After submitting my last blog 15 months ago, my brain cramped. It might have been Covid overkill, I don’t know.
But I hit a wall.
Then I decided to dust off what got me started at the key board way back when. Writing old fashioned stories in a new fashioned way.
First, I polished up my stroke book, found a great editor and am about to pound the pavement looking for a publisher for it. I had some very positive rejections a while back. With the editor’s touch and some advice on better-targeted publishers, I’m optimistic about Where Are My Shoes seeing the light of day at a books store/on-line store near you soon.
Then, I wrote a novel. A pretty good one, too, I think. It’s about a disenchanted old -school newspaper reporter, a TV weather scientist and a racist/misogynist wack job. It’s with that great editor now. When she’s done with it, I’ll have it in front of an agent and then – knock-on-wood — to a publisher.
Finally, I went back to my early days and put together a couple of short stories. The first of these, Whatever Happened to American Standard, is out now in Litbreak Magazine. You can find it hear: https://litbreak.com/
I hope you like it. I’ll let you know when the next one comes out and where to find it. Ditto on any progress with the books. I’m off and running on a second novel, as well.
What’s all of this have to do with Brain Food?
I’m glad you asked.
Recently, through work, I saw a presentation given by a wheel chair-bound stroke survivor who now works to improve accessibility to staff at her government ministry across the board. Ready tools, physical accessibility – everything is fair came. Then I listened to a presentation by librarians around improving access to the reading impaired. Their aim is to make it possible to read anything whether you’re blind and trying to get through a document at work, or have a reading disability and want to check out a book at the library.
After being both inspired and humbled by these presentations, I’ve decided to re re-focus my blogging on reading. Whether that’s being able to read or having access to reading. Because, you know, you can’t taste Brain Food unless you can have access to it in the first place.
The rest of my writing will be focussed on putting out more short stories and books. I’ll share info and updates on this writing here, as well.
So, my next two blogs will be a deeper dive into the interesting work noted above. Hopefully I’ll have some more info to share on my other writing by then, too.
I had a great time the last two weeks in Toronto and Montreal.
I was 100 per cent out of work mode. I was enjoying two great cities. And best of all, I was hanging out with Kristina and Patricia. I also managed to find time to meet up with a couple of buddies I hadn’t seen in far too long.
One convo with one of those pals got me to thinking. And the result of that brain work is this — it’s time to shift gears with the blog thing.
Over a pint, my buddy and I talked about the ways we’ve worked together in the past to help folks draw out the best thinking of people facing difficult problems and challenges. Over a second pint, we talked about using this blog to do that again.
So for the coming months at least, Brainfood is going to get more focused. I’m going to use it to tap into my network, and with your help, readers’ communities to use our collective minds to solve challenges and tackle problems of the mind.
My buddy is going to help.
You see, I’ve learned in past lives and through recovering from the stroke thing that the answers to many of the problems and questions that befuddle us are out there, well understood by other folks sometimes in other places. Sometimes it’s straight forward. Sometimes there are context issues. Other times some creativity is required.
But we don’t know what we don’t know. And what we don’t know can’t help us.
A story or two…
Back when I was at the stage in my stroke recovery that saw my comprehension improve to normal levels I was still suffering with speed. I could only read at 50 words per minute. Average readers fly along at about 200.
I had a program to deal with this problem on my computer. But when it came to books, newspapers and magazines, I was out of luck. One fix was to go to the library and pick up a book and then look for another copy on tape. Then I’d listen to some actor read the words as I followed along with the book. It was clunky.
It was tough to read for pleasure or learning using the thespian aided method.
Then while doing some research, I connected with a speech language pathologist from Chicago. At the end of our interview, I kibitzed about my book reading problem.
She asked: “Don’t you have Amazon Kindle in Canada?”
“Indeed we do,” I said.
“Then get yourself one. It has a text to speech program.”
Indeed it does. Who knew? Lots of people, just not – until that day – anybody that I knew.
I’ve been reading books, magazines and newspapers with my Kindle ever since.
I’d also been frustrated that I’d never been able to talk to anybody else facing my kind of brain buzz from a stroke. None of the strokies I’d met had lost their ability to read and write, so none had had to relearn their ABCs. Then one day I had the TV on to BBC while I was doing some work and a Toronto writer named Howard Engel was featured. He’d had a stroke. While it wasn’t like mine, it had caused him to lose his words, too. And he’d battled back and kept writing.
Even though our issues were different, it was inspiring to hear about a guy like this who I could relate to.
I looked Mr. Engel up in the phone book and was able to chat with him a few times. He was a real gentleman to me. And a great inspiration.
It would be fantastic if more of these kinds of connections and the fixes to problems and inspiration they bring could happen by design rather than by chance. That’s what I’d like to help spark with this blog.
That’s what I’m going to do, that is. With your help.
We’re going to identify some of the problems that are driving us crazy. And we’re going to use some techniques and this blog to find the answers. We’ll spark conversations that will help us act as one big brain to fix problems. Small problems. Complex ones. Frustrating conundrums. Whatever.
We’ll pick them off a few at a time.
But, like I said, I’ll need your help.
Shortly I’ll post a blog that will flesh out more details. But basically, I need you to come forward with some initial problems. Then I need you to help draw in your networks – docs, therapists, patients, families and friends, support works of all kinds, researchers – folks with any interest and experience with the brain work that’s going on out there.
Smart as I am, when the signs on the stores we passed on our VIA Rail train were no longer written in English, I figured out they were in French. And that meant that we’d crossed the border between Ontario and Quebec.
Seeing Quebec roll by from the ground for the first time was tres bien. And entering Montreal on the train route was a complete different experience than driving in from Pierre Trudeau airport. Very cool.
We walk out of the VIA station, roller suitcase in tow just after noon. We found a patio on Phillips Square — Le Grand Comptoir — and fortified ourselves for the afternoon. We had a great, simple lunch under perfect patio weather, just shy of 30 C. The square out front and the slow traffic creeping past us provided perfect views for taking in the city. The only downside were the Canadian, German and Brit business dudes sitting next to us. They were all trying to impress each other with their biz smarts and used F bombs as verbs, nouns, adjectives and just about everything else. I’m not against a good Fbomb. I just appreciate variety and creativity in cursing. And I try to avoid the nastiest words in all-age public settings.
These boys were more amusing than disturbing though.
After eating, we headed towards Patricia and Kristina’s friend, Francois’s place. It was a great stroll, even with the bag in tow. He lives near Ste Catherines’. Which we strolled along much of the way. We also had a coffee on Ste Denis. It was great to sit there and restore my memories of Montreal.
We met Francois after he was done work and went for dinner at Le Steak House Du Village — a great choice for us Albertans. After a long meal on the patio combined with great people watching and conversation, I now count Francois as a friend.
We had a fabulous time in Montreal — great dinners, amazing walks, incredible sites. The pictures attached tell the story best. Old Montreal, Crescent Street, up and down Ste. Catherine’s street. Wow.
We took the train back to Toronto on Saturday. Dinner in Leslieville and then Saturday afternoon we watched the Blue Jays beat Minnesota, staying on top of the American League East pennant race. We watched the sun go down at Yonge and Dundas square.
Monday we paid a visit to BMV books and then strolled over to China Town and Kensington. I still can’t visit Kensington Market without humming the King of Kensington theme song to myself.
All of this brain food from TO and Montreal is nicely feeding my writing. I’m making good progress on the fiction stuff.
Years before I started making a few shekels as an ink stained wretch, writing paid off for me.
Starting in Grade 5 I figured out that my language arts and English teacher’s dug what I put to pen. It got me through all the way to graduation and balanced off my failings in math.
Short stories, essays, reviews – I seemed to always hit the mark. I was also able to write my way through social studies. It was just a shame about math. And the sciences.
Anyway, I always took the writing thing for granted until…well, regular readers of this blog know all about my putting off the book writing thing until a stroke buzzed my brain’s ability to read and write, the struggle to relearn my abcs and all that jazz.
I’ve pumped out some good stuff since getting my writing groove back. But I’ve also struggled. When I was a news paper reporter I pounded out the stories of the day. In writing a feature on my stroke recovery, it was pretty easy to connect the dots. But I’ve done some flailing away on the edits to the book I’ve been working on about my stroke. And I’ve struggled with keeping my focus on the blog.
There’s just been something. Something wrong. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it.
Then my bride asked me if I’d like to go to the K97 classic rock show Friday night in Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park. I try not to live in the past, but David Wilcox was playing. Non Canadian readers may not know this blast from my past’s work. If not, you should look him up and give him a spin.
Back in the 80s I quit a job to go see him play at a Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (I think they now call my Calgary alma mater SAIT Polytechnic) cabaret. When I asked for the night off to see David play, my boss asked me what was more important, the concert or my part time job doing grunt work at his crappy little motel.
“Thank’s for the clarity, boss,” I like to remember myself saying to him. “I’ve unplugged my last toilet for one of your guests.”
It was off to hook up with Joe, Jack and Brad, then off to see David and his band play.
Later, when I was entertainment editor of the campus newspaper I got to interview Wilcox before a show. Just me and him. No rush.
I asked him a question he told me nobody had ever asked him before. That was cool. As I recall, I asked about the way his eyes seem to bug out as he plays a solo. Also as I recall, he speculated that it may be because when he started out and he’d get into a riff, he stair off into the crowd, lost in his guitar. The thing is, the beautiful young woman dancing with her insecure and bulky boyfriend would think David was gazing into her eyes. And the trouble would begin with beefy boy and David. So, as a peace loving man, Mr. Wilcox said he just stated staring safely into the sky when he made his Telecaster sing. And that, he said, may be the cause of the eye thing.
That’s how I remember the convo, anyway.
Friday night David’s show was just as tight as it was back in the mid 80s. And he looked to be having just as much fun. It was awesome. Wilcox was followed on stage by Randy Backman of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame.
He put on one hell of a show.
I don’t have the emotional connection to Backman that I do with Wilcox, but I was blown away by how great he sounded. And by how much fantastic music he’s pumped out. But better still, the passion he had in playing and in telling the stories behind the songs blew me away.
Backman shared intimate details of where he was when he wrote one classic. He explained nuances in the music and the work to get the stuff from his brain to his guitar to the radio.
What a great night.
But it wasn’t until the Saturday night over a few beers at a bbq my wife and I through for the neighbors that I connected a few dots.
According to Google – and is Google ever wrong? – Randy Backman is 72 year old. Another Google search put David Wilcox at 67. Backman is a gazillionare world wide selling artist and will likely make more in royalties in the time you take to read this blog than I’ll ever make. Wilcox is a journeyman musician doing just fine but on a smaller scale.
And there they both were, on stage looking in love with what they were doing after all of these years. I’m sure there are lots of reasons. But a couple came to my mind over beers in my back yard 24 hours after the show, my ears still ringing from what poured out of their Marshall amps.
These guys has the courage, the passion the whatever to do what they were meant to do. No matter what. It worked out on different levels. But it worked out. They didn’t do this music thing half assed. They did it full assed.
And that’s where Fat Man comes in.
Back in grade 5 I thought I was a pretty good story teller. And for a class early in the year I started working on a short story. My first effort was some kind of gumshoe crime fighter. Then I took a stab at a cowboy bit. Both were boring and un inspiring.
It was then that a sketch I did for art class caught my eye. I’d created and un-hero called Fat Man. He looked kinda funny in a loveablish way. I decided to call my short story The Adventures of Fat Man and I managed to put together a yarn that had all of the teachers at Chris Ackerman Elementary School in North East Calgary laughing.
The trick, I realized back then, wasn’t a trick at all. Being a writer is one thing. But to be a good or even great story teller means being true to who you are and telling those stories in the way they need to be told. Don’t try to be a great classical violinist if you’re a blue grass fiddler.
I’d like to be a jazz bassist. But I may be a punk rock guitar player. Gotta live with that and make it work.
Oh, by the way, my first born has a new blog. It’s westmeetseast.wordpress.com. The kid has game.
Oh again…if you have an Amazon Kindle, you may want to take a look at my short story, The Gunman Who forgot Who to shoot.
Some things grab you by the throat and just won’t let go.
You fight for every trickle of breath you can coax in and you punch, scratch and kick with every scrap of fight remaining to loosen the grip of the thing, swearing that if you ever break free you’ll never ever get within a mile of its grip again.
It’s been a year since my oldest and I drove from Edmonton, AB, to Toronto, ON where she’s now living. This shot is in Colonsay, SK. Time keeps ticking.
Sometimes the thing is a monster – like the bitch of a stroke that wreaked havoc on me six years ago.
But sometimes the vice grip is more subtle. Like time.
My youngest turned 20 in April. I’ve been in a tail spin ever since. I now have two daughters in their twenties.
It’s not a vanity-aging thing.
It’s just a brutal reminder that the clock keeps ticking. And with every second, minute and hour I keep realizing that there’s so much that I haven’t done. Stuff I feel I’m meant to do.
So why don’t I do it?
Tick tock, tick took.
My old English teacher – John Rollins – keeps coming back to mind. His farewell note to me at the end of grade 12 was a dagger about the sin of wasted time. It seems too benign to be a sin. But I think it may be the greatest one of them all. Is there anything worse than not doing something – wasting talent, wasting opportunity, missing the chance to help somebody, letting down your friends and family? All this by not doing something.
I’ve heard it told that as fond as the Devil is of history’s greatest villains, his best work over time is done by folks just sitting back. More evil is done by what’s left undone. It just sort of slowly happens, like rot.
I kept Mr. Rollins’ note for a long time. I eventually took it to heart on almost every level. Accept when it came to writing. That all changed after I stroked out, dealt with the pain of losing my words and then scratched back to the point where I could read and write again, albeit with the aid of technology. I published some stuff, started blogging and then…
Here I am – after getting a second chance — wasting time again. I’ve only taken my rekindled writing so far. I’ve either been too lazy or afraid of failure to take it all the way. A book sits waiting for loads of edits. Stories sit locked in my brain. I’m going weeks and months between blogs.
By contrast, in the weeks since my last blog, Anna – my youngest — went off on a trek around Europe with two friends. Kristina – my 23 year old — took off to start a new adventure in Toronto almost exactly a year ago. No fear with these kids, at least not enough to hamstring them.
They don’t seem hung up on what’s practical versus what’s possible.
I believe this, too. I just don’t act on it. Why?
I recently spoke at a conference for speech language pathologists. If you looked at me six years ago, this would have seemed impossible. But there I was, putting together words that made sense despite having had my brain fried by the stroke and my words taken away.
If I can do that, maybe I can be more like my girls?
Step one was publishing a short story on Amazon Kindle yesterday. The Gunman who forgot who to shoot, under the name T.J. Seefeldt. It’s a very short yarn about a stroked out 1800s western hit man. More shorts are coming soon.
I’ve always been a fan of short stories and novellas. I still re-read Hemmingway’s and Steinbeck’s all the time. And Elmore Leonard’s. I only discovered his short stuff after years of reading his novels. The great movie 3:10 to Yuma is based on the short story of the same name. The Hernando Tellez short, Just Lather, That’s All is amazing in how much it says with such economy of words.
I pumped out quite a few short stories myself years ago. But I couldn’t find any place for them. I got discouraged. This seems to have changed these days with Kindle Singles. We’ll see.
My old pal, former J-school mate and accomplished novelist, Wayne Arthurson, is Writer In Residence (WIR) at the Edmonton Public Library.
And on Sunday, February 21 at 2PM he’s having me in for a workshop at the Stanely A. Milner Library in downtown E-Town (south-east corner, main level). If you’re interested and you’re in the Edmonton area, please pop in. In fact, you should check out the website to take a peek at the great workshops Wayne has planned and to learn about the WIR program.
I’ll be talking about my post stroke reading disabled writing tricks and techniques. I’m pretty sure this stuff can be put to use by those whose brains haven’t been sizzled, as well.
The WIR program is pretty cool stuff. I should have started taking advantage of it a long time ago and I intend to drink in what it has to offer from now on.
Oh, and while I’m writing about writing, I have something I want to share with Blog Nation. My plan is to publish a stroke inspired short story on Kindle in the next few days. I’m curious to see how publishing something this way plays out. Will anybody ever find it among the gazillions of the good, bad and ugly – great, too – stuff you can find in the Kindle universe?
I’m also working on a novel that was in my head before I stroked out. It’s been rebooting ever since and now – finally — I’m putting it to page. Or virtual page, I guess. After that, I’ll get back to editing the stroke tale that I’ve blogged about in the past.
I’ve had some really good advice on the stroke yarn from many, including Toronto’s Kirsten Koza. For those yet to discover Kristen, she’s an author, adventure travel writer, humorist and journalist. You should check her out at: http://kirstenkoza.com/
But I’ve decided that the stroke story needs to come after I’ve tried my hand at the fiction that had been buzzing around in my head before I was buzzed.
We’ll see how it plays out.
Finally, to my fellow strokie readers not interested in all of this writing babble, my message is this – don’t let the stroke take you away from yourself. The new you may look different and feel different. Actually, you are different. But the stroke can’t define who you are unless you let it.
It’s been a few months of blogging now and it’s starting to make me feel like an insecure kid in my early 20s. Again.
Maybe you know what that’s like? If not, I’ll fill you in.
There are some weeks where you feel like a million bucks. The “beautiful” people have all the time in the world for you. No matter what you say, they’re digging it. At work or school you’re a rock star. You can do no wrong, your ideas are brilliant, your execution flawless. Folks tear up laughing at your jokes. No wrong can be done by you.
Then there are the other days where you could swear you bathed in garlic and that your brain and mouth are horribly out of sync. You can do no right.
This is how it feels with the blog. Some weeks I hit ‘publish’ and the readers flow like lava from a volcano. I’m on fire. The reader numbers tick away faster than I can count ‘em.
Other weeks, it’s crickets. The reader numbers seem to be going in reverse.
What did I do wrong? Why don’t they like me anymore? Why? Why!?
That’s part of the reason why I haven’t hit ‘publish’ for a while on a new blog. There are two other reasons, though.
First is that my bride, Patricia has had a new hurdle thrown at her on her health battle. We’d thought she was on a steady road to recovery when she got a sucker punch. Now she’s facing a few more tough rounds in her fight. She’s gonna win, but damn.
It really pisses me off and I’ve let it mute my words for a while.
The second thing is that my oldest daughter, Kristina, is heading to Toronto for school. It’s unbelievable that the little bundle we brought home from the hospital in what seems like not that long ago is going to be working on a post grad program in the Big Smoke.
What a mix of joy, sadness, excitement and fear. There’s no reason for fear — it’s going to be amazing for her — but she’s lived with me and Patricia all of her life an now…
…Sorry, I needed a moment there, I’m verklemmt!
As I write this, it’s our last day living together as the family that became complete when my youngest, Anna, was born 19 years ago. Very, very weird.
But there is an adventure to be had. We spent yesterday filling a rental truck with all of Kristina’s worldly goods. Tomorrow, she and I will hit the road for Toronto. We’ve got ‘till
Thursday to get there. For all the times I’ve made the flight, I’ve never done this trip by ground.
So to mark the journey – and the experience — I’ll be posting daily Road Blogs.
It may not be Thanksgiving, but with Canada Day and Independence Day this past week and with summer in full swing, it’s pretty hard not to be thinking about what a fella is thankful for.
There’s life itself, great parents, an amazing wife and daughters who’ve managed not to inherit my faults and have taken in all the good stuff – and there’s plenty of that — their mom was able to pass on to them.
There are friends, travel, work, volunteering and seemingly random experiences that have enriched me and challenged my thinking.
There’s also a great country and province to call home, a place where the son of a bricklayer and secretary gets the same breaks and has the same opportunities as anybody else.
Of course, there’s also the shite. But there’s even stuff to be thankful for there.
Post stroke Tim looks at a stunning mountain range, a perfectly maintained ’64 Porsche and hears the subtleties of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo differently than pre stroke Tim did. The moment isn’t to be taken lightly; I drink it in and savor the taste. I try to lock it in my memory banks as brain food to draw on later. This sounds a little dorky when I play it back out loud with my robo reader.
But it is what it is. And it’s true.
Post-stroke, I write every day, I put out this blog, I’m sprucing up a book and I may even have a bead on a publisher. Pre-stroke Tim mostly just thought about writing.
I’m also thankful for timing and science.
If I’d stroked out when Canada was born – 148 years ago – I’d have been done for. The damage would have been even worse and the rehab non-existent. I can’t bear to think about what life would have been like if I’d had a family. I’d have been useless to them and myself.
Even if I’d stroked out 10 or 20 years ago, I’m not so sure that I’d be working and living a life I’d call living. There has been loads of improvement in stroke awareness and treatment. I’m sure that I benefited from this knowledge and thank God for that.
Had I stroked out today in another part of the world, I fear that my brain buzz would have had more dire consequences. Would I have gotten the treatment I needed when I needed it? Time is money when it comes to this stuff. The more a brain fries, the more damage is done. And that makes it much harder to put humpty dumpty back together again.
I sometimes wonder if there’s another guy about my age who stroked out at the same time that I did in the same part of the brain, the only difference being that he lived in a part of the globe without the access to care that I had. What’s that guy’s life like today?
I’m also thankful that there’s hope today for the hell and the fear that people are facing right this second. I’m thankful that there are folks – like you and me — that can lend a hand. And that there’s hope for a lot of great moments to come.
Brain buzz or no brain buzz, I can be a first class fool. And, sadly, I can’t blame it on sizzling my melon when I stroked out.
Last week I was cut off while driving.
“Idiot!” I shouted to myself in the car as I hammered on the horn. “Where do these people learn to drive?”
A day or two later, I cut somebody off. I figured it out when their horn sounded an attack. They went with a long first trumpet then followed with a series of short bursts. It sounded to me like; “Idiot! Where did you learn to drive?”
“Jerk,” I thought. “He must have been speeding. Where’d she come from, anyway? I bet they changed lanes. Where do these people learn to drive?”
It was only later that I pondered my reactions. What did I mean when I thought “these people?” I didn’t see the driver in either case. Man, woman, young, old, race, I had no clue. Did I have an unfortunate stereotype of what a bad driver looks like? My pondering made me uncomfortable, so I shelved it.
But I couldn’t forget what shelf it was in and I had to open it up again when I went out for a walk with my wife a little while later. Patricia is convalescing from a major, painful and scary surgery. Among other things, it’s made it tough for her to walk. And speed, right now, is not an option. But she has to walk as part of the rehab.
Some of this walking has been outdoors, but shopping malls have a nice even track with no worry of rain or wind, so we’ve made use of them. The down side of malls is that they can be very busy. And choppers and staff are often intensely focused, determined and aggressive as they get from their Point A to Point B. I’ve learned they’re not super keen about slowing down to get around slow pokes convalescing from major surgery.
Now, the surgery was such that I can’t have my bride getting checked by aggressive mall types. So, I’ve developed a few blocking techniques. Turns out that those years spent playing football weren’t a waste of time even if there was no room in the pros for a 5’10’ slow corner linebacker and special teams dude. I know how to block and, if necessary, how to tackle. Maybe not to the level needed in the NFL or CFL, but I do fine in a mall.
However, needing to run interference to protect Patricia from contact while in a shopping mall put me in an ugly game day state of mine. And I’d become tense and angry that people were putting her in harm’s way.
“Can’t people see that you’re not ship shape?” I steamed. “Jerks. Where did these people learn to drive, I mean, walk through a mall?”
Then Patricia said something I hadn’t considered. Something that somebody with my history of stroke and being the one time victim of stereotypes should have had top of mind.
“You don’t know what’s going on with them, Tim, just like they don’t seem to know what’s going on with us,” she said. “Maybe their boss just screamed at them, or fired them. Maybe their child or their mom is in the hospital.”
In Patricia’s job she drives a lot from client to client and walks through harried stores. She always has stories about bizarre road mayhem. So if she can throw out a little empathy I suppose I can. And should.
She made me think about a story I heard Stephen Covey tell years ago when I went to an event he spoke at in Edmonton. Covey was a thought provoking speaker and the author of many books including The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
On the day I heard him, Covey told of being on a New York City subway on a weekend morning when a man walked on with a pile of rambunctious kids. To hear Covey tell it, they were running amuck on the train, yelling, knocking in to people while the dad did nothing.
Covey eventfully became too angry and frustrated to stay silent and asked the dad why he didn’t do something about his kids.
The dad, a stunned look on his face, took a peek at his marauding brood and said something like; “Ya, I guess I should. We’ve come from the hospital where there mother just died. I guess I just don’t know what to say or do.”
Covey told us that he immediately made the shift from anger to empathy. A few words changed everything. The circumstance made the facts seem different. Nothing practically had changed. Yet everything had changed.
We can wait for these shifts of points of view to happen and maybe they will or maybe they won’t. If Covey hadn’t said anything, he’d have left the train, angry about the many and disgusted with his children. But, if as my wife suggests, we try to shift our point of view on our own, well, we’ll be in a better place. That’s good for our own minds and souls. And we may even be able to lend a hand to somebody else from time to time.
This week’s offering was born in a public men’s room at a highway diner outside of Red Deer, Alberta.
It was a Sunday evening and my wife, Patricia, and I were on our way back to Sherwood Park from a couple of days in Banff, where we’d gone to soak in the energy of the Rocky Mountains and to steel ourselves for some upcoming tricky business.
I spotted an odd sign the moment I stepped in to the men’s. It was hand written on white computer paper. It seemed very important, as if I’d better read it before doing anything else. So I put my stroke damaged free style reading skills to work to make out what it said. At turtle speed, I worked through the words. Then I shook my head and gave it a second scan, not sure that I’d gotten it right the first time.
But I had.
The sign said: As a courtesy to the next customer, please flush the toilet.
Now, I thought, why was that sign necessary? Then, before taking another step I had a second thought. If the sign was necessary, maybe I don’t want to be in here.
If I read this pre-stroke, I’d likely have paid it no attention.
But there’s something about putting extra effort into reading that makes a fella put a little more thought into the words read. It’s like investing the added time into making sense of the words has the effect of making you ponder those words more deeply once they’re worked through.
Over the past five years post having my reading skills buzzed by a stroke, public reading has led to some interesting times. Most signs and posters aren’t super text heavy. But one often encounters them on the move, so giving them a full read requires extra effort. And sometimes when I give this scan short shrift, skipping over parts or making assumptions, it’s let to some regrettable moments.
Sign art can ramp up my reading misfires, as well. A symbol or drawing that clearly means one thing to its creator is often clear as mud to me.
Recently out for dinner during a trip in Arizona I encountered unclear restroom door signage. Not an M and a W. Not a man picture and a woman picture. So, figuring I had a 50-50 chance of guessing right, I opened Door Number One. The shrieks told me that I’d guessed wrong.
“Sorry,” I said, spinning around to door number two.
Earlier, I’d made a similar mistake in another eatery with creative restroom signage. This time I just wanted to wash my hands before dinner and had walked straight to a sink of the seemingly empty room. As I went to dry my hands I noticed a terrible thing.
Then I noticed that one of the stalls was in use. I had to get out of there pronto. I started stepping toward the door, but I was too late. A woman opened the door before I reached it and gave me a confused look.
“You’re in the right place,” I told her. “I’m not.”
For me, when it comes to signage, globally recognized symbols are manna from heaven. Creativity and details are hell. This is especially true while driving.
Traditional road signs are easy. Nice, simple symbols pretty much the same throughout Canada, the US and everywhere else I travel. But street names, especially long one – Sir Winston Churchill Avenue – are trouble for me, often causing a missed turn or two if I don’t have a co-pilot.
That can make you feel like a dunce.
It’s the same but different for others who’ve suffered strokes and other attacks on their brains. Those whose speech is stilted often tell me they’re treated as stupid. People here how slow their words are, not the quality of what they say and they make judgments. They respond to them like they’re talking to a child. I don’t think that slow teachery talk is appreciated by kids and it’s much less so with adults struggling to get their words out.
Abnormal gaits to a person’s walking, wheel chairs and other ‘abnormalities’ seem to also have this ‘let’s treat them as though they’re stupid’ effect.
It’s very, very frustrating. But a little humility can actually be a good thing.
It can make you just pissed off enough to try harder. It can remind you that you have to try harder if you’re going to heal to your maximum capacity and/or make up for the scars you’re stuck with. It can even make you better than you would have been without the scars. Sometimes the undamaged waste their gifts. But for those of us who’ve had them ripped away, we’re often able to make better use of what we’re left with.
By the way, this is the first blog I’ve posted without having a trusted second set of eyes or two read through. It may show. But I wanted to test my stroke mind’s free bird, technology aided editing skills. Hapfulle their arnoot to maany typooos, ah, I mean, hopefully there aren’t too many typos.