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.

Volunteers

It was my honour to be the guest speaker at Elgin Middlesex Detention Center this evening. It was a dinner and awards banquet for the many fine people who volunteer there.

For me it was like entering jail for the first time in a way. Everything was pleasant but I had never been in the front door. It was full of the same uncertainty. What’s beyond that door? How long before this one opens?

The gymnasium was decorated and had a theme; there was live music and great food. A lot of time and enthusiasm went into honouring the volunteers. When I went up to speak I felt somewhat small. Prior to my words, awards were given for years served. Thirty-years are a tough act to follow.

I had intended to write some words specific to the volunteers but had a speech land in my lap weeks before. A family friend returned a stack of letters I had written years ago from a correctional facility. I spoke words I wrote years ago with a voice I hope conveyed the same gratitude.

October 19th 2002

Dear friends,

I am including a copy of a speech I delivered. I ended up speaking in front of 200 people. The Volunteer dinner was an even bigger deal than I imagined. It was all amazing to me. I was among people who don’t dress in orange but more importantly didn’t seem to be bothered that I did. I was eating olives, deep fried veggies, bacon wrapped pineapple and sausages. It was a smorgasbord of special foods I won’t see again for half a year. They even brought in the Honour Guard. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I first saw them. I thought it was six OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) wading through the reception area.

How is it that a jail becomes a place of contemplation, transformation and insight?                Volunteers.

What astounds or confounds me most about volunteers is that we are not judged. You give your time to the barely sober, the unsuccessful, the lost, the poor, the uneducated and the lonely; there are no exceptions. You include us in your lives and share your experience, strength and hope with people who sometimes have none.

Why do you give of yourselves? Is it some moral duty or obligation? I can only guess it is a form of love; a love and respect for yourselves, a love and commitment to your community and love and compassion for us here at Ontario Correctional Institute.

Volunteers break our isolation from the world and give us a glimpse of what we can look forward to. You provide a link with normalcy and the outside as well as with reality and the future.

Collectively what goes on here is amazing. Lives are saved and many more are changed to a point where we can progress in health within society. What you do here has no ending. You will never see how I am with my children or how I treat family and friends. To those of you who have spent years as volunteers I am very much inspired. To have not grown tired of our stories, to see the same attitudes once again and yet walk forward with hearts to help. As a group we are in dire need of an example – thank you for providing one.

With your help I am not ashamed of myself or discouraged by my mistakes. I can see that these mistakes have been an important factor in my life`s progress. I would have loved to forgo some of my journey. I would have gladly turned away from my problems and denied their existence. You have helped me confront myself, to see myself. To see the warts on the man I was and the light on the man I am becoming.

By talking and sharing I heal. You make my experiences more real by listening to them, and give me something to contrast them with. You lead me beyond myself. Equally important you show me. You show me what it means to give, to be human. You lead me with your example. I can see now that my purpose in life is collective, it is community not individual. You have helped me with a new view of life; insight by insight.

I`m not sure how you view yourselves but I think a principle of physics applies here. It is that the greatest effects come from the smallest causes. We are in critical moments of our lives and some days everything hangs on what to you may appear to be a mere nothing but from which great things spring. Volunteers are the hidden sources, the smallest causes. I have had the good fortune to find my own guilt and have gained a sense of spiritual dignity from it; a sense of acceptance. I now believe the saying `Nobody can fall so low unless he has great depth. I am inspired to do my best.

I have some peace in here that I never had on the outside and am free in ways I never have been before. How is it I can find this in jail?      Volunteers.

The greatest gift to give a man is to give him Grace to live again.

Thank you for your time; thank you for your efforts; thank you for your Grace.

Crackerjacks

When I was in primary school, part of my path was lined with huge old Horse Chestnut trees. Even before they fell to the ground I would stop and see if any nuts were ripe enough to knock down. It mattered not whether I was on my way to school or returning home; I would spend timeless minutes stomping on the prickly fruit, doing my best to expose the smooth, shiny nut within.

In some ways I am still the little boy. Through lessons learned I often watch trees and keep an eye for their fruit. Today it is often a discarded piece of wood for my lathe from something fallen. I don’t fill my pockets with chestnuts but I do carry three or four marbles. I see a similar currency now as I did then. My marbles and chestnuts are worthless but they have purchased hours of amusement for generations.

With my brothers and friends we devised or inherited a game. We would dig a hole in the center of the nut and knot a string through. They became war clubs and we would surrender each to the blows of another. The chestnut that didn’t crack was the victor. Sometimes it was the one laid on the ground and other times it was the one swung downwards. Resilience is a funny thing.

When I see chestnuts as an adult I am still drawn to pull the shiny nut from the prickly shell. Like the Crackerjacks I ate those days; the prize is on the inside.

Dreams

Aside

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It has been an exciting and terrifying week for me. I was given the opportunity to speak at the opening of Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. The audience included the premiere and health minister. To have been included was an honour. Sitting here today I am mindful of the fact that the very building we came together to celebrate sits in the path of where I circled hundreds of times on my bicycle. When I was not permitted to leave the hospital property I circled it on my brother’s bike.

Those days my dreams were to visit my brother’s home or ride my bike to Port Stanley. If you told me back then I would be included with dignitaries I would have fallen from my bike laughing. Maybe the lesson is to keep pedaling as you never know what’s around the next corner.

I would still be circling that hospital were it not for the staff. My progression from being a patient in the old facility to speaking at the opening of the new one involved the efforts of many. Some staff are obvious in my journey but I had the privilege of dealing with people who patients often don’t encounter but whose talents are felt throughout the system. You don’t need a stethoscope to demonstrate compassion, care and respect.

My terror was to be speaking but also my involvement with the media. I don’t know about other forensic clients but I have often been inclined to hide from the world. I don’t know how much is the stigma I actually feel and how much is what I imagine. Maybe it’s like an obvious birthmark; people do notice but not as much as we think. It’s hard to pull up a turtleneck to cover up your mental illness and involvement with the law. Coming out to my community in a visible way isn’t something I would have chosen to do a few years ago. There have been many times I only wished for anonymity. Again, you never know what’s around the next corner.

Comments

I’m not sure how many of my followers actually read this blog but I would like to point all who do to look at the comments I received regarding Victim Impact Statements. I was saddened to learn that some of my followers have tragically been affected by crime. They have bravely stated the importance of Victim Impact Statements. For this I am thankful. I have never denied their importance but more people need to hear of their importance to victims. It is something only a victim can articulate. While being mindful of the pain I wanted my readers to see the Grace in these comments.

It may be an odd question but I would like to ask if the impact of a tragedy changes?

I know from my own tragedies that I have gained and lost. I would not have strength, compassion or patience to the degree I do were it not for my losses. I can tell simply from these comments that these individuals possess these qualities beyond most.

My tragedies have been different but often I would have traded all the pain for any of the gain there may have been. At times I think; take it all away and send me back to where there was less pain. But if I consider all the fine people in my life, if I consider what I have in my mind and heart, it would be an even greater loss. I would mourn more if my life was anything different from what it is.

Gratitude

The electricity is out on my street this morning. Without realizing it, my routine revolves around volts and amps. Whether it is the coffee I drink or the furnace I depend on, many of my needs and most of my desires are dependent on things I cannot see.

I am guilty of not being grateful for the small things. “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” It has also been my experience that only when something ends or dies am I able to recognize the joy that saturated it. Whether it is the end of a friendship, love or a neighbour that moves away, in the midst of our days we sometimes fail to recognize or acknowledge the gift. When someone we love dies we can look back and see exactly what we had and what we will miss. It may be that we idealize the relationship or it could be we finally realize its value.

I remember being allowed my first drink in jail following the dreadful experience of being directed to go without food or water. I was in the semi-private toilet area and I wept. I was thankful but part of my emotion rose from the fact that in my thirty odd years I had never been grateful for a glass of water.

Following this episode I would pray and offer thanks to everyone who made my meal possible. I quietly thanked the farmer and even the steelworker who made the plow. My food tray was spotless minus the packet of salt on which I wrote my thanks to the inmates who worked in the kitchen.

It can be argued that I was psychotic but I do not believe one needs to lose touch with reality to be thankful. One needs only to look further into it.

 

Living In A Cave

I always marvel at people who have done something for decades. It could be an occupation, hobby or even a relationship. I can proudly boast to have breathed for such lengths of time but little else.

Is it some character flaw or am I inherently dynamic? Is it natural to be somewhat static or are we meant to be instruments and products of change?

If you look at technology and products, change seems to be an aim as much as a need to fulfill a present need. If you look at nature change seems to be part of the design. Mountains become hills, rapids brooks and trees soil. Death may seem to be static but a life lived carries forward in the hearts and minds of many. We ripple through the ages through family, friend and foe. A word spoken or a fist raised may weaken but does it die? If a poet inspires one person or a generation is it not somehow felt by the next?

Possibly, our notion that there is an end to something leads to carelessness. If you believe the gesture is simply that, it may be easier to be casual about it. If you believe it is a current that touches more than one shore, it may be prudent to be more tactful.

Have you ever scolded a child or pet? They are forgiving and resilient but what is said remains lurking somewhere in their minds. They may not cower at the next consonant but what do they carry into their futures beside your words and actions?

Some argue that the past is simply the past but I see my past as essentially what I am made of…it can’t be anything yet to happen. What I have seen, what I have heard and what I have experienced and felt have a huge impact on today. It may be something like coming out of a cave. The present experience of the outside is directly impacted by the former experience of being in the cave. Is it the brilliance of the light or lack thereof in the cave that causes you to squint and blink? Is the view actually unimaginable or has the sterility of the stone walls made it so?

We all live in caves of habit and routine. It could be the aforementioned occupation or hobby or something less productive. What we continue to do we continue to experience. How we react and act towards one another is a result of these experiences. Can we change anyone or anything without changing ourselves? The past will always reside in the cave but do you want the future to reflect those stone walls or the brilliance of what lays beyond?

Nothing Remarkable

I know someone who equates being a Liberal with being a “homo”. I find it fascinating that politics of any sort have any association with sexuality but they do. One needs to be cautious making broad statements. I guess I take issue with this person because they use an ignorant and broad stroke in painting Liberals as homosexual.  This person is clearly a bigot and working from memory small minded. I might also add that they appear to be homophobic. It is a fact that homophobia often involves the fear that others might think “you” are gay. I can only deduce that there resides in this person’s conscious or unconscious a basis for this fear. It may be insecurity (this person is middle-aged) but why would their masculinity be threatened by even the stereotypical femininity associated with gays? My partner is very feminine. In no way does this take away from or threaten my masculinity.

Why would you deny dignity to someone because of what naturally pleases and excites them? We all differ in what pleases and excites us. Frankly, I am not bothered by these variances unless it involves children.

The first few times I noticed this person’s views I was offended but ignored it and thought it best not to bother. I knew this person as a child and throughout high school. At those times there was nothing remarkable about this person; clearly the same still holds true. They are essentially a pre-teen male without the knowledge and or experience to find value in their own masculinity and identity without devaluing others. When you look down on others you are in no way above them!

I enjoy differing opinions and especially opposing political views for the balance they provide. It is dangerous however to write someone off because of their political views or sexuality. It creates a vacuum where you are in danger of believing only your own rhetoric. This vacuum only breeds further ignorance.

The homophobic fear this person has could be put to rest with knowledge. Read a book, it might be written by a gay person; enjoy it regardless. Watch a movie, it may have a gay actor in it; enjoy it regardless. Take a drive or walk down the street, meet someone new, they may be gay; enjoy them regardless. Despite your closed minded opinions your world is full of and enriched by people who are in fact gay. Most often you will be oblivious to this fact just as they are oblivious to what makes your blood flow. Expand your horizons and you may find qualities in those you belittle that you could only wish to have. Another quick exercise, which I must warn involves modern ways, is to Google famous gay people. You will be confronted with a never-ending list of people you will never hold a candle to. When the sneer is wiped from your face, take a look in the mirror and make peace with the fact that you will never make a list entailing quality despite what you do with your boner.

I Am Myself

I remember when popularity was all important. I used to cut my hair and wear certain clothes just to increase the odds. I played certain sports and hung out on certain corners. These days I am apt to not even shave. I do care what people think but I don’t go to bed worrying about pimples. Is it maturity or have I just let myself go? I don’t look for friends or tell jokes to be the center of attention. My mind lets me be more of what I want and less of what others want. Who and what I am does not change with the number of people who smile at me. If I have people around me am I greater than when I stand alone? My shoes are filled with the same flesh and bone.

Puddles

I used to be naive about many things in life. I thought love was something I had to earn and search for. I would often concentrate my efforts on mirages. From a distance things seemed lush and I gravitated to the idea of quenching my thirst. I could be standing in a puddle but what I saw in the distance was where I thought happiness resided. Sometimes love finds us when we don’t even know we are looking. Other times it seems buried deep in the sand and we are without a shovel. We think we know the spot it is buried and flail away with both hands to uncover it. At times I have thought that the kind which is buried is more valuable because I have to work for it.

We often guard our secret gardens because none of us lives without the memory of some heartache. The usual result is atrophy. We rarely admit anyone for fear they will trample what is the core of who we are. As a result we have no one to help us care for our garden. Some things wither and others grow uncontrollably but the real loss is not having someone to witness its beauty. Our garden is useless unless we allow others to walk within it.

In some ways life is like being on a train. We don’t always choose who our fellow travelers are and it can be a relief to see some disembark. Others have the same destination; they can be family and friends or acquaintances and loves. At each station there are some who transfer with a different destination in mind. Seldom are we alone in the boxcar and many of us are fortunate to have many accompany us on our journey. I sometimes find myself looking at the stations we pull into and wondering if it wouldn’t be better to disembark. What do these people know that I do not? Is their path possibly the one I should be on? Where I find myself is always where I am supposed to be. It can be a place of suffering or of ecstasy. Without the one the other loses its meaning.

The importance of our gardens and our travels is that we share them. We can choose some of the individuals that accompany us but others are not meant to be a choice. They are a gift. We do not shop for our own gifts, they are simply meant to be graciously accepted. Sometimes we have no clue as to the worth of a gift. Sometimes we find little value in something so freely given. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that we have been given more than we would have the audacity to ask for.

When the coat is thrown down in the puddle for us to walk on it does not mean the coat is worthless. It means the wearer finds more value in the steps you take than you possibly do.

Normal

If I assume I am perfect, I will see nothing but fault in my neighbour. I walked out my front door yesterday and saw a sign in my neighbour’s front yard. “My Neighbour Is Normal.” I thought it was a little late coming but I was pleased by their opinion. It was like stepping into an alternate reality for a moment as I did not associate it correctly.
There is a beautiful building and park a block away. The building was once “the Normal School.’ I’m not sure what lead to its closure but I have always been disappointed I was unable to attend. It is becoming vulnerable to development and the community is rallying to have a say in its future. There are hundreds of signs up now but it is my neighbour’s that speaks to me.
To be accidentally recognized as normal was once a dream. When I would go on passes into town it was normal I sought. I wanted to shed the uniqueness of my life. I only wanted to drink a coffee among you. I only wanted to cut my grass and take out the garbage. I only wanted to find my food in a grocery store, not on a tray.
Now I live in a neighbourhood where “normal” is rampant and I am content to be immersed in it. I am normal, just ask my neighbour.

Eye of the Beholder

I am at the family cottage sitting on the picnic table at the edge of the pond. It’s not much of a pond at present. It is low in water and made murky by its clay bottom. My dog is taking dips and stirring up the goldfish only aware of her pleasure. I am otherwise alone here listening to music. I am rich.

I have seen uglier times. Perhaps that is why I have such an appreciation for these moments. I could wish for more but peace is not having things but appreciating things. I can recall peering through bars and a heavy metal screen a pencil would not fit through. I was witness to sunsets that although obscured, I remember still. Colour penetrates much. I have been witness to many great sunsets here on Lake Huron but the ones that penetrated the jail seem more memorable. I wonder if my fellow inmates saw what I saw. I believe the gift of the sunset is Grace but the ability to recognize its beauty is also Grace. Is the meal extraordinary or our present sense of taste? Is it what resides in us that allows us to interpret beauty and be moved?

Two people can taste a fruit but neither will experience the same sweetness. Perspective and interpretation can be gifts. I am at times grateful for people and experiences in my life but I forget to be thankful for perspective. I am richer when I can acknowledge the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; beauty does not exist unless it is beheld.

Lock and Key

I have a small collection of antique locks and skeleton keys. I actually owned them before I was under lock and key so I don’t think there is anything subliminal but possibly they were prophetic. I pulled them from the drawer they were in and made a display. As I look at them I realize each key has the same purpose but all are slightly different. Are humans the same? Obviously we are each different but what interests me is whether we have a common purpose.

At times I have been caught up in the material. I was successful; I owned my own business and properties. I was ahead of my peers though I probably felt emptier. Losing all this, I don’t in any significant way feel less than those I see driving luxury cars. Possibly I have enough esteem that I don’t need that of a jealous neighbour.

I am slightly out of shape. The closest I come to a six pack is at the Brewers Retail. My hair is thin to non-existent in spots but again I don’t feel less than the nicely shaped and hairy people I come across. Possibly I don’t get my esteem from the follicles in my head or the size of my biceps. Some would say I was better looking in my youth but I’m fairly certain if this was a purpose to existence none of us would age and we would all have identical hyper metabolisms. The physical and material matters in my life don’t overly matter.

I have had many relationships. I have been a father, a husband, a lover, a brother, an uncle, a student, a friend and none of these. To procreate is a strong urge in humans as are other relationships but without this ability or the stature of being at least a friend, a person does not shrivel. I did not crumble and I am ordinary in every way.

Travel, entertainment or even thrill seeking are certainly desirous but looking at significant historical figures who ventured only within their counties without ever bungee jumping we can assume that despite being great, what we do for fun may have nothing to do with our greatness.

Toil or occupation whether paid or not can provide meaning but unless it is in the name of something we are not much different from Oxen. A beast can pull a plow but only humans can cultivate anything important. The seeds we plant will only sprout with attention.

These are some of my arguments regarding purpose; personal or weak as they may be. What then is our purpose? Does it have to be something greater than ourselves? Is it different for each of us or are we like my keys? If I am a key is it myself that I must unlock? When I unlock myself what comes out? Do we keep the same things under lock and key? Could it be that although I am less than wealthy and less than hairy I am in fact in possession of the same treasure? Do we not all hold the key to compassion, love, generosity, and empathy? Some people seem to have more of these just as some have more money or good looks. Possibly these individuals have used their key to open what many of us fear we do not have enough of to share. These contents are a little like the recycle bin; they will only be picked up if you put them out there. Your empty aluminum cans will never be made into anything new if you bury them in your backyard. Compassion can never heal or touch someone who needs it if it is left in your chest; literally.

Every lock has a key. Obviously I can only speak for myself but I am coming to understand that my purpose is to unlock and share what can’t be seen, measured or appraised. To some these things have no value in any way but when shared with someone else they can be priceless. Interestingly, out of the dozens of skeleton keys I own, none of them fit the locks. I guess that is what makes life interesting. Since we are all different keys I may just happen on someone who opens a lock I own. It is often a mystery as to what a lock protects but historically it is something of value, all the other stuff is simply stuff.Image

Scars

I have a large scar across the muscle above my knee. At one time it contained thirty stitches to hold it together. It was a trauma that I have a total recall of. I also have scars that are less physical. I was sewn together by a great many healers, some professional and some who had no clue they were helping me to heal. Here as well I have total recall.

Eventually you have to remove the bandage and live with the scar. We have to step back into our lives and walk on. A scar can be a reminder but it shouldn’t keep us from what we aspire to. To leave the bandage on longer than is necessary may in fact make things worse. The more we try to protect ourselves the less we experience. After my emergency I went to my family physician to have my sutures removed. He was uncomfortable with my wound and thought it best to leave them in. It was my experience that the longer a stitch is left, the harder it is to remove. I returned home and removed them myself. I was fairly confident I wouldn’t open up again or fall apart. We are more resilient than we sometimes allow ourselves to be.

For me, recovery is not a return to the way things were any more than my physical healing leaves me without a scar. The fabric of my life, like the flesh of my wound has changed. I am fortunate that my scar on my leg like the other scars I live with don’t interfere with the majority of my functioning but I have been altered.

Every scar tells a story but they do not have to be the whole story. Scars of the flesh are miraculous. Without thought or conscious effort the body reconstructs itself. Through Grace some of my other scars have healed as well. It can be time and distance or simply the decision to live with the scar. We don’t have to stand still to mend, in fact going through regular motions is often more helpful. I pick at the scabs of my life like we all do but some wounds heal only when we let them.