Sunday, October 27, 2013


“What flavour would you like for your fluoride treatment, Yvette?” the dental hygienist asks.  “Orange, bubble gum, or grape?”

Every decision is crucial during the annual Extreme Gag-reflex Test, the fluoride treatment.  I already have the essential equipment :  two nestled blue plastic cups that will collect the dribble, and three tissues, one for each side of my mouth and my chin. 

“We can rule out bubble gum right off the bat,” I answer.  “I think I did orange last year, so let’s go with grape this time.”   The fruit flavor might offset the fluride’s cloying sweetness that triggers my gag-reflex as much as the foreign objects she will put in my mouth.  As Lori prepares the treatment, I steady my breathing, through my nose, slow and regular.  Breathing will get me through the next three minutes.   Much too soon, she stands before me, one u-shaped plastic cup brimming with white grape-flavored foam in each hand.  For some reason, I think of Anne Boleyn on the platform at the Tower of London, panning the people before her and the city beyond, deciding the moment to signal the executioner to wield his axe.

I shake my head to dispel the image, smile at the incongruous juxtaposition, and tell Lori I’m ready.  I open wide.  She inserts one cup on the top, and inverts the other for the bottom.  I bite down.    Grape was a good choice, but still, my stomach heaves. I remember to breathe.  She might as well have turned on the saliva tap.  The count-down begins.

Images of other moments when time slows down project onto the Disney Circle-theatre that my mind has become :  the slow motion chronology of burning my thigh with boiling water; any kind of waiting—to see a doctor, for test results, for a text message from a child on the road; the first few weeks of anything new—a job, a relationship, a baby’s birth, a holiday; the final three minutes of a CFL football game, when your team is either ahead or behind by a touchdown or less.  To be honest, I must add clock-watching during a boring class.  As a teacher, it hurts to even contemplate that some students have probably felt that way during classes I have taught.  They might share John Green’s resolve in Paper Towns :  If I am ever told that I have one day to live, I will head straight for the hallowed halls of Winter Park High School, where a day has been known to last a thousand years.   Oh, and a three-minute fluoride treatment.

The slow shuffle of time, then, is often associated with anxiety, boredom, loss, stress, or danger.  So, we want time to fly.  We make choices because “it passes the time”, « ça passe le temps ».  We kill time, we have don’t like having time on our hands, and we are pleased when time passes quickly.   A full calendar, a wedding, time spent with friends, visits from adult children, absorption in a passionate activity, all seem to run on an accelerated clock.  Maybe we want this rapidity because we perceive it as a sign that things are going well, that we are prosperous in the economic, emotional, and social senses of the word.   

As the tissues get wetter and the plastic cups fill with fluoride residue I wonder if we are being  cavalier about time.   Why do we want time to pass so quickly?  All of us are journeying toward the same end.  I am in no hurry to get there, to arrive at the finish line of my time.  In fact, I want to savour every morsel, like a decadent chocolate.  I want to collect it like drops of water in a drought, or ration it like an expensive cream.   I want to rein time in.

That means I must stay awake :  pause on the front step to smell the fresh morning air,  stop on the highway shoulder on the way to work to watch the sunrise, set aside my work to listen to a colleague, suspend my to-do list to post a blog after an absence of almost two weeks.

It also means not to wish away anything, even the last eternal seconds before Lori returns to remove the fluoride, and I can go home.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I stare at the photocopy distributed at the meeting like I’ve  1.  won the lottery,  2.  been given a gift,  3.  have been handed a reprieve,  and 4.  all of the above.  I have to smile.  After all, I intended to include that very information in a section of a handbook I am preparing.  A quick email, and I have the electronic copy and permission to include it in the handbook.  I wipe the item off my mental to-do list.  

Procrastination pays off.   Again.  It happens with uncanny regularity. 

Another case in point. 

As I labour over an organizer for a question I am answering  for a project, I am inspired to check if the question might have changed in the most recent iteration of the document.  Imagine my surprise—the revised document has just been posted!  Imagine my  dismay—the question I have been working on has been deleted.  Gone!  Replaced with a much simpler version not requiring an orgnizer.  I’m off the hook, but more than an hour of my time has been hoodwinked.  Swaying back on my office chair, I congratulate myself on prescient pause-button pressing on my work to verify the question, and salvaging the potential lost minutes, so precious in this time of tight deadlines.  What if crisp efficiency or dogged determination had kept me shackled to my work during the previous weeks ?  I would have been farther ahead only to end up way behind.

Another victory for procrastination, or, what I have come to call, the power of positive procrastination.   For procrastination has power, and its force is positive.  I owe this insight to a principal I had the good fortune of working with in my first years teaching.  He explained to me that he didn’t make any decisions until he had all the pieces of information he needed.  He waited for the critical moment to decide—not sooner, not later.  Experience had taught him to discern the right time for a decision.

I don’t pretend to have my former principal’s wisdom.  Over the years, however, I have come to trust my intuition.  When 1.  I feel uneasy about a task, or 2.  I am spinning my wheels on a project, or 3.  life intervenes to interrupt my schedule, I will likely postpone the job.  Better to simmer a bit longer so that the flavours are well blended.  What appears to be procrastination is, rather, judicious analysis of circumstances combined with trust in the heart’s messages and divine intervention.

Procrastination has a bad rap, like old-time music, bread, whole wheat pasta, Regina, or disorder.  It doesn’t have to be indifference and laissez-faire, snubbing one’s nose at obligations in favour of personal indulgence.  Deliberate procrastination growing out of an astute analysis of circumstances and respect for intuition is a powerful force and an intriguing phenomenon.  I have dubbed that force "The Power of Positive Procrastination."

Friday, October 4, 2013


Elmer and I nudge into the last row of mourners gathered around Ralph’s grave in the October chill.  Standing at the head of the grave just behind the urn, Reverend Sue begins the grave side rite.  Her voice soothes as she speaks the prayers, but the words don’t penetrate.  Gloria’s eyes are fixed on the urn, the finality of the physical separation from her husband obliterating everything.   I only have byte space for images of Ralph, our neighbor for the past thirty-seven years:

Railroader Ralph tutoring tourist bureau employee Julian on rail history and telegraph equipment so he can give credible tours of the Railway Museum;

Philosopher Ralph presenting eldest son Daniel with a copy of “Desiderata”;

Farmer Ralph pulling into the driveway during harvest in the red ’53 Mercury pickup he called “Big Red”;
Ornithologist Ralph putting a scrap of bread in the hands of four-year old Daniel,  and snapping a photo when a robin came to eat out of the hands of an amazed little boy;

Shriner Ralph in a red fez zigzagging a miniature car in the annual parade;

Cheerleader Ralph in our living room, guest of honor at a private jazz concert courtesy of son Julian on trumpet, with pals Alex on bass, and Eric on saxopone;

Sculptor Ralph presenting me with carved wheat sheafs in commemoration of my convocation;

Carpenter Ralph designing and building a spiral staircase to the second story he added to their family cabin;

Social Ralph gathered with neighbors around the fire,  addressing current issues;

Enduring Ralph, disease eroding physical capacity,  accepting, serene, concerned only with easing his family through difficult times.

Good-bye, Ralph.  For us, you will forever enshrine nobility.