I'm a writer, artist, advocate, volunteer, and former nurse. I write literary fiction, creative non-fiction, humour, and when I need to exorcise my dark side, mysteries and thrillers. I love the feeling of getting a word right.
I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, with my cat Bendicks, and the occasional and welcome visits of my two children.
I do needle felting, knit badly, hook the occasional rug, and play the ukulele.
Oh, and I live with MS. It's good for existential angst.
This wonderful word was used in Victorian times to describe feeling downhearted. I’m all over the morbs today.
I find it hard to believe the bombing in Ukraine is actually happening. How is it we haven’t evolved past the need to pound innocents with weaponry? It is obscene.
I can’t help but visualize the poor mum’s and babes in the maternity hospital, being forced to shelter in the basement, the patients of all ages in the hospitals with nowhere to hide, no supplies, no oxygen.
It is astonishingly evil, this attack on Ukraine and like so much astonishing evil these days, we seem helpless to stop it. I had thought we had safeguards built into our governments, our processes, but no. It seems that in the face of malevolence, we are stunned, stuck in space.
I am frustrated by my inability to be much help. I refuse to enter into the social media humble-bragging about how “the news is depressing so I have to remind myself that I live in safety and have nice things” miasma, though. It seems smug at the least and quite inexcusably tone-deaf to tell people how happy and warm you are while people are being exploded into smithereens by war-crime quality bombing.
We privileged folks have always done this, while people in other parts of the world survive hell (or don’t). It needs to stop. We live a life of good things on the backs of those who provide it, often at their cost. I am typing this on an Apple phone, something for which I feel guilty though it’s an old version and I can alleviate some anxiety by remembering that.
I have a lucky life. I know this. It was a result of the land of my birth. If I’d been born in Ukraine, or the Sudan, life would not be as lucky. So let’s stop being smug about our accidental location, and do what we can to help those elsewhere. Please? We need some humanity, not aversion of heads.
Back when I was young and foolish and had no idea of cultural appropriation or even much knowledge at all about Ukraine, I briefly became a member of the Queen’s University Ukrainian Club.
I joined because I had three lovely Ukrainian friends- a boyfriend, a future boyfriend, a gal pal. I joined for the parties, the vodka, the perogies. It was all tasty and fun and everyone seemed full of the cheery cultural spirit I lacked in my own pale upbringing.
I lacked understanding of the challenges behind this background but I was quite willing to drape myself over it, learning how to make Ukrainian goodies, dancing to the music.
I tried my hand at making pysanky, thanks to some excellent kistkas constructed by my friend and his apt tutelage. I remember the weight of the raw egg on my hand as we drew patterns on it the eggs in wax, dipped them in dye, drew again.
The last bit of creating the pysanky involved heating the egg gently, wiping away the melted wax, revealing the colourful designs underneath. The egg was always at the point of breakage, safe only when held gently yet firmly, an interesting tension to create.
Much later, I tried again, only to realize that the numb hands I have now meant the egg was endangered- I broke many.
The feeling of that warmed egg in my careful hand is in my thoughts today as I read the news about Ukraine. I dread the heavy handed people invading, risking crushing the beauty that resides in the country. As I listen to the news, my hands curl, as if to cup Ukraine in safety, even as the heat of the candle approaches.
We all seem to be in an angry mood these days, using eggs as weapons rather than art objects. I wish that all would take the time to hold an egg in their cupped hand, sense its strength and its fragility, and send wishes for courage to our world leaders to demonstrate both.
Thinking of the people of Ukraine, and in fact, of all peoples enwrapped in war and threat.
It only seems right to write about infectious diseases in this endless time of plague. As a retired nurse with an epidemiology degree, I’ve always been fascinated by infectious thingies, and particularly by the above, tuberculosis, the gift that keeps on giving.
We keep thinking it isn’t much of a problem. After all we have drugs, right? Well, we did, until the recent AIDS epidemic caused a huge TB upsurge and the boosting of medication resistant bacilli. It’s lurking, people, it’s lurking, and until we do something about poverty and housing overcrowding and all those upstream causes of illness, it’s going to lurk on.
And sooner or later it’s going to come back, in a more generally aggressive format. Because infectious things have to live, man, much as we wish they wouldn’t.
So, having recently moved to Kingston, ON, where my father spent some time in the TB Sanitarium after WW2, what could be more natural than to want to research and write about that time in history?
As I research, it was the TB treatments that lured me in – hellishly invasive, involving total body casting for months, cutting away ribs, deflating lungs, and so many painful procedures – and yet the death rate remained high despite this and months of enforced bedrest. It wasn’t a good diagnosis. I remember my dad’s brief reference to getting his news: “All of the nurses were crying…”
He was quite a charmer, my gentleman dad, so I believe the scene. He survived only to have it come back when he was being treated for cancer. Because it’s one of those diseases that lingers, hiding in the back alleyways of your body, waiting to be reenergized. Scary stuff, no?
But as I looked into that time period, more fascinating details opened before me. The end of the war was a tumultuous time here in wee Kingston – yes, the war ended, and the fallout from that, but also the changing face of medicine with better antibiotics, the movements around the many nursing schools here – at KGH, at the Dieu, at Queen’s, at the mental hospital, even at the San. The movement of women from industry back to the home as the war ended. The development of a professional nursing organization. The growth of industry, the arrival of the common car, so many many changes.
And still the nurses graduated with bouquets of roses and the nurses’ cap, earning their literal stripes as they progressed through the years. Nursing work hours started as inhumane, shifted to merely gruelling. Training was always about deportment as well as technical skills; as nurses were expected to be the embodiment of virtue as well as technically proficient, filled with common sense but still feminine enough to charm. Endless jokes about getting a Mrs. degree or being on the “fishing fleet” to capture a man from RMC floated about even in my day. A few nurses carried a banner to establish nursing as a lifelong career, instead of a stopgap until marriage. Many of them gained traction during these years.
It was a difficult role, and in my time in the late 1970’s at Queen’s as a nursing student, I was called onto the red carpet many a time for failing in one way or another. And at the end of the four years, our caps didn’t even have one stripe – we were to be distinguished from our non-university peers by the lack of a stripe, which of course made us look like their probationary nurses. Which seemed appropriate when I graduated – I felt as if I still had so much to learn! As I did. SO thankful for my mentors along the way.
I’m combining my experience as a student here in Kingston with my research and writing a story about a nursing student at KGH in the last of the war years of WW2 (I find it infinitely sad I have to specify the war). She’s plucky, but a bit of a failure as she starts, only knows that she wants to get away from her claustrophobic home and preacher father. Will her time at the Kingston Sanitarium working with the TB patients help her develop her confidence? Or will she find the man of her dreams and escape that way?
I remember why my eldest child stopped wearing dresses to elementary school. It was “Friday Flip-Up day” and quite horrifyingly it was a THING amongst the pre-pubescent male population to attack girls and flip up their skirts to expose their underwear.
I should have girded myself up and stormed into the school to report it, though I imagine that would have had repercussions for my kid, as any of my interventions did.
The rats in another school kept going around after another of my children, yelling anti-gay epithets because at grade six, he didn’t have a girlfriend.
Because doesn’t everyone become sexualized before puberty?
I reported that and it led to my poor son being followed around by the principal for weeks, while absolutely nothing was done about the bullies. I learned my lesson, and so did he. It’s not a good lesson.
It seems to be always that way with abusers and the abused. If the abused report anything, they are subjected to more and more abuse, both by the original baddies and also the system that they have to live within. Add social media and the horrible people who hide and shout from the shadows, and life becomes pretty damn annoying. And the bullies? Well, they have a million excuses given for their bad behaviour – they’re only boys, that’s just what they do…
It’s all progressing, too. Boys who can’t have every girl are creating groups to kill them all. Men who are challenged for their actions still shoot and kill their partners with infuriating frequency, and they succeed because the initial complaints by their partners are belittled. It’s got to stop, I cry, while meanwhile things are getting worse and more violent the more rights non-male genders are granted. The backlash is severe and growing and it breaks my heart.
I particularly like Gina Martin’s response to the “not all men” retort, the one that crushes any forward movement. She points out that yeah, not all men, but then not all men are trying to help the situation, either. Men still allow inappropriate behaviour, not calling out their mates, or standing up for other gender rights. They LET IT GO ON. And they contribute to imbalances in all sorts of ways. Because, frankly, it benefits them, the status quo.
So before you smugly say, yeah, well, but not me, ask yourself if you’ve done anything to help correct the gender imbalances present, to address the ongoing sexual abuse and threatening behaviour that women and other genders have to live through every single day of their lives. (Well, until they get older and then no one sees them, which is its own kind of violence.) Maybe you have, and I tip my hat to you. But as Gina says, there aren’t nearly enough of you.
Perhaps it will all come down to this generation needing to die off before anything gets better, (as I hope with the ongoing racism) but I wonder. A lot of those INCEL creeps are young. (Though at least their chances of reproducing are low…) Things may well get a lot worse before they get better.
And I am so tired of seeing tales of abuse and murder everywhere. As Marg says, maybe it’s time to boycott the “dick-lit” that abounds everywhere, on TV and in movies, where women are always shown as abused and murdered. One episode of Criminal Minds usually does in two or three women. I’ve stopped watching it entirely. I’ve cancelled Netflix because of the endless streaming shows where women are slaughtered. Enough carnage. At least murder mysteries from the UK try for a bit of gender balance in their victims.
In addition, I’m finished reading books by men. Especially novels. I’m giving it up until you guys learn how to behave. (This seems like a small thing until you see my book budget…)
So I’ve had it. I’m done. I am going Warrior Princess, taking Marg Delahunty as my mentor. Now, where is that smiting sword when I need it?
There’s another solar eclipse pending–June 10th, 2021. Here in Canada it will only be partial and at the crack of dawn. I plan to get up not so much to see the actual exclipse happening as to enjoy the weird lighting and natural responses to the covering of the sun.
Birds get quiet. The earth seems to take a breath, as if it isn’t quite sure things will return to normal.
I’ve got a few wonderful memories of eclipses – like the ones I shared with my dad and family and the one I kept the kids home from school for. The school planned to keep all the kiddies locked inside to prevent them looking at the sun. I thought this was an educational moment wasted, so I kept them home and we designed the over the shoulder pinhole camera tubes my dad taught me how to make and we watched it all together.
Of course they were quite young at the time so I doubt they will remember. Honestly. I wish I had taken more photos of these fun times we had as they only seem to remember my actions during their teenage years which, frankly, were not representative. They were challenging times.
I also kept them home one day when they were curious about the human heart – I bought a beef heart from the butcher and we dissected it together so I could show them how it all worked. With that and a stethoscope they probably learned more than was strictly necessary, but hey, I was a scientist married to an arts major and I had to stake out some ground…
In any case, they did get to actually see an eclipse.
The best eclipse event, though, was back in 1972 in PEI. We were up at my cousin’s cottage when it occurred and my dad had organized all of us with tubes and telescopes (pointed down) to stand on the dunes in Brackley Beach and await the total eclipse. It’s the one Carly Simon sings about. Perhaps that’s why I’m so vain?
As the sun was gradually covered over by the moon, dusk fell. The hundreds of people gathered on the hilly dunes grew silent. Dogs, who had been barking helloes to each other, shut up. The seagulls stopped crying out and settled down as if for the night.
The dark grew. I haven’t seen many total eclipses and it is very difficult to view one without an animal feeling of dread. We don’t really bother to think about how much we depend on the sun actually being present during the day until it suddenly isn’t.
The sea and sky and dunes were completely dark. Stars appeared, taking an unexpected bow, looking a bit startled by their need to show up. Everyone froze for the seconds when the sun was completely covered and we gazed at the ring.
The silence was total for a couple of minutes as the moon made its careful passage. Just as the light started to increase, a man shouted “Let there be light!”
And there was.
Everyone looked over across the dunes to see who had shouted and it was a guy who looked strangely like the Disney Jesus Christ, complete with flowing robes and beard. Or maybe I just imagined that.
The crowd laughed in a relieved way – you could tell everyone had been just that tiny bit uneasy during the strange darkness.
I’ve stayed up in buggy fields and ponds to see asteroids, I’ve gazed at the special huge moons, watchbut there’s something so cool about a solar eclipse. I’m setting my alarm.
When I was a young person, I used to often wonder about the women I saw whose breasts seemed to lie about their waist. There was a long long slope to the eventual boob bits. Didn’t they wear a bra? Why did SOME women seem to keep relatively perky, whereas others slumped like melting ice cream into a gently rounded abdomen with no delineating characteristics?
I admit it, I judged. I told myself I’d never be in that situation, I’d maintain my chest muscles, wear underwire bras, stand erect, shoulders back.
That was before the last year and a bit. A year where I’ve pretty well been on my own and had no need to torture myself with garments designed to poke wires into my soft bits. A year where my “going to the gym” body has gradually softened and developed a pronounced jiggle. A year of slumping over my desk, reading stuff on the computer.
No matter, I thought. I can wear my Northern Reflections sweatshirts and no one will ever know I am braless beneath them. Not that anyone could see me, except on the rare occasion I shuffle down to do my laundry, skulking in corners and avoiding anyone else’s air.
The weather is getting summery. The sweatshirts are a bit…warm…and to be honest, I am sick to death of them. So I pulled out my summer shirts and realized with horror I actually have to wear a bra under them or risk public scorn. And or laughter. And/or an injury as I ram into things unawares with no cushioning sweatshirt to protect me..
I dug through my neglected bras, some of which still seem to fit me, trying to find the least painful one that could give me some sort of shape. The thing is, those mammary glands have changed shape with neglect. They are no longer at ALL perky, and immediately upon applying said brassiere, they pulled the entire assemblage down down ever down. I’m short, so they were eventually stopped by my waistband (there is a whole other area of saggage UNDER the waistband but I prefer to ignore that). But still. They definitely lacked determination.
I now have an acreage on the top of my chest that I realize I must accessorize immediately, preferably with something large. Something to draw the eyes up, away from the gentle slopes of DA. A distraction from the effects of gravity and inappropriate eating.
At the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Conference years ago, one of the standup performers talked about the perfect accessory for those of us with the need to distract. Her Dodge Caravan. She looked ever so perky through the window of that.
Alas, my Toyota Corolla doesn’t have enough height to fully disguise the slopage.
Fortunately, we’re still on lockdown so I have time to hang upside down and try to return things to their normal location. Of course, this may make Zoom meetings somewhat … challenging.
How are you all, in your various states of incarceration? Are you enjoying your state-sanctioned rapid races through grocery stores, averting your glance from the stationery section?
Have you, like me, forgotten how to stand appropriately except in line? Do you find yourself wearing a mask to bed? Alone?
I’ve lost a cog, myself. My skin is degrading through lack of exposure – not so much to air as to the laughs of friends, the scent of acquaintances, the wind blowing through my car window as I head off on an adventure.
We shouldn’t talk about my hair. I have some, and most of it is in the right places but other than that we shall maintain a respectful silence. It’s misbehaving though. Maybe because I have somehow lost all of my taming instruments when doing a madness inspired cleanse of my apartment. Perhaps, as a dog groomer told me once in all seriousness, the hair I brush off my head falls and re-roots in my face…
Still, I was hanging in there for the most part, despite a cross-country move and the consequent enhanced isolation. That is, until my cat died.
Didn’t handle the grief well. Then, I made a mistake. Desperate for the love of a cat, I ran to the humane society and adopted another, a known behaviour problem cat. No matter, I thought, I KNOW cats. I’m calm around them. I can manage this.
Did I stop to consider that I could have been behaving irrationally, full of grief and loneliness as I was? Not me. (Did I mention I have a problem with impulse control? (I blame the MS lesions in my head but that’s probably not fair as I leapt about before they started))
So I adopted. Only to find *this* is a 25 pound meowing constantly, shedding often, and pouncing mass of risk. With crazy eyes and the ability to fly across a room into window screens, claws extended.
It’s a bit alarming.
So we played until she fell aside, weary, and I fed her treats in an appropriate manner, and set up a cozy house for her to hang out in when she felt stressed, in fact followed Jackson Galaxy’s recommendations almost to the letter. He does know what he is talking about. Her hissing and panicking ended after the first day.
She grew more comfortable. Even let me touch her now and then. She can be quite cute. But the reign of terror started last night and I suspect she thinks she has the drop on me. Her pouncing became more aggressive, her demands for attention more strident. She begged as I ate dinner, claws into my leg, gently, but enough to let me know she could do more.
So, we’re re-evaluated. I’m too old to put up with a lot of malarkey, and the thought of spending the next 15 years of so wrestling with any irrational creature is unappealing. (This is why I live alone…) For her part, I think she’d prefer someone who a. had a bigger house and b. played with her more than I can.
Ah, pandemic thinking. It seems to have knocked me off the track a wee bit. How about you? I have eaten way too much chocolate, played way too many meaningless computer games, watched too much mindless entertainment. In my defence, what with the variants of concern and the politics of concern, my panic levels have been pretty near the surface. The temptation of having a comforting furry roommate was too much.
But a tooth and claw sharp one that is given to leaping all over me with all 25 lbs centred on her feets? Hmmm. Somehow that seems like one stressor too much.
Fourteen months into lockdowns from Covid-19 and those dang “variants of concern”, and it’s not only my hair that is sprawling uncontrollably.
I’ve been doing relatively well, not quite mad yet, participating in things via zoom and sneaking out now and again for distant walks with friends. I’ve been finding the endless warnings about “people who live alone” and mental health kind of annoying until now, as I spend hours stabbing embroidery again and again. I can keep myself busy. I like being alone. There are books.
But I’m slipping.
I blame my cat, Bendicks. He has been a warming presence, a demanding one, too, forcing me to get up to serve his needs, while giving me something tactile to hug. And look at those lovely huge feets!
But then he got sick. He’s an old guy, fifteen or so, and had been sick on and off despite multiple interventions, but this time he didn’t respond.
I’m all for medically assisted dying for people, having seen my parents writhe their way through end stage cancer, but it is such a hard decision to make for another, even if that other is a cat. Or maybe particularly because he’s a cat. It’s not like we could discuss things.
But I girded my loins, and with a dear friend beside me, was able to take the step. I thanked him as he slid away. The vet thought I was thanking her. I was not. But that anger is for another time.
I came home to my empty apartment, heart broken, and went on a mad purge, hiding anything cat like, giving away anything that reminded me of my little guy. It was cathartic, and besides, his fur was getting caught up in my tears and making gooey hair balls everywhere.
Fine, I thought. A cat-less existence can be done. It’s possible. people do it all the time.
But it wasn’t. Without another creature in my apartment, things became uneasy. The dark was unfriendly. Going to sleep at night wasn’t possible without that weight at the end of the bed, the head that would raise when I’d wake up, the purring. There was no frame to my day, no reason to get up.
I fight depression from my MS every day. I usually win. But I could feel the wheels getting wobbly on the bus, the tangles forming in my hair, the other vaguely appropriate metaphor for losing my mind…
It seems I can live without human contact for months and months and months (though it is wearing thin, I admit), but I’ve got to have feline company. I thought of other, less involving pets—a bird, a fish, a hamster—ones that wouldn’t require me to feel like I was trying to replace the irreplaceable. But they just couldn’t fit.
So I’m interviewing another cat today, via zoom, a ridiculous concept really but the only available one. It won’t be my lovely old boy, no one could, but perhaps a new friendship could be a solace as well. We’ll see. I’m a bit wary, still aware I’m not quite okay, but hoping maybe this cat will help heal my heart.
And perhaps I can do her some good, too. Cats is cats, and I am not expecting an immediate relationship, but then some things are worth working towards.