Category Archives: Writings

Writing clothes, or what to wear when you really don’t want to be distracted

Photo by Ivan Samkov on

I am ashamed and a bit embarrassed to state I don’t have any sweatpants at the moment. I certainly don’t have a set that matches my surroundings and computer, allowing me to lounge in peaceful positions. To be fair, my surroundings when I write are anything but peaceful, scattered with pens, notebooks, reference texts, a cup of something, and the occasional chocolate item (for strengthening).

Yes, despite being a writer with my head in the clouds and definitely not in sartorial splendour, I lack this essential garment. I’m wondering if I need to invest, just to speed my writing along.

Part of why I don’t have sweats has to do with hemming – every pair of pants I own has required hemming and even with the elastic bottoms of the average sweatpants leg, the ballooning of extra material over my too short legs is distracting and potentially a tripping hazard. We won’t get into how things tangle up in my under the desk bike I use to fool myself into thinking writing is an aerobic activity. (Undoing tangles seems to be, though. That bike is heavy.)

Plus, they are expensive these days, sweatpants. And unless this book actually gives me more royalties than my first one, (Recycled Virgin, coming in at roughly $20 so far this year) (please buy a copy as winter is coming), I may have to do without. Even used ones at thrift shops are more than that and, ummm, used sweatpants conjure up images of underwear not worn…

I do have writing clothes, though. I just read this article by an author, Heidi Soyinka, who bought clothing like her characters would wear, to put her into the mood. She bought vintage clothing of all sorts as she tried to get into her characters’ heads.

It made me think about what I wear to thrash through my novel. I suppose, for me to be in the mood, I should put on a nursing uniform, one of the old ones from the Kingston General Hospital School of Nursing, the ones with the aprons and starched cuffs and collar.

I rather suspect the excellent Museum of Health Care might have something to say about me filching same from them.

And, unfortunately, I gave away my old nursing student uniforms. Maybe I could get away with my kitchen apron, just pretend the food stains weren’t on it, tie it up tight so I had the necessary chest constriction…this would help keep the chocolate stains to a minimum, I suppose…

Fortunately for my writing, I remember my nursing school uniform days, the nylon stockings that always grabbed, the uncomfortable shoes that were the cheapest available, and which squeaked unattractively and ruined my arches. My student uniform was pink and white striped, with a white bib and cuffs and it was unspeakably horrid, fitted tightly over my already too round figure. I was furious that the one male student in my year didn’t have to wear pink stripes, and got to wear a much more practical scrub suit, with no nylons to be seen.

So no, don’t want to repeat this.

I suppose I could try coughing excessively, as I am writing about Tuberculosis and a hacking cough and sore throat would bring me into the scene – but in these COVID times I feel my neighbours would report me to the health police as a vector of infection.

I could open the windows wide, as they did in the sanatoriums of the time, bringing in bracing and clear air, but it does get chilly sitting and writing, and besides, my companion birds would object. They dislike chills. Even in the slightest cross breeze they puff up and glare at me with their beady eyes. It’s disconcerting.

So I’m left with my usual not-so-glorious clothing for writing. These involve some jeans-type things (inexpertly hemmed) with elastic waists so they don’t compress, and some sort of overly loose top. These are things that I never wear out of doors as they are too disreputable for polite company – after Covid lockdowns I’ve worn the seams off some of them, and they look chewed. Could be I’ve chewed them in agony over some unexpected plot twist (characters WILL misbehave)–I can’t remember.

But something about putting them on does set me up for writing. It says, to myself and anyone who happens to come to the door, that I am not going out anywhere, that my focus is internal that day, that I don’t want to be disturbed. Add unwashed hair and anyone who doubts I am really busy would quickly grasp I didn’t want to be seen. I have frightened Amazon delivery persons on a writing day, and they are tough.

And in them, I’m comfortable enough to sink into my story, let my brain go play. That’s more difficult with fancy clothes. They distract, as I tug and rearrange them. But perhaps that’s only because I’m trying to cycle as I write?

I think, instead, I’ll turn on some music from the 1940’s to generate atmosphere – that’s easier than having to change, and the birdies even like it.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming book, Spit and Polish, expected Spring 2023.

Oh Captain, my captain!

How does one grieve the loss of such a head of state?

I’ve only ever known about the Queen–too young to appreciate anyone before her, uncertain of the following act. I feel at sea without her.

My parents took me to grow up in the USA and, though I remained a Canadian patriot and fled north as soon as I could, it took me a while to understand the government of my birth country. Who were these lieutenants and governors general? What possible point did they have?

I have to admit to remaining puzzled about this, especially after a certain proroguing parliament exercise, but I’ve never doubted the Queen. She was always there. Always doing things in the proper way, always a constant in the wildly changing world I’ve grown up in. I had the feeling she was the stopgap before madness took the world over, the sober second thought our Senate is supposed to be.

I know, I know, she was to be apolitical–and I’m sure she played her role well–but simply her length of service made her a vital resource to world leaders. And yes, I know the Commonwealth was really anything but that–much of it remains poor, actually, and prejudice and bad treatment abounded.

But I never got the feeling she was encouraging the racist agenda. She seemed to float above it, like the goal we should all work towards. The person who put duty and country above all, who showed up for work almost every day of her life, who put up with all the noise and fuss and nasty remarks and just wore it all with a beatific smile.

It was left to her governments to wield the axe. And of course, I am not at the receiving end of some of the more disadvantageous policies of them, so I can say little.

But be that as it may, like so many people today, I feel I am mourning my grandmother. My own grandmother had that queen’s smile. A gentle nature, incredible patience with her demanding husband and a houseful of pranksters, I never heard her raise her voice or say anything negative about anyone. She was from England, too. I yearn for her level of grace. (I doubt I will ever attain it, though). I think of her when I think of the Queen. Cut from tough and beautiful cloth, enduring, like a well woven tapestry.

I know it’s got to be King Charles now, and I wish him well, I suppose, but he simply doesn’t have that way about him. Maybe the crown will give him dignity. He’s not going to be able to come close to filling the gap left by that astonishing sovereign his mother, though.

So I’m feeling deeply sad. I’m grieving the loss of a woman so far away from me in so many ways it’s astonishing that I feel such a strong connection. Godspeed, your Highness. If there’s a heaven, I hope they’ve arranged a lovely garden party for you, and a welcome rest. Knowing you, though, I’ll bet you’ll be at work right away.

“Oh Captain, my Captain! Our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.”

Walt Whitman

Feeling the morbs

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 mums 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.

And once more into the fray, my friends

Tubercle bacillus

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?

Time will tell.

I’m getting angry

And thank you, Gina Martin.

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?

Eclipses Pending

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.

And now for a song…

Top doc confirms COVID causes uncontrollable need to do errands all day

Fredericton — If you find yourself doing five or more errands in a single day, you need to get tested for COVID-19 immediately, says Chief Medical …

Top doc confirms COVID causes uncontrollable need to do errands all day

My boobs are falling!!! Or, going feral during a pandemic has its consequences…

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.

13 months after shutdown one, and the gal ain’t fine…

Hello, fellow inmates.

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.

A much calmer cat

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.