Safety Blankets

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Serendipity, really, that the links below should appear so close together. First, Meg Sorick’s post on drawing toys  and childhood memories. Some of us can draw (well done, Meg, congratulations). Others can’t, and must take a line for a walk, or must color or crayon or live with their black and white memories. Yet we never forget these early comforters, these early friends.

Traumatic, sometimes, the separation of us from our childhood beloveds and then the substitution of wool and cotton, of Teddy and struggle from the flesh and blood that never quite fulfilled the hollowness within us.

“Grow up,” the grown ups said. And offered us a world of cynicism and misery.

I remember when I asked the priest (I was about 4 years old at the time) if I would see my dead dog when I got to heaven.  He told me that dogs didn’t have souls and I’d never see him him again. Tough luck. I was lucky. The dog wasn’t. Apparently that particular priest had never heard of the Rainbow Bridge.

‘You must grow up,’ he said.

“If that’s your reality,’ I said, echoing the words of Atahualpa, ruler of the Incas,  “I don’t want to go to your heaven, and I don’t want to grow up. Ever.”

“So what will you do, who will you be?”

“I’ll be Peter Pan,” I said. I think I was four, but I might have been five.

At an international conference, a few years ago, while I was still recognized, before the age of 65, as a real, productive human being, a young lady, hearing my strange, outlandish accent, asked me “Where did you grow up?” “I don’t think I have,” I replied.

Why do we have to grow up? Picasso said that he had spent most of his adult life learning to see the world once more through the eyes of a child. And why ever not? Metaphors, beliefs, myths, acceptance, understanding, friendship, openness, willingness to learn  … things that are gradually worn away as hierarchy, authority, obedience, socialization are taught to us by those who think know best.

Are these the ones who also brought us so many things that are wrong with our world? The inability to think for ourselves, fear of authority, the need to fit in and be accepted, fear of the mob, the crowd, of those who believe in what they are told to believe. The fear of the other. The need to destroy that which we don’t understand.

Advertisements? I love them and sing them all day long. Tee-shirts with slogans? Wonderful. I wear them and show them proudly to my friends. Sound bytes? I never question them and I circulate them to my friends. For ‘whether I think for myself or no, I’m sure is only touch and go’. You may or may not recognize the poet, but I do. I was born less than a mile down the road  from him. You’ve probably never heard of him, but I have.

Accept my poet-neighbor and reject what modern society throws at me? It’s a difficult choice, isn’t it? How do we choose and why? What do we think and why do we think it? Or do we just follow the mob, the herd instinct, the sheep?

“If there were five sheep in the field, and one got out, how many would be left? Mary.”

“None, miss.”

“What do you mean, none? What’s one from five, Mary.”

Mary was the local farmer’s daughter. She didn’t think like that.

“No, miss,” said Mary. ” Sheep don’t think like that. If one got out the field, the rest would follow. There’d be none left.”

Terrible mathematics. Wonderful sheep psychology. A young creative mind thrown on the rubbish heap of ‘true’ knowledge at five years of age. Dismissed as an ignorant fool. What a pity.

And what’s wrong with Teddy Bears and childhood toys? I love them. I still have my daughter’s Paddington Bear beside my bed. Yellow Sou’wester, yellow welligogs, for those who know what they are. Here’s Meg Sorick’s take on my folly:

https://megsorick.com/2018/12/09/the-year-of-drawing-adventurously-week-49-toys/

Who is Meg Sorick? In my own mind, she is a bright, intelligent human being, who looks upon our ageing and cynical world with childhood in her mind, and intelligence in her paint-brush and her pen.

As for the real world? What’s it all about, Alfie, Bertie, Cecily, Dewi?

Living in my own world, with a creative Joey in my Kangaroo pouch, not really Roger the Ripper Roo, I honestly don’t know. A Marsupalian view of the universe? Why ever not? If you can believe in the koala, and the marsupials, and the kookaburra, and the platypus duck, you can believe in anything. Read the linked article below about childhood teddies … if you dare … I did … many won’t.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/12/still-have-childhood-teddy-psychological-power-toys-we-keep

 

 

Anniversary

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Anniversary

Kicked him out, she did, just like that. Told him to sleep in the spare bedroom. She couldn’t take it any more. She couldn’t sleep. He had to go.  It was the diuretic that did it, mind, the diuretic.

After the radiation treatment, they gave him hormone injections, told him he’d put on ten to fifteen per cent of his current body weight, but not to worry. It was quite natural. It was the hormones, see?

He stood on the bathroom scales without a care in his heart. Watched his weight rise, five per cent, ten per cent, fifteen per cent. When he reached twenty per cent, he started to worry. Swollen ankles. Swollen knees.

At twenty-five per cent, he was really worried. Socks no longer fitted. Couldn’t put on his shoes. Couldn’t bend to tie his laces. Had to wear sandals and slip-ons.

At thirty per cent, he started to cry. He was ugly, so ugly. He was down to one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals that fitted. He went to the pharmacy. The pharmacist took one look at his feet and gave him a long list of Latin names. Told him he’d need a perscription, from his doctor, to get pressure socks, and medical shoes that would help him walk.

“It’s the feet, see, the feet. Once they start to swell, you’re in big trouble. There’s nothing we can do. Go see your doctor.”

“I’ve seen the doctor.”

“Go see him again.”

So he did. Broke down crying when he entered the surgery.

“I’m down to one pair of shoes. You’ve got to do something, doc.”

So the doctor wrote him out a perscription for pressure socks, medical shoes, appointment with a psycho-something, attendance at a clinic, everything he wanted. Then, just as he was about to leave, the doc stopped him.

“Hang on a sec,” he said. Sat at the desk. Checked the computer. Wrote out another perscription. “New tablets,” he said. “Take these yellow ones. Stop taking those brown ones.”

He went away happy. Stopped at the pharmacy. Got the new pills. Went home. Took them. And straight away started to pee. He peed all day and he peed all night. Every 15 minutes. That’s when his missus kicked him out of bed.

“Go,” she said. “Every fifteen minutes. I can’t stand it.”

So he went. Grabbed his faithful Teddy Bear and went to the spare room with its cold, lonely bed. Except he had his Ted.

Lost four pound that first night. Twelve pound the first week. Twenty pound the first month. God, he felt good.  Tried to get back to his own bed. Missus wouldn’t let him in.

“Go sleep with your Teddy,” she said. So he did.

He’s looking pretty good now. Back down to ten per cent body weight up. Says he can live with that. Likes sleeping with his Teddy. Says it doesn’t snore. Or kick. Or punch him. Unlike his missus. It’s the first anniversary next week. He says he and his Teddy are doing fine. They’re going to have a Teddy Bears Picnic to celebrate.

No, sorry, I don’t know what his missus thinks about that.

Teddy Bear’s Nick Pit

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Today’s the day the teddy bears have their nit-pick: and what a nick pit it’s going to be. Who knows who’s starting what? Who knows where it will go? Who knows where it will end? More than anything else it reminds me of the monkeys in the monkey temple, sitting on their steps and pinnacles, in hierarchical orders, each searching the other monkey for nits and fleas and squeezing them between thumb-nail and middle finger nail, with a blood-red ‘click’ and a life-ending ‘clack’.

“Great fleas have lesser fleas upon their backs to bite them. And lesser fleas have smaller fleas, and so ad infinitum.” I remember this from my childhood, but, more important, the rhyme bite ’em / ad infinitum goes back much father than that, as you will see if you click on this Wikipedia article. Oh boy, Jonathan Swift, and you thought I was bad. I am Canadian Maple Syrup compared to his Irish Thistle Honey. And don’t talk to me about Swift’s views on famine, and how to avoid it.

Anyway, who knows what will happen. Apparently, my former family and clan, the Brits, do not know the old Spanish proverb: Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques‘ / Tuesday: don’t get married and don’t set out on a journey. Why ever not? Because Tuesdays were apparently the days when the Spanish Inquisition punished the adulterers, male and female, set them upon donkeys, naked from the waist up, and whipped them round the streets while the town criers sang out their crimes in time to the executioners who wielded the whips and painted their sins in red stripes upon their criminal flesh.

Tuesday, bruise day: it’s going to be fun (gallows’ humor). What will become of (once great) Great Britain? What will become of Europe? What will become of our cultural and philosophical world order? Climate change, cultural change, ideological change, political change, the wind of change …  I guess it’s blowing, but who knows in what directions it will blow us all? So easy to open Pandora’s Box: so difficult to pack everything back inside.

Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques‘  …

By the bye:

I wrote this two or three days ago, before the test squad for the West Indies was selected. Today (Monday, Monday), Theresa a decided not to hold the vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Tuesday, which is now today. Does anyone really know what is happening? How United is the Untied Kingdom [sick]. I certainly don’t know. Meanwhile, the Teddy Bears are having a picnic, and they are all out there, in the woods, Sherwood Forest probably, watching out for the Sheriff of Nottingham, and nit-picking.

 

 

 

Looking Back

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Looking Back

Looking back on a wonderful weekend, the WFNB WordSpring in Quispamsis, I remember the highlights.

  1. Picking up Kerry-Lee Powell and driving with her to Quispamsis. Never has the road seemed so short, and rarely has time passed so quickly. Whether it’s our shared Welsh roots or the course I took with her online at Toronto, we had so much to talk about.
  2. Arriving to find so many friends and all of them so willing to help with books and luggage and getting me to my room. Special mentions: Jeremy Gilmer‘s hug on arriving, Zev Bagel‘s offer to help with luggage, Chuck Bowie‘s warm presence and guiding hand, Cathy Fynn‘s hug and firm control of registration and checking in, and many others, some of whose names will appear bit by bit.
  3. Settling into the room was easy.  Then it was a case of preparing for the first workshop (The Sense of an Ending) that started at four and was due to run until five. I went early to the room and met the participants as they arrived. My first surprise: Barb Fullerton, another member of our online Toronto course, announced her presence with a warm smile and greeting. We had chatted online for eight weeks and now she was here at my workshop. Wonderful. Starting the spring conference with a workshop on endings seemed very inappropriate, until I remembered my T. S. Eliot: “In my beginning is my end …” The circularity of time and the intricate relationship of the end to the middle to the beginning … it made a great central theme for the workshop.
  4. The group was composed of many excellent writers and I was able to mention many of them by name. In addition to  some of those already highlighted above [Chuck, Jeremy, Kerry-LeeZev, Chuck] , Ana Watts, Jane Tims, Neil Sampson, and Terry Armstrong stood out and I urged people to circulate during the mobile, inter-active session, meet these writers, and talk to them about their undoubted finishing skills.
  5. Time passed too quickly and we found that an hour was not enough. No problem, I checked with Cathy and we kept going for another fifty minutes in a seamless transition of lengthened workouts.
  6. Friday night passed in a flurry of conversation in the hotel restaurant, coffee house, and bar. Chuck (the TWUC Atlantic Representative) introduced me to Marjorie Doyle, the Chair of TWUC and our guest speaker for the banquet, and we held a delightful, wide-ranging conversation on literary values and travels in Catalonia.
  7. Saturday morning saw the advent of my second workshop, this one entitled The Black Ink of Fear. This workshop was by request and I was more than a little afraid of how I would handle it. I circulated my own Fear Document  and invited people to read it. Victor, my Australian friend, found his sheet was upside down and amazed the room by standing on his head, to much applause, as he read it the right way up. This clearly broke the ice and we employed Chaos Theory to good effect by doing absolutely nothing in Chaotic Fashion and getting everywhere.
  8. Lunch was a delightful selection from Chef’s Table (Sussex) and Chuck Bowie played a major role in keeping me a seat (I arrived late) and getting me settled (thank you again, Chuck).
  9. Worn out after lunch, I missed the afternoon’s sessions and took to my bed in traditional Spanish fashion enjoying a well-earned, rather extended siesta from 2-5 pm.
  10. Supper was at 6:00 pm and I was truly honored when Jeremy Gilmer read my poem Inundation that I wrote on May 6, just when the St. John River flooding was at its worst downstream below Fredericton. We dedicated our thoughts and prayers to the people in Saint John and Quispamsis still affected by the now diminishing waters. It was a double honor when I was invited to say a traditional Welsh Grace, in Welsh, followed by an English translation: “Thanks be to the lord for good food and even better friends.”
  11. My weekend’s activities were not yet over and I received an award (3rd place in the David Adams Richards’ Prose Competition for my short story collection Devil’s Kitchen). I read in a thick Welsh accent a short piece of Flash Fiction from this collection, called Teeth. For some strange reason that I could not fathom, the room was highly amused by this true story of domestic bliss.
  12. Saturday night and we retired to the bar where a small group of us Marie, Louise, Angèle, John, Andrea, and I stayed up and sang to John’s marvelous harmonica and guitar music until one thirty am. Contrary to malicious rumors spread by unknown sources, not mentioned by name, we did not sing rugby songs, but a marvelous mix of Irish ballads, Newfoundland songs, Acadian and French chansons, and contemporary songs by internationally acclaimed singers, many of whom might not, midnight being long past, have recognized their own music.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Later that Sunday morning, we made our sad farewells and Kerry-Lee and I headed back down the road to Fredericton where we arrived after what what seemed to be about five minutes driving (at well below the speed limit). I dropped Kerry-Lee off then stopped at the Happy Baker for cakes and croissants. These I presented to my beloved for Mother’s Day. We shared them over hot coffee … and that was that.

 

This Carving

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This carving may be gently touched

It doesn’t act like a bear.
Its head bears a Cocker Spaniel’s short, sharp stop.
Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Motionless eyes.
This carving’s tame.
Children may sit safely on its back,
may stroke the mighty muscles.
It’s perfectly safe.
Woodworm, like moth, have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack ensures its tameness.
Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen wooden claws chisel the concrete museum floor.
It’s nearer ear is chipped like my grandmother’s tea-cup.
There’s lots of room for slips between cups and this bear’s lips.
I can sense death’s closeness.
Suddenly, I know you’re in there, Bear,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.
I feel you move:
cold sweat covers my false, carved skin.

Bear

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Bear

This carving’s tame.
Children may sit
safely on its back.
They may stroke
the mighty muscles.

Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its red tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Marble glass eyes.

Woodworm, like moth,
have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack
ensures its tameness.

Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen claws
probe the concrete
museum floor.

Its nearer ear
bears small chips like
my grandmother’s tea-set.

There’s lots of room
for slips between cups
and this bear’s lips.

I can sense
death’s closeness
when I smell its breath.
I feel it move
beneath my hand.

I know you’re in there,
Bear,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.

Cold sweat covers
my false, carved skin.