Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not Forgotten

People drift in and out of all our lives from the moment we take breath to the last exhalation into the void.
Some, like insubstantial wraiths, drift in and out, a glancing touch which shivers the fabric of our lives but leaves us unchanged. Others, and this is dependent neither on duration nor apparent impact at the moment in time that you meet – somehow leave footprints on your soul that decades later can be felt like a small ache deep within the hidden recesses of your id.

Once upon a time, when I was 13 and had been enrolled in yet another school as my nomadic life had accustomed me, I met a girl. Her name was Caroline Cheney.

Like me, she was an immigrant, brought to Canada at age 6 by her Piccadilly swinging 60s parents together with her brother.

Caroline was beautiful. She had a wealth of soft, mink-dark hair framing sunny blue eyes in a complexion that epitomized the peaches and cream of British fame. Every morning and every night, Caroline drank a mug of hot water with lemon, a concoction she attributed her flawless skin to and passed on by her mother as the answer to Canada’s drier climes. She was funny, in a quirky, amusing and wholly mature way that enraptured me in its insight and ability to see to the heart of the most tragic matter and find in it the crux of our human condition.

At 13, I was awkward, sexually naive and shy; Caroline, on the other hand, had a knowing look under thick dark lashes, a saucy grin and a wit that sparkled and shone among the crassness of pubescent humour.

Wilder Penfield Elementary School in Dollard was our meeting place. While I had learned to cope well with new schools, new faces, new situations and new cultures, this was a particularly difficult transition. On the cusp of puberty, changing bodies and minds, awkwardness, emotions and teenage angst made entering a school in Grade 7 a daunting task. Particularly trying to find a niche when it seems only you are the outsider – as everyone else had childhood memories to cement the bond and provide a bridge into adulthood.

Caroline and I bonded not because of our outsider status but because something sparked between us, something real and solid, almost palpable in its reality. We would sit, feet to feet and discuss the ramifications of pollution on our planet; argue passionately about the pros and cons of Buddhism versus Christianity; laugh until we almost peed at the song and dance of adolescence. We would do each other’s hair, experiment with makeup and spend hours nestled together on the bed reading Salinger and Uris, crying over Steinbeck novels and read out loud the outrageous prose of Henry Miller.

We had fun, Caroline and I, and embraced life with a zest that I still equate with that wonderful spirit of hers – the one that could find joy in a rainstorm, humour in being stranded at the wrong end of an out-of-commission subway car and delight in the simplicity of lying in lush grass and listening to the lake lapping against the rocky shore.

In a time and era when an overweight person was almost freakish, Caroline was hugely, roundly obese, with a ripeness of curves, a sheer plenitude of clear, soft flesh that seemed to physically embrace the huge spirit which resided within. She was comfortable in herself in a way I have never seen to this day; relishing her curves and roundness, loving her big firm round breasts and swelling hips and long shapely strong legs.

And men responded.

No matter where we went, those flirtatious blue eyes, the saucy grin, the sheer feminine lushness of her attracted them like flies … and I would stand back, amazed and delighted – not envious – my own gawky, lanky body was still unformed but more importantly, my mind wasn’t ready to grapple with the complexities of the sexual dance. But I delighted in my friend’s frank and honest delight in her femininity and watched, amused, as this beautiful girl played a masterful hand with the besotted males who fell into her warm hands.

Caroline’s parents incorporated every cliché from the troubled and exciting decade of the 60s. Nudists – they had family vacations in warm coves and remote resorts – and their easy acceptance of their bodies probably accounts for Caroline’s complete delight in her own figure. “Freedom” could have been Caroline’s parents, catchphrases. Immersed in the doublespeak of that troubled time, they believe that children “instinctively” made the right choices … and believed in the sanctity of allowing children’s’ minds to soar, to explore and make choices, thus neither Caroline or her brother had any real guidelines, any limits or strictures.

And it was disastrous, this honest, well-meant and yes, loving way of bringing up children.

When I met her, Caroline’s brother was already heavily involved in the drug culture prevalent in the late 60s. Caroline was already experimenting.

We were together for less than a year in Grade 7, then on graduating, she went to one high school, me to another – and the phone calls and visits began to fade and as life happened, we kept in touch less and less. There was one phone call around a year after we graduated, an initiation to a party. And off I went in my pleather sky blue mini and pale white stockings and bow-tied white blouse … to Caroline’s … where the rooms were lit by candles pushed into Mateus bottles, bulbs rendered mysterious and soft by wraps of pale translucent fabric, where the scent of pot hung heavy and turning a corner you were liable to step over couples in a frantic coupling among the detritus of broken glass, smouldering pipes and glass orbs half filled with water trailing long sinuous tubes…

I was completely out of my element. A surreptitious call to my mother and half an hour later I was scuttling home, tail between my legs.

It must have been a year after that incident that one afternoon, I answered the door. Outside, a pale, pallid creature stood, long and lanky, complexion almost frightingly pale and blotched, eyes dull. Long, dark hair hung arrow straight down the thin, almost sexless body.

“sheenagh” don’t you know me?

It was my Caroline.

Heavily involved in the drug scene which exploded in the late 60s and early 70s, unrestricted movements, tacit and obvious admissions that she was free to pursue and experiment, Caroline was sinking fast.

We spoke for hours that afternoon, and in the haunted, pale face I found my friend. But our paths were not to cross again for a very long time, for the path she chose diverted widely from mine.

Several years later, coming home for a visit from University, my mother took me gently aside and asked me to call Caroline’s mother. Caroline had fallen deeper and deeper into the morass of drug addiction until even her parents recognized the cry for help. Desperate – for they were loving parents, if misguided – they sent her to Florida to an aunt.

But Caroline had chosen her path. Eventually she found fellow lost souls. Two boys and herself stole a small sports car and in the ensuing police pursuit, the car crashed and went under a transport truck. The two boys, sitting in the front, were decapitated. Caroline, squished into the little luggage section behind the front seat, was badly mangled and remained in a coma for more than a year, losing her leg and suffering massive internal injuries.

Home now and awake, she was definitely brain-damaged, lost and unsure, subject to memory loss and anxiety. Her mother wanted me to visit – for our parents even back then had recognized the special bond Caroline and I shared.

Bracing myself, I went to see my friend. Thin, pallid, anxious and driven, Caroline was initially pathetically happy to see me. Embracing her emaciated little body, I struggled to hold back my tears as I remembered our early days– the sheer wonderful life inside that great beautiful soul, the over-flowing beautiful flesh reduced now to this sad, damaged creature.

But within a short period of time, Caroline became agitated and upset, began crying and gently, her mother asked me to leave- thanked me for trying. Later, she called, said how much she appreciated me coming but seeing me had left Caroline agitated and very very unhappy. Her mum said sadly she felt it was because deep inside of her, Caroline remembered what she once was – remembered the sheer love of life and appetitive for living that Caroline and I had shared …and that in the end, that part of her life was gone so please don’t call.

Years after that terrible day, my mother called me.

A volunteer in a local hospital, my mum was helping some patients when she saw Caroline in one of the rooms, wasted away and dying. She said she is sure Caroline knew her, but turned her head away with tears in her eyes. Two days later Caroline died. In hindsight, I would not be surprised if it was AIDS that killed her. From what my mother said, it had all the earmarks of that terrible scourge.

A brief time in my life, that Grade 7 year. Yet one that to this day leaves an ache in my soul for someone who had touched me and left her mark indelibly on my soul.

Caroline, you are dead, my friend, but not forgotten.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Opinion and Cyber Bullying

Every single one of us has an opinion. Depending on the subject matter, our opinions are passionate, lukewarm, angry or lackadaisical. To different degrees, they are simply personal beliefs or judgments based on our own experience and feelings, reasoned, rational conclusions drawn from empirical evidence or apparently, in the world of the internet, confusing rants based on paranoid delusions.

Insofar as we work within the parameters of societal imperatives, the legal system and the rules of the forum in which we are participating, anyone is damned well entitled to believe and voice that belief however they desire.


It would be vastly refreshing if opinions voiced could just once in a while be backed up with a rational argument or a reasoned debate of points made by an opposing opinion.

I have concluded recently that cyber bullying really is no different than the real life kind.

Cyber bullying carries with it all the characteristics of real bullying; seeking a victim (perceived as weaker), repeated, “attacks”, pejorative labels based on nothing more than an attempt to intimidate and/or hurt, and ultimatley, no rational, honest engagement of debate or argument.

I find myself pining for days of my youth, when arguing was an art; passionate, involved, sometimes loud but always with some form of intellectual groundwork – where points were dealt with and the ultimate aim of a debate was to convince with emprical evidence and rational thought that YOUR opinion was in fact the correct one.

One did so by dealing with the issue in question; removing the individual from the argument and rationally discussing why and on what that argument was based. One could fiercely disagree with someone and remain on good terms with them, because rational argment demands that the THOUGHT process is primary; asserting “because I said so” or that is “what I believe” are not rational arguments, they are emotional reactions.

Another characteristic of cyber bullying is repeated reiteration of perceived slights, accusations of “attacks” that were never made nor intended, and repeated and strident demands for apologizing and backing down from the “opinion” which the bully finds offensive.

Ultimately, I find it sadly common on the internet to find cowards who hide behind created personas and impersonal keyboards to inflict repeated and nasty attacks on individuals simply because something has triggered an emotional response in the bully. Salient points are ignored, rational discourse rejected; rather, these individuals find it far more productive to use a big stick to try to intimidate someone into apologizing and backing down from a point never made – an opinion never voiced.

I, for one, never backed down from a bully in real life – I am most certainly not going to start now.

Each of us is entitled to our perceptions, our beliefs and our opinions – and while I am open to someone attempting to convince me to change said value system with rational and reasoned debate, trying to force me to do so simply won’t work.

All that’s left now is to call me an ugly fat bitch – have at me – I’m good for it!

Saturday, July 5, 2008


She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (macbeth)

Have you ever noticed how very loud silence can be??

The fire crackles and mutters, spitting ribbons of molten light which cavort in a St. Vitus dance of suicidal turpitude in the humid air. The spectacle enraptures and provides us with a convenient diversion, allowing us the conceit of ignoring the increasing cacophony of quiet which batters at the iron doors of our determination to remain silent, the ringing might of its victorious battle cry successfully ignored.

Mutterings, deprecations, accusations, the poignant moaning of what should be said, the restless murmuring of exploration and explanation ... they merge and meld into a homogeneous sea of sound that pounds against the tight, narrow passage of words.

My throat is tight, distended with the crowded mass of unexpurgated need, which struggles and fights behind the binding of want and should bes. I swing silently in the hammock chair, embraced in its canvas arms and ponder the inevitability of an interaction in form and substance time and pain have etched in stone.

More and more I find silence a welcome, beloved friend, greeted with barely restrained relief and grateful embrace. Words, I find, are vastly over-rated … sounds, consonants and vowels, melding, clashing, creating an ocean of sound and purported meaning that in the end, have no meaning nor impact.

Popular thought espouses the cathartic release of thought and word into concrete being – yet once said, they come alive and twist and dance and become in their many guises, independent creatures, capricious and wilful. Words, once released, cannot be recaptured nor controlled. Rather, they metamorphoses into something their creator often finds unrecognizable, that their intended target sees through clouded eyes and their own complicated psyches.

It always seems so simplistic … to contemplate saying what is in your mind and heart but human beings are convoluted and unpredictable, victims in many cases of our own fickle thoughts. Even the most erudite wordsmith among us cannot guarantee full comprehension of intent and meaning.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death

And the tomorrows come, despite the passionate effort to deny the passage of time and the words left unsaid. Had I the eyes, I would see the Silence grow large with the words which collect and grow strong in its foetid embrace, swelling with its obscene child of denial and want, flesh straining against the increasing weight of its terrible need.

And sometimes, even when Silence gives birth and spews forth words which twist and turn in a tsnami of expletives and justifications, it is the words that nestle deep inside Silence, that refuse to leave and instead sink sharp tipped need deep into her flesh, that make Silence scream.

Zen and the Art of Dog Walking

Sand and grit trickle between toes exposed by summer sandals. The dogs gambol and cavort, whimpering in an excess of joy that threatens to overwhelm, sides quivering, ears pricked, struggling to contain exuberance and walk sedately as demanded. Light glitters and refracts from the still surface of the lake, reflecting back into eyes hooded by dark glasses, sparking a yearning which I throw out to the water which stretches into an infinity of possibility before me, horizon and lake melding and melting into a homogeneous string of maybes that beckons with a mesmeric compulsion.

As we enter the off-leash, I release the quivering beasts and breathe deep their simple joy in freedom. I watch the dogs gambol, in their world of here and there is just warm breath and fur and the wonderful burning feel of muscles as they stretch their legs and run and bark to a sky they never question and the sweetness of another furry body matching their own and the sweet intensity of smell and feel and just being and I see in them a profound wisdom.

I find a measure of peace, sharing in their spiritual journey of living in the now and envying them too their simple acceptance of what each second brings and yearn for the same simplicity of purpose and existence.

I think man’s greatest gift is also his greatest curse… this ability we harbour to question.

Our restless, probing minds refuse to simply exist but must instead constantly ask and demand answers from a universe which simply exists and can provide no profound rebuttal to the whys. And yet, and yet … quixotic and contrary, I have such treasured memories of the smoky, warm closeness of the Social Club and passionate anger and spirited arguments and the grasping of universal truths and the rejection of measured logic for the simple joy of contrariness and a desire to provoke. Beer, warming in palms sweaty from passion and time which sweeps through the night like a comet trailing possibilities and devours the hours of our lives with an appetite made voracious from denial.

And in those halcyon moments, I sit suspended, youth and passion and the hard hot reality of need forever etched in the twists and turns of mutable time, forever caught as if in amber, the remembrance of what was.

The dogs yelp and tongues lolling leap into the lake which laps placidly at the stony beach, their bounding feet churning sediment and sand and clouding the clear water. There is sun and cool water and the simplicity of strong muscles and endless energy and play and they are and they exist and they do not question.

I know that when I walk the dogs from the Humane Society, as I pause in front of the pen of the dog I am going to walk, there is a sudden realization in their sad, dark eyes that for that moment, their lives have blossomed and opened into a multitude of possibilities. That when I take them, bodies quivering and pulling, my arm flexed, muscle straining as I seek to hold back their captive spirits which batter against the shackles of reality, that for THIS moment, there is a terrible freedom that for that second of their life, is absolute.

Not for them the dragging of memory to smother and distort the simplicity of the moment; rather, they embrace with an enthusiasm to be envied the pure delight of this second in time. In their simple and complete acceptance of the moment, dogs have a profound understanding of the universe that rivals the most erudite of speakers or philosophers.

Ultimately, Buddhists (particularly Zen Buddhists) see the ultimate goal of our reality is to eradicate the line we falsely and stubbornly draw between “being” and “doing”. Dogs have achieved a state of wholeness that human beings can only hope to emulate. For them, there is no line between the mind and the body and the reality of the moment, no alienation from the totality that makes them dog.

So encompassing is their embrace of the now that there is not even a concept of “dog” simply being and as I watch them tumble and run and stretch muscles designed to move, I find myself losing my own sense of alienation. Somehow by sharing in the absoluteness of their existing in that second, I find my own mind relaxing and opening, expanding to embrace and welcome the totality of my body.

The Zen philosophy teaches that “spirit of love and compassion for all beings is developed through continual spiritual purification, the cultivation of a deep sense of responsibility, and most importantly, through self-discipline” and I sense as my spirit calms and my mind slows, as my heart expands and reaches out to the beauty of motion before me, a sense of comradeship with these elemental creatures of muscle and sinew, a connection to the simplicity of living that ignites in the greyness of heart a small, flickering flame.