Thursday, May 30, 2013


"I doan wanna get my hair cut!!  I doan wanna get my hair cut!!"  the toddler wails, squirming in his chair.
"Just another few minutes now; we’re a-a-a-l-l-l-most done." 
I’m tugged from the magazine showcasing Kate Middleton’s elegant maternity wardrobe to admire the hairdresser's calm and poise as she manages deft snips, her own concentration, and a child’s trauma.
"Hang in there, buddy."  In the station to the left,  my own coiffeuse adds words of encouragement, pulling the strands of her client’s hair through the straightening iron. 
"No!! I doan wanna."
No big deal. They are professionals.   Think of the mother.  They handle the situation with characteristic aplomb, and I am, once again, so impressed.  Hairdressers rock.

Today, like every time I trust my self-image to my coiffeuse, I am overcome with admiration.    She has been making me look presentable for thirty-seven years.  When I first moved here as a twenty-two year-old, I wondered whom I could trust with the delicate task of cutting my hair.  I would use a phone book to find a doctor or a dentist, but never a hairdresser.  So, I sought the advice of the most exacting authorities I could think of—my Grade 12 students.  Who did their hair?  It was unanimous.    I found her, finally, in the salon in which she was beginning her career, at the top of the steep staircase to the second floor, above the law office.  She smiled, met my glance with pleasant, sensitive eyes.  "I’ll be with you in a few minutes."  Since that moment, I’ve admired her competence and her desire to serve.

Peace restored now in the salon, and ensconsed, about twenty minutes later,  in the black vinyl chair next to the magazines, swaddled in a plastic cape, hair painted in coloring cream under a plastic bag,  I set aside Hello! Canada, which I never buy but give myself permission to read here every six weeks or so, and pull out my journal.  It’s time.  People have to know just how grateful I am to this woman.

She is staying late today, to accommodate a change in my schedule, a funeral, sadly.   She is there to serve, she always says, and with that mantra, overrides my guilt at accepting her generosity.  I watch her in front of her station, awed.  Chatting all the while with her client, remembering to ask about her children and the big dance recital weekend, she trims the new perm, and shapes it.  She sends her client away happy, of course, looking fantastic, and, even more important, knowing it, ready for the crowds at the recital.  In the few minutes she has before my timer buzzes, she sweeps the floor, offers me some coffee, straightens up her station. 

She’s ready to rinse me out.  As I head to the sink, I think of my mother, whose hair she styled every week, on Friday, the day the regulars came.   Like many of the Friday clients, my mother was in her nineties, and challenged, both physically and mentally.  She needed oxygen, 24/7, and sometimes forgot that my father was just in the other room, waiting for her, so she wouldn’t feel she had been abandoned at the salon.  My coiffeuse positioned my mother at the sink, working around the parked oxygen cart,  so Maman could still breathe while she washed and rinsed her hair.  She massaged her scalp gently, listening to her stories, and soothing her soul.  She knew that, although the hair appointments might be routine for her, they were an event for clients that often didn’t get out much.  She would make the day memorable.  It didn’t matter that some forgot to come, or that others came at the wrong time that day, or even  unannounced, having mixed up the days; she made the blocks of time fit like dropping Tetris shapes.  She went beyond accommodation.  She made everyone feel valued and special.

Quite an accomplishment  in itself.  My coiffeuse had another life, as well, though, which showcased her management skills and interpersonal abilities in totally different contexts.  For years, she organized figure skating carnivals, and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.  She has also served her parish as council chair, and presides at liturgies when the pastor is absent.  A philosopher in her own right, she is always open to an honest discussion about spirituality.

She continues to make people feel good about themselves, enhancing their appearance, and brightening their day.  She puts smiles on people’s faces.  She has been an inspiration to me, someone I look up to as a really good person,  the salt of the earth, one who lives for others.

It’s about time I said thank you.

Monday, May 27, 2013


I’m a newcomer to social media.  As a result, my filters are on high alert, and I am very circumspect on Facebook and Twitter.  I scrutinize every word I post, aware of the potential ramifications.  My privacy settings are high.  Mostly, I ignore the links my friends and newsfeeds share.  Every once in a while, however, the subject connects with an interest of mine, and I am seduced. 

That was the case the other day, when I clicked on a link from the Stratford Festival to a post by Antoni Cimolino, the artistic director.  Cimolino had been asked to list and describe ten things he couldn’t live without for Toronto Life magazine (  What would an artistic director identify, I wondered?   I ambled through the list—his heroes, his cricket ball, his Italian water jug, his good luck charm, a mask.  When I got to the Festival Tent cufflinks, number six on the list, I started to wonder what my own list might look like. 

With the reading short-circuited, a fresh page in my writer’s notebook ready, and my favorite pen in hand, I started to play with the idea.

            1.      The People I Love
My husband keeps me grounded; my children delight me.  My extended family and close friends complete a small but precious circle of vitality.  They have the pieces to my puzzle.

           2.         Challenges
To live, I must grow.  Can I rub a few sticks together to spark an idea, fan the idea with a soft breath, feed it a few twigs to keep it going, and know the satisfaction of a robust fire?   I never tire of the exhilaration.

           3.           My Piano
This is a shocker.  The little girl who never wanted to practice needs a piano.  The piano student for whom, in the eyes of the teacher, lessons were a waste of money, loses herself in music to relieve stress.  The struggling pianist who fought with rhythm cannot imagine her life now without making music.
           4.             The Binder of Family Christmas Letters
Just before Christmas, 1987, I gave up on Christmas cards.  Given that they were coming out in January anyway, why not make it official?  I began my first family New Year Letter in January, 1988, the year before our youngest child was born.  Each year, a copy goes into the binder.  About ten years ago, rereading them before beginning the next one, I realized that I have a family history, a legacy of the challenges and precious moments of each year.  The first few were done on an Apple 2e, and photocopied.  From printing on filigreed Chrismas stationery, they have progressed to emailed newsletters with strange subtitles and framed photographs at coquettish angles.

           5.             My Father’s Autobiography
When he was about 70, my father decided to write his autobiography.  He learned to type properly—my father never used any tool incorrectly—and invested his winters hunched over the keys in his den, preserving for us the stories he had been telling us since we were children.  When he turned 80, he decided he needed to buy a computer, and retype his autobiography onto a word processor.  My octogenarian father became computer literate, and we had a digital copy of the autobiography.  Our daughter, a graphic artist, formatted his work, designed a cover, and bound it in soft cover.  She and her brothers presented it to him in the hospital for Christmas, a month before his 100th birthday, and six months before he died.

            6.              Words
I don’t remember learning how to read.  Just like speaking French and English, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t make meaning from combinations of letters on a page.  Words are a conduit to shared ideas and experiences, and whether they appear hard or soft bound, or on a computer screen, or on the radio, or in the small e-reader square, whether they are someone else’s or my own, they have been my lifeblood since my childhood, and my livelihood throughout my adult life. 

And—looks like I won’t be making it to ten!  Yes, precious objects surround me—a wooden puzzle box, a gift from my university colleagues; a piece of obsidian from a strong and singular First Nations teacher; a mask from Venice; my great-grandfather’s rosary; the bracelet my grandfather gave my grandmother as a wedding gift.  Those objects remind me of people and experiences who formed me.  Still they are just that—objects. 

I am far less materialistic as I age.  Things don’t matter to me so much, anymore.  People and experiences get my attention.  They teach me.  I endeavor to reciprocate in gratitude.  Without them, I can’t live. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


So here, I think, is the crux of why terms of endearment from boutique clerks, restaurant servers,  or airline agents rankle me.  I have relegated them to taraf, that is, an appendage tacked on to feign affability or to ease conscience.  I first came across the word in Betty Mahmoody’s Not Without My Daughter.  Taraf is an Iranian word signifying promises made to please someone without any intention to do what was promised.   In my view,  most "dears" are just another example of taraf. 

Reading the word the first time was an awakening.  I finally had a name for  experiences I had often lived.  I had encountered people who would say, "Drop in for coffee some time."   Or, in hectic times, "If you need help, please call me."  I wanted desperately to believe the sincerity in these generous offers and invitations.  I could never get the pebble out of my shoe, however.  I wondered why people didn’t phone to ask, "What are you doing tonight [or tomorrow, or any specific day]? How about getting together for coffee?"  Why didn’t they show up to help without being asked, instead of just talking about it?  Or even have the courage to say No! if they were asked and couldn’t make it,  or didn't want to participate, rather than agree only to abandon ship?

Since then, the word has vetted my own actions as well.   I aim to bite my tongue when I’m about to extend an invitation I might not be able to deliver on promptly.  Instead, I would rather check out the possibilities, and make a phone call.   I need to cycle my words through the taraf identification machine, to keep myself honest.  Every once in a while, I am successful.  My goal is to be the person who makes the phone call, the one who shows up at the door with supper, or a helping hand.  I want to be like the people in Oklahoma and Boston, who have reached out to their suffering neighbors, rolled up their sleeves, and acted.

Taraf has become a staple of the family vocabulary.  In fact, I heard my son say, just the other day, "I wonder if that was just taraf."  In the end, I strive for communication that is respectful and authentic.  This, too, is a work in progress. 

To all who spend your precious time with me, every few days, and comment on this blog in this very space, in Facebook messages, or by email, or who give me a call or stop to chat, thank you so much.  Your presence, your perspectives, and your feedback are invaluable, and I am very grateful.  And that is not taraf.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


"May I help you, dear?"

I continue to examine the possibilities in the sale rack in the boutique, oblivious to the clerk talking to another customer.

"Are you finding what you need, dear?"

It’s louder this time, and I look up.  The clerk is smiling at me.  She is talking to me! 


She’s not my daughter, although I have at least twenty years on her.  I don’t even know the woman. 


In fact, my daughter would never call me dear.  My husband hardly ever calls me dear.  I feel suddenly old, as if I should be reaching for my cane, or taking a breather on my mobile seat walker.  Worse, I feel demeaned, patronized, almost violated, as if someone has crossed an invisible line,  invaded my space, and taken away my dignity.  People know me around here, though, and I can’t make a scene.  I scrutinize her eyes, trying to mask my displeasure beneath a wry smile.  Maybe I can’t say anything, but I can vote with my feet.

"I’m just browsing, thank you."  I leave the store.  Somehow, I don’t feel so much like shopping any more.

I get "deared" all the time—in restaurants,  shops, gas stations, reception counters, everywhere.  The habitual dearers are well-intentioned, affable people.  They don’t mean to be condescending.  They aren’t radiating superiority on purpose.  They might even be horrified to think the dearing affects people like me negatively.    In fact, a young man at an airport check-in experienced just that.

I had had a rich weekend.  The workshops I had facilitated had been well-attended, the discussions animated, and the response positive.  Now, suitcase and gear in hand, heart alight with gratitude and satisfaction,  I stepped through the automatic sliding doors at the airport.   I headed toward the free agent I had spotted, and greeted him with a jovial, "Hello."

"May I see your identification, dear?"

My smile dissolved into a  disappointed half-grin.  I studied the  confident, personable, well-groomed, twentyish young man with the blue polo shirt and the name tag who had just blindsided me.  Not you, too?

I took a deep breath.  I might have to dissimulate at home, suffer through the dearing.  In this strange city, however, before an individual I would probably never see again (and not recognize, even if I did), I could express myself.  I made a decision.

"Please, don’t call me dear," I affirmed, in a matter-of-fact, calm tone.  "I find it patronizing and condescending."

His turn to be blindsided.  What goes around, comes around--the immutable law of life.  He blanched.  His eyes widened in horror.

"I’m sorry, ma’am."  Might he have been worried that I would take this complaint to his superiors?  A company that prides itself on customer service might not stop at a reprimand.

"Could I offer you a seat with more leg room to compensate?"  Of course.  Please do.

"Thank you.  I appreciate that."   The check-in process continued good-humoredly, and I gathered my things to run the security gauntlet.  I didn’t write to human resources, of course.  I didn’t want the employee to be reprimanded, much less lose his job.  I just didn’t want him to dear me, or anyone else, ever again.  My bet is that he hasn’t.

Back to school the next day,  I heard myself reply to my French Immersion student’s raised hand, as I walked about the class while the students wrote,   « Oui, chéri, qu’est-ce que je peux faire pour toi? »
Interesting, isn’t it?  I would never have deared anyone in English.  But in French, it seemed so natural.  That was the last day I used « ma chouette » or « chéri » in class. 

What is it about this term of endearment that discomfits me so much?  Is it the language?  I grew up hearing the terms used all the time in French, but seldom in English.  Is it then just a question of culture, and I just have to get used to it?   More worrisome, am I the only one who reacts this way?  Does dearing not bother anyone else?  Do I associate impressions with the word "dear" that other people don’t?  I don’t have any answers.  All I have is the certainty of my feelings, and the resolve  never to "dear" anyone else, whatever the language.  

It's a question of respect.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I have to own up to it.  As I age, distraction is exacting revenge. I wonder if it hasn’t been dormant, biding its time like an inexorable telemarkerter who knows that, at some point, I will be home.   In the heyday of my self-control, it trusted its ultimate destiny.   I would weaken one day, or maybe my life would ease a little, and it would fill the vacuum.

So worrisome is this penchant to follow whatever enters my head that I decided to do something about it today.  I tracked the actions my impulses generated.

The first domino actually fell yesterday morning, on the way to the office, as I listened to The Morning Edition.  Sheila Coles and callers commented on the ad campaign run by the Toronto Vegetarian Association: Why love one but eat the other?  I’d been thinking about the story all day and evening, and decided this morning that I would put those thoughts to paper.  Here’s what followed.

  • vegetarian ad campaign
  • influence of the media
  • cultural norms
  • social responsibility
  • double-edge sword
  • condescension
  • being "deared"
  • terms of endearment
  • sincerity versus taraf
  • taraf in Iran
  • Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter
  • check YouTube for film
  • Twitter says Elijah Harper has died
  • check Radio-Canada website
  • home page article on translators of Dan Brown’s Inferno

Here, a small victory.  The white arrow in the center of the circle on the Dan Brown videoclip calls me.  I slap my fingers not to press play.  Vestiges of my self-control bail me out, and I wait.  Later.  After all, my project beckons, more of a clarion call than a siren song.

Setting up the document and getting my papers in order, I remember the link to the At Issue clip on the Mike Duffy Senate scandal that Peter Mansbridge tweeted this morning.  I had successfully resisted it then.  Not so now.  I weaken.

Self-discipline, why have you foresaken me?  Where have you gone?  All through the long hours cooped up in my room studying through high school and university, through the mountains of student work I commented on, through the endless course preparations, through thesis work in the wee hours of the night, you were my best friend.  When I was a teen-ager, you helped me withstand cheering on the Montreal Canadiens until the third period.  I would dash downstairs, join my father by the radio or the TV, riding the waves of encouragement and lamentation with him.  I even managed to forego  entire first halves of Rider games, duty prevailing until the third quarter.  How did that ever happen? 

I bet I have used up my lifetime’s reservoir of self-discipline.  Been, there, done that, closets full of T-shirts.  Enough.  No more.  Now, I indulge my randomness, treat it as an investment,  tag along for the ride, and see where it will take me.

I had an incredibly rich morning, thanks to Sheila Coles and the vegetarian ad campaign.  True, the project simmered on the back burner.  In a bizarre twist, however, the flavours blended, and when I came back to it, divergent pieces dovetailed into direction.

Stay tuned—in the morning's randomness, there’s fodder for more stories.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013


"Shall I pick up something to save you time?'

Elmer’s question penetrates the forcefield of my focus on the rubric I am developing for my current project.

Save time?  Pick up something?   We need something?  For what?  For supper?  Now?   I try to connect with the reality of conversation.  I am disoriented, like surfacing after a very deep sleep.  My befuddled expression prompts Elmer to add details.

"For Thursday."

I’m drawing a blank.  I don’t like the dread that’s seeping into me.  What have I forgotten now? 

"We need something for Thursday?

"Didn’t the German Club call?  I saw Mrs. Graf at Bingo this afternoon. 'Didn’t Yvette tell you I called?   We are asking for coffee cakes for the Museum open house,' she said."

Finally, two and two is starting to edge closer to four than fourteen. 

"A lady did call from the German Club about Thursday and kuchen.  She asked if I baked, and I said no.  She said she didn’t think I did."

Word gets around, I guess.

Somehow,  I felt I should apologize, or at least have the decency to feel ashamed.  But, no.  I continued my conversation with Mrs. Graf in blissful ignorance.   Since I didn't bake kuchen, we would have the opportunity to support the German Club on Thursday by purchasing some.  I smiled in my voice, said thank you, thanks for calling, good-bye.

"So she was calling to ask for contributions of coffee cake, not just kuchen,  for Thursday." I  am talking to myself as much as to Elmer, trying to put more pieces together, to edge the sum maybe to five.   "Well, that went right by me."

Sadly, it’s not the first time.  How many of these missed communications have there been over the years, when I’ve been in a different conversation than the person I was talking to.

I did learn the cause, though, once, from a total stranger. 

We were on the way to Vancouver, Elmer, the kids, my parents, and I,  for my aunt and uncle’s fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration.  My mother wanted to stop  in the Shuswap to visit her nephew’s ex-wife, with whom she had always been close.

We located their acreage.  They were happy to see us, and we to see them.  Sitting around the kitchen table sipping coffee, we were engaged in lively conversation, catching up, telling and retelling stories. 

Joanie’s husband, to my left, redirected the talk, suddenly, and observed, "You talk with your hands." 

He was talking to me.  Yes, it’s true, I do talk with my hands.  I have always attributed that to my French heritage.

"But you don’t make pictures with your hands,' he continued.  "It’s like a ballet."

 What a beautiful image!  I felt complimented.

"Just a minute, " he said.  He headed into the adjoining living room, returning promptly with a thick, massive tome that could have belonged to Merlin.

"What is your birthday?"

What?  My birthday?  Why?  My silence prompted him to clarify.  

"I want to look up your astrological chart."

Fascinated, I told him.  He looked it up.  His eyes moved down the page.  They looked up at me suddenly, searching my face.  

"Do you find that people misunderstand you?"

All the time.  I was just coming off yet another incidence.

"Well, no wonder.  You have a retrograde Mercury."

Who knew?   A lingering Mercury in my planetary configuration.   Mercury being the messenger, a lagging planet means communication issues are compromised, I learned,  and messages can be warped or even lost.  During that time, something of the past can return.  

I still smile at the recollection.   A memory returning.  Google tells me that Mercury will not be in retrograde until June.  What gives?

Monday, May 13, 2013


I didn't find the stapled sheets of organizers anywhere.  Not in the binders or the file folders or the filing cabinet drawers or the cupboards.  Not even in the boxes still waiting to be sorted after I moved my home office upstairs.  I didn't find the organizers, but I found two anecdotes I had written up a few years ago and given up for lost.  Imagine my delight.

So, I thought I would share one with you, especially since it dovetails nicely with the theme of physical calamities developed in the last post.

The moment I saw the cracks spike up the glass pitcher in a zigzag worthy of a disintegrating cliff in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I suspected I would be in for the long haul.  A piercing CRACK!! announced that the pitcher would no longer hold the boiling water, and arcing columns of scalding water sprayed the kitchen counter, the table, the floor--and my thigh.  That's when my spirit froze in dreaded certainty.

The accident had its roots in the ordinary and the innocent, as many accidents do.  I was preparing an anniversary barbecue for my sister-in-law and her husband one beautiful Sunday.  Take out the meat, slice the vegetables, put the potatoes on the fire, wipe down the patio furniture, set the table, lay out the chairs.  I wanted everything to be perfect.

I have always been somewhat of a purist.  I like things to be done correctly.  This passion often manifests itself in the preparation of food.  When I can make dishes from scratch, I do.  What could be more natural, then, on this special occasion, than making homemade iced tea rather than scooping out the mix.  Not a problem; I had done this before.  Boil the water; put the tea bags in the pitcher; try to gulp down some lunch at the same time; make every minute count.  Just as the water began to boil--and I mean the instant it began to boil--I poured it into the pitcher, which picked that day to complain that it was never made to contain water that hot.

The thin cotton of my summer shorts was no protection against the lethal spray.  Coursing down my leg, the water swept with it sheets of peeling skin, leaving exposed a tender patch still numb from the shock.  Paralyzed with surprise, I weighed my options.  Stop the burning flesh! I told myself.  Setting down the kettle I still held in my right hand, I yelled to whoever was in earshot, "Get me some ice!" I dashed to the bathroom, and jumped into the tub.   As it filled with cold water, I splashed more on my seared thigh.  What a mess I was in!  When the ice arrived a few minutes later, I applied it to the afflicted area to further cool the skin and stop the burning.  What would I do now?  I had no idea.  I couldn't stay in the bathtub forever.  Could I bandage the wound myself?  Maybe not.  Emergency seemed like a logical option.

The medical staff was very kind and professional.  They dressed the wound carefully, and told me that I would have to come to the hospital every day for a dressing change.  They had to be kidding!  Every day!  Didn't they know I had things to do that didn't factor in a dressing change?  But they weren't, and they didn't.  I went to emergency faithfully, every morning.   The burn consumed my life.  I had difficulty walking.  I couldn't take a bath.  I was terrified that I would have an ugly scar on the front of my leg.

Unfortunately, many of my fears were realized.  The burn branded the summer.  Only a week later was I able to walk normally.  Only with a special plastic bandage was I able to shower or bathe.  Swimming was out of the question.  Only when I learned how to change the dressing myself was I able to forego the daily hospital visits.  I still have an ugly scar on my thigh.

I don't attempt to disguise the scar, or to hide it in the summer.  I wear it as a reminder that, preoccupied with our daily tasks, we often forget to be careful, to take a few extra minutes, to use proper equipment, whether it is a heat-proof pitcher, or a helmet, or a seatbelt.  That scar keeps me honest; it's a badge that ensures that I never forget.  It may be, after all, a sort of insurance against any future serious accidents of neglect.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Yesterday, I had a procedure.  I knew when I started this blog that the day would come.  After all, when you entitle a blog, Next. . . . Life After Retirement, you know that at some point you will be talking about health issues.  I always hoped it would be later rather than sooner.  I preferred to think that my general good health and energy would delay that time until my mindset had caught up.  The day has arrived, however, and I have been compelled to confront the challenge.    

I could run away.  You would never know.  I would just ignore the experience for now, like closing the blinds on a raging April blizzard.  Out of sight, out of mind.  That does seem dishonest, a cop-out, even if skirting the issue has a certain appeal.  After all, this is a very public forum.  I could bask in a comfortable, if illusory, safety.  What would that say, though,  about me as a writer?  Am I ready to compromise my integrity?  If the high diving board is still a little intimidating, however, I think I might summon the courage to step off the edge of the pool.

Yesterday, I headed into day surgery for a biopsy.  The last time I needed medical intervention on that scale was twenty-four years ago.  Yes, I felt anxious.   I had to redirect my thoughts toward the positive, like  reining in a wayward remote control vehicle you are just learning to operate.  

To a person, the health workers achieved a personable professionalism.  Two people called at different times in the weeks prior to the procedue to take my medical history.  What a time saver!  Respectful of my schedule, the first individual made an appointment with me for the longer conversation.   7:45 a.m., then, the phone rings.

"Good morning, Yvette.  This is Darlene from the Health Region.  How are you today?

"I’m well, thank you.  How are you?

"I’m doing well, thanks.  Let’s get started.  I’ll just ask you some questions.  It should take about forty-five minutes."

She begins.  

"Heart problems?  



"No." Never broken a bone. 

"High blood sugar?  



"Not that I know of.

"Have you every had a concussion?"

Just about to deliver the default reply, I pause.

"Yes."  I stretch out the vowel,  replay the video.    "I have."

Immediately, I am ten years old again, back on the dusty baseball diamond of the schoolyard.  I am wearing my favourite summer dress, a hand-me-down from my older city cousins, squares bordered in black and yellow on a while background, each one framing an embroidered pink, blue or yellow flower.  Under that, I have a pair of pants which the nuns insist we wear, no matter the temperature, for modesty’s sake, I guess.  To cover the bare arms, a perfunctory sweater,  gold and mohair-like.  Fashion is not a concern, evidently.

In this rotation of scrub,  I am the pitcher.  The batter hits a foul ball.  Why I don’t just let the catcher retrieve it, I can’t remember, unless we are only a few today, and we have scratched the position to save players for the critical roles.  Whatever the reason, I run toward home plate to pick up the ball.  At the same time, the batter is practicing a few swings, a warm-up for the next pitch.  In one of those swings, my head becomes the ball. 

I don’t remember pain.  I have no discomfort at all associated with the hardball sized lump that has formed on my forehead.  Until that moment, I thought that Fred Flintsone and Barney Rubble-like protrusions were just fabrications.  Not.  I have enough sense not to continue playing.   My concern is to cover the lump—I don’t want any attention, and certainly not any teasing.

Someone gets me an icepack.  I’m a bus student.  What are they going to do with me?  My next memory is the decision to walk to the hospital that serves this town of about five hundred people, about fifteen minutes in the June heat.  Why aren’t we driving?  This can’t be happening to me.  I’m tired, and not feeling too well.   Finally, we check in at Reception—the doctor is not in that day.   They replace the ice pack, and the teacher and I head back to school.  No one phones my parents.  I suffer through the rest of the afternoon, sitting in my desk, rivulets of water from the melting icepack slowing snaking down my forearm into the sleeve of my sweater.  The hands of the clock above the teacher’s desk crawl to 3:30.

On the long bus ride home along a bumpy grid road and four or five sinewy farm accesses, I sit, hunched against the window, my left elbow on the heat register, my arm propping me up and holding  what’s left of the icepack.  By now, the faux mohair has matted.  I am miserable.  As Shakespeare says in Macbeth, "Come what, come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day."   Eventually, the bus does pull up to the stop in front of the machine shop and gas station, next door to my house.  I stumble off the bus, bedraggled, one hand managing the ice pack, the other the school bag and lunch kit.  My mother is already out the door.  She must watch the bus from the kithen window.   She wonders how this could have happened without her knowledge.

My parents take me to see our family doctor in the next town (seems our family services are spread among three centers—we live in one town, go to school in a second, and get piano lessons, machine parts, household supplies, and visits to my grandparents in a third).  He checks me out, confirms the concussion, gives instructions, and we go home.  By the next day, the swelling has receded, morphed into two rainbows of black, yellow, blue, and gray, arched under my eyes like the black smears football players wear for protection from the sun and TV lights.

You can imagine that I am an object of curiosity for weeks.  The priest stares at me all through Sunday mass.  He rushes through the mass dismissal, abandons the procession back to the sacristy, and heads down the main aisle to check me out.  

"What happened to you?"  I relate the whole sorry tale.  

Replicate the scenario at school, at the grocery store.  "Had a fight with your boyfriend?"  The man packing our grocery bags thinks he is funny.  Interminable agony. 

"Did you have any effects ?"

Effects?  From what?  I’m still at the grocery store, contemplating revenge.

"Oh, from the concussion?  Depends who you ask."

She chuckles.  We complete the inventory in time.  She reiterates the critical instructions.  Done until the day.

I am so grateful to the team at the Women’s Health Centre for taking such good care of me.  They probably don’t realize that their repartee and inquiries into each other’s lives, their praise of the Friday pot-luck offerings, their solicitude in explaining every detail, all contribute to the atmosphere of calm and caring that helps to dissipate the stress.  Many of the women here, both caregivers and patients, could be my daughters.  Those in the adjoining beds have so much at stake.   My doctor takes the time to tell me that everything is looking good.  I leave light-hearted, and it’s not just the drugs. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I sauntered into Payless Shoes the other day to find a replacement for the lime green flats I bought on sale two years ago to go to Europe.  I didn’t find lime green flats.  Much to my surprise, I found Winter instead.

Winter did not go gently into that good night this year, or wherever Winter goes when it’s finished.   It refused to play by the ruIes.  The book says that spring begins on March 21.  Winter thumbed its nose at that.  It served up a low of - 20°  C and a high of -9 °.   April showers?  Relegated to rhyme.  What about April snow, April ice, April chills instead?  In fact, Winter left under duress, kicking and screaming.  It had to have one more tantrum before picking up its toys and going home.  So it mustered the worst storm of the year—two days of snow curtains and wind, and a deposit of 20 centimetres of snow.  Still, it wasn’t satisfied.  It had to crust the highway with a thick coat of rutted ice.  Only then did it seem to give up.

Winter, though, didn’t go home.  Winter went underground.  Or rather, indoors.  It sneaked into stores and supermarkets.  It shape-shifted into the ventilation systems of office buildings and librairies.  Incognito under long-sleeved shirts and sweaters, long pants, and socks, it dared the world to notice  the clues it left in goosebumps and blue fingernails.  And why not be brazen?  What does winter have to fear?  Its reign of terror will continue unabated as long as people have to store shawls and old sweaters at work, think twice about going bare-legged, and make a suit jacket an integral part of spring and summer fashion decisions just to be warm.   Winter is omnipresent.  Has winter really won, though?

I hold on to the hope that winter will be hoist with its own petard.   Its frigid indoor retreat will drive people outside to bask in the therapy of the sun’s rays penetrating their back, to recall the caress of a warm breeze.  Just like I headed right back outside after scanning the aisle of Women’s 8 for lime green,  people fed up with being cold will vote with their feet, and reject Winter’s summer home.  Businesses will suffer.  Absenteeism will rise.  Shoppers and workers will opt for summer, and reject winter once and for all.

Careful, everyone.  Winter is still around.  It’s just gone indoors!

Sunday, May 5, 2013


I had never heard of Listography until Christmas when I discovered a book by that title in the journal section of Chapters.  Listography:  Your Life in Lists.  The creator’s brief introduction says the book  "is designed to help you create your autobiography through list-making."  Intriguing.

My life in lists, eh?   Would that be different from my life in phone numbers, or my life in passwords, or my life in pictures, or my life in calendars?  Well, why not find out?  You will not be surprised that I bought the book (or is it a journal?), and couldn’t wait to get home to start listing my life on the dotted lines under the captions the author thought were significant.

I started with the easy ones.  List places you’ve lived.  Only three.  That’s manageable.  St. Victor, Regina, Melville.  So far, so good.

List things most people probably don’t know about you.  I can do that.  I’ve done it before for games:  I did French play-by-play commentary for the National Junior Baseball Championships; I have shingled a roof, including ridge caps.

List countries you’ve  visited:  a few are Germany, Hungary, Poland, Panama, USA.

List your greatest fears.  Okay, now it’s getting serious.  Losing my memory, not knowing where my children are, driving in a blizzard and hurting someone, interfering in my children’s lives.

List your bad habits.  Best to skip over that one.

List your crushes.  That one too.

List your most memorable birthdays.  I turned 40 at Universal Studios in LA, 45 in Quebec City, 46 in Vancouver, 57 in Whitehorse, 58 in Toronto Airport on the way to Frankfurt, 59 in New York City, the perks of a July birthday.

List the things you are glad you did.  This one is fun.  Some of those I write down are : started piano lessons again as an adult; had children;  became a teacher; obtained a Master’s degree, and wrote the thesis in French; stopped getting perms; read to my children; sewed my daughter’s dance costumes; began blogging.

Nowhere in this book, however,  can I find a Bucket List.  I check in the Table of Contents.  Nothing. In fact, I realize I don’t have a bucket list, and never have had a bucket list.  I don’t even have a desire to make one.  I hear that phrase bandied about so often now that I feel old-fashioned, out of touch, even a bit eccentric.  When people mention their bucket lists, I smile.  I am sincerely interested in their plans to cross off the next bucket list target.  Behind my eyes, however, lurks fear.  What do I say if they ask me about my bucket list?

Yes, there are things I would like to do before I have to say good-bye for good :  visit places I have read about, write, refine my writing, do nice things for people.  If I don’t, though, does that mean I have not lived a full life?

Confession:  I have never
climbed Mount Everest,
white-water rafted,
bungee jumped.
Does that mean I haven’t taken risks or had a worthwhile life?
I can’t accept that.  I can’t measure my life in adventures.

But if I
failed my children,
didn’t go out of my comfort zone
didn't challenge myself to develop my strengths
didn't help out in my community,
well then, I would have do so some serious reflection.

I have lots of lists, but a bucket list won’t be one of them.  The blank pages at the end of the listography contain the overflow of my reading list, but no list of the things I want to do before the end of my life as I know it.  Why not?  It doesn’t work for me.  I need to live in the present moment, and focus on today.    I have done my best.  I continue to do my best.  I am content.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


I purchased this print, "Solitary Me," by Ahnishnabae artist Clemence Wescoupe, thirty-five years ago in Winnipeg.  Since then, it has represented my vision for myself.

I see a balanced figure, poised in space, maintaining itself in eternal balance in the epicenter of currents.  The creature's swan-like beak evokes elegance and confidence.  Its graceful, arched wings and tail recall the most ethereal ballet movements.  At its core, colour.  Passion.  Heart.  The essence of life which gives it its identity.

Funny thing, until this very moment, I'd always thought of the creature as a bird.  But now I see that its head, fins, and tail could conjure up a fish just as easily, and the blue suggests the water as much as the firmament.

This print has reminded me time and again to seek balance, equanimity, the ability to maintain one's poise, even before the buffeting winds of life.  It has inspired me to search for peace and contentment within myself, and not to yoke someone else's shoulders with the responsibility for my happiness.

After all, we are first alone.  No matter how intimate or numerous our relationships, we must be strong and secure in our own identity to realize the richness they can promise.  The strength of our relationships relies so much on the confidence and sense of self we bring to them in the first place.

This is the vision for myself I continue to work toward.   It's another work in progress.