Brains under Covid fire — what to do?

It’s been 76 years since the end of the last time a global catastrophe profoundly impacted every corner of Planet Earth. That was the end of World War II.

For the first time since then, the entire world is under threat. This time, by a common enemy in Covid-19. And this time that foe is attacking every tiny corner of the Third Rock from the Sun.

It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed and fatigued. Never before has it been more important to be mindful of our mental health.

I spoke to Dr. Angela Grace to get her take on this. Dr. Grace is a Calgary-based Registered Psychologist and, like all of her colleagues, she’s been busier than ever during this Covid year.

“There are some times through Covid that I’m a front-line worker for front-line workers and I’m noticing myself getting exhausted,” she said. “We’re all human and we’re meant to go through a range of experiences and a range of emotions, but even myself, this is what I do for work, but I am still impacted.”

If mental health pros feel stress, nobody should be ashamed to accept that they feel it, too. But what to do? And how do you determine if stress is ‘manageable’ or if you are beginning to go to a dark and dangerous place?

“To me, the difference is your ability to bounce back,” said Dr. Grace. “What I do is look at what is the consistency and longevity of the complaints, of the concerns, of the emotions of the feelings.  I even watch it in myself. If I had a really crappy day can I have a hot bath and get a good sleep and meditate in the morning and am I going to feel better? Or, am I still feeling terrible about everything?”

Time is key here.

Dr. Grace said she and her colleagues look at length of time when assessing stress levels.

“If it’s a few days or a few days a month when you go into a slump and you know how to pull yourself out of it, that’s emotional resilience, that’s good self care, that’s good honouring of your feelings and experiences,” she said. “But if it goes on and on for a couple weeks, a couple months, if you can’t seem to pull yourself out of the slump or don’t have the resources to help with that, then it’s definitely time to reach out for professional help.”

When I hear Dr. Grace speak, I realize that caring for our mental health is a lot like nurturing a beloved car (only a million times more important, of course :-)). Sometimes your ride needs major work. Most of the time regular tune ups keep it ship shape. And it always needs a little TLC.

We’re no different.

“Sometimes it’s a friend we need, sometimes it’s a colleague we need, sometimes it’s a family member that we need,” she said. “And sometimes it’s somebody completely outside of our lives who we can spill our guts to and have that outside perspective and just know our secrets are safe. And our deeper inner feelings that we’re afraid of being judged on by family and friends are going to be taken care of.

“Sometimes we need that skilled outside observer because we’re too close to the situation. We’re too close to what’s happening. We can’t see things objectively. We can’t hold on to a higher hope. We don’t have the skills to get out of it without that outside voice.”

But too many of us see asking for help – whether from friends or professionals – as a sign of weakness. Others don’t believe that real help is out there.

“There’s still a stigma about mental health that we should be able to ‘snap out of it,’” said Dr. Grace.

That’s a mistake.

 Dr. Grace said that caring for our mental health is critical to a complete life.

“We always need to be doing things to boost our mental health, just like with our physical bodies,” she said.

Often, we can do this at the same time.

“One of the known prevention factors for depression and relieving anxiety is a good amount of exercise. So, weightlifting, getting some cardio, getting your body moving,” said Dr. Grace.

This is another way that Covid in combination with the recent cold weather has taken a bite out of us.

“I’m fortunate that I’m a yoga instructor and a dancer. I can dance and do yoga in my house and I’m fine with that,” she said. “But for the people who need that socializing at the gym, who need that routine of getting into the water for a swim, there is none. That is going to take a toll on people.”

That’s why Spring 2021 is going to be so important, literally opening the door for us to get out and active more often. It’s not just getting out, either. It’s getting the suns’ rays shining directly on us.

“We need that light for our circadian rhythm,” said Dr. Grace.

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes.  This includes us.

“This is one of the hardest seasons. We’ve just got to get through the next few weeks until the sun comes out again and spring comes,” said Dr. Grace

But there is an option if you can’t get out in the sun and for those long nights and dark days of winter.  They are special ‘sun’ lights designed for people with seasonal effectiveness disorder. She shines hers on her first thing in the morning for 20 to 30 minutes.

The other Covid challenge is that many of our outside stress relievers are shut down. This limits all of us and the options that Dr. Grace and her colleagues can suggest to patients. So, we can’t go do that hobby, like making pottery, we can’t go have coffee with a friend to debrief and unwind. These aren’t just ‘nice to haves.’ These activities are key to our on-going mental health, she said.

There’s another thing.  Even some of the tools that are helping us get by through Covid are causing us stress.

“There really is such a thing as ‘Zoom fatigue’ where our brains can’t handle that much screen time,” said Dr. Grace. “I actually find it more tiring to do sessions by Zoom that I do in person because you just don’t’ get the same sense.”

She found that she needed to cut back the number of sessions she does a week to counteract this.  It’s not just the screen time, either.

“I’ve also felt the stresses of kids home from school, husband working from home, my grandma passed away in November. I’ve got my own stuff to deal with and I can’t get over extended and truly be there for other people in the best way if I’m not well,” said Dr. Grace.  “And I know a lot of my colleagues who I’ve spoken to recently have said the same thing. They’re closing the doors to new people for a couple of months because they’re full and overwhelmed. Just like our doctors and our nurses and our front-line workers, we’re not robots. We can’t give, give, give without that replenishment.”

What’s true for the professionals is true for all of us. Balance is always important, but especially now. Pushing ourselves too hard is a mistake.

“One of the biggest things is we need to notice our levels of fatigue and honor our need to rest,” she said.

Dr. Grace suggests trying to use the period as a time of growth.

“How can I turn it around into ‘how can I understand myself and humanity and how the world works just a little bit better,’” she said.  “With some more hope, humility, letting go of the things you can’t control and turning it in to something that can be meaningful.”

But this can’t be accomplished by just sitting and meditating and being in a peaceful state.  She said that you’ve got to feel the outrage, you can’t be benign with your feelings or try to sugar coat what’s going on around you. Again, working this through with friends and colleagues can help. It can also be great to talk to professionals who are trained to help you unpack your feelings.

For help finding a psychologist you can do what I did for this piece and connect with the Psychologists Association of Alberta. Their website is: www.psychologistsassociation.ab.ca

They have tools on the sight that can help understand what their members’ offer and guide you in choosing the right fit for you.

“It’s always a good idea to have your go-to therapist that knows you and can be that voice that says ‘hey, maybe you are in a real slump right now and we need to get some more resources and help in place,’” said Dr. Grace.

But she notes that not every situation is the same. If how you are feeling seems severe, go to the hospital, they’ll do an assessment there and lead you to the right support.

Back to the idea of finding the positive, the growth opportunity in a time of stress and turmoil, Dr. Grace points to Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration.

In 1967, the Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician observed that adults go through a second adolescence. But this time, instead of their bodies going through pain full, dramatic changes and re-emerging as adults, in the second adolescence it is a person’s soul and belief system that have to fall apart to be transformed.

 “It’s at this point that we can completely disintegrate and go into severe mental health issues, addictions, destroying families,” said Dr. Grace. “Or, we can turn this into a positive disintegration where we re-evaluate what’s important to us, re-evaluate our values, come into alignment with who we really are and what really gives our life meaning and so the disintegration becomes positive. “

For me, my stroke may have taken me through this disintegration. Looking back, I feel like it did and that I came out of it on the positive side. For many people, Covid may be the trigger for this disintegration.

With all that’s going on these days it’s easy to focus on just keeping your head above water. But keeping it dry isn’t good enough, you need to keep it healthy.

If you want to reach out to Dr. Grace, you can connect though her website: www.heartcenteredcounselling.com

Yoga, milestones & books…

Oh, BTW, I took to yoga after my stroke. It was the first thing I’d found since my karate days that took my head right out of whatever had been stressing it since I’d had to stop practicing karate.  Now one of my daughter’s, Kristina, is a certified yoga instructor. If you want ton try an on-line class, check out her website at: https://kristinaseefeldt.cloudstudios.com

Another thing – this coming Monday, March 15, marks 11 years since my brain sizzle. It’s my first strokeversery with a book done and in the can, with the hunt on for a publisher, so that’s cool. I always get some weird vibes on that day, though.

While I’m on about the book, the five publishers who were looking at it in December are still looking. Or, at least they haven’t said that they’ve stopped looking. One additional one asked to take a peek and quickly said ‘no thanks.’ It’s nice to have top publishers interested. I’ve had some good feedback, as well. That eases the sting of a ‘no thanks’.

Who knows, maybe my next blog will lead with details on a new book deal?!

-30-

I’m baaaaack

I took a break from this blog.

The break turned into a hiatus. The hiatus to an absence. And now, here I am – more than two years since the last helping from the Brainfood Cafe.

The point of the break-hiatus-absence was to focus my writing on finishing my book – the tale of an average fella who one day wakes up dazed and confused with a misfiring melon.  As you may recall from past blogs, it turns out that this fella – me – had a stroke, losing the ability to read, write and do arithmetic. My memory was shot and much of my cognitive skills were set back 40 years or so. Not too good as I was 45 when the stroke struck.

Me, my lady & my girls.

I figured finishing the book would take a few weeks. Maybe two or three months.

As well as I’ve recovered from the stroke, my math must still not be too great ‘cause I didn’t put a bow on the book until the summer. This past summer — 2020 COVID-19 Summer.

Why so long?

Because it was damn hard. Re-living the worst months of my existence took an emotional toll and required regular stoppages to reset my mind and rest my soul. And I had to get the writing right. Hemmingway said writing is easy, just sit down at the typewriter and bleed. There’s even more bloodletting when what you’re writing about is so personal. In the book I write about demons that haunted me as I fought to recover. Those demons also struck me as I wrote, making me question my words and my recovery.

But I finished.

And that felt great. My life’s goal was to write books, which is why I became a newspaper reporter way back when. It made sense at the time, but that trade left me with a lot of good ideas and partially thought-out beginnings. After career changes and years of starts and stops with my writing, along came the stroke, wiping away my ability to read and write and presumably putting a definitive end to my dream.

But now the dream is reality (I hate when cliches fit).

I’ll never forget the morning early this past June when I stopped typing, re-read what I’d just finished and realized that this was it with the book. I’d tied the yarn together, it was complete. At least complete enough to get it out in front of other sets of eyeballs.  My bride, Patricia, had a final read for me with some suggestions. Then I reached out to writer friends of mine about agents and advice on the path to publishing. I got some great feedback and advice.

Edmonton writer Wayne Arthurson (The Traitors of Camp 133, Fall From Grace, The Red Chesterfield) gave my yarn a spin and suggested an epilogue. That was a brilliant idea. Then it turned out that Wayne is also working as a successful agent. We shook hands electronically and Wayne is now shopping my book around.

I’ve been warned about how hard it is to get a book published. Told not to get my hopes up. Cautioned how difficult it is even to get a good publisher to just read a synopsis. But so far, Wayne has managed to get these folks to take notice.  I’ve even had the most inspiring rejection that I could ever imagine from a major publisher.

“Tim writes with poise and emotion (not surprising given the ordeal he’s been through!) and I feel he has a good voice here, and a sense of what he wants to convey.”

This publisher feels that my book isn’t the right fit for his company, but also believes that it is worthy of seeing the light of day in book stores.  I’ll take that – for now.

 At last count, five publishers are considering my yarn. It really feels like this thing will be hitting store shelves and e-readers sooner or later.

So, with that happening, I figured, the extended Brainfood hiatus is over.  I can take you all on the journey with me as I wait for news on a publisher, write about the talks I’m preparing to start giving again and share with you the new writing I’m working on. Oh, and you’ll also get the scoop when a publishing deal is (is, not if it is) struck.

The other inspiration for getting back on the blog horse is the milestone I hit while we were all dealing with the new Covid-19 realities. March 15 marked 10 years since my mind was sizzled by the stroke. My plan had been to celebrate that day with a book on store shelves and an incredible trip somewhere. I didn’t finish writing in time for that and the Coronavirus killed the dream of sipping Corona beer on a warm beach, in any case.

So, while I put all that on hold, I want to get back to writing stories that inspire stroke survivors, and the people who love them. Stories about different paths to recovery and to great new normals that can be even better than before. Like, for instance, writing a book after a stroke wiped out your ability to read and right 😊.

I also want to write more about the big beautiful brains we all have and explore with readers how to get the most out of them, how to treat them with the love and kindness that will keep them firing on all cylinders. And that can maybe coax just a bit more brain power out of ‘em, too.

All of this is what you can expect in future helpings of Brainfood.

Stay tuned!

-30-

RIP John Le Carre

The hamster wheel

I’m supposed to be smarter than a rodent. Even considering my brain buzz.

But if that’s true, why do I spend so much time on the hampster wheel? Why don’t I spend more time — most of my time — on things that make me scream Awesome! Yes!?

 

 

 

 

I don’t know.

You’d think that after some of the crap I’ve been through I’d be like one of these guys you see in the movies. You know, life changing experince leads to a new lease on life. No more wasted time, not a minute spent on stuff that doesnt REALLY MATTER. 24-7 on what’s awsome and makes a fella scream ‘yes!’

But then life kicks in. Routine. Responsibility. A few days pass without tapping out a blog or working on the book.  Days turn to weeks, Weeks turn to months. Ground hog day. Time is spent doing necessary things, but more time is wasted doing unnecessary  stuff. The stuff that keeps a guy busy doing everything but the things he’s supposed to do.

Time passes, frustration turns to passive acceptance that the writing isn’t practical. Energy turns into frustration before it fades to the most evil thing of all — benign content.

Feels a little cliched as I write this. But I’m living this cliche, I guess that’s how cliches become cliches. So I’ll go on,

I took in a seminar the other day where some cliches hit me like a mike Tyson body shot.

They talked about things like, if a fella doesn’t spend regulars time  working on one’s self, a fella can’t get off his hamster wheel. He can’t really take the time to develop his own special, true gifts to their fullest potential.

And that’s a disservice to him. But it’s also cheating one’s community.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful without developing your passion, your real gifts. I think you can be really successful doing the wrong things.

You can make money or praise without doing the things that you’re meant to do. And I think that gnaws at your gut.

Jimmy Hendrix might have had great skills as a carpenter — but I’m sure glad he focused on playing the guitar. The world’s a better place and will be as long as his recordings electrify the planet.

My session also talked about spending time every day on visioning the day and reflecting on it’s successes and misses. Giving deep thought to learning and adapting from what’s gone on with an aim to getting better the next time out.

It also makes me think of world class athletes. They visualize making even the smallest corrections to get just a step faster, a bit stronger, doing the small things that add up to being number one. In team sports, focussing on making themselves better makes the steam that much closer to being great.

It always feels to me like it’s selfish to spend time focussing on myself. But it’s not if that focus makes me better at servicing those I was put on this planet to serve.

The session also talked about thinking about gratitude. It turns out that gratitude isn’t just nice, I’m told that science shows that it actually can make you more successful. If you’re grateful for what you have each day — truely grateful and you reflect on this — you are more successful. The trick is, you can’t fake this stuff. You really have to be grateful. I was pretty sure that gratitude was a good thing. I just didn’t know that it was it was also a powerful thing.

Things that make you go ‘hmmm.’

So, i’m going to take a real shot at being really grateful for what i’ve been given and what even the shitty things have provided me. I tend to think of gratitude at dramatic times, intense times. I want to think about it all the time now.

And I’m going to dedicate time to  every day to self reflection. I’ve been doing this for a little while now. Nothing fancy. Just real reflection, opening my noggin to what’s out there. Thinking through what I’ve done each day, thinking about what I should be doing, what I could do.

I’m hopeful this will clear my mind to write what I need to write. If it doesn’t, I’ll be satisfied with whatever clarity shows me.

-30-

 

 

Sometimes breaking vows is a good thing. I think.

I vowed that I wouldn’t blog again until I’d finished my book.

Well, I haven’t quite finished that humdinger yet, so it seems the fact that you’re reading this is pretty clear evidence that I’m breaking that vow.

For new readers or those who’ve forgotten what I’m on about, I’m penning the story of the stroke that sizzled my brain’s ability to read and write, made a sieve of my memory and took my average-ish math skills to a new low. That’s among other important, life altering things. Generally speaking, I was not capable of doing meaningful work or meaningful just about anything.

But I battled back and — despite some pretty deep scars — I’ve made quite a remarkable recovery.  Even if I do say so myself.

dontevergiveup

What gnaws at me, though, is I promised myself if I ever got my words back, I wouldn’t let them go to waste. I’d write the books that I’d been putting off all my life, either too afraid of failure or too lazy pre-stroke to complete.

But even for an ex newspaper reporter well accustomed to pumping out copy every day, writing a book is quite a grind. Especially, it seems, when virtually every page conjures up painful memories. I’ve had to put together a process that works for me and my turtle slow, technology aided reading style. And that’s taken some time to figure out and try to perfect.

At the same time, I’ve had to learn to deal with the gut ripping pain that reliving the memories of my brain battle conjures up. Hemmingway, I believe, said that writing is easy – just sit down at the type writer and bleed. OK. But sometimes I need a tourniquet when I’m penning this brain battle stuff. It’s good not to forget, but it’s also hell to remember.

Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that dealing with the hurt sometimes – often, actually – has led me down the path of avoidance. Back to that old nemesis of wasted time.

There are loads of powerful quotes that drive home the importance of spending one’s time well. Stuff like:

Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose. ~Thomas Edison.

An ounce of gold will not buy an inch of time. ~Chinese Proverb.

Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. ~M. Scott Peck.

Those quotes have a sting to ‘em for me. Especially that last one. But what really stings is that I’ve been battling this wasted time demon going way back to high school. That’s when my amazing English teacher John Rollins gave me a graduation present in the form of a short letter. The gist of his epistle was that hours turn to days, days to weeks and weeks to years in the blink of an eye. He warned that I wouldn’t want to blink too many times and find that my aspirations were untried with the last few minutes on the clock of life ticking away.

It struck me as I’ve been working on the book in recent days that time can be pretty cruel, even when it’s not wasted. Things – life itself – can end pretty abruptly. Even with my best efforts I may never get to see my book completed or published whether or not it finds its way to bookshelves and e-readers.

I’m not meaning to be a downer, but it’s true.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy novels are worldwide best sellers that have been turned into movies. One was a Hollywood block buster. But he died of a heart attack at age 50 before seeing the success that was coming for his stories.

Pondering some recent events, it struck me that I’ve been wasting the gift of blogging. Its instant nature means that no matter what, I can get at least some of my story out there every week. If all goes well, a book, maybe books and who know what else will follow. But nothing can stop the blog. Nothing can stop it but me, that is.

So Brain Food is back, not instead of my book and not as a drain on the process of writing it.  It’s back as a piece of the pie. And if I lose my way again?

Well, if I start feeling lazy, there is Simon Fitzmaurice to think about. If he can’t inspire effort and dogged determination, there is no hope of inspiration. In 2008 the multi award winning writer and film director was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, as it is also known.

He was just 34 with a young family.

The determined Irishman had two more children following his diagnosis and kept on writing. He uses a wheelchair and is attached to a ventilator that enables him to breath. He can’t speak and he’s immobile. But he continues to write and communicate using his eyes via an eye-gaze computer.

I can’t imagine how tough that must be. It seems that it would be furiously frustrating and that it would be simple – understandable, even – to give up. But Simon doesn’t seem to think that way. In fact, he wrote and directed his first feature length film, My Name is Emily. And it wasn’t just good for a guy with disabilities. It won a wack of awards last year.

Amazing. Inspiriting!

-30-

Shifting gears

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.

From all over the globe.

I’m looking forward to this!

Stay tuned.

-30-

 

Riding the rails and drinking in TO and Montreal

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

These boys were more amusing than disturbing though.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

All of this brain food from TO and Montreal is nicely feeding my writing. I’m making good progress on the fiction stuff.

image

-30-

All aboard…

On the via rail train heading east of Kingston. On the way to Montreal. Blow at High Dough from the Hip is going through my mind. It’s less than a week since Gord Downie and his fellow tragically hipsters played the final show here on their farewell tour.

I like the way those guys think. Downie gets diagnosed with inoperative brain cancer and they go blow it out on the road one last time. To hell with you cancer, I’ll go out on my terms, he seems to be shouting to that bitch of a disease. Who knows, maybe he’s got more music in him still.

This is my first Canadian train trip. After all of these years.

image
Toronto from VIA Rail tracks.

 

I’ve done a bit of the train thing in Europe. Done plenty of city trains throughout Canada and the US. And I’ve even taken a few old fashioned trains at theme parks like Fort Edmonton and Heritage Park in Calgary. But this is my first Via Rail in Canada. I’m sorry I waited this long.

On board with my bride and first born, this is a pretty cool perspective of a part of the world I’ve only seen from the air. There’s a touch of elegance to rolling this way, even back here in economy.

Patricia and I are in the early days of a couple of weeks in Toronto and Montreal. Montreal is where we’re heading now. We flew in Monday night and crashed at daughter Kristina’s place near Queen and University. A brisk predawn walk to the subway taking us to Union Station woke us up after dinner last night with our friend Richard. He just hit the same unmentionable birthday that I recently did, so we celebrated at Biff’s Bistro, a great French spot that I haven’t been to since my pharma days on Front and Yonge.

image

It’s been over a year since my last visit to Montreal. And this will be the first time there with my gals (two out of three, anyway). Really looking forward to that. I’ll also get to meet their friend (and Richard’s) Francois. He’s generously opened his doors to us. It’s great to live as a local when travelling.

This will be fantastic brain food.

If you’ve been to Montreal, you’ll know that it is North America’s best taste of Continental Europe. You’ll also know that the people there are as friendly as they come. I’ve found that to be true even with my poor French. When I say poor, I should say basically non existent. A combination of bad public school French when I was a young lad and the fact that all of my French speaking friends having excellent English which they like to practice. I also lay blame on my lack of French skills on the beautiful French teacher I had in grade 7. She agreed to pass me — just — if I promised not to take her class again. I was devastated. And the reason I struggled in her class was mostly because her presence scrambled my mind, I just couldn’t concentrate on French or anything else when she was in the room. C’est la vie.

image

It’s quite spectacular to watch the country side role by at train speed. You can take things in, even at train speed. And the way you intersect the smaller communities as you role in comes with a sense of nostalgia. And it’s lovely to hear the train whistle blow from inside our care. More nostalgia, I suppose.

We’re now stopping in Cornwall, ON. That’s enough blogging for now. I’ll dial in again from Montreal. Au revoir.

-30-

P.S. Check out my daughter’s latest blog post at httpwestmeetseast.wordpress.com

Classic rock, a few beers and Fat Man

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.

Almost.

DSC_0750
This has nothing to do with the blog. But i thought it was pretty cool. Clouds in downtown Edmonton shot from the 18th floor of Commerce Place.

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.”

David WilcoxAug2016Edmonton
David Wilcox

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.

-30-

Tick tock, tick tock – can’t stop the clock

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.

2015-07-27 14.55.18

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.

-30-

 

                                                                                                             

 

Strokversary Six

Six years ago today started with a sizzle.

Sadly, it was my brain that was frying. It’s the day I stroked out.

Few days go by without some reminder of my March Madness. It began months of craziness, confusion and fear. It really, really sucked.

dontevergiveup

But on this first Monday of Day Light Savings, I drink a solo toast, say thanks to whoever will listen and vow not to waste the time I now have with a well functioning brain. Well functioning by my standards, at least.

I’m often haunted by terrible memories when I think of stroking out. The confusion and fear of the first days was actually a pleasure compared to the fright that followed my earliest recovery. That’s when I was together enough to realize just how messed up I really was.

And that my shaky melon could keep me from meaningful work, make me forever dependent and cause me to fail my girls and my wife.  Anna and Kristina were 13 and 16 when my brian buzzed. I felt they still needed me. And I wasn’t keen on the raw deal I was leaving my wife with, either.

Add guilt over what I was doing to my girls and Patricia to all of the other emotions.

But those bad memories aside, I’m also jazzed when I think of getting through those darkest months. That – with loads of help – I could get back to a meaningful life. That, while still unpublished, I’m writing the books I never penned pre-stroke. Every great experience feels like a bonus. Something I snatched back from the devil stroke.

So, with that, I’m going to make my toast, have my drink and put a little more into one of the books I hope will be on bookshelf soonish.

Cheers.

 

-30-