Sunday, April 23, 2017

Maudie and the Very Good Day

Last night I went to see the movie Maudie, a wonderful gem of a film. Went on the internet afterward to look up stuff about Maud and Everett Lewis; the film stayed pretty true to what is known about them. At least one person in my writing group is from that part of this province (Digby area) and he knew folks who knew the Lewises. He said Everett had a pretty bad reputation, the movie cleaned him up a bit. Not surprising really, they wanted a love story. He probably loved her as best he could but his own background was not particularly loving. Poor old Everett hoarded the money Maud earned, had it stuffed away in jars and cans all over the place. In the end he was murdered by burglars looking for that money (I'm not giving anything away, that is not in the movie).

The actors did an amazing job of it, and lots of tears were shed during the showing. A man in the audience said he bawled all the way through. We humans are wired funny, the story of a woman who felt and expressed joy through most of her life and we cry. I thought the scene of her catching the chicken to slaughter for Everett's supper was priceless, summed up so much of her and left us wondering what was in that damn big cauldron every time she dished out Everett's supper through the rest of the movie.

Yesterday was a good day for a couple of reasons, the movie being one of them. The other was a text message from my youngest son saying he'd been accepted into the University of Victoria Masters program in Philosophy. He posted it on Facebook later, I saw that after the movie. He was over the moon.

He applied around Christmas and has been waiting to hear since then. One of his best school buddies had already been accepted into the same program and was even awarded fellowship money to do it, but Sam had not heard a word. He was barely keeping his head above water, prone to depression at the best of times. He only applied to the one program because that was all he wanted to do, anything else would have been second best and he wasn't prepared to go there unless first best was out of the question. Besides, each application costs money that he doesn't have. Anyway, not only was he accepted but they are offering him money to do it, even more than they offered his friend.

Why they took so long to tell him is a mystery, when I asked him that question he provided several possibilities, or "...the universe is just chaotic and uncaring of my desire for things to make sense."

He graduated from the BA program just before Christmas, fulfilling his goal of getting his degree before he turned 40 by just a hair. He got a job delivering newspapers in the middle of the night, the guy that drives around dropping off bundles for "newspaper boys" (these days they are adults with cars) to deliver door to door. Since he's on the west coast, that's morning time for me so we occasionally exchange text messages then. He takes Hapi's brother Hiro with him, we once exchanged photos of each other driving around with our respective malamutes in the back seat.

I'm not posting those pics here because while the dogs are very photogenic the people are not.

Anyway he was happy with the job as an interim thing, it is part-time and enough money to live on and pay the bills. But the growing fear that this might be all he was ever going to get with a BA in Philosophy was gnawing on him. Not that an MA in Philosophy will get him much more, but it really is the only thing he wants to do, he loves philosophy.

He started out in a 2-year Social Work Technician program because he had this idea for helping other young men find their way in life. At the end of the two years he could apply to go on for a BSW, but he had to write an essay on why he wanted to be a social worker to get into that program and it really pissed him off. I remember being a bit puzzled by that but he really really did not want to write that essay. So he switched to Psychology instead. He told me that friends had said that there were more jobs in Psych than Social Work and that was why he was switching. Really?!?

Then I heard he was doing a minor in Philosophy. A few months before graduating he admitted that actually he was doing Philosophy as his major. That he took one course in Philosophy and it changed his life, he couldn't do anything else. He said the Social Work program pissed him off, he just couldn't continue with it so he switched to Psychology hoping that would be better, but the course in Philosophy hit the sweet spot.

So I tell this story to friends (especially the bit about his philosophy degree landing him a job as a newspaper boy) and they laugh and shake their heads. It is funny and what good is a degree in philosophy anyway, who hires philosophers? But I am proud of him, not only for accomplishing this educational landmark but also for the choices he has made.

There was a time when a university education really was a higher education, but now it is mostly vocational. People go to university because these days you can hardly find a job without a degree. Why the H-E-double-hockey-stick kids (or their parents) are expected to pay for something that only accomplishes what a high school education used to accomplish is the cynical question I ask. But Sam I think did the right thing. He started out picking a program that might get him a job because that is how you are supposed to think about a university education, but somewhere along the line he realized what university should be for. He financed it through a combination of extreme frugality, part-time work and a small inheritance from his father.

My other sons have also accomplished things in life that I am very proud of too.

The oldest boy has been married for almost 20 years now, a strong relationship and two fine sons. He went through a kind of midlife crisis recently, wondering what he was doing and what he had accomplished, if anything. But just before Christmas he had an experience that really changed his thinking and made him realize that he was on track to really make a contribution in life that he could be proud of. I am proud of him for having that insight and for all the hard work he put in to get where he is today.

The middle son had a realization quite a while ago that dreams aren't accomplished unless you make the first difficult steps to put yourself on that particular road. He did that, and now in his middle age he is pretty much right where he wants to be. For him it meant realistically assessing what stood in his way and researching how to get around it. He came up with a plan and he followed it truly, making adjustments as necessary when new facts entered the equation. He was very fortunate in meeting the right person to accompany him on that journey and he too has a successful loving marriage with a wonderful daughter and another child on the way.

But today is Sam's day to shine.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The raven and the eagle

I was walking this afternoon by the Gaspereau canal with Hapi. An eagle flew by with a raven fluttering around it. Often the crows and ravens harass the eagles and I thought that was what was happening. I could hear the eagle whistling and the raven cawing, even when they had flown out of sight behind the trees. I began to wonder if this was really harassment or something else. Somehow their whistles and caws sounded friendly, as if they were having a conversation back and forth. I imagine an unusual friendship between a raven and an eagle as they fly together down the valley.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Moving right along

Spring proceeds apace. Today it is snowing but it is just little flakes that melt when they hit the ground, no accumulation. Supposed to stop soon, then I will take Hapi for her walk and go for lunch with a neighbour. I think we are going to a Korean place, which he says his daughter turns up her nose at because where she lives there are lots of Korean places and many are way better than our one Korean place, but it's good enough for us country bumpkins.

I've got crocuses and hyacinth in bloom, tulips up but not blooming. All the bulbs got moved twice in the last couple of years, the first time so one wall of my basement could be dug up and waterproofed, and the second time to move them back after the work was done. They seem to have survived nicely. I had transplanted them into my vegetable garden and some got left behind in the second move, so there are now flowers in amongst the garlic which is also emerging. I'll try to get the flower bulbs moved after they finish blooming.

Most of the male goldfinches that come to my bird feeder are now in their summer colours and swarming the feeder. Lots of activity. I have to double the amount of seed I put in the feeder at this time of year, and then as soon as the maple that it hangs from leafs out they stop coming. All the birds stop coming then and I take the feeder down until the fall. One squirrel tried to take advantage of the feeder but I tapped him on the back with a broom stick and he was so shocked he leaped ten feet down and six feet away from the tree. I haven't seen him since.

Hapi is no longer limping. I think when she realized that she wasn't going to get a walk until she stopped limping she decided to fake it. There was one day for sure that I saw her limp when she thought I wasn't looking, but as soon as I appeared with leash in hand she was jumping around like a puppy. Managed not to limp for the entire walk. Well, if she wants to fake it then I suppose she deserves it.

The dog that I have been dog sitting for (Hapi's admirer) on the other hand is not doing well. He now has two legs not working properly and both on the same side. I think this might not bode well for him. Fingers crossed though, he's a sweet dog. His owner has an appointment for him to get X-rayed next week if things do not improve.

I have been reading a book called Becoming a Writer, written by Dorothea Brande in 1934. She was ahead of her time I think, I've seen bestsellers published more recently that give the same advice as she did then. But she has one piece of advice I've never seen anywhere else. In her chapter on Writing on Schedule she gives two exercises. The first is to set a time of day and write for 15 minutes at that time every day. Doesn't matter what you write, the point is to create a habit not produce a handwritten gem. The second exercise is to get up early and write for 15 minutes then, also every day and in addition to scheduled writing time. OK, that sounds like common enough advice. But what makes it different is that she then says:

"If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late."

Way to up the ante!

In other news, the American couple made an offer on a house not far from where I live and it was accepted, they take possession at the end of July. They are back in the USA now scurrying around I presume to get themselves moved.

Ah spring, things are stirring!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Limping along and happy returns

Twice this past week the hottest place in Canada has been right here. We're basking in it. It is definitely spring, we've had sun and warm weather for a week, flowers are up and grass is starting to turn green again. I wanted to do some planting today but a young woman digging in her garden down the street advised me not to, there's at least one more night of frost in the forecast.

Hapi has injured herself and is now confined to barracks. This has never happened to her before. On Tuesday I noticed she was limping slightly on our way home from the Reservoir Park (the picture above), I could only see it when she walked fast and I couldn't tell which leg she was favouring. The next day she seemed fine and we went to the ravine with a friend and her dog, there was still ice and snow in the woods there. Hapi ran around as if there was nothing wrong (perhaps showing off for the older male dog), but had a bit of difficulty jumping into the van for the trip home afterward. When we got home she was obviously in trouble, hesitating to jump down from the van and then obviously limping into the back yard. When I put her dinner out for her she was trying to figure out how to stand on three legs and eat at the same time. I thought she would have trouble getting down the basement steps that evening and might sleep on the main level instead, but she carefully manoeuvred down the steep steps to her basement bedroom. She hates sleeping upstairs!

So on Thursday as she hobbled back upstairs in the morning I decided she couldn't go walking again until the limp was gone. I massaged the leg she was favouring but could not see anything obvious and she didn't have any tender spots. She enjoyed the massage though. I found out in the process that her toes are webbed, I never knew that before! I guess it helps for walking on snow. So I don't know what the problem is or where, and I am reluctant to give her anything for pain because I don't want her running around making it worse. Just keep an eye on it I guess.

Two years ago an American couple who had moved here and gotten permanent resident status decided to move back to the USA. They had been here for a few years and had a lot of friends here, they are very nice people who make friends easily. But for a bunch of reasons they thought it made sense to go back. They still owned a house in the US and all their family was there. They sold their house here and moved back, but kept in touch and visited several times after they left the country. They're visiting now. House hunting. After two years they admit their mistake and are putting the US house up for sale. Going back "home" (well, at the time they thought it was) turned out as the old saying goes: you can't go back home again. They were used to the great social life and numerous friends they had here and going back just wasn't the same. No friends, no social life. Their family is scattered so it didn't really help that they were in the same country. Everyone who knows them here is delighted that they are coming back. They thought we would laugh at them. Well we are, but we are happy they are back too.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Refuge vows

It was my birthday a few days ago. I was not looking forward to it, if anything I was quite depressed about it. Funny how some birthdays mean nothing, some are happy events and some are dreadful. This was in the last category. My parents died in their 70s, neither saw their 79th birthday. I am now 10 years from that date with posterity, feeling my mortality in a big way. I know it's not rational, but it takes little excuse to get depressed. And it's not something one wants to talk about because everybody piles on with how silly you're being. Doesn't help, only makes it worse: not only am I depressed but I am also silly for being depressed.

Just so you know I am not depressed now, so I am not looking for advice.

A couple of days before my birthday I had a really bad dream. Trapped in a small fenced yard with someone shooting a gun at me. The bullets were really spots of grey-coloured liquid but I knew they were poison and the deadly effect would kick in very soon. Needless to say, I woke up breathless and stressed out. Went to the bathroom, got something to eat, had a drink of water and went back to bed trying not to think about it. Instead, I thought about all the things I'd ever failed at in life, all the things I had abandoned--you know--all the negative thoughts that come to you in the middle of the night when you're a little stressed out.

So one of those abandoned things was having taken buddhist refuge vows years ago and then promptly abandoned them. Supposedly lifelong vows, abandoned for something more interesting I guess. I tried to remember what they were. I spent a few minutes on that distraction and did manage to remember them. Thought about what they meant. It occurred to me that they weren't gone for good, I could always go back to them, if I so desired. That thought was actually comforting and shortly I was back to sleep again.

Next day I was supposed to go up the mountain to dogsit overnight. I thought I would just spend the time hanging out with the dogs and reading, so I looked through my books for something I haven't read in a while and might like to read again. In honour of the abandoned vows I chose a book about Buddhism that I remembered having enjoyed the first time but couldn't for the life of me remember the content. It was Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, by Stephen Batchelor. Turned out to be a very good choice. So good in fact that it snapped me right out of the depression within the first couple of chapters.

In the evening the dogs and I sat out on the deck in the dark. One of them had a bone, the other just watched and listened. I tried to listen too, I don't know what she was listening to because I couldn't hear it, just silence. I felt alive.

The next day was my birthday and I went to an art show with a couple of friends and then to a local restaurant for a burger; April is Burger Wars month so a lot of restaurants are featuring hamburgers in a competition and a portion of the cost is donated to a children's charity. I think. Then we went to a pub for chocolate cake and wine.

I've been avoiding my writing group because the depression has stopped me cold. But the morning after my birthday one of the writing group members texted me to say she'd be walking by my house to go to the meeting and she'd knock on my door. I texted I hadn't written anything and she replied she'd knock anyways, I could come and critique. So I scrambled out of my PJs and brushed my teeth and was ready at the door with my jacket when she knocked. The sun came out and it was the warmest day we've had since last fall, and Environment Canada says we were the warmest place in the whole country that day!

Finally, winter is over. Even if it snows again, it's over.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Party on

Went to a surprise birthday party for a neighbour. Classic kitchen party, nobody in the living room, everyone jammed into a tiny kitchen. The obligatory guitar. Young Justin used to play with his family, they got a great compliment from Stomping' Tom Connors at a music festival. Justin has been playing with the family since he was just small, he plays mostly Country and Gospel, lots of stuff you can sing along to.

The birthday girl is camera shy and it shows, she never smiles and so photos of her rarely look as good as she is. Here's her birthday cake:

It's a diabetic cake, made with artificial sweetener. Half the people at the party are diabetic, the scourge of Nova Scotia. Tina, the host of the party, went all out to put it on. She adores our birthday girl.

There was a funny boundary between the kitchen and living room, a floor colour change. Hapi was scared of it. So we leashed her up and led her back and forth across the boundary until she wasn't scared of it anymore. She didn't like the crowdedness of the kitchen but she knew that was where the food was and the best chances of begging for sandwiches. I had to be strict with the partiers, no sweets, and only half an egg sandwich. She does her best imitation of a starved and abused dog to hook her victims.

And in other news, it continues to snow. At one point there was melting and I saw tulips trying to come up in my garden, but then it snowed again and they disappeared from view. I think they are still there though.

I am learning to play bridge in a neighbouring town where they have a friendly bridge club that welcomes total novices. A four hour session once a week that leaves me mentally drained, but it's interesting and fun. There are two people there who are the resident experts, so when I have a problem I can ask one of them what I should do. This past week myself and another newbie played against one of those experts and another longtime player. We of course lost big time, but I have yet to learn bridge scoring (it looks complicated) so half the time I have no idea how I'm doing. My partner though kept asking what the score was so that's how I know we were losing majorly. At one point she apologized to me for how badly we were doing but honestly I wasn't concerned, I am more interested in learning the game than winning it. I like that it is a partnership game, that it is a kind of secret language for communication; not only do you want to communicate with your partner but you also want to decipher your opponents' communication with each other. And I am learning that there are dialects; depending on which dialect a pair is using they might be saying quite different things. It's interesting and a good distraction from the general depression I am otherwise struggling with. And the endless snow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


It is still snowing, I am so tired of it.

Saps the energy right out of me, no motivation to do anything.

Hapi likes it though.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Things I don't know

Don't know why but am feeling paralyzed. I have lots I could be doing but I'm not. Don't feel like going out or socializing, don't feel like doing anything. Except sit in front of the fire and read or scroll through Facebook, looking for interesting links. Feels like an addiction I can't break.

Saw "Paterson" yesterday, a film about a bus driver who writes poetry. His name is Paterson and he lives in Paterson, NJ. Strange movie. Kept waiting for something to happen, and the background music was kind of ominous so I kept expecting something bad to happen. All the way through the bus driver writes poetry in a little notebook he carries around with him. His poetry seemed so ordinary that after the film was over I was thinking, Damn, I could write that stuff! I'm not a poet, I've never thought I could write poetry, ever. Until last night. That's more about how ordinary his poems were than my ability to write poetry, which as far as I know is just as nonexistent as it ever was.

Saturday night I volunteer ushered at a performance of the Vienna Boys Choir. They break the choir up into small touring groups, so we only saw twenty-four (or five, not sure) boys. Their voices are like female soprano voices, but different. Can't say what was different, just was. I'm not musically literate. Mostly Austrian boys but also some from other countries around the world: Japan, Mexico, Germany, USA, and so forth. It was very enjoyable and the house was packed. We ushers were very busy.

After the performance three of us went out for drinks at a local pub (Joe's). One of the women is someone I don't really know that well but at one point I asked her a question, I think I asked her something about her childhood, or where she grew up or something like that, and she began to tell us about her life. She is francophone and has a lovely musical voice, but very quiet and we were in a noisy pub (full of students) so it was hard to hear. Anyway it was an interesting story and it made us all think about Life.

She told me that she was glad I had asked her out for a drink after the show because she liked me and wanted to know me better. I was enthralled with her story. It made me think about my own life in a different way. I think I am still digesting it. There's an art show going on in a nearby town and she has some paintings in it, I would like to go see them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thoughts on a Facebook link I read today

When something seems blatantly obvious to you and yet you know that there are people out there with the same access to knowledge as you but radically different opinions on the subject, it is sometimes mind-wrenching. How can people believe that? Don't they know [X]?? What kind of nutcases are they anyway? Or, maybe they're just Evil.

Years ago I had the experience of driving across the northern USA in a truck that had undiagnosed mechanical problems. Randomly, it wouldn't start. I'd camp somewhere and it wouldn't start in the morning. I'd stop for a rest break and it wouldn't start when I was ready to move on. But randomly, I never knew when it was going to happen. I had tried to get it diagnosed and fixed before I left on this trip but to no avail. As it turned out it was a relatively simple problem and cheap fix; something about the ignition computer? Whatever. I didn't know my 1991 truck even had a computer, but it did.

Back to the story. The upside of travelling with a mechanical problem is that you find out the kindness of strangers. Lots of people tried to help me. In Wisconsin I ended up spending a weekend camped on the front lawn of a family that really tried hard to help me. The fellow virtually dismantled my truck trying to locate the problem. At one point he thought he had fixed it and I left the next morning. I stopped at the next town for gas and the truck wouldn't start. I knew this guy had a tow truck, I phoned him and he and his wife came to bring me and my truck back to their place so he could figure out what wasn't working. On the trip back the three of us were crammed into the cab of the tow truck and they began to tell me about their religious beliefs. They belonged to a small but wealthy evangelistic Christian sect that among other things believed in The Rapture but not in Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Anyone who knows me knows that my beliefs are pretty much the polar opposite to theirs. So I sat there quietly listening, not wanting to bite the hand that was currently trying to help me out.

In listening, I got where they were coming from, I understood why they believed what they did and I even kind of agreed with them. Out of Darwin's theory comes Social Darwinism, the so-called Survival of the Fittest. Competition is all, and to hell with those who are not Fit enough to Survive. Not that most proponents of the theory of evolution believe that now, but it is an unfortunate extension of the original theory to human history. In Darwin's time it was entirely believable, some people, some races of people, are just not Fit enough to Survive and we do the Fitness of the Human Race as a whole a disservice by trying to help them. My benefactors obviously did not believe that at all, otherwise they would have just shrugged their shoulders at my misfortune. I ended up going to church with them on Sunday and learned some more. This was in the Bush era and they had a photo of President Bush in the lobby of their church. They also had photos of various young members of their congregation currently serving in Iraq lining the back of the church hall. After the service the pastor's wife introduced me to each one of them, clearly in pain about the possibility of losing them. Several people took me aside to whisper they wouldn't be voting Republican again, they were deeply disappointed in Bush. They had wanted an end to abortion and homosexuality and they got a war in Iraq instead.

It helps to understand where people with opposing opinions are coming from. Sometimes there is an element of truth in what they are saying, it helps to find something to agree on. We will never have peace and freedom until we do.

So all of that is just a preamble to something I read (on Facebook) today. Here is the link:

This Man Hiked the Entire Route of the XL Pipeline

In this article the man is being interviewed about what he experienced and learned in the course of his hike and he talks about the different attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change that he encountered during his hike. The following paragraph about some climate change deniers really struck me:

"These are folks who see themselves as hardy, self-sufficient, small government individualists. If you believe in climate change, you’re giving in to the idea of government coming in to fix things, collective action to impose greenhouse gas limits, and reining in the evils of the free market with stricter regulation. This conflicts with so much of that heartland identity."

The link between individualism and climate change denial was made clear to me. Living in a country where we don't have such a strong belief in rugged individualism and we see the value in government-provided welfare and healthcare, it is nevertheless clear that there is a price for that. We have more regulation and less personal freedom, more personal taxes and less emphasis on self-reliance. And if we accept the belief that drastic climate change is human-caused and ultimately disastrous for humanity, then we also have to accept the belief that humanity as a whole has to do something about it. Self-reliance and rugged individualism is not going to accomplish that, like it or not we will have to resort to Big Government Regulation to enforce the kind of drastic change necessary. I get that that is a tough nut to swallow for people used to taking care of themselves and disliking infringement on personal freedoms.

There are over seven billion of us now, and growing. In spite of progress made in birth control and birth rate reductions this number will only increase in the foreseeable future. We live on a planet that is not really setup for those numbers and in the natural order of things there would be considerably fewer of us in a balanced natural ecology. North America is an enclave of relatively low human population living in a very large area. Granted, most of it is not suitable for human habitation, but still. Preserving that luxury by building walls around us might work in the short term but long term it is not a solution. Our future here is inextricably linked to the future of humanity everywhere on the planet. Due to the huge number of us that is going to mean more government-enforced regulation, not less. I totally get the sense of loss of freedom. In my own lifetime I remember greater freedoms a few decades ago than exist now. It is sad. I don't like it. We have to do it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Little house in the woods

I am house-sitting/dog-sitting. Murph is a 13-year-old labradoodle who has a lot of difficulty standing and walking due to arthritis. But he really likes Hapi and that motivates him to stand up and walk. His owner tells me that in his heyday he'd be mounting her and she wouldn't like that, but getting up on his hind legs is a bit beyond him now so Hapi likes him.

When I first arrived I brought along a cooler of food, including some pork for Hapi's dinner. Then I went out to visit a neighbour, leaving the cooler in the house with Murph. Bad idea. He opened the cooler and ate all the pork. So I'm a little more careful about leaving food where he can get at it, the cooler is now in the car. Murph likes chewing bones but he doesn't eat them. After he's done chewing Hapi takes the bone and eats it. Murph is okay with that.

We went for two walks today, once up the road and once down the road. Murph does his best to keep up but he's an even slower walker than I am. Hapi leaves us both in the dust. On the walk down the road, Hapi crawled into a culvert under the road. She loves culverts and if they are big enough she crawls in. I'm scared she's somehow going to end up trapped under the road but so far it hasn't happened. Murph thought it was interesting but he wasn't about to follow her. We got to a stream and I went off the road to look at the stream, the dogs followed. Then Murph started barking, there was a woman walking down the stream towards us. I thought she looked familiar and sure enough it was someone I knew. Here I am in the middle of nowhere and a friend comes out of the woods towards me. She told me that there was a waterfall further up the stream out of sight from the road and it was a favourite place of hers to just go and sit. I'd have liked to go see but I didn't think Murph would make it so another time I guess.

We walked back to the house I was staying at. My friend said she thought it was a cute house, at least from the outside. I said it was cute inside too, I was quite enjoying staying there.

Tomorrow I go home. It's going to be cold and my car battery is old so I don't know if it will start. We'll see.

Same place as shown in previous blog post.