Random Thoughts…and otherwise

Near Riptide-icide in Cuba Averted

Jul
31

VaraderoBeach

Last week, at the tail end of my OCD news cycle, I happened upon an article on People about the tragic death of a Tennessee, father, Rick Brown, who drowned in the waters off the coast of North Carolina, while attempting to save his three children who were caught in a riptide. (His children and wife, who also jumped in to help, were all rescued.)

In the past, I would read a story like this, feet great compassion, and then think to myself, “Why do people take such risks, do stupid things like this?” assuming they’d purposefully been where they shouldn’t be. Until, it happened to me.

In April, we took a Cuban vacation, and on the afternoon of our second day threw on our swimsuits, grabbed our towels and hit the beach. It was exquisite: powdered white sand, palm trees, endless blue sky, bright sunshine, salty breeze, gentle waves of the Caribbean Sea lapping at the beach. Paradise found.

We dropped our towels and waded in and by the time we were waist deep, marveled at the absence of a riptide, like we sometimes find in Mexico: We could safely go out further and ride the waves back to the beach.

My husband dove in and swam out, while, despite the bathtub temperature of the water, I continued to wade in, bits-by-bits, until I was nearly shoulder deep.

Life really can change in a heartbeat

And then a wave hit. And then I couldn’t touch bottom. And then I felt it—the riptide, pulling at my legs, drawing me further away from shore.

By now the waves had grown, and when they hit me I was tossed around and both my sight of the shoreline and the horizon were gobbled up by the now-murky sea. I tried to swim back towards the beach but couldn’t—for every bit of distance gained with the crest of a wave, the current of the rip would grab on, tug me down and pull me further out. One step forward, four steps back. Repeat.

Still, I had this, I knew I did. There was no reason to panic, in fact it didn’t cross my mind.

Until I saw a man on the beach excitedly waving his arms and yelling something towards me, something I couldn’t hear, to which I tried to force a smile and wave back, trying to communicate, “No worries. All is good. I actually meant to swim out here like this.”

Because my first thought was mortification: “Please don’t make a big scene, I don’t like attention, I’ll be so very, very embarrassed if this is made a big deal.” However, my immediate next thought, when hurled about by the next wave, then sucked even further out to sea was, “Oh, my God, he’s right. I’m in big, big, BIG trouble here.”

By now, only minutes in, I was exhausted and becoming short of breath, with a growing sense of debilitating panic beginning to take its grip.

With the crest of the next wave, I was able to surface and see the man again, with his hands frantic in the air, looking side to side, then back at me. I threw my arms above my head as best I could to signal back and yelled, “Help me, help, HELP,” as loud as I could.

Finally, he caught the attention of the lifeguard, who’d been somewhere down the beach, and, without any lifesaving paraphernalia, he dove in and swam out to rescue me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me in until I could touch bottom and he could pass me off to someone else.

I hadn’t seen my husband since he left me to dive in and knew, for sure, he was gone, or, at the very least, way further out and in serious, serious trouble.

“My husband. Save my husband,” I screamed.

He was fine, struggling to make headway back to the beach, but managing on his own steam, totally oblivious to the fact I had been a certain goner.

Safely back on land, we collapsed on our chairs and stared in silence at the water. Scary, scary stuff. But the scariest part, the hard slap of reality, was yet to come.

A woman with a German accent, who described herself as a frequent visitor to Cuba, approached us and said, “You need to respect the ocean. It’s dangerous.”

We agreed. “One died this morning a few blocks down, and two died Sunday (two days before)”, she added. “They just pull them onto the beach and put a towel over their faces, if they can get them at all.” With that, she shrugged her shoulders and walked away.

About ten minutes after I was ‘saved,’ the lifeguard blew his whistle and called all of the swimmers in. Looking out at the water, you could clearly see where the riptide was (a series of breaks in the waves, the water darker than the rest.) He took a small triangular red marker on a stick—no bigger than a small plate, a saucer—and plunked it in the sand, to move the swimmers about 50 feet down the beach.

And that was that.

“White is nice, green is mean.”

Statistics are hard to find, and despite my best efforts to track them down there is little to no information about deaths in Cuba by drowning: advertised, these seemingly frequent tragedies would be bad for tourism in a country that depends upon it. There are some news stories from abroad, but no warnings or information on most tourist sites.

According to the US Livesaving Association, in the US alone more than 100 people die each year after getting caught in a rip.

I did the worst thing: I tried to swim against it which is likely a fruitless, exhaustive effort for even the best swimmers.

What I should have done, according to Surfer Today, is this:

  • Floated on top of the water and rode the crests of the waves in towards shore.
  • Swam parallel to the beach. Rips aren’t very wide and in only a few minutes I would have likely been out of its path.
  • Looked for whitewater and breaking waves and headed in that direction. Whitewater usually means the water is shallower and I may have been able to stand up. Regardless, it would have carried me back to shore. “White is nice, green is mean.”
  • If all else had failed, I could have just relaxed and let the rip carry me further out until it stopped, and then swam back to shore.

I am not a strong swimmer. In truth, I’m not a swimmer at all. I can do the breast stroke and dog paddle. I can float on my back and do my interpretation of what the back stroke is meant to be. I can’t freestyle, as I lack the grace and coordination required to execute all four required movements simultaneously—kick, crawl, turn head, breathe. I also can’t tread water for long periods of time.

But I’m doing something about that. As soon as we got home, I bought a pool pass and have been making it a practice to swim laps a few times each week. It’s not easy, it’s actually quite hard. And judging by all the walkie-talkie action when I burst out of the change room and hit the deck, the lifeguards aren’t all that comfortable with it yet, either.

Still, I’m up to a kilometer a session and can manage about 300 meters without stopping to catch my breath. Which is kind of a big deal for me. I have a ways to go before I’m a stronger, more enduring swimmer, but I’m committed.

The lesson

I’m not averse to taking risks and I will go back and swim in the ocean. In fact, I did the very next day when the tide was slack, in waist deep water where I could firmly plant my feet.

I know at the moment the lifeguard grabbed me in Cuba, I did not have minutes left. I was exhausted, and fear and panic had overcome me. He saved my life.

The lesson I learned is that of a great respect: For all its beauty and charm, its beckoning and temptation, its symbolism of something much bigger than me, the ocean, or sea, any water for that matter, is also a ferocious beast. And while I am capable of many, many things, I am not capable of taming the fact that “Eternity begins and ends with the ocean’s tides.” (Author Unknown)

I escaped it this time—I am the lucky one.

In Fact…We Love Him Like Crazy

Jul
29

Zackk

I am worried about my dog, Zack. Kind of really worried.

He’s been walk deprived lately. Rain. Heat. Rain. Netflix. Sloths for parents. Rain again. All excuses for which there is no excuse.

Yesterday, however, was the big day. The stars aligned and the weather perfect, my husband took him for a walk while I took a nap. When I woke up they still weren’t back. So, I waited and waited, and, then, I waited some more.

And began to worry. My husband’s cell phone was on the table. His wallet and keys were on the shelf. His water bottle was in the cupboard. Hmmmm?

Their trip to the river should have taken less than an hour. It soon became two. Then three. Then almost four.

Where could they be? They’d met some horrid fate. Twisted ankle? A mugging? A bear attack? Alas, they’d fallen in the water and one had clearly drowned trying to save the other.

While deciding if I should call 911 immediately or go and search the riverbank myself, my phone rang with an unknown number of a borrowed phone. They’d been carried away. The weather was perfect. They were having “so much fun,” and walked on and on and on, until finally Zack lay down on the road and said, the best way he could, “This is it. No more. You’re ridiculous.”

I jumped in the car and brought them home, the happiest and most relieved I’ve ever been.

This morning Zack was a mess. Would barely move. Couldn’t. He’d only look at me, big dog eyes begging, “What the puck?”

Now, he’s eating and drinking, but I don’t think he’s peed. Since yesterday. Afternoon.

It could be performance anxiety: Since I’ve become really worried about him, my fierce, maybe invasive, surveillance has perhaps been a little daunting. He could feel intimidated: Every time I cajole him out onto the lawn and hover, big dog eyes beg, again, “What the puck?”

The sentimentality triggered by really worrying about Zack has reminded me of this…

Do you like it?

Two summers ago, my husband and I decided to go on an impromptu spring road trip. He thought it would be a great opportunity for “his boy” (oh my) to see some country: I thought it would be a great opportunity for Zack, the dog, to reacquaint himself with his friends at the kennel. He won, and Zack rode behind shotgun.

After a round of golf at Lilloet’s Sheep Pasture Golf Course, aptly named yet fabulous, where the temperature soared to a swelter above broiling, we decided to change our route and head south to Portland, Oregon, for a hockey game.

Bright and early the next morning we found ourselves at the Sumas Border Crossing, facing a US Border Patrol agent who drilled us with the perfunctory questions: Where are you going? Why? How long do you plan to stay in the US? Why? Any fruit, vegetables, meat? You have a dog, dog food? I see it’s designer and must have cost a small fortune, dump it in the bin.

Then he turned on Zack and stared him down, for the longest time, somewhat inquisitively, judgingly, like Zack’s Bob Marley-like dreadlocks must mean we were clearly up to no good.

“What kind of dog is that?” he demanded.

To which my husband replied, “He’s a Labradoodle.”

“A Labradoodle?” Again, he stared Zack down—for the longest time—then us. “Do you like it?”

It?

Was this a test? Were we being filmed by Border Security? Punked? Was there a right way or wrong way to answer this question? If so, was he going to take a certain action depending on our answer?

We froze, were rendered momentarily speechless, and tried not to look at each other lest we be accused of collusion. What a bizarre question, we both thought to ourselves: Do we like IT?

My husband broke first. “Well, yes. We do. We like him quite fine, thanks.”

“Hmpf. Alright. Carry on.”

Hair Straight Back

Hair straight back and the border in our distant rearview, we broke into uncontrollable, near-convulsive laughter. “Do you like it?” What kind of question is that?

Perhaps, at the time, the US was facing an influx of Canadians crossing the border with un-liked dogs, ditching them at their first opportunity? Or, did they ask this same bizarre question of other indiscernible cross-ees when they’re not quite sure: “Maam, I see you have a baby there and it has no hair and is wearing light green, with gender neutral accents. What kind of baby is that?” “A boy.” “Hmm, do you like it?”

Do we like it? Absolutely. In fact, we love him like crazy.

Legendary Impulsives

Zack is the product an impulsive decision made nearly four years ago after we’d moved into a house that allowed dogs. Dogless, but dog lovers, before the boxes were unpacked, one of us said “We should get a dog,” with the same delusive foresight we have when we think it’s a great idea to buy a Family Pak of M & M’s and eat just three a day: We don’t think about the consequences. It never ends well.

Within an hour, someone had hooked up the computer, Kijiji’ed ‘Dogs for Sale,’ Googled ‘Labradoodle’ and phoned the nearest breeder to made an appointment to “view” one—“the adorable little black one”—the very next day.

“We’ll just go look, OK? It doesn’t mean we’re going to get one.”

We named him Zack. No regrets: He’s a quirky little fella who brings endless joy to our lives and who has loved us and our own quirkiness, unconditionally.

He’s an enigma at the dog park, where he leaps through the tall grass like he’s impersonating a rabid deer, and does a mortifying Ninja-like crawl with his 60-pound frame when he sees an oncoming Shih Tzu.

He loves to be cuddled and fawned over, but do not ever, EVER, touch him with your toe.

He prefers to do his business backed into a low-lying bush, or, given the lack of such, must rotate on three legs four times clockwise, then twice counter-clockwise, before he settles in, if he must go on bare, flat ground, like he has aspirations of making the hip-hop scene or was a combination lock in previous life.

His impulsivity is legendary, a true testament to the pitiful masters we are, as well as a testament to the fact that Zack is much, much smarter than us.

When anyone crosses our threshold, regardless if it’s a one-off or they come by every day, after the very exciting/embarrassing meet and greet, he’s often exiled to the bedroom, followed by a conversation that has become stock: “This can’t continue.” “We have to do better.” “It’s us, not him.” “Poor thing.” “Sorry about your ripped sweater.” “You should still be able to have kids, don’t you think?”

(We hope he’s using his bedroom-time wisely, maybe pitching an idea to a canine-agent for a memoir titled, “Zackariah Bobiah: Life Behind the Door.”)

My husband says that dogs sign a contract, by heart, when they meet their forever people: They promise to love you unconditionally and eternally if you feed them, care for them, treat them decent and simply love them back. Zack did that. With all his heart, he promised. And he believed we loved him back.

Until now. Now he is lying on the floor, feeling every muscle, with what must be a bladder ready to explode, staring off into space with his big dog eyes, trying to telepathically send a message to a specific US Border guard: “They lied.”

UPDATE:

This morning, while I held back and peered through a blind from inside, in the furthest corner of our yard, crouched behind a shrub and looking back over his shoulder towards the door of our house, Zack peed. Lots. Then grabbed his ball and ran back into the house.

Gratefully, all is good in our world once again.

Please Accept My Sincere Condolences: 101

Jul
27

The other morning as I was leaving the swimming pool, I ran into a neighbor I hadn’t seen in some time. We are more acquaintances than friends, but do enjoy the occasional chat out on the street.

She pulled me in for a hug, and with one arm wrapped around my neck whispered in my ear, “I’m so sorry to hear about your dad.” (He died six weeks ago.)

That was nice. That was kind. That was enough.

I stepped back and smiled and said, “Thank you. It’s been really hard. Quite a shock…” (Perhaps too much information. I’m not sure.)

To which she responded, “If you’re lonely, I could send my dad over,” rolled her eyes and added, “He’s been driving me nuts.”

We both laughed: She boisterously, me not so much.

By the time I made it to my car, I was in such a state of shock I seriously wondered if I should call for a ride instead of driving myself home. Her insensitivity had stunned me: I felt like rather than hug me and express her sympathy, she’d spotted me in the lobby of the pool and ran up and sucker punched me in the gut. BAM.

I wanted to go back inside and punch her in the face. And the gut. Three times. Each. So she’d know how I felt—hurt and gutted, like my dad had died all over again.

Awkwardness of condolence

And that’s not me. I do not punch people in the face, or even think of it. I am peace, kumbaya, or, perhaps, a little passive-aggressive. I don’t know.

Instead, I did the best I could. I locked my car door to prevent myself from busting out, grabbed a bottle of yoga mist from the console and sprayed it all over myself, closed my eyes and tried to breathe my way down to a state of Shavasana. Or, what I imagined such a state would be. Kumbaya-ish.

And then I realized: she is not a heartless biotch. At all. She hadn’t intended to hurt me. She is simply my kind, funny neighbor whose attempt at humour was an impulsive blurt to counter the awkwardness she felt when face-to-face with my loss and grief.

She just struck out. Who hasn’t?

I’ve said ridiculous things to people who are experiencing all types of loss for exactly the same reason. All well intended, but ridiculous, and likely perceived as heartless, nonetheless. Who knows what to say, how to act? Loss sucks. Grief sucks. It’s also very individual and the balm for it is a challenge to offer.

Since I’m a recent expert, I’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts that would have been helpful when dealing with me, in hopes it might make the awkwardness of expressing condolence more effective, and gratefully received, than it was for my poor, lovely neighbor and I.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

Do

  • Say something. Elephant’s take up a lot of space in a room. You don’t have to make a speech, or say anything profound. “I’m sorry for your loss,” means the world. That’s all.
  • If you know I’m is a hugger, offer a hug. If I’m not, don’t.
  • Give a card. A card with a kind message is a gift. Grief is a 24-hour thing. A card can add colour to a mantle, and can be read and reread as a comfort during a bad night.
  • In the early days, do bring food or stop by for a short visit. It’s hard to think past the thoughts in your head at such a time, let alone pull together a meal. And knowing I am thought about is affirmation there is still love.
  • Share a story about my loved one. Please. People avoid talking about him/her because they don’t want me to feel bad, but I love hearing your story. It makes me feel they were important to you too.
  • Keep your visits or phone calls brief, unless I draw you in. I have so little energy. And I’m sorry, but I am distracted by my own thoughts right now and am honestly not that interested or able to focus on yours.
  • Understand that I am unique and will need to process my grief in my very own way. It won’t always be pretty, but if you understand it will be easier for me.
  • If you are an acquaintance, I sometimes need you more than I need those closest to me. I am worried about my family—I may not know where they are in their grief and I may not want to burden them with mine. You are a safe place: If I fall apart on you, know how important your kindness is to me. I will never forget it and you.
  • Please ask me how I’m doing from time to time. The process of grief takes a long time, and it ebbs and flows and splashes all over the place. You checking in lets me know you remember and that I’m doing OK, that it’s OK, wherever I am at that seemingly endless ocean.

Don’t

  • Say nothing. Elephants get bigger and bigger and bigger. Phrases like, “I was going to get you flowers too, but I thought it was too late,” are not helpful. There is no expiry date on death. Just say, “Sorry.” Done.
  • Please don’t use platitudes. “He’s in a better place.” “She’s not suffering anymore.” “It was his time.” “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s all bullshit. The best place for my loved one is right here, right now, thank you very much.
  • Follow your condolences with a story about the trials of ‘dealing’ with an aged parent (annoying spouse, uncle, aunt, whoever). You have one. I don’t. Be grateful.
  • Tell me I’ll get through this because I’m strong. The word is evil. Evil. I might feel I need to wear your perception and it’s poison to my grieving. I’m not strong right now. I don’t believe I’ll ever be. I’m a four year-old in a 50-year-old body and I’ve just lost my Daddy forever.
  • Have expectations of me. I am impaired in mind and body and soul, and my exhaustion is overwhelming. I am not the person on which you should cast off items of your to-do list to. Instead, kindly take some off of mine. I’ll remember that and gratefully pay you back one day.
  • Judge me. I need patience and understanding, compassion and unconditional love. If my behavior is out of character for me, please understand that my former self is lost in this grief, that it preoccupies my days and night, that I am exhausted and sad and lonely and angry and messed up right now. Let that be OK, please. I shall, one day, return.

That’s a Coles Notes version. It’s not one-size-fits-all. For each and every one of us there’s additions and deletions to be made. But it’s a good start.

Grief is ugly, but with a little foresight and compassion, you or I don’t have to be.

 

Rage-O-Mania

Jul
25

road-rage-keep-your-cool

While driving, my husband says I wait too long to indicate and jut my lower jaw forward and lean in whenever I negotiate a curve or make a turn.

My father used to say I accelerate and decelerate at random and need to maintain a fluid speed for his sanity and the wellbeing of mankind.

My eldest daughter says nothing because she and her young once escaped death twice in one day while being driven by my father.

My youngest daughter says “Jesus” a lot, whatever that means, and goes out of her way to be the driver now that she, too, has young.

I say I’m near perfect, that ICBC, or the World Driving Standard, might want to create a PSA featuring me as an example of where the bar should be, how to drive road safe.

Herein lies the problem: Don’t we all?

Like the rage-o-maniac in the pickup turning left onto the street behind Costco yesterday afternoon.

I know; I get it. You were RIGHT. And in your legendary own mind, the World Driving Standard should create a PSA featuring you as well, and I agree, but perhaps on a different angle.

Costco samples go quick on Sunday afternoons, and that person driving the minivan with Baby on Board had no business creeping out on that street. She couldn’t see you coming with all the parked cars to her right and her creeps were mere decimeters, far, far out of your way, but still.

Just so you know, it likely wasn’t your best moment. And, I must tell you that I was a little worried about yours and the rest of the world’s safety, as well. I care.

When your head and torso were hanging out the driver’s window like that, your arm flailing, your face contorted and looking back (in the seconds I saw you it was visibly growing purple, ugh), your phlegmy screams echoing through the summer afternoon (might I suggest a Halls or a little tea with honey and lemon before leaving home, might free up those vocal cords so your message is a bit more effective), you covered a bit of ground without your eyes on the road and your hands at 10 and 2.

I hope Baby on Board didn’t see you and catch a fright—that would have been a horrible memory for a young one. Life altering, perhaps.

The funny thing is—not really funny, more ironic—that there was no need to hurry. At all. I’d just been. There were parking spots everywhere, drive through if you can imagine; heaps of room in the aisles; samples were a little on the blasé side, powdered ice tea, powdered protein drink, dressed garden salad, pretzels, toasts. No line ups. Lots of boxes. And things were running smoothly at the food court. The price of gas was holding steady and, rumour has it, the Christmas decorations won’t be out for at least another week. Oh, and there were two people with markers checking for what mystery it is they check for at the exit. All good. Fantastic. A pleasant oasis in which to leisurely shop, really.

At least you’re not alone. Hurry people do. And I am gob smacked as to what the reason might be in our fair city. If you can even call it that, city, when you compare it to other places. We have, generously, 72,000 people (next year we could have 72,004, but I’m still living Census-gate.) I live on one end and have timed it repeatedly—no more than 13 minutes to go anywhere in town I want to go.

I will grant you one issue: Between 5:10 and 5:20ish on week days, you sometimes must wait for two light cycles before turning left at a major intersection. It’s hell. Plan ahead.

I know I’m an enigma some days, as I plug away at the limit, randomly speeding up and slowing down, indicating when I’m near my corner and mindlessly doing that freakish jaw thing that might very well be a distraction in the peripheral vision of others, a potential danger in itself, but I’ll make you a deal. I’ll try my very best to step it up, if you’ll try to bring it down. It’s scary, and must make you feel like a bit of a jerk? (If you promise, I’ll try and solve that “Jesus” thing, too.)

We need to team up, you see, clean up our acts. The World Driving Standard has other problems. It needs to focus its funding and creativity on its never-ending battle against those drivers who are much more important than us, than even you, more important than even Baby on Board—the entitled narcissists who don’t take their eyes off their Smartphones.

Let’s all take a deep breath and consider the well being of mankind.

Here. I. Go.

Jul
25

follow-your-bliss


On Friday, I had an epiphany, rather circuitous, but an epiphany nonetheless.

Despite a very bright light—a certain Prince P—for a time, my days and nights have been shaded by a very dark cloud: the sudden and unexpected loss of my father. Untethered, grief darkness becomes you. It renders you defenseless, helpless, and has the fierce and heartless ability to steal you, to taint your everything, impair your thinking, empty your cup and render you exhausted, defeated, in the depths of despair, and blah, very, very blah.

Gratefully, as you float towards the your bottom, grief also wakes you up and forces you to look at life hard in its face. A taste of death equals mortality. Your own mortality. Time to size up the girl in the mirror, take stock, do the math. Unplug your ears and listen: tick, tock, tick, tock.

Thursday night was BLAH: The Defeatist of Grief was on a roll.

Time to move on. Life is a fantasy. Plans aren’t working. They were a fantasy. Just like dreams, dreams are a fantasy. Ditto for goals. Time to grow up. Do the write right thing. Move forward. Make a date with practicality, responsibility, maturity. Act my age. Carve sensible plans in concrete and execute. Sensible. Concrete. Execute. Find a box. Move right in. Seal it tight. Tight. Tight. Tighter.

Follow the rules. Get a real job. Work 9 – 5. Cash a cheque. Vacate for three weeks. Turf the sunscreen. Live predictability. Embrace a routine. Bask in security. Skew my values. Learn to practice realism. Zip up my coat. Narrow my mind. Rah, rah, rah.

Friday morning. Up bright and early. PLAN OF THE DAY: Update resume. Search job listings. You go, girl woman.

First things first—COFFEE and news cycle: Opinion250; The Citizen; CBC Saskatchewan, BC, New Brunswick, Canada, the World; Globe and Mail; National Post and…People, frivolous fluff to come up from all that dreadful important stuff. (Must stop People. Not mature.)

Cue the Choir

This is where my epiphany began, smack between CBC World and the National Post, on the Life section of the Globe and Mail App: my July 22 horoscope.

LIBRA (Sept. 24 – Oct. 23): In recent weeks you have looked on in amazement while people with less than half your talent have done well for themselves. Now it is your turn to shine and what happens over the coming weeks will encourage you to stand tall in the spotlight.

Stand tall? (Speechless.) Super significant. To-my-core significant. I’m a believer! Maybe? Maybe!

I HATE boxes: I am claustrophobic and have never found one in which I could fit. I am a misfit, who is not practical, responsible nor mature. I am lucky enough to be different. I am an idealist. I am a dreamer. I wonder. I dream. I wonder. I believe. Imagine.

And what is age? A number on a piece of yellowed paper or laminated card? How do you act it? Where are the instructions? Why should I grow up? What does grown-up mean?

My dream, is a fantasy, write right? Success, whatever that may be, is highly improbable, write right? But, a kazzillion things in this world are improbable, highly improbable, but very few, very, very few, are entirely impossible. After all, for idealists and dreamers, for me, can’t shouldn’t even be a word.

It says, therefore I am.

I can find my writing on Google; there are specific routes required, generally different, very specific references for each of the few pieces out there. On Friday, after the whole horoscope thing, I Googled my name and dared to put “writer” behind it, hit enter and there it was, three results down, “My deepest thanks to writer Linda Glover.” Wow.

Someone, specifically Russell Thomas, the thankful one, also a brilliant and wildly successful artist, considers me a writer! There it is—confirmation, a sign from the epiphany-atic Universe. Amen.

So, fuck forget ‘find a box and move right in.’ Smash the box. Burn it. I am a writer. And. Here. I. Go.

In the late-90’s, I made the minors for a few years. I tricked the Editor of the Clearwater North Thompson Times, Keith McNeil, into giving me an opportunity to be a freelance reporter and, eventually, a columnist of a weekly piece I creatively named Just A Thought. Outside of the humans I love and adore, that opportunity brought me the greatest joy of my life, was my absolute passion. My passion.

I even had a fan. His name was Jack Allen, a little old man (only in stature) who lived in the hills and called me one day, right out of the blue. “You’re what I look forward to. Your writing. Your column. I look forward to it every week. Please, don’t stop.” I did. I lost my muse and, in turn, unapologetically at the time, my new friend Jack.

But I’m back. And it’s time. I AM a writer, a writer who will forever more take to heart the most profound three words ever to vibrate these unplugged ears, from Dharma to Greg, “Follow your bliss!”

Bliss, if we follow it, is a bright light that beckons us through darkness and with its power enables us to let go, to feel and face our fear, to feel alive. Bliss is a state. This is bliss.

So, here’s to you, Jack, my new muse who shines down from the Universe, and a new rendition, yet to be named, of Just a Thought.

Hold on tight, Jack. Who knows where we’ll go?

La Loche deserves respect and humanity, not judgement

Jul
25

Russell Thomas

February is upon us; yet, I remain captive to the images staring back at me, in wonder of the beauty that once existed. I can’t leave them. They are the portraits painted by Fort McMurray artist, Russell Thomas, in honour of the victims of last month’s shootings in La Loche, Saskatchewan. The colours of these once vital lives haunt me, like they should every Canadian whose heart continues to beat. But there is something else.

I am angry.

The beauty in these portraits is juxtaposed with my disappointment at the lack of compassion in the ongoing media coverage since the January 22 shootings that claimed four lives and injured many others; specifically, the relentless cliché describing La Loche as a community of dysfunction festering beneath a blanket of alcoholism and addiction, suicide, unemployment and poverty. Despite its apparent truths, which I would be naïve, arrogant and heartless to diminish, if only for the people who suffer its effects, I don’t recall community condemnation used in conjunction with any other school or mass shooting in our country’s history, and there have been many.

And, in answer to the question posed to Nikki Fraser, a Kamloops mother, by Justin Trudeau during a CBC special, Face to Face with the Prime Minister, which aired two days after his visit to La Loche—“Indigenous lives matter…why should I have to say this in 2016?”—it’s because little has changed.

The template used to report any tragedy in an Aboriginal community too often remains the same as it has for decades: The cliché. And, sadly, the assertion that these social ills—global, I might add—are the crux of every tragedy that strikes an Aboriginal community, that they are an Aboriginal community, in turn an Aboriginal person, only serve to further demoralize its people. The message: If-it-is, you-are.

The people who are living this devastating loss deserve better: They are human.

We, as citizens, receive our information primarily through the media, and the template used to report that information needs to change. Writers are privileged to have their voices heard, but with that privilege comes a responsibility, not just to report, but act upon the opportunity to invoke change. And, for too long, for the most part, in this light, we’ve failed.

Seventeenth century anthologist, John Bodenham, wrote: “In a little place is hid a great treasure, and in a small hope a boundless expectation.” Four centuries later, his wisdom could not be more relevant: It is the only way to move forward. We have to acknowledge all truths yet focus on the treasure and the boundless expectation within the small hope, to expect and gain progress.

The people of La Loche possess incomparable strength and resilience and compassion. I know this because they woke up the next morning: I can’t imagine that I could. And then, spotlighted on a stage in front of a country who didn’t care about them the day before, they went about the business of taking care, of holding each other up as they prepared for the heart-shattering task of honouring and burying their dead, of moving minute-by-minute into a new reality, their future, thrust upon them by this tragedy.

Considering this, we would do well to take pause and remember that in every broken person there exists greatness, and in every tragedy there are heroes.

I say, be one. Seize the opportunity to tell us more of the local leaders and everyday people, the elders and youth, the teachers and others, who have stood tall to make a difference. Theirs are the stories that inspire change, that lift up rather than knock down. Tell us a different story from a more proactive angle. Strength breeds strength. It empowers. And empowered people are capable of anything, especially crawling out from under blankets.

Let’s honour the lives of Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, Marie Janvier and Adam Wood, the injured, their families and friends, the community of La Loche, our human family, ourselves. In 2016, we need to change our focus and live our hope, our humanity.

I am no different than the people of La Loche, and neither are you: I, too, have great hope and dream of a better future. But, in this one moment, I’m left to wonder about the portrait not painted, that of the troubled 17-year-old boy, currently alone in a prison cell and awaiting his fate. We will likely never understand the why of January 22, but I, for one, wonder, if it was a result of ‘if-it-is, you-are?’

If the template had changed, would he have realized his treasure, known boundless expectation? Would his, and his community’s, fate have been different?

 

Published

08-03-2016           UNBC Over the Edge       Pg. 8

08-03-2016           UNBC Over the Edge

 

Ticket to Riches Found on Mexican City Bus

Jul
25

Mexican Bus

It’s mid-December and my partner and I are on a flight returning from Mexico. I remain dressed for summer and sit crunching the salted ends of my hair. The thought of Christmas Madness awaiting us at home does little to ease the sadness I feel at leaving. To distract myself, I shift my focus to the newspaper I picked up from the departure lounge in Vancouver a week ago. I read an article victoriously advising Canadians that our middle-class has nudged past America’s in conquering the quest for the American Dream. It states that through the value and commitment Canadian people place on hard work, we’ve achieved prosperity and success. We’ve made it! We’re rich—well on our way to having it all. I call bullshit. The richest people in the world can be found on an antiquated Mexican city bus.

My visceral reaction to this story angers me and I regret my decision to read it. It feels an ugly intrusion into the beautiful memories I have mere hours to savour before the plane lands and I’m smacked in the face by the realities of my life. I stow the paper, close my eyes and try to dissect my thoughts. And in that dissection, I am taken back to the first 24 hours of our vacation.

After an evening spent people watching on Vancouver’s Granville Street, we caught the Canada Line to our hotel near the airport. Observing an ever changing train-scape of riders, we were awestruck by their constant denominator—oblivious to those around them, fully engrossed in the alternate reality streamed to them through the inanimate rectangular objects they coveted in their hands, hunched over and closed to the real world, spines forming a protective letter C. Their blatant detachment was a screaming example of what our society has become—a disconnected, nomophobic, increasingly narcissistic, me and want wasteland.

Hours later, our flight history, we threw on our packs and charged out the doors of the Puerto Vallarta airport, giddy with excitement that the rejuvenation of our weary souls was about to begin. The heat and humidity hugged us in welcome as we made our way through the chaos to the bus stop to await our time machine—the Centro city bus. We paid our seven pesos and were gifted a seat by a young boy who offered to stand in our place. “Gracias,” we said. “You’re welcome,” he replied—no ‘No problema’ here—with pride in his English skills and respect that we were visitors, guests in his country.  We gratefully sat and the rumble started.

Over the unmuffled groan of the diesel engine, the grinding of gears as the driver threw his charge into traffic and the rattles and sighs of the ancient undercarriage beating itself over the time-worn roads, the rumble became magic as a beautiful noise grew within the bus. People were talking. To each other. They were turned in their seats, moving back and forth, calling down the aisle and offering greetings to one and other. They were smiling and laughing and engaged. They were present. In the moment. On the bus.

The driver greeted every rider. Young men stood up and offered their seats to the women and elders who got on at different stops. Parents fussed over their children—listened to their stories, showed interest in little fingers pointed out of windows and offered snacks from their bags. Buskers boarded at different stops and stood in the aisle to entertain their captive audience. A woman in curious clown make-up with a baby strapped to her chest performed a comedy routine, and an elderly man in a polyester suit and cowboy hat strummed his guitar and sang songs of Johnny Cash and Charlie Pride in beautiful, broken English. At the end of each performance, the audience offered up a few pesos and applause as their gratitude.

We left the bus at the Malecon and headed deeper into Old Towne to find a room to rent. We followed a group of families who’d been riding our bus, and as we walked we drew ourselves closer to feed off their excitement. A few blocks in, there were crowds in the street and the sound of a marching band’s approach. While we waited for the parade, a mother handed her young son a small roll of caps from a bag in her pocket. One-by-one he dropped them on the roadway and stomped them until they let out a crack, triggering his contagious laughter and claps of approval from his family beside me. True joy from a simple game.

Throughout our week in Puerto Vallarta, the bus and its community of riders played a critical and welcomed role in our quest to vacate, and rendered me nostalgic with memories of a simpler time. It was a time before technology ‘improved’ our lives and ‘connected’ us, a time when we didn’t particularly want for anything. Instead, we were grateful for what we had and valued those around us.

Our ‘Smart,’ like-me-like-me-please society has dumbed itself down to the point where an industry of personal coaching has been birthed to teach, or re-teach, people the lost art of communicating face-to-face. We’ve lost our values and empathy as the line between want and need has become desperately skewed, our craving for society’s approval of us so insatiable we’re willing to sell our souls for material statements that feed us a false sense of esteem and announce to people who don’t really matter that we’ve made it.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers eight definitions of the word rich. The first is “having abundant possessions and especially material wealth:” the second is “having high value or quality.” Ironically, as it pertains to life, the opportunity cost of the first is the second. When our time on Earth is over, our abundant possessions and material wealth, our achievement of the ‘American Dream,’ won’t matter. Neither will our Platinum MasterCard, gazillion dollar home, tricked out vehicle, Employee of the Year plaque, 700 Facebook friends, Twitter history, unlimited texting account or Instagram album. What will matter will be the value we place on the people closest to us and the authenticity we’ve woven between our lives and theirs. This is a lesson easily learned by the example of the richest people in the world. They can be found on an antiquated Mexican city bus.

 

Published

30-11-2015           UNBC Over the Edge

01-12-2016            UNBC Over the Edge       Pg. 10

01-01-2016           CNC The Confluence        Pg. 6

Welcome

Jul
25

I am Linda Glover. Welcome to my place in the Blogosphere, world, Universe…whatever this is.

I am a writer who created this space with an intention: A purpose to write. Writing pieces whose final destination is My Documents really isn’t that inspiring. This is. Because if you are a reader, my purpose is served.

I’ve called this space Just A Thought 2.0 because Just A Thought was once my favourite place to be. It was a weekly newspaper column I wrote for a number of years until I lost my muse and my footing and life took a turn away from one of my greatest joys–writing. But I’m weaving my way back, one word at a time.

My muse has returned and I have things to say–important things, random things, things in general. Things. Thoughts. Statements. They might not be ‘blog’ things, they might be essays or op-eds, or a sentence of blathers. But they’re my things.

If you have any comments or questions or suggestions about the things I say, I would love to hear from you through my Contact page. You are my readers, my audience. You matter.

So thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoy. I hope my thoughts evoke your thoughts…that’s what writing and reading are meant to do.

I am Linda Glover. I am a writer.

PTSD: A Family’s Story

Jul
10

The following is an essay I wrote in November 2015  for a class I was taking at the time. The assignment was to write a research essay and the topic was “Your primal scream.” I didn’t have to think past one second to know what mine was: I’d lived it every day for many years.

Lest we forget.

Please read. Please share. Please make it your mission to educate yourselves and others on the effects of PTSD—to both those who live with it and those who love them.

Afghanistan

When Will They Ever Learn?
by Linda Glover

In the wake of the Paris bombings there is too much noise in my head. I want to close my eyes, click my heels and wake up on the shores of Kluane Lake, an isolated Yukon paradise where the outside world is gratefully rendered non-existent. And breathe. I want to breathe, pretend and stay forever, to will that peace prevail.

Paris was bad timing, coming on the tail end of a difficult week—my brother’s birthday, Remembrance Day, research on an intimate topic related to both. Paris rendered my primal scream hoarse: My brother remains in a cave near Kabul, while I am an outlier in the collateral damage of the War in Afghanistan.

Since Paris, I’ve been waiting for a voice of reason to speak, presumably through telepathy since I’ve gone to great lengths to put the world on mute and avoid the topic. An insatiable news junkie who prior to November 13 would have been all over this, I’ve avoided TV news, my habitual Internet news cycle, all newspapers, CBC radio, everything. I inwardly recite “La La La” in class while distractedly scribbling gibberish and move rooms when my husband’s booming bass echoes the masses: “Bomb the fuckers.” My heart can’t take it.

We can, indeed, “bomb the fuckers,” but at what cost?

Reason spoke shortly after in the form of a photocopied column by Neil Macdonald, distributed in the lecture notes of my English class: “Hafez al-Assad and his Baathist colleague Saddam Hussein were both monsters. But compared to what the West unleashed on itself, they seem, in retrospect, like incarnations of stability.” This I choose to read as: STOP. Bring them home. All of them. Mind your own damned business. Maybe Neil Macdonald understands what I mean by cost?

My brother’s 47th birthday was November 9. Or more, November 9, was the birthday of the vessel that formerly contained my brother. My brother’s birthday was a day I once anticipated with joy: I’d spend hours in the shops finding just the right card, ship it off early and make certain my first action the day of was to call and wish him nothing but fabulousness.

I no longer shop or ship, and I no longer call to wish him a fabulous day. Instead, I spend weeks in distracted anticipation, anxiously forming the words in my head that I’ll text him—his chosen medium to communicate. I could try to phone, but I’ve long learned that my unanswered call is too much for us both—a painful rejection for me, a rocket to despair for him. Instead, I key in a simple greeting and hope: A thanks in reply will mean he’s safe, there.

I may get the opportunity for contact again in late-December during World Juniors if Team Canada is hot, or perhaps in May if he’s selected for the upcoming Invictus Games. I know the games contact is a possibility as our birthday texting was extensive this year—four rounds in which he told me he’d applied to take part. If recent history prevails, that might be all until next year.

For the last decade, my brother, Regimental Sergeant Major Michael Cotts, has been held captive thanks to the West’s reaction to the destruction of one of the most abominable people in history—Osama bin Laden. His spirit is lost in a cave near Kabul and the remnants that remain take great pains to be unconquerable, to will the next minute, and the one after that, bears a semblance of normal, while he fights his best fight to live a life in the throes of debilitating, isolating, soul-leaching PTSD.

He is not one of the 158 Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan, or one of the 1,800 who were injured there: Most fortunately, he is not one of the 160, likely countless more, who have killed themselves because of Afghanistan.  He is simply one of the 40,000 who were sent to Afghanistan to take part and “bomb the fuckers,” one of the 14,375 of our veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Football

My brother was only 17 when he enlisted; our parents encouraged him. Veterans themselves, they, ironically, thought it would provide the best life for him. He wanted to play football. Having never spent more than a handful of nights away from home, he took his virgin flight to Gagetown, New Brunswick, where he would begin a distinguished career that would see him serve six tours to war torn countries: five under a blue beret as a NATO peacekeeper and one engaged as an active participant in war.

He tried to keep secrets and not talk about the horrors he saw on every tour, but in 2003 he became a poster boy for the Canadian Armed Forces’ involvement in the War in Afghanistan. I loved it; where the times before I could only wonder, the diary of my little brother was now being written for all the world to see.

Stephen Thorne of the Canadian Press was embedded with him on a “torturous” 30 kilometer trek through the mountains near Kabul, tracing goat trails being used by guerrilla fighters.  He wrote: “Engineer Sgt. Mike Cotts…walked point – took the lead position – the whole three days, leading the reconnaissance platoon through some potentially dangerous ground…he found landmines, deactivated a Russian antipersonnel mine inside a cave and discovered a booby-trapped bounding fragmentation mine alongside it.”

The CBC’s Shelagh Rodgers interviewed him several times, and he told her and CBC listeners, his family, me, the stories he could about what he was doing: about insurgents, snipers, cobras, IED explosions and children. His picture in camouflage and bearing a machine gun, with an Afghani interpreter in the background, took up a quarter page in the Globe and Mail and more were plastered across Canadian Forces’ and other websites. He was the epitome of a good soldier: brave, fearless, courageous, dedicated, a leader. He was a hero.

And then he came home, and the adrenaline that was his life’s blood for nearly a year drained from his body and, over time, fear became him. He had time to remember. I don’t know how many deaths there were, the deaths he witnessed and the deaths of those he was close to, how many repatriation ceremonies he attended. But I do remember his stories of the nightmares beginning, the movies in his mind that he couldn’t shut off. Sights, sounds, smells. The acrid, tinny taste of the air. Vivid. Grotesque. The blood. The grey matter. Appendages mashed, entire body cavities blown through. The monster fear of death. Of anyone he’d ever, or would ever, know or love. Of mine.

Rather than fear that day, it became easier, less painful, to stop, to isolate, to push everyone he loved away: After all, if he died first no one could leave him. That was the beginning of the end, a family divided. We became broken, like an IED on a goat trail blew us up. This is when bin Laden got me too, when I became an outlier—when my entire family did—a non-statistic in our country’s senseless participation in a war in a country that has been at war for thousands of years.

I find solace at Remembrance Day ceremonies: There are kindred spirits there. I go to seek them out, not just to remember. I remember every day. I see the veterans and pick out other outliers, whose faces become twisted and throats force swallows, some whose tears fall right out of their heads. It’s a sad comfort. And in like company, I can wonder: Did your service, their service, the war, any war, destroy your family too? Did the horrors you lived break your heart and mash your soul so badly that you fear anyone you love might die? Did you, too, force them away and pretend you died first? Do the people who understand you, like I think I do, love you unconditionally to the point where they protect you to their own demise?  Do they defend you to the detriment of their relationships with the people who don’t understand you, those who lash out in anger at you to mask their own fear?

And, oddly enough, it is there at the cenotaph, surrounded by others who might understand, where I can breathe. Like our soldiers, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our private stories. The outliers.

I hear music coming from my kitchen. My husband is playing random songs on his computer. The echo of his booming bass has quieted and, ironically, I hear Peter, Paul and Mary singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” while I read a report that states 32,763 people, worldwide, were killed by terrorists in 2014. It’s heartbreaking and senseless, yet expected.

By my estimate, if 40,000 Canadians were sent to war in Afghanistan and they each have 15 family members who were impacted by their death, injury, PTSD, or otherwise, there are more than 640,000 veterans and outliers, the collateral damage of just one war. Maybe it’s selfish, maybe I am without humanity, but is “bombing the fuckers” worth the collateral damage, the human cost of war? It has to stop. It must stop, end somewhere. When will they ever learn?

*     *     *     *    *

Justin

I am overjoyed to say that things have changed and my brother and I now communicate, in one way or another, almost every day. His presence in my life makes me feel whole again. I love him beyond measure and am incredibly proud and honoured to call myself his sister. He, too, is brave and bold and beautiful. My hero.

He was selected to compete in the Invictus Games this past spring in Orlando. He was a superstar, is a superstar, and an inspiration who is inspired and makes a difference in the lives of others every single day. Lives like mine, his family’s and his fellow veterans.

And I am grateful that he gave me his blessing to post this. (Even though he may not agree with the opinion I conclude with.)

There is light, great light that illuminates a path to a changed, yet bright future full of supportive comradeship, unbelievable achievements and love.

These organizations, and the likes, are game-changers, life preservers. Please click on the links below, to find more information and/or offer your support:

Soldier On
Wounded Warriors 
World Team Sports
Invictus Games