Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.

I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small.  We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.

Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.

The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.

Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.

I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.

The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours.  I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before.  At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.

I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone 

 

 

November’s Embrace

*A brief note of explanation to avoid confusion – This passage was written in mid December. Life being what it is (busy/unpredictable) I wasn’t able to post it until now. 

It’s night and the house shudders in the wind. Today’s snow has turned to sleet. Freezing rain is a burst of pellet spray against the windows. Something heavy thuds down outside. There’s a hum before the furnace kicks in with a comforting rumble but cold air still finds a way to creep in through the lath and plaster walls. For the first time this year I hear a plow pass by out on the highway. I miss November.

Normally by this time I’ve seen enough snow to last me the season. This year there’s barely been a dusting (until today). December’s brought a lot of rain mostly. It was a brief reprieve before the inevitability of a Canadian winter. The gravel drag of the plow blade as it meets pavement can’t be denied. I am nostalgic for November.

I don’t remember such a November. Maybe it seems singular in that every warm beautiful day stood in startling contrast to the rain and sleet and snow of Novembers past.  Along the lakeshore the wind that ushers in the end of autumn is stinging, bitter with the winter to come. The wind that came this November was silken and warm. It was still strong but smelled of clean earth and sunshine instead of the damp and rot of a dying season. What should have been skies of pale tones of cornflower or dead slate gray were draped in summer shades of magnesium blue. The light was such that the early sunsets of short autumn days came as a surprise. Rather than frost-bitten brown, the fields and lawns wore green velvet expanses of fallow, moss, grass, and winter wheat.

The night sky was the most remarkable thing. On clear nights, a low ceiling of stars blazed over head so bright I swear you’d think twice before reaching out your hand for fear it could burn in that cold fire.  The moon, in part, and in whole, was like no other moon. Early in the evening it rose as a titan figure gigantic on the horizon. Often crowned in a halo, at its zenith the light of even a sliver was bright enough to give pause. One night in particular, at its rising, the moon was a Cheshire grin of golden caramel scooped out of black velvet skin. By midnight the crescent above was hard white, so brilliant that the moon was outlined in a diamond silhouette. That night I dreamt I lay sleeping within a curved arm of golden skin sheened in silver light. I sheltered in that languid embrace until the break of day. When I awoke I swore a scent lingered in the linen, the crisp smell of fallen leaves and something else indefinable.

 

The wind is howling now.

It’s so cold and dark.

I miss November.

Friendship

I’ve been on Facebook since 2007. My account currently indicates that I have 440 Facebook friends. Some of the people on my Friends List are family or individuals I actually know. Others are people who I have common interests with, or I “liked” something on a page we both frequent, or we play the same online game. I occasionally go through my Friends List to clear accounts that have been abandoned or were added for games I don’t play any more. I don’t always remove former game players as I sometimes develop an online relationship that I guess would translate to a kind of neighbourly liking of each others’ posts or commenting on happy or sad statuses. Recently whilst cleaning up my account I discovered that two people on my List had passed away. We’d played the same Facebook game. Neither had popped up on my feed for a while and when I checked their accounts there were messages of condolence, outpourings of grief and disbelief, from people who actually knew them.

One account belonged to a young man who had died of complications following a car accident. The other account belonged to a woman who, along with other members of her family, had been murdered. The postings on their account pages clearly spoke to the tragedy of these deaths and that the deceased were well loved and held a special place in the hearts of those who knew them. That, more than anything else, was why I deleted their accounts from my Friends List.

I didn’t know either of these people in real life but I felt a twinge of guilt removing them from my Friends List. For several years I’d seen their family/friends photos as well as status postings about life and family events. We’d liked some of the same things. But that didn’t make us friends. Perhaps that twinge of guilt had to do with sympathy for lives lost to violence and lives ended too soon. Or maybe it had to do with that overlapping of our online interactions that provided an illusion of connection. I’m not sure. I do know that for me, maintaining access to those two Facebook accounts, where their friends and families were posting heartbreaking messages, felt like an invasion of privacy. Facebook is a public forum but the few postings I did read made me feel as if I was eavesdropping on a very personal and painful conversation that I had no right to hear. Even though they will never know, deleting those account connections seemed like the very least I could do to honour the loss, and respect and acknowledge the right of their friends and families to grieve.

Music for this post – I went back and forth trying to decide what would best suit this post and I finally decided on Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’ . I hope the friends and families of those who passed on will hold close to any good memories they have.

A quick bit of research revealed that most online organizations have, or are in the process of implementing, policies that deal with death and the internet. I think they still have a long way to go. Perhaps in the future instead of sifting through ancient tombs to explore history, archaeologists will have to recreate ancient operating systems and applications to access first hand knowledge of life (and death) during the birth of the digital age.

 

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

I can’t tell if this plant is dead.Hmmm What seems to be the problem It looks dead but maybe it isn’t.  Things do seem pretty dire but this plant has a history of fading only to suddenly spring back to life; quite on its own with no help from me. It’s never looked this bad though.

I’d like to say that I try really hard to keep my house plants going. I’d like to say it – but I can’t. The truth is I don’t. As long as the weather permits they’re outside on the porch under the auspices of Mother Nature. The spring, summer, and early fall are a great time for house plants on the porch. It’s winter inside that’s the kicker.

It’s not that I don’t care. I try to position them out of draughts and close to light sources. I cover the soil with tin foil and rocks so the cats can’t dig in it. But I don’t have that green thumb thing going on. I don’t always remember to water or I over water. I’ve tried plant food but with limited success. I don’t talk to my plants. My mother talks to her plants. My mother has the touch. She is the reason I have house plants. I’ve never bought a plant for inside (plenty for outdoors- they seem to respond well to my plant ‘em and leave ‘em alone approach). For my mom a house isn’t a home without plants therefore I have house plants.

My mom’s house is full of beautiful, healthy plants. She collects plant clippings and she’s not shy about it. Public gardens, shops, doctors’ offices- if she sees a plant she likes she grabs a bit to take home. Once whilst attending a family funeral she snapped a sprig from a plant in the funeral home lobby. She wasn’t the least bit discrete about it. It was after the service and everyone was drinking coffee, expressing their condolences, sharing memories of the deceased. She dampened a napkin with water from her drinking glass, grabbed some Saran wrap off a sandwich tray that was being unwrapped, and packaged up her clipping to keep it fresh for the trip home. There’s no way that this situation I currently find myself in would ever happen under her watch.

I just read a story about a guy who was in a vegetative state for 12 years. They thought he’d never recover. Well he came to and now he’s right as rain and happily living his life.* It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to compare an individual’s life journey to that of a plant. It’s not the same thing at all. But there is some kind of parallel in that things aren’t always the way they seem to be. I could be wrong obviously. After all, my mother does steal plant clippings so my world may be a little more grey (or green) than black and white. I think I’m going to tuck the plant back on the shelf and see what happens. It can’t hurt it and relatively speaking spring is not that far away.

Music for this post
Frank Sinatra and Eddie Hodges High Hopes

*. Well he does have quite the hate for Barney the Dinosaur. Turns out that he was aware but trapped inside his body for 10 of those years and they didn’t know it. Whilst in care they would prop him up and pop a Barney tape into the old VCR for hours at a time. They probably thought they were doing a bit of kindness when in fact they were irritating the snot out of him.

Our path emerges for a while, then closes…

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

– Ernest Dowson, from “Vitae Summa Brevis” (1896).

Around mid-January I received an unexpected phone call. It was from a representative of the organization that oversees the administration of a place I used to work at. They were going to be embarking on a transitional period in their staffing and wanted to know if I would assist them during that time. I have to confess I had some misgivings. Not just because there were some serious issues surrounding their change in staffing but also because this was a position I had resigned from with no intention of ever returning. In the summer of 2012 I gave my notice. I got all my files and paper work in order (with the exception of a government grant application that I would finish pro bono for them a couple of weeks later) and spent the last 2 weeks of my employment training my replacement. I hadn’t resigned because I hated the job. I quite enjoyed the work. Granted it was a very demanding position (there was a 6 page job description) but I had a good handle on that. I had some really good times there, met some great people, and found great satisfaction in moving the organization into a new period of growth but it certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There were some pretty significant issues that negatively impacted my life both on and off site.  In the end I left because of a number of factors (people and situations) that eventually created what I felt was an untenable working environment.

I’m not a grudge holder AND I had invested almost 5 years of my life in the place so I cautiously agreed to lend a hand. What I said I would do was update all their security information, write a couple of employment grants, and assist with an event they were holding in early February. I thought I had made the limited nature of my commitment very clear but when I arrived on site I was handed keys to the buildings and a one paragraph job description for an interim manager’s position. I was also told I was welcome to apply for my old job if I liked. Yikes!! I reiterated my acceptable level of commitment and in the end I was on site for around 90 hours over a 3 week period. And you know what? It was just a really, really, really weird experience.

It was sort of what I think it would feel like to suddenly find yourself hanging out with your “ex”. It’s not like I’ve done that kind of thing but I can imagine the strangeness of something like it. You genuinely loved that person but had to leave them because it turned out they were pretty loopy and the relationship just wasn’t healthy.  The qualities you fell in love with are still there but you can’t deny the loopy stuff that let you know it was time to go.

I found myself sitting at my old desk doing some of the things it used to be my job to do. But it hadn’t been my job in a long time and it wasn’t going to be my job in the future. It felt familiar yet foreign. One thing I did on my brief return was read my personnel file. Now don’t get your knickers in a knot because I wasn’t snooping. It wasn’t locked away or anything like that. It was in the drawer of my old desk where anyone could see it. If any of you had the wherewithal to not read your personnel file if you came across it… well hats off to you. Just so you know there weren’t any surprises in there any way. It was an opportunity though to take a trip down memory lane. It was a short trip. I hadn’t worked there in over a year and a half. I’d only been on site for a couple of days before I found the file. While I could see there were some changes since I’d left, under the surface it was still a lot of the “same old same old”. It was just an odd little twist that the “same old same old” was what had me sitting at my old desk reading about myself in the third person.  If nothing else (well I did get paid- I’m not that much of a patsy) my three weeks on site, hanging out with my ex so to speak, let me know I had made the right decision in the summer of 2012.

I finished up the night of the February event. During my exit interview I was pretty candid about a great number of things I would never have addressed as an employee. It’s definitely easier to speak out when you don’t feel like your job is on the line. I really hope what I had to say helps the organization. Maybe they’ll take some of it under consideration but if they don’t, well that’s life isn’t it? Tomorrow becomes today, and then it is yesterday, and we move on. It’s all just water under the bridge.

Music for this post is Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree

Chair from an abandoned squat camp on a Lake Erie shoreline cliff
Chair from an abandoned squat camp on a Lake Erie shoreline cliff

Fire and Rain

There’s been a downturn on the health side for a friend of mine. He and his wife stopped by earlier today to drop off some stuff and let us in on the news. Years ago he was the victim of a virus that damaged his heart. He and his wife have never made a big deal about it but it’s always there in the background. Lately he’s been feeling a little more tired than usual and decided to find out if there was reason for additional concern…unfortunately there was. His heart is now only working at a 20% capacity (compared to the 40% it was at before). It’s time for a pacemaker. I can unequivocally swear that though this man’s heart may be physically weak it works overtime in the generosity and caring department. He’s the type of person that is always trying to figure out how he can make life better for those around him (whether they want him to or not- I say that with the greatest affection). He works in an industry where he is exposed to the lowest of the low when it comes to the awful things that people can do to each other. Although it’s made him a bit jaded he does his best not to let that drag him down. He’d give you the shirt off his back if his wife didn’t point out that other people don’t need or want used shirts with bold Hawaiian themed prints on them. My friend isn’t a small guy and he enjoys “orange chips” (Nacho Doritos), the occasional libation and bacon- lots and lots of bacon. Though his weight didn’t cause his heart problems it doesn’t take a genius to determine that his heart wouldn’t be as stressed if he weighed less. They’ve decided a paleo type diet might be the way to go. It calls for lots of small meals, lean meats, no processed food or dairy and (unfortunately for my friend) as much fruit and vegetables as he’d like. To be honest the amount of fruit and vegetables that he would like would be “zero” so they’re going to have to work on that.

It’s always hard to know what to say at times like these. Obviously it’s upsetting and the first thing you want to do is offer comfort and support. Sometimes though I’m an idiot and I either say the wrong thing or I try to say the right thing but I don’t say it the right way. Case in point…My friend is a writer. It’s not his primary occupation but he’s been published in local print papers. For as long as I’ve known him he’s been mulling over the idea of writing a book. He wants writing to be his legacy. I can understand that. My family makes jokes about how my work will be worth more after I’m dead (SO hilarious every time they make that joke-NOT). They don’t understand that one of the most important things for me, after the all-encompassing fascination of the process and how “whole” I feel when I’m painting or drawing, is that it does carry on even when I’m gone but it’s not about money. Though that would be nice for my family (don’t tell them I said that). I want my work to have a life of its own, to touch people and continue to develop in ways I can’t even imagine. In a way I’m endeavouring to leave my mark on the world. History decides what constitutes culture. I have no control over that but I still want to be part of the mix no matter the outcome.  You might wonder who I think I am; to have such a grandiose ambition. My answer would be, I am merely my own self and as such I’m free to dream my own dream…as is anyone. So what did I say when my friend told me his heart is literally breaking? I said “It’s time to write your book”.

Not the first thing out of my mouth but pretty damn close. I’m surprised it could make it out from around the foot that I was determined to wedge in there. I meant what I said in the best possible way. He wants to write a book. He is more than capable. He has just never got around to starting. To be someone who creates regularly you have to feel a sense of urgency. You have to make it a priority. I, for example, get terribly distracted by the minutia that makes up a day-to-day routine until I sometimes find all the time in the day has been used up by things that only take me further from where I want to be. You can’t let that happen if you want to produce a body of work. I repeat that to myself daily as I try to focus on becoming who/what I want to be. You have to remove the barriers that you’ve created. The first thing my friend said when I told him he should write his book was that he was concerned about the stress working on it might bring. I told him that if he would just try to write an hour a day he was not going to up his stress level (it might even reduce it as he would be doing what he’s really meant to do). So I had opened up my mouth and said this thing and of course his wife, who is also my very good friend, started to cry and then I started to cry. We ended up hugging and laughing because despite my inability to keep my mouth shut, she knows I love them both dearly. After they left I spent an hour online looking up paleo snacks that he could have at the bonfire we’re having next weekend. Apparently you can buy organic paleo hot dogs so he can have those (if I can find them locally) with no bun while everyone else has the regular ones.

I don’t think my friend is going to up and die on us just yet. There are no guarantees but even if he had a smidgen of a thought about giving in without a fight his wife would never have it. That doesn’t mean this isn’t scaring the shit out of him. He’d be a fool if it didn’t and he’s no fool. You may be familiar with the saying “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent”. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned more about the latter part of that quote than I would prefer. I have had people I love leave suddenly (the unfairness of a child’s death will ever be a mystery to me). I’ve said good-bye to loved ones who suffered terribly before they left. I never did say good-bye to the one who decided he would just rather not be here. Although I accept all these as truths, there is still a part of me that can’t help but find it all utterly surreal.

Years ago I had a wonderful friend. Her name was Sue. Sue and her girlfriend were originally friends of my mother and her 4th husband.  She and her girlfriend were breaking up at the same time that I came back to live at home after leaving a horrendous relationship. I had a 3 month old baby, a crazy stalker ex-boyfriend, I was 20 years younger than her, and I had returned to live with my mother because I had nowhere else to go and I was in terrible trouble. Despite our differences we became great friends for the year I lived at my mother’s house. When I moved back out on my own our lives grew apart but we still kept in touch. Several years later Sue was diagnosed with cancer. She made it through the first treatment and then the cancer came back. She couldn’t go through it again and opted to let nature take its course. The last time I called to talk to her was on a Wednesday evening. She was lying down and didn’t want to come to the phone. She died that night. She wasn’t alone though. She’d met a woman and taken a chance on love again. Sue was a person who enjoyed everything that life had to offer. That didn’t mean she hadn’t struggled in her journey. She was gay well before there was any kind of advocacy for lesbians. She was a large woman and had faced negativity because of it. She had an 18 year long relationship with a woman who had physically and mentally abused her. That partner had come to the relationship with a child that Sue helped raise as her own until he was killed when he rode his bike out of the driveway into the road without looking. She hadn’t had it easy but she was full of joy. Sue loved children, cats and dogs, food, and talking about her big boobs, and laughing at her own farts. You may think those last two things are childish but she rocked who she was and when she laughed she made you laugh too. And then one day she wasn’t there and the world was a poorer place for it.  I had known people before who died but this was the first person I considered not just a contemporary (despite our age difference) but an actual friend. I’ve been thinking about her lately. She had this fantastically big booming laugh that made you want to be in on the joke and when she said my son’s name you could actually hear the love in her voice.

What does this have to do with my heavy-hearted friend and the foot in my mouth? What I really want for my friends is what I want for myself and for my family; for them to be fulfilled and to live life to the fullest. Ugh…that sounds terribly optimistic but it is how I feel. Truth be told, as a rule I run more along the pessimistic line. I always expect the worst. If it turns out bad, well that’s what I expected. If it turns out well, I get a happy surprise. Despite all that, I still believe in “the dream”. There are factors we can’t control like cancer or a heart virus but if you have something you really think you should be doing, do it. Now I’m not advocating abandoning your family or shooting hobos (if that last one is your dream I feel compelled to tell you that’s definitely a “no-no” and  there are better things you should be doing with your time “treatment” than reading this blog post). What I am saying is stop getting in your own way. Find a version of your dream that works for you. You want to act? Register with a talent agency or try community theater. You want to sing? There’s an audience of millions waiting for you on U tube. Are you going to make big money? Probably not but then again …you might. Is everybody going to love you? Who knows?

As far as I could tell Sue always remained true to herself, living life and facing her death on her terms and to the best of her ability.  She owned her death like she owned her life. None of it was easy but she took everything she could from it and she didn’t apologize for that. I’m not saying she didn’t have regrets. What I’m saying is she didn’t let fear hold her back…not from life or from death. That’s what I meant when I told my friend to write his book. Not “Hey you’re going to die you better get on it” (because really that could be said of us all). What I was trying to say was “Wow that’s scary but you’re going to get through it – one way or another (as a reader of this blog please feel free to substitute whatever bit of shittiness you prefer for the word “it” in this context). While you’re working your way through it why not look for a bit of happiness (immortality if you so desire) doing that thing you were born to do?” In addition to the wonderful friendship that Sue gave me during a difficult time in my life she taught me this great lesson. You’ve got to own it. It’s yours so why not? I really hope my friend writes his book.  He was thinking about it. I could tell.  In a way I guess it would be a story within a story. Whether the subplot has a happy ending is really up to him.

Music for this post

Ben Taylor’s ‘Not Alone’ as it speaks to friends, relationships and changes that come. Then there’s the Fabulous Thunderbirds with ‘Stand Back’, a song that captures the spirit of “getting it done”. Lastly for my dear friend Sue (pictured below having a chat with my son when he was a baby) because this post is not only about how much I miss her but how she continues to be a presence in my life so many years after she left, James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’.

Chatting with Sue

Eidolon

Pandora’s box is a black silhouette of trees that border the horizon. Flung wide open a fine spray escapes to stain the sky burnt topaz and rose. Tourmaline watercolour blossoms bleed up grenadine smears that flow into amber smoke and the open indigo beyond. Rose coloured lenses filter the atmosphere and paint the world in shades of strawberry blond. The carmine flood sings a requiem for the day in languid notes of gold and pomegranate tears. Twilight boats cast nets of shadow to gather the radiance, dragging it up to the char blackened lips of night so that she can devour the cherry flavoured light.

Origami

Under a sky of Eric Sloane manganese blue the early morning light burnishes the stubble of wheat to a golden glow that runs for acres and acres across the fields. A pristine swirl rises on the thermal as a flock of seagulls take silent distant flight. The flurry of white is stark against the stratus clouds, a long sinuous line forming a Chinese dragon of folded paper wings.

L’Amant

The cooling earth, slick and chill, reclines in the twilight of her year.

Johnny-come-lately, the warm wind is a tentative caress. Fingers of air, velvet and tender, stroke the cool flesh stirring up echoes of sun-heated passion. Her lips part and misty sighs, like summer’s specters, rise to walk the land again. Laid open and bare, her languid arms reach to enfold the warmth and carry it deep inside. The sweet reek of grass and loam seeps up through the ground. Wet and warm, knots of hair catch on fingers of mist. The jagged teeth of bare bark split the waves that seek the hidden places. Entwined so tight the two are one. Earthbound clouds creep close to watch and then draw modesty’s curtain round the brazen embrace.

Blanketed in grey the day is still but for the gentle drip of the rain from tree branch to ground.