Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I see the red number one on the Facebook message icon.  A message from my daughter.  Maybe she wants to chat.  I chat with my children by appointment all the time—it’s just easier that way, and I have the comfort of knowing I’m not interrupting anything. 

I click on the message.  Something about a wedding expo in two weeks.  OMG!  A wedding expo!!  My daughter is getting married?  She wants me to accompany her to a wedding fair?  Of course I can go.  Whatever I am scheduled to do vaporizes into irrelevance.  I rearrange my life to seize another of the milestones that bejewel my life in abundance.  After all, I am “retired.”   

From that moment, I am consumed with thoughts about the wedding, and the support we might give our daughter and her fiancé.  I think about how lucky they are in each other, and the solid foundation they have built for their life together.  I think too about marriage.  My marriage.  Our marriage. 

My husband and I have made it to thirty-seven years and counting.  How did we get here?   I wonder what I have learned about marriage over the yearsn that I might share with my daughter as she prepares for a conjugal life.  A few nuggets, maybe:

1.     To love is to be happy with.  
This line from Barry Neil Kaufman (author of Son Rise) has been inscribed in my heart since I read it more than thirty years ago.  Love means unconditional acceptance of the other person.  Period.   It has nothing to do with, “I will love you if . . .”  It has no affiliation with change, either. 

2.     Delight in each other always.  Focus on each other’s qualities.  Say “Thank you” every day.

3.     Assume the positive.  People are well-intentioned.  Actions that might mystify are often grounded either in habit and taste or in a rationale meant to enhance life.

4.     Pay attention to the details.  Love comes alive in the smiles, casual touches, kisses good-bye, inquiries, and countless small intimacies that knit each stitch of love into a garment that warms and binds forever. 

5.     Learn about the interests that are new to you.  Did I think, when I was twenty-three, that I would ever discriminate the tail lights on a vehicle?  Not.  Yet, here I am.  Last week, sitting at a red light, a white Elantra ahead of me, I catch myself thinking, “That Elantra must be older than ours.  The tail lights are much boxier, not as sculpted as those on our model.”  Then I laugh out loud, overcome with the irony.    My husband, nuts about cars but apathetic about sports,  will now watch a Rider game with me, or ask how the team is doing, without looking bored.

6.     Resist honey-do lists.  Neither person in a relationship has the moral authority to tell the other person what to do.  Both partners know what has to be done and which person has the skill set best suited to the task or the time for it.   Negotiation and communication work much better.  Respect the person’s approach to the task, no matter how significantly it might differ from yours.

7.     Never “should” all over yourselves.  You might or could or would do something, but never should.

8.     Laugh.

9.     Carve out your own identity as a couple.  Never mind what other couples do or how they behave.  There is no paradigm for relationships, no one way of being in love or of being married.   Love and marriage have as many different looks as there are couples. 

10. Remember that marriage is where you end up, not where you start.  A wedding is a ticket for a journey that may lead to marriage.  The wedding happens, and you start off on your adventure, destination in mind:  marriage.    Many couples have a wedding.  Most share memories.  Many derail, and others travel on without ever reaching the destination.  Some do realize the oneness of mind and spirit, the true respect and consideration for the other’s uniqueness, the paradoxical separateness and togetherness that bind two people through life’s roller coaster over decades.   Years down the road, as you continue to work at your relationship and deepen it, you may stop in your tracks one day and allow yourself to think, “We are actually married.” 

It’s easy to get lost in the trappings of the wedding—and the exhibitors at the expo do their best to help couples along with that.  The wedding is the distractor, though.  Instead, the conditions leading to the actualization of the potential embedded in marriage arise from an intractable focus on the destination.  Who knows, one day, we, too, may realize that we’ve come a long way, that we are, at last, married. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014


I can’t believe I’m writing a post about hockey.  I don’t watch hockey any more—not on TV, not during the playoffs (unless the Montreal Canadiens are playing!), not even our local junior team at the impressive new stadium.

Remember, this is the same person who, when she was ten years old, knew the name of every player on each of the six NHL teams.  Who kept scrapbooks on the players.  Who was glued to the scratchy French radio station beside her Papa listening to broadcasts of the Canadiens' games on Radio-Canada.  Whose hero was Jean Beliveau.

So, what happened?  Two things.

First, the NHL expanded to twelve teams, and then more, so that I didn’t know the players any more, and I didn’t care.  Violence had become a characteristic of the game.  Hockey was less about skill and more about intimidation and injury and maiming the stars on the opposing teams.  Hockey talk centered around concussions, and hits from behind, and slashing, and enforcers.  At the same time, life intervened—high school, university studies, teaching, children, children’s activities—I could not justify time for hockey.

Except . . .

International hockey and the Olympics, the second factor.  I often made time to watch Olympic hockey, although I knew only a few of the Canadian players by reputation.  After all, I had never watched them play.  The attraction of Olympic hockey was that I didn’t have to watch fights.  At the Sochi Olympics, in particular, the Canadian hockey players, both men and women, did their sport credit.  I witnessed what the commentators described as a hockey “clinic” put on by the Team Canada Men.  Strong defence, goal-tending that allowed only three goals in six games, forechecking, backchecking, buying into a game plan and sticking to it, and putting the team first and ego last.  Who could not be equally inspired by the tenacity, conditioning, and sang-froid of the Team Canada Women, who came from behind to score two goals in the last four minutes of their gold medal game, and one in overtime, to win against the United States?  So, this is what hockey could look like.

Now, hockey like that, I could watch.  I would buy season tickets.  I could support it because I might even believe the people who extol hockey as a way to teach life lessons and to build character.  Positive life lessons, that is, and positive character traits. 

So, thank you, Team Canada hockey 2014, men and women, for carrying the yoke of a nation’s expectations and managing the pressure.  Thank you for the gold medals.  Thank you for the example you set of grit, determination, perseverance, and selflessness.  Thank you most of all for stripping away the ferocity of the NHL game to showcase your phenonenal skill and hard work, for reminding me and maybe other disillusioned folks out there of the thrill of pure, unfettered hockey.

Monday, February 17, 2014


 The first three-card draw midway through my solitaire game looks like this :

I can play the 5 of clubs if I bring up the 5 of spades.  That is the short-term move.

If I wait, however, until a black King shows up, I can place the Queen as well as the 4 of clubs.  I can  access all three cards.

In Solitaire, you can play a card that screams to be played, and win the game.  You can also play a card that begs for a spot, and end up blocked, even though all signs might point to that being a logical move.   

On the other hand, you can put a moratorium on that move, leave the card in its place,  resist the temptation to snatch it from its spot, wait—and win the game.  You can do the same thing, wait—and lose.

When did Solitaire become a metaphor for life?  Our decisions bear an uncanny resemblance to the Solitaire dilemma.  Our decisions direct us down particular pathways.  No matter whether, all relevant information considered, we opt for the obvious move, or whether, as Robert Frost suggested, we take “the road less traveled by,” the decision will have “made all the difference.”

This pathway will impact every aspect of our being.  Given the direction we choose, we will have different experiences, meet different people, integrate into different social groups, and shape a different career.  As Frost says, “way leads on to way.”  Our pathway will affect our friends, our choice of spouse, the children we bear (or not), the health we enjoy or the length of our lives.  Yet, no matter how careful we are in weighing the options, risk and chance weave into even the most insightful choice.

Talking to reporters after his silver medal performance,  Patrick Chan underlined the positives of his podium placement despite his disappointment at missing the gold medal.  He is so grateful, he said, to the hockey coach who told him to do some figure skating before trying to play hockey.  That coach sent Chan down a particular pathway.    At the time, Chan had no way of knowing he would be a two-time Olympic medalist and three-time world champion.  He took up figure skating because he wanted to play hockey.  He learned that he liked to figure skate and he was very good at it.  Along with hard work and success came celebrity, stress, and pressure.  His life was channeled in a particular direction.  Would celebrity, stress, and pressure have followed him in hockey, for example?  Impossible to say.  Also impossible to say whether his life would have been more or less satisfying had it taken a different turn.  What impressed me is Chan’s gratitude for the pathway he chose, and the package that came with it.

Life doesn’t have an Undo button, like Solitaire or Word.  We can’t use those features to repair any miscues or to predict what various options might look like before we choose.  Lots of times, we are flying blind.  Best, then, to congratulate ourselves on the pathways we have chosen, refuse to have regrets, and appreciate the journey.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Friday, February 14, 2014


Okay Trish, you wanted to know more about deliberate and calibrated strategy to project equanimity.  Here it is.  More.

Picture a staff room at the end of June.  It’s lunch time.  Today, there aren’t many of us gathered around the table.  I eviscerate my grapefruit between bites of almond butter on toasted bagel.  (Hey, I’ve hit three food groups in one of the fastest grab-and-runs available).  We are reflecting on the year that’s counting down. 

“I’m tired,” I confess.  “It’s been an intense, demanding year.”  To say the least.  I juggled flaming batons—new courses, several large classes, a writing project with tight deadlines, and a dying father.  Any break in the rhythm, and I get burned.

“Really!” someone says.  “It certainly didn’t show.  You were always smiling and so happy.”  I’m pleased that the camouflage operation worked.  In the end, though, was there ever an alternative?  The haggard look isn’t an option.    My colleague has come closer than she realizes, however, to exposing me.  To say that my smiles and happiness were dissimulation would be a half-truth.    When they wouldn’t appear on their own, I painted them on to give the genuineness time to develop.  A variation on “Fake it ‘til you make it.” 

So, Trish, the strategy is to assume a positive and cheerful mood that I might not be feeling.  Yet.  In the same vein, when I feel down or even under the weather, I will wear an outfit that, in my estimation, is particularly flattering.  At the very least, I will don something bright, maybe even showy.   Most of the time, a few hours into the day, the deliberate strategy has worked its magic.  The smiles are sincere; my spirits have lifted.  I can keep my life in perspective.

While my management tactics are strategic, they are also calibrated.  Not calibrated like instruments, measuring cups or thermometers, but like plans, “to devise (something) carefully so as to have a precise use, application, appeal, etc.” (Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/calibrate?s=t).  I choose to stay positive and philosophical, no matter what it takes, tailoring my measures to the situation I am facing.    I’m disappointed that I lost time in a class because I couldn’t resolve the technological issues?  Chalk it up, and remember that a short memory is my biggest asset, because I have another group of students coming in three minutes, and they deserve the best I have to give.  I have a deadline and more work than time?  I will start writing and see what I can accomplish.  As the hours tick away, I will caffeine up and take out some munchies to stay awake, and worry about the caloric damage some other time.   No matter what, I have to keep myself together.

To what end?  Always the same aim.  Balance.  Calm.  Serenity.  No matter what.  Breathe.  Slow down.  Manage.  For years, I allowed the stress to invade me.  I worried.  I panicked.  The deliberate and calibrated strategy has evolved from the lessons I learned in those moments.   It is a pathway to my personal goal—equanimity  (see Balance, May 2, 2013). 

Thank you, Trish, for the comment.  It’s not complicated, really.  Just a stubborn decision to be happy and a daily commitment to the strategy.

Monday, February 3, 2014


I remember where my students sat in classes I taught more than thirty years ago, but I have forgotten why I came downstairs.

I remember that my Uncle Laurent was born on New Year’s Eve, but I have to reread sections of an article several times if I hope to retrieve the facts and statistics in an article I have just read. 

I can describe plays and recall statistics from a Rider game, but I have to think about where I might have put a fallen earring after I snatched it from the floor.

At such times, I worry about my memory and what might lie ahead for me in fifteen or twenty years, if not sooner.  A CBC report on December 5 citing a 17% increase in dementia since 2010 only exacerbates my concerns.  I have been up close and personal with dementia.  My mother suffered from it in the last years of her life, and, as she and my father lived with us, her illness touched us daily. 

Her memory loss imprisoned her in the moment.  But which moment?  When she was alone, she was never sure whether she had been by herself for a few seconds, five minutes, two hours, or a day.  As a result, she needed the constant reassurance of the presence of another person.  Any filters she had ever possessed disowned her.  Such familarity with dementia, then, breeds vigilance and awareness.  What do I remember, and what don’t I recall?  Are there any commonalities in either category?  What impact, if any, might these conclusions have on my present life?

So I try to pin down the commonalities among the things I remember, both in the present and the past.  I remember the birthdays and various anniversaries of people I care about.  I even remember birthdays and anniversaries once removed if they are associated with events that touch those I love.  For example, I remember the day of my godmother’s death, the births of my godchild’s daughter and my daughter-in-law’s niece because they fall on my husband’s birthday.  My neighbor died on the wedding anniversary of close friends.  My mother and a friend’s father share the same day of death, years apart.  So, strong emotional ties are important.

Emotion also plays a role in flashes of still or video I screen in my mind, periodically:  classrooms and students imprinted on my memory for the fun we had together; classy and kind gestures; loving, odd or even painful words (“Now, that’s big!” a stranger at a craft party said, pointing to a nine-month pregnant Yvette as I entered the room!); the hushed reverence of the Verdun war memorial and the JFK Museum on the sixth floor of the Book Depository Building.   In all those cases, strong feelings helped to file the memories in the library of my mind.

Compounding the senses also helps.  If I write things down after I have heard them, or while I read them, I am much more likely to cement the information, given that two or more senses are involved.  For example, I might make a grocery list, and then forget it at home.  The very act of having written it, however, helps me to remmber the items I must pick up.  I rely on that tool when my memory is most vulnerable—in times of stress.

My memory suffers the most when it’s overloaded.  When my mind is juggling many projects, some often disparate, it won’t have byte space for trivia, just like a memory stick that can’t accept any more information.  I might remember the gist of an important article, but I will need to consult it again to verify any supporting information.  Awareness helps me mitigate any forgetfulness.

It occurs to me that we might perceive the absence of memory as an absolution for inaction.    So sorry, I missed your birthday,  or, I forgot  . . . might be euphemistic expressions for, I didn’t bother to make note of your birthday, or, I didn’t take the time to . . . .  I might rationalize my inaction because I forgot.  As long as my memory is in tact, forgetfulness can be an excuse.  Should the time ever come when I can no longer control my memory, and I forget how to perform even the most basic of functions, then someone will help me along, I trust, and my inaction will no longer be merely rationalization.

While I am graced with memory, however, I have responsibility.  Memory incites action.  If I remember someone’s birthday, I need to act on that knowledge—make a phone call, write an email, visit, or send a gift or a card.  If I carry around relevant facts or statistics in my head, I am also compelled to action.  I can congratulate, compliment, or publicize positive sets of information, and even use them as a springboard to personal action.  What about facts or statistics that are disturbing?  Well, now I am accountable.  If I know, for example, that almost 44% of foodbank users in Saskatchewan are children, how can I not do something to help? Memory, then, creates accountability.

For now, aware of the factors that support my memory as well as my vulnerabilities, I try to protect my memory as much as one ever can.  Keeping in mind the recommendations for prevention of dementia from the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (I wrote the acronym in my journal, and then had to go back to the site to recall the words!),  I exercise regularly, and I watch my diet, although I could drink less red wine and more green tea.  I take vitamins, I don’t smoke, and I get plenty of mental stimulation. I manage stress much better than I used to, the result of a deliberate and calibrated strategy to project equanimity, even when I might not be feeling it.  As for an active social life, another suggested avenue for the prevention of dementia, mine works for me.  In the end, however, these practices might help to manage the odds a little; they are certainly no guarantee.

I am reconciled.  What’s important, once again, is to live in the present moment, fully and completely.  Taking Mitch Albom’s words in The Five People You Meet in Heaven a little out of context, I might say that memory is my partner—I nurture it; I dance with it.  And, with some luck, I might get to keep it.