I Often Find Myself Where I Was Never Expected

I’m not sure I have ever been afflicted with writers block but I do suffer from long silences. I may not put pen to paper but I am usually thinking and as a writer it is always in sentences. Even in my thoughts I manipulate language in my mind. I am often shy about posting and am minus the motivation to speak my truths. Who am I to think another would care what I conjure?
I have a scapegoat for my most recent drought. I have been without paid work in over a decade but of late I am a member of the workforce. I was employed this past decade with speaking, writing and blogging but I am closer to conventional employment these days. I’m not sure milking 1600 goats is conventional but money for manual labour is.
The majority of my work history involves sweat and most recently stiffness. I was going to write sooner of my endeavor into employment but I wasn’t confident of my commitment. For me a disability pension has been a disgrace; I always felt less or worse, lazy. These past few weeks have convinced me again that I am neither. I challenge any twenty something to outperform me in a milking parlour. I’m not bragging, I’m crying.
Writing is a sedentary lifestyle or at least mine was. I sat and smoked organizing my passion into phrases. I have been a month without tobacco and officially a goat milker. I am also officially stupid as I have found a farm where it is my responsibility alone to feed and milk over 1600 goats. That’s two barns full of frustration. Goats are fairly friendly and docile but definitely devious. A goat can see an unfastened gate from a quarter mile and any and all will squeeze through a four millimeter gap.
I’m still trying to figure out if they like to be milked. Feeding is part of the process and though it is a distraction each and every goat knows how to kick off the milking mechanism with a mouthful of food. You might ask “how do you milk 1600 goats in less than five hours?” and some day when I have five seconds or more I will figure it out. The word exhaustion will have to be a clue for now.
When I found the help wanted advertisement I thought, “That might be interesting. I like goats or the three I have met.” I now realize intense is closer than interesting when you’re talking about 1600. I want to quit for the first half of my shift which morphs into I want to finish which is followed by a 35 minute commute where I can say I just milked 1600 goats. I revel in the fact that no other driver on highway 401 is saying anything similar.
It is an agricultural assembly line of sorts but no two goats are the same. Each goat looks different from behind. I don’t have much time to compare but I am recognizing the odd rear end. One goat is freakishly bowlegged and unequivocally the only cooperative goat in the whole flock.
I bought a quart of goat’s milk as a form of job security and I encourage all my readers to do the same. I am giving a one year free subscription to my already free blog for any who mail in proof of purchase. I as yet don’t know how goat’s milk gets distributed in the area but I wouldn’t be surprised if any litre had a spoonful from “my” goats. I can’t say these goats are sweet but a lot of love goes into a gallon.
I use a staff to herd the goats from pen to parlour. I bang it on the gates and walls to speed them from place to place. One goat calmly ignores me. Number 208 waddles along and scratches herself on any and all surfaces. She reminds me not to rush in my fever of frenzy.
Another goat inspires me. It is a young buck who has a triangular wooden yoke fastened around its head to prevent it from escaping from its pen. I find myself confused about six times each night as it defies its constriction and enters and mingles with each pen of goats. I too dislike being told where to be and though not as adept as this bugger I often find myself where I was never expected.

Grace, Grit and My Damn Brother Wherever the Hell He Is

I was once a forestry technician. For any who wonder what exactly a forestry technician does, we basically plant trees in the spring and spend the rest of the year cutting them down. It all made sense to me when I was paid but in hindsight had they hidden the chainsaws, spring would have involved less perspiration.

I am reminiscing because my brother and I did some tree cutting ourselves at the family cottage. It was a long weekend and we actually cut down two trees. I use the term ‘we’ loosely.

My brother and I each have our own chainsaws. Between you and me my brother doesn’t know how to use his. Although his is more dormant I was on this occasion thankful he has one. I was exhausted before we were even near shade. I spent the first hour pulling the chord on mine. It ran quite well but only for a few seconds at a time. I gave up when oil started oozing out of spots I’m pretty sure contain no oil. I found a part in the grass near my folly and I could find no place to reattach it so I surrendered. I’m a tree hugger at heart but by this point I could barely lift my arms.

I sometimes mock my brother’s abilities and equipment but on this occasion I openly embraced his much cleaner and operable saw. We installed my larger blade and chain on his saw and were ready for forestry. We scampered along the slope in front of the cottage next to the tree that was in age more weed than wonder. It grew on a 30 degree angle opposite of where we wanted it to fall and its limbs conspired with their weight in the same direction. It was half rotten at the base and I struggled to make a notch in the side I wished it to fall. I made a cut on the opposite side fully expecting it to transfer its angle and weight in the direction of my desire. In protest it leaned logically and pinched my blade and my brothers saw. My knees were shaking as I know the danger of twisted, leaning, half cut trees. I was soaked with sweat and seriously considered unbolting my blade and handing my brother back the portion he owned. He doesn’t get out much and had been practicing yelling “timber” all morning so I obliged his obsession.

I climbed the hill to the shed where I put my hands on two axes, a hatchet and a sledgehammer. To this day I am unsure of what my brother was doing at the time. If a tree can be obstinate this one was. I placed the axe into the wound the saw had inflicted prior to being pinched. I pounded it in with the sledgehammer until the saw was released. Again, I am unsure what my brother was doing at the time but I heard him exclaim that the saw was free. “Thanks for that.”

I was basically petrified at this point since there was little holding the tree up and I knew it could kick out or fall in any direction, the least likely being the one I wanted. I did a little more cutting with the saw but I was basically at a point a beaver would be ashamed of. A beaver would have enough sense to leave the rest to the wind but I could see the eagerness in my brother’s eyes. I grabbed the axe again and using the sledgehammer pounded it with all my might in the direction the tree was deciding to go. “It’s going…wait…wait… did you hear that?” my brother exclaimed. In fact the tearing noise was fully audible to me as well and did nothing for my trembling knees. I kept swinging the sledgehammer wildly and it finally started to fall in the exact opposite direction of our initial plan.

It was somewhat anti-climatic as it fell into the limbs of other sympathetic trees and landed on the uphill slope as though settling into a favourite chair. I started to limb and cut the trunk into lengths that will eventually warm my mother. I struggled in the mess of leaves and limbs as I maneuvered up the slope. I couldn’t see much for all the trees but in need of someone to pull cut branches out of my way I had to again wonder where my brother was. I finally sawed a path to the top of the hill where the deceased tree had stretched. I stood on the cottage deck and took in the new view. It was only one tree but the view was entirely different. It only took two hours of fiddling, fear and frustration to see things differently. It all reminded me of the many other things I could not see at times in my life. The barriers and obstacles I have had to get past. I would like to say I have removed them myself but many have only been overcome by grace, grit and my damn brother wherever the hell he is.

People line up to test their bodies but we flee the very thought of having to do so with our minds and emotions.

I came close to not being here a couple of times. The last and more serious time was before my since ten year struggle with justice. When I came to from my comma I was seeing perfectly clear double vision. My eyes cleared up within hours but I still keep a form of double vision.

Since I awoke that night I have survived solitary confinement, abuses, humiliations, abandonment, illness, betrayal, loss, terror, prejudice, stigma, hate, and poverty to degrees that would make them each significantly difficult on their own.

If I knew what I was going to be experiencing for over a decade I would have employed a method closer to a moving train. When I look at my experiences since my last suicide attempt I see great pain, untold sorrows and defeat after defeat. I also have the perspective to recognize the unique mixture of love and friendship that is woven into these experiences as well.

My best friend for a few years was a 330 pound forensic patient. Ed had been shot by the police in a fairly justified manner. Some people were afraid of Ed. He wasn’t pretty, sometimes smelled and had a huge voice.

Ed died about this time years ago. He was living in an apartment, practicing to get a new driver’s license and he drank coffee and smoked too much. I miss Ed but it doesn’t hurt much when I think of him these days. When I think and try to balance all the bad things that have happened with the good, I can’t. There is too much of each.

Maybe it’s like a marathon. People endure taxing the limits of their physical capabilities for a ribbon. People line up to test their bodies but we flee the very thought of having to do so with our minds and emotions. When I think of Ed he is so much more than a ribbon. I had to endure and struggle to subsequently meet many individuals. Ed was one and I am sharing the Eulogy I wrote about and for him at his memorial service:

His name is Ed and he’s my best friend. He’s been my best friend since he gave me his apple the first meal I had on the Fallen Angel Unit (Forensic Assessment Unit). At that time apples meant love and he gave me his. We didn’t say a word to each other as we ate our replica meals and I probably should have been afraid of his three hundred plus pounds but he gave me his apple. From that day on Ed has been nothing but generous to me. As I write this my belly is still full of the soup he made and shared with me in his apartment and my veins course with nicotine from the pack of cigarettes he gave me tonight. I visit Ed most days in the community. He has a small apartment and it is a great getaway for both of us. We are both weary of hospitals and nurses and cameras and crappy food and shared toilets and little or no privacy. Ed and I share more than meals, we share our experiences. We talk about what has happened to us sometimes, usually he more than me, but we share it in silence always. We sit together and know we have each been in Holes and siderooms and handcuffed and shackled, he more than me. Ed’s story spans twenty-five years; his last battle has been seven years. My whole experience with the law has only been seven years. Ed reminds me of how good I have it, literally at times.

When I was on the Fallen Angel Unit for my Assessment Ed and I would sit in the smoking room and rule. We were two that truly had our heads, or so it seemed to me, and we were both personable. Ed would give me his pouch of tobacco and let me roll cigarettes whenever I wanted. Every morning we would be the first two into the room. I would have a huge manic smile on my face waiting for him. We liked each other for some reason or maybe for no reason. I think because I don’t talk much and am fairly quiet Ed likes me. I am generous back to Ed. He has no wheels so I run the odd errand for him getting groceries or Thursday night fish and chips.

When I came to the Forensic Treatment Unit Ed would become one of my dorm mates. Ed would lie in his bed on his back and rock his head back and forth for about an hour. This was his stress reduction and I think he picked it up somewhere in his twenty odd years of incarceration. Ed was a good dorm mate; he always had food to share and a pair of shoes to sell.

I could write a whole book about Ed, he is full of stories. Ed spends his days smoking and drinking coffee and knows everything about everyone and if he doesn’t, he is not shy about asking. “Where are you going Brett?” “Where were you Brett?” What did you have for supper has to be one of his favourite questions. Sometimes I resent the invasion into my privacy as I don’t know how to be rude and say mind your own business. I also realize he doesn’t go anywhere or do anything so news is his only entertainment.

“Well you got out of here for the weekend, that’s the main thing, good for you.” Ed is always genuinely happy for me and any progress I make as far as privileges. He also gives me hell for not pushing for more. “When are you going to ask for ‘Live in the Community’ Brett?” “Soon” I answer. He says I should be out of here and we both know it is true but the system is what the system is. It is like a cold, there is no cure it just has to run its course.

Ed befriended me when I was most ill. When everyone else pulled away, Ed was my friend. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I needed anyone but I think he was. Ed didn’t look compassionate but he was. Ed lived in the present and appreciated things as simple as a cigarette, a coffee or a burger.

I have learned more about generosity from Ed than from any combination of people in my life. He really didn’t have anything but what he did have he shared. I was definitely on the receiving end of more meals and coffee’s than I was able to repay. I don’t think Ed kept track but I regret not being able to repay some of that generosity.

Ed used to call me every day. What did you have for supper Brett? Ed was a little preoccupied with food but it was one of his few pleasures. Food becomes a very important part of your life when you are incarcerated. Most days the high point of your day or a significant marker for time is a meal. To receive little or no satisfaction from that meal, undermines what little morale you can muster at times. I sometimes enjoyed telling Ed about my culinary habits when I shifted from eating out of a can to actually preparing meals. I think Ed’s cooking inspired me to do some myself. I’m glad Ed was able to eat what he liked in his final years.

Ed was an outgoing and friendly person. He knew many names and felt emotion for what he perceived were injustices in others circumstances. This is empathy. Ed was rich with friends and I was blessed to be one.

Ed seemed obstinate and defiant towards what he would deem as his oppressors, many who would say they were simply helping Ed but we don’t know exactly how Ed perceived things and it is his perception of events that coloured his actions. If a man feels truly wronged as Ed often did then it is in his right to pursue some means of remedy. Ed usually went within his rights and sought out legal avenues to remedy the wrongs he perceived. Some would argue he wasn’t always rational in these pursuits but imagine the emotion involved in defending your rights as a person. Ultimately Ed wanted autonomy, he didn’t want to be needled, literally, he wanted to be left in peace. I don’t find this to be anything but rational and it is unfortunate Ed is not here to enjoy the peace he now has. Ed has finally received his Absolute Discharge.

I have an apple for you Ed, somewhere, somehow I will get it to you.

Stigma and Ignorance are the By-products of Fear, Laziness and Embraced Stupidity

Stigma is an obtuse, overused and misunderstood word. It affects many and it is prevalent. What is it? Where does it come from? How do we fight it? Can we put an end to it?

Stigma is the steam that rises from boiling ignorance. The ignorance itself can harm you but it is contained in the pot and often kept under the lid of self. The steam is as dangerous and no less powerful. It is difficult to contain and often even escapes the lid, as actions and words. People are less frequently burned by the pot of ignorance boiling on the stove of stupidity; they are burned and scarred by the steam which flies in every direction when we reach to turn the burner off.

People cling to their stupidity and ignorance because it is safe, familiar and requires no effort. Ignorance and laziness perpetuate each other. I don’t have to access or disseminate information. I don’t have to think, change or challenge old perceptions and I do not need to find opposing information or views. I can revel in the incestuousness of my mental capacities and efforts. I don’t have to do much but defend my ignorance as I sit in my easy chair of indifference. I can shout opinions and spew a semblance of knowledge as though I am informed and important. To be the king of incorrect is to rule none the less and we all want to issue creeds even if they are not credible.

Most do not want to change their world view and we cling to what we know because even if it is wrong there is a power to it. We are competent in our incompleteness. Though in reality, we are complete in our incompetence. We don’t alter our world view in even small ways because it causes a huge shift in much of what we know and recognize. A paradigm shift is a new beginning and it is intimidating to start the race over or even have to backtrack to pick up what is missing or needed to continue. It requires effort to go over a series and system of beliefs. It is easier to remain self-righteous and defend what is incorrect than to journey into the difficult work of rearranging perceptions, presumptions and past efforts. It is easier to carry a suitcase full of misinformation than lay it down and decide what is required for the journey. In the end though, we carry the unusable, the unclean and the useless.

It could be likened to colouring with only two crayons. To use the whole box requires further mastery and further attempts. It requires learning, trial and error, mistakes and failure. To paint with a couple of colours a person can become proficient but the final result is often pathetic. It does not inspire, uplift or recreate anything real, as the world is made of all the colours, not just two. Many people would rather be the master of one thought than flounder in the fluidity of alternate information.

We would all prefer to sit on our pride than admit we are mistaken or worse, wrong. Admitting we are mistaken is a process of growth and the fruit of an elastic and engaged mind. I would rather a lifetime of not really knowing than believing half truths and mistaken ideas and theories.

To expand and contribute to the changing atmosphere of knowledge and information means you must embrace change. We all flee change to a degree. We eat the same foods because they are familiar and safe. We will experience what we know. There is little chance of experiencing a bad taste but the risk is never knowing a new flavour. We find comfort in the same friends for similar reasons and read the same newspapers to solidify our beliefs and world view. Familiarity is comfortable and provides a degree of safety in an unpredictable and quickly changing world. Just when we figure out how to program the VCR we have to purchase a DVD, BlueRay and then Netflix. Some of this is fun but some of it is frustrating and it involves learning and an openness to change. It can be daunting, intimidating and it all requires effort. However, if you cling to the VCR, you are destined to watch the same movies and you will become useless by being rewound continuously. You will not witness a changing, evolving and magnificent world. You may be comfortable; it might seem familiar or safe but as predictable and navigable as it might seem it is nothing more than a shame.

We were given minds not to make them but to change and expand them. We are meant to explore and create with them. We are called not to entrench reality but to uncover it. Few gems are found on a beaten path. They are found in far corners and usually require the effort of digging and sifting through what is worthless and unusable. Ignorance and the stigma that steams from its depth are worthless. It is pollution. Those that perpetuate and promote stigma are pathetic as they waste their lives wandering the same paths in the hope of becoming rich. Unfortunately, it impoverishes the entire village when laziness and comfort overpower imagination and curiosity. Thought. Nothing original can be found, dreamed or created from the comfort of conformity and the state of indifference and ignorance.

I assumed the older individuals near me had been blasted by Bryan Adams from their basements throughout the 80’s by their pimple faced offspring

A fine friend of mine took me to a Bryan Adams concert last night. I can still hear so I might as well speak. I had only been to one other concert in my life about 28 years ago. There were similarities and differences. For one I wasn’t infected with a severe case of Poison Ivy so this concert seemed shorter. People were using their Smartphone lights for ambiance rather than Bic lighters and the distinct smell of marijuana was missing. Possibly it was present but we were surrounded by retirees who may have traded their reefer madness for Robaxin.

When Bryan Adams came on stage over a thousand people with purchased floor seats jumped to their feet and through some sort of herd mentality remained standing for almost 3 hours. All it would have taken was the second row tapping the first on the shoulder to sit down but some mixture of moronity prevented civility and comfort. The event staff could have saved a lot of time by simply stringing numbered ropes to stand behind but I guess you need something to drape your coat over. It was rather pleasant to sit and be entertained and it reminded me of the more civilized hockey games I attend in the same building. I was appreciative of the wisdom that age enables being seated in front of me. I was also spared the indiscriminate use of cell phones and other blinding technology that permeated the seemingly different age bracket found on the floor.

The audience was a complete mixture of generations. I assumed the older individuals near me had been blasted by Bryan Adams from their basements throughout the 80’s by their pimple faced offspring. The individuals who were clearly born less than two decades ago must have happened on their parent’s old vinyl or heard his beat through their mother’s belly buttons. I do not doubt they too enjoy his music for it is somewhat timeless to teenagers and universal in its lyrics and lessons. However, I had my suspicions that they may have been fame magnets and drawn to any stage where they could claim proximity to a public figure.

Bryan ordered us to raise and wave our arms for one song and I felt like a prepubescent princess. It looked cool on the other side of the arena but I felt somewhat uncool. Even when I listened to Bryan Adams in my youth I did not and would not expose my teenage ego to similar potential ridicule.

Bryan picked a woman from the audience to dance on camera to one of his songs. I felt overlooked, ignored and found the gesture somewhat sexist. I can gyrate my hips at least as good if not better and it wasn’t exactly intimate with her remaining in her seat. Needless to say I wasn’t awarded a T-shirt and my private dancer practice was all but wasted. I don’t much like Madonna or Lady Gaga but I expect they might appreciate my gender and gyrations so I have ordered tickets to each on Ticketmaster which I am renaming Dancing with the Stars. Bryan Adams has a slew of hits but in my humble opinion I would have been a bigger one.

To my fine friend I say thank you for the ticket and for applying pressure to my shoulder when Bryan asked for someone to dance with him. It was an enjoyable blast from the past and a re-experience of some of my youthful memories and emotions. Music can be timeless and in this instance I almost forgot I am bald.

Gratitude in the Gravy

I am beginning to take Thanksgiving and similar holidays for granted but I still consider them granted. I have had dozens of such days denied in the past. I was a turkey in a cage wishing and wondering about the real ones steaming on family tables. I had occasions of special meals delivered on plastic trays and the flavour was not lost on me but it is family and friends that provide the true seasoning and season.

We had our turkey and cranberry on Sunday. My digestive system seemed to defy probabilities and several pounds of gravy and goodness all but vanished. By 9:00 PM I was hungry again. I popped a pair of Eggo waffles in the toaster which seemed like putting whipped cream on a Frisbee but I like Eggo’s. I hadn’t had an Eggo in about a year and as I waited for it to toast I started to reminisce. The butter on my knife and bottle of real maple syrup reminded me of the days of substitution.

Grocery shopping used to be calculations and unfulfilled cravings. After I met my wife, her wage bulged the budget and foods I longed for made it past the checkout. Grocery shopping became an exciting excursion and a measure of happiness. It was more entertainment than expense and added to creativity in the kitchen. These days grocery shopping is still a pleasant experience but as I bag perogies and produce I walk away wondering which is infused with precious metal. I am grateful we can afford avocados but I wonder about others for whom a healthy diet is unaffordable.

I ate my Eggo’s and thought about days without but I smiled because I have in fact been given a gift. Had I not done without family gatherings and grocery luxuries I would have not licked the maple syrup off my plate.

Dear God, Thanks for Thanksgiving and please consider my syrupy smile gratitude for groceries. Amen

Catherine Zeta Jones

An anti-stigma campaign I follow on Twitter sent me a message that “Actress Catherine Zeta Jones has been living with bipolar for several years and rejects any stigma attached to it.” Easy for her to say. It was further Tweeted that Catherine Zeta Jones says there is “no shame in seeking help.” For someone with fame and finances this might even be true.

For Catherine Zeta Jones, mental health stigma and treatment are vastly different from the experiences of many who also suffer from mental illness. For her being open about her diagnosis and experiences is at least unintentional personal publicity. As they say: There is no such thing as bad press. In the case of celebrities a personal persona and public appetite is created and nourished by being a news story. It would appear that Catherine Zeta Jones has thrown herself in front of an oncoming car for the benefit of many but I would argue that the car has already driven by. The lack of blood and guts, spell evidence.

Catherine Zeta Jones is portrayed as some patron saint of bipolar but what has she really risked? Stigma is at a point that it is rarely rolled out for the famous. I am not inferring that there is no such thing as stigma but little if any cuts through fame and favour. Call me cynical but these revelations don’t seem to affect these individuals beyond increasing their brand, public persona and popularity.

If I’m depressed in bed or manic at the mall, am I apt to seek help or find relief in Catherine’s revelations? The rubberneckers look but the rest of us are too busy trying to survive. These celebrities don’t give interviews in their underwear next to dust bunnies; they follow a loose script in their personal libraries in Bermuda. Speaking of which, what meds do I take to find myself in Bermuda with a maid?

I think “Catherine The Great” has been a source of conversation around mental illness but I would argue that her battle with stigma is similar to Don Quixote who mistakes windmills for giants and charges at full speed. My suspicion is that stigma is a word, for Catherine Zeta Jones. For many stigma is no windmill but a true giant. It affects self image, personal and family relationships, employment and status.

When I think about bipolar I don’t envision a person like Catherine Zeta Jones who uses overpriced shoes for bookends because they’re too cute for closets. In my world people with bipolar have their shoes taken away so they can’t asphyxiate themselves with the laces.

I imagine Catherine’s experience with mental illness has been challenging and difficult but in the scheme of things we are talking about First World problems in comparison to Third World problems. Did she have to wait six months to see a psychiatrist? Were the chairs in the waiting room plastic or leather? Did she have to wonder if she could afford her medication? Was she worried about missing work? Did she have to resort to disability assistance to feed herself?

I’m waiting for one of these famous sacrificial lambs to tell us about their hemorrhoids. That experience is the same for us all and if I knew Catherine Zeta Jones used “Preparation H” I could actually hold my head higher at the pharmacy. There’s little fame in swelling so I shall suffer in silence.