"Spin" in aviation training: a "stall" or loss of lift, a subsequent nose-down spin, the specific actions required for recovery, and the feeling, after recovery, that you could tackle absolutely anything!

Friday, 7 November 2014


In the middle of all of this; in the seat of life's chariot careening through curtains of sky dark, billowing cumulous clouds of self doubt and ground level acres of existentialist fog, up pops an offer: my talented friend is going to the Adirondacks to close up her cabin and do I want to come?  Like there is any possible answer other then, "Yesssssmaaammm!"

 I drive the route feeling odd all the way. 'Terrified because it's easier to stay home, but my cells have some kind of agenda. It is as if they know that this trip will be good for me. I drive to Ganonoque and grocery shop. I feel like everyone is staring at me. I buy some of the right things, but forego others simply because I don't want to walk down the soup aisle for a third time. I make my way over the border, ours and theirs, and navigate down through Fort Drum. I keep track of the road signs while catching glimpses of the soldiers in fatigues driving to or from work, the tanks parked next to each other, and the helicopters hovering at 1000 feet like can openers with compound eyes. I drive through a few small towns until I finally find the cabin's driveway, my friend waiting at the gate.

The cabin is remote, the Adirondacks are beautiful, but I don't get it until the next morning. My friend has wood that needs to be split, so I offer. She is happy that I can do this and I am giddy to have the chance. I head out to the front of the cabin and set up the splitting stump. I can hear the stream bubbling down the rocks towards the pond. I start spitting wood then find myself laughing. My friend is an accomplished violinist. She is playing Bach inside the cabin and I can hear every note. And I love every note. I adore Bach. I adore the violin. This is a treat; lost on others perhaps but so perfect for me.

Here, in the middle of nowhere, near the army base, with the stream, and the log, and such beautiful, perfect notes, I manage to fill into my body. This is what my cells knew. I am so present that it's ridiculous. The trick is to hold onto the feeling.

 If nothing else, I am grateful.

Friday, 17 October 2014

 My Secret Dealer

I am walking home. I pass a house and hear music. I back up. Stop. Someone is playing violin; someone with skill. I stand, listen, and my heart fills up. It's like I have found my very own dealer. My fix costs nothing but a few moments. I am hopelessly hooked.

Sunday, 5 October 2014


I stand in mid-yard under a clear night sky,
'Head tilted back like a child at the window of an ice cream truck,
After all these years,
After so much worry - I get it.
I do.
The stars are right.
They were always right.
They will always be there: my calm and plumb,
So why all the fuss?
Why all of the painful grating and roiling?
Just do the thing.
Have the fucking experience for crying out loud.
... ask for chocolate dip and tuck in!

Sunday, 17 August 2014


I wish my eyes were bigger. Or, better yet, I wish I had compound eyes like a bug. Right now, the two eyes I have are insufficient: I can't seem to see enough. I'm missing out on something. How is it that people relax? How are they managing their lives? How on earth are they tapped in to contentment? I want to know. I need to know. Someone let me in on the joke.

When I was a kid, I didn't understand anything.  My aunt was schizophrenic, but we never discussed it. My parents would, individually, shake their heads and mutter as they paced their own puzzled routes through the house while my aunt zipped into the pond for an attempted Virginia Woolf swim. She would travel on buses, or hitchhike, and show up gaunt with wild hair, posing child-like questions about what she should do. I had no idea. I was trying to be five, or eight or whatever. She was terrifying. 

When I was nine, my father made his first attempt at suicide. I remember because my mother told me that she had called an ambulance after failing to wake my father up from his pharmaceutically induced slumber. We didn't discuss. We didn't hug. I got on the bus to school like any other day, except that I noticed when the ambulance passed in the opposite direction. I was expected to get on with my day: math, english, gym, geography. I remember waving to him a day or two later, while he waved back out of his third floor hospital window. He was still recovering and I wasn't allowed to go up to see him. Hospital rules then. I've taken enough psychology to know that I may misremember parts of my past, but I'm pretty sure that we never discussed this event as a family. 

I spent the rest of my formative years navigating my mother's alcoholism, my father's continued frustration, and the tediousness of Quaker meeting and all that that entailed for me. (Don't get me wrong. I like Quakerism. I like the idea that there is a light in everyone so- Don't be a dick. Help out. Share your chips.) There were few other kids in our meeting so I ended up, more often than not, having to sit with the adults for the hour instead of having Sunday school. 'Hard when you're little. The meeting house was dark, sparse, and had dripping, sagging antique glass in the windows, distorting the view to the outside. It would be a beautiful sunny day outside, but the view from the inside pews was like some abstract art. Melting clocks come to mind. Or maybe The Scream. The problem was that there was no balance. My father wanted to save the world. And that's all he wanted to do. I wanted to run outside and play baseball. And my mother had no tools to bridge these differences, and no plan to get any.

My life between this and raising kids, was more of an intermission. I was still trying to figure out what my role was. I couldn't see where I fit and still, no one would tell me. I would do work on stage but could never get clear direction or comment on how I was doing. I did stand up. Same thing. My kids came along and something clicked. I realized just how ungrounded I was. I wanted to fix this for them, my boys. I wanted to see.  Nap time, and I would run out and mix up a bag of cement to parge part of a wall. Bed time, and I would go outside and pile up snow to make an enormous Narnia sled, or a fort. There were halloween installations, Christmas installations of giant size, then, when the kids were older, a large stone wall along the side garden complete with pond and fish. Plumbing. I had the boys help me make one of those swinging porch seats. We painted it red and rigged it under an apple tree. I took flying lessons, nailed all of the technical requirements, but the effort was a financial drain so it ended. I took kick-boxing. I learned welding. I became a ski patroller. I considered a massage therapy course. Then considered hotel management. Trying. I was sending up flares as fast as I could, desperate to see where I could fit. I would take the dogs for long walks. Searching. I would snowshoe for hours creating enormous spirals in nearby fields that I'm sure were visible from planes descending to Pearson. And I would cycle. Lots of cycling. As fast as I could go. Asking for clarity. 'Trying to see…

My husband, when the kids were young, was diagnosed with colin cancer. We hunkered down and focused. He made it. He pulled through, and just as he did, 2004, my father tried again to take his own life, this time succeeding. Like Hemingway. 

Life was now more intense. I started working harder. My beautiful boys. My husband and I went to marriage counseling once, then it seemed up to me. I went to therapy to try to deal with everything. Made hard choices. 'Still couldn't see. Still cycling. I took a whack of psychology courses. I studied the stars and followed the space station, the Kepler, and the Hubble telescope. This planet. This universe. I got updates from NASA. But I still couldn't see. I still felt I was missing something. I felt like the odd kid out in a game of musical chairs. I always felt like the odd kid.  

…then Robin Williams…

His death, for me, seemed close and painful, like he was in the same game of musical chairs. The news dropped me, and I still feel, as I'm writing this, as if I have no inside. I am nothing more than a misguided interpretation of the passing of time. My desires mean nothing. And I can't get over what is happening in the world: all of the horrors and wars that are all completely unnecessary. Each struggle based on constructs and arbitrary repressions that illustrate nothing more than bullying and lunacy. Stone age ideas? Judgements? Greed? And I'm supposed to fit somewhere into an economy based, it seems to me, on one person fooling another. An economy where we have something like Walmart and that's okay, even though we know where this is all going.  

I still can't see. At least, I can't see any clues to navigating an easy route through all of this. I keep learning and trying, terrified to let things slip. What if, while I'm relaxing, I miss the answer? What if this book I am reading has in it the sentence that draws everything together? What if that course offered becomes the background for my epiphany? Keep doing. Always make the effort. Always. This is exhausting. I really wish someone would give me a clue. I want to be able to see.  I want to get the joke.  Someone let me see.

Monday, 30 June 2014


I have taken to talking to chickens. I realize it when, after a morning of reading, naps, and sitting about, I wander out to the chicken coop and outdoor pen to refresh the water and do a little area weeding. I comment on the heat, and the rooster, Sheldon, replies, as if on cue, with a big roostery crow.  I stand up and look at him. He looks back at me, though because of where chickens eyes are set on their tiny heads, he can regard me only with one eye at a time.

Sheldon is not my rooster. He is the darling of ten other chickens, all residents of what I think may be the most beautiful 15 acres in Prince Edward County. I am the house sitter for my friends that are on a trip. I am responsible for the grounds(gardens everywhere), the loveliest Victorian home(if I described it you would just cry), two house cats, and yes, the eleven chickens, until the family returns days from now. 

Sheldon and I keep talking for a while. His reply to my heat comment is a bit confusing. I translate it, from his tone and sense of urgency as,
"The king approacheth!" 
He crows twice more, trying to get it right:
"Did you just throw my cat out the window?"
and then,
"Say, Violet! That's some dress!"

I laugh and shake my head. "Silly rooster. 'Can't get my name right," I mutter to myself. One of the hens, the blondish one, clucks at me through the fence,
"You know he could have been a someone, our Sheldon."
I come closer and bend down. 
"What? Sheldon?"
"Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes." She pecks at the ground then clucks again.
"Sheldon is dreamy. If he had arms, he'd be a big name at Stratford."
The dark two-toned hen crowds in,
"Yeah. Ya can't hold a sword with chicken wings. But if Sheldon had the big manly arms he deserves, why, why he'd be a STAR, I tell ya! He wasn't trying' to respond to your comment. He was trying' to show you what he can do! Me? I could a' played Blanche to his Stanley. Him, Sheldon, holding' little me in his big strong arms. 'Makes me positively swoon just thinkin' about it."

The three of us pause. Sheldon is off under a Sumac picking at a log:
"Alas poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath...hey! A June bug!"

The blondish chicken shakes her head. "Ya see what I'm talking' about? 'Kid's got talent. Big talent, trapped in a ridiculous rooster's body. I'm worried that he's depressed."

I think about Sheldon all day. Around 7:30 I head back out to the coop to put the chickens in for the night. All are already in and roosting except for four younger ones. I go into the yard to try to shoo them in, but instead of fleeing, they come toward me with all these ideas:
"Maybe Sheldon should go on Prozac?"
"Maybe Sheldon should apply to the National Theatre School as a visible poultry?"
"I'm good at writing grants. Maybe we should get him an arts grant?"


"Maybe we should put on a play?"

I stop. We all stop. 
"That's it!" I say.
The four chickens run around my legs, excited like chickens with, well, you know. 
"Okay, tonight, everyone read some plays. Wait. No internet out here. Okay. I'll read plays…"

Then, from out of the chicken coop, Sheldon,
"I kind of always wanted to play Mr. Darcy."

We stop and look at each other, with, uhm,  various eyes.

So it's all settled. Starting tomorrow, the chickens start rehearsals for Pride and Prejudice in Prince Edward County.  When my friends return from their trip they are in for such a treat! 

…at least I hope that's what Sheldon said. It might have been, "June bugs! Crunchy!"

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


I am cycling through Oakville and stop at a light. Two little girls and a little boy cross the road with their father. They all have ice cream.  The kids don't let the business of navigating the cross walk impede their ice cream joy. One of the girls looks up at me. 
"Hey," I say, "can I have that?"
I point to the ice cream she is in the process of devouring. She laughs and shakes her head, "No."
"Really? Awwww."
They all land on the destination side walk to my right. I call over:
"I'll trade you my bike for your ice cream!"
Still "No." 
We laugh. The light changes and I ride on sans ice cream. None at all.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Spadina Street Car

I am on the Spadina street car on Friday night. It is empty when I get on at King but I am soon joined by two Mexican men, one of them drunk. The drunk one is hailed by the driver demanding to see his bus pass. The man fumbles through his pockets, his weathered face set easy on his skull as if along for the ride. 'Not worried. The street car is filling up; riders eager to board at each stop, most appear on the way to somewhere fun. 
The mood on the street car though, is tentative. Is there going to be trouble?  The drunk man is setting the tone. He finds his pass, shows it to the driver and twirls to the seat behind me like an egg spinning on a countertop. He talks in spanish with his friend ahead and to my left. His friend seems kind, and unflustered by his drunk pal but the rest of us still wonder if something is going to happen.

At Dundas, a passel of young men get on, possibly students. They stand in the aisle behind me as all the seats are full. The drunk stops talking for a moment, then,
"Hey. Hey, are you…you Japanese? Or, K'rean? You K'rean?"
"Me? I am…Japanese."
"You?" (I assume he is speaking to another)
"No. I am not Japanese. Yes. Yes, I am Korean."
"Hey. Hey…"
There is a moment when I sense that everyone on the bus holds their breath. Trouble?
"Hey…how come…hey, Japan…hmmm…how come Japan doesn't have a soccer team playing? 'You guys watching soccer? You should watch. It's good…"
The street car reaches my stop. There is laughter as the two young men and the drunk consider his question. I step off onto the platform and it dawns on me that they have much in common. They are all brave - so very far away from home. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Bring Back Our Girls/disconnect

It is 2014 and I have access to impressive technology. I marvel at Linkedin.com shots of the earth taken from the Cassini and Messenger space crafts. I can bring up data on microwave evidence from the Big Bang. I can log on to a website and know when the ISS is going to pass over my house so I can go and watch. It passes over traveling 27,600 km/h. There are people in it. They are doing science.  I would give anything to be up there with them but I am here, stuck on the ground. And somehow, while here on the ground, I am supposed to make sense of people's behavior,
specifically, Boko Haram, a cadre of the biggest assholes on the earth.  Ah, yes. Let's all stay in the stone age, shall we? Let's prey on little girls. That will make us men, right? 

The problem is not only Boko Haram, but the lunatic pair running Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan and his lovely wife Patience. I need a minute. I am beyond angry but I am helpless. I feel like a honey badger stuck in a barrel yet somehow I am supposed to go on with my day.  Someone throw me a bone. How does our species have the brains to see the furthest reaches of space and embody the absolute worst of humanity at the very same time?

 Why is poverty still a thing. Why is corruption still a thing? Oppression? 

What can I do? Tell me what I can do, damn it. Let me out of this barrel.

Sunday, 4 May 2014


I am on the sidewalk unlocking my bike from it's iron post. It's windy out, gusting enough to be noticed. I see an older lady, maybe 80, walking towards me pushing a walker in front of her. She is moving with care and intent, gripping her handlebars in the same way you might hold a tray of cookies and milk. There is a younger lady walking behind her. I assume they are mother and daughter. The older lady has a serious look on her weathered face. She was, I imagine, quite beautiful in her day. She seems somewhat bewildered now.  I stand up from my tinkering and make eye contact with her.

 "It's such a windy day," I say. "You should rig up a sail on that thing and you could sail right down the street."

Her face lights up and she laughs, nodding her head as she continues past. The daughter laughs too.

 "Yes, it would be a good day for sailing."

 Wouldn't that be so nice.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

My New Friend

It is early and few are on the streets. I meet a man dressed in orange driving a street vacuum that looks like a golf cart fitted with an elephant's trunk, at the cross walk. He has climbed off of his charge to deal with some issue. I am waiting for the light to change. I look back at him, then step closer and ask, in a yell so he can hear me above his elephant's roar, if he would come and do my living room. He pauses, the offending piece of street refuse, paper, in his gloved hand. English is not his first language. He smiles and comments on how the day is going to be good. "Sun!" I smile back. "Yes. Sun. Thank God." We laugh. 
…and today I don't want the light to change. I want to spend the day with him, my new friend.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Existential Window Cleaner

I step out of my door this afternoon and begin walking to an appointment. I listen, starting with my own breathing and move out to the breeze, my footsteps and to the broader sounds of the streetcars, traffic, and sirens. It reminds me of a film set and I begin wondering "why." Why all of this? 

Viewed from space, we must seem a curious lot: 'running around buying coffee, going on cruise ships and in some parts of the world, thumping our neighbor to death because they have different views or origins. How is it that there are still people on this planet who can not read? Why is it that some people are still hungry? And as I pass by a CAMH building(Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), I wonder why so many people are still so troubled. There is no need for this. We have constructed arbitrary limits on what some people deserve and how far we are willing to go because of economics. You are not allowed to die, but you're not allowed to thrive unless you are very lucky.

I know, "this is just how society works." That's what you're going to tell me. But it's NOT working. I don't believe this paradigm gives us credit for our true potential. If we could skip the struggle part and move to the creating part. Take away the fear of not having food and shelter and replace it with the gift of knowledge and the ability to connect with the world around us...

As I near my destination, I look over and see, amongst all the rushing and phone checking, a man dressed in orange supported by ropes and a harness, cleaning windows on an office building. He is far away but I can still see him move on the building. I stop and stare, and envy him. How wonderful to be up above the street, above the lunacy. When I say lunacy, I don't mean the panhandlers and folks with mental health challenges. I mean the rest of us that go on with our days letting this all play out. Why, indeed.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Operetta: LOL

A friend took me to an operetta a while back. We had decent seats and though the roster wasn't from the A-list, I was ready for some good voices. I wasn't disappointed. In fact I inadvertently got more entertainment than I had expected thanks to an odd blocking maneuver and a costume malfunction. 

The main character for this production had to wear full period dress with corset, bustle and train. In order to navigate the stage, she needed to make sure that she did not step on her train when she turned so she would execute a kind of rearward karate kick to billow the fabric away from her and then step-out with the same foot to make the turn. Her execution was effective but, umm, less than graceful. Jarring, really. She would float, float, float over the stage and then, out of nowhere, karate-kick-back-and-step-out. It was like she was dancing ballet with a football maneuver thrown in, or perhaps trying to dislodge the bite of a small dog that had hold of her ankle

This made me laugh. 

But, I worked to keep it to myself out of respect for the effort. 

Yes, I worked very hard,


Later in the show, this character sat sideways to the audience while her ladies in waiting affixed a large(I mean lampshade-sized) tiara on her head. It was impressive on a "Miss Saigon" scale, with a pearl the size of a plumb-bob hanging down in the middle of the forehead. Or, at least I think it was supposed to be in the middle of the forehead. I became suspicious of what I was about to see as the ladies fussed oddly with the tiara. From my view of her left side, things didn't look quite balanced…

And I became afraid. So very afraid.

My eyes opened wide as the character stood. I took a deep breath. Then she did it. She killed me. She did her karate-kick-step-out, turned to face the audience and I completely fell apart. The tiara was listing dangerously to the right, almost over her eye, the pearl nowhere near centre. She looked like a Disney character who had downed several vodka shots after a long day, mouse ears askew, or perhaps Foster Brooks in drag.

 I quickly bowed my head and covered my eyes. I snorted. I bit my lip. I couldn't breathe and I could not stop laughing. Air was going in, shooting out, and wanting desperately to make sound. Big sound. I fought and fought and after several minutes made myself focus on the flute player's music score down in the orchestra pit. But my eyes kept filling with tears and my shoulders kept convulsing through the rest of the evening as if I was sitting on a bus routed over a rutted country road.

I felt absolutely horrible. I know the performers were doing their best. I know that if they saw me, which I would imagine they did, that they hated me. But I will never forget that show. It brought tears to my eyes even writing this. I was completely entertained.

And my friend was no help. She was laughing just as hard. I didn't stand a chance. Really.


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Big Bang

I have always believed in the Big Bang theory but now that there's proof my brain has turned into a peeling banana. I have spent the day wandering around, pacing: looking at my rose plant, blooming and feeding off the rays of the sun, vacuuming up dust and particles of everything(space) and nothing(space), watching the clock tattle on time passing, and wondering who/what else is out there. What is the universe expanding into? The questions roil between thing/not thing. Oh, wait. Then there's WHY. 

I've done this before, gone down this rabbit hole. This is familiar territory but that doesn't mean it isn't troubling. On the contrary, it makes mankind's inability to get along embarrassing. We have the talent to see the beginning of time, but our mayor is a drunken clown, and Putin…well you get the idea. 

I started reading Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist, this morning after vacuuming, a book I purchased several months ago. I've been putting it down to think, and then picking up Mary Oliver's A Thousand Mornings (a most wonderful birthday gift!) and struggling with the breadth in between. Existence? Emotion? Behaviour? Beliefs? Love? Poetry? Wes Anderson? Fission? Taxes? I know mankind has asked these questions before, but now they're in MY head, jammed in so tight that I fear my own cranial Big Bang.

I'm going cycling before I go completely insane.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


I watched the movie, Particle Fever, the other day. It's a fantastic glimpse of the excitement around CERN's Large Hadron Collider. I loved the movie, and it's not because I understand exactly what the physicists are talking about in it. I know they're looking for the "Higgs Bosun," and I know that the size of it has to do with super symmetry as opposed to the multiverse: 126 Gev(or 124?). I watched as Peter Higgs, namesake of this God particle, tears up at having the discovery of his idea made in his lifetime. But I think the thing that got me, was that all of the physicists in the room, in the building, and around the world, belong to something important. When the results were announced, the cheer that went up in the room was tremendous. I envy the people involved in that. I envy anyone involved in anything so meaningful, where you are really a part of something. I would love that.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Buenos Dias!

I am at a crosswalk. Just as the walk light changes in my favor, sirens bellow and two great red fire trucks hulk out of the nearby station, lean around the corner and roll past like friendly Pixar monsters woken from a nap. Instead of crossing, I stand and wait for them to pass. Once they do, my light changes again, forcing me to stay where I am but I don't complain. The sun is in my face and the air smells of spring for the first time in a long time so I'm happy to just enjoy it. As I wait, four middle-aged Mexican men, deep in a rather animated discussion in spanish, arrive at the same cross walk. The strange thing is that instead of walking to my left side or my right side, they stand all around me. I know only very little spanish but I don't think I am the subject of their exchange. I don't feel threatened at all and actually begin to chuckle: they seem more goofy than anything I should be concerned about. Just as the light changes, two of the men reach out and do a knuckle bump right in front of me. It is all I can do not to laugh out loud. They hurry across the road. For a minute, I consider staying where I am in the sun and the warm, and see who else is going to meander up to this cross walk, but I continue across and run my errands. I've been chuckling about this all day. 

"Muchas gracias!"

Sunday, 9 March 2014


I am quiet all morning. Except for one phone conversation I am judge over none but my own thoughts. Time blinks to late morning, finds me grumpy and worrying: my default setting. I bundle up and leave to the market to get food. I turn the corner and see a man wrapped in an old jacket, a hoody underneath and several bags slung over his shoulder walking toward me. His tanned, gritty face is set in defense mode until I smile at him. His eyes raise and he smiles back. He seems as surprised as I am at this change. I continue on and see a group of them outside the mission. For a minute, I veer towards the road planning to cross to the other side and avoid all these troubled men, leathered and exhausted after the long winter on the street. But I do not cross. Instead, I walk right down the middle of the group and there, one lovely young man, standing slightly apart on the street smiles at me:

 "Hey, I like your hat!"

 Now it is my turn. I raise my eyes and smile back at him...

We are all okay.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


I have a cold. I know this because my muscles and my sinuses ache. I'm getting better, the ache is less intense but I continue my regimen of tea and soup to speed my return to health.  I stand in front of the pot of simmering broth watching the peas bob in the bubbles. At least, I think I'm doing this. Maybe. I will explain:

Earlier in the morning, I am mesmerized by the perfection of one particular tulip among the dozen in the vase on the table.  I notice the flower peering at me over the edge of my computer screen directly after I finish reviewing information from the Kepler Mission's recent discovery of 715 

new planets, and details of ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) being built in France.  

Impressive, but it is the simple tulip that sends me over and triggers an almost surreal and profound desire to know.  I am overwhelmed. The feeling becomes more intense after I stumble onto a talk given by Joshua Knobe, associate professor in the Program in Cognitive Psychology and the Department of Philosophy at Yale.  Knobe's talk is about the true self and the question of identity over time.  In it, he discusses the idea that, over time, you will change.  Molecule by molecule, you will become a different person than you are now. And right now, you are a different person than you were in the past.  

Sure. So there's that.

Then Knobe goes on to try to zero-in on what, exactly, the true self is.  Are we our emotions or our beliefs?

You need to watch the talk yourself:


but now, for me, watching this soup is maddening.  The influence from the Kepler Mission and ITER leads me to consider the soup as nothing but varying masses of atoms vibrating at different rates.  The peas were frozen so their levels are different.  And are they really green?   Colour is nothing more than frequency. I know this (whoever I am).  I take two eggs from the fridge and crack them into a bowl.  The eggs now look like two suns ('Feel my pain yet?).  I take a fork , scramble the eggs, and pour them into the hot broth on the stove.  I see them cook and wind around the bubbling peas. I turn the blue gas flame down and stand there. 


"I am."


Do I have an essential self?  A true self? Or am I a simple mass of synapses and neurons sparking and arcing in reaction to stimuli?  But why does some stimuli affect me so differently than others? The tulip responds to sunlight.  The soup responds to heat.  The sound of your voice can make my heart beat out of its chest.


Who am I?

I know the brain can not know itself.  And I know this is really an unanswerable question. I don't trust anyone who claims to know the answer for sure.  That, I think, is the height of arrogance. Accepting that we are a mass of gunk may work for a while, until you suffer.  Until you crave.  Until you have lost.  Until nothing is familiar and you are afraid.  Until you love so deeply.  And, until the big things (715 more worlds) and the small things (the tulip) threaten to blow your mind.

                           I just want to know.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


I awake to sinuses that feel like they're on fire. My head aches. I have slept poorly but I hop up and check the feeds and find that Canada is ahead in its gold medal game against Sweden. I have a hot shower and come down to begin my efforts against this cold, annoyed that it has ruined my plans to go to a pub this morning to watch the game on a big screen with other fans. I keep tabs. We win! I am excited! I hear honking and whooping in the streets. I love this, and am in a fantastic mood even with all of the kleenexes I am having to use. 

Eventually, I get myself outside on the way to pick up ingredients for chicken soup, some cold remedies and a movie. The city is grey and cold and reminds me of a black and white movie. The sidewalks are have patches of ice. Even the air is hard. I'm walking up the western sidewalk. There is a woman with a big hat walking up the eastern sidewalk. We're both moving at the same cadence which is annoying. You're really not supposed to walk WITH anyone on the street if you don't know them. This is an unspoken rule. I try to slow down, but then realize how silly that is, so I resign to keeping pace with her. It's a gold medal day, after all.  A short way up the street, on Big Hat's side, I notice a woman crying, and I mean really crying. A man has passed her and is looking back. I wonder if they have had an argument. Big Hat slows and asks the man something. I see him shrug his shoulders and take this to mean that he doesn't know her.  He continues on. Big Hat walks slowly toward the woman who is crying full tilt now. I slow.

  I remember, years ago, I was coming out of a subway and passed a woman who was crying like this. In that crowd, no one stopped to see if she was alright, including me. This event still bothers me. I vowed I would never do that again. So, here, I crossed the street over to Big Hat's side. We both nodded to each other, wondering what to do, and reached the woman at the same time. 
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"No." she manages,  "my aunt, who I was living with died and now I have nobody." She is distraught.
I put my hand on her arm. 
"When did your aunt die?" I asked.
"Two weeks ago." she said
Big Hat asks her about friends.
"They don't live around here. They all have kids. They're party friends. They don't want me." she sobs. Her face is covered in tears. I pull out a kleenex and give it to her. She goes on to explain that her parents had died seven years ago. She couldn't cry then for some reason but now, all of the sudden, here on the street, she felt it. The crying had come. I take a risk, step closer and hold her. I feel her lean into me, still crying. Big Hat puts her hand on the woman's arm. After a time, I stand back, and I feel she has lightened. I sense that she has made it out of the trough. Big Hat and I talk with her about struggle and the fact that most of the people passing by on the street are going through something. They just aren't showing it. I acknowledge that she is going through a very tough time. The three of us stand talking, and more importantly, listening, on the sidewalk for some time. She settles down and even laughs when we bring up the this is character building nut. 

Between Big Hat and I, we get her back into the present and feeling much better. She goes on her way, thanking us for stopping.

 Big Hat and I walk up the sidewalk together, completely in step, and talk about what has just happened and what a crazy world this is. We talk about loneliness and how hard life can be sometimes. She thanks me for stopping. And I thank her. She gestures that we have arrived at her house and waves goodbye. I wave and continue on to get my provisions but I feel emotionally full. What was that? What just happened? Well, I made contact I guess.  I am grateful to the crying woman for this. I sincerely hope she is okay. She wasn't the only one to benefit from the interaction. Absolutely not.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Gold Everywhere!

If you can wait. If you can have faith. If you can trust in the gifts of the universe then you will find that there's gold everywhere. 'Never fails. I am in Toronto's famous Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar on an afternoon of apocalyptic weather to interview a man who wasn't there. "He would be in on Tuesday," according to the young, handsome bartender. Rather than waste the trip, I ask for a martini and settle in to wait for the goods. They're out of vermouth but we laugh and I do not protest. The bartender is exactly the right mix of easy-going, and concern. This is an interesting place. More interesting as an entity unto itself during the off hours as I am about to experience. 

There are TV's at the Rex mounted on the walls, today showing events from Sochi and the Olympics. When I arrive, the members of the Canadian Women's hockey team are shown getting their gold medals. Here, there is a group of four men in a corner of the room. I glean from overhearing words here and there, that the two older men might be either policemen or judges as they are discussing various court rooms they like over others with two younger men who I would guess might be lawyers. I'm guessing this because the younger men seemed keen to give the older men full attention, sipping their beer with their backs to the TV's, facing the stucco wall instead.   Further over, there is a table of three; the only hipsters in the place.  Behind me, two men are sitting, nursing their bottles of Blue. One has just checked in to a room for four nights. He has found work in the area and his girlfriend phoned ahead and booked the room for him.  To my left, in the back of the room, there is one older man, a regular, finishing his second beer and chatting on occasion with the bartender and the owner as they tend to their tasks. The owner is dealing with a room issue, but stops to chat with a woman on her way out. He is concerned that everything is okay with her. She is learning English, new in Canada, and "Do you have friends?" he asks. She nods. He is glad, and warns her of the weather. He is sincere.  A young man is cleaning the glass doors. An older woman comes in and sits up to the bar. The bartender offers her a menu. Over in the corner on a low-raised stage, sacred, there are parts of a drum kit stacked next to a shrouded baby grand piano and a pair of monitors. There are framed photographs of musicians scattered on the walls. Behind me and to my left, there is a large painting of a woman in a red dress and a man playing a blue saxophone. I ask the waitress to tell me about the painting.
 "Well," she says, "there's a woman in a red dress. And a man playing a blue saxophone." 
I laugh, explaining that I figured it had something to do with the Sirens of Greek legend or something symbolic. 
"No. Some lady painted it. She comes here every once in a while with a blind date. She sits right in front of her painting," she says and goes back to her work. 
I sip my drink and notice the music. The awards ceremony is over and women's figure skating is two or three contestants in. I hear Ravel's Bolero but instead of watching the skater, I listen to the music and consider the people in the room. The music builds in its slow, steady beat and I notice one of the judges sits down closer to the TV and watches the young skater throw herself up in the air to the music. She has drawn him out. No one bats an eye. This judge, and everyone else in the room, all with their own stories, even the people passing through the sleet out on the sidewalk are beautifully choreographed from where I sit. Those passing have brief roles. A glimpse only as they pass by the doors: shoes or winter boots? Warm coat or not? Umbrella?  Alone? And who's in the taxi? Who's on the streetcar? 

Bolero: graceful. Intense.

With a click, the bartender mutes the TV and Bolero. Music from a jazz radio station takes over the room. The skater finishes and awaits her score. The judge returns to his seat. The regular in the back leaves but not before handing his empty beer bottle to the bartender. The woman orders food. The next skater takes the ice and dances completely out of sync with the Duke Ellington tune we are hearing, possibly April in Paris. The scene is comical, but touching, like something out of a Vonnegut novel. The story is in the contrast: from fluid movement, to struggle. From comfort to endurance. And from loneliness to camaraderie.  Today, the real gold is right here at The Rex, where life is happening in perfect time. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sunday, 2 February 2014


Icing sugar is leaking from the sky,
Sifting through the trees and my snowshoes.
I step through the top deck, then
Crunch into the meringue underneath;
Harder snow dropped days ago, 
Sorted, folded in by winds.
The only sound is my breathing and the fast
Racket of the granules hitting my shoulders -
Like tiny impatient angels tapping their fingers on a desk, demanding-
"So? You! Live, damn it!"

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Checkin' In.

There was a difficult day. Everyone has them. 'Seems the gauntlet was thrown down as my eyes opened in the morning. Nothing was working. My ideas, goals seemed ridiculous and the world, well, I just couldn't figure it out. There was no point, it seemed. I was not making the headway I wanted. And outside, the air was cutting cold, thrown carelessly by the wind, and armed with stinging, sharp snow. In a fit, I shrugged off my useless efforts and left them in a sullen heap on the floor. I put on my jacket and headed out through the storm  and to a movie. The theatre is a bit of a walk from where I live so the storm had ample time to make me uncomfortable, that is until I got to Philosopher's Walk, a thin, forested park set low behind UofT's Faculty of Law, Faculty of Music, and the ROM. Because it is low, and sheltered, the wind was blowing over top and dropping the snow gently, instead of bludgeoning it as it seemed to be doing everywhere else. It appeared a scene from Narnia, or some special place with rich, thick duvets of granitic, sparkling white laid everywhere. It was beautiful and I was thankful for the respite from the wind. I could hear my own breath, the crunch of snow under my feet, and then- then I heard the silkiest sound coming from a trumpet somewhere in the music building. Someone was playing Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade." I stopped. It was so beautiful. So lovely, as if they were playing it just for me, to draw me out of my difficult day. As if someone said,
 "Here she comes! Play it now! Remind her that there is, most definitely a point!"
 It was as if God was just checkin' in to sort me out. Whatever it was, there was most certainly a magic to it. I may never forget it.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Glenn Gould and Me.

I can not wait for this Death Match to be over. I've been listening to Glenn Gould and the English Suites, and pacing. Gould is pure genius, no question. I am a struggling writer, no question here either. Again, it's completely my fault for entering the contest. But as I was pacing and letting Gould's brilliance wash over me, I think I finally realized the problem I have with it: the Broken Pencil Death Match is disrespectful of the discipline. It takes advantage with the lure of the prizes and belittles the sacredness of the creative process with the insulting, juvenile tactic of hourly voting. I could never imagine Glenn Gould having put up with something like this. I'm not, by any means, putting myself on a par with him, but I think there is nothing wrong with respecting myself as he did, as any profoundly focused artist/creator should. I was going to write here that I have learned nothing significant during this tiresome week, but that's not true: SELF RESPECT.  That IS significant. 'Took a whole week to put words to it, but thank God I got it. Thank God indeed.

Thursday, 23 January 2014


Sorry everyone. I'm embarrassed by the Broken Pencil Death Match Short Story Contest. It's such an obvious scoop of email addresses. I was so excited to be a finalist and then, well, once I realized that it wasn't about the writing at all, it was about who had the biggest contact list, I was quite angry. Now I'm just sad that I didn't see it. But now I know. I will never be a part of anything like this again. No more voting. Ever. I apologize.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Short Story Contest:

Everyone to http://www.brokenpencil.com/deathmatch-2014 starting on Monday. Vote every hour, if you can, for me!
"Dent-O's Taste-O'-the-South." Comment too!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Appalachian Spring.

Why is it that Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring can leave me sitting, weeping on my kitchen floor?