Every time I listen to a famous writer, I find myself wondering what I would tell people in an interview to explain what I write about. Or, more importantly, what part of my life could be used to make my writing more interesting? Deeper? More moving? What do I actually KNOW?
Truthfully, after a life of boring middle class white privilege, the cupboard seems pretty bare.
I could write about what it’s like living with MS (like everyone else with MS), or about being under 5 feet tall, or about surviving being beaten up every time after my Catholic education classes… but really, how interesting is that?
I suppose I could write about my scarred body- multiple surgeries, marks from pregnancies, my almost complete set of limb scars (only my left arm is untouched and now I am developing a twisted arthritic finger there). As a nurse I’ve found most of them fascinating; as a body, I suspect I’ve had enough.
Or I could write about relationships I’ve had. Maybe not. Most of those people are still living.
Or then there’s all the places I’ve lived, many of them odd. And then I think, as my son told me once, every time you move you bring you with you. Which makes me wonder if it’s me that’s odd, as vs the places.
What about you, readers? What would you write/talk about if interviewed? What would you highlight? What would you dig into for story ideas? What do you try to keep hidden that keeps creeping out into your work?
For me, I’m bad at intimacy, at even being a bosom buddy. Maybe it’s time to mine some of that, my awkwardness, the way I use humour to push everyone just a little bit away. While that may not be fascinating, it’s perhaps relatable… and I do know it, unfortunately, very well.
In my family, we always thought of Christmas as my dad’s day. It’s not clear why, and after having squeezed the life into a few family Christmases myself, I can empathize with the repressed rage my mum must have experienced over this.
She’d spend weeks, months even, baking, cleaning, getting us new clothes, preparing us and the house for big parties with neighbours and friends. When family visited from far away, she sorted out beds and meals and church and every bit of the framework. And then my dad would step forward and lead the festivities. He’d gather us at the piano, and we’d all sing or play along on whatever instrument we were torturing at the time. He’d dominate the jigsaw table, hiding pieces from us, only to tap them in place with a braggart’s finger, triumph on his face. Just him and us. Mum wasn’t a part. She was in the kitchen.
We’d be honoured to accompany him as co-conspirators when he asked us to dash about with him at the last minute, seeking just that perfect present, running in and out of shops before the final closing on Christmas Eve. We’d be forcibly marched out of Lechmere, a shop filled with all sorts of cool technology, the clerks glaring at us as the overhead blared that, “The store is now closed. Please make your way to a cashier now.” He was either extremely lucky or had spent more time thinking about things than it seemed. He’d always find the perfect gift for my mother– a soft green velour pantsuit that highlighted her gorgeous eyes was one I remember. I don’t remember many others, focused as I was at the time on my own goodies, but I do remember her cries of delight.
Mum never got the same reaction. She’s have spent weeks in agonies over what to get him, and whether he’d like it, only to get a lukewarm reaction from him. Her gift somehow was always the wrong size or not wanted and dad’s disappointment would show.
Tension inevitably grew as the day passed. At the time I was unsympathetic, but back then I didn’t know the Christmas fatigue that overwhelms mothers, or whoever else gets the task of making the day happen. Now I do.
Dad had fun, though –the clown at the party, he came on stage and managed the presents (most bought by mum). My older brother, an acquisitive lad with some Smaug-like tendencies, was forced to exchange one of his past items for the coveted new one while Dad looked on with glee. My brother collected cameras, so my dad would gift my younger brother a piece of the new camera my older brother wanted. He would have to sacrifice one of his treasured older cameras to get the piece he wanted, and he visibly hated that thought. Both boys would eventually be happy, my father could economize, but we always knew his real joy lay in watching the reluctant exchange.
Then, just like the Grinch after his heart growth, dad would preside over the dinner table to carve the Roast Beast. Ever the perfect host, he’d regale the table with stories and jokes, puzzles and games (and far too many puns). Meanwhile my mum would carry in the meal she’d prepared, serve it, clear away the dishes, and tidy up the mess. We kids would all flee the table and follow him like imprinted ducklings into the living room to play with our new treats, abandoning mum to the kitchen tasks.
We were heartless.
Still, at Christmas, I always think of my dad, of his smiles, his music, his obvious love for us shining forth. Meanwhile, the softer, more hidden love that showed in all the backbreaking labour my mum did keeps getting forgotten.
My dad even died on Christmas Eve, taking his light away on the day we most associated with him, ensuring we’d always think of him first at that magical time. I’m sure he’s laughing about that even now. Somewhere.
My mother is probably laughing, too. She died on Mother’s Day a few years later, a final kick at the ‘who’s more important’ can. So she has her own spot where we can never forget her.
I wish she’d been around longer, long enough for me to let her know how much I enjoyed her efforts, understood her holiday fatigue, was so grateful for all of it. I don’t think I ever did.
Christmas (or any holiday) magic takes time, effort, hard work. Cheers to all who manage to create it for those you love.
There’s a seagull who flies by my balcony every morning that has a broken tail – her tail feathers stand straight up, like a mast on a seagull ship…looks a bit like she’s punking out.
She swoops by and I wonder, how do the other seagulls treat her? Do they mock her behind her back and comment about how she just likes to be the centre of attention?
Do they feel sorry for her and whisper behind their wings about how brave she is and the inner strength she is showing?
Or do they accept her, let her mate, share their food with her?
Of course, it’s hard to see seagull interactions – they don’t generally mass together around here and it is an odd day when they would all call together- maybe fish have been dumped into the sea? Maybe the crows are pestering?
The crows come to hang out when there are eggs in nests, as do blue jays, but I suspect the delicate aerial movements needed to steal the eggs from under building edges can be a bit challenging for your average huge seagull.
So I am left to wonder, a seagull with a broken wing myself- where does she fit in?
Of course, I can’t help but think of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, whose main character is a seagull looking for … something…
Sleeping has never been difficult for me – more it’s waking up that seems the challenge – but I find that as I get older, waking up at 4 in the morning is becoming a regular thing. I’ve even seen more than a few dawns lately, something I thought I’d left behind. More of a night owl, me.
And then it starts. There’s something about this time of the morning that makes me wander through my entire life, highlighting mistakes I’ve made, things I wish I’d done differently, things that were foolish (and not in a good way). I hold imaginary conversations in my head, rewriting them so I don’t sound a complete fool. I turn decisions around, looking for an option. I tell myself off. I tell others off. I revise my life to not make those mistakes I made, waste the time I’ve wasted, spend the money I’ve spent.
And I wonder about myself – how have I messed up so badly as to end up here alone and a mite lonely, with a cat who helps keep me awake by checking up on me as I toss and turn?. Little moths of doubt flutter about the room, batting their wings at me and leaving the dust of my misspent adulthood all over the place. Maybe it IS true that “The only consistent factor in all my dissatisfying relationships is you.” Or me, in this case.
I think about times when I’ve accepted bad behaviour from friends, where I’ve let my boundaries fall, where I have let myself down. I think about the shoulda dones – the wishes I’d spent more time with friends, less time being busy, the friends I’ve let down or sent away. Then I think about all the things I should have accomplished by now if only I’d applied myself.
I plan desperate new diet and exercise regimes, I contemplate moving to a new place, a place where I haven’t made so many mistakes yet. I writhe at the thought of bad intimacies, poor judgment, improper financing. I vow to attend church more often. I promise to do better, to make something of my life, to be kinder and more thoughtful and just stop being misled. I remind myself that I never make good decisions after two beer.
I can’t help but wonder why, when I wake up, I review all the miseries of my life, instead of the fun stuff. There has been fun – laughs with friends, creative outpourings, more affection than I probably deserve, the opportunity to contribute…
But still the night moths flutter, each one laden with a failure here, an embarrassment there, a poor judgment, a heartbreak.
I’ve always hated moths. Way back when I was small, I read a story about a boy named Denny who collected moths and stuck them to the wall of his bedroom with pins. At the end of the story, a giant moth comes to his window and he can hear its wings battering the walls. Then Denny is no more.
The story creeped me right out. I haven’t liked moths ever since and struggle to look at butterflies, though I adore their beauty.
Despite the metal sign over my door that reads “Laugh Out Loud”, I’m not a fan of those stick on aphorisms, the endless “Live, Love, Laugh” painted bits of wood, the tiny segments of quotations that are so bland as to make them meaningless. Bit I do have a yearning for little bits of poetry, excerpts from movies, last lines of great novels, somehow included in my life, hidden but in plain sight.
I have “Let the world breathe you” hidden in a rug I’m doing for a backrest for my bed. I found that in a tape by Andrew Weill, MD, one of the few hipster gurus that seems to have his head screwed on right (plus he’s so darn healthy and happy looking it’s hard not to believe him. Every time I have salmon with butter I raise a toast to him and his advice.) On this relaxation tape, he encouraged listeners to simply let go and pretend that the world was breathing for you. Try it. It feels wonderfully supporting, like there really is a god and he or she truly cares for you. It IS miraculous how our bodies work. Even if they slip up now and again, they take a lot of abuse and keep on supporting us…
Another line I’ve always liked is from Walt Whitman, as quoted in “Now, Voyager”, a movie with the fabulous Bette Davis, finally escaping into her own after climbing out from under a domineering mother. The movie also has the Claude Rains, a man of infinite charm.
The poem, called “Untold Want”, has always pulled at my soul. See what you think.
As with my favourite word, hiraeth, there’s an undefined feeling of longing. I’ve always had that. It makes me restless, not discontent, just endlessly searching for something. Perhaps for my long-gone parents, perhaps for a community, perhaps for my spiritual past. There’s another word, from The Meaning of Liff, scothropping. It means making the shape of what you want while looking for it, as in making your fingers look like scissors when you are digging through a drawer looking for them. I figure that’s what I’m doing with my various activities – knitting while looking for ties, needle stabbing while looking for sensation, writing while looking for my mind, playing the ukulele in search of music. Or maybe I simply want Claude Rains. Or even a fabulous hat.
I’ve been reading a lot about relationships for my upcoming book on MS and intimacy. I read that, of course, it’s hard to be intimate if you aren’t intimate friends, if you don’t share lives or ideas or non-naughty life together. It’s shared experiences and ideas that make the relationship weather the rocky parts. It’s the touch of love, not sex, that builds connection, the caring interest, the pat on the back. My marriage starved through a lack of feeding that side, both of our faults.
So I was thinking of the pillows you see everywhere that say “Kiss me goodnight.” It occurred to me that the pillow should be meant for BOTH partners, whereas now it seems to read like a command for one to the other. Or maybe the pillows should read “Hug me goodnight.” Because a hug can mean so much more than a kiss, which in my case leads to lust and then well, the moment gets all tangled up with that.
And then I got to thinking that the real thought should instead be gratitude. Gratitude that the world still exists, that the sun will rise tomorrow, that you are lucky enough to have a partner who loves you in the world. Or, in my case, a purring cat sitting on my chest. Whipping his tail past my eyes.
So maybe the thought should be to hug the world goodnight…hmm. Maybe I can work that into a bed pillow…
One of the little things that we folks with MS have to deal with often is the residue of the minimal (or more) brain damage caused by the lesions and inflammation of the disease.
For me, it’s all about my boss-brain. Executive functions, they call them. I used to have them, once upon a time. Apparently it’s fairly common to have problems with them as MS progresses.
My poor friends and family have to put up with my whip fast mind-changing – I toss ideas through the air, get all excited about them, change my mind, and race off in the other direction. I seem incapable of choosing a route and following through, and the poor folks who listen to me are probably hurt and confused as I waver to and fro.
God love them, so far they have simply commented. I recently nearly lost a good friend this way, and it drew me up short. How to cope with my Anne of Green Gables-ish enthusiasms, which seem to take no one else into account? I must appear completely selfish as I toss myself here and there – thinking of moving here one day, changing my mind the next, planning a trip or an outing another time, rejecting it totally the next.
I’m working on being less reactive, but I do suspect most of it has to do with the holes in my brain. (Which I can never say without channelling my ex, who used to quote the following:
There Are Holes In The Sky, by Spike Milligan
There are holes in the sky Where the rain gets in But they’re ever so small That’s why the rain is thin.)
My holes in my head aren’t so thin anymore. Things flash about in there and the boss brain is out to lunch or off playing a round of golf or perhaps shagging the secretary (cos God KNOWS I don’t have anyone writing down my decisions or ideas!).
I always liked the thought of a creative wander everywhere mind, but that’s when my boss was still about to rope it in when I needed to organize my thoughts or accomplish things or make decisions or think about what I want to say. Now it’s a bit too free-range for me. I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone, shouting WTF!!!, but I’m afraid now. If I get close to someone, how will the brain act? Will I end up hurting people all over again?
And given that MS is a chronic, progressive disease, wouldn’t it be better if I just hid myself away, said nothing, kept to myself, walls fully up, just so the laser beams sparking out of my damaged cortex won’t fry anyone?
It’s a conundrum. For the moment, trying yoga and meditation, CBT and DBT, self-regulation and prayer. And lots and lots of apologizing to those caught in my brainstorms.
Of course, on the bright side, maybe I’ll lose the ability to speak/type/communicate…but where’s the fun in that?
By now probably all of you have seen the ad by Amazon, with the tousle-haired man and his dog with the broken leg. It’s sweet but the song attached to it seems an odd choice (well, except that the dog wants to wander and can’t, poor wee thing). It’s catchy, though and sticks in the head. For those of you who wonder how the rest of it goes, here it is: (click on the first lines for a link to the Youtube of Lee Marvin singing it…)
Mud can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to Which with any luck will never come true I was born under a wandrin’ star I was born under a wandrin’ star
Do I know where hell is, hell is in hello Heaven is goodbye forever, its time for me to go I was born under a wandrin’ star A wandrin’ wandrin’ star
I’m feeling that restlessness again. I don’t know whether it is winter or cabin fever or my lack of success with knitting but I feel the need to stretch my legs. Somehow.
The other song that keeps running through my head is the Rose Vaughan Trio’s Restless as a River, a lovely tune with a haunting melody that sounds just like water over river rocks. And then there’s Rawlin’s Cross‘s Open Road, a song I listened to obsessively when I was contemplating divorce so many years ago…:
If you want to you could stay, dream your life away Counting the old memories you have stowed But if you could be what you could be, you’d be just as good as free I think it’s time you hit the open road
Chorus: Open road, carry me And take me where I can be free Lead me where I’ve got to go To the end of the open road
The future sits beside you, whisper in your ear Telling you that now it’s time to go But I don’t know how far you’ll get before sunset I just know it’s time you hit the open road
Leave the past and let it wait, do not hesitate Take your time and time will take your load There’s nothing here for you but the memories and the blues I think it’s time you hit the open road
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Sagittarius in me, or maybe it’s from years of wandering as a military spouse, but for a while now I’ve felt the need to shift my location. I’m not sure where as yet. Will it be to Wolfville, small College town in the Annapolis Valley? Will it be elsewhere? Where?
I love it here. I love the people I’ve met and gotten to know. But there’s something… Perhaps, like Vianne Rocher in Chocolat, it’s the tricky north wind that calls me to travel, to experience something new. To force myself out of the comfort of routine, to encourage me to step bigger, to take chances, to expand my view. Or maybe to tighten my view, live somewhere smaller, somewhere where I can walk places, where there are birds other than pigeons to see.
Perhaps I can do this here. Perhaps I can’t. I only know there is something not sitting quite right here in my lovely cozy spacious apartment in the city, despite the friends around me. Like a pebble in my shoe, it pesters. I can push it to the side, ignore it for a while, but it’s still there…
Some of my pals tell me they are visual types, focused on how a thing looks to determine how they feel about it, or him or her.
Not me. I’m a voice gal. I used to swoon regularly listening to Long John Baldry’s deep voice, especially his “Oh, Baby!” on “You’ve lost that Loving Feeling”. I croon along with Hugh Laurie in the car, delighting in his deep tones. Matt Andersen gets my money whenever he appears in town. I get phone calls every once and awhile from a fellow I’ve never met, but I’m always delighted to hear from him because he has a glorious “radio” voice. I’ve been known to assault unwary waiters with the suggestion they look for voice work.
Add an accent and I am as liquid as a cat.
So when David Bowie passed away this past week, I was left saddened but not tragically so. His reedy voice never turned me on. Too hip and tight.
I’ve watched every movie he was in. I swear to the gods I’d listen to him reading a grocery list, my head tilted forward, ears turned greedily toward the sound. I wish I’d had a chance to hear him on stage.
Why is he no longer among us? I feel bereft, so sad, just like when I heard of the loss of Long John Baldry. My favourite voices are slipping away….
Of course everyone knows Rickman as Snape, the evil/good character from Harry Potter, but I love him best for his role in Dogma, as the Metatron, the Voice of God. If my god had a voice, I’d sure as heck want him to sound like Alan Rickman. I’d be ever so much better behaved if only there was an Alan Rickman talking crossly and then gently to me. Heck, a Voice like his could simply say hello and I’d vow to be good forevermore.
Maybe he’ll get a voice over job up THERE? I can only hope.
Until then, I shall simply keep on sinning, with a deep bass background…
Whisper in my ear…..
Thank you, A.R. You’ve made my life immeasurably richer.
I picked up this book the other day – bought it new! Thought it might have some pertinence in our lives of TMI, loudness, lack of privacy or respect, rape culture writ large and small.
It’s not that the author is a nutter, exactly. I mean, she does have some good points about modesty and keeping oneself for those who honour you with a relationship. Though I don’t want to come straight out and talk about my misspent youth (which was about four years ago), I have found that intimacy is MUCH better with someone you like, or better still, love. I do feel that the “hookup” expectations are of more benefit to men, who enjoy that sort of thing, than to women, who often react better sexually in a place of safety.
Me, I always made certain I could physically take down the men I dated if I needed to.
Until one time, I couldn’t. And that was the end of taking the risk. Because someone took me, without permission.
So then you get to being distrustful and all that and maybe that isn’t where you want to be.
So she has a point.
Maybe being more hesitant, more modest, more unassuming would help things, reduce assaults. Fair enough, she encourages men to be modest, too.
But not very firmly. It’s mostly about women.
And then she starts going on about the shame – about how masturbation is a sin, about how lying with a woman who is menstruating is a sin, and all that stuff that simply makes sex and bodies “dirty”, and she loses me.
Yes, I want to be respected and treated with concern and care. But no, I’m not going to cringe in the dark, afraid of the sexual being that I am. I’m not going to insist men only hold my hand on the third date, and never kiss til the sixth or seventh.
Life is too damn short.
The author says she got hate mail when she originally published the book. I’m not surprised. It’s not so much her idea of abstinence that is offensive, because that is always a viable choice, but her slut-shaming women who take the pill, who have more than one partner, who enjoy their bodies. We’ve had enough of that, don’t you think?
There’s something terrifically sad about the end of a generation, that moment when the last of a set of siblings pass away and you realize, with shock, that there is no one left who truly remembers your parents as kids and you forgot or were too busy or wrapped in your own details to ASK about them, to get the info, to spend the moments with your loved ones.
My dear uncle Laurence passed away this week. I say my dear, not because I knew him well, because I didn’t – but I knew him a bit and extrapolated from what I knew of him and what I knew of the rest of my dad’s family and my gosh I wish I’d sat down with him for hours and picked his brains about his life and the others’.
It was a remarkable and unremarkable family, tested with illness and some separations (most sadly, my family’s separation from the clan over time), but tied together with love and humour and a sense of family that is, to my experience, truly exceptional. I’m envious of the other Brown families – they are close together and supportive for the most part, and we didn’t manage that to the same degree.
The boys served in the war, the one girl became a nun, but a nun with a wicked sense of humour who couldn’t be restrained there forever, and left in her middle years to share her spirit and enthusiasms in a wider realm. The boys must’ve been a handful for my grandmother, a woman given to small smiles that hid an outpouring of love for them all. They interfered with their dad’s radio opera mornings, they played tricks on each other, they told each other jokes. John, one of my very faves, actually told dirty jokes to my mother’s brother, a priest, and managed to reduce him to helpless giggles. He introduced me to “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”. I’ve never recovered. Jim i barely knew, but I remember him calling my dad when he was sick with cancer, and telling him jokes until my dad could barely breathe. George I met in England, a wonderful, big hearted man. Every single one of these Brown families has, without hesitation, welcomed me and my siblings with open arms any time we appeared.
That’s not common in families, at least in my experience. They are truly loving people. I want to be like them.
Uncle Laurence, handsome enough to be on screen, given to a roguish twinkle in his eyes even when I visited him nearly two years ago – he raised a family of gentle loving girls. There are photos of him dressed to the nines, others of him with some disgusting trick goo dangling out of his nose (which reminds me so of my dad, tossing fake vomit out in front of my Cousin Grace, or feeding my Grandmother Warner and Aunt Annie grasshopper chips and then showing them the bag after they’d eaten a bunch.)
They were all capable to being funny without being cruel, of getting away with foolishness in the best way. I think they made the world a vastly better place.
I’ve posted a photo by my sister, Margaret Gagnon, to go with this post, to give form to the family in a way. When we were in Florida one time, we came across a pack of laughing gulls like these that would hang around if you threw them Cheerios. They’re called that because their cry sounds like they are laughing. My dad was delighted. He’d recently found a book of Henny Youngman jokes and kept telling them to us to no reaction. You know, the “take my wife…please” sort of jokes. When he saw those gulls he figured, hey – the perfect audience – finally someone will laugh! So we threw up some Cheerios, gathered a crowd of the gulls, and he started talking. The gulls stopped laughing, completely. They were dead silent.
My dad did get a laugh that time – my sister and brothers were rolling on the grass, laughing at the gull’s response.
This family, god love ’em. I just know they are cracking up the crowds in heaven. Be prepared for rain – tears of hilarity…
I miss them all. Love to Uncle Laurence’s family, particularly, as they cope with this huge loss of a wonderful man. xoxoxo