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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Hanging out in a liminal space

6 03 2018

liminal-space-definition-ofI have a feeling of being in transition, of being in between the not anymore and the not yet. I’ve been chewing on it ever since I saw my dear friend incarcerated in his body from a stroke, and struggling in a nursing home.

The push onto the threshold is also because this is my 60th year. My parents were wrapped in end-stage cancer by this age. I’d been married for a few years by that time, my children born before my mother left us. It is so hard to believe this was so long ago; also so hard to believe that I am this old. In my head, I am still a rollicking 45 – not as spry as a young ‘un, but no way am I as old as my parents were!

In a real life and space, I’d be planning for retirement, I’d be managing some poor employees, I’d be all serious and such. Maybe I’d even have learned to play golf. Instead, on my “freedom 50 get MS plan”, I’m looking down the wrong end of the telescope at a life that seems very far away.

Not that I don’t have one now – lucky me with friends and family and a view of the harbour and almost my health! I am definitely NOT complaining.

6c6a49f23bf8b7fb1bcff4f50f1a1971--love-birds-for-the-birdsI’m sensing a change coming, though, like a fresh wind. Maybe it’s the birds doing their still-chilly spring romantic dance. Maybe it’s the fact that sometimes, sometimes, I feel a bit like I can play the ukulele. Maybe it’s the repetitive strain injury from stabbing wool for hours…or the look of my still not right bedroom, covered in wool and still-waiting-to-be-unpacked necklaces and clothes.

I’m tempted to throw it all out. Sell it, give it up, start fresh. It seems to be on the backward side of the threshold. But what is on the other side? What can I do next?
When I was in first-year university, I didn’t have any money to buy my parents a160503_BOOKS_Allegory.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2 Christmas present. So I wrote them a story, about a unicorn and a girl making choices at a fork in the road. It was so dreadfully heavy with allegory I’m surprised my parents could lift it, let alone read it, but never mind, I can do a good preaching when I set my mind to it. They cried. My English teacher read it and told me it was trash.

images-8In the story, the Unicorn was there to help the girl along the rockier path she chose. It was meant to symbolize the coming of adulthood and the need to take on responsibilities, as it were. It had capital-B Bears in it who were my parents, who were ahead of me on this treacly road, who provided support from afar; it provided sympathy for what they’d lost by taking on adult responsibilities.

It was gruesome, I tell you. Whenever I am feeling too full of myself, I get it out and read it, and then go brush my teeth. Three times.

But I’m feeling that split in the road now. The need to figure out what this later bit of my life will come to mean. The tasks that will keep me sane. The things that will bring me joy. Housekeeping just ain’t it.

I know a few things will have to figure. Since my fall yesterday, I know I am going to have to throw myself back into physical fitness. My body is quitting on me, but that doesn’t mean I have to help it. It’s time to really allot time to exercise as I have done before. I’d say I should give up scotch, chocolate, and cheese, but let’s not get crazy here!

That means less crafting time, as all of that takes time and space.

I’m going to work on friendships, because I love them so much and often don’t get to meet up with my friends. (or family – that has to change, too) I don’t want to end up alone. I’ve seen how that can go, and it’s nasty.

This can also mean less crafting time, though most of my friends gather to do crafts, so maybe not…

Creativity is important to me, too – so I’ll have to work that in somewhere, somehow,00f5dde1205620d312e1ccceeabc3210 using words or needles and thread or wool or both.

So I’m standing on a doorstep. Time to step forward…just have to push myself through all of these piles of wool first…(but wait – I still want to try this, and make that, and there’s Alice and other stuff I could try and even little things …)

Maybe I’m not quite ready to step over that threshold … seems like I’ll be liminal for a while yet.

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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.





Visions

28 04 2017

Every once and awhile a vision passes by me, on the computer or otherwise, that immediately starts my mind burbling. This is one, by drone photographer Gabriel Scanu, who is apparently all of 20 and blessed with an excellent eye.

This photo speaks to my wet-felting soul. I can see it evolving with tracings of silk for foam, with needle felted people and shadows after the base has dried. I love the contrast of the shadows on the sand and in the water, the view of a tiny kayak braving the waves. I know local artists who could paint this, beautifully.

There’s something about looking at the world from way way up that is consoling these days – being above the world on an impossibly sunny day, not even hearing the quibbles of the people below, the children whining for ice cream, the couples fighting… This photographer has given me a vision to think about, a respite from the worries around me.

It’s a pleasant thought to be above trouble and sorrow. It seems most everywhere I look in the past month, people are dealing with challenges, losses, changes that are unpleasant and require strength to manage.

Support-356x253I know artists and musicians who are dangling, unbought, while the world takes advantage of the Maude Lewis story and millions go into Hollywood coffers while the poor woman lived and died in pain and poverty. I was talking to a friend of mine who also finds this enraging. No one seems to feel the urge to donate to starving artists after the film, or to donate to the arthritis society, or to do anything other than buying reproduced Lewis art calendars (just the small ones, they aren’t too expensive), while our world, especially here in the Maritimes, is full of fresh new art, folk and other, that could use a loving touch, a new home.

I’ve been trying to buy a bit of art on my tight budget. I’ve been blessed with a few artist friends who started my collection, and I am meeting more all the time, thanks to the patient gallery owners that let me linger among the small pieces and put things on hold, or trade what I’ve made. I adore each and every one I’ve chosen, both for the beauty of the piece and for the fact that I know the artist.

Art brings visions to us, places and thoughts we have never seen, joy. I live in a smallish, somewhat dark apartment, but around every corner now I have a little spot of brightness, a view of an artist’s vision of life. They make me smile, every time I look at them.

I’d like to encourage everyone to spend a little on art, especially local art. It seems like an extravagance when bills speak loudly in the corner. But for a relatively small amount of money, you can bring beauty to the world, both your own space and in the artists’.

And couldn’t we all use a little bit of joy (and vision) these days?

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FREAKING OUT

24 03 2017

Well, that has to be said in all caps. no?

I am scurrying about mentally. What the Buddhists say about “monkey mind” – well, I’m waaaaay past that. I am German Tanzmaus scurrying…

We saw these guys in a pet store in Germany and they actually never stop. I figure I have about three of these in my mind at the moment.

  1. Iceland!!! I haven’t been overseas since my firstborn was 18 months old. 28 years ago! (Well, except Havana, but that’s on this side of the ocean, seems familiar somehow, and besides I had my kids with me). I’m travelling alone. I am so sick of travelling alone. I’ve gone to Newfoundland and across Canada alone and I know I can do it, but I find my anxiety grows as the spaces between travel widen. Plus I’ll be meeting 175 new people; I will be meeting wowza authors; I will be fighting my MS every step of the way. I have to say that in general I like travelling alone cos it forces me to talk to people, but I am becoming severely in need of a bosom buddy. Project one for when I come back. Seek bosom buddy.
  2. Writing: got a few books out for editing, got one back and have to work on that but my tanzmaus mind isn’t ready to focus yet. The one I’m working on I would like to get published by a real publisher ® as I think it’s important blah blah blah, so that means it has to be good and preferably I’ll have another book in the wings so a publisher will take a chance with me. My MS book is evolving into a website, so I can keep info updated, but for that I need a Pseudonym (the things I do for my one son! I don’t imagine the other two would be embarrassed about me writing about sex). Trying a few on. Got to get on that – I already have lots of material and such but again, the Tanzmice dance.
  3. My health – it’s always an interesting thing, inhabiting my second-rate body. I’ve never asked it to do anything for me that it hasn’t let me down on, except recovery from my bilateral knee replacement. Had to have C-sections, got MS, been chubby forever despite trying to change. After my surgery I exercised mightily. Then my body got better. It felt good, strong. Same when I was swimming three times a week. But then the MS came back, and I tore my rotator cuff, I started with the hip spasms, blah blah blah. I’m beginning to think that I might need to get into a gym routine, but the one close to me is closing. So now I am off sugar officially (lest I lose my sight) – (eventually being idle and overweight does things to your pancreas) which means no more of my beloved chocolate. Tanzmaus mind. What does this mean for my single malt? And will I be able to manage five hectic days and two transatlantic flights in this untrustworthy body?

So the three dance about mixed with little aggravations like losing my keys and bits of important papers and forgetting things. In behind there is the thought of craft fairs coming up and the need to make more of my felties to partially pay for my excessive overspending going to Iceland. Or eat. Hahahaha. But then, YOLO, right? And with my crapped out system, I gotta grab it now. Although, as my son has told me, I’ve used this as an excuse for overspending on trips for the last few years.

(PS: dear son – if you had a vision of being trapped in your body unable to move in your admittedly distant future as I do, you’d be out of the door like a shot and devvil take the expense)(Lord save me)

I’ve been knitting socks like a maniac  – if I’m knitting a lot you know I am anxious. If I can relax I will be felting. Or reading. Or enjoying something. (Where IS that bosom buddy when I need him?)

Must go dance and try to find those damn keys. And/or race to the library where Neil Gaiman’s Norse Gods awaits me.

PS: Dancing Mice are fascinating – I felt sorry for them when I saw them – turns out they are bred to run endlessly. Apparently they are deaf, too, some mess up in their vestibulary system.

Happier rodents here:

 








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