Sunday, July 15, 2018

Overheard on Ward 74

Old Buster: "I need some batteries for my hearing aids."
Mom: "What's that, dear?"
OB: "Batteries for my hearing aids."
Mom: "I can't hear you. I think the batteries on my hearing aids are weak."
OB: "You have batteries for the hearing aids?"
Mom: "Are you wearing your hearing aids?"
OB: "I need batteries for my hearing aids!!"
Mom: "Yes, I have them."
OB: "Well then give them to me!"
Mom: "But then I won't be able to hear you."
OB: "Not yours, I want mine!"
Mom: "Well, I don't have yours."
OB: "Bring me some tomorrow when you visit."
Mom: "What are we talking about now?"
Mom: "You're acting a little peculiar, dear."
OB: "Well at least . . . is this Regina?"

I imagine this all went on a little longer, but at this point I admit that I went down to the hospital cafeteria to see if they have any of those excellent cans of gin and tonic. 

(They don't.)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Ward 82

I've spent the last week or so as a near-constant visitor to a hospital urology ward. So many poor old busters with leaky plumbing, you just can't imagine. I've Seen Things that I ought not properly to have seen, given that I am not myself a urologist or an aficionado of high-def photography when the subject is the insides of urethras. In some primitive cultures I do believe that I would have had to have married people based on what I now know first-hand about them. There are no braver and better people on this good earth than the nurses who calmly accept that they have converted 17 years of education into a daily opportunity to be peed on by strangers who just can't help it.

Actually, maybe there are.

I admit it: I've laughed and giggled, snickered and rolled my eyes heavenwards a good portion of the last 7 days. I mean, what's not hilarious about a whole floor of old men running around in their underpants trying to aim accurately at plastic bottles and using paint-chip cards to judge whether their pee is more like watermelon or pink lemonade or cranberry or tomato soup or beets?

But that's not the point. The guy in the bed across the hall from my patient was a British sailor who as a child was tasked with watching for Germans from the village church tower and to this day has nightmares about Hitler and balloons. One of the roommates spent the last 55 years farming on this stubborn tundra; you should see the callouses on his hands. (No wonder he can't quite manage that bottle.) Buddy down the hall is a transplant from Atlantic Canada, where he learned how to make steamed birch snowshoes from his grandfather and then used them to fish and log, hunt and trap to support his 3 orphaned sisters. Sure, he's not a big fan of doing up his hospital gown but I guess I got time for that.

I can always look away, right?


I tried. I really tried. It was horrible. They are noble and children of the universe and everything but it was HORRIBLE DO YOU HEAR ME.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Cardigan of Becoming

A person actually said out loud today "Your mother is right." That person was talking about me. I am a mother. Someone depends on me for advice, for food, transportation, affection, common-sense hygiene protocols, the purchasing of anti-bacterial soaps when appropriate.

That this has been so for nearly 15 years now didn't really lessen my (temporary) astonishment.

It still catches me by surprise, this re-re-re-re-discovery that I'm not the person I remember myself being. I have now, for example, a wide-ranging collection of cardigans. Some are zippered argyle, some have little pearlescent appliques, but what unites them all is their boxy cardigan-ness. I used to be a creature found almost without exception in sweatshirts two sizes too big for me, cut for men. I moped around Paris dressed like a refugee for an entire year and cut a similar figure in other world capitals on two continents. No one could accuse me of dressing for the approval of the masses.

Which makes the trim little cardigans making their pleas for social acceptability that much the stranger. They have little pockets, some of them, for kleenex or hair ties or quarters. There is a Lego Theoden in one, given to me by a certain small person when I was heading off for a new client meeting (which went so well that I've carried it around with me most places ever since).

The sweatshirts and shapeless jackets were disguises that hid my youth and beauty with ruthless efficiency from every male gaze that might possibly be headed my way. There are complicated reasons for that. The cardigans, though, are a costume. They say, in a relaxed and competent way, "Lookie here, mommy is in the room. Of course I have a tissue and a Lifesaver. Let me dry your tears, affirm your hopes and dreams, and make you a healthy though delicious snack with precisely the right amount of kale in it."

I wear my cardigans like Theoden wields Herugrim. If employed at just the right time with just the right amount of flash and guile, they distract from the fact--the cold, hard, fact--that I am no one's idea of a Good Mommy. I am flighty and undependable, selfish, moody, incompetent, ruthless, dreamy, distracted, bored, worn out, uninterested, rude, and filled with ennui. I am a terrible cook. The laundry room is basically the set for The Upside Down. There are two desiccated mangoes on the dining room table that have been there since August. A professional writer and editor, it took me 11 tries to figure out how to spell "desiccated." But I am full of love, full of hope, full of good intentions--and nothing says all that like a super-soft Italian cardigan with shiny buttons and roomy pockets. Here, child, put your dreams in my pocket and I will tell you a story about how they all come true.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Today, a male person wrote an article about why hiring women is not just the right thing to do but actually makes business sense for his company. We are all clapping and cheering for him.

I am pleased he wrote this article and he seems like a very excellent person. I think we would be friends and allies. The company involved is really progressive and I honour them for their promoting of women to positions of authority and influence, and for the women there helping one another up.


Women have been saying this, writing this, shouting this, singing this, painting this, protesting this problem for as long as I have been alive, which is now a rather long time.

That a woman selling products to women might like to see a woman or two on her agency team isn't a "spoiler" to the half of us who are ourselves women. To the half of us who watched, for  years, as male after male was groomed for leadership and woman after woman was .... well, was not.

I have had to address the ghostly lady presence time and time and time and time again and again and again. Practically every client. Every presentation. Every prospectus. Four countries. Every "Our Team" gallery of mostly white guys. "Hey, you need a woman there," I would say, and one or two would be dragged up for the occasion. After a "hey, you're right."



Monday, December 4, 2017

Close Your Eyes and Think of Western Democracies

Today I went up to the university to listen to David Frum. That I did this on purpose and with some excitement tells you a lot about where we are politically at this time here on planet Earth. I've kind of changed my mind maybe a little bit about DF because he is saying all kinds of mean things on TV about Trump, which are some of my favourite things that conservatives can be saying on TV these days.

Anyhow, Mr Frum has four ideas about what we can be doing to save Western democracies from creeping decay and maybe fascism. I only remember one, really, because it was this: Women need to bear more children. After that my brain kind of went ferfucksakeferfucksakeferfucksake over and over and over again.

And, I believe, what he was *really* saying is that more WHITE women need to be having more babies. White women need to have more babies so that we don't keep letting all these immigrants in. And he didn't, for the record, say "child-rearing." It was "child-bearing."

So, this is what I heard him whispering underneath all the things he was saying more loudly and humorously and sagely:

The ultra-rich (men) who run the world are angsty because there are hordes of brown people coming into the countries into which their own ancestors only recently arrived, and these brown people are working with unhinged lefties to agitate unrealistically about the right to healthcare and affordable education and jobs that pay a living wage. Rich white men don't like to share, and old rich white men are naturally more conservative, so they get a little fascisty and fuck up democracy so that they get to keep what they already have.. In order to calm their poor nerves, stem immigration, and provide an army of able-bodied white people to work in factories and schools and hospitals and brokerages, it is up to white women to produce more babies.

Now, look: I'm no genius. I'm also maybe a little menopausal (no more white babies for me!), my mind wanders, I'm naturally suspicious, my dog eats loads of illegal butter while I'm not looking and it's really getting on my nerves because the neighbours are all judging me for letting the puppy get so fat so quickly but it is not my fault that he is athletic and addicted to animal fats. Maybe DF didn't mean to give me this impression. He was speaking quickly. But what I *thought* I heard was this:

Ladies, abandon the Resistance. Tune out Elizabeth Warren. People are really all just "primates in pants" (not pantsuits). The way to stabilize society is not to march on Washington. It's to close your eyes and think of Western Democracies.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Do Not Resuscitate

Today our childhood babysitter came by the parental condo to write up a new will and some personal directives for the aged relatives.

If that ain't the realest shit that ever got real, whatever takes that title has my respect.

The last time I saw E, she was 14 and seemed like the most glamorous creature on earth. She was already a published author (in that she had written a personalized story for me when I was ill). She played pretty good baseball. She helped me learn to ride a bike. She was the owner of Ol' Slobbersides, the first dog I ever loved, and would actually pick up his soaking wet tennis ball in her bare hands and throw it down the park for him to fetch, my first experience of the Power of Real Love.  She would let us stay up playing hairdresser until the moment the Buick headlights came up the driveway and then supervise nightgowned pelting down the hall and into the white bunkbeds with matching purple quilts. We would listen to her assuring our parents that everything had been really quiet and boring and mentioning nothing--nothing--about the popcorn battle or the human pyramid or the go-go party. Chanel No 5 and the rustle of the silk lining of our mother's Persian Lamb shorty coat, a whiff of cigarette smoke, the sound of the door opening and closing and then opening and closing again as dad returned from walking E home five houses up the street. That sense of complete security that accompanied the return of mother and father to the bungalow, the reassurance that the glamorous pair who had left us behind had returned and would by morning be just themselves again.

45 years later, I see E's freckly long-legged girlhood--and mine--now transformed by sensible cardigans, good shoes and fashion-forward spectacles. Her prisoner-of-war father finally succumbed to the shrapnel in his brain, while my deafened-by-artillery father nods and smiles in his leather chair, pretending to hear the legal options being proffered him. Now unable to do more than fondly pat her stilettos, my mother wears a velour track suit and asks the same question about Do Not Resuscitate directives multiple times in a row. We explain in detail about who gets to say Enough should she or dad be on life support. We talk about who gets my share of the estate if I die before my parents, who gets my childless sister's share if she should die first, and we all shudder with the memory of a much-too-close brush with death three years ago.

I find myself longing for just one shot of Bols Apricot Brandy, in one of the cut-crystal glasses that used to live in the china cabinet beside the picture window.

How strange it is that this pretty middle-aged lawyer with good skin should preside as surely over the ending of it all as she did over it all beginning.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


I was going to write about band camp and how I am going there in one more day and how I will stay there for three days and how there will be dozens upon dozens of teenagers there with me with their fanfoozlers and how it will be Halloween and how I am supposed to be fun and yet also be in charge despite lumpy waistline and somehow also sneak my laptop there because I work and have a deadline but I didn't tell anyone on my team that I would be in the foothills listening to sad tuba noises and how the camp is basically in the headwaters of the Aryan Nation in this province and how I forgot to tell anyone about what I can or cannot eat and how as a result I will have to pack alternate sources of nutrition that involve no nuts even though as a vegetarian nuts make up roughly 40% of my protein intake and how to top it all off I will be The Anemic Mom at band camp but I am overwhelmed with despair and foreboding and am just going to put on a snail mucin mask (ha they think they are smart by writing snail mucin instead of snail mucus but I am not fooled) and hope hope hope I have an allergic reaction that lands me in the hospital where my roommate will be a remarkably personable middle-aged woman with a thriving international company who is GASP looking for a smart person to handle her communications at a very lucrative wage and is willing to throw in an S-class Mercedes to sweeten the deal and she is also very good at getting the hospital kitchen to make food and not gross goo and I will be lying there quietly picking my sad snail scabs but eating real chocolate pudding and looking up Christmas holidays in Tahiti which I can now afford and how.