Sunday, 24 April 2016

It Always Seems to Come Down to Rabbits

This blog began several years ago with an entry about rabbits nesting in my garden. Well, time has come full circle and we have had yet another rabbit tragedy. This time the culprit who found the nest was Maple, the skittish Shih Tzu who ordinarily is afraid of dust bunnies and whom you would never envision as a killer. He only got one and the others high-tailed it under the fence into the Japanese garden and got away. By the time we got out there, the nest lining had been scattered over a large area of the yard and Maple required a good scrubbing. I was horrified, and then bemused, to think that this little nervous bug of a dog could do such a thing. Yes, I know his breed was developed to hunt rats in Tibet. I know every canine has some hunting instincts. It's just weird to find them emerging in him after eleven years of passivity. I would have expected this of rambunctious, impulsive Brio, but not Maple.

How many of us have violent instincts or anger below the surface, hiding, simmering, just waiting for the right moment to trigger them? I've wondered that before, when I've seen strangers snarl at each other in the crowded subway stairwell. Is the anger so close to the surface and the layer of civility so thin that a chance bumping-into will bring it to light? Are all of us capable of violence if pushed just so? I suppose there's something to that, considering the actions of crowds at soccer games, Black Friday sales, and Trump rallies. Usually social convention or law or self-restraint keeps us on an even keel, but then all it takes is just the right situation, someone pushing the right button, and our nasty sides gleam through. I've seen it in a close friend, who was nice as sugar to me for years, but when I challenged him once on his unfeeling treatment of a mutual friend, the mask slipped, the gloves came off, and he became Mr. Hyde. Except in his case he stayed Mr. Hyde, and I figured out that that was who he really was, to the core. We're good at showing others only the pretty mask we want them to see.

That's a disturbing thought. As if we're all walking on a very thin crust over a pool of lava. How well do we know each other? How well do we know ourselves? Are we being authentic and true to who we want to be? Are we going to let circumstances determine how we're going to act? Are we mice or men? Or, in this case, rabbits or Shih Tzus?

I don't think we can really be happy if we're showing the world one person while being another underneath. And if what we really are underneath is angry, or frightened, and we're afraid to show who we really are - that's the real problem. It's the only way I can explain to myself the rise of certain politicians in the U.S. - a tapping into of the simmering tensions below the congenial surface. A release valve speaking aloud the things no one else dares to say but secretly agrees with.

But no one can make a happy life living over lava. We need to be genuinely compassionate and kind people all the way through, so that we're not afraid to be our true selves with others. We need to conquer the fear, rout out the anger and prejudice, and be authentically nice. Not putting on a pretense of niceness. That's the definition of integrity. It's our human challenge, and our privilege, to determine who we want to be and become it.

Well, I didn't mean to rattle on so much. It's amazing what thoughts a nest of bunnies can cause. Life lessons can be found everywhere.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Reflections on "Sacred Demise" by Carolyn Baker

I'm in the middle of reading Sacred Demise by Carolyn Baker, which talks about the emotional and spiritual preparation we must do in anticipation of the collapse of industrial civilization. A lot of "preppers" focus on the physical aspects -- food storage, survival skills -- and don't adequately reinforce their emotional strength.

I think there's something to be said for emotional courage and adaptability and having your soul grounded in something greater than yourself. I'm a religious person and know that my faith is a large element in my own preparation for whatever life throws at me. I think, though, that civilization's collapse isn't the greatest challenge; it's the stuff leading up to it that is most daunting. I think if the worst imaginable were to happen and life as we know it descended into political and social chaos, many of us would figure out a way to survive and eventually thrive. But it's the path leading to that scenario that will defeat us -- the little daily inconveniences, the shortages, the stresses. Not having what we're used to, or less of it. Trying to carry on with a "normal" life and an ordinary routine under greater and greater constraint.

If I were told "Abandon your job and your home and head for the hills," I could do it. But if I'm told "Keep doing your daily nine-to-five and your piano lessons and act as if all is well in spite of rising disaster" -- that's what I'd find frustrating and frightening.  At what point do we realize the daily nine-to-five has to be abandoned? Who decides that? And who is going to notify my boss of that? At what point are we given permission to cut loose and go into survival mode? Or are we in survival mode already?

Being expected to act as if life is running along as usual, when you know deep down it's on a collision course, is what's going to drive us bonkers. Far easier to admit that life as we know it has fundamentally changed and we can't go on behaving as if it hasn't. At some point we have to give ourselves permission to announce we've reached our limits and we're opting out.

It isn't death that unnerves me; it's all the stuff that comes before it. I've often said that if the prophet asked us to drop everything and walk to Utah, we could all do it without flinching. But it's when he asks us to do our visiting teaching, to clean the chapel, to take casseroles to the ill, we find it difficult. It isn't the big stuff that will defeat us; it's the little things.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

When Someone Dies

My husband is the world's most organized person. He has neatly labeled everything in our filing cabinet, from information about our home renovations to receipts from our son's bus passes and phone bills. I can lay my finger on anything at any time, which has come in very handy, particularly at tax time or when the solar panels spring a leak.

I've also asked him to file away a bullet-point list of what to do in case he dies. Everything I'll need to know - banking, insurance, online accounts, pensions, and whom to contact, laid out clearly and concisely (because I doubt I'll be in any condition then to do much thinking). I know from past experience that probating wills and dealing with insurance companies is a tangled business, and anything we can do ahead of time to make it easier will help. I think funeral homes should put out such a pamphlet, tailored for the local community, to take some of the stress out of an already stressful time. (There's my next writing project!)

But no matter how well you prepare with regard to finances and property, nothing quite prepares you emotionally. Months after my friend Tracey's death, I still feel like falling apart when I run across an old email or posting from her on my website. It's a sudden punch to the stomach, out of nowhere. I open a drawer and find a pair of socks she knitted, cozy and beautiful. I open up boxes of Christmas ornaments in the crawlspace and there's the Scottish nutcracker she gave us, and the ornament she gave me with "Sisters" written on it.

This week my husband went on a cleaning binge and accidentally threw out a card I'd gotten from Tracey with a sweet sentiment written in it. I'd wanted to keep it forever, even while knowing I couldn't. You have to part with things, and people, eventually. I just wasn't ready to let go of it yet. I'm not ready to let go of her yet.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Small Kindnesses

Things I've seen today: Someone helped an elderly woman lift her shopping buggy onto the bus. Someone held someone else's baby when they needed a helping hand. Someone held the door for someone else. Someone gave up their seat on the subway for someone else. A car slowed to let someone merge into the lane. Someone made a dinner for the family that they would enjoy but that he couldn't eat himself (guess who that was). Two people inquired after an acquaintance who didn't look well. Someone asked my boss how they could help the refugees in her medical clinic. I asked someone to substitute teach on Sunday and she thanked me. Someone gave someone else a ride home from work so he didn't have to bus in the cold. And someone brought in the heavy garbage bins from the curb for me (guess who that was again).

In general, I think people are nice. Little courtesies go a long way to making the world a pleasant place.

Sunday, 3 April 2016


I have stumbled across three websites today that are giving away free downloads of my books. I know people have been accessing these because there are several reviews from readers (positive ones, I might add, which is some consolation). But really, I only get 90 cents a book at most each time a book sells in a bookstore, and it isn't enough to keep me in toner. I'm not getting rich off my writing; it's definitely a labour of love and I'll never be able to quit my detested day job. I stick with my writing because I like it and get emotional benefit from it. But I sincerely wish people wouldn't use these pirating websites and reduce what little money I do make with my writing. I'm sure other authors feel equally frustrated. We spend twelve months or longer working at each manuscript, spending countless hours to go through multiple rewrites, open ourselves up to critical reviews, rewrite again, and turn the whole baby over to the publisher, at which point it is entirely out of our hands, including setting the purchase price. I cram my writing into stolen snatches of time at four in the morning or eleven at night, take vacation days from work so I can write, and forego a lot of other activities so I can dedicate myself to it. And it hurts to think that there are people who will steal my creation to save themselves a few dollars. Please, people, boycott these pirating websites.  Thank you! Sorry to rant, but it had to be said.

Saturday, 2 April 2016


I have been following the posts of my very distant cousin James as he has been going through cancer. James is a remarkably beautiful writer, actor, and father who has the talent of being able to express himself from the heart in such a clear, eloquent way that it goes straight into others' hearts. Now he is facing another surgery, and his latest post really touched me. He is following the Buddhist maxim, "That which you cannot avoid, welcome." He has somehow - amazingly - come to terms with his cancer, faced it, and accepted that this is going to be his path whether he likes it or not. That acceptance makes all the difference, because then he can focus his energy on living and healing instead of wasting it protesting and wailing and getting angry, like so many of us do.

He is epitomizing exactly what I wrote about in my last blog post, about how you can take something bad that's out of your control and sanctify it. Your attitude can change the actual nature of the thing so that it brings you blessings instead of burdens. And he is staying close to the one who "descended below them all," the only one who can really understand what he is going through and carry him through it.

Cheering you on from across the continent, James. I'll keep you in my prayers.

Friday, 1 April 2016

New Manuscript Submitted

This week I sent off a new manuscript to my editor. This one is non-fiction, which I haven't done before other than Ayse's biography, so I'm not as sure of myself as I usually feel. It's sort of like dressing up your child for her first day of school and sending her off on the bus not knowing if she'll thrive and be happy or be eaten by wolves at recess.

This book is about living according to our values. I think that we cannot live truly satisfying lives and will always feel some uneasiness if we don't align the way we live with what matters most to us. First we have to identify what is truly important to us (not just what we think should be important to us), so the book has some exercises around that. Then we look at how we are currently living and see what supports or promotes those values and what distracts us from them. We look for the things we want to increase and the burdens or "clutter" we want to discard, looking at the physical, mental, emotional, and social areas of our lives. This goes beyond simplification. The book gets the reader started on the process of setting down some of those burdens, though truthfully that's a lifelong exercise. And then at the end I discuss how to cope with the things that we want to discard or change but really can't. Some things just have to be gotten through and we have no control over them. But by applying the idea of taking something yicky and sanctifying it, we can gain a different perspective and change our attitudes toward it, which helps to lighten the burden.

This is a book I've worked on off and on for several years. Fingers crossed. I have no idea what the reception will be.