Author Archives: glasshill

About glasshill

madly off in all directions

field of f

It didn’t happen when I turned 50, but sometime after I turned 51 I stopped caring so desperately about what people thought of me, and I have to say that it is really fucking awesome (yes, I will use profanity when I want to – Sorry. NOT sorry, who am I kidding).  I still have moments where I grab the “rock of really giving a fuck about what you think about me” I used to wear like a raincoat, and haul it around for a while, but I just can’t be bothered to carry that weight anymore, ya know? In one way the “swirling shit storm” of my life the last several months (years, really) has helped me let go of many things simply because they are too heavy to keep carrying.

There are things I will not apologize for anymore, and if you don’t like me because of it, I’m really, really super-fucking-okay with that.

You don’t like my politics? Great!
My life choices? Fucking Awesome!
My tattoos? More power to ya!
My sarcastic, sassy and profanity laced language? I will somehow manage to carry on without your fucking approval.
Can’t decide if  I’m worth dating? Sayonara, Adios amigo, Caio bella, sich verabschieden, d’adieu, tchüss. (because I totally AM worth it, ‘Slaying Dragons For’ kind of worth it, and I can’t spend my time with someone who doesn’t think so).

There also things I will apologize for, because like most humans, I can be a self-centered asshole on a remarkably regular basis. Those things I try to be accountable for and apologize. Things like running about 5-15 late on a staggeringly regular basis. I do apologize for this, but I haven’t suffered enough negative consequences from this for me to alter my behaviour yet. That and forgetting your name, I have a smooth spot on my brain where people’s names are stored, it’s not you, it’s me. Really, really.

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Then I read Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and was forever changed. Well not quite, but damn.

The point is, most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. We give a fuck about the rude gas station attendant who gave us too many nickels. We give a fuck when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give a fuck when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend. We give a fuck when it’s raining and we were supposed to go jogging in the morning.

Fucks given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-fucking spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? Convenience? Easy comforts? A pat on the fucking back maybe?

This is the problem, my friend.

Because when we give too many fucks, when we choose to give a fuck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times, that’s when life fucks us.

And life will fuck you over, and over, and over, that’s just the way life is. It is also beautiful, tragic, sacred, messy and glorious . Our big mistake is to think the world, that life, that God owe us something. That we are supposed to be, #happy, #blessed, #blissful and need to share this with all our Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Wordpress followers all the fucking time. Seriously?

Here’s the thing, the world, life, the universe, God and everything else you want to call it, do not owe you one single solitary fucking thing, got that? Does Not Owe You. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Pas du tout. Nichts. We are not here to be entertained, to be taken care of, to have all our superficial and egocentric whims catered to. Life does not owe us. Life does not owe us a certain lifestyle, a six pack, an adoring partner, lots of money, an easy go of it, and when we caught up in the Super Sucky Vortex of Entitlement and we think that somehow we deserve these things, that we deserve all the stuff, all the fucking junk that we have been told over and over that we should have, when we get stuck in that vortex of really giving a fuck about the stupid shit, that is when we are most miserable.

tumblr_mmm3xfqWTM1snu8fxo1_500Okay, so my title may be slightly misleading. I do give a fuck about somethings, not about what you think of me, or my life, my family or any of that, I  give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy. In my 20’s I gave the most sincere fucks about the stupidest things. I tried, I tried so damn hard to be what I thought people wanted me to be. It made me fucking miserable.  As I aged, and occasionally matured, I found I didn’t have the energy to give a fuck about anything that wasn’t worth it. The clarity about what is important, what is worth giving a fuck about is what has liberated me. I am not apathetic, I am simply not will to waste my time and my fucks on anything unimportant.

Which is what exactly? We are here to give back, to be of fucking service to our fellow humans, to those who hold no power over us, to animals, to plants, to our mother, the fucking earth. What we need to do is to take care of each other. Is that so hard? Because it sure seems like it’s really fucking hard for people. And this is where I actually do give a fuck. I give a fuck about that homeless guy that you pretend you don’t see. I give a fuck about the recycling you just tossed in the street, about the dog you left in a hot car,  about the plastic floating in the ocean, about being kind to the person who seems to least deserve it, about feeding people who are hungry.

I give a fuck about a lot of things, just not what you may or may not think of me. Hasta la vista.

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leaving

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” – John Green

The leaving, the letting go, that part is easy.

Approaching letting go, entertaining thoughts of leaving, that part is excruciating. When faced with loss, the loss of a person, of a lifestyle, a job, a preconceived idea of ourselves, when faced with letting go, we cling. Forget the platitude – I cling. Somewhere deep inside I know, I know that nothing is permanent. I know that I will age, that I will suffer illness, that people I love deeply will leave, may die before me, that material wealth can be lost, that my love may not be reciprocated. I know all of this,  and I cling even more.

“If she is to love life and freedom and be brave then she must learn to let go. To see beauty without clinging to it, to feel pain without holding it hostage, and to feel love without worry of losing it.”
― G.G. Renee Hill, The Beautiful Disruption

tumblr_n5i9nvFFkC1qbhueno2_r1_250-2Right. That part. It does make a lovely quote, but to quote Ron Weasley, Bloody hell!

The times in my life that have been the most painful, the times I thought I could not possibly survive, these were the times right before I left, before I finally let go. These were the rock bottom times, the times where I dug my fingernails in and clung desperately to the idea, the person, the thing that I thought was essential for me to survive. None of them have turned out to be essential for my survival, so far.

The Journey  by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I love this poem. It also make me a little angry. I want to say journeys like these don’t happen all at once. That you make this journey, that you make your own way in degrees. That, unlike the movies where the leap of faith gets made – generally to a profoundly moving musical score – and then life gets tied up in a neat bow, becomes perfect, and the credits roll as a glint of a tear forms in your eye and you wonder why can’t you just figure your shit out. Unlike that, in life you have to keep making the terrifying next step, you have to continue to make your journey. It gets easier, but it never gets easy. I have started on this journey many times, and to varying degrees, got pulled part way back by the cries of “mend my life!”, or turned back myself when the storm seem too much to endure.

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Trainwreck – Loved this movie – and look, everything is wonderful at the end, with great music and even cheerleaders. Bloody hell…

20151218_184853-01.jpegIt seems odd to be writing about this as I sit in front of our Christmas tree, surrounded in over 20 years worth of decorations, of traditions, of stories, of memories. The ornaments my friend Cathy and I made the last Christmas before she died more than 15years ago, the baby’s first Christmas ornaments for each of my children, beautiful things my mother made, the gifts from my favourite Aunt, the handmade gifts and ornaments from my children. All of these carry their own special weight, and this is the last year they will all be together in one place. This is the letting go, the leaving. This is the final Christmas in this house, in this town even. All our beautiful things will be divided, things I will keep, things that will go to each of my children, things that belong with their father, and things I can give away to add meaning to other family’s lives.

Twenty years ago, when my first daughter was 2 1/2 years old, my son, a 6 month old baby, and my youngest not yet born, we received a beautiful hand carved horse named Hilde. Tonight, after years of sitting quietly, Hilde went to live with another family with three young children who will love and play with her. Letting go of that stage of my life. I’ll keep the pictures, many of the books, but it is time to move on.

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Alexander Milov’s sculpture “Love” from this year’s Burning Man

Milov’s  sculpture silhouettes rigid, back to back  wire adult figures, within their frames stand children reaching towards each other.  At night the contrast between illumination within the wire frames “…demonstrates a conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature … Their inner selves … in the form of transparent children,  holding out their hands through the grating … This shining is a symbol of purity and sincerity that brings people together and gives a chance of making up.” – Alexander Milov.

I don’t feel the optimism the artist does when I look at this piece. What I see is a stunning representation of how we separate ourselves, in spite of what our hearts, our most inner self loves. There is no turning of the wire frames, they will forever remain separate, despite the inner reaching.

“And the moon rose over an open field

Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America”

Simon and Garfunkel

Pete Fornatale said this lyric was a “metaphor to remind us all of the lost souls wandering . . .struggling to navigate the rapids of despair and hope, optimism and disillusionment.” Stephen Holden wrote it “simultaneously illuminates a drama of shared loneliness”. David Nichols called it “a splendid vignette of a road trip by young lovers; both intimate and epic in scale, it traces an inner journey from naive optimism to more mature understanding.”  I can’t explain as eloquently why the lines resonate deeply with me – “Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping, And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why” – but they do.

‘Man and Woman’ by Georgian sculptor Tamara Kvesitadze

The towering statues are two humans made out of metallic discs, who move toward each other, seem to kiss, to embrace, to combine together, and then to pass through each other, parting and end facing in opposite directions, much like Milov’s work. They represent a Muslim boy, Ali, and a Christian princess, Nino and their tragic love story, but again, to me it represents how we separate ourselves from love.

This last year has been a series of journey’s, many, but not all of them, painful.  This fall had some profoundly painful leavings. Letting go of my brother will not, and should not, come easily, if at all.  Letting him leave in small increments, or starting to let go of the idea of his place in my life is like pushing through metal. Finding out who I am separate from the things that I had been clinging to for various lengths of time, separate from being somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, sister, somebody’s love, finding who I am separately will be my journey.

 

disclamer, just in case you were wondering

“What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music…. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.” — Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

These are not my words, but they do apply to my blog writing as well. What I write about may or may not be current, but it is things I have experienced. It’s also about me, even if you think it’s about you, it’s not.

Every day I remind people that a poem is not a diary, that you cannot make the assumption that the events in a poem have actually happened to the poet even if it has been written from the first person perspective. Nonetheless, the emotions and insights contained within a poem DO come from the poet, whether or not the experience itself is fictitious. Sometimes these feelings are many years behind us, but like good artists, we never discard anything that might be useful later on… and in that, we are not special. The only difference between a poet (or an artist in any other medium) and someone who doesn’t consciously make art is that we are lucky enough to be able to express ourselves in a way that others can understand. Just think how many people there must be in the world who have their experiences buried deep within them, with no voice to tell us how they suffer. This is why we write: so that they know they are not forgotten. – Leanne Hanson, poet, teacher.

Source: disclamer, just in case you were wondering

not in never falling

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A repurposed necklace, the charm is mine, the cord was part of a gift from someone I loved (the original charm, it went the way of the love – gone)

I can’t find the right words to describe this. This feeling that comes when I least expect it. The feeling, as Rilke would say, of pushing through solid rock.

 

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

 

“Our greatest glory is in rising every time we fall.” Rising. I’m working on that, because I fall a lot. I fall all the time. And I rise, I do, but it’s exhausting

There’s a hollowed out feeling when I think of you, there’s sadness and anger too, but mostly I’m  hollow.  I can usually distract myself, with sleep, with TV, with work, with art, with words, with movement, with anything handy. The thought of actually sitting still with myself still overwhelms me, so I move, or I sleep. When that doesn’t work, when you bubble up unbidden, on those days, I run the same circles in my head, the same tiga786edce21585b714a56abbaa981ffafht circles that loop back on themselves and spin faster and faster.  I tell myself I’ve been an idiot once again for loving people who leave, for banging my head and my heart against your rock wall, constructed to keep people like me out. I sometimes think a different version of me might have been enough, could have make it through your emotionally unavailable barracks, but that’s not true. Occasionally I feel like throwing a rock,  a brick, or smashing a plate, perhaps that would at least get your attention. I won’t, but the thought remains attractive, if only for the moments I pick it up and hold it, pass its weight back and forth between my hands.

 

You huddle in, becoming
the deathless younger self
who will survive your dreams
and vanish in surviving.
– Self and Dream Self excerpt, by Les Murray
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It’s not just you, of course, it’s been a brutal fall. Somedays, all of its hurts lay on top of each other and weigh me down. I thought we were connected, but we weren’t, that was me telling me stories and you telling me your well practiced lies of convenience. That level of connection, of honesty, was the last thing you wanted.  At my core sits a small hard bit of certainty that if I love, you will leave. My head and my heart know somehow this is not correct, but my bones know that it is so.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything 
That is how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
There isn’t a light coming in, at least right now. It’s cold and it’s dark and it’s empty. He  also said “The Heart beneath is teaching / To the broken Heart above”, maybe that’s what this is, healing.
 
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“Into the pit” – aptly named

I don’t think you’ve ever allowed yourself to be opened, to let someone break your heart, your shell is too hard, too thick, too well formed to allow that to happen. Or maybe you did, once, and then swore never again, and that is why you remain frozen, hard, hidden and clinging to that past trauma that you will never release. You turn your focus on yourself, withdrawing into your shell if anyone gets too close, only pretending to connect, to engage, to care. If that doesn’t work  you manipulate, gaslight, play controlling games, run tests, that will always set you up as the winner. You don’t know how to live openly, you don’t know what it is to fall, and to rise again, only to withdraw and hide. There is no glory for you, only more hiding, more controlling, more walls.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall
– Confucius 
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I do know the feeling. I once had walls. They had a hollow sound behind them, but they were solid. With them in place I could play happy, charming, funny, but was just acting. Taking the walls down was excruciating, and also exhilarating; still, there are days I wish I still could hide behind my walls.
And so, I’ve fallen, and risen, and fallen again.  I’ve fallen into this mess that I have to push through (not go around, not go over, or go under). I will, push through this.
Ten Things I Hate (Love) About You / The Taming of The Shrew
10. The cold way you looked at me (the warm affection in your eyes).
9.   The way you’d protect yourself from me (the way your arm moved to protect me).
8.   Waiting hours for you (the way you greeted me).
7.   The way you made me cry (you made me laugh).
6.   Your lies of convenience (your lies of flattery).
5.   The part of you that understood me and then left  (the part of you that understood me and seemed to want to stay).
4.   The drive-in (sneaking into movies).
3.   The plans you never meant to do (the future plans we talked about).
2.   Waiting for your call (your goodnight texts).
1.    Blowing cigar smoke in my face.
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The truth is my struggles, my demons, all come from, and aim directly at the very things I am most insecure of, mainly not being lovable, being abandoned, and when they strike up the band and start to play my thoughts and emotions get sucked into that spinning wheel where no good ideas ever emerge. Don’t believe everything you think, don’t believe everything you think especially when you are tired, hurt, raw, emotional and generally broken up inside. Those are the times when throwing the rock, or smashing the plate seems like the best idea ever. Those are the times where you, as Pema Chödrön says, have to lean into the sharp points, the pain, and the discomfort, even when, especially when, this makes it hurt even more.

quote-lean-into-the-sharp-points-and-fully-experience-them-the-essence-of-bravery-is-being-pema-chodron-81-64-93

Which means this won’t last forever.  I will emerge.  I might even grow a little.  Maybe not today, today is pretty awful. Today I am pushing through solid rock. Maybe another day this won’t be so heavy. At some point you do free yourself, and take your power back – flaws and all. Someday.

solid rock

Alex Colville, 1954 Horse and Train

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

Whatever I thought it would be like, it wasn’t this. And I did think about it, we all did. We thought about it a lot in our own ways. Of course there were, increasingly faint, bits of hope that we would cling to, even against all logic, we would hope. Just the same, we knew this day would come, and when it did it was all the things we feared it would be, but also nothing we expected.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neruda

It was a good service, as these things go, nice music, a moving slideshow of photos of you, appropriate and moving readings and memories, a traditional hymn, and a choir rendition of All You Need is Love, complete with kazoos. It was very John like, right down to the fabulous food we shared afterwards. Everyone seemed pleased. It was closure, it was a send off, it was people holding each other up, it was all you could hope for really.

scribble face 3It was all you could hope for, and yet, I still find myself walking through mud, through fog, through solid rock. I forget things. I lose hours doing nothing. I stare at nothing. I stare at your things that now are in my home, but are still your things. I sleep longer, and am still tired. I stay up too late.

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This is the grief work they talk about. Pushing through solid rock, an apt enough description. I dream about you sometimes, not the comforting dream where you tell me all is well with you now and you are in a better place, just confusing dreams. Someone said that to me, a couple of people did actually, said that you ‘were in a better place’. I so wanted to punch them in the throat, to wipe the smug, sympathetic, head tilted ever so slightly to the side expression on their faces. I think that would be the anger stage of Loss.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the 5 Stages of Loss are:

  1. Denial and Isolation – buffering
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining – the ‘if onlys’, the ‘what ifs’
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I honestly believe I did everything I could. Wait, that’s not true. What if I had shown up on your doorstep, dumped out all your alcohol and physically dragged you to the hospital? Would that have worked? I don’t think so, but I still take out these thoughts and hold them awhile, feel their weight in my hands, build a fantasy around them where, in the end, I save you. After a while I put them down, but I still feel their weight. More than anyone I should have been able to save you. It was everyone else’s first experience with this disease, I was a seasoned veteran. I had done this dance before, I knew all it’s steps. I saw you leaving well before anyone else.

buddha-grief-quoteI saw you leaving, and I let you go.

I let you go. I talked to you, wrote to you, I wrote about you. I wrote about our disease. The one that killed our father, has a hold of my son, the disease that I only get a daily reprieve from.

But I didn’t save you. I know, in my head, that I didn’t cause, couldn’t control or cure you. I know this in my head. Sometimes it helps, but not always. A year ago we almost lost you, but you came back. I thought you might stay. Maybe that was the time to save you that I missed. Maybe.

I still don’t know what to do with your clothes. I don’t know what to do with our stories, the ones only you and I understood. Where do I put the parts of myself that were yours too? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with a lot of things, things I should be doing, raking the leaves, clearing out the house so it will sell, making appointments, the business of living.

So I sit, pen scratching across paper, drinking coffee, and staring at the still green willow leaves, who will only fall after all the other leaves have been dutifully raked. Mostly I sit staring and nothing. Four of my orchids are re-blooming, did I tell you? No, of course not, what was I thinking. They’ve spent a year deciding to bloom, a year of somewhat attractive foliage, but now, now they are spectacular.

There is a metaphor in that somewhere, but I can’t quite grasp it. Anyhow, you get my meaning.

 

 

eulogy for my brother

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“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
-W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues

To paraphrase Emily Brontë, my love for my brother was like the eternal rocks beneath, not always visible, not always a source of delight, and no more a source of pleasure than I am to myself, but necessary, it resides in my bones, not just in my heart, or my thoughts, it lives in every cell in my body. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

To say John was brilliant, or merely complex would be an understatement. He was so many, many things, – to paraphrase myself – a brilliant creator and solver of puzzles, a talented player and lover of music, a gifted conceiver and expresser of visual arts – be they paint, pencil, wood, clay, or words, and an inspired and – sometimes overly – creative chef.

He created. He created games, puzzles, paintings, delicious food. He created a home for his daughters.

He made you laugh.

John would have had you in stiches by now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Brilliant, witty, irreverent and always ready with a joke or amusing observation.

Everyone in this room has laughed, and not just once because of something John said or did. He was the original photo-bomber, he was always ready to drop to the conversation lowest common denominator, which generally involved loud bodily functions, burping, farting, burping and farting together, burping songs, making fart noises in his arm, in his arm pit, and then drawing everyone in.

20151019_144255-01When my son first started struggling he sent him homemade Hero cards, featuring Greek, Roman God, with points and skills assigned. Each and every one said “Kicks Butt” and Hercules “Occasionally goes BESERK” The last card he sent was the Uncle John card. The Uncle John Hero was described as “The Sharpest Spoon in the drawer, fancified dancer, can kick his own butt – plus that of Uncle Ruth’s, yep, that’s what he called me when he wasn’t calling me Big Nose. His Attack number was 42, a Douglas Adams reference I’m sure, His Thoughts were listed as “Not Often”, his Symbol was “Messy Hair and Stinky Socks” – although his stinky socks, as many of us knew could be better listed as a Weapon. His special skills were “Sarcasm and Burping” – okay, that part was pretty accurate. The card was quintessentially John, from the stinky socks to the self deprecating humour. he also sent Graham a rubber chicken, a series of original Canadian comic books, still in their protective covers (a state that did not last long), and a hand sewn teddy bear.

He was generous. With his love, with his art, food, with everything he gave openly and freely.

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

He also called me Big Nose, even made me a little drawing of Big nose. I called him No Chin. It was a special sort of endearment between us. He also called me Bruce, well my whole family calls me that, between that and the Uncle Ruth is surprising I don’t have a gender identity problem. At my wedding he gave a brilliant speech – it included Ode to a Grehian Urn, my driving skills, my applying makeup while driving skills, my applying makeup, singing to the radio, while shifting gears, driving skills – you get the idea. He was brilliant. He was also charming, and a beautiful person all the way through.

Where I have been described as feisty, stubborn, Little Miss Splendid – yes, they gave me that book, John was the sucky second child, the one who charmed his way through things. I would dig my heals in and cross my arms – metaphorically and often literally when faced with obstacles, John used charm. It made me crazy. One fateful year when I was visiting from school I came home to a little brother who was now taller than I was. It was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life. In the den he wrestled me to the rug, sat on me with his hand over my mouth and the poked and tickled me all the while yelling “mom!!! Ruth’s hurting me!!” Needless to say by the time my mother arrived he had jumped back and assumed an injured stance in the corner looking beseechingly at our mother, who may or may have believed him, but certainly played along. That is how my brother rolled. Many of the times I have laughed the hardest, the stuff coming out your nose, tears coming down your cheeks, the immanent danger of peeing your pants kind of laughter, those laughs 20151019_152813-01originated with my brother.

Which makes his ending all the more tragic.

A few months ago, a friend of mine died. He was in his 90s, had lived a full life, was productive right till the end, and then one night he died peacefully in his sleep. We took comfort in that. The rare times we think about our own deaths, this is often the one we want, the good death, the peaceful, after a long well lived life death. This is what we want for ourselves and our loved ones. No one wants to die like John did, no one. There is nothing comforting about his death. It is utterly heartbreaking and tragic. It is unfair. It was wrong for him to die as he did.

The thing about a brain disease, which is what John died from, a brain disease called alcoholism, the thing about it, is that it takes away the personality, and then it takes away the person that you knew and loved. We lost John, but before that he lost himself. That guy, the one who made us laugh till we cried, who sang to us, read to us, who made wonderful art and delicious food, that beautiful person, was lost to a disease that affected and distorted the way he thought, the way he saw the world, and mostly the way he saw himself.

John felt things very deeply, maybe too deeply. One of my first memories of us is me wrapping him in a blanket during a sand storm on a beach. I have no idea what the context of the situation was, what I remember is wanting to protect my brother above anything else.

I couldn’t protect him from this. None of us could. There was never something that one of us did that caused this, there was nothing that we didn’t do that would have cured this, and there was never a way anyone else could have controlled his disease. Cunning, baffling and powerful is how alcoholism is aptly described, and it is, it is all of those things. It took our father, and it took John, both before their 50th birthdays.

John’s behavour for the last several years was baffling, it was heartbreaking. He pushed us away. His brain, his thinking was so distorted by this disease that the only way he could cope was to continue to try and numb his thoughts and feelings. It never meant that he loved any of us less. He loved his family, his daughters and Tamara were his life. That never wavered, not for a instant. He loved us, all of us, and in the end that’s what we need to hold on to. As painful as this has been, hold on to the times he made you laugh, the times he showed his love to you, the times he was his exceptionally lovable and goofy self. It won’t happen today, or maybe not this year, but start to let go of the painful memories, and hold on instead to what you loved about him. Remember him as someone full of love, caring, stinky socks and really terrible jokes. His personal favourite was “you know the corduroy pillows, the ones that are making all the headlines?”

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last ——

I was right. Love is the thing that endures. Love is what we have left of John, love and some pretty wonderful memories.

12108267_10207722033310124_8293890433605817967_nHang onto those, and hang on to each other. He loved us all, what we have to do now is continue to love each other, to create in what ever way we express ourselves, eat good food, play games, solve puzzles, and make the odd fart or burping joke.

this is what the living do

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Johnny,

I have become a person who people send sympathy cards to, someone people want to nurture with food, chocolate, flowers and kind messages. People hug me when they see me, and ask how I am. Most of the time I have no idea.

I’m wearing your pj bottoms as I write, and drinking tea from one of your cups. The pile of your newly washed, and neatly folded clothes sits on my bed and asks me what are you going to do with us now? I don’t know, that’s why I tried on the pj bottoms. I had to roll the waist because you were taller than I am. Were, I have to get used to speaking of you in the past tense.

We’ve been speaking of you in the past tense for two weeks, two weeks tomorrow, Saturday at 4pm. I’m still getting used to that.

I also wear your wedding ring, the one that dad left you after he died. It’s on my thumb. I play with it constantly, twisting it, rubbing it. I think about you and dad, and how I ended up older than either of you, and wonder if wearing this ring is a good idea or not.

I think you would like your service, it’s in two weeks, and I have spent a lot of time working on it. It has readings, poems, and we’re playing Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, actually the choir, the one you used to sing with, will be performing Hallelujah and All You Need is Love. They said they would be honoured to sing for you. Honoured, I wonder what you would think about that. We’re doing two of my favourite prayers. To be honest I don’t know what you would think of the whole thing. I finished the first draft of your eulogy, I’ve never written one of those, but I’d never written an obituary either, and I think your’s turned out alright.

When I went through your clothes that first week, the week we went through and cleaned and organized your apartment, I mainly thought of ones for Graham, so he could have something of yours. I thought about taking a box of your books for him too, but then didn’t. You two had so much in common, but he walked out of his treatment centre 3 days ago and we don’t know where he is now, so I’m back to looking at the pile of clothes, and I’m still don’t know what I will do with them.

I sit here, healthy, safe and warm, and you’re gone, you’re not even a body anymore, you’re ashes siting in a container somewhere, I don’t even know where. They gave mom your glasses and your watch. That’s what she has, your glasses and your watch. I can’t begin to know how that feels. Did they put them in a special box with gold lettering? A velvet bag? Or did they just shove them in a brown envelope? Does that help? I don’t think it would. I think it would equally excruciating to receive the items from your child’s body no matter how they were presented to you.

You broke my heart, Johnny, you broke all of our hearts, and I let you die. I let you die alone. I let my son become homeless, and I sit in my house and feel sorry. I feel sorry, and sad, and tired, really, really tired. Somehow that seems wholly inadequate. It seems there should be larger consequence for not saving you, or Graham, or even dad.

There is more, obviously. You can’t tell by looking at me, or by talking to me, most of the time anyhow. On the outside I look and sound pretty much the same. I’m not. I’m unmoored, I am no longer somebody’s sister, I no longer have a brother, and you were it, my only sibling. It’s just me now, and that feels unnatural. All our private jokes, our code words, things that only we talked about and knew, all those things are gone, and what’s left is just space.

This was not how all of this was suppose to turn out. We were going to be great. We had grand plans. Happy lives mapped out. Lives with spouses, and happy children, successful careers, and somehow bits of that got lost.

I have to stop now. I have to find a place to put your clothes, and I have to go back to the actions that make up my life now.

I found this poem for you. I think maybe you would have made fun of it, but you don’t get to speak for yourself anymore, so here it is.

What the Living Do
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Goodnight Johnny. I love you.

“I just sit by and let you fight your secret war”

flawed, but indisputable

wpid-20150829_110911-01.jpega man

He tries to feel
for promises
he wants to,
but knows he’ll never keep

He goes alone
in clever words
and tells himself this
is enough,
even as his own words’ hollow ringings
must be drowned inside
his own false laughter.

His beating heart for frozen smiles,
long since traded in;
and if he’s fast enough,
he will not notice
the odd old beat
from within
his hidden chest.

His mirthful eyes, intelligent
and sadly beautiful to watch
see all that need compassion,
but who in turn
will show him none,
and will forsake those who would show him any.

and sometimes
very briefly,
in those eyes
there is the boy
who never did grow up
who, when he looks at you
the frozen mirth is gone,
and standing there
is just the man,
flawed,
but indisputable.

For less lofty poems click here or here or here. I also have a woman poem, but that’s for another day.

small stories

“Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know” Measure for Measure Act 2, Scene 2, lines 36-37 artwork by Jhenai Mootz

I came alone.

the first time, since.
I came alone. today,
the first time
since we were
we, and from my corner
I watched,
us, side by side,
legs touching, and ankles entwined
telling each the small stories,
telling the small stories that
made up our days.
opening,
and then offering
little bits of ourselves,
to each other.
opening,
sometimes slowly,
the little
bits of ourselves,
carefully
removing a brick,
maybe two, from the walls.
a brick, maybe two
from the walls we had built,
and for a time, putting them down,
entwining our stories,
the small stories that made up our days.

Sun fills the doorway, fills
the doorway,
and I see you,
I see you walk in, the sun
glinting
off of those sunglasses
you wore.
I look from your eyes
to your smile
and I tell you my small stories,
the small stories that make up
my day,
the ones left unfinished
and now,
you tell me your stories, your
small stories, once again
entwining our stories,
entwining,
our stories
once again.

Sun fills the doorway
the doorway that’s empty, and
a brick, maybe two, still
wait on the floor, the space
they once held in my life,
the space,
they once held,
still lies open.

Sun fills the doorway
the doorway that’s empty, and
a brick, maybe two, remain
on the floor
I hold my small stories
in one hand, lie the stories
one hand that lies open, a hand
that lies open as I
walk out the door.

the sum total of my wisdom, thus far

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

― Socrates

  • New BrunswickYour ego will fuck you over,  worse than any person or situation ever could
  • A quiet morning with a good cup of coffee is worth getting up early forcappuccino_hearts
  • Sunshine is a beautiful gift too often taken for granted
  • Your feet are really important,  take good care of them
  • Every day that you are alive is a gift,  try to remember that
  • Love is unconditional,  liking is another story
  • Be kind,  to everyone, period,  really, this is THE thing that will see all of us through our short time on this planet
  • We live on a planet first, countries later, and lastly homes, try to behave accordingly
  • Feed people,  care for them,  not just on holidays,  every single daydownload (2)
  • Smile. Make eye contact when you do it. Do it a lot, everyone will feel better
  • Show up and do what needs to be done,  do more than needs to be done.  Do this every day
  • It’s best if you don’t get everything you want
  • Keep moving, your body, or mind, your soul at whatever speed is your own,  stagnation is death
  • Carry others when they cannot carry themselves
  • Do good,  not for any reward or recognition, but because that is why we are alive and on this planet
  • Look around you, the world is full of beauty and of gifts that you are not noticing
  • Listen to people,  turn off your own running monologue and just listen
  • Dance, whatever dancing is to you. Open your spirit and enjoy yourself
  • Listen to music you love, everyday,  it will feed your soul
  • Be alone and be quiet.
  • Everyday work on loving the person you are right now, not the person you want to or wish to be. Love yourself,  right now, grow from there
  • Forgive yourself,  forgive everyone else, for your own sanity
  • No one thinks they are the bad guy, everyone, EVERYONE is doing the best they canwpid-20130826_1705540_1.jpg
  • Let yourself love an animal, let yourself love something that will die before you.
  • Let your heart get broken, over and over againindex
  • Stay open and vulnerable,  even when it hurts,  especially when it hurts, this will open you to the beauty of the world
  • Fight for those who cannot,  lend them your heart, your voice, your strength and your love. One day someone will stand and fight for you
  • Speak your mind with love
  • Laugh!! Everyday, many times. Your sense of humour will keep you sane. Never take yourself or your life too seriously to laugh at. Laughter keeps the importance of things in perspective.
  • Surround yourself with people who love and value you. Stay away from those who do not, they will suck the joy out of your life, don’t give them the opportunity.
  • Do others the honour of seeing your real self, your scars, your warts,  your self loathing and your unspeakable beauty10592840_10206139425545919_5843121347137963057_n
  • Love and honour something greater than yourself
  • The world is not here for your entertainment,  you are here to do some good in whatever form you can manage
  • People will not behave as you like, this has nothing to do with you
  • What other people think of you is none of your business
  • Resist absolutes, judgements and black vs white,  and good vs bad thinking, it’s lazy and will not serve you
  • A person’s skin colour, gender, sexual identity,  social status has absolutely NOTHING to do with their value as a person
  • Be mindful of your own biases
    Everything begins with your thoughts, your actions, values and character all grow from your thoughts,  make them worthwhile
  • Change happens, always, get used to it
  • You will change,  this is a very good thing, try not to fight it too muchme with quote
  • Read. Read. Read.  Read everything you can, you are blessed to be able to read and to have so much available to read,  do not ever stop reading, it will make you a better person
  • Be passionate about something, live your life in a way that expresses this passion
  • You will get hurt,  you will suffer in your life, this is not optional.  Use it to make yourself kinder,  softer,  more empathetic so you can be there for the next person who is suffering.  Don’t let your hurts make you hard and bitter.
  • Get out of your comfort zone, regularly,  this is where you learn and where you grow
  • Make mistakes and spend your time learning from from them instead of beating yourself up over them. Mistakes aren’t optional,  what you do with them is up to you
  • Nothing’s good or bad that thinking makes it so, decide how you want to think and then do it
  • Practice moderation,  and then truly enjoy the things you love
  • What a persSAMSUNGon says and does says everything about them and has nothing to do with you
  • Remember always you are precious beyond all measure and loved no matter what.