Friday, April 5, 2024

Something orginal and important to say


"Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say."           - Brenda Ueland

It's Day Two of "Writing Your Way" and today's exercises invited me to consider whether I have anything original and important to say.  

When I first completed the exercises last year, I only considered "originality" and "importance" as a function of other people's perceptions and, on that basis, concluded that my writing was, in all likelihood, of very little value.

This morning it occurred to me that I should have considered my own perceptions as well. If it feels important to me to write about something, maybe that's enough. 

This week, I heard a famous person (I quite can't remember who but I think maybe it was Jane Fonda) talk about how she'd researched her own life and the lives of her parents to better understand where she'd come from and why she was the way she was. It struck a chord because I realized how little I knew about my parents' early lives and how much I'd forgotten from my own. 

So much of what we humans feel and do has nothing to do with rational thought, and everything to do with complex psychological reactions that are the result of our earliest influences and experiences. I think it might be easier to anticipate and manage those reactions if I better understood where they came from. And being able to do that might free me up to be braver, more compassionate, and more productive in the years ahead. 

With that in mind, I've arranged to go on a short writing retreat later this month. I hope to use the time to begin documenting childhood memories and formulating questions to explore with my parents and siblings. It will be interesting (to me at least!) to see where that takes me. 

By the way, the photo above was taken at is Beach Meadows, just outside Liverpool, on Easter Sunday morning. It was a mild day, and threatening rain when we arrived, so we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Writing about writing, and other things

In January 2023, I began working my way through Renée Hartleib's "Writing Your Way: A 40-Day Path of Self-Discovery". I'm embarrassed to admit it took me until the end of March 2024 to complete all the exercises set out in the book. I take some solace in the fact I did finally complete them - though it took me a good deal longer than 40 days. 

Unfortunately, because it took so long, I missed out on what should have been the greatest value of the exercise - that is, the chance to establish a daily writing habit. Given that, I've decided to start over and see if I can do better.

On the second go-round, I'm taking time to read what I wrote the first time, then considering what's changed in my life since then and whether I still believe what I wrote back then. I'm also hoping the exercise will motivate me to produce more regular blog posts - so keep an eye on this space. 

After a beautiful early spring weekend focused on Easter and birthday celebrations, the weather's turned grey, cold and dreary this week, which has me feeling a bit down. My mood's worse because I got a second Shingrix vaccine Tuesday afternoon and have been feeling lousy since. I was warned most people feel worse after their second shot so I'm not surprised I feel this bad, but I'd have preferred to be an exception to that rule. Fortunately, I'm finally starting to feel a little better today (Thursday). 

I find it extraordinary I've had so many vaccinations in the past four years but I don't regret any of them - even the ones that knocked me flat for a day or two. I'm as cynical as anyone about "Big Pharma" but the reality is vaccinations for diseases like polio, rheumatic fever, measles, chicken pox, Covid, shingles, and the flu are true miracles of modern science, and those of us who have ready access to them (like most Canadians) are deeply privileged. 

The fact that so many people don't seem to understand that is troubling. Is it simply a function of them growing up with too little personal experience of the diseases that annually killed and maimed thousands prior to the introduction of vaccines, or is it something worse - a general rejection of scientific knowledge? How do we turn the ship around when people have become so skeptical of expert scientific and medical advice? 

To be fair, skepticism is sometimes warranted. I'm skeptical myself at times. But I like to think whatever skepticism I have is based on valid scientific evidence. A case in point: There are a great many doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who apparently think the pandemic is over and that repeated Covid infections are no big deal for their patients. As a result, they've dropped most protective measures and encouraged patients to "vax and relax". Unfortunately, that's not what the science is telling us. As more and more peer-reviewed studies are published, it's obvious Covid's still a much bigger threat than most want to believe. 

Covid isn't "just a cold". It affects virtually every system in the human body. While it may be a generation before we fully understand what it's doing to us, we already know enough to be concerned. There's good evidence Covid infections substantially increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes in the months following initial recovery. We also know it causes significant immune dysregulation (leading to autoimmune disorders and greater vulnerability to other infections) and can lead to rapid cognitive decline, particularly in older adults. For a significant percentage of those infected, it also leads to debilitating long-term symptoms (aka "Long Covid") including tinnitus, extreme fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues and dysautonomia. And, so far, at least, there are virtually no treatments if you're unlucky enough to experience one or more of Covid's more serious impacts. 

Given all that, I remain personally committed to doing what I can to protect myself and others from the disease - by taking all boosters offered, masking when I share air with people outside my household, avoiding crowded indoor gatherings, and improving air quality through ventilation and filtration wherever possible. I expect to be doing all of that  until there are better vaccines and/or treatments that make the risks associated with a Covid infection a lot less scary than they are now. If I have another 20-30 years of life ahead of me, I'd rather be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. 

On that note, I'm off to treat myself to a hot bath to see if I can shake off the last of my vaccine hangover. Before I sign off, here are a few photos taken when Husband and I went hiking at Polly's Cove on the weekend. It's a favourite spot, just down the road from the much more famous Peggy's Cove. We like to take our dog walking there but we left her home this time so we could take a more relaxed approach to the hike. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to a delightful lobster roll lunch on the patio at Shaw's Landing in West Dover. Be sure to stop by if you get the chance. You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Happy birthday to me! What's next?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

- from "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver

Here I am at level 63, having more-or-less successfully completed the first 62 years of my life. It seems impossible that I'm really that old, but there you are. The five years since I retired have disappeared in a heartbeat. 

As I launch into yet another trip around the sun, I find myself thinking a good deal about what I've done and haven't, the state of the world and my relationships, and what the future holds. As you can imagine, not all those thoughts are rosy ones. 

On the other hand, I've also been reminded of  just how many people love me - or, at least, like me enough to say "happy birthday" - so perhaps I'm not a total failure after all.

Just for fun, I completed a few of those online life expectancy calculators today to see how much time I might expect to have left - you know, if Mother Nature and/or capitalism don't kill me sooner. I learned that, given my lifestyle and health history, I can reasonably expect to be around another 25 to 30 years, which is sobering to say the least. 

Because, of course, if I'm going to live that long, I'd like most of those years to be reasonably good ones, preferably filled with joy and purpose. That's not as easy as it sounds - not when you're someone who struggles to maintain relationships (for reasons too complex to write about on my birthday) and cares too much about what's "right" and "just" to take the miserable state of the world in stride. 

In any case, here I am - launching into another year with a renewed (oh, let's be honest, "shaky" would be a more accurate description) commitment to trying harder (which applies to pretty much everything though I'm especially thinking about how I might help make the world a better place), being kinder to myself and others, and savouring joy wherever and whenever I find it. 

Oh - and I want to write more - here and elsewhere - since writing is one of the very few things that helps me make sense of my "one wild and precious life". 

There, I've started. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

2023: Another Pandemic Year in Photos

Sunset from Cheticamp Island, October 2023
There are many who believe the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us. I wish I was capable of that degree of self-deception but sadly I (mostly) live the real world, where the pandemic continues to cast a long shadow as a new wave of serious illness and death sweeps through Asia and across the US and Europe. To be honest, it often feels to me as if we're living through a slow-moving zombie apolcalypse. I find myself wondering whether society as we know it will continue to exist once a majority of the human population is too sick, exhausted, angry and/or cognitively impaired to sustain anything like normal social interactions. 

My grim outlook on 2023 is partly informed by the time I spent nursing a broken wrist this year. While the wrist is mostly back to normal now, reflecting on the months after my surgery still makes me shudder. I'm sincerely grateful for the excellent care I received, but being so disabled - even temporarily - was deeply unsettling.

My outlook is also affected by memories of the series of downright apocalyptic weather events that hit our part of the world. After a polar vortex in February, unseasonably hot, dry weather in the spring, devastating wildfires in June, a massively destructive rain event in July, post-tropical storm Lee in September, and a series of nasty wind and rain storms through November and December, Nova Scotia is finishing the year a good deal more ragged than when she began it. Her coastlines are battered, farmers struggle to plan for the upcoming growing season, fishers warn catches are down all over, dozens of highways and bridges remain heavily damaged, and many of her residents are still waiting for homes to be repaired months after they were damaged. 

In short, it's been a lot, particularly given the waves of Covid-19 that have swept through the province at regular intervals.  

The weird thing is that looking through my photos from the past 12 months, the stuff that's dominating my memories of 2023 is mostly invisible. A photo like this one, taken one June evening in Queensport, Guysborough County, gives no inkling of the discomfort I felt while making it.

Queensport Light, Guysborough County

We'd driven to Guysborough to spend time with an old friend who was in hospital there and spent our first night at the provincial campground nearby but it was so unbearably hot (in June!) we decided to try and find somewhere nearer the ocean to stay the second night. We headed down the road towards Tor Bay, which we'd very much enjoyed the last time we visited, but my wrist was too sore and the weather was too hot to travel far, so we ended up boondocking in a small parking lot beside the highway in Queensport for the night. It wasn't ideal - it was still uncomfortably warm, humid and buggy - but at least the skies were beautiful at sunset, a cool breeze came up overnight, and we got to watch the fishers at work in the morning.   

Towards the end of the year, I took a few photos of Risser's Beach, which was devastated by Lee, but they don't come close to capturing the extent of the damage. 

And maybe that's as it should be. Maybe it's better that my photos mostly recorded the happy moments and the beautiful places we visited this year. They certainly offer more comfort heading into another cold, dark pandemic winter than darker, sadder images would.

In any case, here are a few of my favourites from 2023. I tried unsuccessfully to limit myself to one per month. Hopefully, they'll lift your spirits as they did mine.

From a walk on trails at Ross Farm in January
Playing with abstracts in February
From a snowy walk at Woodland Gardens in Bridgewater in March
From a wonderful hike to the end of St. Catherine's Beach at Keji Seaside in April
Our lunch spot in La Pocatière en route to Ottawa in May
The view from our friends' home in Ottawa, where we spent several days in May
A favourite image of the Onondaga, from our brief stop in Rimouski in May
The mouth of the Petite Riviere, from the far end of Risser's Beach, in June
From a photo walk with my niece at Blue Rocks in July
Moonrise over Port Maitland in July
From a morning photo walk on Stoney Island Beach, Cape Sable Island in August
A visitor to our garden in August
Risser's Beach, the day before post-tropical storm Lee came ashore in September
En route home from Blomidon in September

A view of Laurence's General Store in Margaree Harbour where we stayed in October
"Castaway" taken on Whycocomagh Beach in October
Thanksgiving cactus blooming in November
Luke and Jackie on Risser's Beach in December
Until tomorrow, when hopefully I'll find more uplifting things to say about what I hope 2024 will bring.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

When people show you who they are, believe them

As the pandemic stretches into a third year, I find myself more and more discouraged. Solutions for ending it exist, but few people seem interested in discussing, let alone implementing, them. The hardest thing now is coming to grips with just how selfish we humans can be - even people I thought of as "good people" - people I considered thoughtful, caring friends. It's been shocking to see so many disregard the safety and wellbeing of others at every turn, time and time again, for more than two years.

I get it. I do. The pandemic has been hard on all of us. And we can't always do the "right" thing, the selfless thing. But it's disheartening to witness so many always put themselves first, even when it means imposing risks on others. It says a lot about our culture - none of it good.

In this part of the world, governments are doing their level best to pretend the pandemic is over - or, at least, that high levels of infection, illness and death are inevitable. They're not, of course, but it seems most people prefer comfortable lies to difficult truths. We've gone from "we're all in this together" to "I won't be mildly inconvenienced to save anyone's else's life" in head-spinningly short order. It's soul-destroying in ways I find hard to express.

I'm not sure how we make it through the next few years without complete social, economic and environmental breakdown. The one thing I do know is that, when this is over (if it ever is), the number of people I will continue to think of as friends is much much smaller than when it began. I can't ever unsee the raw narcissism, entitlement, and greed that has characterized so many people's actions and attitudes.

I wish I could be less judgemental of others, more hopeful about the future, but, if I'm brutally honest, not much of what I've witnessed has surprised me. The people who now think nothing of boarding a plane a few days after testing positive for covid, or refuse to wear a mask at work, are the same people who've always put themselves first. I just never wanted to believe they were really that selfish, but I no longer have any doubt that they're exactly who they've always shown themselves to be. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache by accepting that sooner.

The flipside of course is that there are those who've gone above and beyond to care for others over these past two years - especially those working in healthcare, education and retail jobs - and I'm grateful to count so many friends and family members amongst them. Those friends and family are more precious to me now than ever. When my spirits are at their lowest ebb, it's them I count on to renew my faith in humanity.

So where do we go from here? Personally, I plan to keep lobbying for better from our politicians and fellow citizens, while doing all I can to keep myself and others safe. Hopefully, we'll eventually realize we're in deep doggy do and get our act together. If science comes through with better vaccines and treatments, and a few of our political leaders grow a spine and/or a conscience, maybe we can still find out way out of this mess. 

Sorry to be sharing such grim observations. I just really can't think of anything especially uplifting to say about all this, so here are a few soothing images from recent photo outings instead.