Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts of History and Hats

Wednesday evening last week, I went to my mother's to spend some time with my uncle on his last night here this year. Spending time with Poul is always fun - he has a seemingly inexhaustible store of really bad jokes.... hang on, here's my favorite. It's better told in person, so feel free to spread it around:

You ask the innocent victim to define the difference between unlawful and illegal. After they very seriously have attempted to navigate the nuances, earnestly explaining their reasoning to you, you end with this sentence: "one is against the law, the other is a sick bird". It's ridiculously funny every single time.

Spending time with Poul is also fascinating - he's had the kind of life many of us dream about. After the war (that’d be World War II), he left the small provincial town in which my mother's family lived so fast you couldn't see him for the smoke and went to Germany to work for the U.S. Army. He has told stories about the ruined infrastructure, the rubble that was once homes, shops, schools and hospitals, about the wounded limping around town, some without legs propelling themselves forward by their arms while seated on a small square piece of wood on which they had affixed four wheels. He has told us stories about being at the Nuremberg trials when Hermann Goering was on the stand - can you imagine? To be part of such an important moment in history.

It was in Germany that he met his wife Paula, a beautiful young widow with a child. Paula twice lost everything in the war and I've heard the story of how she once escaped with only a suitcase, the clothes on her back and her little girl a toddler, her mother, who was sick and a pregnant sister-in-law. The only reason this little group was allowed on the train taking the wounded soldiers out of the city was because Paula worked for the Red Cross. They were evacuated to the country, where they lived on a farm, barely getting anything to eat and having to work hard in exchange for a few potatoes. It is through knowing Paula that I know not everyone who was a member of the Nazi party agreed with its ideology. Her father was a teacher and had to sign up in order to keep his job and feed his family (and, I suspect, stay out of the camps) - there were no other options.

After the war, Poul continued working for the U.S. Army and has worked all over the world, including England, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He used to travel to the US bases in Greenland three times a year, has flown over a calving glacier in a helicopter and always brought back a reindeer roast for the extended family get-together on Boxing Day. By the way? Rudolph is very, very tasty.

Poul is a gypsy, having not only lived in many countries, but also visited many others on his travels. He once calculated that he has been to 74 different countries in this world and I am beyond envious. On Wednesday evening, he told a story about how he went to Kwai - yes, that one - and walked across the bridge, saw the cemetery where the POWs who built the bridge are buried. My uncle is a piece of living history, carrying memories of times and places that I've only read about in books.

I grew up hearing stories about the war, about what it was like living in an occupied country. In the town in which my mother grew up, there was an old building transformed into a prison hospital and she used to play in a garden adjacent to the grounds. The wounded German soldiers held there would stand by the fence, looking at the children, speaking to them in German, sometimes showing a picture of their own children, but not understood by the Danish kids. Connection was in smiles exchanged between the vanquished and the children of the liberated. I grew up hearing stories about the time when mor was less than 10 and witnessed an informer being gunned down on the street in bright daylight. Stories about the neighbours hiding Jews in the attic, someone else rowing them across the sound to safety in Sweden and about the time the Germans came looking for I don't know what, waking up the family, standing in the hallway where I played so many years later, machine guns at the ready. And she has told stories of what happened after the war, when the women who had been with the soldiers, sometimes to feed their kids, were paraded through the little town, the crowd spitting on their shaved heads.

We have no idea what this is like, growing up in safety, in countries that are not invaded and occupied. We hear the words "never again", but I don't think we know what it means, what it is that needs to never happen again. In Denmark, every year, we commemorate the occupation and the liberation, every year there are documentaries about the concentration camps, about the resistance and this annual ritual of building memory in new generations helps a little, begins an understanding of what is in the so recent past. And I think growing up in a place where war was so recent, where each story of courage and beauty is accompanied by another of the ugliness and horror of war, where all of it, not just the victory, is still in living memory is why I am a pacifist. I think that having a family member who was "the enemy" has helped me understand that there is no black and white, only shades of grey. That "the enemy" is people, too - people who suffer, people who may not agree with their government, people who have no choice.

We say we need to listen to the stories of our parents and grandparents, but as a culture, there isn't much attention paid to anyone over 60. Or to anything that happened more than a few decades ago (if that - Rwanda and Darfur, anyone?). Too often, in this busy world, we don't make time for reflection on the past and without it, we can't see nuances, only two-dimensional white hats and black hats. Without understanding the past, carrying its lessons with us into the present, we are doomed to repeat it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An Interview with Mea McNeil: Seeing Clearly

Some time ago, I spoke to a very interesting woman. The post with the interview is up at healthCentral:

'"I had to stop cold in order to wake up."

M.E.A. McNeil, author of
The First Year - Rheumatoid Arthritis: an Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed speaks of the RA flare that trapped her in bed, "unable to turn over ... watch television or read" with gratitude."

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

Before I start with the main post, I'd like to hijack this forum for something important. My dear friend and adopted cousin (perhaps sister, we're fuzzy on the details) Beth is very sick, fighting her way through a medical establishment that seems determined not to help and bent double under the crippling costs involved when you're terminal. Her partner Linda has started a blog with updates on their struggles, updates about Beth when she's unable to blog and at the behest of all of Beth's internet family has included a PayPal button. I know firsthand from Steph's Knitters Without Borders how small individual donations can make something big happen and am spreading the word in the hope that it will help ease at least part of the strain for them. Please take a minute to read Linda's first post and if the spirit moves you, the PayPal button's on the right sidebar. Thank you.

On with the show.


I don't remember how old I was when I first read Born Free, but I know that it kindled within me a burning desire to become a game warden in the Serengeti. Unlike working with Jacques Cousteau, an equally strong desire, but one based in the thrill of exploring the unknown, reading about life in Africa felt oddly familiar. You know that feeling? I'm fond of saying that one of the best arguments for reincarnation I've ever encountered is the feeling I've occasionally been privileged to have upon meeting a new person, the 'ah, there you are' sense of instant recognition, as if the person is utterly familiar, just wearing a different exterior. Reading about Africa felt like that and ever since, whenever I've been able to get my hands on a book written by someone who grew up in a game warden's family or on a farm, I've devoured it, the stories new, yet faintly familiar, like a childhood memory so long ago that it seems a dream.

Alexandra Fuller grew up in Africa and her first book is called Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: an African Childhood. A memoir of her childhood, it follows the Fuller family’s trials and tribulations during the war of independence in then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and after. And there’s a significant amount of trials and tribulations. They are poor, live on several farms (either their own or managing for others), none of which are successful, the war makes everything more difficult and then there are the children who die and the mother who goes more than a little mad with the grief of it all.

Now, that sounded as if I'm telling you not to get the book to prevent you from sinking into a deep vicarious depression, but not at all. On the contrary, I'm giving this a high recommendation and not just for those of us who believe we spent a previous life in Africa. Fuller paints with words, paints a portrait of Africa so immediate that you can feel the itch of sweat on your skin, smell the spicy, smoky scent of the bush, hear the lowing of the cattle, see the red earth, the soldiers at the border crossings leaning on their rifles. It is a precarious existence, living close to the bone in a dying culture of colonialism, the British ex-pats desperately trying to hold on to a white way of life, smoking and drinking hard, resisting the inevitable change until the end.

I had no idea that Zimbabwe became independent as late as 1980 and the description of growing up in this colonial world during a time when I was growing up in Denmark stunned me. The archaic attitudes towards anyone nonwhite, the casual racism, the institutionalized caste system of white first, coloured second and black last was one that I thought at this time existed only in the South African apartheid system and I was more than a little shocked at my lack of knowledge. When I bought this book a couple of years ago, I read a reader’s review on Amazon that ripped the book to shreds for what the reader claimed was they saw as a tacit approval of this culture, criticizing Fuller for not offering a more severe condemnation of the world she grew up in. I disagree - the book is written through the eyes of a child, reporting what happens to herself and her family with no judgment, thereby offering an unflinching look at the reality of ex-pat life, of the wrenching, tearing force that is necessary to change something so entrenched to the exact opposit.

To read a book written in a way that makes you feel you are there with Alexandra and her family, to get sucked into life on an African farm, battling flies, worms, cobras in the kitchen, waiting for rain, mourning loss, celebrating life was an incredible experience. What made it even better I was when I realized that while visiting the pages of this book, I had come to absorb this way of life and not just life in Africa, but the way of thinking as normal, no longer instinctively wincing at a casual, racist reference (which is quite something, for someone who used to work in the human rights field). I think listening to the audio book drew me in further - the book is narrated by, who does a wonderful job, getting most of the accents and inflections just right, making it easier to feel as if I were there. One of the attendants who comes to help me out is from Zimbabwe and I spoke to her about the war, about the women and children being held in camps so they wouldn't cook for the rebels, the danger before the war ended and after, when Mugabe took over and never left, having as tight a grip on the country and its people as the British did.

Don't Let's Go down to the Dogs Tonight is a terrific book. It's a book that entertained and astonished, made me feel, outrage blending with understanding, sadness with laughter. It taught me things and led me to explore ideas and history, gave me an opportunity to hear more from the other side. That’s a gift. I want to read more by Alexandra Fuller.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Poul & Tink Weekend

My uncle Poul is here for his annual visit - well, we skipped last year due to mor (my mother) being busy healing broken ankles, so this visit is even more special. I hope that when I'm Poul's age (85), I'll be half as active and globetrotting. Come to think of it, being half as active and globetrotting as he is at my present age would be just fine! We've been having a grand time, but not much time for writing down words, so you'll have to settle for a visual report and Tink Fix for the Tink Freaks. Remember when they looked like this?

This weekend, the whole family got together. First, a badly edited video of lunch entertainment, starting with the door game mor and I taught the kids a month ago (much to the continued "delight" of their parents). Which made me wonder when we learn to suppress joy - watching the kids literally jump with it because a door opens was wonderful:


video

Poul and Michele


Hanging out on the roof garden at my mother's new place - mor, Ken and Poul.


Intense togetherness with TinkPapa and TinkMama (a.k.a. my sister Janne and brother-in-law John)

Photo by Michele

And ending with the two people who have a starring role in most of my photos from this weekend. First, Liam builds a rock garden. Soon after this photo was snapped, I heard him mutter to himself "I need a bigger rock!". He's such a boy. And rather brilliant. He found four rectangualr clay pieces and made first a caterpillar and then arranged them seemingly randomly and proclaimed it a flamingo. Which it was - one for head, two for body and one for the foot. Abstract, yet clear.


And Morgan caught in a rare moment of sitting still. I have rather a lot of photos of the girl's leg, back of her head or a hand, obtained while pointing the camera towards her doing something adorable, but by the time the shutter clicks, she's moved on. The personification of mercurial


Friday, September 19, 2008

Random September

Before we start the party/countdown to the weekend, I need to put a call for help out there. For years, I have spent a significant part of my time managing Mojo's constipation, but in the past three weeks since her return from the hospital with a diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis, it's a bit the other way. She needs to eat a low-fat diet, but the vast majority of the low-fat cat food out there is also a high fibre and to put it a smidge indelicately, fiber renders her bowels liquid. Even really small amounts of fibre. Although she does well on other foods for about a day, by the third meal, she starts going downhill. Eric the Cat Whisperer at my vet's office has tracked down a low-fat food and although I'm hopeful, history with Her Royal Catness indicates that I should have a Plan B (and C, D, E, possibly down to M). Does anyone out there have or know of an aging, supersensitive cat, possibly with IBD that gets a different kind of food? A friend of mine gave her cat baby food - anyone else heard of that? I need options, I need thinking outside the box - anything is welcome. Well, except the raw diet, because I have a suppressed immune system, so that's probably not a good idea.

On with the show! First, it’s time to get bit ranty.

With the recent flurry of hurricanes, I got curious and started poking around to see how they got named. Found all sorts of fascinating information about hurricanes, including this page listing the names for 2008 hurricanes (and others). In which the hurricane starting with H is Hortense and I is Isidore. Except on this continent, they were called Hanna and Ike. And I'm wondering why, but since I wandered away from Google before I found the answer, I am going to make a huge assumption here it which has to do with the tendency for the English speaking to alter perfectly decent names because they might be, oh I don't know, difficult to pronounce? A little bit foreign-sounding? What is wrong with these people? Isidore is a fantastic name for a hurricane! I realize that "Ike" was rather recent and it’s possibly too early to get abstract about it, but… erm… I mean, Isidore!!

Moving on before I get lynched! The latest product for kids out there is Kelloggs cereal straws and it says right there on the box that it "makes milk FUN to drink!" and is it just me or is this completely ridiculous? First of all, I've looked up the ingredient list on a few of the varieties (example here) and the second ingredient is sugar. It's not enough that the cereal aisle places colorful boxes of sugary crap right in kid height, exiling all the healthier cereals to the top shelf out of sight, now we have to make drinking milk rot the wee ones’ teeth, as well! What's wrong with what my parents did? Taught us that milk was an inherent part of a meal. That's what you got to drink, not pop (except for special occasions), not Ribena, which you might get for your afternoon snack on warm days, another days, you were allowed to put Nesquik into your milk, but for lunch and dinner, you got a glass of milk. As did my parents. And with the exception of a few children out there, it is my opinion as a non-parent that the companies and their advertising departments have persuaded us that it is impossible to get healthy things into kids unless you drench it in sugar. Sometime ago, when I rhetorically wondered why they put all this sugar in food geared to kids (and kid-specific food is a rant for another day), someone I know said "because otherwise kids won't eat it" (name withheld as this person is normally a very smart individual and should not be mocked) and that is my point exactly - because after a lifetime of exposure to this message, a normally very intelligent individual has absorbed by osmosis that kids won't eat something healthy unless you drown it in sugar. It's all about context - my friend AB’s kids who have grown up in Denmark ate no candy when they were here because it was too sweet. Kids will (generally) eat what you teach them to eat!

I saw Halloween decorations in my local supermarket BEFORE LABOUR DAY! I really think there ought to be a law prohibiting display of holiday-specific items and decoration before the previous holiday has passed. Excluding New Years, due to its proximity to Christmas. Shall we start a petition?

On to the political part of the program. As our illustrious prime Minister (or, as he’s sometimes known, Bush’s Mini Me) has just called an election, let’s review why I won’t be voting for him. A video called The Real McCain which is pretty amusing, as well as enlightening. And lastly, you can all blame Lynn for sending me this one. Very definitely NSFW.

The Paralympic Games have been happening in Beijing, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who’s missed the coverage in the media. In fact, the Paralympics did not make the front page of the Toronto Star’s website (and I check it several times a day) until Stephanie Dixon won her fourth medal at the Games (whereas the able-bodied athletes dominated the papers despite not winning any medals for the first week). Two days later, Chantal Petitclerc won her fifth medal at the Games (her 21st medal over five Paralympics) and, according to the article, in so doing, "[r]aised the profile of Paralympic athletes". That's funny. As far as I can tell, they have no profile. However! Via The 19th Floor, a link to some fantastic pictures from the Games.

In just under the wire, sent to me by Trevor, an Israeli village plans a DNA database for dog poop. Wish we had that around my neighbourhood. And lastly, if you haven't tried Free Rice before, do it now. It's addicting and does something good, too. And on your way out, this video of a ninja cat in action had me howling.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Notes from the Swamp

I'm writing this from the bottom of Lake Ontario. The swampy part. Sounds weird? Allow me to explain...

This weekend, the remnants of hurricane Ike came up this way, with cloudy skies and rain and when it wasn't raining, it was building up to the rain. And then building up some more, saturating the air with so much moisture it dampened your skin. As the gods had also seen fit to manufacture a humidex, for the first time in several weeks, the combination of clouds brewing rain, warm-ish, yet not sunny had me feeling clammy to the point that I felt ready to grow moss on exposed appendages. Well, on Saturday, anyway - Sunday, it was sunny enough to kick temps to a humidex of 37 (98-99F), which added sweaty to the clammy. Enter the part where TCHC management has decided to turn off the A/C a full 10 days before the City of Toronto bylaw mandates heat must be provided, living in an incredibly tight building that holds on to whatever is in it as greedily as Scrooge McDuck guards his gold and not only was I feeling a tinge of green on my arms and feet, my entire apartment felt like it was on the edge of a marsh. Opening the windows only let in more moisture-saturated air and by Saturday afternoon, after a mere 24 hours of it, I was ready to join the cat in the closet, where apparently, there was a pocket of cooler air. Unfortunately, the closet is not wheelchair accessible.

Sitting around in my imaginary marsh has brought back memories of my adolescence in Denmark where water, lakes and the like had starring parts. There was a group of us who were friends and we used to take long walks, me in my manual wheelchair, them pushing. We'd walk for hours, starting in our suburban neighbourhood, old brick houses surrounded by dense, green hedges, and head towards Furesøparken, a lovely grassy area, undulating gently down to Furesøen, a large lake. We went there a lot, it was one of our favorite places and in the summer, around sunset, you'd see the swallows flying there and when they flew low, we knew it would rain the next day.

When we wanted a longer walk, we continued into the woods down by the lake. It was beautiful there, the land belonging to a local member of the Danish aristocracy, a count maybe, and somewhere in these woods, right next to the shore of the lake, was a tiny red house with a thatched roof. My mormor (Danish for maternal grandmother) grew up there, one of 10 children and I was ever amazed that the tiny house could hold that many people. Life was tough back then - she told stories of ice on the comforters in the winter, of being sent into service at age 14 where she was told to butcher a calf, but not knowing how and rendered incapable by the liquid brown eyes of the animal, she didn't. She also told sad stories, of one of her brothers dying as a small boy and because it was winter, he lay on the porch until the ground thawed enough for him to be buried. Only a small child herself at the time, my mormor would visit him there on the porch until spring came.

Somewhere in those woods was a pond, encircled by trees dipping their branches into the water. I remember a bridge across the pond and walking over it in the dusk on a summer's after-dinner stroll, the pond heavy with lilypads, white and purple flowers dotting the surface and in the spaces between, pond skaters chased their evening meal. I miss the Danish summer nights, never quite dark, north enough that although the sun sets, it does so late and leaves enough light that you feel as if you can stay up all night, in the magic of midsummer and the bonfires of St. Hans.

In the swampy areas like this, there are frogs and one of our neighbours had a tiny pond in the backyard filled with them. One summer, we got some of the frogs’ eggs, about 26 of them, and put them in an aquarium we placed in the hallway window right next to the front door. And for weeks, we'd watch the eggs turn into tadpoles – we only lost two -and then legs grew and the tail receded and before we knew it, we had an aquarium filled with tiny baby frogs that we set free back at the pond.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Wire

For a while, I've been vaguely aware of The Wire and of it being touted as a fantastic show, but it was on HBO and HBO shows are broadcast only on TMN up here and I'm too cheap to get that. Also, I rarely rent series - again motivated by the cheap part of me who whimpers at the thought of the investment in case I like the show. Besides, yet another reinvention of cops and drug dealers? I had my doubts. But a few weeks ago, Beth and I had a conversation about the show and she gave it a glowing recommendation. I trust her judgment, so naturally I went to my local video store and rented The Shield. Because I only remembered that it was two words and the first was 'the' and The Shield just seems more prevalent in the public consciousness. It turned out that The Shield is not to my taste. I know people who are crazy about the show and that's their prerogative, but for me, having our "hero" essentially be a sociopath with a shield isn't really entertaining. It's the same reason I can't watch Dexter - yes, I know it's a fabulous show and I love what'shisname in the lead role, but I tried watching it and have apparently become so soft in my old age that I cannot get past the part where dude kills people and that’s a good thing. I don't care if his victims are horrible people who "deserve" killing, the whole thing just creeps me out. I used to be made of sterner stuff than this...

Anyway! Local video store didn't have the first season of The Wire and as Beth has been known to occasionally be a very motivated person, she gifted me with her copy of Season One, neatly wrapped in Hello Kitty wrapping paper and is it just me or is the juxtaposition of Hello Kitty and the storyline of the show within it hysterically funny? I sat on it for a week while I finished some work and on my alleged week off, started watching it. And was blown away.

The Wire is the story of a group of cops trying to bust open an organization of drug dealers. The brass just wants the case to go away, the criminals are unbelievably smart and it involves a lot of good, old-fashioned police work - chasing the paper trail, listening to boring telephone conversations, the drudgery of getting two steps forward and moving one back. The series takes its time and it really, really works. I haven't seen any of these actors before and they are all incredible, subtle and nuanced. The writing is out of this world - while I was being entertained by the storyline, I was trying to absorb the quality by osmosis, hoping it would make me a better writer. And the combination of writing, direction and acting makes this one of the best series I've ever seen.

There were many moments that highlighted how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in this show, some heartbreaking, some laugh-out-loud funny, but I think my favorite was the scene in one of the early episodes, where the characters of Bunk and McNulty (both homicide detectives) figure out what happened at of murder scene through the use of their intellect, experience, some photos and variations of the f-word. Seriously, no other words are used in that scene and it flows like nothing I've ever seen before.

Halfway through, I started dreaming the show, coming up with story lines in my dreams and because it is so good, so real, these people started to seem real - I feel I know them and very much want to know what happens next for them. And I most definitely will be watching the rest of the series, even if it means impoverishing myself by renting it.

Go get it. You won't regret it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Verdant

It rained again yesterday. A quiet rain, falling on and off, making the streets glisten under cloudy skies. It looked like fall had come early, sidewalks dotted with umbrellas and those who didn't have shelter sprinting down the street.

It's been a summer of rain, feels like thunderstorms rolled in almost every day, dumping buckets of water on the city. This summer, I learned that most thunderstorms happen between 4 and 9 p.m. and most of the storms we've had this year seem to happen after dinner. And I loved it, loved sitting inside watching the sunset sky turn colours I’ve only seen in paintings.


Loved it as the after-sunset sky flashed lightning, rumbles travelled across the heavens and large drops of rain hit my windows with splat after splat, each drop seemingly the size of a ripe, black cherry.


People don't like it, this summer so unlike other Canadian summers.
Barely any heat waves, barely any long stretches of steaming heat leaving us panting in the noonday sun. Canadian summers just aren't supposed to be like this, mid-20s, clouds building in the middle of the afternoon and before you know it, the flash above followed by a boom and it's time to run for cover again.


But I don't mind and not just because the summer has felt like a warmer version of the Danish summers in which I spent my first 20 years, never-ending rain being an integral part of life when you grow up surrounded by ocean.
No, the reason I not only don't mind, but actually like it, is because accompanying all the wet is the green. This summer, the city is greener than I've seen in years, maybe even decades. Green is everywhere, nourished by the buckets and buckets of water upended upon us, flourishing, growing, sprouting everywhere, bright green, dark green, glowing green and after a long winter of masses of white - remember this? And this? - green is good. Green is very, very good.


Every day when I go out, my eyes drink in the green and I can feel it as a balm on my eyes, cooling a soul burned by months of seeing nothing but bare branches against the white.
Seeing nothing but shades of black, gray and brown, spindly, skeletal fingers reaching for the sky, reaching for you as you pass on the sidewalk, surrounding you until your view of the world becomes monochrome. And this summer off the rain is anything but monochrome, it is bright, technicolour, vivid splashes of colour, of life, bursting everywhere with the slightest provocation, taking over a city of concrete and bricks and making it look like the countryside. And in late summer, instead of lawns looking like hay from the lack of water, instead of plants drooping, wilted and exhausting, they are instead so green it looks almost fake. And every day, I store the green in my soul, like squirrels store nuts for the winter, so I'll survive the coming season of monochrome.


And all of this green is because of the rain and so, I am grateful for the buckets and buckets of water upended upon us this year.


Besides, it isn't snow and really, what else do you need?

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Beginner’s Guide to Side Effects

My latest post is up on HealthCentral:

"The average person farts about 14 times a day. If you are on a medication for RA, you can probably double that."

Which may explain why I'm so damn longwinded? Anyway! The rest of the post is here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

*Pop!*

It's been kind of rough lately around here. A busy year, an even busier summer and on top of all the busy, I’ve done battle with my blasted shoulder since January and I am sick to death of it. Because it seems to be neverending and every time I get a little ahead, something will happen - at times due to my own stupidity, at other times not - and the injury gets aggravated and after seven months of it, I have lost my bounceback. I no longer shrug, laugh at myself, sit still and take drugs or use it as an opportunity to rest. Instead, it just makes me cry and this past week in particular has been pretty damp - last Friday, while at the grocery store, I put some bananas on the conveyor belt at the cashier and thoroughly wrecked it all again. And it was the last straw. Then there was the inevitable taking stock of one's life that happens around birthdays and New Year's, plus some very nice socializing with friends related to the birthday. Which also served as reminders about what I used to do, but can do no longer. Like going out for meals with friends, sitting around and chatting for hours without having to spend a day or two recovering because socializing = pain. Like nimble minds jumping from point to point, not obscured by a haze of pain and painkillers, the debate an aerial ballet of ideas and I realized I miss it very much. I miss who I used to be, I miss having a clear mind, I miss going out, being part of the world. I miss my life.

At the end of last year, I wrote about not minding my small life, but this damn (permanent?) injury has shrunk it even smaller and after seven months of it, it has beat me down, ground me into the earth and flattened me. I am at the temper tantrum stage, the one where I (metaphorically) stomp my feet and scream that it is not fair, that it's time to stop picking on me, to please let go, please, because I give up. I surrender. I have no more fight in me.

Yes, I know. This again. I’d really hoped I wouldn’t have to do this again.

A few weeks ago, I talked to someone about how a serious illness – like a severe flare - can give you the gift of perspective. Except, it was all theoretical on my end, because at the time, I had no perspective, my head being firmly up my arse. And I had a highly entertaining email exchange with Sheryl, after she told the story in the comments about her therapist giving her an assignment of doing nothing for five minutes (and naturally not doing it until the very last minute before the next appointment) and still, it didn't penetrate the miasma of misery. There are times when the fog gets so thick that all you can see is shadows of long-dead fishermen ominously dripping seawater and clacking the hooks at the end of their arms. And then, while I was at the park doing nothing in the sun on Monday, I decided to read a bit of Writing Down the Bones, a book I've listened to over the summer, one chapter at a time, getting inspired by the wisdom therein every time. At the end of the audiobook, there’s an interview with the author and I listened to her talking about how your "monkey mind" gets in the way - a Buddhist term for the part of your brain that convinces you you're too busy (or incompetent or whatever) to do what your true heart wants.

Sometimes, the universe has to hit you on the head with a shovel before you listen. Because that’s the point where my head exited my arse with a pop so loud it rattled the windows. My monkey mind lately has been stuck in this mourning of loss - of ability, of people, of self - and although there is an argument to be made for processing the grief, there is also a point where it merely creates static, obscuring the truth below.

It is indeed about surrendering. Surrendering to reality, letting go of the fight when the fight has become flailing, has become counterproductive to the goal of finding hope and peace again. I forgot that past a certain point, it takes more than sitting still, taking painkillers and pacing myself to the point where I want to scream with frustration because I get nothing done. I forgot that I need to meditate and that meditation isn't sitting still with closed eyes listening to a trashy romance drown out my thoughts. I forgot that meditation is an active process, that I have to participate and I have to practice living in hope every day. I forgot that when I don't, the slick black oil of hopelessness can permeate everything, sickening the soul and making it hard to breathe.

I am not quite done with my temper tantrum, but at least now, I realize that railing against being bullied by the universe only makes it harder. And that I have to somehow find a way around it, that if I can't get through, I have to sneak past the obstacle and on the other side, life awaits. And no, it isn't what it used to be, but it is life nonetheless and there to be lived.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Revelation, A Question and A Winner

I had to get to 46 (see? No age-related issues now) before I realized I look good in a tiara. This could be important to know in case I become royalty at some point. Birthday lunch with mor, Michele and her wonderful "boys" - Scott on the left and Jason on the right (I held these two as newborns and am forever stunned by how tall they are now). Yes, I went out in public wearing a piece of Miss America-style head jewelry with two balloons trailing behind me. The best part was watching people trying to keep a straight face.


Is that what I think it is? Or is there a particular mechanical reason why a vehicle might require what appears to be a pair of massive golden, ornamental testicles to hang from its undercarriage??


Fpr those who're not believing their eyes, here's a close-up


And following the Testicle Act - now there's something you don't say every day - it's time to announce the winner of Thursday's contest. Loved all the stories of great birthdays - thanks for sharing them.

I asked Beth to select a number between 1 and 32. She told me she selected 23 because it - and I quote - "
is a number which is both prime and an inverse of the number highest to be picked, ergo the equivilant of 3 (from 1-4 - which is what people will most likely pick." I don't know what that means, although it yet again confirmed that the woman's way smarter than I am, but the important thing is that comment #23 won. Then I sat down to determined who left comment #23 and as Stephanie occasionally experiences, had a bit of trouble with the counting. I went through the blasted comment box 5 times before I had the same comment twice, which I took as confirmation that I'd hit the right one. The winner is Patti, in a comment educating me about the correct term for a much younger lover. Seems somehow fitting. A-hem. Congratulatiosn, Patti! Email me at landers5ATgmailDOTcom with your choice of print and address and I'll get right on that. Well, unless you choose the photo called The Old Woman and the Sea, then it might take a while....