Rita Hartley

/Rita Hartley

About Rita Hartley

Rita Hartley is an author living in London, Ontario Canada. Read the About page on her website for her full biography.

Hello It’s Me

I’m sweating on the morning stage, flooded by brilliant November sunshine, teaching Jazzercise. At the 23-minute mark of a 60-minute set, I feel a vibration on my left wrist. It’s Fitbit, telling me a call is coming in. Since I’m doing the highest level cardio routine – and it’s a new one – I don’t bother to look at my watch, see the phone number. I’m glad I didn’t; I’d have messed up the routine more than I did.

Several minutes later I feel four more hits on Fitbit, little ones. Blip, blip, blip, blip. Texts. I hope everything’s ok, I think. I have an opportunity after a stretch, as class members gather weights, to peek at my phone. It’s my daughter texting, nothing major, just a typical mom thing. One of the kids is driving her nuts. She must have been the one calling; I’ll call her after I pack up.

I’m ready to go and four of the ladies are gathered in their socially distant yakking circle when I take a closer look at my phone. Time stops. Chills flood my spine. It wasn’t my daughter calling at all. It was her father. At the end of this month, he’ll have been dead for 17 years.

I show the ladies my phone. “It’s my husband’s number,” I declare. And then, of course, I must clarify, as I do have a living husband. “My dead husband.”

“Well, it would make sense,” one of them points out, “that someone else would have his number.”

“Yeah. Agreed. But why is that someone else calling my number?”

The ladies get requisite chills as well. I call “that someone else”, a message tells me it’s a man who isn’t my late husband, and I hang up.

Happenstance? Sheer coincidence? I prefer to think of it as synchronicity. Here’s a great definition by goop.com: “Synchronicities are incidents of spiritual significance that ask us to momentarily dampen our self-obsession and consider the possibility of the divine.”

For a brief moment, looking at my phone, I knew Hugh had managed to reach out to me from the great beyond. For a brief moment, I felt us reconnect, communicate. Our two cell phones – I still have the same number – together again!

Yeah, so if you’ve done the math, you’ll know that Hugh died in 2004, a year which was like two years for the price of one, really. Like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”.

Trips! Tahiti. Florida. The east coast of Canada. The Mayan Riviera. All exotic and fun.

Deaths! Mom! Preceded by a beloved family dog, followed by an old tomcat. All within the first two months. All sudden and unexpected.

What I want to get at, though, is the numerous synchronicities. The visits from the divine. The “woo-woo” stuff. Back home from the Tahiti/Florida trip in March of that year, I had this thought while driving to work: Well Universe, it’s Wednesday (“the worst of times” seemed to be happening on Wednesdays), I’m back in Canada. What have you got for me? A giant transformer – you know, one of those HUGE cans that perch atop electrical poles – promptly exploded before my eyes, raining sparks down on my car. Wow. Universe! You’ve got my attention.

The next month? Some foreshadowing. You must understand this about Hugh. He was extreme. He worked hard. He played hard. While playing hard one evening he vanished. I spoke to him on his cell briefly the next morning, which was a Wednesday darn it, perhaps that’s why my antennae were over-stimulated. He didn’t sound good. He did not materialize. That afternoon, I drove around the country corner to his parents’ house, sat in a chair in their office and sobbed, uncontrollably.

“He’s dead!” I cried. His parents looked at me like that was a tad dramatic. He came home, dazed, but quite alive, that evening.

My April wail became true November 29th, but still, I was unprepared. While Mom’s death was sudden and unexpected, it did have a cause, a bleeding stroke. Hugh’s however, the result of a sudden arrhythmia that an AED could not shock back into submission, would eventually be labeled by a coroner’s office “sudden and unexplained”. No cause of death leaves myriad unanswered questions, slashes gaping holes in hearts and psyches.

In late December 2004, I talked on the phone with a longtime business friend, sharing the story of Hugh’s passing. “I know how it feels to die that way,” was her surprising response. And you have to understand this about her. Her life’s work was in the computer business. And computers can be a source of frustration and mystery for many. Not this beautiful woman; regardless of computer glitches, she’d remain calm, matter-of-fact. Stoic even.

She’d been in the hospital having tests on her heart when it went into an arrhythmia. Because she was in the hospital, she did not die that day. She said, “That’s the way to go, boy. No pain.”

And yet? She was indeed dead before the year ended. At her visitation, her memorial card reminded me that she and Hugh shared the same birth date, same year. If that isn’t a clear message from beyond, I don’t know what is.

Because it was so sudden and unexpected, Hugh was quite unprepared for his own death. In the months that followed, he tended to communicate through electricity. Previously, in our Clarke Road home, I’d never observed lighting fluctuations, but they became commonplace. A brown-out one night was so extreme, that a visiting friend and I ran around the house, frantic, trying to determine a cause. Nothing.

The second Christmas after his passing, I decided to take our three young adult kids away from it all, try to start working on that new bond with them as a single mom. When we left the airport in London, Ontario? The electricity was out. When we arrived at our tropical destination? The electricity was out.

Make of it what you will. I know Hugh called to say, “Hello. It’s me. I miss you! And the kids! They’re doing great. We crammed a work ethic into them, huh?

“And grandkids?! Wow. Growing like bad weeds. Dad says, ‘We need to put a brick on their heads’. Don’t worry (he knows I will anyway, it’s my thing). I’m keepin’ an eye on them. But a different kind of eye, if you get what I’m layin’ down.

“Don’t forget what I told you in tough times: ‘Things always have a way of working themselves out.’ Oh and this: ‘It’s going to be a great day today!’

“Great days here are . . . well, they’re kinda woo-woo. Things are totally loosie-goosie. ‘Vertical time’. Heard of it? Ha. Kinda like how I used to do things. Wasn’t that great at telling time, was I? Late for this, late for that. Too much to do, too little . . .

“Time is . . . woo-woo. Come on. You felt it, right? When you looked at your phone and knew for certain I’d made contact after all this . . . time?”

 

 

 

 

Hello It’s Me 2021-11-24T14:37:18-05:00

Sticks and Stones

As a kid, I recall being with my dad while he registered my older brother Ray at the hospital. I don’t remember what he was in for, but he was the kind of kid who got into fights; the bridge of his thick glasses was perpetually held together with white tape.

Dad was a devout atheist, so answering this question they used to ask – Religion? – would irritate him. Then, when he told the receptionist Ray’s name and she asked, “Short for Raymond?” he answered back, “No, George.”

Dad had specifically helped Mom pick out names for us that could not easily be turned into nicknames: Ray, Rita, Jana. Which, when you think about it, is a bit hypocritical. Dad’s given name was Vincent and everyone called him Vince.

Ray tried to foist the nickname “Hub” on me. No idea where this came from. He’d pin me to the ground, as older brothers will do, slapping the sides of my face and saying, “Hubba-hubba-hubba”, over and over. Thankfully it didn’t stick.

At school, kids called me “Ritard” on occasion. And, of course, Hartley morphed into “Fartley” from time to time. Luckily I’d learned, from having an older brother, to just ignore it, as in “sticks and stones”, and it will go away.

When I met my future husband Hugh in high school he told me he did not like it when people called him Hughie. But Hugh is a hard name to say. Before our first few dates I went around talking about “Hugh” this and “Hugh” that to practice; he was the first Hugh I’d met. One of Hugh’s best friends at the time, a teenager you would not want to correct as he looked 24 at 17, called him “You” or “You-ie”. He could not physically say the “Ha” sound followed by the “Ya” sound.

Once Hugh and I got to know each other better I found out his football team had a successful play that went, “One-Spook-Fly”. The “Spook”? Him. Although he was white, his sandy brown hair was a frizzy Black texture that he’d grown out into a humongous afro, quite “in” in the late 70s. (That was one of my practice chats at home: “Mom! Not one word about Hugh’s hair.”)

As our school was predominantly white (I say predominantly, but there were zero Black students at that time), I was unaware of the racist history of the word “spook”. And I suppose Hugh could have been accused of cultural appropriation with the afro, but Black Lives Matter issues and cancel culture were decades off. Hugh was just capitalizing on radical natural hair, which made him a magnet for cops and drug purchasers.

That hair, and Hugh’s skinniness at 17, also produced the nickname “Q-tip”. It was several years into our relationship before I found out his grandma had called him “Hughie-Dewey-Dumplin’-Footer” when he was little.

By then, I realized that some nicknames are just downright adorable. And they’re a sign of unending love for the recipient, right? Unfortunately, the only one Hugh ever came up with for me was “Riter-big-eater”. (I have a friend who used this phrase – “highly motivated by food” – to describe one of her grandchildren. If the phrase fits, wear it and I do, along with the extra pounds.)

In adulthood, Hugh came up with one for himself while at an NFL game. Standing on the bleachers, swilling beer, the guy next to him asked his name. He slurred it: “I’m Huge!” I know. “Huge” is easier to say than “Hugh”, but I never called him that.

The nicknames for our kids came quick. Our first, Jetanne, became “Ta” because that’s all her eldest cousin, who was three at the time, could say. Consequently, most of us called her “Tan”. Then her sister Randelle came along and became “Randy” (I spelled it “Randi” or “Rande” for a time, trying to feminize it, but she eventually settled on the male spelling.)

There’s something special about fathers and daughters; Hugh naturally called Jetanne his “princess”. When Randy came along? She was a little shorter, a little rounder and became his “button”. It was so sweet, until the day Randy got old enough to ask, “Dad, how come she’s your princess and I’m just a button?”

Then Jay completed our family, but dang it. The name was too short; we had to lengthen it to “Jaybird”. In high school many of his friends just called him “Bird” or “Birdman”.

Now, that’s a decent collection of nicknames, but there was something about losing Hugh in 2004 that brought about a whole new era. Me? The nickname-less one? Friends and family started calling me “Reets”. Finally, a decent nickname that stuck. After years of calling Jetanne “Tan”? Well, now I often call her “Jet”. Randelle is still usually Randy, but sometimes she’s “Delle”. Jay? Still a bird. He’s just got this cool thing about him – people point this out all the time – and birds are cool, right?

But bananas? Not cool! At a bar, pre-pandemic, I tried to be helpful with name association when introducing myself and my sister to a woman we’d just met.

“Just think of us as the banana sisters,” I said. “Rita-Chicita and Jana-Banana.”

And she said, “Oh, like,” and she did this rude thing with right hand up to her mouth and her tongue prodding her cheek.

“NO!” I said.

Of course, we’ve carried on the nicknaming to the next generation. The first grandchild, Simone, became “Mone.” And she got to nickname me. We tried out “Grita” – a G, for grandma – in front of my name. (Perhaps in miniscule denial about aging, I did not want to be Grandma, Granny, Nana.) But it’s hard for little ones to get their mouths around a hard “G”, so it came out “Gia”. And I love it!

Now, Simone’s little sister’s name, Naomi, seems quite different at first glance, but when you shorten it to “Nomes”? It sounds a lot like Mone. When their little brother Beau – or “Beauie” – came along he was confused for a while. Did he have two sisters or one? Did they have the same name? Now, at five, he often pluralizes them: “Girls!”

My dad’s been gone a while now. I suppose I should apologize to him, in absentia, for being on this lifelong nicknaming binge. I certainly don’t think he loved me any less, because he never called me his precious little pearl, or anything. (I’ve looked it up. “Rita” is a derivative of “Margarita”, meaning “Pearl”.) Dad was an atheist, a realist. See it, taste it, touch it, smell it, hear it? It’s real. Anything else? Well, that’s all “woo-woo”. Fact: he and Mom named me Rita – after the actress Rita Hayworth – not George or Pearl or Reets.

 

Sticks and Stones 2021-11-02T13:14:44-04:00

Born To Ride

How do you spell freedom? Me? B-I-K-E.

Not only do I lose myself while pedaling, I’m also spending time in nature, so it’s a plus, plus.

My childhood memories of learning to ride are scant, but I do recall an idyllic fall day spent on my banana seat, tired legs spinning madly through a powerful wind. I was 8 or 9, a girlfriend was with me, probably Wendy, but I’ll be darned if I can picture her facial expressions that day, what she was wearing, what her bike looked like. I was wearing a favourite green long-sleeved shirt – Mom tended to pick green for me, I have green eyes – and I came home with hair tangled like the mane of a wild prairie horse (no helmets back then). And I realize, as I write this, that freedom, for me anyway, comes coupled with a lack of destination and time constraints. We turned this way and that, according to our hearts’ desire, in a day that stretched out before us like taffy, clouds scuttling overhead like a gaggle of geese.

My family moved shortly after that, to what is best described as a country subdivision, and I don’t recall riding my bike much there. Perhaps I outgrew it. Dad taught me how to ride two wheels of a different sort – motorcycles – first a red Honda 50 cc, then a blue Honda 70 cc. The dirt bikes continued to grow, but by then I was busy with school, gymnastics and babysitting; my older brother became the sole easy rider of the family.

Those motorcycle riding skills came in handy, though, after I was first married, living in the country and without a functional vehicle. It was summer. I dressed appropriately, hopped on my husband Hugh’s Honda 750 cc Super Sport, kicked it over, and cruised carefully on quiet country roads for 15 minutes to the family business, where I was working. After I drove his bike all summer, Hugh suggested I cruise my butt on down to the Ministry of Transportation (MOT) and take the motorcycle driving test. You know, make things legal. Which, to be honest, was an odd thing coming from Hugh, as he had little use for rules.

I could barely touch the ground when I’d stop with the Super Sport, so Hugh arranged for me to borrow a friend’s bike, which was smaller. I picked it up on the way into the city, thinking I’d be able to practice my stops and starts on Highbury Avenue, as I’d be taking it from one end to the other, but wouldn’t you know it? That was the one time every single traffic light was green.

I passed! Got that “M” on my license. To be clear, though, the motorcycle test was pretty basic in the early 80s: a short cruise around a few pylons in the MOT parking lot.

A couple of decades – and three kids and several mini-vans later – the topic of a Friday the 13th motorcycle ride to Pt. Dover came up. What started in 1981 with a guy meeting a few buddies at a bar in town on November 13th had turned into an event on every Friday the 13th with pre-pandemic numbers of around 100,000 people.

Although Hugh would be out of town on the date, October 13th, he reminded me of that “M” on my license. Hugh had a bike by then, a Honda with so many ccs I certainly couldn’t drive it. The suggestion was made that I could ride a friend’s smaller bike and the friend could ride Hugh’s. I tried it out in his subdivision and felt pretty confident I could handle it. Still, it’d been a long time since I’d ridden and we’d be on our bikes for a while, traveling over 100 km, with other riders too. I dressed in layers and leather and off we went under grey skies.

I would not call it a freedom ride. The heart was banging away, the hands sweating under the gloves. I kept an eye on all traffic and all other riders, being careful to control my own machine and not be sucked into others’ actions that might be dangerous. Shifting gears properly: down, up, up, up. Applying appropriate pressure to the brakes, while also remembering which was front, which back. Leaning on the curves, but not taking them too fast or leaning too much. It’s a lot to think about all at once.

Then? We entered this golden back road where the crisp nostalgic scent of fall was pervasive. Leaves glowing all around. Above, below. Falling. Yellow rain. Fractals of sunshine, like alchemy, transforming lead into molten gold. I’d grown comfortable with the bike, was shifting and leaning as one with the group. My pounding heart soared like an eagle.

That was before we stopped for fuel and I did not have a clue how to open the tank, fill it up. Hint: there’s a key.

Pt. Dover was loud, crowded and leather-scented, the cornucopia of bikes a feast for the eyes. We were cold and tired when we got home late that afternoon, before darkness set in.

Hugh helped me buy my own bike after that. He and I enjoyed many rides together; the last one I recall vividly was on his 46thbirthday. I’d given him a motorcycle rain suit and as luck would have it, there was rain in the forecast. One drop fell and he was over to the side of the road donning that suit. We meandered the countryside with no time constraints, visiting obscure furniture stores in a futile search for a coffee table, ending up at our cottage in Grand Bend for the night.

That was his last birthday, so that rain suit didn’t get much wear and tear. I rode for several years without him, which I got used to, but felt weird at first. He usually led – it made me feel safe – and he had this unique way of pointing, on the low diagonal, with the index finger of his left hand, to turn. I knew it was wrong, illegal. He should just use his blinker, right? Did I mention about Hugh and rules? It’s funny, the little things you miss when someone leaves you.

I gave up the motorcycle several years ago, after some horrific local motorcycle accidents, after a horrific one a girlfriend had. She survived, but was pretty banged up.

The other day, my husband B and I were doing an early morning bicycle ride on the Thames Valley Parkway. I was pedaling like mad to keep up to him, leg muscles straining, shifting gears, angling my body for the turns, when a single golden leaf came floating down, smacked me in the face. Ah. October. A fractal of sunshine piercing the morning gloom.

I caught up to B. He didn’t do it then – we were curving to the right after the tunnel – but I knew the next time we’d turn left? He’d point, in that familiar way, on the low diagonal, with the index finger of his left hand, to let me know.

Born To Ride 2021-10-22T12:26:36-04:00

Pink Noise

When I was eight years old and living in a wee bungalow in Chatham, Ontario, family life was routine to the point of boredom. Walk to school at 8:30 am, eat dinner at 5 pm, grocery shop with Mom on Thursday night, fight with my older brother in the back seat of the ’62 Olds on Sunday drives, hear Dad say, “If I have to pull this car over . . .”

Anything disrupting that steady drumbeat was a welcome diversion, even if it meant a few soggy toys in a basement flood. Winter rains had made the Tecumseh Creek, one street over, bulge then overflow, so much so that residents of that street, one street over, had to get around in row boats. How exciting!

Dad gave bail buckets to my brother and I and we got to work. Our work made us late for school. Mom gave us each a note, put the old plaid tin in my hands – it was full of her melt-in-your-mouth fudge, a class treat for our last day of school before Christmas break – and I splashed through puddles in my red galoshes on those deserted sidewalks thinking that, aside from Christmas day? This is the best day of my life.

As an adult, though, and a homeowner, I haven’t found basement floods to glow in that same way, you know? Like a Hallmark movie. They’re more like a Stephen King horror, minus the blood: great elements of surprise, scary dripping sounds, screaming (mostly mine).

Let’s face it: a catastrophic basement flood is never on your To-Do list.

By the time my late husband Hugh and I built our dream home on Clarke Road, we’d had enough floods in our wee bungalow in the country that I suggested foregoing a basement. “Can’t we just pour a lot of concrete?” I asked. “Build the house on top?”

But no. Hugh wanted a place to put the furnace, the hot water heater, the oil tank. (Yes, basement oil tanks were legal in the ‘80s.)

The years went by and the rains caused the floods that destroyed every last vestige of childhood memorabilia. But we became quite knowledgeable about sump pumps and their necessary maintenance. And also quite reactive to the sound of rain.

Now, I’ve recently learned that the sound of a steady rain, like the gentle sound of leaves in the breeze, is called “pink” noise. Quite apropos for October, breast cancer awareness month, and also, apparently, great for sleeping. According to webmd.com, it’s a deeper sound, with lower sound waves, “so it may be gentler and more soothing” than, say, “white” noise, which is like static, and “brown” noise, which is a bit rougher, like the roar of a river or a strong wind.

For me? During my thirty years of living on Clarke Road? The sound of a steady rain got my heart pounding. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. If I’d been sleeping? I’d bolt from bed, run down the main staircase. Thump-thump. Down the hall to the basement door. Pull it open, woosh, fully expecting that dead woman from the bath tub in The Shining to rise from the murky depths. No water? Well, then, it was only a matter of time . . .

I will point out that the land we built on was clay, so if excess water couldn’t find a proper exit through drainage tile or pumping, well, it just happily found a way in. The experts suggested a second sump pump would do the trick, so we added one and got really bold, finishing the basement with a bedroom, bathroom, rec room and even a sauna.

One time the second sump pump failed. One time water gushed down, Niagara Falls style, through an east-facing window-well. That had never happened before. One particular flood was so high up on the stairs that when a friend showed up to help me, her vehicle loaded down with fans and shop vacs, we took one look down there and she said, “Go big or go home, huh?” We sat on the front porch, pulled Coronas from her cooler and I called a property restoration company.

By then, Hugh had been gone for a while, having died suddenly on a business trip, causing way more insomnia than a steady rain. I’d curse him from time to time – as I discarded soggy things, ran the shop vac, restarted sump-pumps and set up high-powered fans – for leaving without solving this leaky-basement puzzle. When I replaced the back deck, after he’d passed, there was some extra excitement and expense when the construction crew, which included my son, discovered some broken tile at a back window. That was it! That was going to be the fix to stop all future floods, but that was prior to the east-facing window-well gusher.

I was out at Hugh’s sister’s place this past summer. She was my next-door neighbour, lives beside the dream home on Clarke Road. She told me that the new owner, a handy guy with a roofing business, has figured out the leaky-basement puzzle. I believe he thinks he has.

The rains came recently, for an entire day, easing from time to time, then thrusting down like an ark would soon be necessary. The nearby Thames River bulged, then overflowed its banks, drowning soccer fields, park benches and a few cars. When I crawled into bed that night with my second husband – we’ve been together for fifteen years now – I heard the pleasing sound of a steady rain on the flat roof of our wee home in the city. I knew our basement was as dry as the Sahara Desert and that, based on significant historical evidence, it would remain so. I slept like a baby.

Pink Noise 2021-10-06T10:45:35-04:00

Tall Buildings Shake

Tall buildings shake
Voices escape singing sad sad songs
Tuned to chords strung down your cheeks
Bitter melodies turning your orbit around
                                                                                             Jesus, Etc. by Wilco – Jay Bennett, Jeff Tweedy

Catastrophic events – like tall buildings shaking on 9/11, like losing a loved one – turn your orbit around with their “bitter melodies”, don’t they? I mean, one moment you’re here, doing this, then BAM! You find yourself over there doing a much less enjoyable thing.

Critics of the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, on which the song “Jesus, Etc.” is found, thought the reference here was to the attacks, but no. Although released on the band’s website just one week following 9/11, recording sessions were completed in early 2001. But Wilco’s label Reprise Records “refused to released the album as they felt unhappy about the end result” according to Wiki. The band eventually signed with Nonesuch Records and the album is “widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of the 2000s”, again according to Wiki.

Which goes to show. Not only were Bennett and Tweedy prophetic, they were also discerning with their art, confident they had created something worthy.

Try it. If you haven’t already, listen to this song once – Norah Jones has an excellent version too if you don’t care for Tweedy’s voice – and tell me you don’t go around the rest of the day with “Tall buildings shake” repeating sweetly in your head.

Of course, if you were alive and old enough to be aware on 9/11, you no doubt have powerful memories of exactly where you were, what you were doing, and what your mindset was at the time. I was working with my late husband Hugh that morning in the office of our roof truss manufacturing plant. Mom called.

“I’m watching Regis and Kelly,” she said. “A small plane just flew right into the World Trade Center. It’s just awful Rita. I’m scared.”

That’s what the world first thought. “A small plane.” A horrific accident. As my mom had a tendency toward hyperbole, I said reassuring words to her, hung up and went back to work. My mom did not tend to scare easily though, so I did bring up the news – I believe on MSN – on my giant old computer monitor. And there was the grainy image of one tower burning. It was not long before word came – I believe through news on an office radio – that a second plane had hit the other tower, eliminating all possibility of a “horrific accident”. And sure enough, when I refreshed my newsfeed, that grainy image showed both towers burning.

The crunching of numbers, the designing of roof structures, lost all urgency. Hugh notified the plant manager what was happening and they no doubt discussed what needed to be built that day, or not. The entire office (about eight of us) powered down our computers and headed to the Oar House to watch in stunned silence as the towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and UA93 plunged into that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after heroes onboard overtook the hijackers.

I don’t know about you, but I still find myself gobsmacked by the calmness displayed by many of the flight attendants and some passengers. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, on American 11, the first plane to crash (into the North Tower), attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney “calmly and professionally relayed information about the events taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground.”

On UA175, which hit the other tower, Brian Sweeney (I believe no relation to Amy Sweeney), 38, called his wife Julie from the back of the plane and left this voice message: “I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked. If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you, I want you to do good, go have good times – same to my parents and everybody – and I just totally love you, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye babe. I hope I call you.”

The first time I heard the log of this call was when it was released on a news show on TV several years after 9/11 and after Hugh died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in the fall of 2004. He’d had no opportunity to say good-bye.

I sat in our darkened living room alone that evening and let out a huge sigh of relief. Ahhh. I heard, “I just totally love you” and “I want you to do good, go have good times” and I thought, Yes! That’s what Hugh would have said! I love you. Go. Have good times. Give ‘er.

9/11 marked an end of a collective innocence. A time when we were all blissfully unaware that four planes could be simultaneously hijacked and cause such terror, such loss of life and material destruction in just over one hour.

And 2004 marked an end of a personal innocence. A time when I was blissfully unaware that a mother could die suddenly in January and a husband in November.

 

As the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan winds down, the Watson Institute at Brown University estimates that 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.

Recommendations:
9/11– amazing 2002 documentary Jules and Gedeon Naudet
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror– five-part series streaming now on Netflix

Website photo: Chicago Board of Trade, one of my favourite tall buildings

Tall Buildings Shake 2021-09-20T15:59:58-04:00

Sometimes Groupthink Stinks

How much of human behaviour is shaped by the people we hang with? Our tribe. Recently, I’ve heard it referred to as “finding your five” – the five people you can go to, count on, divulge your deepest darkest fears to. In essence, be vulnerable with.

We need our tribe, our people. And sometimes groupthink is incredible and positive, but other times . . . groupthink stinks.

Case in point. I started reading Quit Like a Woman the other night, a book by Holly Whitaker, recommended – and sent to me – by my west coast daughter. Whitaker tries to pinpoint her descent into alcoholism, but as she writes about her college years she realizes, “drinking was still not something that I did but something that we did.”

I love a glass of Pinot Grigio, or a frosty rye and ginger ale with the right amount of cubes, but thinking, historically, about my drinking? It’s something that can dredge up tidal waves of shame. I drank too much. Blackouts are, thankfully, limited to the digits of one hand, but hangovers? A much higher number I’d rather not get into, because, well, I know not what it is.

All of this, and guess what? The one-time leader of my tribe, my father, suffered a long and painful drowning death by alcohol, setting a mighty fine example of what NOT to do.

My people, my five, were doing it and we had a blast! It was a simple equation:

tribe of five (or more) + copious amounts of alcohol = FUN

What started in high school carried on into work life, family life. Drinking would lead to hijinks which would lead to hilarity which would lead to lots to laugh about late the next morning over the “hair of the dog that bit you”. Ha ha.

And how dumb were we in the 60s, 70s, even into the 80s? Did anyone reflect on the effect of diet or noxious substances and fumes on health? Raised on processed foods, I ate Alpha-Bits for breakfast every day. (I do recall reading once that even cardboard with milk poured on it has some nutritional benefits.) Smoking? It’s cool, sure do it everywhere. While some of our rock stars were tragically dying, many survived hard drugs and booze in varying amounts and combinations, only to come-to in the late 80s, early 90s, going whoa. Lost a few brain cells there.

And now here we find ourselves: the processed food generation high on whatever life, health and brain cells remain passing the literal torch of a climate-changed planet blinking on red alert to a generation more connected than ever by the internet yet divided by extreme weather, pandemic, politics, racial inequities, economics, supremely high housing prices, origin-of-country shame and ultimately? What to do about all of it!

My husband B and my daughter’s fiancé, optimists both, say you gotta stay positive. And I add, sober. Find a sober, open-minded, positive tribe of five (or more) to hang with.

I saw just such a representative tribe a couple of weeks ago. The kids were different ages, shapes and sizes, but they shared a special bond: the sheer joy of running, jumping, and splashing down off of a pier into cool, clear lake water on a hot, summer evening. “1-2-3! GO!” Comradery at it’s finest.

I was strolling the Bayfield, Ontario pier, sated from a scrumptious pasta dinner, dressed in a favourite sundress. My daughter and her fiancé, both from BC, were with me. They’d surprised me on my birthday a couple of days prior by just showing up on my doorstep! Because of Covid-19, I hadn’t seen them in almost two years. The video my other daughter captured of the moment proves that a person can make a perfect round “O” with their mouth when genuinely surprised.

The shrieks from the pier-jumpers transported me to my childhood. My tribe then, some friends but mostly siblings and cousins, were swimmers, lovers of water in summer: hoses, pools, rivers, gravel pits, lakes, oceans. Ah. It was a simple equation:

tribe of five (or more) + copious amounts of water = FUN

Keep it clean, cool and positive my friends.

Website photo: My grandkids – tribe of three + copious amounts of water = FUN

Sometimes Groupthink Stinks 2021-08-16T12:31:53-04:00

The Climate Emergency

“Deadly heatwaves, floods, storms, wildfires, droughts, crop failures…This is not ‘the new normal’. We’re at the very beginning of a climate and ecological emergency, and extreme weather events will only become more and more frequent.” @GretaThunberg Twitter July 15, 2021

Thunberg was no doubt responding to the tragic news out of Germany, where at least 120 people are dead, hundreds missing, in floods caused by record rains. From another tweet: “A weather service says about 2 months of rain fell in 1-2 days.” @ajplus

Say what?! Two months of rain in one to two days.

And we’re all well aware of the late June heatwave in the Pacific northwest. In Portland, Oregon record-smashing temperatures started at 44.4 C (112 F), then kept climbing, 45.6 C (114 F) the next day, then 46.7 C (116 F). Same in Lytton, B.C., where the mercury-melting started where Portland left off, 46.7 C (116 F), then climbed to 47.5 C (117.5 F) the next day, then 49 C (120.2 F). A couple of days later, on June 30th, that devastating fire began (it’s still ongoing, along with 300 other fires raging in the province) and, enabled by such hot, dry conditions, it quickly devoured the entire town. 

Two of my kids live in B.C., in the Vancouver area. It’s considered a temperate climate, cool and rainy, with average June temperatures not generally rising much above 20 C (68 F). During the heatwave they rose into the high 30’s C, even into the low 40’s C (above 100 F). Most people don’t have A/C; my kids checked into a hotel for the weekend. My daughter told me people were sitting with their pets in their cars periodically, with the A/C going, to keep cool.

Henry Fountain, a climate change reporter for the New York Times, said the other day on The Daily podcast, “What you’ve got to understand about this heatwave is that it was really off the charts. It was extraordinary.”

Consequently, a scientific group called World Weather Attribution, immediately fired up their computers to crunch numbers in the week following, working overtime to provide fresh data for people to understand. Due to the amount of CO2 we’ve pumped into the atmosphere, the Earth has warmed a little more than 1 degree C (2 F) since 1880. So scientists ran models, based on the world as it is and also simulating the world as it would be minus the CO2. Unfortunately, the results were clear: there is absolutely no doubt climate change played a key role.

If this isn’t devastating enough, here’s a recent headline from Global News“‘Nightmare scenario’: Amazon rainforest now releasing more CO2 than it absorbs”. While most of these emissions are due to human-caused fires to clear land for agriculture, hotter temperatures and droughts have contributed.

I want to sit, cry. Throw my hands up. What can one little human do in the face of all of this? Then, my daughter out west sent Greta Thunberg’s speech from the World Summit 2021, which only served to deepen my climate change depression. She’s such a well-spoken young woman, so passionate about this cause, but regardless of the attention she’s garnered? She observes that the only action being taken by world leaders is “in role playing, playing politics, playing with words and playing with our future.”

Seeking purpose and solace, I googled “what can I do about climate change?” and this came up: “Top 10 things you can do about climate change” on davidsuzuki.org:

  1. Urge government to take bold, ambitious climate action now. I signed the petition.
  2. Use energy wisely and save money too! Small household changes range from installing a heat pump to getting an energy audit.
  3. Get charged up with renewables, like solar, wind, hydro, and biofuels.
  4. Eat for a climate-stable planet: buy organic, eat less meat, waste less food, grow your own. (We’re trying to grow our own this year. So far, critters have eaten the corn and basil, tomato plants holding firm.)
  5. Start a climate conversation with peers, family members and loved ones.
  6. Green your commute.
  7. Consume less, waste less, enjoy life more.
  8. Invest in renewables and divest from fossil fuels.
  9. Mobilize for local climate action. “What our cities do individually and in unison to address climate change can set the agenda for communities and governments everywhere.” C40 Cities. From their website: “Around the world, C40 Cities connects 97 of the world’s greatest cities to take bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future.” Founded in London, UK in 2005, some North American notable C40 cities are, in Canada, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and, in the US, Austin, Chicago and Portland. 
  10. Get politically active and vote.

I’m also buoyed by decisive action being taken this week by the European Union. From the New York Times: “In what may be a seminal moment in the global effort to fight climate change, Europe on Wednesday challenged the rest of the world by laying out an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, a plan that also has the potential to set off global trade disputes.”

I say let’s take the challenge and “pivot” (have you noticed how popular that word is lately?) away from fossil fuels. Bring on the disputes! Let’s save the planet! NOW.

The Climate Emergency 2021-07-16T10:47:06-04:00

The Other London

A couple of Sundays ago, while relaxing, watching the Junos, stoked to hear Feist sing with Tragically Hip’s band, my daughter texted this: Brutal news someone ran over 5 pedestrians on purpose in Hyde Park

She then quickly texted Hyde Park and Gainsborough and 2 confirmed dead so far

This kind of news is so very shocking it’s disorienting. I mean, I know the corner of Hyde Park and Gainsborough well, it’s not far from my daughter’s house. But my brain deflected, trying to place the horror safely elsewhere, in some other, more violent place, like say Hyde Park, London, England.

Vehicular manslaughter doesn’t happen here. Mass murder either. (Turns out it’s the first in London’s history.) But now: it does and it has. Our beautiful Forest City, marred forever by this unspeakable violence. 

I’m reminded of the terror unleashed on my mother’s beautiful home province of Nova Scotia last spring when 22 were killed and three injured. At the time, I sent a note to a cousin who still lives there and she was so angry, not wanting her beloved – and friendly! – birthplace to have garnered international attention for such reasons. I feel the same way about London, Ontario, Canada. This is NOT who we are!

In the days that have painfully unfolded since that tragic Sunday night, police have labelled it a hate crime and added terrorism allegations to murder charges. Three generations of a family were brutally wiped out: Syed Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna and Syed’s mother, Talat, 74. Nine-year-old Fayez was recently released from hospital, and, aside from injuries he must recover from, it is beyond heart-wrenching to imagine the enormity of his grief. I would expect he’ll also suffer from PTSD: one minute he was safe, enjoying a walk with his beautiful family on a lovely, uncharacteristically warm spring evening, and the next?!

And as we know, an event like this does not happen in a vacuum; many others are impacted, like witnesses and first responders. The entire city feels traumatized. The London cabbie who was told by the killer, “Call police, I killed somebody,” is “shaken” and “terrified” according to the company’s president. He was enjoying a quick break in the Cherryhill mall parking lot a few kilometres from the site of the attack. After the killer’s directive, the cabbie realized that the front of the man’s truck was severely damaged and covered in blood. When the suspect was taken into custody? He was laughing.

Laughing . . . Thankfully, most of us will never know this depth of madness, anger, hatred, psychological breakdown. This, from a Time magazine article on killing from a few years ago, by Jeffrey Kluger: “Evil isn’t easy. Say what you will about history’s monsters, they had to overcome a lot of powerful neural wiring to commit the crimes they did. The human brain is coded for compassion, for guilt, for a kind of empathetic pain that causes the person inflicting harm to feel a degree of suffering that is in many ways as intense as what the victim is experiencing.” In other words, something has to seriously malfunction (beyond war/soldiering, which is, obviously, another discussion).

The outpouring of compassion for this London family has been comforting, reassuring and tremendous. A mountain of flowers at the crash site, along with a sign “Love for all, hatred for none”. Thousands of people attended a vigil at the mosque, ironically near the parking lot where the killer was apprehended. Colourful chalk hearts, most drawn by children, adorn the sidewalks from the crash site to the mosque (approx. 7 km), as well as various places throughout the city; my north London neighbourhood is decorated with them. A gofundme account set up for Fayez nears $1 million. We are wired for compassion.

“Othering” though, the kind that has been spouted in recent years by some politicians, on social media and in some mainstream media outlets, contributes greatly to this kind of descent into madness. My husband reminded me the other day, that at one point in human history “the science” – and we’ve all been warned to follow “the science” on the pandemic! – was behind the belief in the superiority of the European race.

From Smithsonian magazine: “The American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois once wrote, ‘The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.’ His words were borne out, in part, by science. It was the century when the scientifically backed enterprise of eugenics – improving the genetic quality of white, European race by removing people deemed inferior – gained massive popularity, with advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. It would take the Holocaust to show the world the logical endpoint of such horrific ideology, discrediting much race-based science and forcing eugenics’ most hardline adherents into the shadows.”

The way to pull as many as possible from the shadows? Knowledge. “One of the big pieces is tackling the ignorance that is the foundation for hate,” says Nawaz Tahir, chair of the Muslim advocacy group Hikma and spokesperson for the London Muslim Mosque, “by developing community and anti-racism programming that helps us to attack that ignorance.”

The killer of the Afzaal family apparently had a couple of Muslim friends, which makes his crime confusing. Although anonymity can be a factor, right? Look at how people viciously attack on social media, due to its faceless nature.

According to the London Free Press, Syed Afzaal “is being remembered by the nursing homes where he worked as a caring physiotherapist who made a major impact”. His wife Madiha, “had recently completed her post-graduate work in civil and environmental engineering at Western University.” According to CBC news, their daughter Yumna, “graduated from the London Islamic School, where she had painted a floor-to-ceiling mural before she left. It features an image of the Earth floating in space beside the words, ‘Learn. Lead. Inspire.’” She had wanted to leave a legacy for the school. Community-minded people, living their lives in an inspirational way.

My grandkids don’t say the word “hate”, it’s such a bad word; they call it the “h” word. And the “h” word has no place here, in London, Ontario, Canada, nor anywhere.

The Other London 2021-06-17T12:38:36-04:00

The Past, Chirping

The past is always chirping me. On my case, nagging, nagging, 24/7. 

During a recent meditation (when I should’ve been focused on breaths, in, out, counting to 10): Jetanne, my oldest appears, at four-years-old (she’s 38 for cripesakes!), descends our grand oak staircase, soft little blue duffle bag slung over her shoulder, packed, by herself, to go out for a day on the boat. I’m in the kitchen packing the cooler, her dad is out hooking up the boat. Morning sun streams through the front windows, the skylights. It’s a golden scene.

Completely irretrievable, though, as all memories are. People, places altered and/or gone. Golden ghosts.

From the Oxford dictionary: nostalgia noun “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”

Are you prone to nostalgia? Some people, it seems, just aren’t. Like my husband B, for instance, who prides himself on being a stoic noun “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining” (also from Oxford). 

When B is sick, or has a toothache say, he takes care of himself, is quiet. It’s amazing. And living with him keeps me well aware of my non-stoicism, because when I rant and rave over anything – being cut-off while driving, the neighbour’s ugly and incomplete stone wall that infringes on the driveway (which, btw, B encouraged said neighbour to build!), the craziness of politicians (which includes the craziness of the latest Ontario lockdowns) – he just stares at me, goes, “unh-huh”. He tends to not get worked up.

Speaking of toothaches, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Naht Hahn has this important thing to say:

“When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them.”

Do you practice mindfulness? Are you currently in a state of “a non-toothache”? Take a moment to enjoy. Ah. And while most of us are anxious for a state of non-lockdown/mask/Zoom, a state of open patios, one must admit. Non-toothache is pretty pleasant. 

Have you noticed this? Meditation can trigger nostalgia, but music? Oh, man. Music can be killer, huh? I’m on week seven of a 12-week course called The Artist’s Way “A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self” by Julia Cameron. It’s an old book, from the 90s, that I picked up at the Goodwill Bookstore in my neighbourhood prior to the latest lockdown. (As Steph Posada kindly pointed out on Twitter “Friendly reminder that you’re allowed to buy overpriced novels at Shoppers Drugmart but can’t buy $3 novels at Dollarama. Make it make sense @fordnation #ontario #ontariolockdown”)

One of the tasks this week? “Give yourself time out to listen to one side of an album, just for joy.” (Listen to music, Cameron said. It will be fun, Cameron said.) While we do have albums and a turntable, I decided to just do Spotify, through headphones, while making soup. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd.

To fully appreciate my attachment to this album, join me on a sticky trip down Memory Lane. I was turning 16 and my very best gf – we didn’t call them gfs back then – bought me Billion Dollar Babiesby Alice Cooper. I must point out that this gf lived in TO, The Big Smoke – we didn’t call Toronto either of those things back then – and we’d listen to CHUM FM late into the night on her little clock radio, me on the floor on her twin mattress, her up on the box spring. It was in that location this I first heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. You must understand, we had little money, no albums of our own, no turntable of our own. We waited all night to hear that song – she knew I’d love it – and when it came on? Like mana from heaven. “Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia, let me go! Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for meee!!” It was well and beyond any of my imaginings. We hung on every word, every note. Minds blown.

Getting back to the birthday present album, nothing against Alice Cooper aka Vincent Furnier, we just weren’t committed to it. We packed it up, got someone to drive us to the mall and quickly exchanged it for Dark Side of the Moon. No regrets on this exchange.

I listened to Dark Side of the Moon so many times, I wore it out. I know every single note, the order of songs, every word. Of course, as I had no turntable of my own, I’d play it on the parents’ hi-fi – short for high fidelity, what we called the big old wooden console in the living room that held the turntable – when they were out, or on my brother’s (if he was out) impressive turntable in the basement, floating away on his water bed.

Okay, so time-travelling back into my older bod and current kitchen, chopping celery and chicken and onions for soup – mise en place as B has taught me – tears came from both onions and the loss of innocence. That sweet teenage time when you’re discovering a self beyond parents and family, as well as your own taste in music, music with the potency to bind young minds together as surely as Levi’s jeans bound our fashion sense.

That’s the golden side. The dark side? Of the moon? Lol. Of me? And perhaps some (most) of my teenage friends? Hormones were raging. Which made us pretty darn cranky a lot of the time. The entire adult world was aligned against us. We had no money, no freedom!

We had way more freedom than the teenagers of the last year, huh? I never had to live through a pandemic as a child, a teenager, a young adult.

I’ve said it before: nostalgia is a persnickety drug. Don’t OD on it.

The present’s where it’s at, man. And? Like that one-hit-wonder song by Timbuk3 (perhaps it’s a nostalgia trigger for teenagers from the ‘80s?) “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” Covid-19 contraction numbers are down in our area, the age for vaccinations now includes all adults. The great outdoors with summer weather beckons.

Grab your shades, your sunscreen. See ya on the bright side!

The Past, Chirping 2021-05-18T14:36:21-04:00

Reflecting on the Universe

So quiet. Nothing happens. The Universe is ambivalent. This we know. A great mirror reflecting back what we give. I give you silence. Ok. I give you sorrow. Ok. I give you love. Yes. The Universe says yes to love because the Universe is love. 

“I am love,” it says. “You are love too.” The Great Creator. It’s all about the love.

The love for oneself. That’s where it all begins. “What do you need, my person? Here we are, together, for these glorious, sometimes challenging days. What do you need?”

Love is the best starting point. Then? Awareness. I’ve heard they are the same. When you are aware, you love. When you love, you are aware. Try to be in this state at all times. Can you be?

Apparently the mind is so fleeting – a small child – it is coming and going at all times. Increments of awareness. Flitting in, out, here, there. One time I am on love and awareness and the next I’m wondering what people will think of me if I flub that new routine “Sweet Melody” by Little Mix. I like it, it’s fun, but is the release/contract of the ribs with a pulsing plie? Or do you just hold the plie? I must look it up.

This is my life now and I love this life. Brain/mind engaged in the patterns of some vapid but fun pop song, body/muscles ripped to shreds in the best of all possible ways by the performing of it.

It was Meatless Monday the other night, so my husband B made us risotto. My goodness, it’s so lovely, melting in the mouth, like what? Joy! Tangy joy! So much lemon. Creaminess, then the crunch/explosion of the peas. The sight of it even, so mellow-yellow, so pretty.

Nothing happens unless you make it so. You sleep, the world sleeps with you. You wake up and you see love, joy everywhere you look. In the unbelievably green blades of Grass – how can green BE that green?! Impossible! But no. There it is, shimmering right before your dazzled eyes. The blue of a Blue Jay. A pair of them, hopping happily in a somewhat bare tree promising seeds. Ah, but they’re not just blue – they are faded denim and indigo and sky blue and blue-black and a purple even. A complex blue, as blue would be too boring. Too nothing.

What about the head of a male Mallard Duck?! Have you studied this? How does He get to have such a remarkable and glorious crown, one that rivals that of the queen of England? It’s green, sure, but what kind of green is that? It’s an ungraspable green, shimmering and swaying in the sunlight, saying look, look, look at me. I’m here. King of the pond. I am. I am worthy.

“I am proud of what I make,” the Universe says. “Beauty abounds.”

It’s a search for truth and beauty Nature is on, I feel. How can I help Her in this search?

Have I always been aligned with Nature? The Great Creator? I get crabby when She does not do what I want. She’s been cold lately, stingy with Her warmth. Why? I don’t understand. It’s late April. I sat in the sun – it felt warm on my face – with my coffee the other day, then showered, put on capri jeans, a sleeveless top, bright blue, new, from GT. Flung windows open. Then She, She gave me the cold shoulder. Her skies darkened. Although it was 17 degrees Celsius, it felt like seven. I ran around, closing windows, putting on a sweater, socks, cursing Her. Why you gotta be so mean? Mother?

“I’m not ready yet,” She says. “Don’t fret. Warmer, brighter days will come. This is what’s on the menu today. Find truth and beauty in this.”

It’s harder. One must dig in, dig deeper. I wanted this, She gave me that. So? That’s just judgment. Maybe She wanted that. Can’t you be satisfied? Look at what you have! Health. A beautiful home . . . no wait! Two beautiful homes. Clothes in the closet. A man to love, who loves you. Money. Safety. Kindness. You are blessed. You are truth and beauty, so there! All is well, all is good. Stay calm. Go in peace and kindness and love and joy.

Observe with all senses. Not just your eyes.

With your heart.

Reflecting on the Universe 2021-04-22T11:41:41-04:00