Mountains of Crete

Mountains of Crete

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Running Away

On Sylvia Tyson’s 1976 album ‘Cool Wind from the North’ there’s a song called ‘River Road.’ The chorus goes:

Here I go, once again,

With my suitcase in my hand

I’m running away down river road

And I swear, once again that I’m never coming home

I’m chasing my dreams down river road.

That’s exactly how I have felt recently.
It’s a quest for freedom, for relief from stress and worry, from certain responsibilities.

I’m sixty-nine and my parents are ninety-four and ninety-one. My mother has dementia, my father has within the space of five months fractured both hips and had hip replacement. When not in hospital my parents are in good long term care two hours away from me. I try to see them once a month there. The hip replacements meant extended hospital stays in the city where I live, so I was up to visit every day. It’s hard to see anyone, much less a parent in distress because of pain, confusion and frustration. There’s really nothing to be done to ease the distress of confusion and frustration. I see the years of decline and think about my own aging.

I retired from my paying job fourteen years ago so that I would have more time to write. Since then, I’ve published four books. Writing is my passion, and I’m still learning and developing. I resent time away from it because I know that I haven’t as much time and energy as I did when I was in my twenties, thirties and even forties. I have more aches and pains now and don’t recover from injuries as quickly.

I believe in finding answers to problems and challenges, but I haven’t found the answer to my current one yet. It seems to me to have something to do with attitude. I continue to think and read about this to try to find the path forward so that I can be as healthy and happy as possible. I don’t want to be an angry, grumpy old lady. So I continue to do yoga nearly every day and go for long walks by the river, as well as to write.

At times it feels as if it’s all I can do to hang on, to go forward. I have friends, but at the worst times it seems too hard even to try to contact anyone or to have to deal with people at all. It requires too much energy. There are times when it’s vital for me to withdraw from the world and try to regain peace, hope and energy.

I still believe in the possibility of finding answers to these challenges. I haven’t ruled out running away.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Creativity’s Chimera

Apparently the ancient Greeks had no word for ‘to create’ or ‘creator’ rather they used a term meaning to make, that applied mainly to poetry. However the various Muses could provide inspiration.

In Judaeo-Christian traditions, creation was the sphere of God and humans could not do it, though they could be inspired.

The origin of the word ‘inspire’ relates to the breathing in of spirit from the divine.

A gradual shift occurred during the Renaissance and into the 1800’s, by which time creativity and imagination became more important.

William Duff (1732 – 1815), a Scottish Presbyterian minister wrote ‘An Essay on Original Genius,’ to “explain the nature of genius and to point out its essential ingredients.”

Gertrude Stein: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

Graham Wallas, in 1926 wrote ‘The Art of Thought,’ describing four stages of the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

I could go on with the process of charting various writings and theories. I’m also interested, however, in the characteristics of a creative person. I was going to call this bog, Cracking the Creativity Code, but discovered that there are various books and at least one documentary called that.

Some of the characteristics of creative people often cited include independence and autonomy, a wide range of interests, thinking and associating ideas in unusual ways, verbal fluency and an ability to express ideas, productivity, interested in philosophical issues, curiosity, adventurous, and so on.

Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

A recent issue of Scientific American had articles on topics such as ‘The Origins of Creativity’ (when our ancestors started thinking outside the box – or maybe the cave), ‘Predicting Artistic Brilliance’ (self-motivation in childhood), ‘The Unleashed Mind’ (are creative people weirder than the rest of us), and ‘Switching on Creativity’ (freeing the mind for creative problem solving).

My own experiences lead me to believe that creativity begins at birth. By providing babies and toddlers with a variety of experiences – people, places, activities – parents can lay the groundwork for a creative child. By not insisting on one right way to do anything or to think of anything, we can encourage creative thought in our children. By reading to them, letting them listen to music, giving them opportunities to play music, to play with paints and crayons, to run and jump and use their bodies, to make things up, we can nurture continued exploration. I also think that upsetting or difficult events that take a child out of his or her normal situation may contribute to creativity – a major move for instance, death of a loved one, a difficult family situation. Sometimes a child who feels displaced will find solace in creative artistic expression, or will find creative solutions to a difficult situation.

Anatole France: “To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.”

But now that I’m getting older, I’m very much aware that creativity is needed at all ages. Is it possible to increase creativity? If you don’t consider yourself a creative person can you become more so? Perhaps it is all a chimera, an illusion. I think that creativity can be spurred by the will, by activity, by dreams, by trying new things. And that can happen at any age, nor does it necessarily diminish with age.

Creativity and innovation is not limited to visual artists, writer, musicians, dancers, actors, etc. but is also found in science and many other areas. Each of us has to be creative in some way to live, to make choices, to find joy. Some people may seem to be more creative than others, but all of us have the capacity.

Pablo Picasso: “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense,” and “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Child of Dragons (excerpt) ©Copyright Regine Haensel 2017

Chapter I

Like a long skinny insect with many legs the caravan creeps over flat, dun-coloured land. A bowl of clear blue encloses us above. We’re only about half a day out of Aquila, City of Eagles, skirting the edge of the desert. The road is packed sand and stones, a decent surface for riding and for the oxen and wagons, but there’s nothing much to look at – scattered ragged bushes and spiny plants. Dust rises and tickles my nose. Sweat gathers under my cotton tunic, and the leather of my riding breeches chaffes my legs. For the last year or so I’ve mostly been wearing skirts and loose robes. I fumble for my water skin, squeeze out a couple of mouthfuls.

By the prickling at the back of my neck I know his eyes are on me. When I glance in his direction I catch his head turning away. He’s been watching me for a while.

I saw him for the first time as Father and I made our way to the caravan meeting place just before dawn. My fourteen-year old brother Samel had refused to stir from his bed, so just the two of us walked yawning through the quiet gradually brightening streets. A few people hurried to early work or to other urgent business. Ahead of us a dark-haired man wearing a black sleeveless tunic with red thead embroidery, along with a sword and quiver of arrows, strode rapidly along.

 A young boy pulling at an obstinate donkey blocked most of the narrow street ahead. With two large baskets hitched over its back the donkey was at least three times the size of the youngster. The boy hauled at the halter rope and yelled, but the beast just leaned in the other direction.

“Rowan,” Father said, “Let’s give him a hand.”

But before we could take another step the man reached the child. “Out of my way,”he yelled. “I’m in a hurry.” And then he shoved the boy knocking him down, and marched on without a backward look.

The boy hit the cobblestones and lay there, though he didn’t let go the rope. The donkey pulled harder dragging the child over the bumpy ground. Father reached the spot in an instant. Laying down my saddlebags, Father righted the boy with one hand and with the other he grabbed the donkey’s rope.

“Are you all right?”  I asked. Blood oozed from scrapes on the boy’s arms and legs. “I have bandages.”

“Thanks,” the boy said. “Don’t need more help.” His eyes flicked here and there as if he expected someone to arrive and scold him.

Father and I watched him for a few moments. For some reason now the donkey decided to obey and ambled peacefully along beside the boy, who limped. I wanted to do more to help, but Father shrugged and picked up the saddlebags. We had little time to spare.

When we reached the caravan just outside the city gates, Father helped me get my saddlebags onto my horse and made sure everything was ship shape. Ursallia, the caravan leader, nodded her approval, then moved off to check a wagon.

“Well,” Father said, “I guess it’s time.”

“Thank you,” I said, “for everything. I mean for buying the horse and the supplies and . . .”

“Rowan,” he interrupted taking a step toward me, “you’re my daughter and . . .” He paused, grasped me by the shoulders. “You’re coming back aren’t you?”

I stood rigidly, attempted a brief laugh. It didn’t sound convincing. “What else would I do?”

“Well,” he said again, then added in a rush, “We want you back.” He gave me a brief hug. “Take care of yourself.” Then he was gone.

 Stupid me. Why couldn’t I have said the right words? My eyes started to itch. I bent to adjust my saddle. A loud voice made me turn.

“Stay away from my horse.” The man in the black tunic was young, not much older than me I thought. He confronted a burly man who stood beside two oxen hitched to a wagon.

“Keep farther away from my team, then,” the burly man growled.

“No quarrels,” Ursallia said in a flat voice. “We’re moving out.”

The book is available on Amazon and Kindle as well as from the author

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Negative and Positive

I realized recently that for the last year, probably longer, I’ve been focusing on burdens rather than joy. I want to change that.

Before Christmas 2016 I began reading ‘The Book of Joy’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.

John Cacioppo, Director of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, did some studies in the past in regards to negative brain bias. He’s on to other things now – studying loneliness – and I haven’t been able to find the dates of his negative brain research. However, according to a June 2003 article in Psychology Today, Cacioppo’s research at Ohio State University showed that people reacted differently to positive (e.g. pizza), negative (e.g. a dead cat) and neutral images (e.g. a plate). He found that there was more electrical activity in the brain in response to the negative images. Speculation suggests that being aware of danger (negatives) was and is a survival mechanism.

Roy Baumeister, a professor of social psychology co-wrote an article in 2001 called ‘Bad is Stronger than Good.’ It summarizes research that suggests bad events have more impact on us than good ones and that their effects wear off more slowly than good events.

A professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Teresa Amabile, found on analyzing diary entries of 238 professionals that the negative results of a setback at work was more than twice as strong as the results of a positive event.

In contrast, according to the on-line Harvard Mental Health Letter (Nov. 2011), “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” The article also suggests ways to cultivate gratitude (e.g. keeping a gratitude journal, mediating, thanking someone, etc.)..

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California has been conducting research on the science of gratitude for eight years. According to his website:

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is tough.

It is, according to Emmons, a “chosen attitude.” We must be willing to recognize and acknowledge that we are the recipients of an unearned benefit.

I’m getting older. I’ve seen a lot of life, not all of it positive. I’ve watched my parents ageing. I’ve met many challenges. I’m feeling my own aging process. At times I get very tired of it all.  It’s easy to fall into the negatives. But I want to live the best life I can.

One of the stories told in ‘The Book of Joy’ is about a black man (Anthony Ray Hinton) who spent 30 years in prison. He was innocent and when he was finally freed he said many positive things about his approach to life. Here is one:

“I don’t walk around saying, ‘Man, I ain’t got a dollar in my pocket.’ I don’t care about having a dollar in my pocket, what I care about is that I have been blessed to see the sun rise.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Letting Go of Chocolate

Dark, smooth, luscious.

Made from the roasted beans of the cacao tree which grew initially only in South and Central America.

The Mayans and Aztecs discovered and used it first, making a drink from the fermented and roasted beans. They seasoned it with chili peppers and other ingredients such a vanilla, but in general the drink was left bitter and when Europeans first tasted it, it didn’t catch on.

By now most of us have read or heard that dark chocolate is actually good for us. It can lower blood pressure, and contains antioxidants.

But have you considered that it can be addictive? Three signs of an addiction:

·         Intense craving

·         Loss of control over the craving

·         Continued use despite negative consequences

Not all experts consider that chocolate can become a true addiction.

Nevertheless, consider that chocolate is high in calories (fat and sugar) and can contribute to weight gain and all its attendant difficulties, including cardiovascular disease. The caffeine in chocolate added to other caffeine you may be consuming can make you jittery and interfere with sleep. Chocolate can also aggravate irritable bowel and other digestive disturbances. It can also increase kidney stones. For some people chocolate is a migraine headache trigger.

So if you can eat dark chocolate in moderation you are probably OK.

But if it becomes a way to consistently raise your spirits during long dark winter months or at times of stress, if you find yourself binging on it, perhaps it’s time to let go of chocolate.

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.”