Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Deep

One of the favourite books of my childhood was Heidi, the story of a little girl who lived on the Alm (Alp) with her grandfather (first published in 1880, more here). I haven't read the book since I was 12 or 13 and didn't remember much more then that. Last weekend, in a fit of nostalgia, I got it from Audible and prepared to settle in for a warm and fuzzy trip down memory lane. Before I continue, a quick caveat. I'm about to discuss major plot points and am assuming everybody has read the book (which may be wrong - North America has an altogether different canon of beloved childhood books than Europe does).

As I started reading the book, I noticed that I was very weepy. I'm not a crier, but I do get verklempt very easily. Am a complete and utter mushpot. Anything that remotely pushes that button in movies/TV and real life - dying animals, reunions of lost lovers, special moment spent with a sibling, birth, weddings and all other poignant moments has me tearing up and fumbling for a Kleenex. It's ridiculous, but there is. In the beginning, the action in the book doesn't come very close to that infamous button and I wasn't sure why I was crying, but I put it down to hormones or fatigue and read on, rediscovering the book all over again, only vaguely remembering what happened next just as I was getting to it.

In the beginning of the book, when Heidi moves in with her grandfather, I realized where my obsession with a cabin in the woods comes from. I remember wanting to be Heidi when I was a child - sleeping in the hayloft in a bed made of sweet smelling hay by a window to the stars, lulled to sleep by the wind singing in the pines. It sounded glorious. I still want to be her.

Then Heidi gets taken to Frankfurt by her aunt, to be companion to Clara, who’s an "invalid" slightly older than she and the weepy got a little stronger. I started to have memories of the rehab hospital in which I spent much of my time between the ages of 11-14. It was a very nasty place. Heidi is so homesick that she literally gets ill and I remembered knowing exactly how she felt, being so homesick myself that I cried for weeks, couldn't sleep and didn't eat. Us older girls were "cared for" by a nurse much like Miss Rottenmeier, as capriciously mean and unsuited to dealing with children as the Frankfurt housekeeper. So I thought maybe it was those memories poking at my tear ducts. 

Although I had initially identified with Heidi, when she was in Frankfurt, it became more and more clear that Clara was me. She's sick, always tired and in pain, can't walk because it hurts, only eats because she has to - that was me as a child. 

In the third part of the story, Heidi is returned to her grandfather in the Alps and as I was reading, I was holding back tears. When it's decided that Clara should go visit Heidi and her grandfather, things started to dawn on me. From deep within the recesses of my mind came the memory of what happens when she gets there. After a couple of weeks in the clear mountain air, drinking fresh goat’s milk every day, she's able to walk again after a lifetime in a wheelchair. 

I don't dream of walking anymore. I haven’t walked for 30 years and it no longer bothers me. When I wish for something that isn't what I am now, I think of the things that would be granted me if my legs were functioning like "normal", not the act of walking itself. I want to ride a horse, sit on the grass, dance, scuba dive and go to the bathroom by myself. I want to climb a mountain (except not like this Spanish trail, because I still feel faint 24 hours after watching it) and sail a tall ship. I want to walk on the beach, down where the waves break and foam around your feet. I want to run and ride a bike and go to circus school and see the inside of a pyramid. 

But the thing is, it's okay if I don't. I am not sad about it anymore - it is not something I long for (well, maybe with the exception of the ocean thing. I know – big surprise). It's been like this for 30 years, it's normal to me.

Then why the crying? Why the overwhelming sadness and heartbreak that has been following me around as I'm reading this favourite story of my childhood? I think it's leftover memories, the heartbreak of a girl who wished and wished and wished that the pain and the limits would disappear, that a cure would be as easy as living on the mountain and drinking goat’s milk for three weeks. 

I feel so sad for this girl whose memories are still within me. I can feel how desperate and afraid she was, how her life and the illness was incomprehensible. I can feel her memories of just recently riding her bike to school with her friend AB, playing hopscotch in recess, running up the stairs at her grandparents' to ring the bell, bursting into her grandmother's arms. How she was always in motion. And how now, a few years later, stuck in a hospital, every day in pain, every day it getting worse, the crying so close to the surface and how every day, she held it back, because it wouldn't change anything. And because if she let go, started to cry, she might never stop. There are so many tears here. 

I used to joke that I didn't have baggage, I had steamer trunks. After Enbrel gave me my life back, I decided to clean my inner house and get rid of them and have slowly been going through each trunk, finding the things I'd put away and repressed deep down. I’ve looked them in the face, processed them and let them go, becoming ever lighter. I didn't know I had more trunks yet, hidden so deep within that they seemed to not be there at all, trunks filled with the despair of a little girl.

I will be lighter at the end, but right now, I'm not enjoying looking in this particular trunk.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Random April

From Björk's 2007 album Volta, the video of the single Wanderlust. Pretty resource heavy, but worth a watch. Just don’t take any hallucinogens before you do or you might permanently go over the edge. I love the beginning, with the foghorns, seagull screams and sound of water – the influence of Iceland is very much there. I’ve been thinking that a piece of music solely composed of these sounds might be really, really cool. Yes, anything with ocean makes me happy, but really. Watch it and think about it. Am I wrong?

Zombie Strippers. A real movie with Robert Englund and Jenna Jameson. Seriously. The trailer had me convinced. Must. See. It!!

Helping the Handicapped (link fixed). Hysterical.

I just watched part of the news, but turned it off once they started the segment on "what the public thinks", sticking microphones in people's faces on the street. How is this news?? Why are you shortening the segments that contain actual news to allow room for people spouting their opinions? Irritates the crap out of me.

Build it and they will come. The turnoff in Banff to the #1 highway to Calgary. A bridge that includes a path for wildlife. Integrating the needs of humans and nature. Not so hard, after all. More on the project here.

Pygmy hedgehogs. I want one. Especially if they look and sound this cute while eating.

For the cat lovers out there. In my continuing efforts to address Mojo's gastrointestinal issues (it's been years, can someone direct me to a wall upon which I can bang my head?), I tried a dry food called Fromm’s Surf & Turf. Naturally, it gave her horrendous constipation, but don't let that deter you - everything gives Mojo horrendous constipation. However, before I moved onto yet another food (did I mention I'm running out of options?), I discovered that it gave her the shiniest coat I have ever seen on her. After only two weeks on this food, I could almost see myself in her coat. Highly recommend it.

I was on hold at my vet’s the other day, listening to the voicemail woman who talks about heartworm treatments, tips re: senior cats, etc, when she all of a sudden said "thousands of pants are lost every year!”. And I wondered 1) why this epidemic of lost trousers hasn’t made it to the newspapers; and 2) why my vet’s voicemail woman was talking about it. Until I realized it was a notice about microchips and she’d said pets, not pants.

I assume that we've all seen the Canal Plus ad for March of the Penguins? Or little while ago, Carrie sent me the equally funny ad for Brokeback Mountain (subtitled version here, but the sound is not very good - watch the other one first).

Have a great Monday!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Life Before Death

I've been sitting on this one for a while, because it's about death and that can be hard to read about. But it's also about life and not just because death is part of life.

I saw a link on dooce a little while ago about a project called Life before Death. A German photographer named Walter Schels interviewed people who were dying and photographed them before and after death. If you follow the link, you will see a series of photographs with accompanying stories of the person in the photograph. The Guardian, on whose site Life before Death appears, calls them sombre, but I don't agree. I think they are beautiful.

I was 12 years old the first time I saw a dead person. It was my farmor (father’s mother) and the night before, I had woken up a little past three in the morning, crying inconsolably. In the morning, the hospital called to tell us that she had died a little past three in the morning and I was not surprised at all. My mother wanted to go say goodbye and I came with her. I remember to this day going into a room with nothing but a bed in which lay my farmor, wrapped up in a white sheet, only her face visible, a length of gauze wrapped around her jaw to keep it in place and tied in a jaunty knot on top of her head. I remember white walls, the metal of the bed and the radiator and a lot of light. I also remember seeing my mother bend to kiss my farmor, but that was a little too much for me, so I just stood next to the bed and said my goodbye.

Twenty-seven years later, in another country on another continent, we sat by my father's bed as he died. Death can be a long and very active process and it took him a week to get there. I was privileged to be next to him, talking him over as he left. It was the singularly most beautiful moment of my life. I can still remember the way he looked as we continued to sit by his bed for several hours, until we were ready to let him go - the way he looked like my dad, yet not my dad, the absence of something indefinable, yet the peace, overwhelming peace in that room.

Looking at the photographs in Schels’ project, I was again struck by the beauty and peace of death and I remembered my father, not just in death, but in life. Of course, I think of him every day and miss him very much – particularly in the 3 months between the anniversary of his death in March and his birthday in June, the missing is so very big. But these photographs reminded me of the beauty in his death, the awe I felt when he allowed me to witness the moment that he left this world. That memory was a gift, the Life before Death project is another. It gave me peace and stillness within and helped me to remember his smile, his laugh and his hands on my shoulders.

If you are missing someone, may it do the same for you.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekend Water Report

I love my weekends. I guard them with the vigilance of a medieval lord with 11 marriageable daughters and a handsome stable boy. They - the weekends, not the marriageable daughters - are my sanctuary, two days of peace after five of running around. I find my equilibrium again, stop the static buzzing through my mind and it is when I write the most. But it’s writing without stress (usually) and when I goof off, it's without that nagging feeling that I should be working, because most Saturdays and Sundays, by the time I'm ready to sit down with a movie, I already have my word count for the day. It's my time in an isolated cabin (yet with all mod cons and no packing) and usually, I turn into a positive hermit by Friday evening, trying to whenever possible keep socializing to other times. Or at least not both days. My 25-year-old self would be horrified. I like it better than going out. Does that mean I'm getting old?

This past weekend was lovely and I feel energized and satisfied with my accomplishments. It helped that the weather has been astoundingly wonderful - 23C (73F) and sunny, the first bonafide heatwave of the summer (that this does not bode well for July and August is a fact I choose to ignore at the moment in favour of revelling). There's something about wandering around the neighbourhood, taking the long road to the grocery store instead of the winterly super-efficient dash that minimizes exposure to the elements. People have been smiling, facial muscles finally thawed, gritted teeth unclenched and hardly anyone is wearing socks. I have a theory that our happiness could be moved up a level or two simply by the act of taking off our socks. World peace through bare toes? Why not...

So I am having fun writing something that's freaking me out a little, because I'm not quite sure where it's coming from and on Sunday, had more fun when Michele came down for the next stage in the quest to cull the herd of my crap. I am an instinctive packrat trying to reform and so far, I have been ruthless in the decision of what gets to stay and what has to go. It makes you feel lighter, somehow.

Saturday evening, sometime around nine, I decided to pause my movie to make a cup of tea (and no, for those curious minds out there, I haven't started the Six Degrees thing yet). And a trickle emerges from the tap, then stops. There is no water. So naturally, I get systematic about it and before calling our key person, who deals with after-hours maintenance emergencies, I check the water in the bathroom. None to be found there, either. While I'm on the phone to the key person, at least another 10 tenants call to squawk and she goes to check things out and finds a guy in the ceiling of the top floor, soldering a pipe. We're not exactly sure what happened, but he tells her that the water will be back on "soon" and that's all that matters. In the meantime, I go looking for water and luckily there’s a glass of it for the cat on my table (because she does not deign to drink out of a bowl on the floor like the peasants) and she hasn’t touched it, so I purloin the blessed liquid behind her back, microwave it and go back to my movie. Naturally, now that I should be careful, rationing what’s located in glasses and cups throughout the place because people often define “soon” differently than I do, I am parched. Dying for water. I tell myself it’s some sort of reverse placebo effect, to not be silly, to forget about water, in actuality as well as conceptually and turn my movie back on, only then realizing my mistake.

I forgot I was watching The Abyss.

What did you do this weekend?

Friday, April 18, 2008


Spring! Is here!!

I'm sorry, normally I'm not a very exclamation point kinda person, but I'm not quite done yet.


Ah, that's better.

My friend Leslie has finally relented and started up a blog. She's frequently funny, often soulful and I love her writing. Please pop by her Spring Chicken and say hello.

The lovely Lynn of the comments is doing a good thing. She's having an auction on eBay with some great-looking vintage knitting books and donating the proceeds to Medecins Sans Frontieres. She wants me to mention that these are for entertainment value only, not in a resale kind of condition, but if you have a hankering for the knit- related (and I know many of you do), like the cause, check it out and consider leaving a bid.

p.s. I'm not wearing socks! On April 18! Which may be a record...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Human the Orchid and the Octopus

It's no secret that since I was a child, I have worshiped Jacques Cousteau, dreamt of working on the Calypso or if I can't do that, then spend a few hours in his company, learning at the feet of a master. After his death a decade ago, it became the dream that would never come true. Except, it sort of has.

In the past month, I've been consumed with reading The Human, the Orchid and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World, a book written in the last 10 years of Cousteau's life, co-authored by Sysan Schiefelbein and which has taking an additional 10 years to make it to North America. In the book, Cousteau uses stories of his life and career, his inventions and his explorations as springboards for a wider discussion of the impact the human race has had on our Earth.

Cousteau starts the book with a discussion of personal risk and public risk, grounding the rest of the book firmly in the philosophical understanding of the factors involved in assessing risk and how governments all over the world make decisions grounded in a market approach on behalf of the citizens of the countries without fully informing us of the consequences of the risks taken. Later chapters explore more fully the impact of this paradigm of governing. And right now, I can imagine any number of people (most of whom probably don't read this blog) dismissing the book sight unseen due to the "environmental bias". Which couldn't be farther from the truth.

Cousteau very clearly has a reverence for life and our little blue planet similar to the one you hear of in astronauts and writes of the wonders of it in a way that inspires spellbound awe. He has travelled extensively in the salty space on our planet and came to the same conclusion as astronauts who have viewed that planet from outer space: our Earth is a whole. That from above, as well as below, there are no artificial borders separating our world into nations. It is a very spiritual point of view and in addition to being a philosopher, Cousteau is clearly a religious man, repeatedly discussing how it is clear to him that the glory of god is seen in nature. One of the earlier chapters in the book is a brilliant discourse on how scriptures from every major world religion contain instructions to take care of the earth, instead of mindlessly using it. He questions the market approach to not just the use of natural resources, but in the application of a dollar value to a human life, to any life, including that of animals, which had a profound impact on me. I hadn't realized just how second nature that assumption of monetary value of a life had become in me.

I mentioned that Cousteau doesn't have a bias. This is not exactly true, as he clearly is biased in favour of protecting our world so it can protect and feed future generations, which is an opinion I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with. His approach to this opinion, however, doesn't contain a lot of bias. He presents fact after fact after verifiable fact about the shortsightedness of the human race and its approach to the use of natural resources, a use that is guided by market values instead of human ones. The ocean being near and dear to his heart, Cousteau discusses overfishing extensively, demonstrating how the applications of artificial boundaries of ownership of the ocean contribute to the collapse of fish stock everywhere. Again and again throughout the book, he calls for a rational approach to the management of non-renewable resources. For example, he suggests that the way our coastal nations claim a 200 mile ownership of the sea adjacent to their land is an artificial and irrational construct. The sea moves, none can own it. Antarctic waters are found in the Caribbean where they are an integral part of creating new life. How can anyone own that? Cousteau suggests instead that a world ocean organization with real powers be formed that decides where fishing is allowed. Farmers let fields lie fallow in order to rebuild nutrients to support future crops. Cousteau suggest the same approach be used with oceans, letting certain areas be fished for while, then lie fallow, thus allowing fish populations to replenish. Instead of eradicating fish population after fish population, this method would allow the oceans to feed not just those alive now, but future generations, as well. Does it get more obvious than that?

The Human, the Orchid and the Octopus is a clarion call for us to wake up and ask questions, find answers ourselves and hold our elected officials accountable for the decisions they make on our behalf, for "our welfare". It is the impassioned plea of a passionate man on behalf of not just the natural world, but our children and grandchildren. The biggest gift of this book may be the way it expands your thinking to move past the immediate present, immediate gain and into five years from now, 20 years from now, 200 years from now. Cousteau's writing makes the abstract future seem so near that you can touch it and through his common sense, rational suggestions for alternatives to present practice, he makes change for the good of the present and future seem ridiculously obvious and perfectly doable. It is a sad thing that he is no longer alive - we need him more than ever.

Do yourself a favour. Get this book, read it and pass it on. If you ever felt hopeless about the state, health and future of the world, this book will make you very angry - it took me a month to read it, not just because it made me mad, but because it's best consumed slowly and given a lot of thought. However, it will also give you hope. And regardless of political beliefs, the chapter on public risk in itself should be compulsory reading for all citizens of democracies everywhere. If this book sounds like too much for you, get it from the library, copy Chapter 3, read it and pass it on. I think that chapter could very well cause millions, if not billions, of people to hold their elected officials accountable. I think that chapter could change the world.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Waking Dream and Waking

There's been a strange confluence of events. Somewhere between a recent steroid shot (which the Humira needs in order to have the possibility of kicking my state of ability and health past OK), several days worth of massive painkillers due to a seating issue and, I suspect, warmer weather (no drafts = less muscle clench!), sometime this week, I reached a point where I couldn't tolerate painkillers anymore. It's happened as long as I can remember - every now and again, I need to go into "detox" and not take medication for as long as I can. It's as if the painkillers build up in my body and at a certain point, the levels become too high and when I stop taking them, what's already in my body can take me however long the detox time needs to be. In the past, it could be a week, 10 days, two weeks. These days, it's significantly less, but still, it's a sort of reset button in terms of being able to get the same effect for a much lower dose of whatever drug turns your crank.

And the last couple of days have been really rather fabulous. Very low pain levels (of course, now that I’ve posted this, tomorrow will be a pit of hell, because the universe is nothing if not perverse). Going to bed is a completely new experience - lying down feels restful. Yes, I register that there is pain, but it's not the pain that comes from forcing your body from the locked-in seated position to stretched out; instead, it is an embrace of the bed. Comfortable, even.

I'd forgotten what it's like to fall asleep because I'm naturally tired instead of knocking myself senseless with a combination of Tylenol and muscle relaxants, shutting up the pain enough to be able to pass out and sleep like the dead. An indication of how different the quality of sleep is this: ever since she was a kitten, Mojo has liked to say hi, have a cuddle sometimes during the night. Normally, she announces her presence by sitting next to my head and purring, occasionally, if warranted, softly tapping my cheek with her paw. During the last two months especially, after the accursed injury, it has been necessary for her to position herself on my chest in order to get my attention (which has made me think of the superstition of cats stealing the breath of sleepers. I can see how that came about). When that didn’t work, she’d sit up, her bum firmly planted on my lower abdomen and wiggle a bit and let me tell you, 11lbs. of cat on your bladder is quite capable of penetrating the sedation. But two nights ago, she woke me by sitting next to my head and purring. And waking up is different, too - instead of stumbling around in a haze, feeling half unconscious, I wake up to a delicious stretch, feeling rested and alert. Well, as alert as I'll ever get in the morning...

But what I love most of all about this is that I got my brain back. It's been there, but hidden in a thick fog of of pain and medication. Accessible, sure, but taking twice as long to get to. The word nimble definitely did not apply. It’s been more like wandering around in a dream, nothing quite sticking, necessitating the writing of countless Post-Its and plastering them about the place. Something I’ve done for a while, as fibromyalgia taught me an in-depth lesson about being in a fog, but lately, it’s been peasoup. Once, I asked my doctor how we’d ever know if I got Alzheimer’s. She seemed sure she’d be able to tell the difference between a crap memory based in pain and meds and one based in plaques in the brain. I choose to believe her.

Since my detox began, I've been more productive than I’ve been in months (to the point where I should probably sit still for a bit, as I'd like to think I've learned - HA! - from last time) and in the past few days alone, have had vigorous discussions regarding various human needs from a historical point of view and their impact on the domestication of animals such as dogs, horses and cats, discussions about nuclear power, overfishing, the erosion of civil liberties and the origin of the word misogyny. It's fantastic. I haven't had this much fun in ages.

Painkillers are great. Being able to think again is even better.

Before you go, be sure to read Ken's musings on wheelchairs as tools, the Olympic Games and integration. It's brilliant. Ken told me the story of the mall the first time we met and it was at that moment I knew I wanted him in my life. Dude thinks outside the box.

On another note, I've been trying to find out exactly why wheelchair racing was eliminated as a demonstration sport at the Games by Chinese organizers and have found nothing. Anyone know why? Y'know, other than random crushing of dreams...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Exciting/Six Degrees of Lord of the Rings

A few days ago, I was contacted by the lovely Sarah from, asking if they could feature one of my February posts. Naturally (because some days are not blonder than others), I agreed and you can find it here. It's very exciting connecting to a new community and I can highly recommend their sites as a source of information and discussion.

And speaking of discussion, let's have some. Not so long ago, I read a post over on defective yeti about the Lord of the Rings. Or, more specifically, about how Matthew’s wife (aka the Queen) refused to read The Hobbit based on her experience with the Lord of the Rings being "super long and boring". Now, I have read The Hobbit, not just once, but several times and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have also attempted to read The Lord of the Rings, not just once, but several times and never got past page 70, because as the Queen says, it's super long and boring.

I know several men who are at this very moment in dead faints at the blasphemy, littering floors all over the city. Which is actually sort of interesting - I know an awful lot of people who are incredibly passionate about Tolkien and the vast majority of them are men. Which, come to think of it, makes sense and I’ll get to that in a moment.

I did watch the movies and liked them a lot - enough to buy the DVDs (used, as I am cheap like that). Recently, I decided to re-watch them and had my opinions from the first time I saw them confirmed. I liked the The Fellowship of the Ring (#1) once we got out of the Shire - I realize that this is another heretical statement, but the hobbitses kinda bore me. The Nazgûl (Black Riders) terrified me yet again - that part of the movie was done so brilliantly and the rest of it is pretty nifty, too. The Return of the King (#3) is also quite something (although I still haven't seen the spider scenes, instead fast forwarding with closed eyes through the squelching, munching sounds) and before I get to what I don't like, I want to make it clear that I do think that these films are an incredible achievement of storytelling and movie making, that the special effects are out of this world (especially when viewed on a screen larger than my 13 inch television), they deserved every accolade they got and I am very much looking forward to seeing The Hobbit.

That said, much of The Two Towers (#2) bored me senseless. It's such a boy's club - as I suspect the entire story is, as I remember purists having issues with the enhanced roles of some of the female characters in the movies. I think The Two Towers illustrates why - they had to enhance the female characters in order to enhance the audience to include the other half of the human race. In the second movie, Arwen waits. Really, that's all she does. Weeps poetically, as well, tears like crystals slowly gliding down her cheeks. When speaking to a friend about us, she mentioned Eowyn and I had a handy rebuttal. Because Eowyn, despite clearly being handy with a sword, gets sent to the caves at Helm’s Deep with the rest of the women and children, while boys barely out of diapers, who’ve never held a weapon before, are told to get on the walls to fight. WTF?? As a woman, there is nothing on that screen to make me connect to the story and the characters other than the story and the characters and for a three-hour movie, you'd better give me something more than boys running around heroically while the women sit prettily and wring their hands in fear. And another thing I was wondering about, although I think this is in The Return of the King. So Gandalf has become the white wizard – incredibly powerful, right? Then how come in the battle of Minis Tirith, he fights with a sword and using his wizarding stick to bash the enemy over the head? I mean, can’t it do other things? Like smiting the freakin' dragons or whatever they are? It just seems like such a waste of resources.

Which brings us to the 'six degrees' aspect of this post and yes, I know - I got a little distracted on the way. I got this idea, see. That it could be fun to choose movies to watch based on the actors in Lord of the Rings. Originally, I planned to only do the Fellowship, but ran up against the all boys, all the time thing again, so I've expanded the parameters to include not just additional hobbits, but also the three relatively fleshed-out female characters of Arwen, Eowyn and Galadriel (three? Really? Only three in almost 10 hours worth of film? I rest my case)(oh, wait - the spider was female, too, but I'm ignoring that "actor" due to a severe case of the willies). Once I watched the movies, I'd report back. I'm a little stuck on which movies to choose, though and this is where you come in. I'm entirely open to suggestions (although I don't guarantee listening to all of them), so if you've got a recommendation, please speak up in the comments and feel free to select quirky, as well as mainstream movies. Herewith the actors (am I missing any?):

Elijah Wood (Frodo)
Sean Astin (Sam)
Dominic Monaghan (Merry)
Billy Boyd (Pippin)
Ian McKellen (Gandalf)
Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn)
John Rhys Davies (Gimli)
Orlando Bloom (Legolas). NB: I consider the fact that I watched Pirates of the Caribbean III absolves me from ever watching him in anything agai.
Sean Bean (Boromir)
Cate Blanchett (Galadriel)
Liv Tyler (Arwen)
Miranda Otto (Eowyn)

Monday, April 07, 2008

In My Grandparents' Basement

My pharmacist (the handsome Hanna) is renovating and as part of the process, they've built floor-to-ceiling shelves for the files. These boxes for the boxes are made of pressed wood and as I walked in the door, the smell of sawdust instantly transported me back to my childhood or, more specifically, the basement of the building where my mormor and morfar (maternal grandparents) lived.

It was an old building, so old that only cold water was piped into the kitchens and there was one toilet per floor, out on the landing by the kitchen door and shared between two apartments. My grandparents lived on the first floor and we'd go down the back steps by the kitchen and into the basement and another world. Down there, it was dark, lit by serviceable fixtures that may or may not have been bare bulbs - I can no longer remember. The walls were bare of any coverings and the long narrow hallway had a warren of rooms on both sides. The smell down there was unique, scents from each of the rooms contributing to the general aroma of being below ground in an unheated place. Some rooms were storage, especially cold storage for preserves and the potatoes that my grandfather dug up in his garden plot not too far from the building. The earthy, musty smell of the potatoes reminded me of summers spent with my morfar in his garden, where he would dig and it would be my job to find the potatoes for dinner in the rich, dark upturned earth.

In another room the washing was done - large metal kettles and vats sending out clouds of soap-scented steam, washing boards and lines for hanging the washing in the winter. In the summer, the back courtyard would be filled with laundry dancing in the wind and I’d run between it, playing with the feral cats that my mormor and a few other tenants fed every day at lunch time. Mormor always warmed the milk for them and I remember walking next to her, carrying the food, out the back steps to the shed, excited cats weaving around our ankles.

When it was washing day, I’d go with my mormor to do the washing, enjoying squeezing dishcloths and tea towels, just the right size for my small hands, over the rippled surface of the washboard, the soapy water flowing through my fingers. In another room, there was a large press for table cloths and sheets and I found it endlessly fascinating (I’ve been trying to find the proper name for this contraption, but can’t – did find this nifty history of washing in the process, though. Late note: did find a picture of a simpler version here). You fed the large pieces of wrinkled fabric into one end and by turning the crank, pushing hard to make it go around, make it smooth when it came out the other end. I would help mormor fold the sheets and the table cloths, standing far apart from each other, folding in unison until it was a long, narrow length and ending by walking towards each other, rhythmically folding a child's arm length over and over until we met in the middle.

But the best room in the basement was my morfar’s workroom. He was a cabinetmaker and made several of the dressers in my mother's place, dressers that will be passed to my sister and I to take care of until they become passed on again. It was from this workroom that my favourite smell came, the smell of wood. The room was filled with it, all kinds, from soft pine, to the harder woods, like mahogany and teak, intermingled with the tools for his work and all over the floor were curls of wood shavings, the perfect toy for a little girl. I remember sitting underneath his workbench while the rhythmic swish of his plane rained falling curls of wood all around me. I would unfurl them, stretching out the soft lengths, tuck them behind my ear, creating ringlets in my straight hair, sitting in a lake of fragrant swirls, sometimes ankle-deep. It was heaven.

And thanks to my pharmacist, for a little while this week, I was there again.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


There're a lot of things I haven't done for a long time - typed, danced, knit, hugged, etc., etc., ad nauseam. And one of the things I haven’t done for a long time is go out. It’s been years, actually – at least 2, likely more. With the exception of two concerts (Etta James and The Police), both Life List items and both during brief times less crappy than usual, my previous lifestyle of out and about, concerts, plays, parties… wait. That makes me sound Fabulous and I wasn’t. I did, however, live downtown with access to a bunch of fun things and have quite fabulous friends. Still do. But the way we were friends has changed as my body and abilities changed. More friendship-by-phone, more squeezing in a bit of socializing between my nap and when I fade in early evening and always within walking distance of my home. I have great people in my life, people who work with my abilities and within my limits, who blithely rearrange their schedules to accommodate my needs, absorbing the pain in the arse to them. People who make sure there’s still an Us, even if the shape of Us is different.

Illness and disability isolates the person who has them, but the impact on family and friends is rarely mentioned. What it feels like when your friend disappears. We’ve never really talked about it, but I have felt the absence – the way that a friend’s physical presence supports you, is necessary during the big events of life – a parent’s funeral, a wedding – and the smaller, but equally important, as well – a late night talking about life, the universe and everything over a bottle of wine, housewarmings, Christmas parties, shopping for furniture. The way I haven't been able to do that. Not doing the tasks of a friend, not being there has been upsetting for me and I'm pretty sure for the ones I love, as well.

But it turns out that the gifts of Humira continue. Not only have I gone to the post office, not only is my bloodwork normal, but last night, for the first time in longer than I want to remember, I was Out again. I was a friend again, did the showing-up to celebrate thing. Because for the first time in a long time, I was at the launch of Stephanie’s newest book. And aside from beiung there for my friend, I also got something out of it myself - I saw the girls and Joe again, as well as Bonnie (Steph's mum) and met a bunch of terrific knitters.

Ken models his latest project - Francie socks (the pattern on the sole is astounding)

Supported by the musical opening act, Andy Maize and Michael Johnston from The Skydiggers (who were amazing - see the video over at Steph's), Rachel H. hands out prizes for the Inexplicable scavenger hunt (I even got to meet her up close and personal later, which was quite a treat and after having meteorologically harassed her for a couple years in this space, I was surprised and honoured that she acknowledged my presence. Of course, after maiming this photo of her, she may never again).

The star of the evening giving a very funny and thought-provoking speech (trust me - it's her. I was at the back of the theatre, so you'll have to take my word for it). Later, she told the tale of the underpants (scroll down to August 9). It never gets old.

And at the end, there was even hugging.