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.

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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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Men

3 06 2017

Auf_zarten_SaitenI’ve been lucky in my life. I’ve had at least four angel men in my life. My dad, of course, who shared so much with me in my childhood, taught me the importance of art in a working life, showed me how to carve, draw, photograph, sculpt, paint, and cope with chronic illness with continual learning.

My unknown angel, who sat with me on the bus home the time my dad was in the ICU and not expected to live. He taught me the beauty of casual friendship, the gift of displacing and postponing emotion until you are not needed. He let me arrive at 6 AM in Haymarket after no sleep, and go to Mass General, see my dad on a ventilator, and be able to joke to make him smile. He needed that. He needed to be himself, while surrounded by machines. And my family needed to see he was still there, still his funny charming self, even while his life hung in the balance.

The first man I dated after I separated – a kind man with a fascinating mind that taught me there was still life in this old girl yet, that despite years of living alone in a marriage, I was still desirable and desired, still capable of having fun with men. Still sexually powerful, if you will. It wasn’t anything I had appreciated before. It gave me the strength to cope with a lot of challenges the first year. He allowed me to see that I could have a new relationship if I wanted one.

And my dear friend for the past many years who is always on the end of a phone line, always ready for a laugh or a voice of support, who shares books and the love of them with me. He understands me, perhaps too well. We get along best at a distance, but I don’t know what I would do without him. He’s saved me many a time and I cherish every moment we share. Even if he did refuse to let me go see the Frick. He’s taught me so much about the world and about the benefit of long term friendships. I haven’t had too many, given all my moving around when married. And he’s a fellow life-long learner…

I mustn’t forget my wilderness angel, who brings me pickles and wine and is universally kind to friends and strangers. He’s shown me that being kind is never too much effort, that giving and sharing should come naturally. I’ve never met anyone like him. Plus he can do anything, or he teaches himself how. More lifelong learning lessons.

images-6These men give me hope. But today, as I went on my rounds, I saw men shouting at other drivers and their partners, I saw guys being jerks everywhere I went. The US is led by a collaboration of jerky men, men who shout and bluster and have to crush others to make themselves big. Men who shout ignorance instead of speaking knowledge.

You may notice the abundance of the word shout in the above paragraph. I lived with shouting for years and I react like a beaten dog whenever I hear it. All it takes is a raised voice in my direction and I want to be out. I obviously have to figure around this but I am damaged after the time living with an angry person… A friend raised his voice at me recently and I was shattered for an entire day. The worst part is BEFORE the shouting, when men’s faces get closed and violent and you know there is going to be an unpleasant outcome, whether hitting things or yelling, or both.

It’s worth noting that my angel men all managed to be strong without shouting, charming without dominating, argumentative without being rude. It’s a rare commodity and seems to be becoming rarer. I don’t know about my angel man on the bus, but all of the others are intelligent and knowledgeable without being certain they are right. They allow doubt, they tryangry-man-shouting-towards-girlfriend-driving-car_haydjukfe_thumbnail-small14 to learn. They can and do change their opinions.

Where are these strong men? There must be more of them out there somewhere. I do hope they will step forward and bring sanity back to our world, to traffic, to relationships. All I know is I am tired of the bellow of revving motorcycles and of men shouting, “You fucking idiot!” at anyone who causes them the slightest inconvenience. And hitting when shouting isn’t enough. And killing.

Calm down, everyone. Take the time to be polite and charming and learn new things. And please stop taking everything out on the women around you. Please.

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Roméo Irené Pierre Vachon

5 05 2017

Such an impossibly romantic name! Such an impossibly romantic background – his father a famous pilot back in the day when pilots rarely made it to the parenting age. My uncle Pierre’s father‘s plane is in the museum of Science and Technology…

But it’s about my equally romantic uncle I’m writing today. One of my very favourite uncles, one after whom I named my son, one who always made me smile, and one who was a role model for me in so many ways. A man who was handsome and dashing in looks, charming in manner – in every sense the romantic hero.

My uncle passed away this week, at the age of 85. I am sad to lose him, but I know that his faith will see him safely to see his peaceful place – and I know that he lived a life full of adventures and love and gusto and appreciation and joy.

Camino-de-Santiago-800Uncle Peter (or Pierre as I eventually was brave enough to call him, after my years of poorly learned French) was a man who lived large. He, his first wife, Dorothy Anne, and my cousins were such a huge part of my growing up they feel like my family. Uncle Pierre did things I always dreamed of doing – walking the Camino – twice! Hiking and staying in monasteries, gaining thoughtful peace. Coming home to a home filled of laughter and caring. Raising his children in a bilingual household when it was not the standard of the time. Being a member of the United Eclectics!

I loved him so, but I don’t think he really got to know me until I was a grownup, when I was fortunate to have some deep conversations with him. He made me yearn: for philosophy, for religion, for walking, for peace. There are so few people that you meet who make you want to be better than you are. He had that effect on me.

When I was a kid, and all of us, a multiplicity of cousins and associated parents were staying at our Second Cousin Cousin Grace’s cottage on Cape Cod. I couldn’t sleep. No lecture from depicB9bhzysignated babysitter Pierre. He talked to me, and made me a sandwich of bread, butter, and brown sugar. It knocked me right out. (The other parents simply told me to get back to bed. I remember his unexpected kindness).

I think that was what I loved most about Uncle Pierre – his ability to be kind in unexpected ways. As with many men of his generation, he held himself a little apart from the silliness that is little girls. But he adored my mother and father, and they adored him back. He adored all of his children, and their crazy pets – the Vachons always had a dog of enhanced personality – and his love for my aunt was bright and visible. Growing up in a cooler house, I liked to see the joy between them.

One morning Pierre and Dorothy Anne arrived just as we were heading out to church, and so we told them to help themselves to breakfast and left them in the kitchen. What Uncle Pierre couldn’t have guessed is that my dad had been experimenting with rum in maple syrup, and had a jug of it, a fair bit too rummy, in the back of the fridge, waiting for some titration with more maple syrup. We arrived home to find the two of them giggling helplessly over crumbs of pancakes. “Chris,” said Pierre to my father, “I think your maple syrup has gone off a bit.”

Uncle Pierre taught my dad how to sail, one calm day on Lake Washington. We were renting a place on the lake and it came with a small boat. Dad was eager to try, so out we went, testing how to turn about and manage the sails and the rudder and everything. It wasn’t very exciting due to lack of wind, but the motor brought us in nicely.

3180fbe356dc290e644f527d4efea652Uncle Pierre was a great teacher. So much so that my dad felt supremely confident, and the first chance he had, he took us all out in the boat on his own. Never mind there was a gale blowing up… We nearly drowned, except that my older brother conveniently let go of the sail line just as we were tipping over and we fluttered back into verticality, with only one head injury to report. I can still hear my dad laughing as he reported it all to Uncle Pierre on the phone the next day…

Pierre was at his wife’s side during her terminal cancer and supported her throughout. He also was stand-in family for many of the Warner (Dorothy Anne’s) clan, sharing his home with my lovely Uncle Cliff, rallying around to help where needed.

After Dorothy Anne died, he was also brave enough to love again, marrying the very sweet Margaret Graham. I haven’t met her in real life yet, and I love her already, just through the brief electronic chats we’ve had. I’m so glad they found each other after the loss of their first spouses – they had some time (not nearly enough) to travel and paint and laugh together.

200aa737d8ab4d7e90ecbcc1fc30eb7bI’ve been so blessed. I got to grow up in a life full of cousins and aunts and uncles that, barring the occasional one or two (there is always a worm in the apple!) made my world full of friends and people who supported me, who loved me unconditionally. We’ve lived all over the place, and we don’t see one another nearly often enough, but the lovelines are there and strong. I treasure them, and as with every family event, I vow to strengthen them even more…while knowing time, finances, illness, and life will keep us apart more than together.

Go with God, my dear “oncle Pierre”. I can’t walk the Camino, with my MS and general weakness in the heat. But I dedicate the next 500 miles of my walking to you. Once again, you are inspiring me to be better than I am. It might take me a year, or two. Or possibly more…how I will miss you. I will look for your kindness in the faces I see and seek quiet in myself as I walk.

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