Sunday, 24 February 2008

Monday Mission -- My 'When Pigs Can Fly' Award

Painted Maypole's Monday Mission is to write an acceptance speech for an award you have been given.

When I was in my mid forties I went back to school, to my local Community College in fact, and took a two year diploma course in Creative Advertising, as it was then billed. The majority of my classmates were the same age as my children; the next oldest in the class was all of 25. There were about forty of us that started and most finished and came away with a diploma and a job. We had a party at the end to celebrate; I did not get there because I was looking after my mother, who was very ill. But my classmates gave me an award in absentia, a humorous one, a certificate that said, in effect, that Mary was off to conquer the world, as soon as she had made JG's lunch, ironed the napkins and taken her father to the dentist.

I loved that piece of paper. I thought I had it safely stored somewhere and was going to scan it into the post, but a short hunt in the obvious places has not turned it up. I wish I had been there to make an acceptance speech, but since I could not do it then, I am going to do it now.

Thanks, you guys. Thanks so very much. I am honoured that you think I have the right stuff, even if I don't have much time left to work on it. And I would like to point out that I have found time to attend pub night (sorry I worried you about my ability to drive home after a few beers; I made it just fine), hang out in the smokers' den and teach most of you sorry lot how to use a word processor.

I know that having a very mature student in your midst has not always been easy for you and that you found my split second schedule and preoccupation with housework a bit weird. I didn't 'get' housework when I was your age, either.

But to get serious for a minute, I hope you get some benefit from hanging out with me these two years. In the classes on demographics I know I sometimes annoyed you when I hissed and complained that the age categories only went up to 60 years old. But you are going to be working in a world where the baby boomers will reach that age, in 2005 and following, and the + 60 category is going to be worth courting. When you have to write copy for 'golden years' seniors, remember me! And don't try to sell the old folks nothing but face cream and power lift recliners. They are people, with a thirst for adventure and fun, love and laughter, just like you. Wrinklies just look old, they don't feel that way.

I came into this program very worried that I would not be able to keep up with you, to learn fast enough and well enough. When I got that sociology paper back with 100% on it, I was very, very relieved and happy, no matter how humble I tried to look. I know you got some amusement out of my fight to memorize terminology and patterns. My short term memory is not so great, these days. But my associative memory is a lot better than it was when I was your age, and I think I found the theoretical stuff easier than most of you. Keep it in mind, when you think your middle aged boss is all wet, that he (or she, not that that's likely) may have a broader view than yours. This means that while you can make a wax doll of him and stick pins in it, do it in private. But listen to him. You may also find that your parents have improved.

It's been a lot of fun, being part of this group. You have all been very kind to me, and thanks, also, for all the help. And I love the certificate, especially the flying pigs, which are very cute. (I have a very good idea who is responsible for those pigs. Prepare to die!)

When our twenty fifth anniversary rolls around, I hope we will have a class reunion and a big party. With beer, hmm? In 2012 you will all be in your forties, as I am now, juggling what I hope will be splendid jobs with a spouse, a family, a mortgage, elderly parents, cars that need servicing, community work and not enough time or energy. I intend to be there, with or without a walker. I might even apply some wrinkle cream in anticipation. And I will come armed with a bunch of certificates that say "Welcome to the sandwich generation, and congratulations on your well earned gray hairs!"

My Grad picture. This is the proof. For reasons which should be obvious, I did not order one.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Some Updates

N at Just Making It Up As I Go delighted her family by opening her eyes and smiling at her husband yesterday. First sign of recognition of anyone. Huge relief at Chez G. Also, her body is showing some signs of regaining function although she still has the fever that indicates the infection is not beaten yet.

I am doing the hospital run myself for the next while as my husband had knee replacement surgery yesterday. He'll be in hospital for a while, learning to navigate on the new joint, but the surgery went very well and so far he's not having much pain. Just now the YD has gone off to visit him taking his morning papers and getting 'good' coffee for him. The hospital seems to supply a cup of warm water and a tea bag; not JG's favourite morning drink.

The coffee thing is hilarious, actually. I am a Tim Horton's fan (a Canadian coffee chain that's hugely popular with us, American readers, mostly because it sells super sugary doughnuts). The YG is a Starbucks addict. (The ED does not drink coffee -- her addiction is Diet Coke. Where have I failed?) JG loves coffee, provenance unimportant. He assured the YD that there was a Starbucks outlet in the hospital. When we got there, we found it to be a 'Second Cup' -- a different chain. 'It's all the same,' he said, when we pointed this out to him.

The coffee kiosk is not set up for wireless internet, either, much to the YD's annoyance. There are five networks shown for the hospital but they are all restricted. YD thinks someone is really missing the boat in not providing it. In my experience, hospitals are really not good at providing any sort of comfort or consideration for people using them. Not the patients, and certainly not the general visiting public. Understaffed, with shabby and inadequate infrastructure, overbooked; our hospitals do not do us proud. The people who work in these conditions try their best, but when a surgical patient who has been scheduled for four months cannot count on having a bed ready post surgery, no one is well served.

I am writing this on the YD's laptop and cursing quietly as I struggle with the touch pad, high keyboard and the Windows nanny who wants to do a restart after updating. Ah well, I will have my own well loved rig back very soon, as I am going to be commuting as long as the good weather holds. We have a simply gorgeous winter weekend out there -- and if I could navigate this beast of a machine properly, I would put a picture up of the skating on the Rideau Canal. Drat this infernal machine. Photo is now added and I have updated her version of Explorer to give me the link list option. But Microsoft Nanny now wants to install 98 updates. Sigh. This is not the machine YD usually uses and so I guess it is feeling lonely and neglected.
Bug off, Microsoft!
Ah, that feels better. But I still am cursing the touchpad.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Hereditiy is Hell

10:30 am

I've just got off the phone from a long chat with the YD, she lolling about in bed and me wrapped in my new Valentine red velour robe, unwashed, household tasks not even started. Tsk. What a pair of slackers. I ended the conversation by apologizing to my daughter for the procrastination genes she has clearly inherited from me. Funny thing, inherited character traits. Her sister and father are two of the most organized people you would ever not want to meet, should you be an ordinary, get it done sometime, kind of person. They have task lists that they actually read, schedules they meet, places they put things on a regular basis -- they draw lines through the things on the lists that they have finished. What a concept!

I am very good at getting a single task accomplished in limited time. If visitors are expected, I can clean the house with the speed of greased lightning. If you need something written at the last minute, I'm your go to person. That's the upside of being what I think of as an 'adrenaline junkie'. Pull an all nighter? No problem. Get it done way in advance? Not me. I can find any number of non essential things to do that will fill in the time until emergency mode is needed. And boy, do I resent being told that time is ticking on and I had better get to it. I still clearly remember being furious as a teenager when my mother would mention some job or homework assignment I had not started. I would have to choke down rage, knowing even then that it was an inappropriate emotion. And I have never grown up enough to stop feeling that way. Even when the miserable sod telling me this is myself.

I've read all the advice. Pored over the self help books. Given myself so many lectures that I've stopped listening to myself. You know the expression about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? I can look back up the road and see very fine paving indeed. But here I sit, writing a post that is the very opposite of essential when I have a full day alone to accomplish something useful. To get some exercise. To get the muddle cleaned out of my bathroom cupboard. To get my volunteer job papers sorted and into their binders. To get the laundry done.

(It'll be lunch time soon; I won't get anything much done between now and then and so I think I'll just enjoy blogging until then and start after lunch.)

Okay, now I'm just staring at the computer screen, thinking about nothing much. And not coming up with a way to put a punch into the ending of this post. Maybe if I wait long enough, a bolt of lightning will strike me and I will turn into a different person altogether and leap up and start sorting laundry. No? You're sure? Backbone transplants not available? How very sad for me.

Besides, it's very cold outside. Blowy and snowy and not a good day for exercise on the ice patch that Sunday's thaw made out of our laneway and roads. Does anyone care about the bathroom cupboard but me? No, indeed. Is there any underwear left in the drawer? Yep, several days' worth. Can I wing the meeting without organizing the paperwork? Of course! Plenty of time to see what the blogging world is up to today.

And I'm sure I will come up with some equally compelling rationalization after lunch.

(If you're reading this, YD, at least you're out of bed and downstairs at the computer. Love, Mom.)

Monday, 18 February 2008

A Guest Post

Although it does not fit Painted Maypole's theme all that well, this morning I am posting something that just making it up as i go wrote. It started as a newspaper article, and she reposted it on her blog last February. I am repeating it here because it's one of her best. Just Making It Up is the blogger who is so very ill, and for whom we are soliciting prayers and positive thoughts. (Thanks so much, LM!)

And here she is:

I am 34 years old. Yesterday, I welcomed a new sibling into the family, and I have to confess, I am just a little bit jealous.
It isn’t as weird as it sounds. My father hasn’t found himself someone else and decided to start a whole new family. My parents have been happily married for more than 35 years.
Instead, they have gotten themselves a puppy. His name is Winston.
My parents have had dogs before. I grew up with a boxer named, of all things, Rover. They inherited him from my grandmother when my grandfather died.
He lay around the house, an untrained lump who allowed the children to jump on him and pull hi ears. He was walked whenever someone mustered up the energy to be dragged down the street with him wheezing and frothing at the mouth as he strained at his collar. That wasn’t often.
After Rover when to doggy heaven, my parents waited a few years before the answered a “free to a good home” ad in the paper and brought home Toby, a mad little Cairn terrier who barked at everything that moved and tore the newspaper to shreds if he was lucky enough to get to it first. Toby was walked more often because he was small enough to control on a leash.
As he grew older, he would become abruptly exhausted half way through his walks and simply lie down on the road, requiring whoever was walking him to carry him back home.
A few years ago, Toby also died, leaving my parents dog-free once again. This time, worn out from having to get up at 4:30 am to deal with the urgent needs of an aging dog’s bladder and frustrated with having to find someone to look after him while they went on vacation, my parents declared themselves animal-free. No kids, no dogs: the good life.
Still, I was not enormously surprised when, this past spring, my mother announced that they were once again getting a dog. But this time things were different.
My parents, while they have always been ‘dog people,’ have up until now treated their dogs like dogs. However, Winston is clearly, in their eyes, no mere dog. Winston is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Cavalier King Charles spaniels, I have been informed, are small, quiet, polite dogs. This is a dog they can take camping with them. He won’t back at the mail carrier or knock their grandchildren off their feet in his exuberance. He will be smart and calm. My parents have found the perfect dog.
I am almost inclined to accuse my parents of using Winston to deal with empty-nest syndrome now that all their children are happily married off, but trust me, my parents do not have empty-nest syndrome. They could hardly shove us out the door fast enough. I can come up with no better answer than: my parents have gone crazy.
They found a breeder and met the puppy’s mommy while she was still pregnant. They learned his entire lineage and brought home pictures of his parents, pointing out their remarkable beauty. They then went back and visited the newborn puppies, picking Winston out from his siblings when he was barely big enough to open his eyes.
They came up with the name Winston long before they had the puppy – sort of like people do with their unborn children after discovering the sex on the ultrasound. They carried around photos of him the same way people carry around ultrasound photos, to present to anyone who showed the slightest interest.
Winston came home yesterday. He arrived with his blanket to a house equipped with his own bed, a cage, baby gates to stop him from falling down the stairs (or peeing on the carpet) and his own toys. The floor used to be good enough for Rover and Toby to sleep on. They never even knew what a dog toy looked like. Not little Winston. He already has two balls, a stuffed animal and a rope to chew.
My father is building a fence across the open part of the backyard to keep Winston in. the other dogs were just tied to a chain. My own children – my parents’ precious grandchildren – regularly make mad dashes for the road through that open area of the backyard when they visit, but I just have to watch them like a hawk. No fence for them.
I have to take their word on this. I have not seen Winston yet. My grubby children and I are not allowed to visit until my parents declare him to be totally settled in and ready to receive visitors. Hence, you see, the little bit of sibling jealousy. I’ve been banned from my childhood home by the new baby. Do you think if I started peeing in my underwear and throwing temper tantrums, I could get their attention back?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A Friend in Need

In last week's Hump Day Hmm we were thinking about what is ethical to post and I wrote a bit about a woman I know, a blogger, whose illness is breaking my heart but whose identity I did not feel comfortable revealing. I've got permission from her family to do so, now.

This wonderful blogger, just making it up as i go, is a very sick woman. How, exactly, it came about I am not sure, but she has a perforated bowel. She's in intensive care and has, as I write this, improved slightly from the 50/50 chance of living through her illness that she was given last week. Her family is arranging for daily updates on her condition to be available to those of us who know her and her work; I do not have one for today but as of yesterday she was still deeply sedated but breathing on her own.

If you can, please go and read a bit of her blog and, if it strikes you as a good thing to do, leave a message of encouragement. She is a hugely talented, entertaining and inspiring writer. Just thinking that her voice may be stilled forever hurts. A lot.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Using my Digging Stick

Written for a blogging friend who has had a miscarriage and another who must have an hysterectomy.
We were going to be a four child family. It was in The Plan, along with establishing careers and setting up a lifestyle that included lots of outdoor activities. The first half had been accomplished -- two beautiful, healthy babies as close together as possible, one career on track and one avocation established, recreational land purchased and weekend home built. The first two kids were in school and old enough to do a lot of things for themselves.

The joker in the woodpile was a negative Rhesus factor. Mine. Antibodies built up and up and up, and for that and other unassailably good reasons (or so I thought at the time and still, in the main, support) I found myself, in my late thirties, in a doctor's office signing up for a tubal ligation. I hated the man at first sight and his questions and comments to me confirmed my instant reaction. 'Do you not want a son?' he asked. Later, while I was on the examination table with my feet in stirrups and his very cold fingers in most uncomfortable places he remarked, 'I will have to have your husband's permission, you know, for this procedure.' Fuming, I convinced him that he was not going to get my husband's permission and I stayed with him for the simple reason that at the time he was the only doctor in our city doing tubal ligation through the vaginal wall and it seemed like the best procedure. I didn't realize that what I hated was the decision, not the doctor.

And so I 'got my tubes tied'. And I thought it would be no big deal. No incision. No more danger of miscarriage. No more birth control. I was free. The day after my surgery I forged off into the scrum and did most of my Christmas shopping, then did all the Christmas stuff you do with two kids and an extended family, hosted the dinner, did the school holiday sports stuff. After the girls went back to school in January, there was time for what I had done to sink in and I collapsed into a puddle of misery.

The only grief I can compare it to was what I felt when I lost my adored mother. But this grief was keener, the knife edged with poison, because I had done it to myself. Hindsight tells me that part of the problem was the obvious; I was exhausted. But the babies who would never be were ghosts in the daylight and haunted my dreams at night. No chance now of the son who would have my father's eyes and gentle humour and whom we had planned to bear his name. No chance now of another little one, a unique combination of genes, whom we would meet with fascination and joy. No little round head in the crook of my arm, relaxing into satiated sleep. No next one.

In her post about her upcoming hysterectomy, Slouching Mom wrote this heart tearing paragraph:

Because someday you might be in my shoes, and you'll have so many regrets, regrets about the moments you didn't enjoy your babies, because you always believed that there'd be another chance to be a better, wiser, kinder, gentler mother, that no matter how many mistakes you made with your first and second children, there was always the promise of a third child, the one you'd more perfectly parent. That's why (isn't it?) after a particularly trying battle with a child who hadn't yet attained the age of reason, you so often found yourself muttering, "I have to remember not to do this the same way with the next one."

I don't know how it feels to have fertility slowly slip away in the menopause years. I read the things that women write as it happens and I read what is written about this slow, irrevocable loss, and I can't relate. But oh, I can relate to you whose miscarriage was your last try and I can relate to you whose body has to go under the knife to save your health. There is no pain like it.

It passes, that pain. The ghost babies fade away and other joys make themselves known. When your children are grown, all children become, in some sense, yours and there is a solid comfort in working for the community and making a difference in the lives of the little ones. And of their mothers, who are the same age as the children you did not have.

If you are lucky, someday your children will put their babies into your lap and the last little ghosts will be gone. I regarded my mother's devoted slavery to her grandchildren with a somewhat jaundiced eye, as it was my job to coax the little monsters back into some kind of civilized behaviour after she had looked after them. I see that same resigned look on my daughter's face when Little Stuff is reunited with her after a stay with Grama and Grampa. Grandparenting is sheer, indulgent fun. But the best thing is that I have found that grandparenting is a generic activity that I can do in all sorts of ways.

In Woman, an Intimate Biography, Natalie Angier devotes a chapter to the utility of the menopause in creating grandmothers way back in prehistory, infertile women whose contributions of food and child care increased the survival rate of their near kin and thus perpetuated the anomaly. Off these women went with their digging sticks and the food they brought back (plus child care, I am sure) made a huge difference. These women enabled our distant ancestors to thrive and spread out across the world. Angier calls it the 'grandmother hypothesis'. It's a fascinating take on the thesis of menopause as a survival characteristic. Working in and for the community (digging stick optional) is something I love. It's a role that fits me and that I fit. Hard work, sometimes, but satisfying and fun. It doesn't require you to deal with tantrums and vomit at 2:00 am either. Priceless!

Fair Fodder -- Hump Day Humm

Julie Pippert at Using My Words has this topic for this Wednesday's Hump Day Hmm: Are other people and the things they do (blog, email, news etc) fair fodder for our blogs? What are your ethics and mores as a writer, when it comes to characterizing others.

This is a very question very close to my heart today because a blogger I know is critically ill -- at best she has a 50/50 chance of pulling through. She is a highly talented, creative, warm, funny, involved person, a young woman, with young children. The news of the seriousness of her illness is truly a blow to the heart. I would like to direct you to her blog so that you could better feel with me the enormity of this, the sheer devastation her loss would bring to her family, to her friends, to the whole community.

But I am not going to say anything more about her here because I don't know whether she or her family would want me to do so. If she recovers, WHEN she recovers, I hope we will get beautifully crafted and hilariously funny stories of her hospital stay, thoughtful posts about how being so ill affected her and hers, incisive posts about what made her ill and how it was handled, reports on her children and pets, all the marvelous things she creates. And then I will be able to talk about it in detail. I don't know if I could write an eulogy, but that would also, in my mind be ethical. To go into any more detail than I have would not.

And so I am going to try to make my mind work rather than fret, try to go from the particular to the general and answer Julie's (she credits Lawyer Mama for the idea) very important question.

I will write only about facts that are public or that people have made public. For bloggers, that means something that has been written about in the blog or peripherals, photographed or referenced. If a blogger has been given an award, that's public. If there are ads or links on a site, that's also fair game.

Where there is information about family or friends, that's public. And so that is also the edge of a slippery slope. When I write about myself, no matter how carefully I do it, I am revealing facts that could lead a reader to my identity. And if I am identified, the trail then leads to my husband, daughters, grandchildren, friends and neighbours. Consequently, I am extremely careful not to post anything about friends or family that would hurt or embarrass them or that I would not say to them.

I very rarely make negative comments, child of the 1940's that I am. I don't make them to someone's face and I don't make them online, tempting as it sometimes may be. A correction of grammar or fact would go in an email to the writer unless it is so trivial as to be innocuous. If I really disagree with something, that goes into the comment section of the writer's blog. Politely. Only then would I write about that in my own blog. And cue the writer about the contrary opinion post. In fact, if I am picking up a theme from another blog, whatever it is, I reference the blogger.
Does this bowdlerize my blog? Make it less relevant, less real, less true? Probably. I read posts where people have laid something very sensitive out in the open and, I must admit, admire their courage for doing so. But I can't do it myself. I do feel entirely free to criticize government, business, public announcements and organizations of any sort, bad public practice, wherever I find it. Whee, fun! One of the best things about blogging, to my mind. As is analyzing and posting about what is going on in my own mind and heart, and sharing it with you.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

There's another award hopping from blog to blog in the neighbourhood this last little while. I haven't traced it back to source yet but I've seen it here and there and last night I found that I had been given it by just making it up as i go, the amazingly competent blogger who lured me into starting this blog almost a year ago now. (Thanks, you, and back at you.) I love N's blog -- its humour and candour are like really dark chocolate, rich, smooth and satisfying.

And recipients are supposed to pass it on to ten other bloggers. Which gives me an opportunity to put up some links to the wonderful places I go. I could, of course, update my right column link list at the same time, but I don't have a lot of time this morning and so that will remain on the ToDo list, gathering dust like the rest of the jobs there.

There are a lot more than ten, when I think about it. There's Bub and Pie, who writes so well she's intimidating and whose descriptions of her son's struggles and triumphs are so perceptive and loving and funny and exasperated, all at once, that you live them with her. There's Under the Mad Hat, whose creative energy could power a rocket into space and who comes up with brilliant and funny twists on a lot of topics that make me grind my teeth in envy and want to hug her, both at once. There's NotSoSage, living and writing with her heart and mind and soul fully engaged, giving so much of herself. Julie Pippert at Using My Words has a stainless steel ethic and a brain to match, wonderful humour and is a hugely giving bloggy citizen. There's Lawyer Mama, whose celebration of her life and family, in words and pictures, is creative, beautiful and brilliant, just like her. And Painted Maypole, another giving, loving blog citizen, who writes with warmth and style. Nomotherearth already has this award, but she's getting it again from me because I love her deadpan style and adoring acerbity as she talks about her son.

That's seven of the bunch on my sidebar that I think of as 'established' on my little mental list. I want to do another list of people who are not so widely read, judging from their comment numbers, but that is going to have to wait until next week sometime. Because just now I have to go and have lunch with the Chair of our Fundraising Committee at her request. I think she is going to tell me that she is burned out and wants to leave. In which case I am going to be crying in my soup since I will have to take over the lead. Oh dear, says I, most inadequately.

I will, as they say, keep you posted.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

This is the way the Lady rides.....

I have been amusing myself by thinking of the process of training and riding a horse as a metaphor for the process of writing. The unbroken horse is the equivalent of the store of words and grammatical structures that we must learn as a preface to writing; the act of ordering and choosing the words to express our ideas is similar to the taming and schooling of the horse; putting our thoughts and ideas into writing equates with riding and directing the beast.

In this context, Jane Austen's steed is a sleek little thoroughbred mare, highly trained and with smooth gaits but a nervous, sensitive beast that is uncomfortable in busy surroundings. Charles Dickens rides a big, rawboned stallion with immense stamina, capable of travelling long and weary distances, but sensitive to the reins. Byron exercised himself on a Lippizaner stallion; Robert Louis Stevenson alternated a pony with a serviceable gelding. (This is a fun exercise; try it yourself. What would Chaucer ride, for instance?)

Some of us have better trained steeds than others. Some of them are better bred. My horse is poorly trained since it has spent its working life being forced to alternately pull a cart and compete in dressage, without having had enough time to learn either thoroughly. It has a lot of excess fat that does not get worked off. My horse also has a mind and will of its own and will from time to time get the bit between its teeth and gallop madly off in a direction I did not choose. I am saying 'it' and 'horse' although she is, of course, a Canadian mare. I am now trying to school her properly and persuade her to go where I want her to go without stopping to snatch bites of grass along the way.

I am quietly chuckling as I write this because in real life I am terrified of horses, an irrational fear learned in childhood, and have never so much as patted the nose of one.

PS It is sometimes possible to advantageously split an infinitive.