Breath, New Memoir

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you ca’n’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “Pig and Pepper”)

I recently had a piece published in Open Minds Quarterly, a print publication from NISA (the Northern Initiative for Social Action), based in Sudbury, Ontario. Thanks to Ella Jane Myers and everyone at the journal for their interest in “Breath.” You can purchase a print copy of the spring 2019 issue on the OMQ website.
“Breath” is memoir. I seem to be writing more memoir these days. I’m of two minds about it. On one hand, I have to ask myself why I do it. How is my experience of the world more worth writing about than anyone else’s? It isn’t, of course. I feel something like pain whenever I hear of someone’s story that is brushed off, made light of, or just forgotten. On the other hand, I’m drawn in by the process. And not necessarily with my own story, but with telling it, if that makes any sense.
I wrote “Breath” ages ago, but I revised it specifically for the call from Open Minds Quarterly. I’m very glad they accepted it for their spring 2019 issue. You can read the first paragraph below. You can read more by purchasing a copy and supporting the journal.
And if you know someone who suffers from panic disorder, or any other anxiety inducing disorder, gently direct them to a place they can get some help. If you’re a student, go talk to someone in counceling services. If you aren’t a student, talk to your doctor, or find a support group online. I lived with panic disorder for fifteen years before I even knew it had a name. If you suffer from panic disorder, then you will suffer, whether you are alone or in the company of others. Suffering, like joy, is best shared.

“Trouble breathing—sudden panic. Why can’t I breathe. My head is spinning. We are driving. Am I going to pass out? My voice sounds distant as I try to say something is wrong. It sounds to my ears as though someone else is speaking. I wonder, in a distant chamber of my brain, if I’m about to pass out. Maybe I’m dying.”

Encounters with Nature

I’m fortunate to live in a neighbourhood where I can experience nature close up. Between the abundance of birdlife all around to the coyotes that live on the University farm, I encounter nature every day. Here are two such encounters—one with coyotes and one with geese—that were closer than I usually expect.

Years ago, when I still lived in University housing with my kids, my youngest daughter came running home one day to tell me she was almost attacked by a peregrine falcon. I explained, patiently, that peregrine falcons didn’t live in the neighbourhood, and they certainly didn’t attack people.
“But I saw it,” she said, “I saw its prey-bird beak and everything!”
She was adamant, and I had to let that one go. Much to my chagrin, I learned later my daughter did see a type of falcon that day—a Merlin, a small hawk that feeds on songbirds and lives all over the neighbourhood. This species has made a recovery in recent decades, especially in urban areas, thanks to the ban on the use of DDT.
These birds, like so many other species of bird and small mammals, make their homes in urban areas. I’m grateful every day to meet those birds and animals who still share my neighbourhood, and happy to know that an urban setting can’t keep out the natural world.

PTSD Awareness Day

June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day. If you aren’t familiar with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, you might recall it as shell shock or combat fatigue. The history if PTSD extends back to the nineteenth century, but the American Psychiatric Association didn’t recognize the disorder until 1980.
PTSD has been most commonly associated with soldiers, but victims of sexual assault and other forms of trauma also experience this disorder. PTSD can be difficult to diagnose. It can present in multiple ways, including addiction, depression, dissociation, and sleep disorders. It’s a constellation of symptoms that develop as a result of a traumatic experience. You can learn more about this disorder on The PTSD Association of Canada website.
Earlier this year, I published a piece called “Running Blind” in The Real Story, an online UK magazine. I don’t specifically refer to PTSD in this piece, but I’m trying to describe my child’s experience of the disorder, based on what I know of it now. I lost my sight in a car accident in 1974, and it took me more than thirty years to begin to understand the long-term effects of that experience. Dealing with trauma is excruciating, but asking questions and seeking help is a good place to start.
In Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, Judith Herman writes:
“traumatized people relive, in their bodies, the moments of terror that they cannot describe in words. Dissociation appears to be the mechanism by which intense sensory and emotional experience are disconnected from the social domain of language and memory, the internal mechanism by which terrorized people are silenced” (afterward).

Fiction and Mental Health

A couple of years ago, Jason Lee Norman was instrumental in getting a Short Edition Story Dispenser into the Edmonton International Airport. Short Edition has story dispensers world-wide, so this was a big deal.
At the time, Jason accepted a story from me, “Superhero of the Supermarket,” which went into the dispenser at the YEG airport. Subsequently, Short Edition let me know they wanted to make the story available world-wide. You can read the story here.
Mental health issues find their way into my fiction all the time. If you know my stories, you can often find a character suffering depression, or some other disorder, diagnosed or otherwise. One of my stories that deals with depression in a more extreme form is “Suicide Blues.” This story is about depression, but it’s also about the inability to cope. Superhero isn’t specifically about depression, but it is about a character living in a world he finds both threatening and unforgiving. Giving such characters a voice is my way of acknowledging those people I know and have encountered who suffer because of mental health issues, and who often never get the help they need.

Those Summer Renos

Summer is often a time for fixing up the house and yard. For me, such projects temporarily change the landscape of my life, while people fix and hammer and do those jobs that I can never manage on my own.
But renovating your home can cause stress, arguments, and endless conflict. Just check out this piece in the business Insider.
Here’s a piece I wrote after I had the main floor of my house repainted. It wasn’t a major renovation, but it left me feeling displaced and took away the main floor of my house for two weeks. Enjoy!

The Painters

They come every day, clanking through my front door and up the stairs. I retreat from room to room, from upstairs to down, staying just ahead of them as they sand and scrape, fill cracks and holes with glutinous muck, then sand again.
Carpets and floors are skinned in plastic; doorways are draped. A persistence of dust fills the air. It finds its way into corners. It powders flat surfaces, coating the few nick-knacks I cling to fiercely and sentimentally, and it exhales from the blankets rumpling my bed. It coats my tongue as I try to swallow.
If I could become something else, something small, something furtive, I could crawl into the space where the baseboard once met the floor, hiding from the dust and the noise and the endless tramping upon plastic spread over carpet; escaping the painters, who look with narrowed eyes at surfaces, at corners, at doorways, and without mercy on anything not a wall.

From the Blog Archive, Visiting the Rock

I was in a coffee shop on Vancouver Island in April. I was wearing a t-shirt I bought at Cape Spear. Two women came up to me and asked if I was from Newfoundland. I’m not, but they were, and they very quickly started telling me about their home on Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula. These women spoke of their home with a warmth I don’t often hear.
One of the most memorable trips I took last year was to Newfoundland with my friend Tom Wharton. We flew to Halifax, then took the ferry from Sydney, Cape Breton, over to Newfoundland. You can read the post here. Then there was the North Atlantic off Cape Spear—something I won’t soon forget. I’m looking forward to a return visit to the Rock. If you want a book that captures this part of the world, check out Sweetland by Michael Crummey. It’s an awesome read.