Hash Brownies

It’s funny, really … after years and ears of avoiding illegal recreational drugs, of urging students and athletes to be natural and clean, after politely and rudely saying “No” to pushers and pushing them aside … the least (so they say) of those recreational drugs (marijuana) is now legal and on sale in Canada in government sponsored and approved stores. Did I waste my life in the advocacy of cleanliness and health only to discover that what I was advocating against is now perfectly legal, and excellent, and good, and makes tax money and profit for the government?

One thing’s for sure: I’ve been clean since birth, and I am not starting now, not on recreational drugs that were previously illegal. That said, my friends who suffer, as I do, from osteo-arthritis assure me that the medical marijuana they have been using for years is better for them than all the patent medicines sold over the counter. I can see and hear the ads: “Blow dope for hope,” “avoid pills for your ills,” “smoke joints for your joints.” Or maybe  “eat hash brownies for your just desserts.”

So, on the first day that marijuana was legalized in Canada, I went into the garage, climbed the step-ladder, stood at the top, breathed deep, and came down again. I went back into the house and told my beloved: “There: I’ve just had my first legal high.” I was proud: high on top of a step-ladder and still legally, morally, virtually, spiritually clean.

Guess I don’t need strange smells hanging to my clothes. I can always smoke Gauloises or Disc Bleu if I need smelly breath and clothing, not that I have ever smoked either. I guess I will remain a rope-a-dope virgin … but I might yet be tempted by the miraculous possibilities inherent in hash brownies or peanut butterballs with an appropriate addition. Especially if the pain gets worse. And my doctor makes a strong recommendation for clemency.

Double Trouble

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Double Trouble

“I’ll need some ID,” the guy selling Fred a new cell phone said. “Something with a photo on. May I see your driving license?”

“Of course,” Fred pulled out his driver’s license.

The salesman took it, glanced at the picture, walked over to the computer, and started to type in numbers. Fred watched him as he nonchalantly punched the keys. Then Fred saw him stiffen and straighten up as he held the license up to the light, double-checked it, and frowned.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the salesman said, looking very sad. “This license has expired. It’s more than two years out of date.”

“You’re joking,” Fred said

“No sir,” the salesman replied. “This license expired two and a half years ago.”

He handed it back to Fred who also checked it with care. At first, the figures seemed blurred. Fred took out his glasses and put them on.

“You’re right,” Fred said. “It is out of date. I must have the new one in here somewhere.”

He started to rummage through all the plastic cards in his wallet. But there was no new driving license.

“I must have left it at home,” Fred muttered.
“They usually shred the old licenses,” the salesman smiled. “They never let you keep them. You must have forgotten to renew.”

Fred placed his hands on the cell-phone counter, looked down, and saw his face mirrored in the shiny plastic. He gazed into his own eyes and they looked back at him. Then his mind flashed back two and a half years.

He had just been through the biopsy, a messy, painful, and unnerving affair, and the results had come back positive.

The urologist demanded a new battery of tests: X-rays, bone scans, blood tests, MRI’s, examinations, more examinations, questionnaires, discussions about possible forms of treatment …

The different treatments were set out like food in a self-serve restaurant and, like the strange foreign foods that Fred liked to try without knowing exactly what they were, their names meant nothing to him.

Then there was the travel: out on the road between his little place in the country and the major cancer hospitals in the province with an examination here, and a consultation over there. All the medical staff he encountered were kind and helpful and the suggestions they offered were sound. The winter road conditions complicated matters, though, and twice he was forced to cancel appointments because of road conditions.

Then, a week or so after the MRI, the allergic reactions set in and, over a three week period he lost all the skin, first off his hands, and then off his feet. He watched the skin bubble, then he saw it go very dry, and then it just flaked off. He remembered getting out of the shower one morning, drying his feet, and staring down at the little pile of flaked-off skin that had come away with the towel.

A little later on, came the injections, the tablets, and that was before the start of radiation treatment …

Now, two and a half years later, Fred’s driving license, the one that should have been renewed on his birthday, had expired. He remembered that birthday well. He lay on his side in the hospital and the specialist drove that first needle into his buttock … what a birthday present. And now, two and a half years later, he had another special gift from that birthday, an expired driving license.

He thanked the cell-phone salesman, put his expired driving license back in his wallet, and said how sorry he was that he would be unable to purchase the cell-phone at this time.

Early the next morning, Fred went down to the Driving License Renewal Center to discover his fate.

The lady on the counter was most sympathetic. She listened to his story and told him not to worry.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It happens all the time. But I’m afraid you’ll need to take all the tests again, including the road test. That’s the law. I’ll need to see some documentation. A photo ID is preferable. Do you have your birth certificate or your passport with you?”

Fred nodded. He had checked online to see what he needed and had brought all the right documents. He handed the passport over.

The lady behind the counter took the passport, opened it, and looked up at Fred with a sad little smile.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “You are in double trouble. Your passport has expired as well.”

Double Trouble appears in my short story collection Bistro 2,
also available on Amazon.

Naval Gazing

Bistro Cartoon Naval Gazing

 

Naval Gazing

Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no s锑there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.

Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and  enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.

Yesterday

Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.

She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.

It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.

I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.

‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’

I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.

This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it  “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.

How we deal with  such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.

Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.

Yesterday
audio recording

Westminster Chimes

Empress 005

Westminster Chimes

Not all clock towers and churches ring out with Westminster Chimes, and that is particularly true of churches where the carillons are so distinctive and those who toll the bells are so unique. That said, the Westminster Chimes are probably the most famous in the world: 4 sets of 4 notes, striking on the full hour, followed by the clock tower striking the hour itself. The build up is basic: 4 notes for the quarter hour, eight notes for the half hour, 12 for the three-quarters, and 16 before the hour strikes.

Last night I awoke at 3:15, just in time to hear the hall clock strike the quarter. The initial sounds lost themselves in the mist of sleep and I only caught the last two notes clearly, hence the bell tower of Ste. Luce-sur-mer, above, partly disguised by the St. Lawrence river mists. Doze mode, I guess, and I heard the notes at half past, then again at a quarter to, and finally the hour. I wonder how many remember the rhyme that the clock chimes? I repeat it every night as I lie awake, listening: 1/4: All through this hour, 1/2 All through this hour, be by my side, 3/4 All through this hour, be by my side, and with thy power, 4/4 All through this hour, be by my side, and with thy power,  my footsteps guide.

Dozing through the night is a funny thing and the mists of sleep walk through one’s head in many forms. Often, I count the chimes, only to find that it is not three o’ clock, but four or five. The mists have crept into my head and I was sleeping when I thought I was waking and 1 and 2 and 3 are not always followed by four and I wonder if there is a life-lesson in there somewhere that will help us through this current upside-down world of carnival and topsy-turvy pan et circenses, predicted by Juvenal in his satires. The Wikipedia definition of the second-century phrase is fascinating: “In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy,  but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace— by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).” O tempora! O mores! (Cicero).

Sometimes we have to take steps backwards through time to fully understand the meaning of our own times. In the meantime, we can look out of the window, here in Island View, and see the ruins of the summer garden, slowly crumbling before our eyes. Then we can quote again, this time from Samuel,  ‘Ichabod, Ichabod, the Glory has departed.’

 

KIRA 1

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KIRA 1

Our first full day at KIRA, and it’s not over yet.

Last night we had our first dinner together, courtesy of Kingsbrae Garden Café. Wonderful food and a dessert to live for. All of the participants gathered around the table and we were graced with the presence of Mrs. Lucinda Flemer. Conversation was lively, with each of us defining our position and interests in various art forms ranging through painting, print-making, poetry, photography, short stories, and memoirs.

After dinner, we discussed the nature of the retreat itself. This centered on several areas: Establishing Goals, Towards a Shared Experience, Building a Creative Community, and Managing Expectations. We discussed an agenda for this morning (Monday) and agreed upon an action plan for our first day. We also agreed that we would achieve what we could during the first day and then change, as necessary, if change were needed. The main things: be flexible, be creative, talk together, work together, support each other, and cater, small group, to each individual.

This morning we discussed the creation of a personal time and space for writing. Each one spoke of where and when they wrote. We made some suggestions as to how time and place might be achieved, even during a busy working day. We then spoke about journals, pocket notebooks, hard work versus inspiration, and the need to recognize gems when we created them. Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. The hard yards must be put in at the beginning. Before long they will no longer be hard. The idea of the artist as a traveler was discussed. We are all making similar journeys, but we are all on different points along the way. Many of us were helped in our beginning days, and we in our turn must now help others.

We then worked on specific goals for each person, facilitators and participants. This was very person-specific. We agreed upon a schedule for Blue Pencil Cafés and gave the first ones later in the afternoon. We finished with a ten word exercise, courtesy of Jeremy Gilmer. Write a ten word story. We took time off to write and then ended the session by reading our efforts to each other. Great fun and a good time was had by all.

My own BPC went very well. More about that later, perhaps. It went on much longer than I expected and we both had great fun looking at a poem in all it’s different shapes, meanings, and possibilities. Tonight, we have our first set of readings and we will see how they go. The BPC material, reworked, should be ready for later. Again: it will be fun and words, thoughts, and ideas, will creatively take wing and fly.

 

 

Holly-Hock

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Holly Hock Hangs on …

I keep calling my Holly-Hock ‘he’, but I am beginning to think that if Holly Hobby was a lady, then this tough old plant is a lady too. A limpet lady. She has gone through three quite hard frosts now, one early, and two back to back, earlier this week, followed by two days of heavy rain. The rest of the garden is withering or withered. Clusters of dry blackened stems surround this old lady, but she still stands tall and proud. Not only that, but she casts more and more flowers out to greet us.

We have kept lots of seeds and will sow them soon, some are in the ground already, in the hopes that she and her offspring may flourish. For this lady is a symbol of hope. Hope in the face of frosts, cold winds, heavy rains. Hope in the seeds that she produces and scatters. Hope in the generation and the regeneration of a beauty and a strength that, if lost, may never be found again. Hope in old age that our children will survive and lighten our countenances with their love.

So go, you Holly-Hock seeds. Bury deep, send out roots, sleep for a while if you need to, and when the spring sun peeps over the horizon after a hard, long winter, be ready to bloom again. We, your faithful followers, will be waiting for you, with hope in our hearts.

Jack Frost

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Jack Frost

Or, since I live in a bilingual province, should that be Jacques Frost? Whatever. He visited the garden last night and did his usual job on our tomatoes. There are a couple of survivors this morning and we have now rescued those, but last night we neither took the toms in nor covered them up.  Oh dear. The result?

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As for the hollyhock, it was looking very sorry for itself early this morning. But, with a little bit of warmth and sunshine, he rose to the challenge and, while looking a little battered, soldiers on and on.

A wounded warrior, this tomato, though. The birds will get him, or the deer, or something. The cat has been very worried about intruders recently, birds and others. Here she is, inspecting the back porch from her watch tower beside the sliding door.

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