are two of them now) or the books (three) or the collection of short stories (2) and I sit here stumped, baffled and boggled.

I plead with Scriobhnarin, my writing muse, for one whit of enlightenment and realize that the last time I wrote was at the conference when I ploughed out 1500 words at one sitting. Maybe Scriobhnarin is exhausted, she is one age with me after all.

Be patient, they tell me, all will be well.

A couple of weeks now, I answer. And not a sparkle of concern do I show for the characters that lie languishing, wordless, silent, mute, crawling away from me defiantly.

It would be funny if it was happening to anyone else, right?

But it is happening to me.

So I am shutting down for the day, it is a denim day here at the edge of the Atlantic and I have chores to do in town. But I will take the camera and see what presents itself to the lens and maybe something will bounce off my brain and on to the page.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Charlotte on the Job

I think I'm the only person I know who does not have a fear of spiders. In fact I treat them like house pets. Working pets at that.

We've had an unseasonably warm November which has resulted in a few flies bouncing around. But not for long. Charlotte above has managed to capture them. I am in awe when I watch her work and was delighted when she agreed to pose for the picture above but only if I shot her from her best side. I agreed.

Apart from the intricacy of the web (click to embiggen) I am fascinated with the patience of spiders. I have much to learn. Even with prey many times their size trapped in the web, they will patiently surround it and parcel it up. It takes hours. And hours. And even if the web is broken, many more hours are taken to patiently repair it.

I never consciously break a web or kill a spider. They provide an absolutely essential service in the management of irritating flies. And this method is non-toxic to boot.

Charlotte is in my office window. She does like an ocean view as she works. Makes the time go by a little more serenely.

And of course, dinner is all the more succulent when you've put in a hard day at the office.

                             *    Definition of Arachnophobia

                                      1. Noun. A morbid fear of spiders.

Update - November 11 - Charlotte has packed up her web and gone away. Not a trace of her today.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Post Office Piss Off

Our post office was closed today. With no warning. A letter was in my mailbox telling me it was closing effective today. Another letter from the post office enclosed a key to the new mail box, which, they told me, would be installed up next to the community hall. If there were problems or delays, service would be provided at another outport 25km away. A 50km round trip.

I was driving Emma home as it was raining and blustery and we rolled by the community hall on the way and there wasn't a mailbox in sight.

Typical, she said, outports have always been treated like they are third class passengers.

Many of our villagers, like Emma, don't have cars and there's no public transit. 50km is an unimaginable trip to collect a piece of mail or drop off a letter.

I asked our now ex-post master when the new mailboxes would arrive. No one had given him any information, he shrugged.

Thank you, Canada Post.

It's no wonder you are held in such contempt by those you profess to serve.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Of Sheep and Oil

Out here on the edge of the Atlantic I have a meat man who delivers fresh local meat. Seriously.

A man who takes pride in his produce. Today he had fresh local lamb. Mein Gott! I find that frozen New Zealand lamb in the freezer section of the grocery store abhorrent. And this in a province that has sheep and lambs wandering all over our barrens.  Of course the fairly recent introduction of coyotes here (what do they do, build themselves little rafts in Labrador and sail off for better pickings on our island?) has proven a huge threat to the sheep farmers. But still.

Something should be made of local lamb. And the fleece. A friend is a sheep farmer. More like a hobby as he loses money feeding the coyotes with his produce and subsidizes his sheep with his fishery income. He's getting older. None of his children have followed in his path. The salt is in his blood, he tells me. He could never do anything else. And wonders why his children don't feel the same. They're all out at the oil in Alberta. Raising their children, his grandchildren, out of sight, smell and sound of the sea.

He decided to visit what held them all there last year. A first out of province trip for him.  They took him to the tar sands.  He couldn't find the words for it as he tried to tell me. Words don't exist, he finally said.

It had to be the money, the big money they all made to keep them there locked up tightly with their children at the local schools and big sad houses in new subdivisions where he and his wife had their own suite with a Jacuzzi they were afraid to use. A daughter was a petroleum lawyer (new one on me), a son was an engineer, another a pipe fitter. Pipe fitters make more money than anyone else. And no, he didn't know where all these pipes were going, must be a government secret.

He felt he couldn't breathe most of the time. He felt a huge unbreachable distance between himself and his children even as he pretended to admire all the trappings of wealth they had accumulated.

And wondered where he had failed them.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Phew, I'm normal!

There are certain things I've never talked about for fear of, you know, the fellahs in the white uniforms thundering into the house, a strait jacket at the ready. Well, with the exception of a trusted very, very few who've admitted the same kind of thing to me and we've nodded sagely, grimaced, grinned sheepishly and vowed never to talk about it again.

Until now.

And of course it's no longer private because it's here in black and white.

I'm talking hallucinations.

I was remembering my frequent childhood one. I'd be lying on my stomach in bed and I would be on a tobaggan. A magical one.  It would slide down a mountainside and then sail off over the ocean, over boats, lighthouses, birds, icebergs, desert islands. All in living colour. It was utterly marvellous.

And an adult one. Of driving on the 401 in Toronto and suddenly being overshadowed by an enormous silver disk in the sky, its humming hurting my ears, its menace terrifying me. I don't know how long this lasted. I felt suspended in another universe and the feeling of knowing everything there was to know about every single galaxy. When I came back to reality - as I say I don't know how long I was "out" - I felt weird for several days, as if my body had lost the run of itself and my mind was fragmented.  No alcohol or drugs involved.

Dr. Oliver Sacks , he of "Awakenings" et al, has now normalized all of this in an article published yesterday in the New York Times. See excerpt:

In other cultures, hallucinations have been regarded as gifts from the gods or the Muses, but in modern times they seem to carry an ominous significance in the public (and also the medical) mind, as portents of severe mental or neurological disorders. Having hallucinations is a fearful secret for many people — millions of people — never to be mentioned, hardly to be acknowledged to oneself, and yet far from uncommon. The vast majority are benign — and, indeed, in many circumstances, perfectly normal. Most of us have experienced them from time to time, during a fever or with the sensory monotony of a desert or empty road, or sometimes, seemingly, out of the blue.

Read the rest of the article here.

I am so relieved to know I'm not certifiable after all.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Words on Play, Play on Words

Podium where we all read at nightly salons last week.

I have this marvellous idea for a new play. All based on a story that was told to me and my friends on a mini high school reunion. We were on the floor, howling in disbelief. My friend who told it is one of those really serious people. She seems to attract family trouble and drama like pins to a magnet.

Her house is the original Dysfunction Junction where her husband lives on one floor of it and she on another. Where they have favourites amongst their adult children and entertain them separately and the daily policy is to take sides on each and every family argument, banishment, grandchild-sitting, dryout centres for various progeny and real estate difficulties.  And they own a shop in a small town and see absolutely nothing wrong with their lifestyle choices.

She is totally oblivious to the fact she is causing havoc in a room with the droll way she uses words. With the result that now all she has to do is enter a room and we all fall down. Her eyebrows are always elevated in shock at the instant hilarity that greets her.

"No, seriously now, what's so funny? You can't be laughing at me, as my hair was just done and my clothes are not loud or anything and I have sensible shoes, look....." and she sticks the shoes in our faces.

And the way she says this? Roseanne Barr would have serious competition. When we performed my play in Ireland, she barged right into the dressing room after and told us all that that kind of drama happened in her house all the time. No, boy, there was nothing new in my play for her and she walks out, shaking her head. We all fall down.

So this play based on one of her stories? Well, it is scattered throughout pieces of paper and notebooks and needs to be keyed onto my playwriting software and submitted by December 15th, for performances in May 2013.

I would credit my friend Faye but she just wouldn't get it.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


(1) How do you deal with your FB friends who are still on your friends list but have died?

    (a) Unfriend them.

    (b) Suggest a memorial site to FB owners so they can be transferred.

(2) Refrigerator
    (a)Where does all the ice in your enviro-fridge come from?

    (b) Where does all the ice in your unenviro-frost-free fridge go?

(3) When you've always taken a principled stand against shopping Mallwart what do you do when all other shops and stores have been run out of town by them and you desperately need a type of wool that now only they carry.

(a) Skulk through its doors and buy the wool and feel bad for weeks?

(b) Suffer in silence and dream up some other projects with your stash?

Mallwart's Infestation of the U.S.