Sunday, March 29, 2015
I remember hearing this a very long time ago on a retreat, that life was never about addition but about subtraction: of excessive possessions, ill-serving character traits and defects, poor behaviours, resentments, anger, fear, ad infinitum and replacing them with non-material goodies like peace, serenity, service to others, kindness, etc. You catch the drift.
So a daughter of a dear friend, now passed, suggested, nay challenged, those of us willing to rid ourselves of 10 objects out of our lives for 100 days, thus divesting ourselves of a 1,000 bits of clutter in a very short space of time.
I've been doing this sporadically but today got down to business, the serious business of removal and donation to the less fortunate when appropriate.
I was in the appalling state of piling clean casserole ceramic dishes on the dining room table because there was no room for them in the cabinets due to an enormous collection of granny-china, crystal, silver casserole pieces - note the irony - crystal and silver butter and sugar containers not used since the marital home. I can't count the years back to that.
So armed with newspaper and plastic bags I started to wrap all this detritus, readying it for donation.
I did contemplate EBay, but wrapping, postage, treks of 20k to the post office had absolutely no appeal and my time is valuable.
I must take pictures of this daily subtraction, it hadn't crossed my mind in the past few weeks as I wrapped. A silver sugar bowl memory (my granny's best friend gave it to me as a wedding gift with it's own wee hanging spoon, pinkies high everyone!)raises the barest of nostalgia in me, and my slave children are no longer around to clean and polish this now ridiculous silver collection.
Tomorrow I tackle an enormous collection of candles and their holders.
And vases, have I mentioned vases?
Saturday, March 28, 2015
I've come to dread those free floating anxiety episodes. I'm in one right now and I don't think I've ever written(apart from private journaling)openly during one.
I've no idea how long it will last.
It was a brilliant day. My fourth writing workshop this afternoon went really well, a big class, excellent assignments turned in, word is out there so visitors pop in for some sessions and also comment privately on the quality of the participants' writing. And I love conducting it.
Daughter (who attends) gave me lots of baking and cooking out of her trunk to take home with me and we then laugh as we find we've each been invited to the same house for dinner. Which was lovely. Another friend there gives me her special frozen soup to take home. I won't have to cook for days it looks like.
Chimney Man PMs me to tell me my parts are finally in, it took well over two months for 7" stove pipes to be found anywhere, there were certainly none on the island. The reason I know this is that others have been whining also. Our power bills were through the roof (no pun intended) waiting for them. Wood stoves save a whole wad of cash.
So all is going well, right?
So I bury myself in the Kimmy Schmidt series and I still feel that pit of the stomach thing which won't go away.
And I slap myself upside of the head, metaphorically, and it won't go away.
And I look at my dog and I worry. I look at all the legal papers that I had to sign yesterday at my lawyers. And I worry.
I listen to the rain outside. And I worry.
There's nothing at all to worry about but I'm caught by the throat and I hope it won't be one of those endless nights.
I just hate those.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
This story was inspired by the photo above taken by my friend Joe Healy.
[As a follow-up to yesterday's post and requested by you faithfuls via emails and comments, here is the short listed story. Thank you kindly and feel free to critique.]
Strange how the simple regimentation of childhood fell into place once again in the declining years, the seeming spontaneity of middle life vanishing almost imperceptibly. Each day blended seamlessly into the next. Every morning at eight she had her simple breakfast of tea, toast and marmalade while reading the headlines of the Irish Examiner which seemed to slavishly follow the unwritten rule of 'if it bleeds it leads'. Accidents, drug lord battles, a drowning in Crosshaven. The bowl of mixed fruits in the middle of the table brought the only spot of colour into the kitchen, a counterpoint to the murky grey day nudging at the window. She rinsed out her dishes.
November is a wicked month, she reflected, looking out. Now who'd said that?
Ginger wheezed at her feet. A most unattractive fellow, all the colours of the dog world on him none of which were even remotely appealing. A mottled thinning wiry tufty fur: grey, dirty sand, streaky black topped by his white whiskers in a downward swoop giving him a constantly mournful expression. Fifteen. A great age for a dog but it was far too challenging to calculate it in human years like some did. Multiply a dog's age by seven? Maybe six? Or something far more complicated. She couldn't remember. And she a maths teacher back in the day.
Ginger was a witness to the last breath of her married life. A couple of years before he died, Hugh had found Ginger on St. Patrick's Street huddled up against a rubbish bin. A wee puppy. Rain slick and softly whining. He'd brought him home wrapped in his winter scarf and wanted to call him Pana after the street. Ah now, he'd said, don't be so hard Norah, a dog will get us out of the house more. And on the third ah now she'd relented. What harm? But she stood her ground on calling him Pana. Ginger, she'd said. And that was that.
And he'd stayed runty small and Hugh, God bless him, ignored the laughter-laden jibes, the 'sure what kind of rodent-rat-squirrel is it at all?' remarks that were tossed casually at his six foot self and his ugly little dog by passersby on Pana. Ginger. How euphemistic a name was that, you'd have to hunt to find the small bit of ginger fur on his belly.
Hugh had died right there on the kitchen floor while he was bent over topping up the dog dish. Ginger had a voracious appetite. They had laughed about it. Taking a peculiar pride in his enormous consumption. Hugh would joke about the subsequent output, he'd put all the Irish wolfhounds out there to shame would our boy!
Ginger whined and licked Hugh's face as he lay there, dog food scattered around him, while she dialled emergency services, stuttering into the phone, her words panicked and incomplete. For they both knew, she and Ginger, that Hugh lay forever still beneath the death that had silenced him.
Lisa and Jeff and the grandchildren came down for a week but that was all a blur. A disturbance really. Lisa had left home many years before and Hugh and herself had always visited them up in Dublin as there wasn't room in their small house in Cork for the swarm of them all. Five grandchildren including one set of twins, all within five years. All very loud.
After her cancer and hysterectomy and some very careful consideration, she and Hugh had adopted Lisa. They'd hoped for a quiet girl. And Lisa, as if she knew what was required of her, was one of those self-entertaining babies fascinated with her own fingers and toes, overjoyed with the mobile they hung over her cot, rapturous at being taken outdoors into the sunshine and best of all she slept through the night. She was barely an intrusion on their reading and listening to classical music, was entranced by their singing rehearsals for the Cork Baroque recitals and gurgled as they hosted their turn at bridge nights. Pretty too. And bright. They took a modest pride in her accomplishments, her scholarships. And then she'd met Jeff and all these children started arriving. Quickly. Unseemly they'd thought but had agreed it was truly none of their business. Three days in Dublin every Christmas, they decided, followed by one long weekend in the summer. That would keep their grand-parenting end of things up. And, of course, remembering all the birthdays and the anniversaries and putting aside modest educational funds. There, that would be their duty done without the noise of the rambunctious four boys and their even louder sister offending their delicate sensibilities.
She'd embraced the internet some years before after a few night classes. A vast encyclopedia of untapped knowledge, she'd said to Lisa, excited for the first time since Hugh had died. She missed Hugh's stimulating conversation. The vast world wide web compensated for this in a small way.
A month ago, she'd looked up the symptoms for depression. Old Doctor Harmon hadn't picked up on what was really going on with her. By now he was just seeing her and a few more of the stalwarts as he called them - patients that had been with him for the fifty years since he qualified. So he listened carefully as she read off her symptoms from a slip of paper and then handed her a small pack of anti-depressants from his samples. He wagged his finger at her in that way of his that she was used to by now but that Lisa had so much trouble with when she was a teenager.
Now Norah, he'd said, you can only take these with a bit of food, and just one three times a day mind! She'd nodded, repeating what he said as that had always pleased him.
And the three prescription renewals were no trouble either. He'd asked to see her again after the third one. She made sure she pasted a smile on her face as she walked into the surgery and remembered to keep it there even though her face ached as she left with the new prescription. Feeling marvellous, she'd assured Gerry Harmon, like a new woman!
She'd seen her mother going down the road she was headed. Second childhood they called it then. But at least children could recognize their own families. Her mother hadn't known any of them during the eight years before she died, even their simple brother Bertie who had lived with her all his life. A mother to nine strangers.
On researching Alzheimer’s on the web, she found that there were ten early warning symptoms. Not that she could remember all of them now.
She went into the hall and put on her blue quilted coat, forcing her mind back to the symptoms. Oh yes, one had to do with driving, another with forgetting to pay the bills. She'd always liked driving out to the country, especially Kinsale, usually with friends, most of them now gone or in care homes. Lovely spots for lunch there. But the confusion on the roundabout, and those coloured lights, what were they again? – traffic lights that was it - and deliberately avoiding the motorways and then getting on to them accidentally. This was all alarming enough for her to hide away the car keys in a lucid moment a few months ago and then forget where they were. Good thing too.
Ginger was sitting in front of her, staring at his leash hanging on its hook. She certainly never saw the need nor had the desire to talk to Ginger as Hugh had done. They existed within each others' lives without the clutter of language. Ginger knew the times of his twice daily feedings and his walk or reliefs, and would leave his basket by the kitchen stove and show up by the dish or the coat-rack or the backdoor without prompting and at the right times for these functions. He made no unusual demands on her nor she on him. It was a highly satisfactory arrangement.
She snapped the leash onto his collar and put on her blue hat and her red mohair scarf and her winter gloves and took her cane out of the hall stand. Ready steady go.
Not for her the stroll on Pana of Hugh's days but the scantily peopled North Mall with its nice flat footpath around the corner from the house. There were no twists and turns on their promenade and they both knew the way.
As she walked, she found herself pondering yet again on that Ten Point List. Something about forgetting to groom, using poor judgement. She'd made careful notes. Stuck them around the place. Especially about bath times and washing her clothes in the machine. One day, she'd found herself washing sheets in the bath like her grandmother would in the old copper tub at the farm. At times, alarmed, she'd had to decipher what the notes meant as once it took her many hours to figure out the word shampoo as she'd thought it had something to do with Ginger's doggy business.
Lisa hardly telephoned anymore which was all well and good. They now exchanged emails. Lisa sent current photos of her family on Sunday nights from her Iphone. Dinners, graduations, Halloween, birthdays, sports, performances. She would respond cheerfully, exclaiming over the children, all adults now, some married themselves. Unknown beings to her. She assumed their communal loudness had decreased in volume. Or maybe not, as on line she had kept herself up to date on heavy metal music and that rap nonsense that so polluted the airwaves on the radio.
Before she realized it, Ginger had turned around and they were headed back down to the corner of Marlborough Place. Close to sixty years at the one address though for the life of her she couldn't recall the number of her house if she was asked even though she'd silently repeat it to herself when she saw it on her own gate.
Mornings were the best. Afternoons were more of a challenge especially with the sun going down, for her agitation increased and then her ability to read even her own written directions to herself failed. She had let go of her beloved books, how long ago now, a year? Still aware enough then to find herself re-reading chapter one of each well thumbed tome over and over again trying to set the characters in her mind. And failing.
She carefully hung up the walking paraphernalia on the hall stand, placing Ginger's leash on its special hook and stared at it. She'd never been a sentimental woman. There was room for very little sentiment in the house she grew up in, and Hugh, bless him, had provided what sentiment there was in this house.
She took the four bottles of pills out of the kitchen cupboard and ground down two of the pills with her mortar and pestle and mixed the powder into some fresh mince meat. Ginger wasn't used to treats and devoured the snack quickly. And then she waited. It didn't take long. Wordlessly, she laid him in his bed beside the stove.
She put the remainder of the pills into the pestle and ground these. She poured some cornflakes in a bowl and sprinkled the powder all over it and poured milk on top and set it aside carefully and then went into the parlour to the computer in the corner and opened her email. She reviewed the instructions for 'delay delivery of email' and set the time for eight p.m. that evening. Then she painstakingly typed from notes she had prepared over the last few days.
By the time you get this, I will have passed on to be with your daddy. I sense the onset of my own Alzheimer’s in more ways than I can tell you and I do not want yourself or Jeff to be burdened with my ever worsening condition. I've left all in order for you in your father's small safe. I'd like to be buried with him in St. Finbarr's.
You've been a joy and a source of pride to me Lisa and always respectful of my need for privacy and quiet. I am so very grateful that I can take care of this one small task left to me without bothering you. If you would, please have Ginger's ashes scattered on the grave. Your daddy did love him so. Goodbye. I've had a very good life.
Monday, March 23, 2015
There's a major Irish Short Story competition held every year.
Last time I entered - about 5 years ago - I made the Long List.
This time I made the Short List.
There were 1,575 stories submitted and the Short List was 103 which included my story. I made that magical 6.5% of all submissions - you can see that my accountant mind lives on, ha.
The reason I am posting this here is that it is a very weird feeling to make it to the Short List. Weird and wonderful.
I want to celebrate this - you know - but it sounds foolish to other than a writer's ears and self-laudatory. Actually, pathetic is the word. Not the achievement but the desire to blow up the balloons and throw around the sparklers and streamers.
Who would possibly understand that I would want to celebrate an overall non-win as I didn't make the final cut of 11?
Friday, March 20, 2015
We were on the phone, an old Ontario friend and I, speaking of sex of all things. We're the same age.
I don't know how the topic came up. We meandered around the PIV (penis-in-vagina) kind, how overrated, how quick, how we've all been programmed into thinking that this is the epitome of heterosexual genital bliss, supposedly transporting one to paradise in the time it would take to softboil an egg.
I can only speak of heterosexual sex. Though I was approached by women a few times, once by a famous female singer backstage at an event where she was the star. I was merely helping out in her dressing room. I was 19-20 and thought homosexuality was restricted to males only. Her suggestion to me, or rather as to what she'd like to do to me, was baffling to my far-too-innocent ears. It involved the words "go" and "down". What did I do? I laughed, thinking she was making a joke about dancing. I still remember her rolling those heavily mascaraed false eyelashes and sighing deeply and then shrugging as she asked me to light her cigarette.
The RC church in Ireland then was pre-Victorian in thinking. PIV was the only way. Of course come to think of it, it's still the only way for the RCs. Unless you're an ordained male cleric, of course.
Girl people in my time were sent out into the world with absolutely no knowledge of sex. None. My sexual instructions boiled down to:
Never let a man touch you below the neck or above the knee.and
If you let down your guard you can be violated and it's all your fault as you tempted him.and:
Sitting on a toilet seat once occupied by a man could result in your accidently infecting yourself with his seeds and becoming pregnant.
And a girl who allowed or attempted or had such things befall her? Locked up for life, a slave in a laundry with nun-beatings 4 times a day.(And today we have the nerve to point at burqas and niqabs as regressive?)
I remember at the age of 14 binding my own breasts as I was so intimidated by the leers of men walking towards me on the street, knowing if anything happened such as violation - whatever that was - it would be all my fault.
I'm not joking.
To be continued......
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Three Dog Night - Shambala
At times, it seems to me I've been returned to being a child again.
I'm catching up on all those years of sleep deprivation with a career and single motherhood, etc. Within limits, of course. As I do have municipal and other duties to fulfil. But one of the bonuses of my age is that I can sleep when I want and nearly where I want. For who pays attention to an old woman's nods?
I can also read. Any time. I would squash in reading for pleasure on weekends and before sleep. Now I read over breakfast. I try to get in 100 pages a day. And I toss books that bore me. I don't feel any obligation to them whatsoever no matter how "good" others think them.
And knit: I knit not out of necessity but out of interest and the old fire in the soul. I can make crazy things, like door and window worms.
And write: when, where, how I want.
And speak my mind. I really don't give a rat's anymore what you think of me and my feminist, atheist stances. My beliefs are solid now. Honed on the whetstone of my life experiences and pain.
I get time to grieve. Even over things like the keyboardist, Jimmy Greenspoon, from Three Dog Night that I tried to imitate on my own piano back in the day. He made me fly, dance and sing and base one of my own unpublished, unperformed musical dramas on one of his pieces. And it seems like I pull in all the other grief of this 2015 on top of Jimmy and do it all over again in a series of tidy sob packages. Who sees and who cares?
I've come to the conclusion that I really like my own company and at my age that is a good thing. I am comfortable with my own vibrations.
I can amuse myself for hours just putzing around this old place which will never be featured in Good Housekeeping. Ever.
I like the no rules aspect of it all, the freedom.
The priceless freedom of my days.
I've never been more ME.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
As promised here's my latest creation which dragged me through some pretty painful times recovering from that fall on the ice.
It came to me that if there's some tiny bit of creativity nesting inside us at all, it has the capacity to sustain us through some bleak, sad or depressing times. Gives us a pair of wings to help us limp over a challenge.
I am conducting one of those dream classes at the moment where I am talking writing, critiquing and distributing assignments to a class of 12. A series of 10 two hour workshops. Many have never written before, some have. But it is the enthusiasm and delight I am confronted with every single week or via emails in between that truly hearten me.
And all of this reinforces yet again, the power of passion to transform even the most timid amongst us.
Ah sure, 'tis nothing.
And yet, it's everything.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
It was a friend who pointed out to me that my fall had more serious effects than I was acknowledging and she reminded me to be more gentle and not to attempt so much.
I've always been wary of being one of the medical broadcast people, you know the ones, you meet them and you get chapter and verse of every single doctor visit, ache, pain, diagnosis, prognosis for the last 2 years. I'm not talking serious stuff here, just the ongoing physical setbacks in everyone's life. It's the ad nauseum reports I'm talking.
So I've kept shtum. But, yeah there have been skeletal challenges. So yeah, I am respecting my newfound - and hopefully temporary - limitations a wee bit more.
Which got me to thinking:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou
And I expect the feelings can be marvellous or downright awful when you think about it.
I try not to revisit a deep, hurtful family shunning. And clichés don't help: you know the ones "move beyond it," "their loss," blah-blah. Fine and dandy until it happens to you. The pain is always throbbing away in the background.
I focus on lovely stuff right now:
The unexpected success of a writers' workshop I'm conducting.
The thoughtful link a dear blog friend provided for a free publishing critique which had a cap of 1000 participants. I just made it under the wire.
A dinner invitation for tomorrow.
Today - a day I've put aside just for me to do with what I will. Finish the knitting project - photo soon - finalize Session 2 of the workshop, some baking, making yogurt, and staring off into space for as long as I want.
Saturday, March 07, 2015
There comes a day when one wakes up and bingo, no pain in the back. Today was such a day for me.
Interestingly enough, nearly 3 weeks later, the whole back of my hand is a rancid shading of purple and yellow from where the IV was inserted.
And yesterday, I catch these two brothers I know sneaking in their truck and trailer down my driveway and I wave at them to stop and sheepishly they admit they'd filled the rest of my barn with a truckload of wood and wanted it to be a surprise as I'd "been kind" to them last year. And when I questioned that, they said "think about it". I've never been one to keep a ledger. although I know of a few that do. Imagine that if you will. Tallying up your own favours and good deeds like money in the bank.
One of the loveliest letters I ever received was from my grandmother about a year after my mother died. In the letter she listed all the ways and kindnesses and gifts I'd given my mother in the last few years of her life. And I didn't remember much of anything I'd done or sent or given or written. I felt I hadn't done enough. But my mother had shared all these instances with her own mother and I was then re-gifted everything so magnificently in that precious letter that when I read it now I burst into tears.
It's best not to tally anything. Give and forget is my motto. Unless I am given. And that I don't forget.
Daughter handed me a huge bag of goodies yesterday.
Bits and bobs including her wonderful baking and cooking.
Among them is this magnificent oil lamp which thrills me to pieces. In so many ways.
How very dear she is.
Every time I light it I will think of her.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
Yeah, that would be good, thanks.
Maybe it's my turn or something and life will just be all peachy-keen-lovey-doves once this year is over. BUT. There has to be too much, right?
Yesterday: well yesterday started out with a power outage. Remember no wood stove here as, post bad chimney fire, I am still awaiting parts for the chimney and for the weather to smarten up so the guys can access my roof.
So there ya go.
And compared with other shyte that's gone down for me this year, overall maybe these are small things.
But yesterday, no sooner had I scooted over to my friends for coffee and breakfast and assured I have a room (see yesterday) all made up - they have a generator, you see - the power came back on after a 4-1/2 hour unplanned outage across the island.
And I pick up the mail, which I hadn't for a while, and lo and behold 2 rejection slips. I'm getting used to them, I am no longer traumatized.
And then, and then, terrible rain storm last night and I hear this - no mistaking the sound - heavy splatter of water in the corner of my house, like inside the house in a downstairs closet, and sure enough, big leak, where I don't know: could be roof, could be loose siding, could be anything. Analytical minds don't help in situations like this, do they. But buckets do. And all the towels on the shelves, moving stuff out of the downstairs closet, more towels. Buckets. Upstairs, moving book shelves. Not panicking. Coping.
And so it goes......
If you're having a bad day just read my entries over the last couple of months.
You'll feel loads better.
Monday, March 02, 2015
It occurs to me that a deep friendship always boils down to a room. A sharing of one's space, planning breakfast, taking out the spare robe and slippers, laying the nice fluffy towels just so on the bed. None of these extra touches are necessary of course. The room is good as it is, stark naked as it might be. It's the space offered, the shelter from the storm.
A metaphorical "there's room in my heart." Yeah, sentimental, mushy old me. But think about it.
I was reflecting on my two recently deceased friends - how they always had a room for me, and I for them.
In my time of grief in Dublin in January, another dear friend most unexpectedly prepared my room for me. It was my second time staying there and it touches my heart that she always puts fresh flowers in my room. And extra blankies. This time, I hadn't expected to stay there at all as I had the use of an empty apartment in Dublin as long as I wanted. But she went out and got me underwear and a toothbrush and socks and lent me a nightie and insisted on taking care of me for 24 hours. An oasis in a desert of anguish and loss.
In sharing one's personal space there is the bonus of getting to know a person a little better, all sorts of topics come up, the books on their shelves, special lamps, the contents of the fridge, pictures on the walls, mementoes from Granny, music on their systems. Somehow, it makes them all the dearer to me, looking at their china, commenting on the cutlery or place mats or candles.
It's remarkable, this special room of friendship. It says so much about the beauty and warmth and depth and intimacy of kindred spirits sharing space and food and domestic conversation.
And I feel so very lucky that I have a few rooms on both close and distant shores where I can hang my hat.
And a few rooms to offer in return.