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Writing about Writing

Published February 1, 2012 by megdedwards

  I wrote this post three years ago. Now I live without my Mom’s voice and I am doing what I promised. I am working on a big project, writing a novel and my mind is playing on a big canvas.

My blog posts arrive quietly in my mind while I am cleaning, sorting or putzing around.

Thoughts develop, themes appear, and I want to talk about them. Sometimes I need to just sit quietly for a while and then my ideas arrive and start bubbling.

I thought I was going to write about love yesterday, but today I find myself writing about writing.

Writing is something that my Poor Mom misses.  Her thoughts bubble about and are delicious, metaphoric and deeply insightful, but she can’t write them down anymore.

I call her My Poor Mom now that Parkinson’s has taken over her life and fogged her hard working mind with apparitions and paralysis. All her life she was a woman with ideas and creative outlets; now she struggles to have a conversation.

We talk about blogging and writing a lot and she remembers her days when she wrote for an internet writing group called NerdNosh.   She wrote episodic memoirs of her life with the caveat that it would be good for her family to have those stories written down.  This was a very happy time for her; she had her own writing room where she would work on her albums and write her Nerdnosh remembrances.

This was as close to being an artist as my Mom got, and believe me, she could have been an artist. During one of our recent poetic, speculative and superbly honest conversations I told my Mom that she could have been a novelist (or painter or filmmaker).  Even now, her imagination and her ability to analyze her imagination are incredible.  When she woke from her weeks of semi-consciousness after her heart operation she told us all about the novels she had been writing while she was resting.

Recently her mind has been creating stories to accompany the hallucinations that crowd into her life. She told me that it is tiring living in the middle of a film set as people are always moving things and putting labels on things.  Even after I confirmed that this was just her own personal apparitions, she went on to tell me that the theme of the film was quite interesting, as if she was writing a film review. “It is all about the dark spaces of nothingness between the frames” she said. I said, “Mom, you are blowing my mind”, and she laughed.

And we went on to talk about why women find it so hard to take themselves seriously as writers or artists.  She told me that her life as she was living it right now would be a good premise for a novel. “I’d make an interesting character”, she said.  As a busy mom she told stories, painted, drew, and played the piano. She surrounded her children with creativity, worked as a journalist, an administrator and an agent. But she never created a story that was parallel and separate from her.

We wondered together what type of personality it took to sacrifice time and energy to a novel. We know that men and women do it all the time, even women with children, (which is truly remarkable) but we wondered what it is that drives them to produce purely fictional material.

What stops so many of us from grasping the full title, or aiming for the highest achievement? Can I create more than patches on a quilt of my life stories, or ‘mere light nothings’ as my Mom calls it? I feel that being a fiction writer may require a bigger ego than I have, or possibly, more mental discipline and stamina. But as I near the age of fifty I know that I not only have a perfectly good ego, but stamina and discipline.

I am fascinated by women’s writing and why they write and how they write. I am interested in the entire debate of a ‘woman’s voice’ and whether you can say there is one.  An old text book on Feminist Literary Theory, my conversations with my lapsed writer mom, and my blog are all leading me irrevocably down a path.

In respect of my Mom, and with love to my Mom, I feel that I have to take the creative process one step further.  Women are often content to create as we go; our story telling, our art work, our sewing and knitting adorn our lives and others, but are washed away in the current of life.

Maybe that is best. I don’t know. I don’t think that ‘fine art’ is better than craft; it is just defined and valued that way. But sometimes we hold back from creating something big because of a lack of confidence, and that is not a good reason.

In our latest conversation I told Mom I would attempt to take writing to the next level.  My mom has always said you are not a writer unless you have a manuscript hiding at the bottom of your files.  I have those, a pile of them, and they are very old and dusty or in ‘word’ files that can no longer be opened by any proper computer.

I told her I would try. It is a big commitment, promising a dying woman that you will write stories for her sake, but my only saving grace is that Mom may forget what I said.

So I have a project I am handing myself,  I am going to take all my lost children, my unfinished stories, and work on them with the same upbeat, sensible wordsmith practicality I take to my journalism or public ‘journaling’ (blog).  No self-loathing or recriminations, no high expectations or fear of failure, just a person who is happy to have her mind and fingers still working together.

And I better work quickly so my Mom has enough vigor to be able to criticize what I create; I don’t mind, I can take it.

Confessions of a Humble Belly Dancer

Published January 18, 2012 by megdedwards

I started belly dancing about 12 years ago. And no, I did not slowly work my way up the ranks to head belly dancer and start my own belly dancing school.

I don’t have a series of a velvet outfits and a business card with my dancer’s name on it, Megara’s School of Dance.  But a lot of my friends who started the art of belly dancing that long ago do actually have dancer’s names now.

I am not sure why I cannot bring myself to move to that apparently inevitable next step. But it says a lot about me.

Let’s go over the information you have about me  if you have been reading this blog: I was shy as a kid, I didn’t know I was in any way good looking for quite some time, maybe still don’t know that deep down. And I never, ever, wanted to be a princess. I never looked at myself in the mirror and smiled coyly, or wafted about like a princess.

Knowing these essential facts about me, you and I both would be surprised at see how good a dancer I am now in my late forties.  I have learnt how to move really gracefully, I can move like a queen and whip that scarf around like a real dancer. I can move my shoulders in a delightful wiggle and do nice little dance steps with my body pulled up in a lovely dancer’s posture.

The really great thing about belly dancing is that it is quite difficult, and your mind will have to focus on the actual mechanics, leaving no place for embarrassed inhibition. It is hard work to isolate a hip movement or move only your rib cage, and it takes a lot of practice.

I feel like I am pretty good now, and I have heard that once or twice from a generous friend of mine. But most prima donna belly dancers are stingy with the compliments. That has been a bit hard for me as I admit that I need positive feedback to continue tackling a difficult challenge. I am one of those people that sort of withers up under constant criticism. So I have had a bit of a battle keeping at belly dancing.

But I am drawn back because I love to dance, and I love the music. And my back and torso love the exercise. I am not saying that I have abs of any form.   As far as I am concerned you can only get abs by doing exercises that are not natural to women.  I tried this out last year with a  misguided  ‘8 minute abs’ video (‘you can’t hurt yourself doing these exercises’, says the man, and I answer, “ yes, you can’)  I think I gave myself a hernia in my poor stretched stomach, but I have never hurt myself belly dancing.

I still love to dance and I still love belly dancing, in my own way. But I have stopped classes. For the most part that is because in order to have belly dancing classes in Baie Verte I have to rent the hall, call all the gals, collect the cash, run the class and pay for the hall no matter how many people come.

As you can imagine this makes the whole decision as to whether I want a weekly dance class a little burdensome. I don’t get to go down to the Y and just sign up and then just do my best. I have to run the dam class and I can tell you being a dance teacher was never a private fantasy of mine.

I have tried to write positive articles on body image and belly dancing before but they turned out a bit formulaic. I even had a neat metaphor comparing the colored belts of Tae Kwon Do with the self-anointed jingly belts that belly dancers buy themselves. I liked to make the case that belly dancers have no master and promote themselves by buying increasingly jingly and colorful belts until they buy themselves entire outfits.

But something was missing in my writing about belly dancing, and that was the honesty that I take to the personal blog.  I was not being entirely truthful about how I felt about belly dancing and it just made the piece flat. That is what I love about this blog. I ain’t selling it and I don’t care if anyone is buying it, so I speak my mind.

I confess I am a belly dancer who is at the stage where she should be teaching, but does not want to teach. Like the martial artist that moves away and starts his own school, I should be renting my own space, selling my wares and sharing the art and experience of belly dancing to newcomers. I know I can teach a beginners class in belly dancing no problem, but I seem to be lacking the hunger to do so.

I stopped running my weekly class about a year ago and my body is not thanking me. It is a great work out and dancing makes me happy.  I keep thinking I will start again but I am not enthusiastic about the class. What I really wanted was a collaborative work out class in which no one is really in charge. I ran it like that for quite some time with a friend and I thought we did really well.

Neither of us had the desire to be the leader so we split up the exercises and had a free form class in which we followed some routine and just made it up as we went. Some women did not like that no one was officially in charge.  But there was a core group of about six who managed quite well – we danced, we got our heart beats up, we laughed and talked, we stretched.

As I describe the class I am tempted to start again but our hall is becoming expensive and we only have a few women right now who could come. One hard core dancer took a break from belly dancing and threw out her knee in an ill advised attempt to get abs in a Tae Kwon Do. Never aim for abs.

I had one really fabulous class which I taught myself of which I am still proud.  We did our yoga stretches to lovely music, we did more and more dance moves until our hearts were beating fast, we practiced an old dance and we practiced improvisation.

We have one song in which the gals form a circle and do dance moves on the outside ring while one or two gals go in the middle and dance a sole for a short amount of time. We take turns, and no one really watches the gal in the middle that closely because they are thinking of their moves on the outside, so it feels safe in the circle.

I had my old pal from Halifax visiting, a friend that goes back to high school, and she is a dance student from way back so she leapt into the class with  enthusiasm.  We have danced together many times, often shoving the men out of the way so we could have fun dancing.

When we went into the middle of the circle we worked together and traded moves back and forth and looked at each other as we danced. That is the way I want to belly dance, with women, and in a causal noncompetitive mode.

What I find disappointing about belly dancing is the singular quality: one girl dances on the stage and everyone cheers for the princess of the moment.  But I want it to be collaborative and communicative.  To me, this is the way belly dancing should be. It is about the joy of dancing.

I am sure that women dance for and with each other more happily than for an audience, or at least most of us do. At its best belly dancing is a conversation with the body, and the best performers connect with the audience in that way.

It is a craft, and it is entertaining. But for most of us it is an exercise class that throws women together with movement and laughter.  By the end of that class we did something that I believe in my heart is the true origins of belly dancing; we danced together, a group of gals dancing with each other.

 

Illness onto death, or let’s just not talk about it.

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Portrait of Phyllis Anderson by Meg Edwards

We happily live in a bubble of health until we are struck down.  It is very hard to live in a constant state of appreciation for your present health without getting maudlin or morbid.

It is probably best not to think about it at all. The people who live best do seem to have a way of pushing death and illness away from their thoughts.

I was sitting at the hairdressers the other day enjoying my splurge. My hairdresser has a way of not only making me look fantastic but feel great too.

And I have been watching; she does this for everyone who walks in the door. She is a miracle worker. I can truly understand why hair stylists don’t get into social media because when they are off work they must long for a less social life.

But my luxury buzz, a cup of green tea and the new Elle magazine handed to me by the delightful Susan as the die sinks into my poor head, was being brought down by the general conversation.

The women were bringing their stories to the chair, and quite a few of them were nasty stories; for example, a friend of someone who had a pain in the elbow that turned out to be cancer and was dead in a few months, another story of a child who went from having pneumonia to palliative care in a few weeks.

With two children on antibiotics at the moment I had a horrible chill when I heard that. The woman telling the story said it made her focus on the happiness of her family.  I understand this reaction but it does not resonate with me. First of all, the point of the epiphany is that shit can happen at any moment. How am I supposed to relax thinking about that!

Illness and death was chilling my innocent giggles over Tabatha Southey and Guy Saddy’s always amusing columns in Elle. People get a little heavy in the cold months.  My theory about life is that I will face each challenge life hands me as bravely as possible, but I will take no unnecessary risks. (I am a Rabbit in Chinese astrology.)

Not for me the bungee jumping that plunges me into an African river. But, if I actually must leap into a river in order to save a child, I will.

A lot of the time I think that I will be brave when the call comes for me to leave this life.  But as I sat in the chair with die sinking into my hair, I realized that I can’t really know. I am pretty sure I will freak out and mourn pretty intensely.  I have a lot of things I want to do and the way I am going, it is going to take me a few more decades to achieve all my dreams – like learn how to dance Samba, finish some dusty stories, play a ukulele in a band, return to India, and maybe even foster children.

I remember thinking about aging when I was young, and picturing a life that was not far off to what I have now.  I thought my husband might be bald, but he isn’t!

But my vision had this very rosy light hearted emotional halo around it that cannot be carried into aging.  I felt light and strong and as if anything was possible, when I was in my twenties and now I carry more weight, figuratively and actually.

I do my best to stay young. I have studied the best role models around me.  I had a good neighbor and friend, Phyllis Anderson (nee Goodwin) who was 100 years old when she finally agreed to move to a home.  Up until that time she crept about her house, put her bed in the study, got meal on wheels and managed just fine.

When I visited her in her house, delivering her mail or bringing her soup she didn’t really like, she was always up for a visit.  She would pull herself out of her armchair where she had passed out while reading the paper or knitting, and make her way to the kitchen. With her back bent over and her hands gnarled with arthritis she would fill the kettle and get ready for a good gab.

I never heard her complain. She once told me, in passing, that she had breast cancer in her sixties and lost one breast. She kept everything in perspective for me. I realized in astonishment that she had spent my entire life being an older woman and widow; the last 40 years of her life made up my entire life.

She had been a nurse in Montreal in the twenties. She had gone to all night parties; she had married late, in her forties, and her husband had not lived much longer. Much of her midlife disappeared into one short line about delivering meals, taking in borders, and being on the Church committee. I have a few of her old journals, she kept them all, and they mostly talk about the weather and what she had achieved that day.

“A fine day, got the laundry on the line. Planted some daffodils and cut lawn. Alice came over for tea”.

Her memories remain in my mind. One time she was being pulled on a sled by her brother and a dog, and the dog took off with her behind it.  When she was about 10 years old she made up her mind to have her long hair cut by the blacksmith into a bob and shocked her family. She got measles one year and lost a year at school and was very annoyed that her friends got ahead of her in their studies.

She went to Fredericton to study in Normal School and became the school teacher at the local one room school house and walked or rode a horse to that school.  Later, she went off to Montreal to study to become a nurse, being called back at one point because her Mom was dying. When her Dad’s second wife became ill later she had to give up on living in her own new house with her husband (the house I live in now) and go live with her parents to care for them.

You can see why I stopped in for coffee at the end of the day. She had a collection of anecdotes that mostly focused on her life as a child and how it always stormed on her father’s birthday in March. And a few stories from Montreal when she lived the high life. I heard the stories over and over, relishing some in particular. When she worked the night shift in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital the nurses would sometimes take their break on a balcony of the hospital. They would pull out a chair and a big blanket, and then just sit and look over the city lights and hear the hum of the city.

She loved company and she seemed to love life. She loved to see my children and would pull out any old cookie she had to feed them.  A visit from a man, whether he was an antique collector, a nephew or my husband to help her with her taxes, always brought out her best and most lively personality.

I have many strong memories of her. Some of my new neighbours implied that I would not have liked her when she was younger as she had a strong Conservative and critical nature. Maybe we would not have got along, I don’t know. But when we met we were friends.  We enjoyed each other’s company.

And to be quite frank, I had more in common with Phyllis than I did with many of the other neighbours who had never left this hamlet. She was an educated and traveled gal.

From a selfish point of view, I liked her because she liked me.  She knew when I was lonely and she knew when I was sad. We would talk and have coffee in the late afternoon, and after a full day of childcare and no friends, I would leave feeling more like myself.

I did cry when she died, and only for myself.  I loved having her there. When she went to the hospital with a sore hip I went to visit her with the kids almost every day. It was a cold bleak spring and I would stop at the Tim Horton’s to get her a small hot chocolate in a ‘roll up the rim’ cup and a buttered bagel.

She lit up when she saw us, and there was nothing more hilarious than her determined strong fingers working that rim. It took about 10 minutes but she would roll the rim! I saw her pleasure in the buttered bagel and the deep chocolate taste.  I have never seen anyone enjoy an afternoon snack more.   I think  it  reminded her of her days as a nurse when she would take the trolley around in the afternoon and offer the patients  tea or hot chocolate and biscuits.

She did not mourn that those days were gone; she did not live in the past. But she did think that the casual outfits of the nurses were very odd. In her day she wore a pristine white dress with starched hat and sleeves. She had one repeated story where she found herself on the back elevator with a bundle of used diapers. An important personage had been invited to use the staff elevator in order to avoid attention and be able to visit his wife. She was mortified because she had folded back her starched sleeves before entering the elevator in order to avoid mussing them with the diapers. So she was puzzled by the present day nurses’ wrinkly pajama style uniforms and the casual look of doctors as well.

When she moved to the local old age home she still fought off the wheel chair. At 101 she had liver cancer and it was, of course, untreatable. I visited her there with my kids and often found her completely absorbed in a game of bowling or bingo. She had a competitive nature and liked to win.  She had been a strong and athletic woman.

The last time I saw her she was lying down, and basically quietly dying.  She tried to sit up and eat a bit of cake, and she dawdled her finger back and forth trying to catch the attention of my baby Maud.  She was still in the present moment. Then she fell asleep. The next time I went to see her they sent the nurse to tell me she had died. Her room was bare. They auctioned everything out of her house.

The house sat empty for a while, and god I wish I had just bought it (I did not have the money but maybe I could have raised it) because the next thing I knew Anglophones from Montreal moved in and cut all the trees down and molested my daughter. I am not kidding about that, it is all true, although presumably the molestation was more important than the tree devastation, but it is just funnier to me to say it that way.

I am laughing because I have a dark sense of humour.  Phyllis would have laughed too, because she knew that what didn’t actually kill you, was just food for conversation.

So, let’s have a tea, and talk about that, have a bit of a gossip, and let’s not talk about illness and dying.

Dinner Table Manners

Published October 24, 2011 by megdedwards

There is a myth circulating in present day media that all families who are any good, and any parents who have any control over their kids, will sit down and eat dinner together – whether they like it or not.

And I am not sure I subscribe to that popular guilt trip – just as I don’t actually think children will keel over without a regular bedtime.

First of all, I already don’t like the traditional yelling that happens when a family is called for dinner.  Typically someone is late or does not immediately rush to their place at the table because they want to finish their project or whatever, and then the yelling becomes angry sounding.

As soon as a meal starts with angry yelling, I am out of there. I don’t like meals which start with yelling and then continue in some mad rush to get the food down as fast as possible.

I am one of those over sensitive people who is affected by ‘bad’ table manners.  I really care if you show your food in your mouth, or belch, or fart, or place both elbows on the table and stuff the food in as fast as possible. The sight and tension of this sort of eating can actually give me a stomach ache.

And the thing with table manners, is that every family has different standards. I was brought up fairly strictly, possibly too strictly, but the damage has been done and I can’t go back.

The rules were something like this: cut up some of your food, then put your knife on the side of the plate and use your fork to eat; use just the one hand to eat, leave your fingers out of it, and leave the other hand on your lap. The other hand does not need to be nailed to your lap but do not rest one or  both arms on the table as if you are too tired to hold yourself up.

Lift your food to your face; don’t lower your face to the food.  Tip your soup away from your lap in order to get to the bottom of it.  Don’t crash the tings of the fork on your teeth, just eat more slowly and place your utensil more carefully. Cut bread, break buns. Take small bites so that you can talk and eat without a huge challenge.

I think that was about it. Excuse yourself when you are done and don’t put your napkin in your plate. When your plate is finished put your fork and knife on the side of the plate. Our mom argued that we should know how to eat properly so that it would become second nature and we would never be nervous if we are invited to a fancy dinner.

She was right about that, and I think the manners are nice and easy to follow. However, I don’t get invited out to fancy dinners all that often and most people I meet eat like ‘farmers’ as my Mom would have said.

But I don’t think table manners are a snob issue.  I have met plenty of actual farmers who eat really nicely. I am beginning to think that it is a personality type and that the less uptight people are the ones who eat with the most gusto and indelicacy.

My husband tends to do a whole host of things that I was taught to never do. I don’t know why, some of his family members eat all nice and neat some of them do not.

We have had an argument in the last few years over the practice of sitting down to eat together as a family. He says;  see how they all sit down to eat as a family in Leave it to Beaver?  We borrowed the CD set from the library and often watch while eating dinner. And I say; notice how they eat with small bites, sitting up straight and barely even chewing or swallowing?

So basically, I have had to get over myself.  I remind myself that I don’t really care where the fork and knife sit, or whether someone eats dinner as if there is an urgent deadline. The only thing I still quietly complain about is the conversation started mid large mouthful.

I know that I am a bit uptight and sensitive about eating sounds and sights, and depending on my mood, more intensely or less intensely aware of table manners.

The solution in our family is to leave the dinner hour completely free of stress:  one announcement that dinner is ready, come or don’t come that is fine. And we might eat in front of the television and watch Coronation Street, or we might sit at the table, where there will be a wide range of table manners.

For some reason my eldest  sister and I got on the topic the other day and it made me think that our childhood dinner hours were not stress free, what with the constant teaching of manners. And I distinctly remember my crazy sister and I fighting over who sat closest to Mom because she had the loudest mastication of the family.

And then my eldest sister remembered how we always had candle light and classical music. And I realized in a flash of knowledge that it was my Dad who was sensitive to eating sounds and that is why we had the music. Ah ha!

We had good dinners and bad dinners. Sometimes it was light hearted, but by the time my memory was really kicking in, I think my parents were on the outs and my Dad was depressed. I remember him sitting by himself after dinner, with the classical music, drinking wine and looking morose.

What is truly important, obviously, is not so much manners or family traditions, but whether the people sitting at the table want to be there.  My husband does not have that same sad ritual, and I am grateful for that and able to leave behind some of the rituals of my childhood.

And my husband excuses me too, because sometimes after a long day I just want to be alone or write, and not be at the dinner table with the elbows flying and people choking as they try to talk, laugh and eat food at the same time. Much as I appreciate their gusto and laughter, I will come to dinner when I feel like it, and not when the bell  rings, as it did in my childhood.

The Life and Death of Jackie

Published October 20, 2011 by megdedwards

Jackie was my Mom’s best friend and was always in our lives, sort of swinging around the outside of family events like a satellite for as long as I can remember.

She worked as a nurse, and then got her MA and taught nursing. She was a calm, practical person, who was great in a crisis or just out for a nice lunch.

She always remembered what was happening in your life, she showed interest in  other people without looking like she was following a polite protocol, she told amusing anecdotes about her life but never complained or ever showed self pity.

She was present when the family was still together and we had happy raucous Christmas parties and long summers at the cottage.  She remains part of our childhood memories. She had no children of her own, so we were hers by proxy; she  accompanied my Mom along the path of parenthood with a sense of fun and adventure.

My Mom first met her in the sixties during a night class in art history. Mom was older and married but they became fast friends, talking a mile a minute all the time. Jackie was tall, 6.2 possibly, with long black hair and piercing blue eyes. She always dressed carefully and was incredibly poised. I secretly thought of her as 99, the sidekick to Max in Get Smart; graceful, well mannered, lady like.

She was there when the whole family moved to Clinton, N.Y., feeding Mom cigarettes on the long drive while four kids were packed in the back of the VW bug (I was stashed in the boot with blankets).

Jackie was there when my sister Kate was hit by that bullet in Clinton, and Jackie was there when my father found out about my mother’s boyfriend, and returned in a drunken heartbroken state.

Jackie had come to support my Mom. I remember watching them from the kitchen window as they sat having a drink in the backyard. Jackie was trying to maintain a calm atmosphere and Dad eventually broke that social convention, calling her names, something I have never seen him do before.

After Dad moved out, Jackie lived with us in the old family house. Jackie rented a room from Mom while she was separated from her husband.  I enjoyed the fun feeling of a friend in the house, as I see my kids do when I have an old friend visiting.  I was studying  Grade 9 history and British royalty while Jackie was studying for some nursing exams. We commiserated in the kitchen.

I loved having her there, she made me feel safe.  When I had difficulties with my Mom’s impulsive and competitive nature, Jackie stood strong. She was still Mom’s best friend and said so, but she was also my supportive friend.

Over the years she attended my children’s birthdays and went out of her way to buy me little presents and take me out for lunch. She was the absolute best person to talk to when you had a problem; her area of expertise in nursing was psychiatry.

When I was in shock and pain upon discovery of my youngest daughter’s sexual assaults, her response was to be outraged, angry, even unforgiving.  No one had given me the permission to be as angry as I was; she raged for me. I will never forget how grateful I felt, and relieved.

We had a few long talks about sexual abuse when she was in palliative care with pancreatic cancer.  I learnt that Jackie’s  Mom, who had tortured Jackie with unpredictable cruel, critical rages, had been sexually abused as a child by Jackie’s grandfather.

She quoted the Bible, which is not often done in our house, to emphasize her point; the sins of the Father shall be visited upon the son. She meant that the sins of sexual abuse continue to poison the family in unexpected ways.

She sent me a short story she had written a long time ago, called Bitter Black Tea, about an especially painful week visit with her mother in England. In my heart I connected her health break downs with her visits to England with her mother.  She did not deny the connection when I mentioned it in the hospital.

When it came to dying, Jackie was supremely organized. She talked about it openly with her loving husband Paul, who she did end up staying with, and her doctors. They were impressed with her ability to face death. She planned a living wake in one of their favorite pubs and she made Paul promise to go for counseling and not drink more than beer, and get out a bit.

The only time she ever cried with me was during one of our calls when she was in palliative care.  She said the only reason she really did not want to die was because she did not want to leave Paul. And her voice cracked.  Far away and trying not to cry myself, I told her that Paul would sense she was with him, and she would be able to comfort him that way. I hope that is true.

I never cried when I visited her in palliative care, and even when I hugged her good bye on my last morning in Toronto, she was controlling, “Go now Meg, you have to make your plane, and you have a loving husband and children waiting for you”.

She told me that she needed to be able to talk about herself and that she did not want to cater to other people’s moods on her deathbed.  But even so, our chat ranged all over, just as if she was not going to die at all. We had such a lively talk about family history and she was sitting upright in the bed, with her morphine unit attached directly to her body.

“Oh, you made me realize something, now that is really interesting”. She was thinking, her bright eyes searching ideas in her mind, her long white fingers at her mouth.

This is how I remember her, engaged in ideas, excited about our conversation, sitting up straight with her long legs stretched out, her bright eyes snapping, her long white hand at her mouth; beautiful, alive, analytical and in this world.

I lost my Job and found a Blog

Published October 14, 2011 by megdedwards

This whole tweeting business is much more fun and useful than non-tweeting people realize. I have plenty of friends who think facebook is somehow morally wrong, so you can imagine I don’t have many friends who tweet out here in rural New Brunswick.

But there are people out there in cyber space who are partying and organizing, and I am joining them.

I like participating in this cyber socializing – I love to chat, text and tweet, it is fun! And if you reject new forms of technology you might as well lump yourself in with the ancestors who distrusted the printing press.

The first bonus of  tweeting is that it keeps you busy in queues and at hospital appointments. I always madly texted with my one good hand when I was bored at physio appointments, my other hand encased in hot wax.

Or take today at the Superstore cash out; I had a pile of groceries and limited time to shop and the customer in front of me had the last un-priced kumquat that she absolutely had to take home with her that day, and when the cashier headed down the alleys at a glacial pace, did I sigh and shift about and talk quietly to myself? No, I pulled out my cell phone and tweeted my daughter.

I love tweeting. It is quiet and useful; it occupies me and keeps me out of trouble while I could be ranting or making trouble. And talkative opinionated people like me always have something to say; a line up in the grocers is a gold mine.

What instigated this exciting, albeit unpaid, digital exuberance so late in my non-career? A curt email layoff from our local paper where I had been the roving freelance reporter for about ten years freed me from my paid work.

I was very happy to have that work over the years, because it allowed me to work from home while caring for my kids. The money was pretty good (maybe if I had not negotiated so well I’d still be there now) and more than anything, it gave me a place in society outside of doting mother.

But then I was suddenly free of that work and my eldest daughter Rose created a blog for me, taught me how to text, and later, tweet.  These things don’t happen organically at my age. I sent many a tweet worthy of When  Parents  Text  causing all sorts of  amusement.

I started by texting her randomly about nothing at all while she was living in Toronto this last summer. And, she texted me back, happily, and not because I was a suffocating hovering mama. In the mornings I would receive texts about her war with a particularly angry bus driver and his weird minions that would sit close by him as if for protection. Boy, did they have hostile words in the early morning smog of Aurora. Then, while she simmered, she would tap out her anger on the long trip to her downtown internship.

So, for a mom who is being weaned off her first child’s constant presence the texting was a pacifier; it was good for both of us.

But then I began to branch out and tweet.  The first unexpected thing I did was try an experimental tweet to a writer I admire. I tweeted @tabathasouthey .  I follow her in the Globe and Mail and happily discovered her in Elle magazine while getting my hair done. I often find myself giggling while reading her Elle columns, especially when she gets on to the topic of her Dad.

So I took a breath and dived – I think I wrote “I really love @tabathasouthey ‘s column in Elle“– or something like that. Within approximately 10 minutes I heard a beep beep and she was thanking me for my compliment. I was astonished. Rose may have been surprised as well.

A few weeks later I crept further into the world of tweets. Why don’t I follow some writers on Twitter? I looked up @MisterJohnDoyle, a great television critic for the Globe and Mail. I can catch his articles as he posts them – cool. He also tweets a lot about what he loves – soccer, not for me really.

What about @margaretatwood, everyone knows she is super cool and cyber connected. She is lively on Twitter and involved in all sorts.  When she re-tweeted a post on blogging I looked it up. It was funny and informative and I thought I could learn a lot from this writer so I wrote her and told her about my blog. Then this lovely woman read my blog and liked it!

In this way I became on friendly e-mail terms with the writer Tracey Jackson, (@traceyjackson4).  The more I learnt about her, the more our interests overlapped; I too have loved India, I have a daughter who just recently left home, and I also believe that tweezers are essential life tools!  We also seem to share the same tell-all style of writing.

She sounds like a lot of fun, and I already like her but I would never have met her without tweets and blogs. As it turns out she is a real-life successful writer with books and film scripts ( Confessions of a Shopaholic, Lucky Ducks, and her new book, Between a Rock and  Hot Place  – Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty  for starters) and I would never have introduced myself to her at a book signing event the same way I did on her blog.

When I stopped writing for the newspaper, I began to write for myself. I loved my freelance writing gig, but right now I am writing for free, and more freely than I have ever written.   And it was blogs and tweets that turned things around, took a lost job and made it into an open horizon, and made me excited about all the things I want to write.

My Sister Kate

Published October 6, 2011 by megdedwards


My Sister Kate

A friend pointed out to me that I always preface my sister this way; My Sister Kate. I could also say, My Crazy Sister Kate, and she would probably not mind.

She called herself Crazy Kate when she was a giggling preteen. Laughing so hard that she would bring tears to her eyes, finding the social world of middle school a hard place, making macaroni and cheese and brownies for dessert for my little brother and me.

Practicing piano with real talent, wearing her hair in a headband when she did math homework because she felt it made her concentrate more, making card board houses for the troll dolls with me. She was beautiful and dreamy, not brash and confident; a delicate gentle girl who loved her indulgences and laughter.

She sometimes signed her name Crazy Kate, long before she had actually been diagnosed and institutionalized at around 18 years old.

I don’t believe she would have inevitably gone crazy, we just don’t know that. After years of contemplating the subject I can say she had some factors that statistically began to add up in favor of a life outside of the norm, in and out of institutions, in half way houses, on the street, and always medicated one way or another.

She was born in February and my Mom already had two small children. It could be that a lack of Vitamin B and D in my Mom’s body did not help.

When we were living in the States and she was about 6 or 7 she was shot in the top of the head by a bullet from a 22 gun shot that made its way through the woods before finding her scalp. This trauma could have set up some imbalance within. My Mom remembers that she would cry every morning when she woke up at about this time.

She was and is a very magical person with a vivid imagination and a lack of mental discipline. This does not mean that she was inevitable going to become a street person with massive drug addictions, but I do believe that her addictive personality is more trouble to her than the voices that used to crowd her brain.

She took a lot of chemical drugs in the year preceding her first institutionalization giving her the label at one point in her career of a ‘drug induced schizophrenic’.

Add to this whole mix the fact that our parents were separating the year she went off the deep end and you can see why I wonder whether her descent into madness was inevitable.

She could have lived a fairly sound life with a home, a job, a husband and children. I can picture her calling me to complain about her husband or job at some inconvenient time of the day. I can also picture us laughing to the point of tears over some silly thing.

But now that she has lived this way so long, my siblings and I have begun to love and respect her as she is right now. She will never be the sister that we may have imagined. But she is living her life.

I joked with my aging Mom that she is really less trouble than some kids. She is completely independent, asks for nothing and has a whole system of hospitals, refuges, and social workers at her fingertips. Other children might call every day complaining about their foot pain, but Kate, with her broken feet from her unsuccessful suicidal leap from the Granville Bridge when she was about 21 years old, never complains.

She wears extra socks, and says that she likes the croc sandals with padding. The last time I saw her I promised that if I saw any I would buy her a few pairs. There is no point giving her any gift that cannot be carried in her purse on her body.

I was happy that she had been institutionalized for 10 days last time I was visiting Toronto, it gave me chance to see her. On my second visit out to see her at Saint Joseph’s hospital, a grand old hospital overlooking Lake Ontario in the far west of the city, I brought her presents that she had requested.

On my list were red lipstick, eyeliner, black leggings, fingernail polish, new underwear, baby powder, and cheap perfume. She was very pleased with the gifts and put them on right away. With the door to her room open a crack allowing the pacing young medicated male patients a view, and a roommate buried in blankets in the corner, she stripped down and pulled on the new underwear, giving herself a liberal bath of baby powder. Then she sprayed a copious amount of perfume on herself leaving me choking.

Of course I also brought some food from a restaurant which she ate with her hands, telling me, when I could not locate a fork, not to worry at all about it.

She is very thin, and she picks her outfits with great care. Her huge green eyes are often  surrounded by theatrical eye makeup. When she talks to me it is a rambling fast talking monologue that moves from one subject to another in a poetic manner, with words suddenly becoming portals to a separate part of her brain.

Sometime she is sensible, ”Meg, you’ve got to take care of Mom”, sometimes she is cruel, “That guy is bad, he is evil, he is a lapsed social worker”, and sometimes she is bizarre, “ You know that Dad’s Egyptian blood made him eat out his own brains, but then he married Marilyn Monroe”.

While sitting listening to her, murmuring assent, and sometimes adding my two cents, “You know, Uncle Jim is not dead actually”, “Are you angry because …”, “Well, I don’t know what you are talking about…”, “No, I am not setting you up at a new bank”, I try to imagine writing the monologue down. It is so free floating and associative that I would need to be drug induced in order to replicate it.

I was so happy to see her, and because she was medicated and fairly calm, the meeting was very pleasant. I hugged her many times, which is something she would not always be capable of handling.

I told her how much I loved her; I brought my 18 year old daughter to meet her, and I brought her the essentials of life for a woman with no home; cheap perfume, lipstick, eyeliner, leggings and nice new underwear.

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