Alfie used to be my personal trainer. While I was unemployed from January 2009 to May 2010, he nudged me out the door twice a day and gave structure to my shapeless life as an unemployed person. I squeezed the job search and resume tailoring between our walks and I arranged interviews so as not to conflict with our regimen. Continue reading
November 1, 2020, 6:00 a.m. and I’m in our small kitchen frozen in time in a room stuck in the mid-1980’s with its oak cabinets and brass hinges, limited counter space, drawers that stick, tile backsplash that might be kindly termed retro if it weren’t for the greyed grout that shouts “old”. Three clocks glow different digital shades of lime green, turquoise, and amber. The wall clock ticks – another 1980’s relic. It’s my favourite. I loved the ‘80’s.
Time to fall back and I resist. I think about not changing the clocks because what does it matter? We’re not going anywhere. No one is keeping tabs on our deliverables – we gave that up with work, thank god. Our deliverables now are time for coffee, time for breakfast, time to walk the dog. Frankly, the dog is as good a clock as we need. His whimpers and clicking toenails as he paces the wood floor urge us out of bed in the morning or demand feeding. His soulful stares at the front door tell us its walk time. What else do we need to know?
Lately I’ve become more like the dog anyway, tending to my bodily functions although both my spine and upbringing prevent me from gnawing on my feet or, you know, licking myself clean. Like our mutt, I stretch frequently – down-dogs, up-dogs, the cobra, the corpse – nap a bit, stare out the living room window. It’s a good life in which the clock is irrelevant, possibly even an irritant.
I watch the analog clock’s stiff, one-legged second hand click around in circles, a lurching Frankenstein, around and around and around going nowhere and noisy, to boot, in its lack of progress. Fake time. But then isn’t all time fake? Those coloured digital numbers are fake too. They might as well be purple or pink. Damn it, colour them any shade you like – it’s your time! But at least its silent though don’t be fooled: it’s a silent killer, like CO2.
Ticked off time is my preference, like a list – there, that’s done. I like the sound of time like church bells, the birthday song, the town clock gonging Westminster chimes, or best of all, cuckoo time because that’s where I am, maybe where we all are.
I’m still in the kitchen, one hand on the microwave tinkering with numbers, coordinating time and deciding whether it should read the same as the analog but that’s impossible because the analog is the kind with only four numbers – 12, 3, 6, and 9 – and impossible to tell the exact time. Anyway, as soon as I set the microwave’s clock to 6:09, the stove clock changes to 6:10 and the clock radio to 6:13. I could keep working on concordance but that seems like wasting time, eh?
So, that’s where I am – contemplating timelessness and howling with the dog at the setting moon beaming through the window.
After almost thirty years puttering in our small townhouse patch attempting to grow all manner of inappropriate things for the sun and soil conditions, I recognize that to be a gardener is to cultivate hope. And in the summer of 2020 more than anything, I needed a sanctuary of hope, someplace to sit and think or more likely, not think, and just breathe and be. Astonishingly, in the tire fire that has been 2020, an Asiatic lily bloomed after 10 years of nothing. All I did this year was move the plant one foot where it got just a bit more sun, enough to coax four flowers.
This fall I’ve had two acceptances for pieces of my writing. That gives me hope, too. The difference? Time. I retired on April 1 this year and I’ve had time to write, edit, research potential homes for my writing, and submit. I moved into the sun.
Fittingly, my first published poem is about hope. You can find it in Bywords, an on-line magazine published in Ottawa, Canada. “Bywords mission is to publish the poetry of current and former Ottawa residents, students and workers and to promote Ottawa’s literary, spoken word, storytelling and nonfiction activities.” Works are chosen by a panel of readers with poetry, academic and publishing credentials and to those folks I say thank you. I am tickled beyond belief that my first published poem appears in Ottawa’s own Bywords.
True to its title, Julie Ethan’s book, How Can Half the Country Be So Stupid? A Memoir and Guide to Friendship Between Political Opposites reads like a conversation between friends. Her guiding principle is “Relationships over politics,” so if you’re worried that the book is an attempt to change your political team, rest easy. As Julie points out, “Researchers have proven that facts don’t change our minds, that we won’t let go of our beliefs even when presented with contrary evidence.”
What you will hear in this 33-page, 10-chapter offering is Julie’s compassionate, humane voice. I’ve no doubt that if you went for coffee together, she’d ask about you, listen intently and make you feel at home knowing that conversational skill is, above all, a gesture of hospitality. The foundation of conversation requires listening and this is how we find common ground.
Julie’s conflict resolution credentials and life experiences as a mother and business owner are beautifully woven together in this book written in, of course, a conversational style. Part memoir, part self-help, part how-to guide, she offers her story and journey to show the reader how her ideas evolved. She takes the reader from motherhood in “Shenanigans and Lego Bricks” (best line: “We didn’t know much about Wall Street, but we knew the call of a loon, the smoky haze of a campfire, and the glow of a perfect sunset.”) to the final chapter, “Using Your Brain to Overcome the Urge to Murder Your Political Opposite”. The last chapter is not just about regulating your blood pressure and keeping yourself out of jail, it rallies all the previous ideas and suggestions in the book into concrete actions we can use to cool political discussions and maintain friendships.
The chapter, “A Blueprint for Bridges”, shows Julie using everything she has learned to bring people on opposing political sides together, to listen to each other, and to hear each other without being hostile. Even more than the chapter which recounts her family business economic crash between 2008 and 2010, this is a harrowing account of the canyon that separates people in America’s two-party camps and the pain felt in both groups. But Julie doesn’t wallow. Instead, she gives readers a tool to help identify the so-called “villains” in news media and campaign advertising. She shows the reader how to cultivate compassion by asking questions and how to listen.
The book’s goal is to build common links between all people and thereby restore some civility to political conversations and civic life. Given the chasm that seems to widen every day in the USA, the goal seems impossible, but Julie makes it look doable. As a Canadian and an outside observer let me assure you that Canada has its own polarized issues – our fraught and toxic relationship with First Nations’ peoples, for example – and her book is equally a guide for snowshoeing the blizzard of our national politics.
So, if facts don’t change our minds or help us see another point of view how do we find common ground? Julie proposes looking “… for underlying values you might share in the situation”, values like community, family and jobs.
I know this book will help me keep calm when having political conversations with those I may not agree with. I will take Julie’s advice and ask open ended questions, try to listen, AND hear the answers without launching into hyperbolic orbit. It may even help my blood pressure when watching or reading the news.
I urge you to give Julie’s book a shot. It might defuse discussions with friends and family AND infuse you with optimism about the future.
Scarlet petals speckle the patio.
– a begonia bloodbath.
Behind the fence on Bryson Lane
no one heard the chipmunk’s nutmeg
foot falls or smelled the yells
of crushed blooms or suspects
a Raymond Shaw betrayal. But
over in the fence corner,
the hydrangea is snappin’.
“The fallen blossoms weren’t there
yesterday and someone is to blame.
That’s the thorny rose of truth.”
Water oozes from the blooms
and snuffs the torch at the flower’s
core. Under the lawn chair,
that chipmunk surveys the scene
on tiny haunches, a twitch of furry nerves.
He knows a plant can’t fudge happy
and it won’t sing unless it wants to.
Go figure. It could have been
last night’s spilled bucket of cold fall
wind. We’ll never know whodunit except
it was inevitable, as these things are.
I counted the number of islands we covered in our ride on the Long Sault Parkway because the wind, which I didn’t count on pushing against me so vigorously, whispered “Quit. Sit.”
“You shit,” I said. This is my BIG day. My longest ride of the summer – 28 kilometres. So, no. I’m not quitting.” Continue reading
We grabbed the bikes provided by our hosts and headed down the paved part of Pritchard Road in the rolling terrain of the Gatineau Hills, north of Ottawa, in Quebec. My bike was a heavy, three-speed with coaster brakes. Remember those? You pedal backwards to make your bike stop. A quaint old thing. Like me.
No sooner did we turn onto Lac Bernard Road when the first hill rose, and halfway up, my legs shuddering, I dismounted and pushed that MOFO to the top. My heart was going nuts and I was panting like a sheepdog in the desert, all tongue and sweat. Ahead was brief plateau, a welcome downhill and then, bien sur, another incline. Continue reading
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
“I’m not dying on a diet,” said somebody re: Covid-19. I signed up for that plan. No longer do I scold my husband for destroying my attempts at sugar abstinence when he bakes his wonderful sourdough cinnamon buns. Yesterday I gobbled two with my morning tea then I chased the decadence with a bowl of plain Greek yogurt (penance for sure) and fresh strawberries. This is called balancing my dietary chakras. Om.
Crows keep me company on my daily walks and bike rides, which are not nearly long enough to counter the effects of cinnamon buns, but are good for my mental health as well as my cardiovascular system. Now that the fruit on our Montmorency cherry tree is ripe, the corvids greet me in the morning from its branches as they devour the sour morsels and I contemplate my schedule for the day. After they make a burp-like noise, which sounds shockingly human, and flap to the grass in the adjacent field and toddle about in search of their next course, I hoist my derriere out of my chair and put on my sneakers and meet them outside.
I head down the shady Sawmill Creek path. They hop behind me pecking at the grass and then lift off and follow the creek and disappear, cackling over the treetops. For a while it is quiet, until I head north on Queensdale Avenue when I hear one crow call over and over.
He’s perched on a smokestack overlooking a thin wedge of scraggly pines and birch trees and beyond that the bulrushes in Leitrim Creek’s wetland. It sounds like a lament to me but I’m a bit of a romantic. It could very well be a warning to other crows. Stay away. My turf here.
The thing is, whether I walk or ride my bike in the early morning or at lunchtime or just before dusk, that bird is there and he’s always talking. I hear him as I turn left again at the next street and make my way home. His voice follows me for a good kilometre or more. It has a strange echoing quality.
Our youngest daughter used to chatter non-stop. From the age of two to about four, she talked from the moment she woke until she went to bed and still, from bed, she would holler at us. I think she needed reassurance we were there, and she used her voice to keep us focused on her. Even when I was in the shower, she would stand outside the bathroom door and continue her soliloquy. I was incapable of having a thought of my own and I wished with all my heart she would just stop talking for five minutes so there would be space in my brain.
I think of her as I listen to the crow’s calls behind me. Now, at 20, we’re lucky to get a dozen words out of our daughter so maybe that’s why I’m paying such close attention to the crow. Atonement perhaps? I hear it. I’m paying attention.
As I approach home, I pass the small cemetery belonging to the local Catholic church. It’s a newish installation from the middle of the last century but despite that it has a pretty border of tall pine trees and scattered among the graves are a few apple trees and small shrubs. Gracing two large headstones are four crows, all of them facing the same direction and all of them with their mouths open, their tongues still. Are they waiting for the dead to speak? Could the dead be speaking but only the crows can hear? If that’s the case, its comforting to know the crows are on the job. Even the dead need to be heard.
“Hi crows,” I say as I pass them.
As is their polite way, they bob their heads and then, one by one, fly into a maple tree waiting for someone else to come by and take interest.
Joy is not meant to be a crumb.
from Don’t Hesitate, by Mary Oliver
The play on the word crumb tickled me. First is the obvious meaning: something small such as a fragment of bread or a cake. And the by-product of something small like a fragment. Maybe something so small you can barely see it. Joy should never be small, even if it is fleeting.
Then there’s the other meaning of crumb: Someone who is an objectionable person. If joy was personified or an object, would it be a crumb? Nosiree. Joy would be a cake, definitely a three layer delight.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
“Wrong was easy: gravity helped it.
Right is difficult and long.”
I lifted this quote from a blog called earthweal where Brendan writes essays on nature and climate change and posts related poetry challenges. His posts are insightful, loving, hopeful and beautiful and might inspire you to pick up your pen in your thirst for peace in CoVid time.
The quote from Wendell Berry struck me as appropriate for the challenge we face during the pandemic – giving up convenience and what we used to think of as normal for doing something that might be a lot harder and take much longer than the time it takes to drink our double-shot caramel macchiato.
These days time feels like an ice-cube in August. Stay cool, friends.
P.S. – In case you hadn’t noticed, I am posting less frequently as I work on a long project. If you’d like, you can find me on Instagram where I drop pictures of my adorable dog or from my daily walks. No politics, no platform, no mean memes. I am NOT an influencer, just a human.
Social media and I have an uneasy history and the account is private so if I don’t recognize your name, I won’t confirm the follow request. There are limits, dear people.