My husband died on Easter Sunday 41 years ago.
I don't want to deal with it right now. I deal with it every day.
My battery just earned me to sit down. Great excuse.
My husband died on Easter Sunday 41 years ago.
I don't want to deal with it right now. I deal with it every day.
Yesterday was the day of reckoning for my fiscal year. Today is a day of reckoning in history for a huge number of people, so many it's beyond reckoning. I read that there are more people living today than lived in entire recorded history. That's a lot to think about. Whose eye is on the sparrow? Well, yours, mine, and others', and we live in daily reckoning of each other. That's also a lot, too much, to think about. There's a hymn I partly remember because it seems to me to posit a science fiction world.
"Every star shall sing a carol." Something like that. Ones with oxygen, anyway, and creatures to sing. I just read in the paper yesterday that "they" have discovered a planet that might support an approximation of the kind of life as we know it on our planet Earth. It's about 500 light years away. That's a lot to think about. Mind-boggling.
Anyway, this hymn goes on, as I remember, to a kind of acceptance: "God above, man below/Holy is the name I know." I think it's an acceptance of responsibility. I am the eye. I am also the sparrow. So are you, all of us. Above and below. Inside and outside.
And the day of reckoning is now, every day.
Have a good one.
Time flies when you're busy. Too busy. Yesterday I was up to my eyeballs preparing to meet my Maker, that is, my accountant, for my Day Of Reckoning. The best thing about doing your taxes is that you don't have to do them again for a year.
I know the expression about the inexorability of time/fate and all that is "death and taxes", supposedly unavoidable for everyone. But it's life that runs in my head as I gather up the past 365 days, life and memories and sins of omission and commission and forgotten obligations and here and there, a few satisfactions for something well done. Time does not fly, it does not. Suddenly I was remembering something that happened last spring and it seems like forever ago. That can't have been just ten months ago. I guess shovelling up all the paper brings with it a clearing out of memories.
Ah, the dumpster of the mind! Tomorrow I'll start scavenging again.
-- and it's a good thing because it does add a little perspective. I have another source of perspective this week, not so comforting. I'm prepping my tax papers. I can't figure out the final presentation but I have to take a neat set of figures to my tax accountant and that takes time. I used to shove everything into a shoe box and sort it out at Reckoning Day. I actually made some money: I wrote a Shoe Box Guide for the Canadian Life & Health Insurance Association (that was in the days when I was a professional widow) and they paid me for it, also for the name. They published a Shoe Box Guide, with my byline. That was in the days before computers docketed one's life and business.
Ah, the days of shoe boxes and Carnation milk cases! That was before I owned a filing cabinet and long before Intuit and Mint. Things aren't that simple now, though. Heartbleed is making everyone suffer as they lose their identity and privacy. It costs a lot to be private these days. I guess it costs a lot not to be, too. Remember that line from Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning: "Oh for a holiday in a complete vacuum!"
Somehow, in a weird way, my blog provides that vacuum, if only for 20 minutes a day, some days longer, but even 20 minutes is a long time. Plus mop-up (predictive editing.)
Does anyone know what I'm talking about today? Don't tell me.
Remember the Aesop's Fable about the Man, the Boy and the Donkey? A man and his son started out for market with the man riding the donkey and people jeered, saying he should let his son ride, so they switched. Then people mocked saying the boy should let his father ride, and they got confused. So they both got on the donkey and then the criticism was that the poor donkey was overloaded with both of them on. So they tied the donkey's feet together and hung it on a pole that they carried on their shoulders. More mockery. As they crossed a river on a bridge the donkey kicked one of its feet loose, causing the boy to drop his end of the pole and the donkey fell into the water where it drowned because it was too hampered to swim.
So I'm trying to plan a brunch for next Sunday. Usually I do things by myself but I've had offers of help and this is a busy week and it seemed like a good idea. But the menu keeps changing according to what people want to bring and what they like to eat and now I don't know what I'm doing, and one of my friends is mad at me because I yelled at him online. I hadn't realized that CAPS meant I was yelling. Is there a Chicago Book of Style for online writing? Anyway, that's why I thought of the man, the boy and the donkey.
No more help, please.
I went to a dinner party last night and the conversation was lovely: light and glancing and eclectic . Couple of thoughts: one friend said she knew an 82-year-old woman who used "cool" as a favourite epithet . She thought that was neat. Better than "super" I agreed.
I commented on my friend's healthy appetite . She's a vegetarian and piles her plate with health. When her plate was taken away I noted that she had eaten the design off the (blank) plate. Another dinner partner commented on that old joke, so old that it's new again. (like me)
That got me to thinking. We're careful to change our hair style and to buy new clothes and read current books and do all those things that advertise how hip we are. Au courant, as they say. But language and old jokes and expressions can give you away if you're not careful, that is, if you don't want to be given away. ( I wouldn't mind being auctioned off.)
Of course, I'm going to give you a couple of examples. I used to invoke a Certs ad when meeting someone I hadn't seen for years. The memory of the former, young face has to blend in with the contemporary, older face confronting one. I think that's why people say "You haven't changed a bit" as they absorb the two images, past and present, into one. I used to describe this process as "Two, two, two Certs in one" as per an old commercial. but that commercial is no longer seen so people don't know what I am talking about. So I have resorted to, "You haven't changed a bit."
When chlorophyll was first discovered, not discovered, but when it came to the attention of the general public, products containing chlorophyll were recommended for erasing bad breath. I used to refer people to goats: "Just think what the goat would smell like if it didn't eat chlorophyll." No one knows what I'm talking about now. So I use the method of analogy to apologize for my excess weight (not excessive, but there). I say, "Just think what I'd look like if I didn't attend Weight Watchers."
You had to be there.
The thing is, I've been there, for so long.
Usually Friday belongs to my challenged son but yesterday he and I were both busy and so today we have a number of errands to do together. I have trouble sometimes keeping up with his needs as well as mine and I am so grateful to his counsellor. Matt is under the care of Community Living and Bonnie is his counsellor/ombudsman/friend and - like me - nag. We both scrutinize his shirt collars and advise spray before he washes. Note that he does his own laundry. She used to be the counter-signator on his essential cheques (rent, food and services). Now she has signed off and he has full control of his checking and is doing very well. He is supposed to do all his own shopping and he has bought his own pyjamas and underwear but I went with him a couple of weeks ago to get new shoes (I needed some, too) and helped him find a bargain but he did the choosing and of course the fitting. He gave me wine for my birthday, two excellent bottles (not too expensive) purchased on his own with advice from the LCBO clerk. Today we are going to find him a cell phone, as simple as possible, no camera or apps or fancy stuff, but a life-line for safety's sake, and we'll make sure that the keys are big enough for his hand-eye co-ordination to handle. That's important.
You take most things in your day-to-day living for granted until you have someone special in your life who doesn't find things easy or automatic and who doesn't simply learn by osmosis the way most of us do. Years ago when he was in a special school I asked him what he learned that day and he said squares and triangles and things and I was surprised because I taught him all that before he started school. But I misunderstood. He was learning the symbols on clothes labels that provide washing guides.
But no one taught him his easy sense of humour. Maybe he gets it from his father.
When my children were little I tried very hard to be a "good mother". Current psychology then was that you should give your children as much choice as was safe for them. Letting them choose for themselves was supposed to give them a feeling of power, of independence. "Do you want to wear the white socks or the navy ones? Would you like jelly or banana in your peanut butter sandwich?" Like that. So I was planning my oldest child's eighth birthday party. (It might have been ninth.) I asked her, would she like white or chocolate cake, pink or blue candles, what games would she like to play? (Birthdays were much simpler then.) She said, "You choose. I'm still a kid. You do it for me." So much for psychology.
Sometimes, I wish I were still a kid. Every day I have to make choices and I don't always make wise ones. Sometimes I wish someone would make a choice for me.
My husband used to say, give someone tickets to the theatre and you've made a friend; give them a second time and you've made a bum. People get accustomed very quickly to freebies and expect them.
My friends and family have never bought any of my books; they wait for me to hand them out. But, here's the catch: then they don't read them, either. I think I am also remiss in that regard: I often don't read books by people I know even when I've bought their books with ready money. The very fact of owning a book means that you've almost read it, anyway, no matter whose book it is. More so with friends. Also, especially if you've been given the book, there's this obligation, something like what you owe oatmeal porridge: an obligation. Read this, it's good for you. So you don't.
I went to the dentist this morning, not for anything drastic, I'm happy to say, just for a check-up and cleaning. My hygienist is a great reader, reads all the time. So last time I was there I took her a book of mine, more than six months ago. Guess what? She hasn't read it. I said I wasn't surprised. It bears out what I have already noted, that people I know don't read my books especially when I give them away.
It's a good thing strangers liked my books or I would be on welfare by now.
I was thinking as I swam this morning of the different forms applied to residents of a city, such as (my favourites), Glaswegians for those who live in Glasgow and Haligonians for citizens of Halifax. (Note: my Spelcheck never heard of that one.) Then there's Vancouverites for people in Vancouver, and Winnipeggers (Winnipegosians for Winnipegosis)?), Edmontonians, Torontonians and Montrealers. But who lives in St. John or St.John's? San Franciscans, sure, but what do we call Los Angelians? (Aliens?) Are all the people in Texas merely Texans? I guess Houstonites and San Antonians are okay but what about the people who live in Dallas or Austen? It's fine for New Yorkers and Bostonians but Minneapolites? Londoners and Dubliners are easy but I never heard of Belfasters. That must be right, though; look at Berliners. Do the good people of Frankfort get called hot dogs? I finished my swim and went on to other profound thoughts. Maybe Wikipedia can help, but feel free.
Life doesn't get any simpler, does it? More complicated, in fact. I sort of know what I want to get done each day but then I have to rely on my body, not to get too tired, and other people, not to make absurd requests, and the weather, to make everything possible, or at least pleasant. Everyone around me is waiting, not so patiently, for warm weather, for spring to arrive. "It's the waiting," someone said to me this morning. (Bleakly.) But we live in hope, ready to pounce on a sunbeam when it shines. In the meantime, we wait.
I should be grateful for the excuse, no, the necessity, to stay indoors and get lots of work done. but I don't feel like working. I have lots of thoughts crowding in and demanding consideration, but I'd have to muster enough energy to write them down. I don't feel like it.
Eating is not an acceptable alternative. Neither is sleeping, past a certain point. Swimming is good but I've done that. Walking is even better but I don't feel like it. Reading, okay. I just finished a book at one of my venues, and must assimilate it for a little while (half an hour?). I started a new one yesterday afternoon in the exercise room (on the recumbent bicycle, convenient for holding a book while I pedal), and it's waiting for me, later today.
Well, I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is not a blog, it's a bleat.
Steve Jobs would not be happy with me.
I was writing about my brother yesterday. Just on the odd chance, I looked him up on the net. He's there. Among his other interests, science fiction was a strong contender for his time.and attention. He actually wrote two short stories that he sold to Galaxy magazine. They're still there! I mean, they are there under Galaxy as well as under his name, available as short e-reads from Amazon. Amazing. He would be so pleased.
Well, that's a kind of immortality, isn't it?
The world-wide-web really is fantastic. Who needs to be a polymath these days if one has access to a computer (and WiFi)? I have a friend who just discovered YouTube and he's spending all his time watching old I Love Lucy episodes and following his eclectic interests across cyberspace. But oh, the time it takes. I used to spend hours and hours playing computer solitaire games. I made a vow when I got my latest one that I would not open a game, and I haven't, but there are other temptations and distractions to lure me on and away from work. One must be strong.
April 6 is my brother's birth date. He would have been 87 today. Time goes so quickly when it comes to dates. I want to say that Jack died four years ago but I think it's more like six because my dog was still alive and he's been gone at least four. I miss them both.
Jack was a misfit, always. Too young for the War (Two), just, he enlisted after his 18th birthday when he finished his Second Year Science exams. He never got overseas but he had enough time in the army that it gave him a summer job (COTC, Canadian Officers in Training, as a teacher) when he became a civilian and a student once more and took up where he left off, in Second Year. By that time I had caught up with him, although he was four years older than I. I was two years ahead of myself and closed the gap from my side. We were the closest friends we ever were for the next two years. He went on to Medicine and I went on to Honours English and French. He taught me more than I ever taught him. He was very smart, much smarter than I, as my mother always told me. He was also much nicer than I, a very kind, thoughtful man. During the latter years of his life I used to go to visit him wherever he was, out west, latterly in Nanaimo in a senior home, where I booked a spare room and stayed for dinner and the night to visit. I watched him preparing for a table-mate at dinner as he carefully folded an abundance of paper napkins for her, to help her mop up her messy attempts at feeding herself. After dinner he gallantly escorted her back to her room before he joined me to chat over coffee.
"Jack," I said, marvelling at his patience, "you are a saint."
"I try to be," he said.
He was not a happy teenager, chafing at the war and his youth. I didn't know any better. He warned me that my so-called smartness was not intelligence, merely the result of a good memory. He said I had to learn to think. So when I arrived at First Year and received my first essay assignment, I knew I had to think about the play (Electra), and not about what critics and academics told me to think about it. I was fifteen; what did I know? Anyway I thought, very hard, all by myself. I got an A-Plus. After that it was all downhill. But you see, Jack had an influence on me.
He was a nerd. In a later decade he would have been a computer genius, or hacker, or something. When colour television came in, my widowed mother gave us each a set. Jack asked that his be a DIY one; that is, he built it himself. But he had no ambition to be a world-beater. He wasn't given a choice. My father, the doctor, wanted my brother to be a doctor like himself and his father before him. l was being aimed that way, too, until a Kuder (preference? aptitude?) Test indicated that my interest in art, music and literature was off the top beyond reckoning, while the science and math preferences (though I got A's in them) were little, niggley marks barely off the bottom edge of the paper. I was allowed to switch from a science course to arts choices. If I had been a boy, I would not have been given that choice.
My brother was a good doctor, and a specialist (urology) but he was never happy. As a young man, he loved to play: the piano, accordion, and card tricks. He became a member of the Magician's Union of America, if that's the official title. His best friend while he was in Med School was the man who ran the morgue, also a magician. Jack loved model trains and anything related to mechanical engineering. After his divorce he left medical practice, in the U.S. by that time, and disappeared for a while. When I found him, he was working as an unskilled machinist in a warm state. I remember thinking if my father knew, he would turn over in his grave. But Jack was happy.
He was a gentle man, with a warm, witty sense of humour. I could go on, but this blog is too long. l'll shorten it later. For now, let it stand. It's a Birthday Memoir.
I was married 63 years ago. My grandparents gave me cash for a wedding present: a crisp new one hundred dollar bill. That was a LOT of money in those days. I had never seen that much money in one piece of paper before. I bought a table with it. This is where history blends in with astonishment. Bill and I went shopping and picked out the table and had it delivered - to my home, as we were not yet married and had to have a place to put it. I remember it was delivered to the front door around supper time and I received it and gave the delivery man the hundred dollar bill and he gave me my change: a nickel. Our best man was seated in the dining room and saw the exchange and gasped.
"Was that what I thought it was?" he said. ""A hundred dollar bill?" And then, "Did that table cost a hundred dollars?"
Before I describe the table let me point out facts more astonishing than the price of it - very high in those days, incredibly low these days. The points to notice are as follows: there were no delivery charges; it was same-day delivery; it was C.O.D. (that means Cash on Delivery); there was no tax.
It was an up-down table, coffee table height that you could pull up to dining table height, with a drop-leaf on each of the long sides that made it into a square surface seating four. And that surface was solid mahogany.
Ay, there's the rub, and I do mean rub. Instructions came with the table not only on the operation of the up-down mechanism but also on the care of the wood. It needed weekly (!) polishing. I managed that for about a month and then I began to slip-slide. I was having enough trouble getting used to washing dishes after every meal; that took me a long time to get reconciled to. As for silver, remember this was another era. I had sterling silver ornaments and tools, like little ashtrays, a cigarette lighter and urn, candy dishes, and so on. An aunt of Bill's came to visit who was short-sighted and she came into the living room and said, "Oh, my, look at all your brass!" The silver needed a lot of polishing, too. My, how things do change.
I did care for that table, though, and gave it more conscientious thought and attention long after I had retired the silver. (The cigarette paraphernalia were the first to go.) After Bill died I down-sized several times and eventually the table went into my younger son's home where it disintegrated. The surface was badly scarred and disfigured and the up-down mechanism finally broke down. It ended up on a big-item pick-up pile on the street.
There in a microcosm, a short history of one table, is an illustration of how the world has changed in 60 years, not just the world and things and appreciation but attitudes. Bill and I were among those responsible for the Boomers, the huge numbers of people born between 1945 and 1965. When we began we weren't looking in their direction. We were looking back, expected and trying to fulfill our parents' dreams that had been arrested first by the depression and second by World War Two. I didn't know who I was for a long time.
Well, in a way, I still don't. Know. Who I am.
Roger Angell is a writer, especially know for his sports writing, especially about baseball, and closely associated with The New Yorker magazine, even serving at one time as fiction editor. He is 93 years old. I think he still is. In an article published in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, titled "This Old Man", he writes about his aging body and his continuing, generous relationships with family and friends who give him food and companionship, and his continuing desire for sex. It's an astonishing piece, self-indulgent and also indulgent of him by his New Yorker family. As some of you know, I'm writing a book about aging, a travel memoir since I'm writing about the Country of Age. I've written the first draft so I know what I'm saying and what I still have to deal with, and I can see how I differ from Angell, who is ten years older than I.
Take sex, and you can take it as far away as you like. I was widowed in my early forties (just turned 42) and there is no worse age for a woman to be deprived. I read that women in their 40s have the sex drive of teenage boys and very young men, no aids or stimulants required. (No Aids then, either.) Without a live-in companion/lover I used to pray for the sap to stop running and I was so grateful when it finally did. Angell, apparently, still contemplates it and seems to think it is possible. I won't go there.
But I think my book is going to be for women only. My country of age is gender specific and I must recognize that. Many writers have referred to the country of age but only one, to my knowledge, has been credited with the statement: "The past is a different country. They do things differently there." (L.P. Hartley,1895-1972) Of course, that reminds me of Laurence Sterne's (1713-1768) A Sentimental Journey, in which he says "They arrange things differently..."
We all do. It's a wonder we can communicate with each other. I keep trying.
"Pataphysics is the science of the particular."
There, that's a start. It began as a schoolboy joke by the French playwright, Alfred Jarry, best known for his unproduceable play (but people keep trying to do it), Ubu Roi, and arguably the father of Theatre of the Absurd. I first came across pataphysics in a science fiction story about a long trip in outer space occupied by passengers enlisted to keep the crew from going insane as they travelled through the "ether". These ordinary people sat calmly projecting the matter-of-fact behaviour of passengers on a subway train, thereby keeping fear at bay. They had a talent for banality and focused on it, rather than contemplating the endless, terrifying trip they were taking in the universe. They were called pataphysicians. After that I found several articles about pataphysics in a big collection of Evergreen Review, with rules and definitions, one of them being the one I launched this blog with. As I read on, I became convinced that Jarry didn't know what he had. It wasn't a joke at all, at least not in his short-sighted, so-called funny description. He didn't know it but he was describing women and their very particular skills. What a discovery! I wanted to tell the world.
No one wanted to listen. I pitched it as a book and my editor, with whom I had published five or six books by that time, said she didn't understand it. Few people did. Finally, I got it into print in the first volume (who knew there would be others?) of Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told. The editors, Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson, invited us to write something we hadn't been allowed to say, or that was misunderstood, or ignored. Well, they took my piece, but shortened it drastically from the allowed word count, failing, as many do, to see the profound humour of it.
Pataphysics surfaces sometimes, most recently in the last year or so in essays in The Times Literary Supplement, all by men, and in a book I couldn't resist buying, Pataphysics: A Useless Guide, by Andrew Hugill. In everything I have read that has been written about pataphysics, I have encountered only one woman. I think I have to take up my battle again. "Beyond pataphysics lies nothing; pataphysics is the ultimate defence."
That's the third time I've written that and it's only 7:27 a.m. I wrote it once in the change room for the sake of the city that has to know how many people swim each day to check the chemical levels of the pool. You have to sign in with date and time, and I'm always first so I note the new month. I wrote it again on a new page in my diary, and tried to assess the new month, not sure how much I can get done, juggling not only time but NOISE (more anon). And now, three, blog-time.
Where are you going and why are you here? (Sooner or later, we all ask those questions, some later, but as one gets older, they arise sooner and more often.)
Well, yes, those are tough questions but they keep getting blind-sided by whatever hits you that requires an immediate response. Remind me: one of these days I will have to discuss pataphysics. Oh, my, I can see bogging down in blog. As I've said before, blog yesterday and blog tomorrow but never blog today.
Time to go. Work to be done.
I always seem to feel so guilty if I haven't kept in touch with people, someone I should phone or write (usually a snail mail letter because these people are not into the techie age), or maybe someone I should have over for coffee, tea, wine, or some appropriate meal. I transfer names from list to list and it takes a while to get to them, sometimes quite a long while, but every once in that same while I wonder, why don't they think of me? Why don't they feel guilty about not calling me? Why am I always the one to reach out? If you are nodding your head, then you're one of the reachers and not one of the takers.
But I wonder, would I feel any better if someone reached out to me? Probably not. I'd probably feel more guilty. Is it possible to get through a week or even a day without feeling an obligation to do something for someone? I remember years ago when my older daughter was in high school, she paused before she left one morning and asked me what I was going to do that day. And I told her about someone who was ill and needed soup, so I'd take some, and someone else - I forget all - but I had a list.
"You mean you spend time thinking about what you can do for others?" She looked at me in horror. "I"m never going to do that."
She does, though. Did I lay it on her?
For some time now I have compared myself to a duck in a shooting gallery, surrounded by other ducks that keep disappearing as they get shot down. In the past week, two more ducks have flown. One was my former next-door neighbour in Stratford. We apparently had a lot in common: four children each, one of each family born on the exact same day/date. I think she moved from Stratford before I did, but after my husband died. She was very kind to me, out of a well-intentioned pity. We really did not have much in common, just surface similarities. Forty years after my husband's death, we were reduced to Christmas cards, polite nods to our distant past. She died last week, still with an almost intact husband. I mean, they were both on walkers, struggling. He couldn't help her when she fell on the floor with her heart attack. I've been picturing that all week, running it in my mind like a scene from a movie.
The other duck lived in my apartment building, dying at home after putting up a valiant and vain struggle. (It's never a struggle; it's always a lose-lose situation.) She emerged from my really distant past, having been part of my Winnipeg milieu, connected with my brother. When my brother died about four years ago, she wrote me a beautiful letter; she was the only person in the east who even knew I had a brother. I went to her funeral, memorial service, that is, no coffin, just some sincere, heart-felt and informative memories recalling her life. Her husband is also still living. I do feel great compassion for these two men. Like me, they are surviving ducks, but worse off.
Little by little, life is being prized from our grasp, finger by finger. I used to think my mother was grand-standing or seeking pity when she commented on how little time she had left, though she was not sick. She would give me some instruction, something to remember when she was gone. I do that, too, now, and I recognize the words for what they mean. I am not seeking sympathy, I'm just pointing out a fact, not so much to my listener (if she's listening) but to myself, reminding myself of the fact of my mortality, ever looming. Memento mori, and all that.
I do wish spring would come.
Time is so relative. Perception is all. My half hour swim is just right; so is my half-hour nap (I always wake about a minute before time buzzes); the 30 seconds I stand on one foot and then the other, total 60 seconds, with my other leg bent and my heel pressing my bottom, are very long and excruciating; the 3 to 7 minutes I wait for the subway train, depending on the time of day, are bearable because I have learned to be patient. But the shortest time between daily events is the 24 hours (or less) between blogs. My, how time flies!
My tiny audience can be forgiven if they don't read me every day, I mean, what for? So the time between blogs is probably just right for them, casual consumers that they are. For me, however, blogs have become inexorable. I can think of an analogy: when I took possession of our second car, it was less than a week before it became a plough. Suddenly I was the one with the time and the means to pick up the dry-cleaning and the booze, renew the car license(s) and take everyone everywhere. What seemed to be a luxury to enjoy turned into never-ending tasks to perform. So with the blog.
It's in my sub-conscious all day. I scrutinize random thoughts before I slough them off, pausing to consider whether they are blog-worthy. It's like menu-planning, taking into account what leftovers I have to use up and making a mental list of what I have to add to make them palatable. Know what? More lists.