Friday, August 22, 2008
I am sitting on my wobbly green steno chair which is currently inside a wobbly box-like structure made up of a desk stacked with file folders, book carts and books. The walls of my box are in one or another stage of processing for course reserves…coming down from summer term, going up for fall term. Someday. When the system is online again.
“The system” is our name for the software from hell which, on a more-or-less regular basis, screws us all by failing to operate or requiring extensive downgrades (referred to as “upgrades”) that make simple tasks impossibly complex. For example: I need to hammer a nail. For this, the system provides me with an approximation of the space shuttle. It can defy gravity and vacuums. It will orbit distant planets and record scientific data. What it will not do is hammer a bloody nail.
Outside my box, where I am not working as my workload piles, my student assistant is slumped at the circulation desk. Her eyes are not quite open and her mouth is not quite closed. You could be forgiven for thinking she has smoked a nice fat joint before arriving at work, but she’s stoned on Neo Citron. Stand there a minute and she’ll snuffle for you. I have a sneaking suspicion that the same virus partying in her respiratory system is about to host a fiesta in mine. I’m pretending to myself that it’s only…
that just as I drifted off to sleep, the muscles in the arch of my left foot went into spasm. I tried, oh-god-i-tried, to relax the cramp without getting up, without fully waking up. And I was rewarded for my efforts by an additional cramp starting on the top of my foot. Nothing to do but get up, walk it out, drink water, wait, walk etc.
Fine. Okay. Back to bed. Only to wake twice for trips to the bathroom…stumbling out of bed still half-in, half-out of a series of hideous dreams. Nothing I clearly remember…except one detail I repeated aloud to myself. I said, “artist holocaust.” Miles of dead artist bodies. Thank you, subconscious, for the memories.
At , Cat was possessed by the devil. Instead of his habitual early morning activity (dozing beside me, taking up more than his half of the bed) he launched a running leap from a few feet off and galloped violently across my back and shoulders, howling.
I sit in my box. Eyes not quite open, mouth not quite closed. Praying for to come.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I always called Ben, “D.” In my last letter, I told him it stood for “darlin’.” “Darlin’” is my name for people towards whom I feel a rare maternal impulse.
Now and then, while he was online with the blog, before his arrest, we exchanged emails, me pleading with to him to believe he was more than the hallucinations, loneliness, anger and dark fantasies, him assuring me in turn, in his matter-of-fact way, (and in exasperation at my thickness I think) that really he was crazy, totally around the proverbial bend, hopeless. I would write back agreeing with the crazy part. But I was never afraid of Ben. And even when Darkmind was at his darkest, I couldn’t forget his self-honesty, his intelligence, his insight and the compassion he claimed not to feel. The curse and the blessing of Venus in Pisces is that, although you see who people are, you hone in on their possibilities. I’m not sorry to have done that.
And now it’s time to update for those of you who might have read him. I guess it was worse than bad after his arrest. He didn’t really plan on making it through the arrest, matter of fact.
But now, he says, he’s glad he did. After months of near catatonia, not eating, getting crazier and crazier, someone in the justice system realized he was truly ill. As Ben says, in his accustomed cryptic tone, he didn’t know what gave him away – the paranoid tics or the 70 pound weight loss.
He hasn’t been sentenced yet. But he’s been diagnosed and the description, when I check it, fits everything he talked about and couldn't get help for... The visual and auditory hallucinations, the paranoia, the horrifying emotional, uncontrollable mood swings, the lack of sleep – the almost autistic disconnection. If his blog was full of hellish visions, it’s because his chemistry moved him into the heart of the neighborhood. He’s getting anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and therapy now. And he’s glad. He’s glad for the help. Me? I’m over the moon about it.
And he’s still Ben. Or maybe he’s finally Ben. He’s funny and cryptic still – unflinchingly honest. But there’s a little soft showing, somehow. And god, that’s so good to see.
The prosecution isn’t going to cut him any slack. Even with three psychiatrists concurring on his condition they won’t accept “diminished capacity.” But he has no violent criminal record, so I’m hoping, hoping. And I’m asking the universe to give him a chance.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
This is a dead tree. Specifically, a dead Ficus Benjamina, a weeping fig tree. I nurtured it, coddled it and feed it nutritious tree food. And did it appreciate that? No. The Ficus is a drama queen, a professional victim. If a breeze comes within 10 feet of it, if a person (god forbid) brushes against it, it sheds leaves like a martyr shedding clothes to take in the burning desert sun. The wimp. I pampered it and replaced its soil. And finally
in the dead of winter, I put it on the balcony. But not, let me add, until one mutant very long branch poked me in the eye. A branch bearing 3 of it's scrawny collection of 14 leaves.
Now it lives on the balcony. Weedy thinks it's kind of cool looking. So. I'm beading it.
I think I've officially been working on the Etsy shop site for tooooo long.
Friday, July 11, 2008
It only takes seconds to establish a few pertinent facts about the man at the counter.
1. He wants someone, anyone to hear his complaint about a bad landlord.
2. He's the kind of guy who hates trouble but finds it everywhere. The dejected slump of his shoulders suggests that he expects to lose. Again.
3. His complaint has nothing to do with the Registry of Joint Stock Companies.
4. In spite of number 3, he isn't planning to vacate the premises anytime soon.
The clerk is kind. She doesn't rush him. Her answers are quiet, respectful. I imagine that simply talking to her, even though it won't solve the problem - will restore a little of his sense of dignity.
Two of us are waiting our turn. The man next to me, sporting full sleeve tattoos and a profusion of dreadlocks down to his waist, is slouched bonelessly in his chair. He's following the exchange at the desk with easy interest. Then there's me - perched on the edge of my seat like a runner waiting for the starting pistol, spine rigid, teeth clamped in frustration, checking my watch a little too often and exhaling pointedly.
Mars and Saturn, the push-forward & hold-back planets, are conducting battle in the territory of my natal Mars. Every push is met with equal-force resistance. The civil war in my head projects itself to the outer world. It's 95F in the office and so much hotter on the bus one particular day, that the driver succumbs to heat stroke half-way home. We passengers pile onto the steaming concrete to wait another half hour for a replacement bus. An ambulance comes and goes.There is no shade. Hurry up and wait.
Business documents, mailed to me weeks ago, vanish in some Canada Post limbo. Hurry up and wait.
I'm angry. I'm desperate.I wonder at the fact that I haven't yet ground my teeth to veritable stubs.
At this moment, I recall with hallucinatory clarity how it feels to have the grace and patience of that government clerk. But I can't get there.
The evening before: why hurry?
I've stopped for one whole night. Every other evening this week, I've made the base for a new bracelet. I'm going at it like it's the Olympics of beading and I'm going for gold. What I'm actually trying to do is get out of the day job for real. Another year? Can I save enough? Can I sell enough? Teach enough?
I'm far past my best-before date at the day job. If my attitude assumed material form, it would match the potentially deadly science fiction growths forming inside tupperware containers at the back of my fridge. My boss of 18 years, the saving grace of my department, retired early. Now, I can't decide whether "utterly dysfunctional" or "toxic" best describes the atmosphere.
Added aggravation: my unit of the union is owed five years back pay and although there are now five administrators, fund raisers or administrative assistants for every staff member on the ground, the employer seems curiously uninterested in negotiating in any meaningful way with people who actually keep the place running, day-to day.
Work days, I greet the mornings with feelings of dread and battle my way up to resigned stoicism. Walking a picket line has become one of my more joyful fantasies. Really.
On this, my one night off, I'm angry and I want to stop being angry. I'm scared and I want to stop being scared. I feel utterly disconnected and alone. I'm fighting for survival with no help coming. I'm so tired, so very tired of the long, long hours and the constant feeling that I have to apologize for my self-imposed work schedule. I try to hide my desperation because I don't think anyone understands it. I'm tired of that, too. I realize, in the way I often realize a thing days and days before it leaves the uselessly abstract territory of my brain and makes its way to my heart or gut, that although all the work issues are problems, they are not the problem.
The problem is never out there. Wait for those kind of problems to stop and you'll die waiting - probably sooner than necessary. I know that in my brain. I am waiting for it to reach my gut, where it will cause a meaningful shift. Let go.
Let go, my brain orders my brain - which is like the police ordering an investigation of the police.
It'll take the time it takes. Hurry hurry hurry up. And wait.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
It is Friday night or Saturday morning. Someone from my past is writing and calling again. His first letter sounds so sincere. Thanks, he says, for everything you did for me. He misses my friendship, he says. But when he calls, he seems to be pining for the woman I was back then – and not the friend, although I was always that too.
The pleasantries are barely observed when he steers the conversation in the direction of what-are-you-wearing. I tell him: capris and a big…thing. I don’t know what you call it. A baggy top that I’m wearing because it’s Saturday and I don’t care what I look like. In the time he’s remembering fondly, I would have cared. I worked my ass off to keep romance and interest going, to keep his ego stroked.
But now, instead, I offer an excited summary of the Prime Minister’s apology to Aboriginal and Inuit people and tell him about the Powwow last week, the pictures I took, how beautiful the day, the dancers. The impatience at his end is palpable. He takes another run at arousing some sense of romance. He hits another wall. And so it goes until I say, I’m hanging up. Really, I’ve got nothing more. Write me, why don’t you? There’s zero animosity at my end, I just have better things to do than counter his moves. Want a friend? I’m in. But otherwise…
I’m a Romantic in Recovery.
And I have company. Me and my friend, Drifter, have our own little 12 step program.
Drifter and me have been “undating” since March. We decided to call it that because both of us were still crawling through the broken shards of our last relationships. Drift had lost his brother and his love almost at the same time. I had been trying to brazen it through missing my lost love by searching for someone new. Too soon and through the internet. The results were predictably catastrophic. We knew that neither of us could even contemplate launching into another relationship, but neither of us wanted to sit at home intoning the Poe mantra, “Nevermore.”
We’ve been keeping company, in our weird quirky way, for over four months. We talk on the phone nearly every day. We’ve considered, both of us, that “things” might develop. It seemed logical enough. We find each other attractive and interesting. We understand each other very well – and we are nearly at the same level of introversion, give or take…
Suddenly, we’ve realized that we just aren’t that needy anymore. We don’t have to have a partner. We’re happy with our lives, more often than not and happy to have a real friend of the opposite gender, someone honest and fun to be with. Someone you can call every day and no matter what the mood is on either side, it’s fine. Someone who understands you and values you. No eggs to walk on here.
It’s as if a lifetime of grand love affairs and being swept away has amounted to a vaccination against that kind of romance. It’s a heady thing, that feeling – like being perpetually drunk. Sure, there are the deathly hangovers and your life is out of control but isn’t it wonderful when you’re up there at the top of the high?
And isn’t it wonderful when the illusion shatters, when you stop pining for it, when the real becomes more valuable and precious than the ideal?
Yes. It is.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Or as the Breast Screening Clinic writes, "Dear Ms. JONES (are they shouting or using a form here?)Thank you for participating in the Mammography Screening Program. (I had a choice? My doctor didn't indicate that it was optional.) I am pleased to inform you that the radiologist who read your mammogram (forget the scandal over Atlantic Province radiologists who gave wrong results for thousands of women recently) did not detect any evidence of breast cancer at this time."
Good news. I'm not (at this time) dying of that. Pap test in July. They don't have to squash anything but my dignity for that.
Life is good (at this time.)
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I get up at weekdays. For half an hour I sip coffee while the cat twines himself around my ankles. Then days like this, I put in three days work in nine hours.
Twelve hours after the alarm goes off, I’m home. I’ve made it through ceaseless interruptions at work, a parade of other people’s problems and questions, computer freezes, software malfunctions and several hours of sheer, deadening mental factory work. I’ve smiled. Over and over. I’ve survived the number twenty bus, once again – but I confess, by the end of the trip when the seat next to me opened up, I stood up, preferring to be flung gracelessly back and forth with each break and acceleration of the bus than to have one more person sit next to me. Touching me.
Closing the apartment door, I slam the radio off, kick my shoes off, pour a glass of red wine and sit down to listen to the cat sing throat songs celebrating my arrival. It’s all the activity and noise I can tolerate.
I think about not writing. To anyone. But the need to speak is so strong and what needs to be spoken has become too large and formless to get out. It has become a vortex in my throat and chest, sucking words away.
I think I’m waiting to be heard in a way the human ear and heart is not equipped to handle. I think I’m waiting for whatever universal awareness might be out there to hear me. Or maybe it does. Thing is about the Universe, it doesn’t communicate in exactly the way I’d like it to…
An email would be nice. A phone call. Or a sign – spelled, let’s say, in flaming letters against the sky.
I’m voiceless, I mention to the Universe. And, totally in character, the universe says nothing and the girl with the cell phone who is seated immediately behind me begins a loud conversation about nothing. That’s it? I ask.
I can’t feel anything much – except annoyance, sadness, I add, I’m wondering if that’s going to change sometime soon? I imagine the Universe shrugging. Do galaxies die when the Universe does that?
Soon, for no logical reason, I’ll crawl out of the funk. I might not write when that happens, but for a while, I’ll project a benevolent face on the Universe. Things will make sense. I will stop disintegrating, or at least stop fighting disintegration and imagine I see the wisdom of the whole thing. For a while.
Maybe, if the Universe is feeling generous, I’ll regain my sense of humor.
Meanwhile, to those of you I haven’t written – insert platitude here.
I would write you. If I could.