Brain Dead

When I was a child, I ate porridge for breakfast during the winter. It was such a traditional meal that it took years for me to connect my vacant stare, occasional drooling and noxious gas problems with such a wholesome, heart friendly grain. I’m sure my teachers didn’t realize that that the neutron bomb in the classroom was set off by the small girl in the front row who often had trouble paying attention. 

Many years later, I had to give up wheat, oats and other fun grains. If you could make something light and wonderful with it, my stomach said, I don’t think so. The side benefit of the sacrifice was having a clear head. I hadn’t realized the power of brain fog until it disappeared along with bread and porridge. Lately, I haven’t been doing too badly with small amounts of both. Perhaps I’ve served my time, or maybe the Creator has decided that sixteen years of denial is enough. 

When juggling an allergy, it’s impossible to keep all the balls in the air at once. The questions I’m supposed to ask myself are these:

1. Will my stomach feel nauseous and/or bloat like I’m about to give birth?

2. Does my skin look like I live in the Sahara desert?

3. Will I be able to walk and chew gum at the same time?

4. Should I try to pretend that hives are mosquito bites?

Apparently, I am very comfortable living in denial. Which is a river on the same continent as the Sahara. 

When my kids traveled home a few weeks ago, I decided to bake them some granola bars. I’m constantly fussing over their diets, even though they’re grown ups and in charge of themselves. But God knows we were eating enough potato and corn chips to feed a village. I figured we could all use a healthy snack. To my delight, the oats didn’t seem to bother my stomach at all. As the weeks went by, I had more than a few pieces every day, including today. My day of reckoning. 

After countless  bags of chips, some drinking and much Olympics viewing, my company went home. I stared at my neglected yard and went to find my gardening outfit, including a pair of ancient dress pants with comfy, worn out Lycra. I couldn’t find them anywhere. 

I sat down on the bed, puzzled. That’s when I realized I was already wearing them. I had put them on twenty minutes before. Oh no, I thought. Clasping my hands together like an overwrought opera singer, I headed for the bathroom. 

When I’m upset, I like to gargle. The strong Listerine flavors seem to calm me down. I reached into the cupboard and grabbed my blue bottle of mouthwash. After a mere five seconds, it became clear to me that I’d grabbed the nail polish remover (in my defense, same size bottle, identical colour) and spent the next few minutes spitting and rinsing. (And then, yes, gargling. If ever there was a time…) 

Struggling to rub two brain cells together, I finally made a connection regarding my serious lack of focus. It was the oats. ‘Aha!’ I yelled, feeling powerful and relieved, like Dr. Frankenstein when he finally brings his monster to life. ‘I have brain fog!’ I shouted. (Shouting while alone in my house is a regular activity of mine.) 

Knowing the truth was such a relief. Because the alternative was not going to be pleasant. And now I wouldn’t have to lie to my kids about having trouble finding my way home from the store. There’d be no episodes of spotting my phone in the fridge (that’s oatmeal behavior) or searching for glasses perched on my head. No. Because as soon as I’m finished this last container of granola bars, I will cease and desist. And then I will talk like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.  

“The sum of the square root of two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the third side.” 

But not really. I’ve never been very good at math. Although I really rocked the slide rule in the tenth grade. Which is amazing when you consider I was still eating oats. 

You Light the Fire, (I’ll Take Cover)

 I had an old fashioned marriage. My husband did all the guy things and I did the traditional female stuff, partly because he was raised in a certain way.  At one of our extended family gatherings, he got up to do dishes and his dad said, “Sit down, son, there’s women here for that.” I left the moment of truth telling to Clarence and his dishcloth-wearing brothers in law. 

On a particular evening, (after fourteen years of marriage) he was heading out to play hockey with his team, the Bears, and he wondered why I had never washed his equipment. Let me be clear. I dated hockey players (You couldn’t help it…they were everywhere) but I was not one, nor were any of my family members. As far as I was concerned, Clarence wore skates, shoulder and knee pads, and a jersey. His stuff was always stored in the garage or laundry room and I paid it no attention. As he pulled his things out of the bag, they all seemed to retain his body shape. The tee shirt was so stiff, you could have used it as a weapon. As for the jock strap and towel, well. Let’s just say we bought him some new things. ‘You could have told me,’ I said. ‘I would have washed them for you.’ 

“Some of the guys were starting to complain,” he said soberly, holding the solidified clothing. We had a laugh and let it go.

I say all this to tell you the following. I never manned the barbeque until Clarence died, (note the gender expressed here) since it has always frightened me. I know the basics, but once the automatic ignition button stopped working, I only used it when my youngest daughter, Mari, was in town. ‘You light the fire and I’ll take cover,’ I said more than once. We both wished for matches that were at least 18 inches long. When she moved away, that was the end of barbequed food for me. 

The last person to use it was my son in law, Bob. I told him it wasn’t working and he said, gazing at it with the kind of look you’d give a dead zombie, “I think it just needs a good cleaning.” This was a bit like my lack of experience with hockey equipment. I thought barbeques self cleaned every time you fired them up. 

Since I’m planning on cooking for family today, I decided to give it a scrubbing. But first I had to examine it. Even rudimentary technologies like barbeques puzzle me, placing me in the ‘always a caveman, never an engineer,’ category of human. I mean, I read books about scientific things, but they don’t say anything about how barbeques work, probably assuming that most people read the instructions. Ours were long gone.

As I took it apart, I could see that the bottom was filled with ashes similar to horror movie remains, along with broken metal parts lying forlornly along the bottom. Wearing my white pants and a nice top (as my mother would say, you’re just like your father. You never change your clothes for the dirty work) I scraped out the ashes and filled a bucket with hot soapy water  to wash the thing down. After ruining my kitchen scrubbing brush and floor brush, the grill didn’t look too bad. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, either. 

There were several potential reasons for this. 

A. I have a hard time telling if the gas cannister is empty. (I need to buy a gas monitoring thingy.)

B. Maybe I’ve hooked it up wrong. 

My neighbor Gerry paid a visit and we discovered I’d turned the knob the wrong way on the tank. In my defense, I wasn’t wearing reading glasses. However dinner turns out and even if the bottom of the barbeque doesn’t fall out, I know I’ll be buying a new one very soon. And a gas monitoring thingy. 

Battle Cry

(Don’t get up in arms, I’m just taking the piss.)

 I waged war the other morning, but it was the crows and magpies that started the battle. They swooped across my back yard, screaming at full volume. After a good twenty minutes, I couldn’t take the noise anymore. Besides, I don’t want them moving in. I set my small Bluetooth speaker on the deck, crept away like it had nothing to do with me, and played the song, Revolution, by the Beatles. Only, I played the Jim Sturgess version because it’s a little raunchier. The birds left in 20 seconds. 

It got me thinking. I didn’t pick John Lennon’s version because the letter L in the word, ‘World’ is so soft that it’s hard to believe he’s singing about revolution. And I wondered, how on earth did Britain take over so much of the planet using such a poncy accent? When you hear Brits like Prince Charles speak, you think, yes, you can run a library. You can bring back farming without pesticides. Or be in a famous band. But don’t ever be a general. Don’t try to be a bad guy, either. You just don’t have the accent for it. 

When facing the enemy, perhaps Britain could have a Yorkshireman shouting insults across the battle field. The only problem is, no one would understand them. ‘Find us a Cockney from South London!’ That might work. Realistically, they’d need the Celts back, with their animal skins and blue faces. It wouldn’t matter if no one was there to translate. Everyone would be too busy running away. 

Where does that leave Canadians? If you’re from the East Coast, the enemy would pause for a long moment. ‘Can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying but I’d really like to give them all a hug.’ If the army was from Ontario, everyone would think they were American. If they were from Manitoba or Saskatchewan and possibly Alberta, a shout would go up. ‘They’re from the Dakotas! Stand down!’ (It’s different than being American. Think of the movie, Fargo. Yeah, that accent.)

If you really want to terrify an enemy, use a Russian or Slavic accent. It’s all those Die Hard movies, or possibly,  the Mission Impossibles. A Scandinavian should remind us of Vikings, but all I can hear is the Swedish chef on the Muppets. A whole lot of ‘lurty, flurty’ going on. The Aussies would fall for the old, ‘Here, have a beer,’ from the enemy, and the New Zealanders, once again, would not be understood. My niece Heather’s, husband, Adam, a handsome Kiwi, once called our house asking to speak with Heetha. I hung up three times before I realized he meant ‘Heather.’ 

I’m going for a paddle soon, and I’ll be having a chat with those obnoxious otters again. Perhaps I’ll pretend to be Russian. But since I’m terrible at accents, I’ll have to stick with my Marge, from Fargo impression. It’s one I land every time.

Anti-Masker?

 Okay, it’s not what you think. But first I should fill you in on some gifts I’ve received from my daughters over the years. Mysterious boxes arriving in the mail with items like candles and books, uplifting quotes and interesting tchotchkes. They were shipped three months apart, and I felt like a happy little kid at Christmas. 

They were the best surprise. Not the scary clown waiting for you in the dark, kind. (I used to think I liked the unexpected. I don’t.) These packages of love burst into my life, turning ordinary days into something special.

Last year, thanks to my girls, I attended Master Class online. I learned the art of negotiation from an FBI expert, attended writing classes by Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume and a few others. There were cooking classes, gardening experts…anything I wanted to learn was on there. I also received the gift of Story Worth. I write something about my life each week and my girls will have it turned into a book.

This year’s Mother’s Day gift was a super expensive tinted sunscreen. My regular brand leaves me looking pale and ghostly. This one makes me feel like a movie star. They threw in some  bath bombs and a high end, ultra expensive tube of papaya facial mask. Probably six months worth. 

I’ve tried the mask a few times, dabbing it lightly over my face and leaving it for the two to five recommended minutes. Last night before bed, I decided to give it another go. I gently squeezed the tube and twice the regular amount shot out. Have I said the stuff is expensive? I wasn’t able to push it back in the tube so I slathered it on. Less than five minutes passed before I felt a tingling which quickly morphed into the feeling you’d get holding your face near open flames. I rushed to the bathroom and washed the mask off. It took a while because that stuff adhered like some kind of alien protoplasm. When my face was finally bare, I had to take a step back.

I looked like burn victim Ralph Fiennes in the movie, The English Patient. I felt like him, too. Soaking a wash cloth in cold water, I gently laid it against my fire licked skin. It was so soothing, I wet another and stuck it in the freezer. This went on for the next hour.

 I couldn’t decide if it felt like the kind of burn you get when you forget to use oven mitts, or if it was closer to the worst sunburn possible. Even as the redness slightly receded, I found new discomfort in the tightness of my skin. It was actively shrinking. I could hear it screaming for help as it clung to the bones of my face. ‘What the fuuuuuuuuck!’ was the message my skin cells painfully transmitted as they joined together in a desperate plea. I tried a new technique of lathering myself with a heavy cream before applying another cloth from the freezer. It seemed to work. But all night, I had to sleep on my back. I knew my skin would never survive contact with the pillowcase. It felt so vulnerable, like a billion tiny cells crying as one and blaming me for what I’d put them through.

When I woke in the morning, my skin felt tight but natural. I rushed to the mirror, expecting a miracle. Wrinkles gone, nothing sagging, my nineteen year old face staring back at me. Nope. I looked exactly the same as I did the night before the Great Burning. So, I’m giving the sunscreen ten out of ten. I’m giving the face mask a hearty thumbs down. In the meantime, I’ll creep around with a large hat on and my old 100 proof sunscreen slathered over my vulnerable skin, hiding from the light like a vampire. Fortunately we’re going through a cold spell. There’s always a silver lining to these things.

Home of the Beaver

I got my kayak out today for the first time in 2021. It feels a bit early, but I dipped a toe into Hook Lake and it was so much warmer than last spring, thanks to our amazing winter. Yet off in the distance, snow still sugared the edges of the water in some places. On the second lake, chunks of ice floated in one long sheet, like someone was throwing a party and waiting impatiently for the tequila to arrive. 

I was a party of one. As I dropped my bum into my kayak, followed by my trailing leg (it’s not elegant, but it works) I got the same feeling I get every time I leave shore, paddle in hand, filled with far too much excitement for such a serene undertaking. But the lake is never just a lake. It’s an experience, and I’m never the only player involved. 

I hadn’t gone far on the second lake, reached via a skinny, boulder filled narrow channel, when I noticed three little heads popping up around me. They were either young beavers, or very large muskrats, and they were making the strangest sounds. Like a bronchial cough, but with a certain tone to it. A Peter Lorre tone. If you’re not familiar with the actor, let me fill you in. He always played the part of a ratfink, or a murderer. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon. His voice gave a sinister aspect to the animal’s presence on the lake. They kept swimming ahead of me, ducking into the lake every few minutes, and surfacing with that malevolent cough. I left them behind, but after five minutes, I saw them again, trailing behind me. 

“You’re creeping me out!’ I called. “Stop following me.” As if they understood English, they turned around and left. But it had me wondering. Were these beavers a thrupple? I’ve only seen them alone or in pairs before. But it’s 2021, for heaven’s sake. Live and let live, I say. 

Shortly after, I spotted two baby loons on the lake. They were quite small and I would have thought them ducklings if not for their distinctive colouring. They let me get close enough to take a photo, but flew off before I could accomplish my mission. Since I’m not the most stable paddler, I decided not to lean into the shot. 

Loons mate for life. Were these two chicks matched up? Did they zero in on the first bird they saw and just decide to settle? If so, they’re very different from humans, who can hem and haw and date for ten years, and still have a fifty percent chance of things not working out. It must be easier for a loon. Find food. Fly away from danger. Leave when it gets cold. After that, there’s probably not much to talk about. 

There doesn’t seem to a be a lot of dissension in the animal/fish/fowl kingdom. I tried to picture the fish down below me divided on subjects like politics. Do they argue with the beavers about all the wood cluttering up the lake? They could do so safely, since beavers are herbivores. But muskrats like some tasty protein, and I’m sure the fish are wary enough to know it. 

‘How did you vote in the last election?” I asked. Nobody replied. I went back to singing, which is my usual paddling activity, working my way through the Canadian paddling song, Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver, and finishing with a Loggins and Messina tune about Christopher Robin. It was one of my husband’s favorites, and since his ashes are scattered in that lake, it seemed only right to serenade him. Then the beavers came back and I decided to head to shore. It was the Peter Lorre cough that spooked me. Anyway, it’s their home, not mine. I’m just visiting. But I’ll be back. I tell them this in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. I can be sinister, too. 

All My Siblings

I have to repost this because tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I don’t know how she survived us all.

Growing up in a house with six other children required a certain amount of hardiness. After a traditional baptism, another followed that was more like an ongoing episode of Fear Factor. It involved loud squalling, bare knuckle fighting, laughing, and general hysteria. Since six of us were less than two years apart, my mother was always in full survival mode. People talk a lot about the common sense of parents in the sixties, but let’s be honest. Families were larger and a few toys couldn’t possibly compete with wild ideas and the lure of general mayhem. Many parents buckled against the pressure and allowed their offspring to run free. Until I was fifteen and Jennifer was born, all of us lived upstairs. It was a tight space for the eight people there at the time. ‘Go outside!’ was a common refrain at our house.

    ‘Quit climbing the walls!’ was another. My sisters, brother and I would take turns bracing our hands and feet against the sides of the entryway to our living room and see who could hike their way up to the ceiling in the quickest possible time. This was done with a lot of yelling, jeering and possible sabotage, like pulling someone’s legs out from under them. Susan and I were often the instigators, and she remains to this day the most competitive person in the family. If you showed her something you could do, she’d figure out a way to do it faster. The important part was when she got to win.

When we weren’t climbing the walls, Susan and I were busy making up new commercials. We were certain we could do a better job than the ad companies we heard on the radio, or saw on television. My mother encouraged this kind of behavior because it took less yelling and a lot more planning. Another favorite activity was pretending to be movie stars. I’m fairly certain that Linda enjoyed this too. If you needed a glamorous, tight dress look, you would simply insert both feet in one leg of your pajama bottoms, and use the empty leg for twirling. I was Connie Stevens. Someone else in the family was Annette Funicello, though I can’t remember who. Possibly Bill. Just kidding. Though we did encourage him to take part in our crazy plans. ‘Encourage,’ meaning a fair amount of arm twisting. Literally twisting of the arms. Remember snakebites? That was torture for beginners at our house.

My father was more cunning than my mother when it came to filling up our time. If she was at work, he’d put on one of his Spike Jones records and we’d dance like crazy until we fell down. Seriously, like teenagers popping ecstasy at a rave, we’d exhaust ourselves boogieing to ‘Cocktails for Two.’ He played music the whole time mom was out, especially some of his crazier jazz records by artists like Stan Kenton. Or, to paraphrase my mother, ‘I’ve died and gone to hell, and this is the soundtrack.’

In the early years, we had a wood stove in the basement. Occasionally, we’d thread hot dogs onto sticks or coat hangers, for roasting. Or we’d play with fire, adding interesting things to the stove and waiting to see what would happen. My mother was usually upstairs washing floors, preparing meals and generally working like an indentured servant. She worried we’d burn ourselves or put our arms through the ringer washer that always seemed to be running. It was the dilemma of every mother: ‘They might be in danger. But they’re so quiet right now.’ Her need for some kind of peace and order gave us plenty of opportunities to try out our crazy ideas. In no particular order, here are a few more:

Sliding on cardboard down the basement stairs.
Making a slide with blankets for the younger kids to slip from the top bunk to the bed on the other side of the room. We only dropped the blanket a few times.
Sneaking food from the kitchen. I liked to pretend I was a hungry orphan.
Lighting the candles hidden in a cross on the wall that were meant for special religious occasions. I spent the rest of the week worrying I was going to burn in hell for being sacrilegious.
Playing mass and taking turns squishing bread and shoving it into each other’s mouths. We mumbled fake Latin words and had the parishioners kneel for a really long time. (My children did the same thing, but with different hymns and more Holy Spirit carryings on.)
Flipping through the gigantic family bible that was filled with horrifying images of the torture of saints. We couldn’t get enough of it.

There were times when we played regular games, too, like Monopoly and War, (the card game, though we were always up for the other kind, too.) Clue fascinated all of us because we really wanted to live in a glamorous mansion with murderous people. Chinese Checkers promised a good hour’s worth of arguing, then there was Sorry, and the hipper kinds of games, like Password, also a television show. We truly loved Password.

The only reason my parents lived as long as they did was because we all loved to read, or have someone read to us. I’m sure mom and dad tiptoed through the house on such days, usually a Saturday when we’d all been to the library. There was also the lure of the great outdoors, though that often involved a command rather than a wish.

I like to think that our wild youth directed our futures. Linda (always seeking refuge) became a librarian, researcher and major source of info and help to breastfeeding moms everywhere. I was an entrepreneur (I can make it better!) and a writer. Susan left home to seek her fortune as a performer and traveled across Canada singing backup for Graham Shaw and his Juno award winning album. (Okay! You win!) Bill became a carpenter, probably for reasons of self defense. (saw, hammer, nails) Cindy’s been a preacher and a fantastic saleswoman, which may be one and the same job. Joni has had too many careers to name, is the best painter and can restore order to any home. (She was the kind of kid who put tape across the bedroom floor so your mess couldn’t wander onto her side.) And Jen grew up singing, simply as a way of being heard above all the noise, and carried it further with a couple of albums and a personality large enough to subdue nations.

Thirty-five years after my mother had her first baby, Jennifer left home and gave my parents the gift of an empty nest. They couldn’t get over the quiet. Then, there were grandchildren. But that’s a story for another day.

Life and the Playlist

 I was out for a walk the other day, my old, uncool headphones clapped over my ears, (I can’t wear earbuds anymore – they cause wax buildup) when I had a revelation. There is plenty of rhyme and rhythm in my music playlist, but not much order. 

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is followed by I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady, then a few songs from One Direction, Damien Rice, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Beatles, and Justin Bieber and The Weekend. Then there’s a hymn by an African children’s choir and two Christmas carols, because I can’t always see what I’m doing when compiling these lists. I love musicals, so a few from Les Miserable are followed by Gordon Lightfoot’s The Way I Feel, and then some from Leonard Cohen, but only the gloomy stuff because like him, at times I want it darker. 

When I was young, I liked listening to the whole album. Getting a feel for the theme, and appreciating the artistry of the collection. Now, I’m more like a jumpy addict who can’t hang on to a thought long enough to appreciate it. And I’m starting to feel that this has always been my way. I listened to whole albums only because they came on a record, a tape or a CD, and that’s how they were played.

There’s a small segment of the population who spend the day doing stuff in the right order and remembering things. I am not one of them. The cell phone I was searching for was in my back pocket. I wasn’t in the fridge to grab a snack but to clean it out. I went downstairs to do laundry, not organize my bookshelf. I’d like to blame Covid for part of this, but I’m fairly certain its a life long condition. As I write this, my soup is bubbling on the stove. If not for the sound, it could heat for hours until the fire alarm went off. 

It’s not so much, to use the Latin term, Lackus Brainyitis as it is Lackus Focus. (Okay the last one definitely doesn’t work. There’s got to be a better fake Latin phrase.)  I’ve written this in my usual self exploratory fashion and realized that thinking and doing one logical thing after the next is boring to my brain. It’s not fun. My brain is like a teenager, longing for new experiences and hating to be told what to do. “You’re not the boss of me,” it says whenever I speak aloud and try to give it instructions.

The only thing that can rein in that badly behaved, often sulky and dysfunctional organ is another organ – my heart. When my brain and I are in a fight (Clean up! No! Do it now!) then my heart jumps in with some calming words. “Go for a walk. Call a friend. Forgive yourself the occasional lack of follow through. Forgive yourself for not writing more. Give yourself permission to be sad about the state of the world, especially under the pandemic, and then read something funny. Listen to CBC, which always makes you feel good. Strangely, my heart never sounds condescending like my brain does. My heart is a wise old person and my brain is a dick.

I feel better having written this out. And now, if there’s any soup left in the pot, I will have lunch. And then I will write. Though my brain has said this blog doesn’t count, my heart disagrees. But I can hear my latest novel’s protagonist screaming at me from my office and I’m fairly certain she’s in trouble. Since she listens to my heart and not my brain, I will go rescue her now. First, I’ll just do one more thing…

Quentin Tarantino and Me

 Today, I did something I’ve thought about for a long time. I took the Meyers Briggs personality test. Overall, I’m happy with the results, though it was spooky how right they were about aspects of my personality. Friendly, diplomatic, intuitive and feeling, with 65% assertiveness, and 35% turbulence. I sound like bad weather.

But how in hell did I end up in the same category as Quentin Tarantino? Yes, like most people, I have a dark side. But I’ve never wanted to set someone on fire, or shoot someone in the face, or… Actually, I haven’t seen all of his movies, so I have nothing really to compare it with. I did see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which was enjoyable until things took a turn for the worse in the swimming pool. 

I like to carry spiders outside and I have minimal tolerance for violence. I cry during TV commercials about families and dogs. I listen to the news everyday, but only on the radio for a short time because I want to be informed but bad news weighs on me. I don’t think bad news weighs on Quentin. Maybe I’ve misunderstood his message, though.

The test also mentioned Robin Williams and Robert Downey Junior. I can see similarities to Robin, in that sometimes I don’t know when to stop with a joke, and really need someone to take me by the arm and say, ‘That’ll be enough, now.’ I get the feeling that his family probably felt the same way from time to time. 

I don’t know anything about Robert Downey Junior except that he’s an actor, and I have never wanted that life for myself. In choir, I prefer to hide in the dark with the other altos who like singing and don’t want the spotlight. I’m comfortable speaking in public, but acting? Never. If I was in a concentration camp and that was my task, I guess I’d do it. 

My assigned role in the ‘Campaigner’ category is that of diplomat. While it’s true that I’m friendly, (to a fault, I tend to frighten people on the street or have strange men at writer’s conferences think I’m hitting on them. I’m not.) My hello’s can be a little over the top, though. And I’m not always diplomatic. Occasionally, there is no room for a foot in my mouth because my other one has already taken the spot. When my husband got a call that he had to go to Winnipeg for radiation treatment, the first words out of my mouth were, ‘I guess I’m going to miss choir again.’ Seriously. My brother in law Brent was a witness. He was astounded. It didn’t help when I said, ‘I didn’t mean to say that out loud.’ Now, I loved my husband deeply. But… yeah. No excuse for that one.

Also, I can be a little hot headed. (Perhaps this is where Quentin and I meet!) So if I took a job as a diplomat, I’d last two days, max. If I was the Canadian diplomat to China, I’d be in prison within six hours. I have strong feelings about social justice and clear ideas about right and wrong. This can lead to me coming across as a bit judgmental. As one of my daughters said, “Settle down, Lady Catherine De Bourg.’ (If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, never mind. And I’m not judging you for that, okay?)

For those of you who want to give it a try, here’s the link.

16personalities.com

Let me know where you land. But only if you want to. (I’m not bossy. So there’s that.)

It’s Not Just You, Pepe, it’s Me

 Dear Pepe Le Pew,

I had a conversation with my daughter this morning that helped put things in perspective. In her delicate way, Hilary pointed out that I seem to be having a few anger issues. Every time we talk, I give her an earful about whatever is ticking me off at the moment. I’m not necessarily apologizing to you, dear cartoon skunk from my childhood. I’m just admitting I might have overreacted the teensiest bit. 

Having said that, you’re too old to go around grabbing female cats or skunks, or anyone, really. You must be in your eighties by now. I know you’re being forced into retirement, which probably hurts your feelings. But after all your futile efforts, you really deserve a rest. And you deserve the truth, so here goes.

1. On March 28th, it will be the third anniversary of my husband’s death. I guess I’d rather throw mud around than think about that. Although I will think about it.

2. Covid, I’m so tired of you. The masks (yes, we should wear them) the distancing, the lack of hugs, not understanding what people are saying, being too friendly with a perfect stranger because I think I know them, not heading out of town to visit family, zooming instead of seeing people in the flesh. 

3. The snow is leaving early this year. I’ve loved my outdoor winter life and it has all but disappeared. Yes, I can still go for walks. But it’s not the same as snowshoeing and skiing. I’d meet people out on the trail and it was like we were all riding the same train to Paris, drinking wine and taking in the sights. There is no train. Just a trail. And a few shots of whatever hard stuff people had on hand. And I realize that an ounce of whiskey in the bush during Covid might be considered the equivalent of drinking under a bridge in normal times. Basically, an act of desperation. But these are desperate times. And standing distanced from friends and saluting them with a tiny beverage feels so normal and wonderful. Like a trip to Paris with good friends, some beautiful scenery and occasionally, cold feet.

4. Losing friends during Covid and not being able to do anything about it. Not attending their funeral, not providing any comfort, or even seeing their families in any real way. Also, not visiting seniors in nursing homes for such a long period of time.

5. Not being my cheerful self. It’s my thing. I’m generally a happy person, and right now I feel like the dark avenging angel on my shoulder is whispering bad things to me. Not to kill anyone or even rob a store. Maybe just hurt a few people’s feelings. So if I’ve done that, yeesh. Sorry. 

 I know we’re all (well, most of us) excited about getting the vaccine and resuming our lives. But feel free to add your own moments of loss if you’ve had any during this time. I don’t want to be the lone whiner. And I promise (shut up, dark angel!) to put my best foot forward from here on. I feel so much better! Do you?  

What’s It All About, Pepe?

I hardly ever use rubbing alcohol these days. The bottle I found in my bathroom cupboard this morning had expired back in 2007. How can alcohol go bad? Is it the rubbing part? 
My husband had inherited a bottle of Mezcal that his father bought in Mexico in the early seventies. When my niece and a family friend were helping us move, he insisted they take a shot at the end of each day. They did, gamely avoiding the dregs of a disintegrating worm drifting around the bottom of the bottle. Like his dad, Clarence didn’t like to waste things. I said Hell, No! to the drink on offer. Were these young people more game than me, or just too polite to say no?


I’m not alone in feeling out of touch with life these days. I had to stop someone on the street a few days ago because I thought it was Tuesday, but it was still Monday.  The woman and I exchanged looks of deep understanding. These groundhog days are getting tiresome. 
I feel out of place in other ways. Every time a ‘that’s so bad!’ label is slapped onto a person, program or book, my knee jerk reaction is one of shock. It takes time for my brain to process how things I take for granted might different to younger generations. After I think about it a while, I usually get it. 


It took me a while to understand the fuss over Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, Little House on the Prairie series. They were beloved in my family, and read to each of my children. But I never noticed the dehumanizing effect of her stereotypical view of Indigenous and black people, because I am white. One book opens with her saying that the land was empty and ready for settlement, except for the Indians who didn’t count. How could I not notice that? I believe the books can still be read to children, but there needs to be some discussion about the racist aspects. I believe if the author was alive today, she would write those parts differently. Her characters were kind and tenderhearted, but she was a woman of her time. When we know better, we do better.


I’m a woman of my time, still clueless about cultural offenses and worried that I’ll say the wrong thing. I don’t like to hear bad things about people, and have grieved the loss of those like comedian/actor, Bill Cosby. We’re all saddened by the actions of characters who turned out to be different than we thought. I go through periods of denial and disbelief for days after the wrong doing is uncovered. These people enter our lives and homes via screens, radios and books. We know them well. Or, we thought we knew them.
One of the latest ‘Get the Hell Out of Here,’ victims is the cartoon character, Pepe Le Pew. Like many kids of my generation, I enjoyed all the Bugs Bunny characters: Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck and Wiley Coyote. (Actually, I hated that last one and wanted him to die every single show. He never did.) But when I think about Pepe Le Pew, I remember how I felt as a little girl. The show was funny, but not. I felt claustrophobic at times, knowing that this female skunk could not escape him for long. Her visible ‘no’ didn’t mean no to Pepe. A friend on Facebook recently said that she knew it was just a cartoon. I did too. But as a lifelong member of over-empathizers anonymous, I felt bad for that anxious skunk girl. I imagined how I’d feel if someone I knew, a boy I didn’t like, was always trying to catch me and kiss me. Or worse. Who knows what Pepe had in mind?
A movie that is not in trouble, but that I dislike for the same reason, is Mash. A huge hit, I saw it in my first year of high school. At one point, an unlikeable female character, Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Hoolihan, prim and condescending, gets taught a lesson. While she’s taking a shower, two doctors (good looking, popular, funny) play a trick on her by pulling down the walls of the tent and exposing her to everyone walking by. Cue the laughter and her running away in tears. 
As the people around me laughed until they wept, I found myself curling up into a ball in my seat. I couldn’t imagine how it felt to be her. She’s already unpopular. I knew people like her in high school. Those who weren’t likeable and couldn’t figure out why. She became a target. In the TV series, her character is fleshed out and allowed to be three dimensional. But not in the movie. Not as I remember it. 
So, as a member of the public, I would like to nominate Mash to be cancelled, culturally. This will not be a popular opinion, but I don’t care. You’re all big enough to handle my opinion, and inside me is still the fifteen year old girl cringing on behalf of a naked woman who had nowhere to run. 
When I was young, I disagreed with my parents about many things. They were good people with strong values, but like their generation, held traditional beliefs. Of course, baby boomers made it their business to disagree with almost everything that came before them. But as they aged, they got that same, set in their ways attitude. I remember telling my dad that Jesus believed in communism. I thought he was going to have a heart attack.


Today’s Boomers, especially the more conservative among us, are struggling with what we perceive as the lunacy of the younger generations. But it’s their right and their responsibility to make the world better in a way that makes sense to them. And what moves us in the right direction more than being thoughtful about the feelings of others? This is what many of today’s movements, even cancel culture, is about. 

I’m going to try to repress my knee jerk reactions when I read or hear things I don’t agree with. I’m a white, middle class woman trying to understand the pain others experience when their culture or race is diminished by mean spirited jokes or outright violence. Things that were considered funny in the past were often a socially acceptable form of bullying. So the next time you disagree with something you see regarding cancel culture, check your heart. Are you genuinely right, or just unwilling to let the joke go?