Let’s Be Civil

My mom taught me that no matter who or what someone was, you never say nasty things to people or treat them badly or make them feel like they don’t belong, especially if they are family. If they are too difficult, well, you keep your space but you don’t exclude them, make them feel “less than” or be cruel to them. It doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat, but it does mean that even if you don’t get along you treat them with respect. I’ve tried to live up to that in my life – it isn’t always easy. It’s called civility. I wish more people were like that.#letsbecivil

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Sunday Snow

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Headstones are wearing winter caps
Trees weighed down by yesterday’s snowfall
Have branches bowed to the ground
Honouring one very rotund squirrel
Happily munching on oats for the deer
In the early Sunday sunshine.

Ghosts and Ancestors, a Farewell to 2018

I started writing this on the eve of Christmas Eve, a little earlier than my usual New Years Eve missive and that’s fine.  I thought I’d take some time and really think through what I want to say because this past year and a half have been hard for me.  Not long ago Jim and I were in the car and it was a sad day for us because we had just lost our old dog but as we drove the sun was shining and rays of light were beaming through the clouds and Jim says, “It feels like we’ve turned a corner today.”  I agreed, it was just a feeling but it did seem like we’d entered a new phase or something.  I don’t know why but I hope it’s true.  We’re due for a bit of good I think.

More than anything I have really felt the fact that I’m over 50, though physically and mentally I don’t.  Still, the world doesn’t operate on how you feel, it operates on what it sees and yes, I’m sorry to say I do look a bit like your basic middle aged lady.  The days of doctors telling me I really should gain weight are long since over.  There’s an entire essay on being 50 begging to be written someday soon, so for now here’s just a bit of what’s been on my mind.

Being 50 is a lot like being a teenager.  Seriously.  The hormone changes that usher you into your next half century is similar to 13:  you have mood swings, you feel weepy sometimes, angry other times, a little lost and awkward.  You feel invisible.  Powerless.  Not always, but enough. I don’t know when exactly I started feeling that way but taking an early retirement for a few months when I turned 50 was probably it.  That and menopause.  I remember my dad going through something similar and me doing my twenty-year-old best to reassure him that he wasn’t worthless, that people did want him and there were still opportunities.  My dad was fatalistic about things though so no matter what I said often he felt he was on the downhill slide to oblivion.

That he died at aged 63 isn’t lost on me, and perhaps that weighs more on my mind than it should.  What I also remember is that my paternal grandmother died at age 50 and my maternal grandmother at age 61.  I look at those 3 people who lost their lives to cancer and I know that even though the two grandmothers died more than 50 years ago, only one would have possibly survived longer today.  My mom’s mom died of the same type of tumour that Gord Downey had – only she died a few weeks after VE day.  I like to think that I take after my mom in this; at 99 she is still with us, though she is lost in dementia these past few years.   She, like her sister who lived to 86 or her grandfather who lived into his 90s has the good genes.  I cross my fingers and hope I do too because most of the time I feel like there just isn’t enough of it to do everything I want to.  And I don’t know how time has sped by so fast.  I don’t want to admit it, but maybe I am getting older.

The other night I watched Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.  Wonderful autobiographical piece from an artist I truly admire.  He’s an icon of my generation and I remember my friend Russell’s wife Robin – a New Jersey girl herself – wore a black arm band for days after he married his first wife.  Now Russell is another one who never made it beyond 50; it was such a shock to me when he died (I was in my early 20s) that I became ill for several weeks and still have the allergies that cropped up after I got over the walking pneumonia.  Death was not a secret to me, my mother being so much older I was forever being taken to funerals with her mostly I think for the company and because I was brave enough to do it.  But this one oh how it broke my heart.  To this day I miss him.  He had so many plans for the great day he could retire and write those funny stories he was so good at.  I wish I’d kept a copy of the ones I’d typed up for him.  Life was more complicated when we were dealing with IBM typewriter balls and white out and carbon paper.  It really was that long ago.   But it was also only yesterday.

Bruce Springsteen has a part in his show where he’s describing sitting at a table with his father. He’s expecting his first child and his father has come to him to set their relationship on a new footing.  He said we have family who are ghosts – they’re just names who have no lasting effect, and we have ancestors.  These are the people whose influence is profound and lasts for generations – hopefully in a good way – and that’s what we should aspire to be.  I have made sure that my children know my father even though he died when my daughter was small and my son was born after.  My dad was a complicated man, and it’s too easy to focus on what was difficult.  What I want them to know is how smart, charming, funny and handsome he was.  He admitted that he wasn’t the world’s best father but he was a best friend for 20 years.  Some of my happiest memories are the two of us singing together.  It’s funny, singing in the choir with my mother is also one of my favorite memories.

I love researching my ancestry because for me, I grew up in a family divided and there was my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side and I was placed firmly in the camp of my dad’s side from birth because of how I look.  I am not even remotely blonde so there we have it.  Me, I like to think I come from both sides of the family and that both sides have merit.  They’re both mostly Irish though from different sides of the religious battle and I grew up both. I walked away from that a long time ago.

Faith should never be used a weapon.  I’ve spent way too much mental effort trying to figure out how to be true to myself and please others when the reality is I can’t.  I want to be an ancestor but my creeping fear is that really I’m not.  It’s hard knowing that somewhere I crossed the Rubicon between belonging and not.  So be it.  A little bit of misunderstanding can go a long, long way and sadly, it morphs which is what has happened and since no one wants to hear the truth from the person who lived it, it is what it is.  Still hurts a bit though.  My mom and I always got along well; she understood why I’ve got the life I have and was accepting… so … yeah.

My mom. Definitely an ancestor.  A lot of who I am is because of how she raised me and by that I mean in a very good way.  She had two degrees and was a career woman when my friends’ moms were all at home; in fact she was the main breadwinner and married a man 13 years her junior.  She started her family when her contemporaries were becoming grandparents.  She lived in several places around the world and she traveled Canada. She made sure to take one of us with her on those trips.  She was always compassionate and accepted people for who they are.  I like to believe I learned that too.

One of the hardest things in the last 5 years has been the loss of the compassion and concern of my mother.  I miss our hour long phone calls where we’d talk about everything.  In me she knew she could tell me stuff when she worried how others would react and I appreciated her telling me those things.  She didn’t always like my decisions but she always understood me.  I feel a little adrift without that to be honest, but here we are.  I am fortunate indeed to have had her as long as I have even if I’m not in a position to visit right now since I’m not close by anymore.

In the last 5 years I feel like I’ve lost so much that things have to turn around.  Really.  We’ve seen the passing of all of our animals to various forms of old age (3 cats and a dog), Jim’s mom and his cousin, 1 pre-teen best friend and a 20 year friend of mine, my former mother-in-law.  For most of last year I had to exist on about 35% of my pay which was a whole special kind of fun.  Selling my jeep that I couldn’t afford to keep fixing.  My children are grown which is a good thing but it also means there’s a huge part of my life that’s done now, and it’s hard not to feel a little irrelevant.  Family rifts have gotten deeper and wider.  All of this is stuff that is outside of my control.

So going forward I need to concentrate on what makes me happy regardless.  That means not worrying about the unchangeable, of missing things I can’t get back, of feeling like I don’t belong.  I belong wherever I am, and if people don’t always understand me, that’s fine too.  The people who truly know me are the ones who matter.  The ones who know that I’m a writer first, a painter, a singer song-writer; the little girl who could be found up high in trees is still up high on ladders fixing things and under cabinets installing sinks or building pallet furniture.

Since I can’t change the past or erase unhappy memories, for 2019 I’m going to start my year with gratitude.  I am grateful for my little house, the big-boat van that stills runs, I have my children,  I have my partner of 16 years now, I have a regular pay cheque,  I have my health, I still have a mom on this Earth, I have my gifts and I have a little hope.  That is most of all what matters.

Take care in this new year, and please people live your life with compassion.  Now more than ever we need to put aside our differences and embrace our truths.  The divisions we see are mainly manufactured for somebody elses’ gains, not yours.  So how about making this the year we listen and we treat each other with kindness and respect.  You don’t have to always understand why people behave the way they do, but you can’t expect them to live it your way either just because what you do suits you.  Remember that.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

©Catherine M. Harris 31/12/2018

2019 Annual Predictions

Time for annual predictions.  For people new to this blog, I do these for fun and because every once in while I’m right so people have asked me to post them.  How I do it is to mentally place myself at December 31, 2019 so that I’m looking back over the year like the annual year in review shows and I write down what comes to me, which is what becomes what I see for the year 2019.  Sometimes these predictions happen later than I put down here but regardless, that’s pretty much it.

Note:  After I posted this I read through previous ones and there are predictions that come up year after year.  I don’t go over old posts before I write the new one so I guess the fact I keep seeing the same things is because they haven’t happened yet.  Here’s an amusing big X is that I said Trump definitely wouldn’t be President.  So you see, this is just an exercise in imagination.

Here goes:

  1. Large hurricane coming up from the south as far north as Nova Scotia.
  2. Trump administration has a reckoning of sorts. An indictment.
  3. Election favorable to the Liberals, new Conservative leader by end of the year – there’s a scandal that reflects badly on them which is a coup de grace for the Liberals – early summer/late spring.
  4. NDP and Green popularity rising.
  5. Major market diminution this year culminating in a form of a crash but it is in a way manufactured because it didn’t need to happen.
  6. Princess Kate has another girl – will be pregnant near year end.
  7. Prince Charles’ health is not good. He could be gone.  Some upheaval around this in the royal family.
  8. Twins for Megan – boy and girl. Will be another pregnancy not too long after.  Happy home there.  Will be a mending of fences of sorts.  They will have more children and family will be their focus.
  9. New Brunswick and energy – there’s going to be jobs in NB related to energy coming up this year.
  10. Train travel will be more accessible as there is a new player coming with trains that are much more modern and suited to the Canadian landscape.
  11. Society itself is changing – new forms of safer smoking is making it acceptable again. There’s a new form of vape for nicotine delivery that will not affect those around the smoker and doesn’t risk popcorn lung.
  12. Alcohol consumption is going down due to cannabis with cannabis drinks becoming available 2019/2020. People are finding cannabis is more pleasant than alcohol.
  13. There’s a major shift coming in society and the current left/right split will be lessening. The angry cannot contain itself much longer.  In the US that means a serious break.   There is a strong possibility of a devolution of States to more sovereign entities.  So might not be mendable –  not for many many years.
  14. A major cancer breakthrough regarding pancreatic and liver cancer is found.
  15. ALS and MS will have new and better treatments becoming available by the end of the year. Not a cure but an improvement.
  16. Another treatment for dementia will be available but still a long way before a major breakthrough in dementia I’m sorry to say.
  17. Look for hydrogen energy to become more usable for household and travel. There is a form a cube or box that will provide inexpensive local power coming that will provide inexpensive power that will take many partially or completely off-grid and weather and storms will be less of an issue for power outages.
  18. Price of electricity and gasoline dropping and producers scramble to sell their stock as even reducing output won’t change the end situation that people don’t want to rely on big companies any more.
  19. People in Ontario creating a backlash due to cuts for middle-income and older people. Across Canada public pharmacare and dental care is a major issue and will be reality by 2022.
  20. Huge ice shelves crumbling into the sea – Greenland?
  21. Provincial election in Ontario called quickly – could be related to Doug Ford’s health: heart problems.
  22. Weather – fire smoke and ice. More uncontrollable wild fires in western US and Canada as well as Australia.  Volcanoes continue to erupt in places where they were quiet – central and western US, South America, Iceland, Europe.
  23. Finally will have peace in Syria with a new regime coming.
  24. External terrorism is dying down but internal strife is increasing in Europe and the US.
  25. The continent of Africa is going to be more of a world player – technology will be a new force for commerce for them. In the long term we will see people moving to Africa for jobs, and because of the prosperity a lot of the internal strife will lessen.  A union of countries giving each other a hand up.
  26. Canada – politically fairly stable. Weather – extreme water event in the Prairies.  An earthquake on the east coast makes news.
  27. US – interim leader for Trump mid-summer? Not sure if it is claimed to be health or vacation.  Politically still a coiled spring of emotion down there.
  28. There’s a type of flu coming from South America to North America to Europe. There is no vaccine for this yet – new strain.  All are susceptible.
  29. Money – deflation. Credit card interest rates under scrutiny.  More issues with credit reporting agencies – this system will be changed to something more fair to people.

Where You Are

I cannot see you where you are
Hidden far within your mind
Somewhere in the maze of
Tangled neurons and ganglions
Tip-toeing into vacant spaces
Where rational thought,
Speech and conscious movement
Used to be.

I cannot see you where you are
Tiny, pink upon a bed
I’ve seen in glimpses from
My daughter’s phone
A couple of thousand kilometres away
In a room well minded
By her grandsons
I’m not there but that’s okay
I know what we had.

I cannot see you where you are
Calling for momma, reaching out
Nearly one hundred years
To love gone by that never ends
And I am thankful that
Somewhere in there she still feels
Her mother’s love ‘cause
That’s what it all comes down to
Doesn’t it?

I cannot see you where you are
In my mind I reach out and
Hold your hand and say
I am with you always mom
Where ever you are
Where ever I am
The spirit knows no limits
The soul is never ending
The truth resides within our cells.

I cannot see you where you are
On this Thanksgiving Day
So I say:
You are always in my heart
Much as I am in yours
And for this I am forever
Thankful.

Even though
I cannot see you
Where you are.

(c) Catherine M. Harris, 7-Oct-2018

My Life in Paintings

Here’s my 2018 CBC contest non-fiction entry – didn’t make the cut but here it is for you to read and decide for yourself whether it’s a worthy essay.  Enjoy 🙂


MY LIFE IN PAINTINGS

There’s a painting on an easel in my living room right now.  It’s half finished.  A little boy is splashing a skipping rope in puddles in our driveway and the splashes are flying up into the air.  I love the photo it comes from, and that young fellow is my son fifteen years ago.  I started the painting last fall for a contest then life got in the way.  It hurts to continue right now and that’s why the brush got put down.  My son is grown and living elsewhere.  I will finish it though, regardless of whether he’s around or not.  I am his mother after all, and nothing can diminish or erase the fact that I have a son I love beyond measure because I am his mother, no matter how old or distant he is.

 

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I have a painting in my spare room that is leaning on the wall, sitting on a shelf.  It’s big – 18×24 – and it’s a portrait of my mother.  It’s pretty much finished but it hasn’t got a frame.  Someday soon I plan to put a frame on it; it’s expensive so that purchase has fallen to the bottom of the list for years.  This painting I made for my mom at her request – she liked a photo that was taken of her while she was visiting a cousin in B.C.

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My mom loves to travel.  I was going to say loved but I won’t because she’s still with us.  She’s almost 99 and is in a nursing home, a small shadow of herself brightened by occasional glimmers of memory.  This painting though, she liked it except for one thing:  her chin is too long.  So here it is in my house, many years after she asked and long since forgotten.  She was right. Her chin is a little too long so I will fix that and frame it and put it on my wall.  It kind of makes me sad to work on it at the moment so I haven’t yet.  But I will.  I promise.  It’s also the last portrait I completed, mainly because I haven’t been asked again but also because I discovered it’s hard to make a portrait perfect enough to suit other people.

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I say this because when I was single I used to visit my young nephews (I had two then) fairly frequently and I took a lot of pictures at that time.  One photo I really liked was my sister in a chair with the baby in her arms and the oldest at her feet reaching up.  Kind of Madonna and Child if you will.  So I did an acrylic painting of that photo.  It took me a few months and then I had it framed in glass and wood.  At the time I thought I’d done a good job and gave it to her for Christmas.  She didn’t like how I made her legs look so that was that.  I have no idea what happened to it.  The thing is that’s probably the best portrait I’ve done and you know, it was a sweet moment in time.  I hope someday she comes across it and realizes that – if she still has it after several moves and all this time.

In my basement I have a painting that I call 26.  It is the only self-portrait I’ve done and I was newly married when I did that.  It’s me in a summer dress with a pattern I loved, sitting in a hanging swing in the gazebo of my ex-husband’s mother’s cottage in New Brunswick.  What’s not in the picture is the guitar on the floor – I had gone there for a bit of space and to play my guitar which I did a lot in those days.  I used to write songs and work out the chords for favourite tunes then I’d record them and give copies to people who wanted one which at the time was pretty much only my dad.

26

I appreciated the colour of the trees and the wood and my dress so for fun I put my 35mm camera on a beam and took a few timed exposures.  One photo stood out so I painted it.  This one I put on show in Mississauga once.  The only comment I got was “Why is this called 26?”

It lives in my basement because it’s big and it’s me and maybe if I had a larger house I’d find a wall to put it on but for right now it feels a little self-aggrandizing to hang it somewhere prominent.  Regardless, I like it.  I think I looked my best around that age.  It’s a nice reminder.

I had one painting come back to me.  This one doesn’t have people in it but it does have trees.  It’s quite large and it is of an entrance way to Apfeldoorn Het Loo castle at the end of a long archway of trees – the play of shadow and light and the arching branches were striking, and this is one photo I have from the time when my aunt took me on a National Art Centre trip to Holland and Belgium.  Auntie traveled often and this was the only time she took me on one of her trips.  She usually took my mother but for this one she knew I’d appreciate the outstanding artwork in the Netherlands. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I was in my early 20’s and I had had a horrible year.

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A dear friend died suddenly and a few months later I came down with walking pneumonia so between the two I was emotionally and physically knocked flat.  Auntie thought this would make me happy and she was also pleased that I was old enough to travel with her.  I gladly went and the trip was just what I needed; it was wonderful to spend all this time with her getting to know her in an environment experiencing something we both had in common:  a love of art.

When we came home I made her a photo album of our trip and for Christmas I gave her the framed painting of Apfeldoorn.  She proudly hung it over her bed – she collected original artwork and displayed it all over her apartment so for me that meant a lot that she liked it that much.  That painting stayed there for a few years but it was also at this time her health started declining and she only went on a few trips after the one with me.

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She died in 2000, and sometime after that I was given back the photo album and the painting with the mat still there but oddly, the outer frame is missing.  That’s okay, it still looks good.  It spent 10 years over the top of a stairway in my house in Arnprior, and now faces a door in my little bungalow in Fredericton.  It reminds me of a person who was important to me, and of a time of my life just before I got married.

Just as important though are the sketches of paintings not yet done.  One is a sketch I did of my daughter as a baby and I have to laugh because its very existence is much like an essay I started writing back then about life as a new mother: it ends mid-sentence after about three paragraphs.  I haven’t tried to finish it because you know what?  That’s what being a new mother is all about, this not enough time to do anything.

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I also have a sketch of Grammie-great.  I promised to paint it for my daughter someday because Grammie-great (her great-grandmother on her father’s side) simply adored her.   She died when my daughter was four and I think she’s her guardian angel. I will do this one soon, now that she is grown.

grammie-great_portrait_sketch

I’ve fallen behind in my paintings of people: my dad, my daughter, my spouse.  I’m just looking for the right moment in time and the right inspiration to come.  I may be old and white-haired by that time but hey, that’s what retirement is for isn’t it?  I think George Bush Senior would agree.

My latest printed photo album ends in 2004.  With the advent of digital cameras I now literally have nearly a decade and a half of thousands of images that if I don’t print them or something they will be lost in time.  I’m not alone in this certainly.  A painting can last forever though.  Why not put the really special moments on canvas in a way that maybe will long outlast me?  They might wind up in a dump somewhere, sure, but I hope when the day comes and I’m not here, that for at least one or two somebody will say: “Hey, I like this.  Let’s put it up on the wall.  Who did it?”

Carleton Park at Dusk

“Oh, it was Great-great-grandma.  Cool, eh?”

(c) Catherine M. Harris, 2018.  All rights reserved.

Dream about Corsica

This goes into disturbing dreams category, and I’m putting it here because the flash I had about Rob Ford and my flash I saw about the plane with the hole behind the door were both pretty prophetic so here’s this, in condensed version.

I was in a new place of business where I was somehow involved but don’t know how.  Anyway it covered several floors joined by a large wide white staircase.  I was in an upper floor and somebody asked where the owner kept something and we looked a bit for it, then I left and went downstairs.  There were people all down the stairway and they all seemed rather flustered.  I walked down several floors looking at these people and when I got to the main floor I asked a young woman who had tears in her eyes what was going on.  She said there had been a terrorist attack and a certain politician and a friend had been in a yacht in Corsica that had been destroyed and it didn’t look good.  She was angry that this politician had gone there, wondering what they were doing there.

I have written down the name of the politician in my personal notebook but I’m not putting it online, and I hope that is dream is not a literal one but a warning so I’ll leave it at that.  I’m hoping this is more of a warning that there’s an event related to Corsica that would metaphorically blow up this politician’s career.