The occasional wallowing, or how I wish I could chat with Sophia Loren

19 10 2018

Approved-Sophia-Loren-Armando-Gallo-Photographer-I have a lot of friends who are dealing with chronic illness or the illness of loved ones or bereavement or even the loss of pets. So when I saw this article, it called to me: “The Other Side of Grief” by Whitney Akers. The article links to a group of stories about how people coped with their grief, from goat yoga on… One of the points made truly resonated with me:IMG_8129

“Even years later…a sense of deep loss comes in cycles, is hidden in the nooks of your house for you to unexpectedly stumble upon, and becomes a part of you forever…”

So true that. I fell across a sketchbook of my dad’s the other day (he’s been gone 32 years now, for context), and I had to stop and catch my breath, the feeling of loss was so acute. Every time I see an apricot poodle, I am overcome with memories of Pickles the wonder dog, my best friend through many years of my marriage. I talk to someone about a work issue and I can’t help my mind from skipping back to things I wished I’d done differently at work. I feel again the loss and embarrassment I felt when I was forced by my MS to leave employment.

People with chronic illnesses deal with incremental grief, too – every new challenge needs to be adapted to, self-image redefined. Inside we try to stay the same as we were (or better still, learn from our experiences), but our outer selves change and toss us aboutfunny-picture-dump-the-day-53-pics-funny-funny-misshapen-body a bit.

Sophia Loren says: “If you haven’t cried, your eyes cannot be beautiful.” I agree. It’s like parenting or running a marathon. Unless you’ve experienced significant loss, you really don’t understand. And the type of loss isn’t what is important. It’s what it does to you. You can grieve the loss of a pet as heavily as of a person. (I urge you to avoid grieving for plants or fish though as they die frequently and you’d just be a mess.)

I’m not saying it’s okay or good for anyone to grieve constantly. I think that just lays you waste. But in my experience, it’s good to be prepared for those little bits of grief that leap out at you from the corners. It’s extra special good if you can appreciate the feeling and then use it to enrich your world, by helping others or creating art or even just smiling at strangers who look like they might be having a terrible day.

Sophia Loren also says:
“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.”
Mind you, perhaps sharing ALL of your past might be unwise (shameful details might lead to the wrong impression…;-) ) (ahem)

 

Of course, Sophia also said:

e4e93e94-73ea-4980-b49f-e124be457e98“Everything you see I owe to Spaghetti.” and “Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.”

See why I love this woman?

So, while I’m not inhaling spaghetti (though now I am dreaming of it), I’ve decided to take the lumps the world has given me and sculpt them into something else. I know it helps.

make-art-and-write

 

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On Royal Weddings, PDA, and the Preservation of Love

22 05 2018

I’m not a royal fan, though I give the Queen all sorts of credit for serving her office with

harry-22 grace and charm throughout some tumultuous years. I’ve always been suspicious of inherited positions and wealth – it’s so cynical of me because of course, I inherited privilege as well – a healthy upbringing, sort of, good food, education, support. I suspect people feel the same way about me as I do about the royals.

This wedding, of Harry and Meghan, well, it won me over. It was THEIR wedding in so many ways, less pomp and more love. Lots of PDA. Hand holding! Who’d ever thunk it?

Weddings are funny things, anyway. You and some other person you think you love stand before all your mother’s friends and tell each other that you will stay with them forever, and then you go back and lead your own lives, sometimes stuck together or not. What, me bitter? Naw.

wedding-disasterMy ex and I dined out on the disastrous story that was our wedding day for years. It was horrible from stem to stern and at the time I was so proud that I held it all together. I’ve always been proud of holding it all together. It’s a thing.

I held it together that day when my father was taken out in an ambulance just before the wedding photographer arrived. I held it together when I knew he was in horrible pain, and yet my mother wanted to ensure the whole party went on. I held it together when my ex looked at me in horror at the altar (to be fair, he thought my dad had died). I didn’t complain when I started vomiting wildly on the wedding night, thanks to the impact of erythromycin, a dental infection, and champagne on my stomach, even though my ex never awoke as I shivered and retched. I didn’t fall apart when we went to the hospital to see my father the next day, and he struggled to keep back the tears.

I didn’t comment when my brother’s poor girlfriend had a mental breakdown because of the rudeness of one member of our family, I didn’t even offer my sympathy (I was overseas, but that’s no excuse – I probably felt in my mind that she was showing weakness.) And I didn’t even lose it when I realized I’d worked six months to pay for my mother’s friends to have a party. Or when my sister’s wedding got so much more support. (The family was accustomed to weddings by that point, less of a shock, and she is much better at stating her wants than I. Though she had her sorrows too – dad was long gone by then)

I’m good at holding things together, at least until lately. So why did I burst into tears at seeing Harry weep? At seeing their hands tightly clasped?

Ah, regrets, I’ve had a few. What possessed me to marry a man so afraid of PDA (public STOP-NO-TOUCH-TALK-EYE-CONTACTdisplays of affection) that I went without a kiss for 23 years, except in “certain situations”? I was raised in a home scarce in physical affection, and I hungered for it like an abandoned puppy. By the time my marriage ended, I was looking at men thirstily on the street, wondering, if I asked them politely, if they’d kiss me, just once. I went to my dentist just to feel his hands on my face. I screenshot-2018-02-12-11-37-34remember my doctor touching my shoulder once, briefly, when I got my diagnosis of MS. I feel every touch every man has given me. God knows there have been few enough of them. I fell in love at the first man who was kind to me, who gentled me. Sadly, he was the only fellow I’ve met in all the years since I left my ex that was trustworthy with me. And he was lying to someone else.

818741c5b89bab894c5bad43ef3e4896It just about killed me, those years of affection desert. It’s taken me years to admit that I am a touch junkie (thus the needle felting in soft fuzzy wool, the craving for milk chocolate.) It’s taken me longer to understand that love requires regular feeding and care, regular laughter, regular kisses, regular touches, regular attention.

Just before the end of my marriage, I used to insert nonsense words into what I was saying just to test if he was actually hearing me. He wasn’t until he learned the phrase I was saying. We laughed over it. I was good at holding things together.

It’s taken me even longer to understand that holding things together isn’t necessarily a good thing.

So, this royal wedding made me think of my ex, now remarried to a lovely lass who is much better at speaking up. I wonder if he’s happy (ier).

I know I am lonely. Not for him. But for a kindred spirit, a companion with hugs. And perhaps a little coziness. I wonder what it would feel like to be with someone who wasn’t afraid to hold my hand and weep a little with me at the beauty of love, even if all sorts of people are watching. I’m tired of holding myself together. Sometimes I need a hug to pull in all my bits.

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Oh, Mouse!

5 04 2018

220px-TheMousesTale-Original.svgI’ve been reading a lot of research results lately and I’m starting to get disturbed. There are millions and millions of little mice going the way of all good research animals to help us figure out MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and lots and lots of other disease entities.

I am grateful for their (unwilling) service. I can’t say to stop the research on these poor wee things, because their contribution has been massive. But I am beginning to worry about the net karmic loss of snuffing out all those millions of mice for every year of study. Sooner or later, the balance has to shift and we’ll all start dropping from some mouse virus and it will all be fair, really, given how many tiny souls we’ve sent over that crowded rainbow bridge.

Every time I inject myself with my “disease-modifying medication” I send a wee thank you to the mice who squeaked their way through the multiple trials before we even dared to give it to humans. There’s even a special kind of mouse, bred to develop an MS type illness so then they can try to treat it. Mice bred to develop all sorts of other illnesses, too. So not only do they live their lives in clear plastic cages with little sensory input, but they get illnesses they normally would never have to deal with.

Upon such tiny lives are ours based.

Now, I know, your average wild mouse has an extremely short lifespan. We aren’t White-mouse-in-lab-009necessarily changing the length of the life of these mice. We’re just making them miserable for all their lives.

Of course, I may be wrong. Perhaps there is an inheritability acceptance of their sterile home. Perhaps, like families who refuse to leave Cape Breton or Gimli or the Eastern Townships for generations, these little creatures know nothing else and so think they are in paradise. After all, they get fed. Their nests are clean. I’m not sure if they get to mate with other sterile mousekins (but they must – otherwise where would new sterile mice come from?)

And there is hope. Mice don’t accurately represent human diseases after all, and they are pricey. So many doctors are giving them up as research subjects. Stem cells are making big inroads into the mouse subject market.

I do hope we stop using animals for research eventually. Maybe we could use those stem cells. Or Republicans. Or the Liberal government in Nova Scotia at present. Something with no feelings. Just sayin’.

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The Art of Intimacy, or how we can lose it as we grow older

13 01 2018

922fdc71b4b3d56d004b2e3f4e1aad93That old yellow wall phone. We had one with an unnaturally long cord in the kitchen of our house. It was the conduit of intimacy. We all spent hours on this phone over the years – it was out of the hearing of the rest of the family once they retired to the den upstairs. I must have spent weeks of time on the phone – with girlfriends, with (giggle) boyfriends, with everyone. The cord was long enough we could jump onto the counter and pull up our legs and feel all cozied in while we talked of – what? I don’t remember much – usual things about school or latest likes or plans and dreams. My siblings did the same. My mother lived on it when she was at home during the day.

It seemed as if the handset was slightly warm all the time, handed over with no time to cool. The cord got all stretched out of shape as we dragged the handset into different rooms, all over the kitchen, around corners.

In my family, kids were at home on school nights, and that phone was our connection to 3f635ff0e340055f44c2cfe7394f19da--old-phone-on-the-phonepeople outside – fellow entrapped kids, the secret boy who walked me home from school, the plots and games of outside life. The time we spent on the phone was intimate time, endless hours of it, getting to know each other intensely, one to one. Even during university, I spent hours on that phone – either to the family when I was away or to friends when I was home. So many words, feelings, thoughts.

When my kids were little, we moms formed tight bonds, the coziness of babies crawling all over us opening our talks, making us friends in the trenches. We’d call each other at 4 PM, the witching hour when being with small children was grinding us down. But, like work friends, when our kids grew up and went away, often the friends went, too. We got competitive, or marriages broke up, or jobs moved us into new relationships. The friendships often didn’t survive.

I was asked recently if I had “intimate” friends, people who I knew well, who knew me well, and my first answer was no. After all, I’ve moved all over. I left high school in my senior year and moved across the country, inadvertently severing ties from my school year friends. I spent two years in Seattle and then moved to Canada. More severed ties. And then I married a military guy and moved and moved and moved. With all the moves and the kids and general messiness, friends made slipped away. Was it my fault? Theirs? Probably both sides got busy and forgot to make the regular connections needed to keep friendships alive. It’s tough to keep in touch.

So now I’ve settled on the very edge of the continent and am using FaceBook as my yellow wall phone. I find old chums and meet new ones, chat with cousins and family and friends  – but most of these conversations aren’t close, don’t share reality. They don’t fill the need for the intimacy of face-to-face relationships. I truly miss those long conversations about nothing and everything, especially with people who know a bit of my background. I long for them.

2fa5e5a110cb1c7f82925997be5811a6I’ve grown accustomed to my distance, that long spiraled phone cord that hides the mess I sit in on the other end of the line. I push aside that stack of bills, the dirty dishes, the detritus of my lives, and put on my happy voice, or sad voice, or whatever seems right for that conversation, whether face to face or not. Which is usually nowhere near what I am really feeling. Interactions are shorter, busier, and I miss that one to one concentration and mutual sharing.

I had a phone buddy – a man far away who would call me almost every day, for no reason. We chatted about all sorts of things, for foolish amounts of time. Of all of my chums, he was the closest. Now he has become ill and can’t talk on the phone. I’m missing him so very much.

I’ve loved living a life of travel, of moving here and there. As I get older, though, I realize more what I’ve lost through it – the chance to have those friends from elementary school still around, the ability to refer to our shared past and add to it. The close crowd of family members who know me and love me anyway. As a Come-From-Away here in Nova Scotia, I’ve lived seven years without a bosom buddy, and it gets lonely at times.

Time to pick up the phone, and arrange a get-together…texting just won’t be enough.SC554Ylg

 





Jumping from here to there, or why I am still Anne of Green Gables in my heart

22 10 2017

anne-of-green-gablesSometimes I wish I hadn’t read Anne of Green Gables. Not that I necessarily believe in her character, but I seem to be as restless as she is. My kids think it’s because I’m unhappy. I’m not unhappy. Clinically depressed, yes, but not unhappy! With good medication, I can laugh and create and live and sing and play my ukulele and loll in the sun and read and write and laugh and be silly.

People wonder why I move a lot, why my dating life is so … interesting, why I overcommit and then have to back out.  Why I try new things or toss myself into books, or travel when I can barely afford it. They, again, think that I am unhappy. I’m not. I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘unhappy’ – mad, sad, bored, I’ve been all of these, but I haven’t been unhappy, not ever. My approach for years has been if I don’t like something, I work to change it, whether in myself or in my neighbourhood. And why not? Even if sometimes it doesn’t work out, I can always try, can’t I?

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

(Not sure how that blends with my dating life, but you can’t win them all…)

Like Anne, I refuse to settle. For much of my life, I had to accept things as they were allowed to me – everything from love to places to live, to time to read, to food. I was granted lots before I married, I was loved and spoiled, and people thought highly of me. I confess I got used to that, a bit.

Then I got married, and I learned to distrust words. And to write them. It’s easier to write fiction when you live it, I think.

Be that as it may, since I left, I have tried to do the things I feel are right for me and those around me. I volunteer where I can, I try to be creative, I try to help out.

But that doesn’t mean I need to put up with things that I don’t like. Heck, I’ve got MS, and arthritis, and depression – that’s enough to accept. I have a son who refuses to speak to me. That’s more than enough.

1000-images-about-anne-of-green-gables-on-pinterest-green-93123

So for the rest of my life, I change what I can and make the best of the rest.

Since I moved to paradise (aka Nova Scotia), things haven’t always been easy. I’ve been lonely at times, I’ve missed friends and family, but I know it’s where I’ve been meant to be. The sea, the air, the climate – they all make me feel whole. I’ve found a home here with a great community, good friends, meaningful volunteer work and craft.

But I’ve always wanted to be able to see the sea from where I live. If I dangle out of my current Juliet balcony, I can spot the sea to my left, but where I am moving this time I can see it out of my windows, I can sit on my balcony and sniff the salty air. Grow flowers and plants, step outside and see people. Because of my MS, some days I can’t get out of my apartment. A pleasant place is very important to me.

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I’ve found I love living downtown, walking to everything, sampling the stimulating environment that is downtown Dartmouth. Not so keen on inhaling diesel fumes every day or living just above an intersection.

So I am taking my not-unhappy self across the street to a new place. My Anne heart tells me you don’t have to be unhappy to want to upgrade or make a change. Life is an endless buffet of options. And don’t think I am ungrateful for the chance to make changes – I am, profoundly. I hope I won’t feel the need to move again, though every time I do, I hone myself into more of what I am. I feel like I am carving away the outer layers I’ve put on over the years, gradually getting closer to who I am, what I am.

“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.” Anne of Green Gables

anne-green-gables-1920-770x470But hey, as I toss things from my old self, moving gets easier and easier! I may pick up and go to someplace else that calls to me at some point, and why not? I only have so many fit years left – maybe I’ll feel a need to move to Paris for a year, or Scotland, or Portland, NH. Who knows?

I’m excited. Weary from doing too much, but thrilled by what lies ahead.

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” Anne of Green Gables

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Fireworks

5 08 2017

I’m feeling a little misty-eyed lately over my ratbag children. It’s the season of fireworks and where I’m living we’ve already had four nights of them, and another one tonight. It’s Natal Day weekend in Nova Scotia, an event celebrated with even more enthusiasm than Canada Day. This surprised me the first year I was here, but I’m getting used to it, dropping my central Canada snobbery.

But tonight I wandered across the street to the harbour, and was immediately swamped with kids all waving those hugely expensive light wand things (these ones use hearing aid batteries so will cause even more damage and expense as time goes on, but they were WAY COOL. Especially when rapidly swung around.) And it brought me back to all the times we’d driven to see fireworks with our kids, all the different places we’d seen fireworks at together, and well, it made me a bit nostalgic….

 

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This girl is nowhere near cold enough

The fireworks in Ottawa, in winter, on Spark Street. Freezing cold, as Ottawa is. The display for children was held in the dark evening so the little ones could a. get to bed early and b. not be run over in the later melee. Some of the fireworks didn’t explode immediately, and the kids, as one wave, raced towards the snow hill where they were placed. The parents, shouting “NOOOOOOOOOOO(N)” leaped after the kids and fortunately, no one was exploded. I nearly lost my sight though as little knee biters were all waving sparklers at the fullest extent of their arms…my eye height…

 

Then there were the fireworks when we lived in Kansas, on the Leavenworth Army Base.12502224-12502224 Those fireworks went on and on and on and ON. It was astonishing. HOURS passed. In between, there were bands and flag parades and a whole bunch of patriotic stuff we simply don’t do up here. I remember trying to make things sound exciting for the kids, who were actually bored at the lengthy display.

 

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Photo credit: Matthew Guy

The next year we were in Annapolis Royal, a tiny but very serious town (has a huge entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia, bigger than Toronto’s). We raced down to see the fireworks that had been funded through cans on store counters, a quarter at a time. They were over in five minutes if that – we almost missed them. I was expecting a holler of protest from the kids – they were still little and had seen the equivalent of the Canadian Armed Forces budget blown up the year before, but there wasn’t anything. My middle son, a thoughtful bloke, said, “It’s actually better this way, mommy – this way you can appreciate every single one!” The other two agreed. I think it helped that we had fallen in love with our new town.

 

But at every fireworks display, except the Annapolis Royal one, there was the dragging the kids early so we’d get good seats, the long traffic laden drive home, the calls for expensive light things. My ex and I used to argue about them – I thought we may as well get them, to make it more of an occasion; he ground his teeth at the expense.

It gladdened my heart to see how easy it was for most people to get down to the harbour to watch them here. It reinforced my feelings that living in the Maritimes is the equivalent of living in heaven, even including the fog as it rolled in, Clouds for angels to sit on…

I’ve been feeling a bit mawkish over the kids lately, too, as I am writing/editing/beating to death a young adult novel that has kids in their pre-teens in it. So I’ve been casting back for memories, language, relative surliness.

It WAS a surly time, filled with negotiations that rivaled the G-20 over even the desire to go for a walk. Sometimes the argument wasn’t worth it and I gave up and threw my hands in the air wildly. But most of the time, at that age, the kids were still up for an adventure.

It didn’t have to be a big adventure, either. It could be a simple walk down an old train track, or as complicated as a train drive to Montreal. They didn’t all like the same things. Or the same things as me. We all whined at times. But I was blessed to have curious children, and I am grateful, and I know that they will be alright.

Why? Because I sat through all those fireworks displays with them, and they found something different about each one and enjoyed them all.

It made me wish they were all here with me tonight, though we’d probably have watched the show from a patio, with beers in our hands. The two youngest would have spent the time arguing over some point in philosophy. They would both be right. And I’d, as always, be listening, my heart bursting with delight as the fireworks burst overhead.





Statute of Limitations

10 06 2017

images-9I’ve just read Nuala O’Faolin’s “Almost There”, a book of the second half of her life, after the success of part one of her memoir. I love her writing and she makes me want to go live in Ireland forever, but in this book, I found myself irritated by her perspective.

She spent the book blaming her mother for being absent with depression and alcoholism, and her father for not being there. Really? REALLY? I mean, in this book she’s in her 60’s!! Can you honestly go through your entire adult life blaming your parents? Surely you must have contributed something to your general state of misery yourself by age 60 – heck, 40 even! Blaming your parents in late middle age is kind of ridiculous unless you’ve been living with them your entire life. parents-to-blame

I had differences with my parents, especially my mum, but I can’t hold things against her anymore. I certainly don’t blame her for me being single and a bit odd and perhaps a bit messed up. Nope, that’s all down to me. I figure at this stage I should take responsibility for myself, thanks. Hardly fair to blame a woman who is now gone for 25 years.

It’s a bit like chewing over marriage/relationship issues endlessly. Your marriage ends, you work out the hateful details, and then, by golly, you should let it go. Even if the guy/gal treated you horribly, holding onto anger just leaves you trapped. Sure, there are things to work out, like why you let them treat you that way, and how you can prevent it in the future, but there’s no point in blaming them for this work.

Everyone contributes to their own growth or lack of same, to some extent. I know women get trapped in abusive relationships, and I am sad for them. But when they pull themselves out of the toxic scene, they need to let go of it, move to making themselves whole again, instead of endlessly rehashing the situation.

 

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Still, she makes a good point…

I know I had to do this. When I left my lonely marriage, I wrote all of the reasons I was angry on a piece of paper and burned it. When my ex kept demanding to know why I was leaving, I couldn’t remember – I’d burned my memories. I didn’t want to live with them anymore. Fortunately, I had journals or I might have reconsidered – but my review of those at one point reminded me of the little cruelties we’d visited upon one another until the desire to live together was gone. For me, anyway. (Some of the love remains, and always will.)

There should be a statute of limitations on blaming people for unhappiness. Eventually, it isn’t fair. And there’s a need to get on with life, find the things that make your life better, ditch the sulkies over being treated badly. And go live a little! As for me, I’m letting go of the anger I feel over a child’s betrayal. He’s made his choice. Time for me to move on.

After all, as George Hebert said, “Living well is the best revenge.”

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