Saturday, November 07, 2015
On warm summer nights, at my sister’s house in the village of Lougheed, you can wake at 2;00 or 3:00, stretch, perk up your ears—and if the fridge is on intermission from its regular humming concert, and the coyotes are stocking other territories, you might just hear—nothing at all. You listen, you check your ears for wax, you listen again, and still you hear—absolutely nothing. On these nights I lie still, warm and secure and silent. The morning will bring out the people, the birds, the cars. All will be well. On cool autumn days in our new apartment, with the doors and windows closed against the threatening chill of winter, you hear the occasional scrape of a chair on the laminate in the dining room of the apartment above, the low level hum of an Edmonton transit bus accelerating, the swish of traffic on Victoria Park Road far below, a siren at the fire station down the street, the soft voice of a neighbour greeting afriend at the elevator, the trickle of a shower that isn’t yours. All of it is far away unrelated to the physical distance. Your friends ask: “Is it noisy?” “No,” I say. “Nothing that bothers us.” Once upon a long-ago time, when our children were an as-yet undiscovered fragment of our possible future, we camped alone with the grasshoppers on a dusty site in Saskatchewan. The only sound of the night or the day was the wind brushing leaves of the few poplars left at the edge of the ditches. To an urbanite, it was deserted. To a girl recently transplanted from a farm, it was the difference between Alberta and Saskatchewan. To a romantic it should have been—well—romantic. But though I knew I ought to be thrilled to be there with my love in such a private space, awed by the nature of nature undisturbed by anyone but us, I was dogged by a persistent fear of the things that can happen to people alone—attack by disease, or animal, or man. In future I would frequent noisier campsites, and savour the absolute silences of the warm nights in a fine bed comforted by the close presence of others. In the short term future I would live in the suburbs where it is sort-of-quiet. In the long term I would move to an urban apartment on a busy street near a major river crossing and be happy just to be in the noisier centre of things.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Never before have I lived in a community where disability was the norm rather than the exception, but that is definitely the case in our new apartment. The hallways are populated with canes and walkers and the occasional wheelchair. There are hearing aids and vision appliances and memory losses, both short and long term. Sporting our own ever-growing collection of disabilities, we fit right in. You don’t have to be disabled to live in this community, but you do have to be over 45. In our early 60’s, we are definitely at the younger limit of the population. The average age is closer to 80. When we first viewed the apartment we were not searching for company either older or disabled. We were simply looking for a centrally located large place with a decent kitchen, a reasonably accessible bathroom, a balcony you could enter with a walker and enough space to accommodate the guests we love to entertain. With these caviats in mind, we scouted the place on the Internet. It seemed worthy of the trouble it would take to get through the door for a personal peek. The things we thought we wanted are here, to be sure. But the force that brought us here can only be identified as personal magnetism. The personal stuff began on the doorstep and continued in elevator and hallway every time we came back for another look. Each person we met inquired about our presence in a friendly manner. Clearly the residents know who lives here. Each one went on to say that this building is a wonderful place to call home. We must not, we concluded, appear to be the kind of people who ought not to live here. “We have coffee every Wednesday,” they said, “and happy hour on Monday. We have movies on Thursday and a barbecue coming up. You could come to the barbecue. No need to pay for dinner. I’ll bring you a bottle of wine. Do you want red or white?” “This is a community,” they said to us, after we’d drunk the wine and purchased the key. “We do most of the maintenance and gardening ourselves. We organize the social activities. We take care of security. Most of the apartments are represented when we have a meeting. This, as you have already noticed, is a great place to live,” And if my friends are visibly surprised that I now live in a place where disability is more the norm than the exception, and age is a greater number than mine, all I can say is: Nobody is more surprised than me!
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
The place has a “wow!” effect Windows pop out everywhere The sun shines magnificently in the dining room, living room, and kitchen nook The place isn’t square The bedroom is the coolest room in the house The lights of the city spread out before me when I walk into the bedroom after dark The balconies are generous It’s almost, but not quite soundproof There’s a club room where the neighbours gather The neighbours brag about how wonderful it is to live here The bus stops nearby The living room in our new apartment is a morning room that bursts resplendent with a rosy glow as the autumn sun rises over the river far below. With its appearance comes hope in the knowledge that, by midmorning the glow will have spread to the dining room, then to the nook by lunch time. And though the sunny nook brings a smile, and the plants on the plant stand raise their leaves for the dining room welcome, the lure of the rosy living room extravaganza with all itspromise is enough to get me out of bed for an early visit to the exercise room so that I might be back in the living room by sun-up..
Sunday, March 01, 2015
“It's okay to be absurd, ridiculous, and downright irrational at times; silliness is sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.” –Richelle E. Goodrich I wish I had been given a penny every time a therapist or therapy client implied to me that silliness is a harmful defence mechanism. Or maybe I don’t wish that. Pennies are heavy, and my back would surely have been injured hauling them around. As for me, well, I love silliness. The sadder I am, the more I seem to love it. I used to wonder if the process of maturing would change all this. Maybe, I speculated, maybe when I grow up, I’ll be sad when I am sad, angry when I am angry, frustrated when I am frustrated. But the other day, as I laughed hysterically, while snaking forward with less grace than a bull in a china shop, in the Air Canada lineup at the Buenos aries airport, giggling out of control as David and I tried to inch ahead at the right angle, in the right moment, sporting multiple disabilities, dragging a walker and two heavy suitcases on wheels, without toppling any post-holders or entangling our belongings in the line ropes, I couldn’t help but notice how so many of the people around us, any of whom might have stepped forward to help, had fallen victim to the contagion of ridiculously misplaced laughter. I suppose any of those immobilized strangers would have taken a walker, or a suitcase, or the arm of a blind person if I had found the words to explain our situation and request their assistance, which, I believe, is what a mature, responsible person would do. But somehow, the thought never occurred to me. Instead, I started the silliness. Perhaps, at my age, I need not worry about the possibility of growing out of it.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Thursday, January 22, 2015
The Writer’s almanac I turned to my computer In search of inspiration A crippling case of writers’ block Had dulled my concentration. And there emerged In white and black The inspiring Writer’s Almanac. A beacon of hope A promise to mind Of treasures still out there Awaiting a find.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
In the measure of time in a warm winter coat That it takes to escape from there with your arms reaching skyward, stretched taut in the air Tugging ceaselessly upward past chin point and nose tip Endangering earlobes, scraping skin from the forehead Do you pause to reflect on the infinite wonder Of a world filled with humans preoccupied inventing Spaceships that fly to the moon then come down again But not a dependable zipper?
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Be wary of the faint hopes With their promise of the most to gain In the presence of so little to lose. It is the faint hopes in their faintness, That are most easily mistaken for abandoned hopes And therefore carry the power To disappoint cruelly by surprise. Be respectful of the faint hopes With their power to seem unimportant For the greatest power to make change Where change ought not to be possible Waits unseen in their nurture.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Contrary as it seems There may be times When winter is beautiful Because the sun is brilliant And the snow is new With chrystals everywhere And the wind forgot to blow So the air is snappy And only a little cold And every neighbour who lives by the river is walking a dog on the park path. Yes, there may be times When winter is beautiful And if there are any Then today is one of them.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Pirate: You’re looking sad today. Anything the matter? Me: Well, nothing too serious. But my TV doesn’t talk. Pirate: It must have broken overnight. Why, just yesterday I heard it spewing out Jeopardy questions and playing Season 8 of M.A.S.H. Me: Oh, it can still do that. What I mean is, it doesn’t really talk to me the way I want it to. It doesn’t say the things I want to hear. Pirate: I have heard that is often the case with humans. But I didn’t know TV’s did it too. What did you want it to say? Me: I want it to tell me what channel I am on. I want it to speak out loud so I will know even though I can’t read the channel indicator. Pirate: I thought it did. Me: Well, it did when I bought it. I searched the Web until I found the only one that would speak the channel number. Then I put out the big bugs and bought it. They call it a SMART TV. Pirate: And now it stopped? It isn’t smart anymore? Me: Well, not exactly. It still could tell me the channel if I unplugged it from the digital box. But now that it is plugged into the digital box, it has to stay on channel 4 so the digital box will work. Pirate: Then why not just unplug it from the digital box? Me: Because then we wouldn’t be able to watch it. You have to have a digital box in order to get the channels! Pirate: Then why don’t you get a talking digital box? Aren’t there digital boxes that talk? Me: Not as far as I know. Pirate: Surely they will invent one soon. Me: Maybe. But that still won’t be enough. Pirate: What more do you want? Me: I want a TV that reads the screen with the channel line-up. I want a TV that reads the screen so that I can operate the PVR. I want a TV that reads the screen so that I can use the DVD player, maybe even the old VCR. I want a TV that treats me as if I were a sighted person. Pirate: Isn’t that what your TV does now? Me: You dogs are so insensitive! I thought I could talk to you! I thought you’d listen. Why do you have to twist everything I say? Pirate: (muttering as he slinks under the bed) Women! It’s enough to make me grateful that I’m neutered.
Thursday, January 08, 2015
When I was in my twenties, I sat down with David and a couple of other friendly people to learn how to play Bridge. The food was good. The company was good. The game was interesting, but it does not stand out in my memory as a pleasant evening. Rummy, Hearts and Crib, I concluded, were more my style. I can’t say I remember what happened—wouldn’t know whether I won or lost. But I certainly remember the way I felt—on edge, inadequate, not too bright, all things considered. The game got off to a good enough beginning. Braille cards with print markings were dealt. I, reading the braille, sorted my hand into suits and began the process of bidding. This is where the trouble started. The source of the problem was not the bidding, nor the playing, though either of these is perplexing enough. What got me down was the hand laid down on the board—a stack of cards which everyone in the game could see, except for me. It should have been simple enough. All I had to do was to be told which cards were in the hand on the board. Then I would remember them all, and keep track of which had been played, while at the same time keeping track of other cards being played, plus make intelligent decisions about how to play my own hand. But it wasn’t simple. To put it mildly, I simply couldn’t remember all the cards in the hand on the board, and which ones had been played, and keep track of all other cards played, and make intelligent decisions about how to play my own hand. In a word, I was a failure. That popular game, the game I had expected to enjoy, had double-crossed me. So I gave up Bridge, turning instead to Rummy, Hearts and Crib. It’s funny how the memory of a failure will stick to you like a burr on a sock. Wishing to shake it off I would try again—once every ten years or so—renewing my commitment to Rummy, Hearts and Crib. On nights made wakeful by a crying baby or a twinging back I would devise technical innovations—reaching across the table after every round to feel the cards on the board, developing a theoretical prototype for a peg board within my reach on which I could place replicas of the cards, removing the peg representing the played card after each play. On the worst nights, I would blunder into a pity party. “If only I could see, I would play Bridge!!!” Come morning, I would put the whole sorry discussion behind me. But it wasn’t the end. The road to self-improvement so seldom really ends. I have a mentor. Her name is Doris Goetz. She’s been mentoring me in various ways every since I was ten years old. She’s an achiever, a proud blind person, independent and strong. She’s the type of person who would work out a very good system for playing a game. She took up Bridge when she retired, said she hoped I’d join her when I retired. Though the prospect appealed to me, I doubted it, and said as much. “I just can’t remember the cards on the board and keep track of the play,” I said. “How do you do it?” “I just keep asking people to tell me what cards are on the board,” she replied. Don’t you feel dumb doing that, I thought. “Don’t they get tired of that?” I asked. “No,” she said. “And anyway, so what if they do?” And that is how, a few years later, it came to pass that I was genuinely surprised to hear myself say to David that I thought I’d take up Bridge when I retired. Perhaps I would play with Doris in a club that involved both blind and sighted players. Would he like to join me? Now that our Wednesday mornings are taken up with Bridge, it would, I have concluded, be easier to play Bridge as a sighted person, because you could simply glance at the cards on the board as many times as you liked. It is, according to David, easier to play Bridge with blind people because they so often ask for a review of the cards on the board, a review that helps to focus the attention of the sighted players. Time passes quickly. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I make smart plays. Sometimes my plays are dumb. I look forward to Wednesday mornings, and I still love Rummy, Hearts and Crib. Bridge has been double-crossed on the road to self-improvement.
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. That is what the pragmatists say. Quite frankly, I find that statement a little confusing. At a glance the statement appears to be wise, a good balance of hope and caution. Do we hope that our houses will not catch fire, even as we purchase fire extinguishers and teach our children which exits to use and where to meet if the house should burst into flame? Do we not buy health insurance when we hope to be well? Do we not lock our doors even though we hope not to be robbed? But, on second glance, the idea of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst gives me trouble. Maybe it’s because I have counselled so many people with depression so crippling that it will not allow them to hope for the best. Everything they do seems to be directed toward preparing for the worst. The preparation becomes so compelling a preoccupation that good things within their reach can elude their grasp, remaining as unnoticed as bed bugs in the light of day. The problem, I think, is that hope in the context of hoping for the best is a passive thing, while preparing is an active occupation. We can get so busy preparing that any benefits of hope become invisible to us. Hope isn’t much use until we put a little preparation into it. One of my favourite things about hope is that, when treated to attention and respect, it tends to direct our activities. To get the best out of hope, we have to treat it the way we treat a treasured infant. We can’t simply mention it and expect it to take care of itself. We have to sit with it, inquire about it, experiment with it, nurture it, work towards its goals. We have to invest in it. Even as we invest some effort into preparing for the worst. When it comes to sayings, I think I prefer: Hope for the best and prepare for it. Also prepare for the worst, and hope the time you spent preparing for it will turn out to have been wasted.
Monday, January 05, 2015
This morning CBC’s The Current aired a program called Deaf Jam. It traced the career development of two deaf musicians—not counting, although mentioning Beethoven. Evelyn Glennie and Sean Forbes have built reputations that would be the envy of anyone aspiring to make it in the music world. More than once, the documentary tried to address that burning question: How can a deaf person engage—I mean truly engage with music? Still puzzled and perplexed at the end of the documentary, I focused on one snippet. Evelyn Glennie was initially refused entry into a school of music that routinely accepted blind applicants—refused not because of ability, but because of deafness. As you might guess, she fought this ruling and won. No doubt this was only one among thousands of battles she fought before she became famous. Wondering how it is that a deaf person could want so much to build a musical career, I contemplated my recent trip to Russia. Tourism in Russia is not exactly a pastime I would recommend to blind people. The major attractions—the Winter Palace, the Moscow Subway, dozens of icon-laden churches, etc., are art galleries. There is nothing you can touch. There is no tour guide interested in helping you touch anything. I did, however, enjoy the trip. Explain that, will you? I can’t. From the stories of Evelyn Glennie and Sean Forbes I took three messages: Understand that deafness is a complex condition that affects people in different ways; Understand that deaf people can be musical; understand that hearing people cannot fully understand deaf people, but they can help them live better. And a fourth message perhaps: Understand that people can’t really understand blind people, not even blind people themselves.
Saturday, January 03, 2015
Yesterday at lunch we were talking about death with some friends. I hadn’t been the one to raise the topic, but I did participate willingly, since death seemed to be the topic of the day for me. Only a few hours had passed since I read Sandra Martin’s article in The Toronto Globe and Mail—THE LONG GOODBYE: LET’S TALK ABOUT DEATH. In it Martin poses the question: “Have you noticed how few people seem to die these days?” She was not, as it appeared on first viewing, talking about a decline in the death rate, but rather about our tendency to replace direct mention of death and burial with other expressions. People pass away, or they glimpse the last rays of afternoon light, or become bright morning stars, or are laid to rest. Martin, it seems, would prefer conversations to be more specific, less poetic. I have some sympathy for her point of view. I am, in fact, forced to confess sympathy, or admit that I was wrong all those years ago when I engaged in subversive conversations with my friend Bert. Each conversation would resemble the others. Bert would mention that so-and-so had passed away. “When did she die?” I would ask. “She passed on in late December,” he would say. “Oh, I am sorry she died.” On and on it would go, neither of us willing to back down, neither of us willing to acknowledge that we were arguing semantics when we ought to have been grieving. We were in our twenties then and though the deaths we discussed were the deaths of real people, we spoke of them at a distance, as if they were theoretical. These days, when I discuss death with friends, the conversations are different. Gone is the competitive tone replaced by the recounting of experience and the gentle prodding of a future not yet determined. There is much to talk about. We have all sat sadly and fearfully with dying parents and felt the desperate grieving of those closest to us as we arranged funerals. We have all wandered aimlessly through our homes after the funerals, wondering how to fill the gaping holes. What’s more, now that we are in our sixties, our thoughts are turning to impending deaths—our own. Some of us have cancer, others have other conditions. None of us has been given a probable date for our death, but we can see how it might happen even as we engage in the most positive approaches toward living. So we practice talking about with people we trust, lighting on it cautiously, tenderly, careful not to linger too long. But still we light on it. Where once I would have stood in enthusiastic defence of Martin’s position on telling it like it is, I now find myself reading in sympathy that so-and-so has joined the choir of angels, or watches happily over grandchildren from a better place. It’s poetry, really. Poetry comforts. I wonder if there is anything to be gained by trying to force people to say words they do not want to utter. We all no that a death occurred. What we don’t know is what is happening now to the person who is no longer alive, and because we are grieving, because we are in need of comfort, , we want to give the benefit of the doubt, to believe that something good has come of it all. Near the end of her article Martin asks “Will you join me in a collective resolution to rip the shroud off death imagery?” Honestly, at this point in my life, speaking as a person who has always been willing to address death in direct language, I think I’ll decline the invitation.
Thursday, January 01, 2015
I opened the newspaper yesterday to find, to my surprise, a melancholy horoscope. I thought I must have misunderstood it, so I read it again. “There must be some mistake,” I muttered. “Aren’t horoscopes always supposed to be positive? Isn’t that how they sell the papers?” So Here, according to the New Year’s eve edition of the Edmonton Journal, is my horoscope for 2015. “VIRGO Aug. 23-Sept. 22 This New Year is the time to be with the ones you love. You will land like a cat on all fours this year. You also will do a lot of reflecting through mid-August. Be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn't. Let go of what is not working, as you are about to begin a new luck cycle sometime around your birthday. You could be surprised by how good life can be. It would be wise to use the first part of the year to ask yourself what you would change if you could. Also, update your life goals; perhaps they need some revision since you last thought about them. A lot likely has changed since then. Others seem to gravitate toward you, and your life will become more rewarding as a result. It is quite possible that something you really want will become a reality. Soak up the popularity and good fortune that come your way in 2015!” Not entirely pleased with the idea of needing to land like a cat, or review my life goals, or reflect on things in mid-August when I’d rather be soaking up the delights of summer, I decided to sleep on it, and review it again in the new year—which is today. I’ve never been very good at life goals. Other people decide to be an airline pilot, or an astronaut. They fill bucket lists with exotic destinations. I, in contrast, say things like; “I just want to be happy.’ Or, “I want to be able to look back and feel proud of how I handled things.” Goal-setters hate this kind of talk. It makes them throw up their hands in despair. But it’s the best I can do—honestly it is, and I simply will not let it go, even if it isn’t working! Today is the day when I will probably forget, for the first time this year, to write 2015 instead of 2014. Nevertheless, I am trying to get things off to a good beginning. Recalling some famous falls by cats I have known, off of fridge tops and out of hayloft windows, I started the first morning of the first day of 2015 with some stretches, some sit-ups, some bird dogs, and a push-up or two. I am working on the goal of building more flexibility and stability, my preparation for landing “like a cat on all fours.” Then I went downstairs and started the preparation to be with the ones I love, at our New Year’s dinner and card party. Looking back at the invitation I sent them, I predict that they will be gravitating toward me at about 4:30, and if they don’t let me win at cards—a distinct possibility based on historical perspective, their presence will be reward enough for me. As for asking myself what I would change if I could, I decided to put that off until tomorrow.