Thursday, August 30, 2007


The storyteller was my son Lawrence
One day I found him standing at a bus stop
Two stops down from the nearest bus stop
That would have started his journey to work

He told me the story of how he is treated
When he stands at the nearest stop in his work clothes
Rough clothes fit for his work in construction.

He sighed a sigh when he told me the story
Afraid that I would disbelieve him.
And I remember he said that an Indian
Found at that bus stop wearing his work clothes
Is stared at and called a dirty Indian
By people dressed in clothes for the office.

And that was the day it was true beyond doubt
That in spite of conflict and hard times to come
I would spend the rest of my life
Giving the best of a mother’s love
To balance the scales against the hurt
From the stigma of being an Indian.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


As I sit here in the sunshine, preparing a hope talk for a conference on compassion fatigue in the health care environment, I find myself reflecting on change, and the advocacy that generates change, and the fatigue that assails and embitters the advocates.

It’s amazing how quickly things can go forward. Thirty-five years ago I entered the adult world with small technologies, a white cane to help me get around, a Braille alarm clock to wake me up, a slate and stylus with which I could punch out Braille dots by hand. I never imagined the time when I would have a talking clock radio, a talking thermostat, a talking computer, a scanner that reads to me, a Braille printer that prints things I can read and a GPS navigational aid that tells me where I am and what direction I am going.

That said, it is discouraging how slowly some things go forward. Traffic signals can be adapted to share their red and green messages with blind people, but most of them just keep on the old way. That won’t change until somebody makes a very public fuss. What’s more, new elevators have sported Braille and raised print numbers for thirty years, but the elevators in my dentist’s building still operate the old way, with heat sensitive panels that offer only heartache if you can’t see them. The dentists have long claimed that they asked their landlord to make the changes. In the meantime, they hope I will continue to find the seventh floor somehow.

Meanwhile, it is absolutely infuriating to stand by helplessly while some things go backwards. I worry that I won’t be able to find a stove I can use when it is time to replace my old stove. My worry extends beyond stoves to embrace dishwashers, laundry machines, and all other things with inscrutable electronic displays. In the old days, when we bought appliances, we took them home and made them accessible by filing notches into their dials, or marking their numbers with strips of tape and blobs of silicone. But there is no way around it now. The average person is powerless in the face of an electronic display. Somebody needs to speak about this. But who will speak, and to whom?

It’s not hopelessness that gets me down when I consider all of this. It’s advocacy fatigue. I don’t mind being blind, but I get very tired of asking for things that compensate for the deficiency. I get tired of being angry, which is what I have to be before I can motivate myself to start the action that changes these things. I don’t want to be angry. I would rather drink exotic beverages with David on the veranda, and hear about the world from the younger generation, and hear about the history of the world from the older generation. I want to savour fabulous dinners, and work in my flowerbeds, and pet Pirate, and read novels, and play music, and learn new counselling techniques. I want to play cards with friends, and go to storytelling festivals, and sleep through the night instead of waking at 3:00 to feel the plan for an angry letter pushing back the peacefulness of my dreams.

Still, I find myself wondering what efforts are being made to ensure that blind people will be able to use electrical appliances in the future. It is not enough to be infinitely grateful to the people who have created today’s magnificent technological abundance. It seems to me that I ought to be taking some kind of action, rather than just worrying about the future. And that, I guess, is why I need to drink exotic beverages with David on the veranda, and hear about the world from the younger generation, and hear about the history of the world from the older generation. I need to savour fabulous dinners, and work in my flowerbeds, and pet Pirate, and read novels, and play music, and learn new counselling techniques. I need to play cards with friends, and go to storytelling festivals, and sleep through the night whenever I can—because these are the things that make life worth living, These are the things that give me the energy to ask for consideration, to write angry letters when nothing else will get attention. I have to remember that successful advocacy—far from being the cure for advocacy fatigue—is actually the demon that tempts you to make it worse by doing more advocacy at times when you ought to stop for a drink on the veranda.

Perhaps our greatest possibility for error in the face of fatigue from advocacy or compassion is to assume that nothing good can be happening as long as we are sitting on the veranda. On a really good day, somebody else may be picking up the slack while we are having a rest. And if we persist in thinking that the solution lies only with us, we may not notice the efforts others are making, and we may neglect to thank them.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


My shoulder hurts. The pain is a direct result of manual labour, which is really not my thing. In fact, people who are good at it tend to think of me as—well, I might as well say it—as lazy. An apt description, probably, considering that my first thought when embarking on any job that requires persistent brawn is generally, “How soon will it be over?”

My right thumb is blistered. It’s my own fault, really. There’s nobody to blame but me. I got swept up in a moment of empathy and, before I knew it, I had asked that terrible question, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Needless to say, I was definitely willing to take no for an answer.

I was struck dumb when the answer was, “Yes.” What was he thinking? He knows me better than that. I thought he had pretty much given up accepting my offers of help for tasks that require sustained physical exertion or the competent manipulation of tools. Crochet hooks, scissors, screwdrivers, sandpaper, all of them take on a peculiar imprecision a millisecond after being placed in my hands. I chalk it up to heredity. The part of my developing brain that would have managed manual dexterity and spatial awareness was set aside to be redistributed among my siblings. . So thoroughly inept has past experience proven me to be that I asked him to repeat his answer, just to be sure I had it right. “Yes,” he said. “You can definitely help.”

That is the moment when my real empathy began, the moment when I realized that the stress of our little renovation was driving him crazy. The whole thing started a few months ago when he observed that the hardwood could use a new coat. The job of sanding and varnishing was assigned to a professional, but before the man could do the job, all the furniture and baseboards had to be removed, which made it a good time to paint the walls and refinish the baseboards. Therefore, while the hardwood was being refinished, it seemed the perfect time to move the kitchen peninsula over a few feet so the hardwood could be extended to enlarge the dining room, which meant that we could get a few extra cabinets and a new countertop, and could also move the dishwasher over a few inches into that empty wasted space. (Turns out the space actually contained a water pipe, but that was a good thing for the plumber, who was able to earn a few dollars moving the pipe so the space would be empty and the dishwasher would not have to be discarded now that it’s former space had been filled.) After the peninsula was converted to an island, the kitchen tiles also had to be replaced, which was just as well since they were breaking, and ceramic tiles freeze your feet and tire your knees if you stand too long on them. Somewhere in the madness he and Lawrence got the idea that they could save $1,200 by removing the ceramic tiles and installing the cork tiles themselves, which meant they could buy a new saw and still have money left over, not to mention spending some quality father-and-son time. All of it made sense, really it did! But after a while reality had blurred a little, all the way to the point where it seemed wise to accept an offer of help from me.

As I prepared for the worst, he assembled my tools: a hammer, a chisel and a brick. Later he added bicycle gloves, but that was after the blisters. Did I mention that my left hand has a bandage?

Down to the floor I went. My mission, to assist in the removal of the mortar left behind after the ceramic tiles were smashed to smithereens, coaxed away and removed with Ed’s ice chipper! The task was more daunting than you might think. Once you adhere concrete to plywood, it pretty much promises to stick together until death doth them part. My back hurts! On a brighter note, I was able to get up off the floor, a manoeuvre that seems to require more and more coordination with every passing year.

Most of the concrete was removed through a process which can accurately be referred to as pulverization. We kept the dust out of the air by breathing it in. I didn’t actually work all that long. It just seemed a long time, given the exertion required to do all that complaining and calculating how long it would be until we’d be finished. . Contrary to expectations I didn’t wang my thumb with the hammer, didn’t cut myself with the chisel. I didn’t even throw the brick at him when he spoke sharply to me. But I will confess to having uttered a short-but-earnest prayer of thanksgiving for the fact that I, as a blind person who probably wouldn’t be trustworthy with tools even if she could see, will not be expected to assist in the next brutal job, the job of cutting the new cork tiles for a perfect fit.

I did think of going to the garage—where they are testing the new saw that Lawrence just assembled without reading the package directions--to ask if there is anything I could do to help. Then I thought better of it.

Friday, August 24, 2007


If I could be a writer, I mean a real writer with a regular gig who gets paid for writing, I’d choose to write like Stuart McLean. I’d show his genuineness, his lightness, his talent for making something special out of ordinary things. I’d have his patience to pick something and stick with it. I’d understand how he created two ordinary people named Dave and Morley on CBC radio , and then gave so much radio time to fashioning a friendly city neighbourhood for them to live in. I’d have his knack for taking fictional things, and turning them into real things, like the Arthur Awards.

The Arthurs have few criteria and no formal application forms. They recognize ordinary people because, as Stuart says, most people recognized in the mainstream media have no use for additional recognition. Why, he wonders, does Wayn Gretzky need one more award?

And so, because Stuart has created this opportunity, and because there is no tedious application process, and because there is no need to provide several references with full permission and contact information, I nominate our neighbour Ed for an Arthur Award. He is a particularly good candidate because he makes our street feel friendly, like Dave and Morley’s street. Ed has tools to lend you and wisdom to share. He’s got a two-storey garage and a one-storey garage filled with gadgets for every job. When he brings them over, he teaches you how to use them by doing some of the work. He will show you how to clean the wood with a brick after lending you his ice chipper to lift your ceramic tiles. He will figure out how to put plug-ins on your kitchen island. He will help you straighten the posts when you build a crooked fence.

Ed’s a neighbourhood guy from way back. He grew up doing odd jobs in the Little Brick Yard just a few blocks down the road, where today’s new million-dollar houses now command a view of the river. When you get your yard looking nice he can make you so proud of it that you’ll try to make it look even better. In the spring he finds tender asparagus in the bush where coal miner’s houses used to stand, and he lets you choose which spears to take. He invites you to pick his saskatoons, his cucumbers, his juicy apples. If you don’t get over to pick them, he’ll pick them and bring them over. That’s the best part. When he comes over, he sits on your veranda and tells you the neighbourhood news.

Ed knows the news because he is out there listening. He and his dog Sugar take a daily walk through the bush in Dawson Park with a bag in hand to pick up litter. He’s on a first-name basis with the guys digging the sewer line under the river. He talks to the park rangers. He knows the locations of the makeshift river valley camps that spring up in these days of tight housing.

Ed’s an ordinary guy. If he won’t organize a neighbourhood action group, he will come to support you when you get one going. He and his buddies like greasy breakfasts and roast beef lunches in car dealer cafeterias. Ed likes country music. To be honest, I’ve never heard him mention the CBC. But I don’t think Arthur would hold that against him. Do you?

We live in a culture where houses are usually purchased because of their location, or their roomy kitchens, or the view from their front windows. Wonderful features, to be sure. So I was a bit surprised when the previous owner of our house told us we should buy this one because it has such great neighbours. But living across from Ed has got me wondering how neighbourhoods would assemble themselves if we made it possible for buyers to search for houses that come with fabulous neighbours.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


“Why am I like this?” the clients ask in counselling. “Why do I drive people away? Why don’t I have any friends? Why can’t I have a happy relationship?”

Sometimes I get a bit impatient with the whys. I’ll admit that wondering why can be interesting, even informative if it leads to an investigation, and I don’t dispute the fact that knowing the cause can point the way to the cure. But I think it is a shame the why’s are able to command so much attention.

How easy it is to give too much attention to the whys when you notice that one member of a group is different from the rest. I am reminded of this every morning when I walk down our front walk, passing between four identical ceramic flowerpots arranged symmetrically. All four were planted on the same warm spring day with equal numbers of colourful lobelia, gazania and marigold. Each pot was given one red geranium, though at that time the geranium was only a green leafy plant, not yet in bloom. All the pots were the same when we planted them, but now, in late August, the picture has changed. It was a good year for geraniums, and they have become the dominant feature. Three of the pots host dozens of red blossoms, and the fourth one—well the fourth one is festooned in light pink.

Why does that pink pot not match the others? Like any undeniable difference, the sight of the pink pot inspires the curious mind. You can almost hear the passers-by asking the question and giving themselves the answers, each as plausible as the others. Probably the people ran out of red geraniums and decided to plant the pots anyway. Or, maybe a red one died and was replaced with a pink. Or, you know, the lady who lives there is blind and likely cannot tell the difference.

Asking why can take you into territory that is interesting, but not always so useful. The answers you generate may not be the right ones. Our pink pot, we believe, is the fault of the greenhouse, but we don’t really know how the error was made. We went to a reputable greenhouse and bought a flat of eighteen red geraniums, not yet in bloom. Looking around our yard in August, we count seventeen red geraniums. The flat must have contained one pink. Perhaps a seed strayed out of another package, or a careless worker lost a label. Or maybe a red geranium can mutate somehow and transform itself to light pink, so light that a blind person with only the tiniest glimmer of vision can see the difference between it and the reds.

It is interesting to wonder about these things, but it gets a little tiresome if you don’t move on from there. In this we had a head start compared to the casual passers-by. The little pink blossoms were more easily spotted at a very close range. They were not very obvious in mid June, when the difference was discovered, and we wondered what we should do about it. At that point there were options. We could probably have made a transfer, substituted the pink with one of the reds from another location. But it didn’t seem important then. It was only a tiny pink geranium, hardly noticeable, doing no harm. Now in August, with the difference in the pots so great that it cannot be ignored, we no longer wonder whether to trade a pink plan for a red. With the well-established roots long and tangled, there is little value in wondering this. The option of making a safe transfer to create identical pots is no longer available.

Yet the pink pot still has lessons to teach me. I like to think of it as a morning reminder that we are not all the same, and everything doesn’t always turn out the way we plan it, and some differences just cannot be explained by asking why. These reminders serve me well on the way to the office, where people are forever asking me to explain the inexplicable, to give them reasons. Speculating on the reasons is an interesting place to begin, a possible starting point for finding a solution, but the time comes when I want to replace it with something else.

The pink pot has interested me more than any of the red ones. It helps me remember how much I like the different ones, and how quickly I get so accustomed to them that I hardly notice the difference at all. . The different ones are the most interesting, albeit sometimes the most frustrating. There is great satisfaction in helping them appreciate the difference, and build on it, and see what beauty can be found there.

The pink pot has also opened up a lot of room for questions about preference and pattern. Which of the four pots, we wonder, is our favourite? Where, we wonder, should we position the pink one? And then there is the question of the future. How, we wonder, shall we decide whether to plant red or pink next year?

Unlike the question why, which so often tricks us into thinking there is only one possible answer, our pink pot is a constant reminder that there are options. Options are the greatest gift that can be derived from being different. Having options can be a source of hope for anyone who is different, even those who did not choose to be different, even those whose differences cannot be erased by pursuit of knowledge about cause and effect.

All too soon the pink pot will be a thing of the past, no longer of interest to the casual passer-by. But I still have questions to consider. When I leave the office I will be preparing for winter, taking a geranium cutting to root before the frost. All winter the new plant will grow in the kitchen. With any luck it will flower in January, that darkest month when so many people are in need of hope. There is a choice to be made. Shall I take the cutting from the red plant or the pink plant?

I’ll have the pink, I think.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


What fun we had at the beach with Abbey
Three generations cavorting like children
Mark brought along a shovel, a pail,
An inflatable whale and lungs full of air to fill it.
David packed a picnic, Liz took a book
I went home with sand in my belly button.

The sun had begun with the warming of water
So toasty that even the world’s biggest chicken
Would have to abandon all fear and go in.
And for Abbey, age seven, the swimming was heaven
As long as the adults were splashing and chasing
Which Mark did for hours with a little support
From the rest of us.

A summer sensation, a true celebration
Of sand and water and breezy sunshine
A day made for laughing and dunking and screaming
Pleasures we adults don’t have quite enough of
Unless we take children to the beach.

Monday, August 20, 2007


It’s funny how each generation has its names. These days you don’t meet many babies called Vera, or Eunice, though there must have been plenty of adorably little Veras a hundred years ago. And when it comes to boys, you don’t find many named Stanley, or Fred, or Walter, or George. But we have a George in our family. He’s the most recent arrival in a small tidal wave of grand-nephews with names that sound like those suave heroes in romance novels, Dillon, Cooper, Colton, Landon.

There were some friends with red faces when George arrived. Those were the friends who chuckled along for a while, and then begged George’s proud new father to stop his joking and tell them the baby’s real name.

“It’s George,” he insisted. “That’s my middle name. It is my grandpa’s name.”

Baby George! You don’t often hear it in 2007. It sounds funny at first. But it sounds much better when you pick him up and whisper it into the smooth skin on his silky little neck. The third time you say it, it sounds perfect. It sounds just as good as Baby Landon, and Baby Colton, and all the other babies. It sounds like the name of a suave and charming hero in a romance novel.

Next thing you know, little Georges will be popping up all over. Every generation has its names.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Donald knows the land the way a painter knows his canvas
Greets the colours shapes and layers
With a broad interpretation.

He will drive you in his truck to chart the weather of the summer
The deadly path the hail took,
The sections that the rain missed
The crops that never grew out there when he was on the farm.

His granddad taught him how to read when he was only four
And then when he was still thirteen, his grades as good as any child,
He finished school and hit the land.
So when he left at 55 to start a different life in town
He had already worked the land for more than forty years.

His tours are for the interest now, to see what’s going on out there
To see which crops are growing best and which ones are the ripest.
Gone are the days when he searched the skies
To see if our daily bread would rise
Or if the hail or drought or harvest rain or blowing soil would take it.

We used to take a tractor ride
Down to the pasture to hear the water
Or touch the crocus, or welcome the buffalo beans
Or kick the puffballs growing between the cow pies.

We used to take tea in canning jars
Wrapped in paper to the harvest fields
Where we sat by the truck in the dusty stubble
While he cooled the tea that we had kept hot
Then drank it with sandwiches and cake we brought.

Today if I have one regret,
It’s that my city children arrived too late
To spend long summer days and nights
Getting to know the land their granddad knows.

Friday, August 17, 2007


tI am hiding the underwear out on the clothesline
Afraid that the people who pass by will see
And suspect that ours is a house
Whose residents wear underwear.

Our mothers have told us to wear underwear
And keep it all clean and in proper repair
Lest we be in an accident and forced to show a stranger
That we are people wearing underwear.

But keeping it clean must be secret, they say
After washing we must keep it hidden away
And when we buy new stuff we don’t want to say
That we have been out getting underwear.

An accident happened one miserable night
I was wearing good underwear, flawless and bright
But the doctors and nurses made me change out of sight
So they never even saw my underwear.

But you can see it,
If you come by this morning,
Because there was too much to hide
And too few shirts to hide it behind
But you will have to hurry,
Because it is drying fast.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Look what’s talking at our house.
So many things that never say a word
When you see them in other people’s houses.

The clock radio tells you about its alarms,
Which ones are set and exactly how early.
And just what time it is right now
But only when you ask it.

The message machine tells you what the day is
And what the time is
And how many people left you a message.
It loudly announces the secret code you’d use
To pick up the messages.

The thermostat tells you what the time is,
And what the temperature is
And whether or not it thinks it’s a weekend
And what the temperature ought to be at the time it thinks it is today.

The laptop tells you the battery needs charging
And does its best to read the screen
Including the newspaper and books on the web
Despite the fact that things keep changing
Making the screen much harder to read by talking.

And then there’s the Trekker that reads the skies
And tells you the name of the street you are on
And also the name of the street you are crossing,
Even if that street has no name.
It says which direction it thinks you are going
And what points of interest relevant or irrelevant
Might be lurking nearby.

The big computer talks like the laptop
But it also reads books out loud on the scanner
And even tries to read Braille out loud,
Configurations of Braille dots once they are assembled
For printing on the Braille printer.

Pirate talks. He says a lot
With panting, growling, woofing, whining.
The people at our house talk as well
Though what they will say is sometimes surprising.
And sometimes, they say, they just get tired
Of shouting to be heard over all the noise.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I might not choose to retire this week
Even if I won a lottery
And had all the money that I would need
To go on cruises and expensive trips
And buy houses for my kids in today’s hot market
And pay their tuition at Harvard or Stanford
And book the Royal Suite at the Hotel McDonald
For days, or weeks, or months at a time
And buy the most expensive wine on the menu.

I might not choose to retire this week
Even though I’m doing so well on holidays
Not getting up before 7:30
Having a nap in the afternoon sunshine,
Thinking of work whenever I want to
But never because I have to.

Come Monday morning I’ll crawl out of bed
And into the shower to wash off the cobwebs
And groan as I climb all the steps from the valley
And count the weeks until my next holiday.
On the way to work where I’ll hope to remember
Why I might not have chosen to retire this week
Even if I won a lottery.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A IS FOR ...

August, that paradoxical month when the ground is soft with lily petals and the begonia you toasted in July profers one spindly bud, daring you to sacrifice its attempt at rebirth for the sake of a fall chrysanthemum; the time when one part of your heart revels in the summer celebration while another chamber simultaneously contracts with anticipatory grief for the leisure that is all too quickly slipping away. Yes, A is for autumn, but not quite yet.

A is also for Amaranthus and astor, the two new flowers in this year’s garden. Like so many great things, they came to us by chance rather than by design. Our usual spring routine takes us to the L.Y. cairns plant sale, where we consult the list I made the previous autumn and buy flowers arranged conveniently in al phabetical order, rushing past the A’s to get an early shot at the begonias and calendula. But this year we couldn’t make it to L.Y. And so, wandering in greenhouses with no recognizable maps to help us with our lists, we ventured home with two new A flowers, unremarkable in appearance, their properties yet unknown. .

Our reference source described amaranthus as “a flower found in old-fashioned gardens”, commonly called Tassel Flower, or Love Lies Bleeding. Love Lies Bleeding! Blood in the flowerbed? Maybe not. But it also revealed a dark side. Amaranthus comes in sixty varieties. Some of them are also called Pigweed. Oh no, not Pigweed, not that fuzzy-flowered pest that grew in the chicken yard! Remembering the farm of my youth, and the many days my father spent in the struggle against the weeds, I decided not to tell my father I was cultivating a cousin of pigweed.

We tucked our amaranthus in among the leafy purple coleus. By early June the plants had overtaken the coleus and were sprouting tiny fuzzy blood-coloured icicles which grew longer and fatter as the plants grew taller, touching their tips to the ground. Love lay bleeding. Pigweed, if I remember correctly, was a very hardy plant, not the kind to fade away or die of its own volition. It’s cousin has shown itself to be similarly persistent. Since none of the icicles has yet fallen, and new ones are still under production, the plants now hang them thickly by the dozen, attracting fascinated curiosity from all who pass them by.

Astors, said the book, are the reward for those who are willing to wait beyond the glory of impatiens. Impatient as we were with the waiting in our short Alberta summer, we sat back to see what would happen. June brought sturdy stocks of promising green. July grew them thick and tall with sprouting buds. But August brought the astors out in lacy bouquets of white and pink and purple, enough to fill a dozen tall vases if you wanted to pick them, though we don’t want to pick them.

So A is for asters and amaranthus, to admire in August, after bidding farewell to the luscious lilies and the toasted begonias. And P is for pigweed, but you didn’t hear me mention that.

Monday, August 13, 2007


A lot of things have improved about weddings.
Gone is that great and hurtful distinction,
The division between those who “had to get married” and those who didn’t.
A white dress no longer pretends to represent virginity.
The groom is toasted along with the bride.
Mothers and fathers present their children together.
Couples look for meaningful vows
Gone are the tired lines from the 16th century.
Invitations ask you to choose, chicken or vegetarian.

The beautiful wedding of Cathy and Roger!
Brilliantly radiant bride and groom.
Family gathering from miles around.
Caesar salad and creamy cheesecake,
Teary-eyed speeches and childhood pictures.
Gifts galore and a honeymoon to come.

There isn’t much fruitcake at weddings these days,
And fruitcake is one of my favourite foods.
But I still love weddings anyway.

Friday, August 10, 2007


“Who will clean out the Internet?” he asks
His manner exuding the very same tone he would use
To say “Who will clean up the kitchen?”
“Or help me to hoist the canoe?”

“No, I’m serious,” he cries when he sees I am laughing.
“Who will get rid of the stuff that is up there?
Who will delete THE HOPE LADY Blog?”

“Delete it?” I mumble and raise my defences
Furtively counting the number of back-ups
Seeing anew how I’ve taken for granted the space to write down
Whatever I choose, as much as I choose,
Then show it to readers all over the world
With the flick of some seemingly meaningless buttons.

Up on the hill is a beautiful mansion
Crafted from marble and inlaid with gold
Down in the basement you walk past the guest suite
And then past the swimming pool
And into the bomb shelter.
Echoes of past threats, built for protection of those who would hide there
From simple deletion with somebody’s button.

On this summer morning when life is near perfect
I ponder the tension between building a deleting,
Having and saving,
Creating and protecting
In a world where we really have no way of knowing
Who will require great courage tomorrow?
And who will clean up the Internet?

Thursday, August 09, 2007


“When I grow up,” I used to say,
“I am going to travel to Russia,
And have my big brown birthmark removed,
And change my first name to something better than Wendy,
And be a social worker,
And stay away from foods I hate,
Olives, oysters, tomatoes.”
I never mentioned getting married,
Not knowing if there was a man out there for me.

But the future is never as clear as it seems
Before I had even come out of my teens
I had already promised the man of my dreams
That we would get married at Christmas.

Then my birthmark emitted a prickle of fear,
So a doctor deleted that much-hated sphere
And it was so traumatic that I cried a tear
And decided not to meddle with my first name.

I never took Russia off my travelling list
But there were some places I wanted to see first
Like the UK, Hawaii, Nova Scotia and Calgary,
Portland, Chicago, Detroit and Nashville,
Phoenix, Los Vegas, Los Angeles, Los Cabos,
San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Orlando
New York, New Orleans, New Brunswick, and Red Deer,
Quebec and Ontario, Prince Edward Island,
British Columbia, even Saskatchewan,
I went to St. Petersburg, but it was in Florida
So Russia is still on the list.
After Australia, New Zealand and the rest of Europe.

I ate things Italian and learned to love olives\
I asked to be given smoked oysters for Christmas
I paid for Greek salads with lots of tomatoes.
But I did become a social worker.

So I did get one prediction right.
But I am probably not on the short list
To be hired as a futurist.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The veranda of my childhood
A country veranda unusual for a farmhouse
Cool in the shade of a hot, hot summer,
Warmed by the low-hanging sunshine of winter
Languorous memories of afternoon rest times,
Miniature tea sets serving to dolls
Visits by turkeys who strayed from the barnyard
Exquisitely infinite games of pretend
You be the father, I’ll be the mother
Let’s say the house is a princess’s castle
With hollow thick walls hiding secret rooms.

The veranda of my fifties
A city veranda uncommon in Edmonton
Welcoming whimsically festooned with flowers
Tables adorned with the bounty of summer
Cold sweating glasses and vegetable stir-fries
Barbecue magic and Saskatoon pies
Deep lounging chairs for a respite with reading
Wide sweeping steps for a neighbour to sit on
While sharing the news of the locals.

Now to the ones who envisioned verandas
And built them in spite of prevailing tradition
My grateful applause for a job well done
For the gift of so many mornings and evenings
Memories made in my childhood and fifties
Out on verandas.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Ten thousand tomatoes out there on the vine
Or do I, perhaps, under-estimate?
I count past a hundred but cannot confirm
For it is most likely a branch has been missed
And that would skew all of the numbers.

An approximate world, too difficult to know
Where, like so many truths
Clouded by guesswork,
This one will forever be a secret.

Monday, August 06, 2007


They call him Old Yeller.
He wanders the streets
Screaming God Damn Fuck, God Damn Fuck
For minutes and hours and days and weeks
And months and years and decades
And sometimes he stays too long near your house
So yu give in and call the police.

“We know him,” says the officer.
“Believed to be harmless.”
“Brain injury you know.”
“Treat with compassion.”
But what is compassion?
For a loner who wanders
And too often loiters
Screaming God Damn Fuck, God Damn Fuck!

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Pirate and I got new toys to play with
And that’s where the weekend has gone.

Pirate got rubber toys, squeaky and squishy
Soft and Supple
An ice cream cone bigger than his head
And a hedgehog even bigger,
Brought home by Mark as a happy surprise.

I got a GPS
And a PDA
And a PIN (pain in the neck, that is)
Paid in full on my MasterCard
But I really wanted it.

Pirate played with his toys in the yard
And said “no thanks” to his usual walk,
And dug a big hole in the lovely green grass
To make a safe place to store them.

I read the manual and played with my toy.
Threatened to smash it a few dozen times
I took it for walks and it told me the street names
I took it on drives and it said points of interest,
Things that are visually taken for granted
Voice competition for David.

Pirate was scolded for digging a hole
And warned about losing his toys in the future
And his paws were cleaned in the laundry sink.
While I went back to the manual again
To see what I needed to learn
To make the blasted thing work right.

So Pirate and I had a turbulent weekend.
Each of us travelling the road of discovery.
Too busy for blogging or walking on leash
Both of us feeling as happy as sunshine
Because we were blessed with incredible toys
And also the time to play with them.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


When I can fix the world
I will turn to hospital emergency rooms
And make them into places where you can see a doctor
Some time in the first few minutes after you get there.

And if I can’t get that done fast enough
Then I will create a new job
Employing somebody kind and smart
To relieve the suffering of patients who are waiting to see the doctor.

And everyone who works there will help to make this happen
Because they will be delighted to see that there is somebody
Relieving patients suffering
Because relieving patients’ suffering will be the most important thing to them.

The person who is hired to relieve the patients’ suffering
Will be bringing warming blankets to those whose teeth are chattering
And getting frozen ice packs to reduce the pain of swelling
And finding a sling or something to help support your right arm
When they notice that you are holding it up with your left hand
And are likely to be holding it for several hours
While you wait to see the doctor.

The person who is hired will speak loudly to those with poor hearing
And softly to those who are distressed
And kneel down to utter words of kindness
To people who are lying on the floor
Because they are in too much pain to stand
While they wait to get to the front of the line
To be checked in by the nurse
So they can wait to see the doctor.

They will stock the place with chairs that would be comfortable for hours
Since they know before they take you you’ll be sitting there for hours
They will help you get some food if you need food while you are waiting.
They will help you make a phone call since your cell phone is illegal.
And when you tell the story of your visit to Emergency
You will be able to say that you were well treated
Knowing in your heart that somebody cared about your suffering,
And did some basic things to make it better.

You never know how long a change will take
Some changes happen faster than you think.
It just could be that by the time I get these changes made
Somebody else will have figured out how to shorten the waiting time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


My daughter had a wonderful time at the flower-arranging party. But she went home chastened and bewildered. “We spent hours making beautiful bouquets,” she reported in wonder. “Then, when we were completely finished, I reached out ‘to stroke a big yellow rose. And the florist yelled ‘Don’t touch that!’”

There is, she told me, a perfectly reasonable explanation for her failure to anticipate official flower policy. She was raised in a home where plants and flowers, like the family dog, receive at least one daily petting. Geranium leaves as soft as felt release their pungent fragrance under a gentle touch. Marigolds are rough and round. Irises splay their wavy tendrils. Snapdragons stack their columns of pudgy little flower packets, reaching for the sky. And then there are the roses, thorns ensuring caution, their silky petals cradled like spoons in gentle patterned curves. I don’t recall having ever told my daughter to touch the plants. She must have learned it from watching me.

My mother, an ambitious gardener, forced by fate to defend her turf against the threat posed by a curious blind daughter, set the stage for flower touching. “Don’t step on the plants,” she would say. But aside from this one rule, the garden was mine to play in. Not stepping on the plants meant not walking in the garden, or rather, not walking in the garden with shoes on. Bare feet could keep things safe, stepping lightly, never putting weight down a second too soon. But there were other options. I could crawl on my knees or slide on my bum. I could poke away the soil to chart the progress of the fattening beets and carrots. I could squeeze the pods to judge whether it was time to pick the peas. I could search the underworld for the tiny new potatoes. I could pick any raspberry that yielded itself easily into my hand.

There was carte-blanche permission to pet the flowers, in the vase or on the vine, the May tulip cups, the opulent June peonies, the delicate sweet peas of August. By touch I could tell a fuscia from a petunia, a pansy from a dahlia. I was welcome to pull weeds, and I learned early that for every desired plant, there is probably at least one weed that feels almost identical but grows faster.

My daughter, like my mother, has eyes that see perfectly well. Nevertheless, her kitchen is adorned by a display of petted plants. “Come and see my orchid,” she implores. What she means is, touch the blossoms. Count the buds. Slide your hand the length of the long curving stock. Stroke the leaves and give me your best opinion as to whether the stickiness of the surface is some kind of disease.

“I don’t know if it is a disease,” I tell her, sniffing the residue on my finger before wiping it clean. “It seems healthy enough.” I know a lot about plants, yet there is still much that I do not know.

Sensitive in the aftermath of the florist’s rebuke, we wonder together if there are plants that die from a loving touch. Do stroked roses last a shorter time? Does ivy stretch less tall if you use your index finger to trace its starry leaves? Does anyone study these things?

No doubt the florist had her own good reasons for staying my daughter’s hand in the instant before it caressed the magnificent yellow rose. She might have heard the echo of her own mother’s admonishment, or acted upon the wisdom of the scientific community. As for my daughter and me, it seems unlikely that we will stop fondling the flowers. To support our position we look to the homes and gardens of three generations in our family. Abundance and diversity reign supreme. There among the lupines and lobelia, we find no reason to predict the early demise of the petted plant.

This feels to me like a story of victory, a triumph for flexibility and experimentation, a story of generations standing together to do unusual things. It also reminds me of the many times when, for no good reason except my personal squeemishness, I am out in the world, clearly a blind person and at the same time pretending not to be. For example, I am on my way to give a lecture in the education Building, looking for a classroom on the main floor. It makes sense to touch the walls and the doors, searching for a room number, the way sighted people seek out room numbers with their eyes. But I won’t touch the wall, not unless the building is so empty that I cannot hear a single human sound. Somebody might see me touching the wall. Both of us will be uncomfortable. They will think I am strange.

My mother never prepared me for this. How could she? We lived on a farm and rarely, if ever, did we search for room numbers. It is enough to thank her for giving me free reign to explore the world of plants. Out in the front yard I happily pet the flowers every summer day, out there where the neighbours have a full view. If they are bothered by the vision of it, they never drop a hint to me. I only hear them commending the flowers.