Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hip Replacement at 94

My father recently had hip replacement surgery. I’ve not had to go through this with anyone before so had no idea what it would be like. Certainly his age made a big difference.

Day 1 – Got the phone call from one of my brothers, who had it from the long term care home that Dad had fallen and he was being sent to the next town (where there is a hospital) for an x-ray. I phoned the hospital a while later and was told they were sending him to the city for surgery as his hip was broken. Called the hospital in the city where I live and found out my dad was still in emergency waiting for a bed. Walked over and discovered him with the two ambulance attendants in a back corridor. My dad remembered that he’d slipped and fallen. I stayed to be with him and reassure him. The ambulance attendants were great. Eventually he got a bed in emergency, a doctor came to see him, checked him over, I made a phone call to check on his regular medication dosages. Was told the partial hip replacement surgery would occur the next day. I texted family and let them know what was happening. I went home.

Day 2 – Phone emergency on the morning. My dad had been moved to a regular bed. Phoned that department and was told they weren’t sure when his surgery would be. I walked over to the hospital, got there by 10 am. My dad was a bit confused, having been moved around a fair bit. At one point, looking directly at me, he asked where I was. He’d been given pain medication of course. By noon we were heading down to the pre op waiting room. Doctor, anaesthetists, nurse, all came by to ask questions and explain the procedure. My dad didn’t have his hearing aid with him and didn’t totally comprehend everything so I was glad to be there to answer questions. The surgery would be about an hour I was told and recover room time would probably be another hour or so. Texted to update family. I stayed in the waiting room where a screen showed where patients were at. I ate some lunch in the cafeteria. My other brother from out of town arrived about 1:30. We waited. Eventually the doctor came to tell us surgery had gone well. Later the anaesthetist came to tell us his oxygen and hemoglobin were low so they were keeping him longer in recovery, also had him checked out by other doctors and his heart and lungs were fine. We waited until about 6 pm when Dad finally came out and was moved to an observation unit, which had more nurses to keep an eye on him. We stayed with him briefly and then my brother gave me a ride home and left the city.

Day 3 – Dad was moved to a regular ward and when I saw him he was still on oxygen and intravenous. He thought he’d been abandoned, that no one was looking after him, but the staff was all helpful and nice.I stayed until his supper came. He hadn’t eaten much lunch so I went down and bought him a muffin and decaf coffee. He ate half the muffin drank most of the coffee. He kept trying to sit up or get out of bed. He’d been very active in long term care, walking up and down the halls. I repeated what had happened and that the doctor had fixed his hip. My other brother from the coast arrived that evening. Luckily he’d been planning to come out anyway.

Day 4 – My brother and I went up to see Dad in the morning. He mostly slept. My brother drove out to see my mother in long term care and stayed there. I went back in the afternoon and my dad mostly slept. At one point he just held onto my hand really tightly. I couldn’t get him to eat any supper.

Day 5 – In the morning my dad seemed even more confused. He thought he’d been sentenced to death by a judge and the newspapers had been there to talk to him. I told him he’d had a bad dream. He was still on oxygen and was also now being given blood because his hemoglobin was low. I had to keep repeating where he was, what had happened, the names of his children, and/or grandchildren and what jobs they did and where they lived. That his cane was in his room back in long term care and that he couldn’t walk yet, but would walk again, soon. In the afternoon my brother and his son (who had also arrived) came for a visit. I went home.

Day 6 – I took some paper and a felt pen to write down in large print for my dad things that he kept asking so that I could just hand him the sheets of paper and also so that he would have them when I wasn’t there. I told him he would probably be able to go home in a day or two and see his wife, my mom, who was in the long term care home. They were giving him extra potassium because his was low.  Dad seemed confused about where he’d been living. My brother and his son came for a visit on their way to take my nephew to the airport. My nephew had brought a small white board to write messages for my dad. My brother had brought a shaver so my dad could get a shave. I’d cut his fingernails. When supper came I stayed and my dad ate quite a bit for a change.

Day 7 – I took my laptop so I could show my dad pictures of his room and of my mom in long term care where they had been since January. Again lots of repetition of where he was and what had happened. He didn’t eat much lunch and I went down and bought him some cake and decaf coffee. Thankfully, we were told that the ambulance would take my dad home the next morning.

Day 8 – I was emotionally drained, exhausted. Heard from my brother who was still out with my mother that Dad had arrived. They had him in a wheel chair and he was moving around. A big relief. I didn’t want to do much of anything for a few days.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Courage to Be …

A writer, an artist, a creator, a free spirit, your authentic self.

The title comes from Paul Tillich’s book of the same name, which I’ve read twice, both a long time ago. Maybe it’s time I read it again. Tillich writes about modern life and the anxieties it engenders: fate and death; emptiness and meaninglessness; guilt and condemnation; despair. Tillich says, ‘I have chosen a concept in which theological, sociological, and philosophical problems converge, the concept of “courage”.’

Life can be a struggle at times: we question our decisions, wonder if we’ve ever done anything meaningful, wonder if we’ve fulfilled our potential, been good enough parents. We can go round in circles, get stuck. It takes courage to live, to face the challenges of life, to follow the byways and highways, as well as to wack our way through the tangles of jungle that appear to bar our way at times.

It can be even more difficult if the path you choose is one of the arts. For some people it doesn’t seem to be a choice – they are driven to create in whatever medium. They cannot survive without that art practise; it is their meaning. However, the arts generally don’t provide a lot for the basic essential needs: food, clothing, shelter. Many artists died poor, or struggled to survive, to find patrons.

Tillich: ‘What conflicts with the courage of wisdom is desires and fears.’

Our society is based on money; one needs it to pay for all those basics and the non-essentials that improve our lives, of the things we think we should have. We are expected to grow up and find jobs. Some are lucky enough to find work that feeds their passion and to be adequately and even occasionally well paid for it. Others give up their artistic passions to work in other occupations that will provide the necessities. They do their art part time, set it aside for years, or leave it altogether. Some get stuck in a sort of limbo, never quite satisfied with their lives, not able to move forward in a way that gives satisfaction.

I wrote my first story when I was about nine years old. I planned to be a writer, and thought I could become a journalist because at least that was a job that could actually be paid. But my family didn’t have much money and I couldn’t afford to go to either of the universities I would have liked, that offered journalism degrees – they were both out of province, one out of the country. I didn’t consider a technical school which was available not so far away – was I wrong? I opted for a Bachelor of Arts in English. Then realized it wouldn’t get me a job either and took teacher training, which did result in paid work. I always continued to write.  Moved on from teaching to other jobs, married, had a child, still wrote. Always felt a need to find paid work, though sometimes it was part time so I could write more. I didn’t have the courage to be a writer full time, to put myself in that precarious position. Or did it take more courage the other way?

Eventually I took a writing course at the Summer School of the Arts in Saskatchewan and was inspired and felt I’d found my community. I began to have short stories published.

Tillich: ‘Courage … is the readiness to take upon oneself negatives, anticipated by fear, for the sake of a fuller positivity. … Biological self-affirmation needs a balance between courage and fear.’

Art is about creation, but it’s also about sharing. If no one sees or reads what you do, does it have the same meaning as doing it only for yourself? There are different satisfactions. And you still have to find a way to support yourself, unless you are lucky enough to live with someone who will support you financially and in other ways, or you need to find one or more patrons. One of my favourite mystery writers, Dorothy Sayers, still received money from her parents after she found a job as a copy writer because the job didn’t pay quite enough. Eventually Sayers succeeded as a writer.

I owned hardly any furniture for years, didn’t buy a house until in my forties. My jobs were mostly short term. A year or two or five here, there, then moved on because it was no longer satisfying and the money wasn’t enough. Though I never stopped writing, even if at times it was just journals.  I got tired of times of poverty.

Then I found a job I could do for longer, and I stayed for fourteen and a half years. I was getting older and wanted to buy a house, a place I could retire to and write. I also travelled a little, bought some furniture. Continued to have success with short stories published or broadcast or winning awards.

Tillich: ‘… anxiety is the awareness of unsolved conflicts between structural elements of the personality, as for instance conflicts between unconscious drives and repressive norms, between different drives trying to dominate the center of the personality, between imaginary worlds and the experience of the real world, between trends toward greatness and perfection and the experience of one’s smallness and imperfection, and between the desire to be accepted by other people or society or the universe and the experience of being rejected, the will to be and the seemingly intolerable burden of being which evokes the open or hidden desire not to be.’

At the age of 45 I felt that existential anxiety again. I had a good job that I liked, was supporting myself financially, but would I ever get a book together? Get a book published? What meaning did my life have if I didn’t follow that passion and develop my gift with words?

A really good counsellor helped me sort out a path. I would work to the age of fifty-five when I could take early retirement and have a small pension.

So I did it, and eventually opted for self-publication. I have my personal publishing company and have three books out, another forthcoming. I don’t have a lot of money, but the essentials are covered. Sometimes I’m totally happy, at other times I’m not. I see friends who have worked longer or have partners who can help with expenses, and they travel, spend time away from the cold in winter, etc. I can’t afford to do those things most of the time. Writing is a solitary art. It means I have to face myself every day, face the blank page or the page that was written previously and suddenly looks like crap. I have to find ways to cope with dark days, as anybody does. I am following my passion, and I’m glad for that.

Many of us choose different lives than our parents did. Our children may follow other paths than we do. I don’t think there are wrong answers. Each of us must seek the routes that lead to our own satisfactions that work for us. Just because someone we trust, love or respect tells us things, facts, etc. doesn’t mean we shouldn’t examine those in light of our own beliefs. I learned long ago that constructive criticism in regards to writing can be very useful, but I don’t accept everything – I have to choose which criticism I agree with for any particular story. I think that applies to life.

 It takes courage to live, to find what one loves and pursue it. I love to write, to create a story, a book, a world, characters. It’s hard work at times, too. I’ve had recognition from peers and others, which is encouraging.

It’s easy to look back and think why didn’t I have more courage and choose to give writing priority earlier. How would my life have been different? Perhaps I could have had more success if I’d spent more time writing. But I can’t change the past. I made the decisions that seemed right at the time, and I continue to strive to do that, to find a balance that satisfies me. I think it’s the best anyone can do.

“The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself …”

Paul Tillich

Today, driving out to have Thanksgiving lunch with my parents I listened to a CBC Radio program about Victor Frankl and his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I haven’t read that book, though I had heard about Frankl before. Perhaps it’s time to read that book.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my favourite poets, e.e. cummings, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Autumn Thoughts

I’ve never lived anywhere that didn’t have at least a couple of seasons. Did spent a few months in Victoria, B.C. many years ago where we had snow only once, and winter meant chill and rain. Anyway, I do like changing seasons.

When the nights get significantly colder and the days have a nip in the air, it’s time to put the garden to bed, draw in, make plans for change.

I live outside less when it’s cold, but I still go for walks and that’s important; I always feel better when I spend time outdoors, even in the dire cold.

That time isn’t here yet, however.

I brought in all my tomatoes recently and picked some herbs. I like to dry my own. There’s still carrots to dig. Harvest from my own small garden tastes better than any other food.

What will this fall bring? I look forward to seeing my grandson and hearing about his new school. I have a writing project close to completion, and am working with my son, who will do the design of the book. I’ve got several other writing projects in various stages and will decide which to work on when.

My writing group is meeting soon after a summer hiatus. My book club has had one meeting and another is coming up in October. We’ll go to a pub and sample beer, talk about our favourite poets.

There’ll be movies and plays to see, friends and family to visit with.

And lots of reading!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Homo Fictus

I first heard this term on the CBC Radio program ‘Ideas’ (Vestigial Tale) It’s also used in a book called ‘The Storytelling Animal’ by Jonathan Gottschall, and can be found here and there on line. I don’t know who originated the expression, but it refers to humans as storytellers.

Gottschall writes, “Tens of thousands of years ago, when the human mind was young and our numbers were few, we were telling one another stories. … Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories. … Human life is so bound up in stories that we are thoroughly desensitized to their weird and witchy power.”

Why do we tell stories, listen to, read, watch and take part in stories throughout our lives?

There are different theories, and you can find some of them in Gottschall’s book. Here are my reasons.

Escape. Sometimes all I want to do is to get away from a boring or difficult time in my life. In those situations I don’t want a story that is demanding, but rather something that has a happy ending or at least some fun and enjoyment in it. I still want a story that is well told and reasonably well written, although for this purpose I’m willing to read (or watch in relation to a movie or TV show) something that is less than excellent. Mysteries fit into this category for me – e.g. Margery Allingham, Dick Francis, Ngaio Marsh.

Entertainment. Closely related to the above, but not necessarily at a difficult or boring time in my life, rather more of a past time that is enjoyable for its own sake. Again, a well told tale with characters I can like and relate to is important. A TV series like ‘Alias’ fits this for me, also Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, Joanna Trollope and Maeve Binchy’s books among others.

Enlightenment. I love a story that shows me the world in a new way or makes me think more deeply or differently about people, things, the universe. Elizabeth Moon’s ‘The Speed of Dark,’ Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed,’ and Janet Kagan’s ‘Hellspark.’

Emotion. There are stories that just sweep me up and carry me away with their passion and pulling at the heart strings, making me sad, horrified, or happy by turns. ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker is one like that.

Enslavement. For me this relates particularly to a book series. I can’t wait to get on to the next one and I often will reread the series periodically because I love the characters and the world so much. The ‘Harry Potter’ series is one such, as is ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ In a more negative way, I found the ‘Whiteoaks of Jalna’ series by Mazo de la Roche addicting. I enjoyed the first few and then couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to know what was going to happen to certain characters or the family, but I got heartily sick of them!

Exertion. I got fixated on ‘e’s! This reason could also be called challenge. Sometimes I like to read a book or experience a story that is written or told in such a way that it challenges me. It’s not an easy read or experience. The topic or the writing style is unusual and requires work to unravel. James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ is an example of this as are plays such as ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘The Chairs.’

And of course, if a story can do all of the above at once, it’s pretty special!

Story is all around us – in fiction and nonfiction, in the commercials we watch or read, in our children’s play, in how we explain our lives, in the ways we remember our past, and in the words and images we use to plan for our future.

Do stories help us to figure out how to live our lives? Do they make us more empathetic? Do they give us ethical and cultural contexts for our lives? Are there only seven basic plots? What are the societal purpose of stories?

I write partly to figure things out as well as to try and communicate a certain view or vision to others. I read for those reasons along with the ones above.

In the Introduction to ‘On the Origin of Stories,’ (a drier and thicker book than ‘The Storytelling Animal’) Brian Boyd writes, “A biocultural approach to literature invites a return to the richness of texts and the many-sidedness of the human nature that texts evoke.” As his title is a nod to Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species,’ Boyd seeks to explore the evolution of stories as part of human evolution. And later in the book he writes, “That is what I want to explain in evolutionary terms: our impulse to appeal to our own minds and reach out to others for the sheer pleasure of sensing what we can share …”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How many names do you know?

Herb, Ariss, Eli Bornstein, Robert Bateman, Emily Carr, Ken Danby, Ivan Eyre, John Arthur Fraser, E.J. Hughes, Gershon Iskowitz, A.Y. Jackson, Yousuf Karsh,  Dorothy Knowles, Marie Lanoo, Ernest Lindner, Degan Lindner, Alexandra Luke, J.E.H. Macdonald, Ernst Neumann, Daphne Odjig, Pitseolak Ashoona, Bill Reid, Otto Rogers, Jack Shadbolt, Harold Town, Tony Urquhart, Frederick Varley, Caroline Walker, Avram Yenofsky.

I heard of a recent questionnaire that asked Canadians to name three hockey players and one visual artist who were Canadian. How would you do on this?

I thought I’d highlight a few Canadian visual artists:

And there are so many more!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Days like Horses, Run Away (Writers You Probably Never Heard Of)

The words came to mind recently, for reasons that I can’t fathom. Anyway, as most of us do today when we want to find something out, I did an internet search. I must confess, that first I did attempt to look up, what I was pretty sure was a quote from something, in my copy of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” Yes, I do own a real copy of this book, hard cover, too, from many years ago when some of us had never heard of such a thing as an internet.

Anyway, I discovered that there was a writer called Charles Bukowski, who published a book in 1969 called “The Days Run Away Like Horses Over the Hill.” Now that, I thought, is a beautiful line. But I knew that I’d never heard of Bukowski and so that’s not where I would have come across the words. I was intrigued, though that Bukowski was born in Germany, as was I, though he was an American citizen. His grandmother was born in Danzig (now Gdansk) as was my mother. Paths diverge, however. Bukowski’s father was German American and fought in WWI as an American soldier. He met his wife, Katharina in Germany and they lived there for a few years until the difficulties of post war inflation convinced them to move to the United States. Bukowski didn’t have a great life, at least from my point of view, but he did publish many short stories and poems, novels, non-fiction. There are many recordings of his work, and films that use some of his work. I read the poem “Wild Horses …” on line. Not sure if I’ll read more of his work, though I very much like some of the titles of other poems: A Poem is a City, and When you Wait for the Dawn to Crawl Through the Screen Like a Burglar To Take Your Life Away.

Further research found me at a U2 site with the lyrics for “Dirty Day.” And there I found the words in the last line. When I looked at my copy of the CD (yes, I still have CD’s and play them), I found a dedication “For Charles Bukowski.” U2, an Irish band, has German connections – their album “Achtung Baby” was recorded in Berlin. In 1982 German filmmaker Wim Wenders approached the band looking for music for his film “Until the End of the World.” “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” was another song for a Wenders film.

Recently, I found a book in the library called, “Hidden Folk: Icelandic Fantasies” by Eleanor Arnason. Since I’m planning a trip to Iceland next year, I picked it up and read it. I’d never heard of this writer and enjoyed the book very much.  Arnason lives in Minneapolis, but her family background is Icelandic. I also discovered that she has written science fiction, and been compared to Ursula Le Guin (one of my favourite writers). So another connection and  new discovery. I will read more of her books.

I was pretty sure that Arnason is a name of Icelandic origins, and it is (internet research again). I do know Canadian author David Arnason, who I met many years ago when he was teaching at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. I even wrote a review of his collection of short stories “Fifty Stories and a Piece of Advice.” He was born in Gimli, Manitoba, on Lake Winnipeg. The land was granted to Icelandic settlers by the Canadian Government in 1875. The community became known as New Iceland. After reading Eleanor Arnason’s book, I decided it was time to read more of David’s work and I recently finished reading “Baldur’s Song: A Saga.” David Arnason has written many other books including, “The Dragon and the Dry Goods Princess,” “The New Icelanders: A North American Community” and “The Demon Lover.” Another connection – my fantasy (second in The Leather Book Tales series, coming out later this year) “Child of Dragons” has Icelandic characters.

Like wild horses running across the prairie, the mind at times wanders and forages where it wills.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mother Courage and Her Children

Between 700 and 900 migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya may have died at sea this week.

4.8 million Syrians are refugees from the war in their country

John F. Kennedy once said, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

Have we made any progress in this area? Are things getting worse instead of better?

Theories of the causes of war generally look at three area: biology, culture, reason. The biological theory posits that we are naturally aggressive and territorial creatures. Some cultures have been more warlike than others (e.g. ancient Rome); some have worked hard to eliminate war and even to remain neutral during times of conflict (e.g. Switzerland). Reason may tell us, on the one hand, that a particular war is necessary (e.g. to protect citizens or to prevent a dictator taking over), while on the other hand it may tell us there should be alternatives to war.

In 1939 Bertoldt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin, wrote his play, “Mother Courage and Her Children.” The story takes place during the Thirty Years War in Europe (1614 – 1648). It’s considered a classic drama and an anti-war play. Brecht wrote it in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, and apparently finished writing in in just over month.

“What they could do with around here is a good war. What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.” – From “Mother Courage and Her Children” a sergeant.

Mother Courage, the main character of the play, a single mother, runs a canteen wagon with the Swedish Army as a way to take care of her family. Over the course of the story, she loses both her sons and her daughter in the very war where she tried to make a living.

After the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 1500s, a cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, there were various conflicts from 1524 to 1651, in a number of countries. These ranged from The German Peasants War, and the French Wars of Religion to The Thirty Years War, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Peace of Augsberg in 1555 was supposed to have settled things, allowing more freedom of religion. However, religious oppression continued on both sides.

The war began in the Holy Roman Empire, and though initially about religion, it spread to other countries (over 200 states of various sizes) and became a war for territory. Over one million men fought in the war. German cities lost one third of their population, the rural population was reduced by two fifths. The population of the Holy Roman Empire was reduced from 20 million to 16 million. As well, famine, plague and other diseases such as typhoid and influenza ravaged the population of Europe. Most deaths occurred in towns and cities where refugees had fled and lived in crowded and unhealthy conditions.

(Painting By Sebastian Vrancx - Sotheby's, Public Domain,

“Dangers, surprises, devastations –
            The war takes hold and will not quit.
But though it last three generations
            We shall get nothing out of it.” – Mother Courage at the end of the play.