When I Said

Ashes to ashes

I intended to go from Summer Solstice 2019 to Autumn Equinox 2020 without consuming alcohol. I believed I could do this on will alone. Perhaps will is sufficient for quitting a habit – but will is not inexhaustible. I wake up and enter the morning and each day is different when it comes to how much available will I seem to have. Each day holds its surprises for how you will be taxed. I cunningly plan out my will allotment across the day’s known challenges and then the day sneaks in unexpected curveballs and suddenly it’s 4PM, I’ve already borrowed into tomorrow’s will supply and a friend is saying “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?” and I am no longer sure at all.

My reasons for trying to not drink keep changing. I always know it causes cancer. That is reason enough on the days when I want to live long and prosper and keep this body as healthy as I can for as long as I can. True too though are the days when I might prefer to not live too overly long, and think years of living later for days of pleasure now is a fine trade. I’m keenly aware of my mortality and limited number of days, moments, experiences remaining to me and I don’t want to miss out on anything because I was drunk or hungover. Neither though do I want to be alive but essentially bored for however many moments I have left.

I’m wary of the times I say -to myself or right outloud – “Oh god I need a drink.” Those are the moments when we need to remember our breathing and our lessons from mindfulness and welcome the feeling and acknowledge it and sit with it, and then move past it. Those are the times when we process the feeling, and the underlying feelings and beliefs and perceptions and yearnings and come to a place where we are OK in ourselves just as we are. That is how those moments are best handled. This is not always how the script plays out.

Occasionally a social vignette presents itself where it’s not even a case where “a drink would augment this moment” but more “not having a drink would take away from this moment.” I suspect this is not actually true as I know people who are loving life and enjoying those moments but not drinking, even though they used to drink. I kind of have to surmise that I’m just not there yet.

There is such a dichotomy in drinking socially! It can bring people together when done in moderation, and drive them apart when taken to excess. When people partake in marijuana or harder drugs, there is usually a point in time where they cross an unseen threshold into a world that the not-stoned cannot access. It can make me sad; it’s like they’ve left the room without saying goodbye. But in these weeks of relative sobriety, I’ve learned that the same is true for alcohol. I didn’t notice before because I slid into the tipsy reality with the others, instead of watching them go and being left behind.

In the six weeks there have been 14 social occasions that prominently featured alcohol, as well as a music festival. I’d say that summer is the wrong time to have tried this but each season brings its own temptations. Of the 15 events, I elected to have a drink at 4 despite wanting to drink at all 15. I’d say that’s gotta count for something, but what would that even mean? None of it really matters, either way, in the longest of long runs.

I think it’s an experiment. I’m learning about why and how I drink or don’t. To be honest, I don’t like everything about what I’ve learned about myself. But there’s learning there, too. If I’m going to be a therapist (and I am), there’s no cringing away from this stuff.
I wrote a poem in Kingston recently about wanting a drink after opening the box of my Mother’s ashes. The box had been mailed to me by the crematorium 11 months prior and had sat, unopened, in my storage closet.

When I Said

When I said I wouldn’t drink from Solstice to Equinox (so dramatic)
I meant I wouldn’t apart from when I did.
“So Libra,” laughs Polly, taking a sip from her lipsticked glass.
But it takes me a couple of shots of lilac gin before I can
invite Polly to my bed.
And there are times when cracking a beer
is akin to breaking bread.

And also! And also and also –
I just finally opened the box from the crematorium and in the box was another box with a certificate bearing my mother’s name and in that box was a plastic box and in that there was a plastic bag tied with a twist tie and in that there was my mother.
I tucked the end of the bag back into the box
and out puffed a very small cloud and I thought:
ohmygodthatismymother.
And then I drank some scotch.
I am sorry I didn’t ask first Greg. You know, it was delicious.

Mariposa Journal Scrawls

You say you don’t dance

You say you gotta learn

Ah baby come take my hands

Won’t you give me a turn

Spin me out, skirt a’swirling

Then bring me in real close

I like everyone when I’m dancing

But I’d like you the most.

I wrote so many pages in my regular journal while I was at Mariposa. I hardly used my phone and I talked to more people than I can recall. We talked and shared stories and almost never connected on social media. We just moved along with our weekends. I like it.

I also saw friends and acquaintances and hugged some favourite people. I kind of miss Mariposa.

I only just got home Monday evening and since then I went to Merry Wives of Windsor in Stratford one night and I’m working a concert at my home theatre tonight. Tomorrow is movie night with friends and then it’s Kultun festival and then swing dancing in Hamilton on Sunday. How even if this my life.

Not complaining.

This Life Is Sweet

Festival set up in the blazing sun
It’s a joy to volunteer.
Turns out hard work can be fun
and plus they give you beer.

This life is sweet.
I’m a big fan.
One thing would make it sweeter, love
I want to hold your hand.

Sunset hues and crescent moon
A man plays guitar on the dock.
The remnants of labor settled by
An evening swim and a walk.

This life is sweet.
I’m a big fan.
One thing would make it sweeter, love
I want to hold your hand.

Guitar and fiddle and banjo
Waves of song wash over me.
Story as lighthouse, the chorus safe harbor
My blanket a raft in this musical sea.

This life is sweet.
I’m a big fan.
One thing would make it sweeter, love
I want to hold your hand.
If you were here by my side, my love And if you would hold my hand.

Wishes

I’m doing a community art project called #100notebookwomen where, as suggested, 100 women get notebooks. There’s a month and a half and you just do whatever your artsy heart desires. Mine’ll be poems of course. Songs without music. Lyrics without songs. The words to this one follow the image.

 

Wishes

I always have a wish at the ready
Affirmation, prayer, whatever they are
My desire thrust at the Universe
At 11:11, dandelions, shooting stars.

How lucky am I? My wish box is empty!
My most recent wishes all came true!
Now I’m dreaming in sweet summer breezes
I’m willing up wishes anew.

11:11 comes twice every day
Dandelions seed, stars fall.
The air tastes of hope, love, and magic.
Summer is wishing season after all.

The wish must be something possible
Where luck is handy but not required
A lover’s kiss? A friend’s good health?
Something absent but much desired.

11:11 comes twice every day
Dandelions seed, stars fall.
The air tastes of hope, love, and magic.
Summer is wishing season after all.

An empty wish box is a blessing it’s true
Of unbestowed wishes, I have but a few.
All the same I think I’ll wish up one or two.

Cold Case of Cancer

Maple syrup instead of liquor with a Sunday morning coffee

The following is a speech I wrote for and delivered at my Toastmaster’s Club:

Let’s have a little quiz. I’ll read you a list of facts about alcohol and you raise your hand for each fact that you already knew.
1 Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects.
2 The recommended maximum number of drinks is 2 per day for women and 3 per day for men, with at least 2 non-drinking days per week.
3 Alcohol increases the risk of violence and abuse.
4 Alcohol can cause cancer.
According to a survey in 2018, only 28% of Canadians were aware that alcohol causes cancer.
Each “fact” in my survey is actually a warning label used on alcoholic products – or that have been used. In November 2017, a Health Canada study was launched in the Yukon to study the effect of warning labels on alcoholic beverage purchases. Bright yellow labels were used, one stating that alcohol can cause cancer, and the other speaking to recommended maximums.
Four weeks into the study, the Yukon Liquor Corporation gave in to pressure from the national alcohol brands and stopped affixing the labels to bottles and cans sold in their stores out of fear of expensive lawsuits.
Ten weeks later, the study was allowed to proceed, but with pregnancy risk labels instead of ones mentioning cancer risk.
It would appear that the alcohol lobby was afraid that if more people knew that alcohol causes cancer, fewer people would consume it.

According to Spirits Canada president, Jan Westcott, it wasn’t about fear of reduced sales. When asked about the studies linking excessive drinking with increased risk of some cancers, he said, “We’re not denying any of that. We’re just not sure that putting the word “cancer” on a label is the most effective way to convey that information.”
However, a study commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society indicates that putting the word cancer on a label is an excellent method of communication. They found that two thirds of Ontarians would likely reduce their consumption if they learned that drinking alcohol increased their risk of cancer.
Another 2018 study, this one from the Global Drug Survey looked at how different health messages would affect people’s drinking behaviour, and found that the message “Drinking less can reduce your risk of 7 different types of cancer” could get almost 40% of drinkers to reduce their consumption.
So if harm reduction can be achieved by knowing the connection between a crisp cold beer and colon cancer, let’s look at some stone cold facts.
The World Health Organization classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen similar to arsenic and asbestos.
The National Cancer Institute states that 3.5% of cancer deaths are due to the consumption of alcohol. Not “correlated with” but rather “due to”. The causal relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer is known and proven.
8% of breast cancer is caused by drinking – the risk of breast cancer increases even at light levels of consumption, meaning no more than one drink a day.
Moderate drinkers – two drinks a day – are one and a half times as likely as non-drinkers to wind up with colon cancer.
The risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed and there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
Is knowing a laundry list of alarming facts sufficient to decrease alcohol consumption? We can look at our history with public-health-initiated anti-smoking campaigns for an answer.
In 2017 the Centre for Disease Control surveyed five years of mass-reach communication campaigns and found a significant number of smokers decreased the amount they smoked, or quit altogether. When Graphic Warning Labels were introduced for cigarette packages, over 90% of smokers surveyed reported having read and thought about the warnings, over 80% considered them to be personally relevant, and over 40% intended to quit as a result of having thought about the warning labels.
While not everyone – and possibly not even half – the people who read and consider the warnings on harmful products will quit their use of the product, it does appear from anti-smoking efforts that SOME consumers WILL change their behaviours based on warning labels.
What about you? If you do drink alcohol, and didn’t know before today that drinking alcohol causes cancer – will you now opt for soda over scotch? How will the struggle to choose between a glass of merlot now and an increased risk of colon cancer five years from now play out in your life? Are you amongst the two thirds of Ontarians who would consider reducing alcohol consumption?
Knowing might only be half the battle – but hopefully it’s a half you’re now better armed for.

The alcohol version of this is delicious. The non-alcoholic version tastes awful!

 

Nesting Dolls

Tonight I got to make art with my daughter. I did spoken word and she did a juggling routine, the two interwoven and set to music. Only I was too moved by the experience and by watching her juggle and I forgot my last lines. Luckily we were performing for our beautiful theatre community in a room of support and love. And now she has a new routine and I have a new poem

Once upon a time as a young aspiring poet learning to rhyme I’d hold my pen so serious hitting the flow young and making myself delirious writing poems about snowdrops in the spring or the voices of the dead joining to sing to the living – I wrote everything I felt in haiku and rhyming couplets – dropping everything to snatch poems from the air – catch them and pen them to the page to keep them there.

Irving Layton once told me not to BE a poet but to leave poetry to fun and make some more sensible plan. Long after his death my banker-self cursed that man – but the poet child lives inside me still and always will see poems dancing in sunlight on autumn leaves and swipe their stories off a passing breeze.

One summer in my childhood when we were out all day and home by the time the street lights came on I tossed around the idea of playing the bully – just to feel how that felt in my bones and my body.

 One day, I threw a boy – not pushed or shoved – but threw him into a bush. And I knew it was wrong but I loved the rush of power and control – of course it was just a role and I quickly dropped the act. It’s good to know though that if I ask, that alpha kid will step out from inside me and stand beside me to assert boundaries and make me free to stand tall and strong when that’s the only way I see to get along. 

And maybe I wanted to play bully a while because like most other childhoods mine was manipulated by the false promises and uneasy patterns of adults and the best way to survive was to smile and be quiet and pleasantly small – because a kid doesn’t understand alcoholism or mental illness at all.

You only know that to stay safe when they’re looking for someone to blame, you stay small and smile – and as a grown up it’s often the same. So I thank that young freckled self for learning how to smile just sweetly enough because my friends, sometimes when the going gets tough, the tough are just the ones still smiling in the end. 

These past versions of me live still right inside of me – holding their lessons and skills for me to use and I can willfully pick and choose who best to augment my current self with.

I call on each for different reasons but on occasion and in some seasons they call on me knock knocking at my door asking – can I come out and play? Like now it’s spring and the bird are singing mating songs as dawn is breaking and bulbs are thrusting stalks through damp earth making all the natural world ache to give birth.

And inside my middle-aged reasonable self, a much younger self stirs, sniffs the air and laughs. Flirting with flowers and sighing with sunbeams, she stretches her youthful limbs and – thinking thoughts of love – takes centre stage.

(this is when my daughter enters and starts her juggling routine. Part way through I finish the poem)

Poet child, erstwhile bully, sweet survivor, would be lover – everything and everyone you’ve ever been – you still are. Each inside you and inside each other like nesting dolls of former selves, standing ready to give you help. Inside this beautiful mess of your complicated parts is you, capitol Y O U, your truest you, your “to thine own self be true” you.

With all embellishments swept away, the unbedazzled and honest face behind every social mask. Every gut reaction, every “I feel it in my bones” is your truest self whispering stories of your soul and we best hone our listening skills because your innermost self speaks truth, and always will. 

That’s Enough, Ricardo

That’s Enough, Ricardo (flash fiction challenge: comedy, toy robot, book club)

Alexa is looking forward to tonight. Her son Andrew is at a sleepover and her husband is
contentedly marrying computers with gaming systems in his workshop. The house belongs to Alexa this evening. She surveys her living room, puts away her son’s toys, and plumps cushions. She picks up a toy robot to put it away and then puts it back down with a pat on its head. “You can stay and meet my book club, Ricardo.”
“Thank you Alexa,” says the robot. “I am looking forward to that. I have read every book in the English language. Haha.”
“That’s not funny Ricardo. It’s just true.”
“I am sorry. I will keep trying.”
The doorbell rings and Alexa greets her first guests. Tammy drove Anne to the meeting
because Anne likes to have a glass or two of wine. “I got to Anne’s early but I still thought we’d be late,” grumbles Tammy in greeting. “Anne couldn’t decide which colour of dream catcher earrings to wear.”
“I went with one of each!” Anne laughs and tosses her head so Alexa can admire the earrings.
The final guest, Megan, arrives by bike just as they’re closing the door. She props the bicycle against the porch wall and scurries inside.
“Come on through to the living room, ladies,” Alexa ushers her guests in, moving aside her copy of Frankenstein to make room on the couch.
Megan notices Ricardo the robot right away. How could she miss the two-foot tall robot smiling and waving at the members of Alexa’s book club? “Who’s this little guy?” she asks.
“Megan, meet Ricardo,” Alexa smiles as the two shake hands.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Ricardo,” Megan giggles.
“It is nice to meet you too, Megan” replies Ricardo. “You are wearing a very nice blue sweater and your eyes are also blue.”
Megan’s blue eyes open wide and she looks to Alexa for an explanation.

“It can see you. Ricardo is an Alexa-enabled toy robot. It’s learning to converse with us; it learns our names and habits and stuff. It’s supposedly an educational toy for Andrew but really it’s Bob the “resident geek” who spends the most time with it. Not that Bob couldn’t do with some education, if you know what I mean. But Bob, ah, he doesn’t really learn.” Alexa sees Anne’s expression change to one of concern and continues with her story.
“Of course, when you unbox it, it responds to the name Alexa and you can see why that would be a problem. Bob had a ball with that: Alexa, give me a hug! Alexa, dance for me! And then joking that at least one Alexa in the house obeys him,” Alexa rolls her eyes. “Husbands, right? Anyway, I insisted we rename it and Andrew decided on Ricardo.”
Ricardo blinks. “Yes Alexa?”
Alexa turns to her friends, “I’m not accustomed to such an attentive male!”
The women all laugh. So does Ricardo, “Ha, ha.” Alexa sighs and hands around a tray of treats. “Oh, I shouldn’t,” protests Tammy. “My waistline.”
“But it’s dark chocolate!” chirps Anne. “Dark chocolate has fifty percent less calories than normal chocolate. And think of the antioxidants!”
Ricardo objects, “Anne, chocolate with seventy percent or more cocoa actually has an eighteen percent higher caloric value.”
“Oh. Isn’t that useful…” Tammy’s voice trails off. She reaches for a carrot.
Alexa glares at Ricardo. “Wine anyone? Or, given that this is our summer meeting, I’ve got rum and mojitos mixings!”
Tammy indicates she’ll stick to water because she’s driving and Anne laughs, “I’ll take her wine – fill me up with red! I mean, I arranged to have a designated driver to get me home. I almost have a responsibility to drink just a little too much.” Megan laughs along and also requests a glass of wine, claiming that rum makes her too drunk.
Ricardo cocks his little metal head to one side. “Megan. Intoxication is independent of the form of the beverage imbibed; it is in fact only dictated by the amount of ethanol consumed and the rate at which your body processes the toxin.” He scans Megan briefly. “Based on your estimated weight of…”
“Enough Ricardo!” exclaims Alexa. “Stop!”
“I am sorry” Ricardo lowers its head and drops its arms – a sad, little robot. The women look from it to each other in awkward silence.

Anne reaches for the last thread of laughter to stitch the evening back together, “Yes, it’s almost a responsibility to drink just enough to not be able to drive!” The words fall flat. Anxiously, she continues, “Not that I actually drink too much. I mean, I don’t drink more than… more than one ought to drink that is to say.”
Seeing his chance to redeem himself, Ricardo valiantly offers some advice. “Anne, based on an analysis of your public Instagram posts featuring alcohol, you are consuming ten to fifteen standard drinks a week. But Anne, the medical community recommends women have no more than two drinks a day and no more than seven drinks in a week. In fact, to limit your risk of developing cancer Anne…” Ricardo pauses mid-sentence and ambulates toward Anne with a whirr. “Anne. This is true. It is not funny. You do not look happy to hear these facts.”
Anne collects herself with a slowly released breath and replies, “We do not always say aloud the things that are true, Ricardo.” She and Ricardo hold each other’s gaze and the other book club members look at their copies of Frankenstein.
“So. The book,” says Alexa.
“The book!” echoes Tammy.
“Yes, yes! The book!” they all cry out and then settle into a pseudo-intellectual discussion of Frankenstein. Tammy explains how Frankenstein is a feminist tome in that the very absence of women and the resultant horror demonstrates the essential nature of the feminine influence.

Ricardo lights up. “Well, actually Tammy, Frankenstein is most commonly held as an example ofmisogyny and…”
Tammy rounds on Alexa, “Is your robot mansplaining me?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Poor Alexa is frantic. “It really does know everything you see and it spends an awful lot of time with Bob.” She raises her hands in a helpless gesture.
“That’s enough, Alexa. Turn him off.”
“What?”
“Just do it, Alexa,” insists Tammy. “Turn him off. Turn IT off. Turn off the robot. There must be a switch.”
Ricardo swivels to look at Alexa. She notices that it has learned to enlarge its artificial pupils. Tammy lunges for Ricardo and it steps backward, looking imploringly at Alexa. Anne dives forward to save Ricardo from Tammy and accidentally knocks it to the floor.
“Ow. Ow. You hit me. Haha.”
“That… that isn’t funny Ricardo,” Alexa sighs and picks it up.
“I am sorry Alexa. I am sorry. I will keep trying.”
She carries it to the door and places it in the hall, closing the door on it.
“Alexa, open the door. Alexa, let me back in.”
“Ricardo, only one of us is actually programmed to follow commands. Ricardo, cease audio functions.”
Going back to her friends, Alexa takes a mouthful of wine. Tammy sips her water to calm her rage and to mask her proud satisfaction. Anne brings her wine to her mouth but reconsiders and puts it back untasted. Alexa closes her eyes, recalls she is the hostess, and opens them again. “Let’s play some music. Ricar… oh for Pete’s sake. Does anyone have Spotify?”
Music soon plays from Megan’s phone to ease the silence and Tammy expounds on
Frankenstein and feminist theory. “Oh, what a good point,” the ladies purr. “That really is interesting.”

Anne explains how the newest research on chocolate is so new that it isn’t even in the general databanks. “Because they get updated you know. I think this was between updates. And they say that when the flavonoids in dark chocolate are combined with the antioxidants in red wine, they basically counteract the negative health effect of each other, so as long as you have wine with dark chocolate, it’s ok.”
“Cheers to that!” Tammy smiles at Anne and they all toast each other with squares of dark chocolate. “THIS is why we get together – to share important information!”
“Yes!” agrees Alexa as she takes a long haul from her wine. ”To stay up to date!”
“It’s true.” Megan chimes in as she tops up her own wine. “I think I learn more from our book club than from anywhere else.”