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.