Let go(al) and let…just let go


Don’t have to climb the mountain to admire its beauty

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a common question at job interviews and often creeps in silently when people reach age or career milestones.

Rephrased more broadly, it is asking: What are your goals?

In most Western societies—the only ones I really know—we are told it is good to have goals; that you need to set your sights on a destination and follow that path to its conclusion. It is how you get ahead. It is how you find happiness, or at least the stuff that brings happiness.

I have spent my life working this way.


Life goals complete

I tell you this not to present my resume—you can find that on my LinkedIn pages (yeah, I have two)—but rather to explain the pattern of my life (and probably yours) in contrast to where I am today.

You see, for the first time in my life, I have no goals. And I am finding it incredibly disconcerting.

Sure, like everyone else, I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly obligations.

I need money to pay for rent, food, bills, hockey tickets, beer. I have editorial deadlines and the odd gift to buy. But I have no long-term goals. I am living my life without my next destination in mind.

Five years from now? Hell, I sometimes don’t know where I’ll be five minutes from now.

In some ways, I am as close to living in the moment as you can get without living under a tree or in a cave (basement apartment notwithstanding). And it’s freaking me out.

Having a goal is a hard habit to break after 50+ years.


What if I had missed this moment?

To be clear, I’m not looking for a goal—floating freely has some lovely benefits—but I struggle some days to know what the point of my day is or was.

Simply being is really simple—it requires no preparation or gear—but our society has taught us that it is wasteful; that it is selfish; that even our “free” time must be productive.

Having no goals, I find, is entirely selfish. I can only affect change in myself.

But I’ve come to realize that “selfish” isn’t bad in and of itself; only when it negatively impacts others, which I don’t believe I am.

Still, like a good Pavlovian pound puppy, I sometimes find myself whimpering at the window, waiting for someone to throw the stick of destiny, to give my life meaning and purpose.

Is it okay or desirable to lead a purpose-less life? Is that my purpose? [Never met-a-physics that didn’t hurt my brain.]

But then, it’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. I turn it off and go back to sleep.

Life without goals definitely has its upside.

What I miss most


Despite being divorced, I will be forever grateful for my amazing marriage and am fortunate to maintain a friendship with my former spouse that will hopefully last a lifetime.

But even with that companionable joy, there are things I miss about sharing my life with another, moments and situations remembered with a smile and an emptiness.

Walking into a room and knowing you were there.

My lap being used as an ottoman while watching TV.

Resting my head on a cushion and smelling your perfume.

Knowing you’ll be completely unconscious 10 minutes into the movie you chose.

Feeling the bed jostle as you roll over in the middle of the night.

Sensing your skin millimeters before actually touching it.

Shared silence.

A bed that is mussed on both sides.

Watching you engrossed in an activity.

Knowing you’ll be home any minute.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all, whether partnered or not.

Blood red poppies

Remembrance Day

Every year, as October transitions into November, I go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11. It is a tradition in my family and across Canada to append the crimson flower to our lapel as a reminder of the bloody sacrifices made a century ago.

I also wear it to honour my great-grandfather Francis Sowden, who came home from the Great War, unlike so many others, including siblings on my great-grandmother’s side who are sadly just names without faces to me so many years later.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

Recently, I have heard people complain that the commemorative symbol of the poppy has been co-opted by those who want to hail it as a symbol of the glory of serving in the military, if not actually the glory of war itself. This bothers me.

I greatly thank all those who have, do and will serve in the military both in Canada and abroad, many risking their lives to keep others safe. Although I was an unthinking idiot in my youth, I have learned that these people, while frail humans, are noble titans who see conflict as a last resort.

For all that nobility, however, the poppy must remain a separate symbol.

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

The poppy reminds us of the horrific toll of war. It is a crimson stain upon our lapels that taints us all and reminds us of the fragility of the peace that surrounds us. The bloody hue taunts our civilized smugness with a warning of how easily we can fall into the pit of violence, whether as individuals, communities or countries.

While we wear the blood red poppy to honour the fallen of World War I, we also wear it as a badge of shame that the war ever took place, and that the war to end all wars wasn’t.

This dual purpose must never be diminished. We must strive to be better.

And next year, as October transitions into November, I will go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11.

I will never forget.

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

The Drive (a short story)


“Are we there, yet?”

The phrase that irritated me for the thousand times a week it bore into the back of my head now haunts me.

It had taken forever for me to convince the boys to leave their seat belts alone, to keep their hands from compressing the buttons that stood between confinement and filial battle. And more than once, I found myself wishing that rather than cross their laps, the belts crossed their mouths, stilling the staccato tarantella that skipped across my brain.

Silently, I would curse my husband for wanting children so close in age; built-in playmates, he would argue as though siblings were naturally adept at civility and sharing. Never marry someone who was an only child, I would remind myself; too many delusions of a happy peaceful family to dispel.

“Are we there, yet?”

The words and whine a cattle prod to my ear drums, my head involuntarily snapping to one side, threatening to glance off the door frame, the open window insufficient to drown the drone from the back seat.

“Are we—“

“Has the car stopped moving?” I’d shout at the rear-view mirror as though it was the source of my agony rather than simply a reflection of what I’d left behind.

For a second—a glorious second—the car would go silent, but the silence was an illusion, a prelude to crises yet to come. Inquisitive urges not quelled so much as turned aside, as unsatisfied attention-seeking demanded to be slaked.

“Mo-o-om!” came the high-pitched cry.

“I’m not doing anything,” its wounded echo, pre-emptorially defending actions yet unchallenged.

“Enough,” I charged, confronting the miniature offenders with turned head.

The light was green, or at least that’s what the report said, as though the colour protected me from my guilt any better than it protected my car from the panel van approaching from the left; as though an absence of fault even approximates an absence of self-loathing anguish.

The car was a write-off, and after six months of my husband’s words telling me it wasn’t my fault while his eyes told another story, so was my marriage.

And now, sitting here in my wheelchair, all I can think of is “Are we there, yet?”


Bloodied remembrance

Flag soldiers

I have no room for anger or hatred in my life, but I find myself perplexed, frustrated and saddened by the events of this past week that saw three men, three soldiers killed or wounded. And all of the efforts to understand or explain the reasoning of the two perpetrators, both killed, do nothing to assuage these feelings.

The two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal in Quebec, were crossing a parking lot in front of a recruitment centre when they were run over by their assailant. One of the men wasn’t even in uniform.

And in a messed up irony that could only accompany a death, the third soldier in Ottawa was standing guard over a war memorial to his fallen predecessors. His only defence from the gun man that took his life? An unloaded gun pointed at the ground out of remembrance and reverence to The Unknown Soldier.

For soldiers to fall in battle or in zones of conflict is painful, but somehow more acceptable as a known risk. For men to die while pursuing peaceful administrative activities or activities of honour is simply unfathomable.

While I am not yet ready to weep for the deaths of the two murderers, I mourn for their families and their communities, who have suffered losses as well. Without more information, I cannot blame anyone other than he who drove the car, he who pulled the trigger.

But even as I grieve, even as I question, I take heart and solace in the arms of my community. The people of Canada have not cornered the market in fortitude and endurance, but we are strong. And in times like this, times that matter most, we speak with one voice, we grieve with one heart and we love with one soul.

Despite the pain of our loss, we only grow stronger when events like this happen. And when faced with the uncertainty and fear of these events, that strength, that resolve will keep us whole, will keep us secure.

The coming Remembrance Day will be a touch sadder this year because the poppies will be more bloodied and the graves they mark will be a little fresher.



Only the names of the deceased officers have been released: Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24 (left, above), and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53.


Anger after Robin William’s passing


A couple of days have passed since Robin William’s death and although I still cannot accept the truth of it, I have somewhat resigned myself to that truth.

Shortly after the event, as I watched the public response, I found myself getting upset. The following post, written the night of his passing, explains those feelings. If you read on, please read all of the post as I don’t want to hear anyone’s comments unless they have read all that I have to say below. 


I’m angry. I’m angry at all of the people who want to turn my grief into some sort of life lesson.

The death of Robin Williams from depression isn’t a parable, it’s not a morality play, it doesn’t serve a purpose; so stop throwing literature and comments about depression and the availability of help at me.

This is a man who made millions laugh. A man who struggled throughout his life with demons and who worked with and around those demons to make beautiful art. A man who had loved ones and raised children.

A man who touched my heart and mind and soul. A man who taught me that it was okay to misbehave, to act out. That to be frenetic could also be to be focused. That you can love and be livid with the world and its people at the same time.

And now that man is gone, and I want to mourn. I want to wallow in my memories of the joy and tears that he brought to my life. I want to remember the man.

I don’t want to rationalize his passing. I don’t want to find meaning in his death. I don’t want to learn a lesson.

I want to grieve, to storm, to wail, to laugh, to love.

But I am not the only one in mourning.

I know the people who post information about depression and mental health, who list hotlines and web sites, are doing that as part of their grieving process. They are doing what they have to do to process Robin’s death.

They are doing what is right for them as I am doing what is right for me. Pain is a self-centred thing.

Perhaps in a day…or two…or ten, I will be able to see their side a little better, but for now, I just want to hurt…and remember…and smile.

In the meantime, forgive me if I snarl.




They flow so easily from your lips.

Momentary sounds of normalcy

That hold no meaning.

They change nothing,

They hide the sepsis

That slowly builds,

Pressing ever harder

Into our every morning.

I’m no better.

Eyes wrinkle in amusement,

Thoughts emerge, wrapped in softness,

Trying to hide the harshness

That lies beneath, barely hidden.

Cold feelings disguised in warm notes.

And all I can think

As I stare across the table;

The only true feeling inside

Is a solitary echo:

I can’t do this anymore.

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission.)

The day I killed my friend

I’ve had bad days throughout my life. Watching loved ones get hospitalized. Attending funerals and giving eulogies. The break-up of my marriage. Suffering pain from illness. But none of them compare to the day I killed my friend.

Before I go any further, this isn’t a drunk driving story. This wasn’t an accident with a hand gun. This wasn’t a childhood dare gone wrong. All of those would be horrific and I count myself fortunate never to have experienced anything remotely like that.

This was the day I euthanized my beloved collie Rebel.

Rebel had started life as my family’s pet, a puppy we bought from a breeder friend of ours. Although he was a thoroughbred who won his modest share of ribbons, he was a pet first, show dog second. As my mother’s living arrangements changed, she could not take Rebel to her new apartment and so I became his host (we both knew he was the master).

He lived with me for several years in my boxy one-bedroom apartment while I did my graduate training, spending almost as much time with my grandparents who lived in the same building, as he did with me. He was a constant companion for my grandfather throughout the day, and my roommate throughout the evening and morning.

Eventually, I bought a house not far from my grandparents, which was a bit of an adjustment for me and an even bigger adjustment for Rebel, who now spent his days on his own. When I got home from then work, he would be waiting anxiously by the door, doing his best to wag his tail while keeping his legs crossed to keep from urinating.

In the evenings, while I would read or listen to music, he would lie by my side. While cooking dinner, he would sprawl across the kitchen floor, a perpetual tripping hazard. And when I would sleep, he would take up two-thirds of the bed, preferring to sleep diagonally so that I learned to sleep with my feet dangling off the bed.

And when he wasn’t sleeping on the bed, snoring in my ear, I could find him sleeping with his head in my closet. It took me quite some time to figure that one out, but eventually I realized he was sleeping on my discarded clothes that awaited a trip to the laundry. He was immersed in my scent, which made him hardier than most people I knew. His security blanket was my old jeans.

As with all of us, pets grow older, and soon, Rebel was unable to make it up the stairs to the bedroom. Accidents increased as no doubt his anxiety increased, and I found myself spending more nights on my couch than in my bed…we had a partnership, after all.

Eventually, though, my life grew more complicated and it was getting increasingly difficult to get home in a timely manner. As ashamed of it as I am, Rebel became less of a priority. There were times I considered him a burden. But he was my friend. My beloved companion.

I wish I could say I made the appointment with the vet because Rebel had a fatal or severely debilitating illness. I wish I could say that I merely wished to put him out of his misery and that his cries in the night were from something other than loneliness and confusion.

I can’t.

The appointment was made more for me than for him.

I was fortunate to have a friend staying with me on the day of the appointment. He drove Rebel and me to the vet’s and waited outside.

I lifted Rebel onto the metal table, and while he never much liked the gripless surface, he settled quickly. The vet came in and had me sign some forms, and then as Rebel lie quietly, the vet injected him.

I stayed with Rebel throughout the final moments. All I could do was cry and tell him how sorry I was. Rebel didn’t flinch, never moved, never whined. He merely stopped breathing.

I waited a few minutes with him, knowing any attempt to pull myself together was futile. I didn’t want to leave and I couldn’t stay.

Eventually, I made my way out of the examining room and handed Rebel’s leash and brush to the vet’s assistant. They understood…the bill would be sent later.

My friend took me home and plied me with food and beer as I wept on the front porch all night.

The next day at work, I started the day as usual reading the Toronto Star comics, but today was different. I got to Lynne Johnston’s strip For Better or For Worse…the day beloved sheepdog Farley died saving the daughter April from a river. Within two frames, I could see what was coming and I wept. This was definitely for worse.

To this day, I feel the guilt of my decision. To this day, I want to apologize to my mother and to my brother Scott, who was particularly close to Rebel, for my selfish decision.

And rare is the day that I do not wish I could hear the gentle snoring of Rebel next to the couch or feel his chin resting on my lap as I read.

His photo sits on my bedroom dresser as a reminder of a love I have not experienced since.


Earlier today, an acquaintance of mine put down his beloved friend of several years, in this case, because of inoperable and untreatable cancer. My friend is hurting in ways he may never have thought possible and my thoughts go out to him, and to anyone else who has been through a similar experience.

I wish I could say, 18 years later, that the pain goes away. What I can say is that the loving memories remain.

Rainy night

Background lights reflect off watery pavement

Watery applause

filters through my window;

an atmospheric

stream of consciousness,

rafting my mind

to memories thought lost,

of friends, of love,

of pain, of loss.

Flushing rivulets

clear out the old

to make space for

sunnier days ahead.

Heavy rains make for sodden cycling

Heavy rains make for sodden cycling

Rain drops in such profusion that ripples annihilate ripples

Rain drops in such profusion that ripples annihilate ripples

Missing you


I lie here, staring at the ceiling, and I miss you.

The stillness gently stirred by your breathing,

The sound of your hair sliding from the pillow,

The scents of the day rising from your skin,

The emanating heat of your body in repose.

A space lies empty beside me, undisturbed;

Duvet in quiet slumber, chaos contained;

Sheets unpressed by the weight of day.

Only one heart beats in the silence.

Only one mind wanders in the dark.

Only one body occupies the space of two.

I lie here, vision blurred, alone and I miss you.