Monday, July 31, 2006

I am woman, hear me...

Twin yellow bruises. One on each leg, just above the knee. Various other discolorations that mark the occasion of a living room rearrangement. Weight on the legs, not the back. I recite this mantra to myself as my muscles and ligaments go into shock, as I balance a bookshelf taller than I am on the top of my legs. It’s 95 degrees in my apartment and the humidity is high enough to verge on requiring gills to breathe. I’m hauling – not dragging – bookshelves around the room. I’m lifting them over the explosion of dispelled books and bric-a-brac on the floor.

I’ve spent two solid hours of the morning sipping coffee and looking at the living room with lethal intentions. I’ve hit the burn-it-or-change-it stage. My insurance isn’t high enough to make me independently wealthy and I’m not an experienced pyromaniac, so changing it around seems to be the only option.

It takes hours. All those books. All that vacuuming, dusting, hauling. The table returns to the tiny dining area. The plants move out. I’m sweaty and panting with effort. I eat boiled eggs and toast in the middle of a suburban war zone where the combatants have tried to kill each other with copies of How to Grow A Novel and small wooden cow ornaments whose "hooves" double as muscle massagers.

A male friend visits the next day. “Did you do all this yourself?” Oh, I’m smug. I’m smirking with self-satisfaction.
“Do you see anyone else here?”

Damn! This makes up for the desk I spent hours assembling, only to haul it upright and have it collapse on my knees. At midnight. It makes up for having to holler for help from my next-door neighbor, Kevin. Who tells me, sympathetically, that I had all the pieces together right, but I just (a tiny detail) didn’t tighten the screws right.

It makes up for the Scorpio snickering at my standing fan assembly last summer. There it was, fanning its’ heart out, revolving like a good fan, upright, sturdy. I was so proud. And he started to grin.
“You see that piece there? In the middle?”
“Yeah. It’s decorative.” Oh shit. Shit. It isn’t is it? “Decorative,” I repeat, defiantly.
He gets up, whips the stand apart and puts the decorative piece on the bottom, where, strangely, it actually fits.


But now? My friend stands back and observes the rearrangement. “It’s about perfect,” he says. “You got it just right.” I puff up with pride.
“You’ll be moving it in the winter though, right? Because it’s blocking the heat vents?”


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Small musing...

“Perhaps the ultimate indignity is loneliness without privacy.”
-Alden Nowlan, “Scratchings,” Between Tears and Laughter

I used to wish, towards the end of a long and mostly happy marriage, that I could walk into the kitchen and make a cup of coffee without feeling compelled to yell out, “I’m making coffee, do you want some?”

I used to fantasize about being alone – not that I wanted to do anything special or covert. I only wanted to gulp the silence down. To not be aware of the presence of anyone else. To wordlessly make a single cup of coffee.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the passive aggressive resistance that is peculiar to long relationships. “God give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change…”

Many marriages (not to mention family relationships and close friendships) are, at least in part, one long stretch of d├ętente. One long stretch of learning to accept the things we cannot change in ourselves and the people we share our lives with – and learning to understand that they are struggling with the same acceptance of us.

X’s husband will not finish the picky details of a house renovation, although she’s asked him time after time. Although he has the tools, the skills, although it wouldn’t take much effort. My ex never gives notice when he needs a small favor…something typed or mended. He doesn’t return phone calls and used to leave me floundering on the line, trying to make an excuse to save someone’s feelings. Z fusses and worries every small decision to death. I am a control freak with budgets and cannot bear an unmade bed. Eventually, I will always say the unthinkable out loud.

All this chaffing and rubbing between us…

Resistance to the drip, drip, drip of another person’s demands. A wayward streak in all of us says, no matter how much we love another person, you aren’t the boss of me. It’s that part that craves a measure of solitude, freedom of movement, change. It’s the part that recently caused a long-married friend to wail, “I love the guy but I need my own room.

In me, it’s a slightly larger part than the fear of being alone.

And I guess that’s what really decides it. Whether we stay in a marriage or not. Not whether we are lonely inside a relationship, because everyone is sometimes, but whether we can bear to be lonely without privacy. Whether the person with us can recognize loneliness and be secure enough to give us privacy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My mind and other places not on the map

Miz T writes, “This letter is coming from some part of me I’m not close to right now – I feel as though I’m yelling to myself down an airshaft and my body is taking notes.

“I wish I could say I don’t know how that feels,” I reply.

Not pleasantly or unpleasantly lethargic the last couple of days, I have the sensation of drifting slightly outside myself. It began yesterday morning when I’d risen at some ungodly hour and then sent myself back to bed for an extra hour. I dreamed this private episode of the X Files:

It starts with leaving several bags of groceries on the number twenty bus. I am in a small coffee shop/corner store on the Herring Cove Road, where I’m waiting for the bus to loop and return so I can retrieve my forgotten groceries. In front of me is a huge black payphone, old-fashioned, with a rotary dial. There is nothing on it, no phone company stickers, no brand name, no instructions. I am annoyed with myself for being forgetful and I’m anxiously trying to find the number of the transit company so that I can ask them to radio the driver and tell him I’m picking up my lost shopping, but the phone book pages are printed on blue from beginning to end – no yellow pages, and I can’t seem to read the alphabetical listing.

Suddenly I am home. But it’s a mistake. It’s not my home. The place is old and dimly lit, musty and empty - everything in it is made from wood so old that even the paint has worn away. I seem to be standing in a kitchen. The only colors are brown and grey – and the counters and cupboards, even the floors and ceilings meet at crazy angles. Another of those featureless pay phones hangs on the wall. I’m desperately repeating Weedy’s phone number to myself but realize my purse is missing. Somehow, I manage to find several coins and drop them in the phone. As the last one registers, a recorded voice cuts in, “Citizens do not need to place outside calls.”

This blood-chilling assurance sends me running to find an exit. Coming out the front door, I stop long enough to get my bearings. The surrounding houses and streets are as colorless as the house I’m in…leaning, toppling, sinking into the ground. There isn’t a blade of grass, a leaf, a weed. The landscape is tumble-down brown, mud and rock and it’s completely abandoned. The air is stagnant. A street sign lolls at a 30 degree angle near me. It reads, “Cavendish Road” – my old address.

Frantic, employing the logic of the deeply terrified, I think, Of course, this must be the other Cavendish Road, the one in Dartmouth. Whether it is or isn’t is a moot point, however, because I have to get out of there. There’s a rickety board sidewalk leading away and I follow it, stopping abruptly as it ends at the top of a cliff-steep hill. No stairway. To my left, the ground slopes steeply down…mud, imbedded with rocks. There’s nothing to do but slide down.

The dream shifts. I’m with another woman and we’re in the food court of “the mall.” The mall is a large institutional room, with cheap tables and chairs. A few people sit talking at the tables. There are no windows, no colors – and as I look around, I realize there are no food stalls. All that relieves the tedium of the walls are sloppy, hand-lettered signs, carelessly taped up. “This isn’t a mall,” I tell my companion. “Look. Look around you. Look those signs.” But she doesn’t believe me. The people at the tables, I know, don’t know this isn’t real either.

And there, on one of the walls is another hideous black pay phone. I start to chant Weedy’s phone number in my head. I can’t make a mistake, can't forget or misdial. I fumble through the coin section of my purse and pull out pieces of metal - misshapen and melted, coins fused together. Finally I find a surviving quarter and drop it in the pay slot. This time I'm making the call. I'm getting out of here.

“Citizens do not need to make outside calls,” the voice in the phone says.

And I wake up.

Saturn transits to hit Pluto. The heavyweights are playing in my ballpark and, it would seem, I may be the ball.

If anyone has a recipe for dreaming sugarplum fairies dancing in your head, now is the time to send it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Gone fishin'

LJ: Look at that!
Koru's Daughter: Ducks in a row!

Witness, if you will, the only time either of us will have our ducks in a row. This was taken not far from my place, on a nature trail we locals (having utterly no imagination) call, "The Frog Pond."

I apologize for the recent silence. We are on holiday and behaving like tourists. Regular programming and commenting will return soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


The housework, more or less, is done. My apartment smells of clean laundry. I’ve ironed the kimono…my “morning coat,” and several other of the wrinkle-when-washed bali-print items I’m so fond of, and in the heat and humidity, I’ve cooked spicy food to be put away for my visitor, Koru’s Daughter (of Everyday Sutras). Pasta sauce with black olives and Italian sausage, beef cooked in vegetable juice and Tabasco. I’m not sure this food won’t kill her, but I’m pretty much bloated with preparedness and well-being anyway. It’s the thought that counts.

And then…

It’s trite to say that fog rolls in, but there’s no other verb to describe it. Rolls like a wave, entirely visible. When the first plumes pass by my balcony, after the bright sun, looking up from the steaming stove, I wonder momentarily if it is smoke. All through June, I’ve hated it, and now, after “feels like” 90 degree temperatures, it’s rolling relief – cool, damp and soothing. My neighbor and I stand on our next door balconies and compare notes on how wonderful it feels to stop suffocating.

Have I become a Maritimer? Native to Toronto, I once survived temperatures that soared past 100 F, that baked and scorched and made the bottom of my shoes tacky on pavement. I can remember waking from fevered sleep with the sheets plastered to my body. I used to run in and out of cold showers several times a day, just to keep from frying in my own skin.

Now, like any good Nova Scotian, when the thermometer exceeds 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I’m thinking it’s some jeezly hot. I’ve become a fog-baby.

But I started this to remember about kaleidoscopes.

I am little. Maybe five or six or seven. We are staying with my Aunt and Uncle.
The house is on the outskirts of Windsor, Ontario, situated on a flat country road. It is always summer there. There is always a cloudless sky and miles of pancake land. The house itself is propped on cement blocks with no foundation. Out back, there is a play house and beyond that a field with a brilliant blue block in it. “Salt lick” my cousin Lesley says, “for the cows.” She has a slightly superior tone. I am, to her, a city kid, and astonishingly ignorant of the simplest things.

She smells like brown sugar. The house is small and the floor feel wobbly. My uncle has fingers stained brown. My Aunt yells everything in a hearty, cheery voice, as if we were all slightly deaf.

The living room is small and crowded. I don’t remember anything but overstuffed furniture and the shadows in it and how my Aunt and Uncle seemed to fill it to capacity. I am sitting on the floor, with a kaleidoscope in my hands. It is a cardboard tube, about two inches in diameter and six inches in length. It has a glass bottom and you can see tiny scraps of color there. But if you look in the other end….”Hold it up to the light”…fabulous patterns emerge. They change with the slightest shift of hand, dividing and subdividing into infinity, becoming worlds and universes of pattern and color. To my cousin, it’s old. “Just mirrors and pieces of colored paper,” she says, dismissing it like it’s another salt lick I don’t know about. But I can’t put it down. Can’t stop looking into that other world.

There in a tiny cramped living room with my brown-sugar cousin, my tobacco uncle, my loud aunt and a piece of Made in Japan magic, one of my obsessions is established. Pattern and color speak to me like music. Even the word is magic….


Useful advice

Household and nutrition hints from a woman who lives on freshly prepared nuclear food, hot out of the microwave, eating while she stands up or types with one hand
(subtitled: notes to myself)

1. If you put a dead plant in a large, heavy ceramic planter on the balcony, retrieve it before it rains for a month and grows a coat of thick green algae on the top.

2. Do not put a can of spray Pledge on top of the stove in the middle of dusting and then decide to turn on a burner.

3. Cheetos & coffee are not adequate breakfast food for the human body.

4. Sitting at the computer, answering email and writing a blog – or playing with PSP, are not forms of housework. Documenting yourself standing beside a vacuum does not amount to vacuuming.

5. Wash your sheets once a week so that your laundry basket is not stuffed with four to six of them by the time you actually do laundry.

6. Do not throw the once-worn, I-think-it’s-still-pretty-clean-camisole back into the dresser drawer. Remind yourself that this leads to washing ALL the camisoles because you can’t remember which one is making the drawer smell closety.

7. President’s Choice 3 Cheese Mac and Cheese is not doing your ass any favors.

8. Gin and tonic, imbibed at a housework break, does not inspire you to continue cleaning.

9. Vacuum before you have to empty the dirt catcher on the Red Devil after vacuuming half a room.

10. Always keep your stones clean. Nothing is more indicative of bad housekeeping than ten bowls of dusty rocks.

PS..Please note that I am shining with the sweat of effort and Hard Work in the above picture. Either that or it's the humidity and Gin.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

Note in bottle: Relatives

Graciousness has left the building. Reality, that glinty-eyed old shrew, slams the door behind her and huffs a good riddance.

Graciousness doesn’t so much walk away as she flows. And when she leaves, she shimmers, evaporates gracefully, mist in the sun. You stand for a long time, watching the place where she used to be, thinking maybe…

But reality is banging around the place in her unlaced slap-soled shoes, skirt hem safety-pinned up. Her face is a strip mine. She’s gleefully pointing out all the spots you missed. Here and here and how could you not see this? Reality plops herself into a chair, a sack of mortal bones and blubber hitting wood, and demands to know where the hell you think you’ve been? And who the hell you thought you were there with…

I often forget they’re sisters.

Always time for family is my motto.

Monday, July 10, 2006

For those who do not believe a smile is a great umbrella

It had to happen. Demotivation as a business, bless 'em. See
This is a page from one of their three calendars. Treat yourself!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Prozac. And the horse it rode in on.

Type in the annoying unreadable alphabetic script that Blogger tortures us with, hit “publish.” – and there it is, your very own Blurted Tactless Opinion, in print in the Comments section of another person’s very good blog.

I can be unreasonable on the subject of anti-depressants. And let me say, before I launch myself into no-man’s-land again, I have taken anti-depressants and been damn grateful for the relief. And I have many close friends who’ve fought their way to solid emotional ground through a combination of prescribed brain-altering chemicals and therapy. Let me be that fair, at least. Let me admit that sometimes people hit a point when they can’t pull out and some intervention is called for…

Let me also emphasize the part where the brain-altering chemicals are combined with therapy, with the process of learning to manage moods and emotional triggers, to understand them as something that did not drop mysteriously from the sky.

I don’t trust the pills. I haven’t trusted the pills since a psychiatrist diagnosed me with this mantra of the trade: “One depression – six months of anti-depressants; two depressions – a year of anti-depressants; three depressions – you’re on them for life.”

That was over ten years ago. I quite seeing the psychiatrist. I flushed the prescription down the toilet.

I had been thinking about a Native American belief that depression means you have lost your soul. I wanted my soul back.

At age sixteen, having lost my mother, having a father who absented himself emotionally on the better days and was downright abusive in his own grief on others, I became “depressed.” And the solution? Hospitalization, with shock treatment and a diet of tranquilizers to calm me down and speed to cheer me up. This was accepted medical practice at the time. Sound medical practice.

In what world, in what universe, I have to ask, do we medicate every grief? Do we medicate what Pema Chodron calls, “the genuine heart of sadness”…that human opening that allows us to feel compassion, understanding, acceptance?
In what world do we have so little patience with our own processes – and such high expectations of perpetual happiness that the natural lows of life have to be medicated instead of used as an alert that, possibly, something is wrong with reality in general – or at least our perception of reality? That we ignore the fact that life and mood is cyclical, that highs and lows are normal?

I am in full-rant here. And I have to apologize to anyone who is presently taking or has taken anti-depressants at the point when they could no longer put one foot in front of the other. I know. I know. And it isn’t that one-time intervention I’m furious with, but the assumption that our brain chemistry alters arbitrarily, with no reason. I’m furious with the doctors who pass it out at the first sign of depression, with no reasonable follow-up and no recommendation of therapy. I’m furious with the Canadian medical system for covering treatment by psychiatrists, but not psychologists, not alternative medicine.

At age sixteen, I was given to believe that I had a “condition”…some awful brain anomaly that made me different, made me inevitably sad. A condition which would make me a patient, a victim to my own chemistry for the rest of my life. I’m pretty furious about that, too.

I’m frustrated with a medical model that treats us like machines. I do not believe that there is no place for western medicine, no place for drugs, surgical and pharmaceutical interventions…but I despair of a culture in which it is not profitable to look into the why of disease, into what makes us healthy. I despair of a culture which has no room for the “genuine heart of sadness” common to us all, and which teaches us that it is unacceptable to be deeply quiet or have stretches of time when we are not all that damn perky and upbeat.

I have not put an anti-depressant in my mouth for many years and I assure you that I never will again. Have I been depressed? Yes. Here and there. Sad, too – which is a different thing. And I’ve been down at times because I needed to deal with things which hadn’t quite surfaced to consciousness – where I could have the realization I needed, or take the action required to ease the stress.

Depression, a very wise woman pointed out to me, literally means, “pressed down.” So it’s a signal. What is being pressed down? And when we’ve pressed that something down out of an instinct for self-protection, what strength have we buried with it?

And how do we ever find out if we medicate the signal away? How do we retrieve our souls?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Small celebration of difference

Synched up. Legs rolling easy under hips, knees and ankles relaxed, head up, effortless, smiling kind of stroll-along morning. I’m heading up Herring Cove Road in the bright sunshine.

Coming along from the other direction, is a guy I’ve been exchanging hellos with since I moved here. He’s a short, black man with a thousand-watt smile, and the solid build of a fire plug. He wears reflective sunglasses and takes them off when he stops to speak. He’s always friendly, always polite.

This morning, he’s wearing black work-out pants, a black sleeveless T-shirt and weight gloves. His skin is so summer dark it’s close in shade to his clothing. Slung around his neck on a rope is a card that will admit him to the local gym.

“I’m goin’ to the gym” he announces cheerily, by way of greeting.

“I could tell…from the gloves and pass.”

“Yeah. Been goin’ nine months now…”

“Well, it shows.” I give his arms and shoulders an appraising once-over and then grin approval, Lookin’ good!”

Thank y’baby.”

And we’re off in our opposite directions. Thank y’baby.

Spoken by a black man, the phrase has a particular rhythm, a particular inflection. The accent always falls heavily on the word, “thank,” so appreciation is emphasized. “Baby” makes it personal. It’s not a come-on, or pushy, rather it is charming and courtly in its way. It’s been said to me at least once by every black male friend of mine.

I don’t know much about middle-class black men. The black men I know come from working class or poor backgrounds and they’ve come up hard. They can be mean sons of bitches when they have to be, and they have had to be many times in their lives.

And the black men I know often wear a public mask – impersonal, emotionless, unreadable. Richard Majors, a professor of psychology and Janet Mancini Billson, a professor of sociology, wrote on the subject in, Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America ” They trace this phenomenon back to the times of slavery, when betrayal of emotion in front of a slave owner could mean being whipped or murdered. It was a survival strategy then and, in a still-racist world, it is now.

But when a black man drops that mask, smiles right up to his eyes, and combines it with the tone reserved for talking to women – distinctly different from the tone used for male friends – the transition always astonishes me. How a face can seem almost uninhabited one second and flood with life and warmth in the next. How a simple little phrase can contain that much poetry and make such a nice start to a summer morning.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Requiem: I never read you Galliano

on a day
when our days
are gone
the sheets
healed of sweat
and no one
in tears
or suffers
the inferno
of silence

after forgiveness
when we are
to emptiness

long after pleasure
and hurt
become embers
in a distant fire

long after the shapes
of our bodies
have shifted
and our lives
have spun other

you will remember
as the woman
who read you poems

and i
will remember you
as the man
who heard them.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ruminating after repairs to the device

Spaces in-between, as I was saying in Comments on the last entry, are fascinating - the silence between notes…the ghost of reflection on glass, shadows standing alone, subtracted from the objects that cast them.

All the afters and befores and in-the-middles strung together like graffiti sprayed over a sign. What is meant covering the official message.

Shadow, not object. The world is utterly different when you look at it that way.

I do not mean to be mysterious.

Here I am - before and after and in-the-middle of events in my current life, the details of which I have published and left up on the blog “flapping wildly on the virtual clothesline like a pair of too-big granny pants” (to steal a quote from Teri of Blueberry Pie). There are ketchup smears and coffee stains obliterating sections of my roadmap. I have the suspicion that I’m somewhere in a very old minefield. The grass waves placidly for miles. The sky is clear blue. And soon I will have to take a step in some direction.

Like the Tarot card, The Fool. Looking up happily at the sky as he steps off a cliff, trusting that the universe will support him.

It’s not a matter of hope, but dumb faith. Which is why The Fool is not both the first and the last card in the deck. Because, it seems, he doesn’t actually fall.

Sometimes, after you spend a while looking at the middles and the shadows for a while, you have to do it like that.

Just step.

Right, Lucas?

Looking in-between

Shadow and