Sunday, 15 January 2012


“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” (Colette)

At my annual medical checkup this year, my doctor informed me that, given my present medical stats, my lifestyle and commitment to healthy living, my family history of longevity, current medical advances, and barring any ugly surprises, I could probably expect to live another 40 or even 50 years.

Needless to say, I walked out of that appointment on a John Denver high. I know, poor example. Or is it? Because, in fact, our lives, long or short, healthy or otherwise, are primarily under our own control. Fifty, forty, even thirty years is a whole other lifetime. So I began to think, if I were to assume that all those years are ahead of me, how would I want to live them?
Like many woman my age, we occasionally reflect on our past lives, what we would have changed, how we could have done a better job as wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Dysfunctional is a modern social term. Frankly I think it is a very inadequate and damaging word. Along with words like happy, unhappy, successful, unsuccessful, it is meaningless and vague, with as many different definitions as there are individuals, and even then the meanings, like us, continue to evolve. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are happy in the same way; unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I prefer to revise the line such that all families are both happy and unhappy in ways unique to themselves.

We become experts at revisionist history, especially our own history. And that is how we multiply the lives we have lived and continue to overlap them with our present selves. It is also how we bury the demons and nurture the best parts of our lives into manageable memories, to help us moving forward. To be honest with myself, if I had it to do all over, I would change many parts of my past life. But, as Lear said, “That way lies madness.” Instead I find myself returning to a new refrain. How do I want to live my “second life?”

I begin by examining those elements of my life that are under my control. What I eat and drink. How much I exercise. Who I spend time with. How I spend my personal time. What projects, challenges I want to explore. Where I want to travel. How I want share time with my family. How best to be a mother at a distance, and a grandmother at hand.
Suddenly the task of living this second life becomes full of questions and decisions. Perhaps the lingering regrets of parts of my first life are a result of having lived it carelessly and casually, taking so much for granted. Like the euphoria of stock market gains, we think the good times will never end. These glorious children will always be children. Income streams will continue to rise. Love and passion will never abate.

Clichés have their place as short forms to thinking, if only to help us get a head start on the program of living forward. Today is the first day…etc. How can I make each day valuable and productive? What is my idea of a good day? I will assemble a repertoire of moments that have given me pleasure; stock my portfolio with those occasions that provide the best returns; set manageable daily goals and create my own “Happiness Project”, living a life henceforth of least regrets. A daunting task, all this, but one I am fortunate to be able to begin. It may not be the road less travelled; on the contrary, I am hoping I will find many kindred “seconds” and even “thirds” along the way.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


"Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of the mind"
Paul's letters to the Romans (12:2)

I am one-quarter of the way through my year of living with renewal and refreshment, both good companions so far. Not only am I seeking new adventures without, but I am also challenging those elements of myself that have sat idle for years. On such a journey, one usually thinks of needing momentous events to indicate any sign of progress. Not necessarily so. We need to be more generous to ourselves in that regard.

We hear that 60 is the new 50; 50 is the new 40; and so on. Well, get ready for this next outrageous statement. I am making a personal push from 70 to 40. Yes, that's right; I am reminding myself of all the best habits of my 40s that made me happy, kept me healthy and energetic: the vigorous, daily hour walk; stretching, lifting, dancing, moving to the music; walking naked at private interludes; eating mindfully, with portion control (before it became a buzz phrase); desserts reserved for special occasions; the anticipation of a lovely glass of wine on Friday nights (as opposed to nightly!); lunch with a girlfriend; a long, hot bath on a Sunday night; writing newsy letters to friends; enjoying the smell of freshly laundered towels and folding them with care; a stroll in the evening after dinner, instead of plopping in front of the TV; and all the lovely pleasures of the flesh..

The mind is its own place, said Milton, and in itself can determine whether time defeats us, or we determine our own state of mind, and the textures of our being. Nicely phrased, of course, but the point is that I am discovering that I do not have to succumb to the stampeding of time's winged chariot. I can slow the pace, even reverse the process, by simply willing myself to act, think, become that former energetic, vigorous, youthful self. Fortunately, I don't have an immediate side-by-side to undermine my delusions of reversing this aging process. All I need to do is think I can, and I can. The fountain of youth is in my own self-determinacy to ignore the arbitrary measurements of time, clocks, mirrors, weight scales, and to listen to and revel in the joy of a spring morning, and me, being a part of all that I have met. I will embrace this day with joy and wonder. For today, at least, I will be 40 again. Tomorrow and tomorrow are other matters.

The journey and the journal will continue.

Monday, 22 February 2010


"The nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is..." (Wallace Stevens)

Meditation is a personal thing. It can be formal, ritualistic, as well as collective with others. Mantras apparently assist the process to empty the mind of its confused, convoluted conversations with itself. Personally, I have never learned the techniques of formal meditation, whereby one can apparently go into a type of trance and come out of it ten minutes later feeling like they have just had a two hour nap or a mini-vacation.

What works for me is retreating to a zone of solitude within myself. According to my mother, I have been doing this since I was a child. Perhaps, in the early years, it was an involuntary, semi-autistic state. At one point my parents had my hearing tested because of the frequent occasions when I would not/could not respond to their voices. As an adult it is now primarily a voluntary state that I will myself into; although I am sure there are still times when my "disinterestedness" is autonomic.
"You're not listening to me", my daughter will say, when in fact I feel very interested and focussed on her words. But, clearly, something about the glaze of my eyes, the shift of the gaze suggests otherwise. It is like having multiple tabs open on the brain that are occupying my attention.

"Pay attention", said Linda Loman, in Arthur Miller's play, "Death of a Salesman". Everyone deserves his share of attention. It is all part of the social and human desire for respect, understanding, appreciation, and love. But all too often, I think, we don't pay enough attention to ourselves. We are too busy waiting for, sometimes longing for, the attention of others. That is the true narcissism of our society, this need for others to validate our worth.

So this tendency to retreat within myself is both a blessing and a curse. I sometimes revel in the nothingness, pride myself on my independent ability to live within myself without need for constant external stimulation or the approval of others. I will sometimes announce to my partner that I am having a Greta Garbo day. "I vant to be left alone." But I do need to remind myself that those I love around me, deserve my attention, without distractions. Otherwise when I do need their stimulation and love, there may be a "nothing that is." It is a challenge I continue to embrace.

Monday, 2 November 2009


I look forward to the evenings. I always have. Maybe it has something to do with the fact of my age. Or maybe it is because my mother told me that I was born “all grown up”. Some people enjoy the awakening of morning, the anticipation and mystery of an unfolding day. Others like the afternoon, the warmth, the vigour, the possibility of a new venture, a siesta or a rendezvous. Not me.

Now, it is not that I am a “night person”. It isn’t that I come alive at night, or that I haunted bars or nightclubs as a young woman. I don’t find darkness a stimulus for creativity or reproductive activities. I actually prefer all such activities in daylight. It has an obverse illicit feel somehow.

Night time is sunsets and bonfires and still water reflecting a full moon at midnight. It is also the portion of day when I would hold each of my children individually, just long enough to read them their bedtime story. They were a vigourous, busy bunch, my three. But by eight o’clock they were ready to cozy down, and if a story meant prolonging bedtime, that was just fine with them. I wonder who enjoyed it more. Grandchildren allow a déjà vu, however fleeting, of those precious moments, when little hands slip into mine, soft cheeks brush against my neck, and tender voices whisper, “read it again”.

And then and now my own bedtime. The ritual of fluffing pillows; laying them just so, to support a reading head; deciding which of the several books on the bedside table to enjoy on this particular night. In summer, lying scantily clad with the breezes blowing in the window; in winter with the heating pad to warm the quadrants of the body, inching the pad downward on ten minute intervals. And when it reaches the ankles and feet, it is time to turn out the lights. He comes to bed, finally, and I role over to hold him and sleep.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


I stand in front of the microwave, waiting impatiently for the two minutes required to heat my left-over coffee from yesterday’s brew. I think, “this is two minutes of my life, idly passing by.” I set the laundry dryer to thirty minutes needing the sweater that lies within for a luncheon visit with friends. In the late afternoon, I come home, tired but exhilarated, and climb into the hot tub, set the timer to the maximum twenty minutes and stretch out, relaxing until the buzzer signals that “time is up”. Meanwhile, dinner is in the oven with the timer set to an hour. Yet another hour of my life will have been neatly measured.

These mechanical timers are all useful gadgets in the day-to-day of our privileged, modern existence. But today I am thinking of a different era, when life was lived from dawn to dusk, when the sun or the moon were the timers of our lives. As children, we played until parents signaled “time is up”. We set to a task and did what we could till we were too tired to continue, or the daylight receded. We counted time, by the beginnings and conclusions of tasks, by the planting and harvesting of crops. Nature provided the cues for the passing of time. Even now, this October day, as I watch the leaves changing colour, virtually before my eyes, I think of the timelessness of this event in nature. It occurred before my birth and will cycle on after me.

We are all timers. Our internal clocks go tick-tock, tick-tock, like the metronome on top of the piano. Occasionally I try to turn off the timers, slow down the rhythms of the heart beats, in part to forget how quickly it is all passing by. Moments alone, by a fire, indoors or out, sitting by a lake, on top of a hill, in the garden, reading, thinking, or just imagining a tabula rasa state of being, provide that momentary stay again the intrusion of time.

Wordsworth’s lines from “Daffodils” come to mind:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
They flash upon my inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

So here I sit, in the midst of all the beauty of my favourite season, and yet my mind is also thrusting ahead to the emergence of spring as time ticks away. It is all a grand illusion, this attempt to “play with time”. But play I must, since, each day becomes more precious than the last. So I harbor my memories jealously, bask in the moment selfishly, and wait patiently for the inevitability of spring.

Monday, 28 September 2009


When I was in grad school many years ago, the Professor, on the second week of a particular class, was checking attendance. Inevitably, students at the beginning of a new semester would add or drop courses after getting a preliminary overview of assignments and interests.

And so he asked, “Has anyone changed since last week.” Total silence. Clearly no meaningful business occurring here. At which point, being a mature student, and not at all shy in manner, I stood up and said, “Professor Mark, we have all changed since last week, in one way or another.” Pause. And then he smiled, allowing for a few titters from the small gathering.

But isn’t it the truth. We change daily, hourly. As women, we know we can spin from one mood to another depending on the right smile, hug, or brand of chardonnay. Sometimes the changes are not immediately perceptible. We wake up one morning and discover that our children are now adults, we have gray hair, or a new wrinkle, or an extra three pounds. How did that happen?

But when we break from the routines of our days, take holidays, spend time playing with grandchildren, get a massage, discover a new author, we can palpably feel the flow of energy, involvement, metamorphosing thought, word and deed.
Time slips away imperceptively if we let it. And like most women my age, I have alternated between running to keep up with family, career, the occasional crisis, and then living in reflection of so many events that passed too quickly without being fully savoured.

In an effort to stay the rampaging of my life, just a little, and because I am turning 69 this year, and therefore, theoretically, beginning my seventieth decade, I have decided to begin a year of living purposely, of taking more chances, and consciously planning at least one new experience for myself each month. Instead of time charging ahead of me, in spite of me. I am going to take control of my life, to create each day, week, and month of this first year, and ultimately the entire daring decade, with purpose and meaning. In other words, my goal is to explore the world and myself like never before.

I am equally excited about the “plan” and about chronicling the events, twists and turns. Part of my definition of “control” also means putting myself in the way of the unexpected. I will visit new areas of Canada, the USA, Paris, Venice. I will finish my novel. “Do I dare to eat a peach?” Of course I will. And I will not walk crablike backwards. I will greet each morning with a grand “Hello, Gorgeous”, and not let the parade pass me by. If not now, when? How about you? Come share the feast of finessing time with me.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


My early morning internet cruise this morning landed me on the lap of Charlie Rose (If only!!). I discovered an interview he did with Nora Ephron, who, next to both of my sisters,is one of the funniest women I know. Here she is in 2006 talking about men and women (her favourite theme), as well as Barack, Blogging, and Aging, delivered with her usual candor and simplicity of style. At one point she talks about Obama's writing and his ability to write a clean, decent sentence.

I thought afterwards about how the wisdom of "clean and decent" applies to so many aspects of ourselves and our lives. The day-to-day may drift, giving a pretence of simplicity, when indeed it is often convoluted, confused, distorted, and in an inevitable process of decay."The time is out of joint..." Reading and Listening to Nora sends me back to the power of humour to relax the jaw muscles, conserve the estrogen, and seek out the lushness of now.

Here is the interview: