See What Is

Spending time with my mother who was recently diagnosed with cerebral atrophy is an enlightening experience. It is an honour to be with anyone who is in such a vulnerable state. My father is having a terrible time, as well.  He suffers from debilitating back and leg pain (not to mention emotional trauma over watching his beloved partner of 60 years fade away). I have gained much from their candour and disclosure of present challenges.  Most importantly, my mother’s condition reminds me that we are not our physical bodies, which includes our minds and even our personalities… If we are not who we think we are, who are we? Or rather, what are we? The energy of the mind and the dream of this world have enormous momentum that feels almost impossible to be free of. There is something beyond our confusion though. Imagine if we were always aligned with divine truth. “See what is,” Alan Watts instructs. It’s so simple, right?

This photo of Dad and Mom is bitter-sweet. I wanted to capture them in a flattering light. In truth, however, they smile infrequently now. Many tears of sorrow and frustration have been shed. I think of my mother as being in a type of cocoon. When she emerges at last—glittery and glorious—her smile will be genuine and bright! It is heartbreaking to witness someone you love suffering dreadfully. Yet, all too often, this is exactly what we are expected to do.

I am deeply grateful to both my parents for their love, courage, and hard work. They have given much—not only to support their large family, but to the community through many years of volunteer work. Perhaps the closest thing that conveys what we truly are is touchingly expressed in the children’s book The Giving Tree—to give altruistically until we are physically no more. For now, our gentleness and generosity toward each other, and all living things, is vital.  In fact, it may be all that truly matters.

Show Up

Although this fiery autumn in Ontario has done its best to affect me, I find myself somewhat immune to its urgings and in much need of reprieve. The duality and duplicity of 2014 has wearied me. Also, Mercury is in retrograde and that’s not good for anyone. Fact.

If things have taken on a dark and ominous slant, let me encourage you with two things that garnered my attention today. The first is a book that I came across called The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson (the author of Silent Spring). A spark for dying embers. She writes, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Oh I hope so, Ms. Carson! Have you ever sadly pondered (to the point of panic) if your very essence is worthless? Then with perfect timing from the cosmos encounter something that validates your heartfelt endeavours? This intimate book with its natural photographs did that for me today. I love it so much that I may just put it beneath my pillow tonight. 

And lastly, a rousing quotation by writer Isabel Allende posted by a local abstract artist that I admire: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” In other words, don’t give up! Never give up. Keep doing what you love and have faith that it’s right and good. 

Simple Pleasures

shaking leaves transport me to the seaside
August insects make love in the tall grass
the high romance of flowers in bloom
sunlight dancing on water, leaves, and
in the highlights of her red/gold hair
health restored after weeks of illness
a feeling of lightness and ease
knowing for certain that someone cares

Movie Night

I’ve been contemplating the role of the surrogate partner in the film The Sessions for weeks. Helen Hunt gives a compelling performance as a therapist that goes all the way with her clients out of compassion, a desire to heal, and a self-declared love of sex. Poet Mark O’Brien, paralyzed after contracting polio as a child, seeks a sex surrogate to make his dream of exploring his latent sexuality a reality. The film is based on autobiographical writings by O’Brien. The Sessions is tastefully filmed, poignant, and guaranteed to make you giggle. I would watch it again in a heartbeat.

This spring I devoured all things Jack Kerouac. It started with the movie On the Road. A film filled with strange moments of seemingly unlikely erotic encounters, drug use, and wild adventures. Or to sum it up nicely: sex, drugs, and jazz. Filmed with the eye of a photographer, On the Road is aesthetically striking. Director Walter Salles did a brilliant job of adapting Kerouac’s book to film. No small undertaking. The film brings believability and humanity to the characters that the book lacks. Actor Sam Riley’s gentle portrayal of Sal Paradise makes him endearing in a way that Kerouac’s writing never accomplishes. (I could fall in love with Sal. An open-minded, attractive French-Canadian writer? Umm... Yes!) Maybe it’s because the film doesn’t stay true to the book that it’s so successful. A point I’m sure hard-core Kerouac fans will find frustrating. 

As for the other semi-fictional books that I’ve read by Kerouac (are any of his books true fiction?), my favourites are Big Sur and The Dharma Bums. The Subterraneans leaves one with much to ponder on the nature of men. The dreadful way protagonist Leo Percepied treats his romantic partner Mardou Fox is exasperating! I do appreciate Kerouac’s honesty in his writing. He leaves nothing out. You see how he ticks, which can be wildly unattractive, yet enthralling. Was Kerouac candid in his writing? Or was he merely taking his readers on a long, fantastic ride? Regrettably, we may never know for certain. Alcoholism killed Kerouac prematurely at the age of 47.


It was fragrant and soft—the softest air I’d ever known
—and dark, and mysterious, and buzzing. 

—Jack Kerouac

What Is It?

What is it that so many people find enchanting in animals?
Their essencetheir Beingis not covered up by the mind,
as it is in most humans.

And whenever you feel that essence in another,
you also feel it in yourself.

Eckhart Tolle


Whatever it is,
I cannot understand it,
although gratitude
stubbornly overcomes me
until I’m reduced to tears.



You cannot by any means diverge from the Tao. You may love life or you may loathe it, yet your loving and loathing are themselves manifestations of life.

If you seek union with Reality your very seeking is Reality, and how can you say that you have ever lost union?

Alan Watts

Chirpy & Longtail

For a while now, whenever I discover insects or spiders in the house, I try to release them outdoors. I catch them in a little cardboard jewellery box that has a lid. It’s surprising, but spiders will jump right into the box when you place it beneath them. Hope decorated the box with green on the bottom (like grass) and blue on the inside of the lid (like the sky). Maybe they think that they are free-falling into summer…

I do this because it doesn’t feel right killing thingseven bugs, which can be bothersome and creepy. Keeping this in mind, it’s probably not that unusual that Hope’s first pet was a cricket. Or rather, nine crickets. Six of them didn’t make it past two weeks, but two females and a male lasted several months. Chirpy, the male, died earlier this week. We miss him. He sang soothingly (and sometimes piercingly!) all winter long. There is one remaining cricket left. Her name is Longtail. Yesterday, as a treat, we gave her apple slices and brought her tank out into the living room with us so that she wouldn’t be lonely.

Is it possible to love an insect? It’s easy to love cuddly animals like dogs, cats, and bunnies. But insects are different. They never get used to you. They are always skittish. I know it’s possible for the heart to stretch beyond its boundaries though. An expanded heart feels an interconnectedness with even the most unlikely things. Through this openness, intuitive communication and compassion arises.

Winter Is Blue

“Winter is probably going to kill me one of these years.” I wrote these words in an e-mail recently. My friend had written to say that he was feeling blue and I was trying to let him know that he wasn’t alone in his misery. On reflection, my phrasing shocked me in its violence and sincerity. I’ve come to the realization that if I had hibernated every winter since I was 11 years old, I would have saved myself every major emotional trauma that I have ever suffered. From being bullied, fired, and significant break-ups, to discovering that my unborn child had a congenital heart defect that required major heart surgery, winter has fucked me at every turn. If only I were a bear, bat, or bumblebee!

Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself (there’s still a week to go until spring), but I think I’m going to make it this winter. I hope, dear reader, you have fared better than me; but if you have not, fear not. Spring is on its way! I went for a long walk in the woods today (one of the only places that makes sense to me these days) and it was so delightful. Early spring cannot be adequately shared in words or photosit’s about the music of it all. The dripping, trickling, rushing sounds of snow melting. The slightly unnerving sound of tall and bare deciduous trees as they move against each other in the wind. The rustle of pale gold beech leaves that just can’t bear to let go of their branches. The melodious calls of winter birds that seem just as psyched that spring is on its way. And the tap, tap, tapping of small woodpeckers that are eager to snap up all the drowsy, sunbathing insects that emerge on these warmer days. I love it all.

As I edited the photos from my walk today, I realized with regret that none of them capture what I’m talking about here. They all look wintery and show no signs of spring. Nonetheless, the sky, clouds, and landscape looked beautiful to me. As for all the other things mentioned, you will just have to trust me. 


 artwork by Hope Arden, acrylic on paper

The freer the soul, the more abstract painting becomes.

Marc Chagall

Hopeful Signs

Before you get all weirded out by the little dots on this leaf, it’s useful to know that they are filled with refreshing lemon scent. All you need to do is crush the leaves to release it. This plant is in my kitchen window and its leaves look hopeful to me as temperatures here have been about -20°C all week.

Something exciting happened yesterday morning. I drove through a rainbow. (Let that sink in for a moment.) It was around 8:30 a.m. and sunlight was refracting on ice crystals in the frigid air creating a sundog in the street where I was driving. Amazing! I drove around the block three times to experience it again and again. It’s like chasing fog though, as soon as you get close to it, it gets fainter. Still, as I got up close, I could actually see the light hitting the ice crystals causing them to sparkle and act as mini prisms. One of the benefits of extreme cold temperatures (in case you couldn’t think of one) and a magical way to start the day! As an added bonus, when I was coming home from my volunteer job today, Hope and I spotted another sundog (in the sky this time). Rainbows are definitely a good sign. What could it mean?

All in a Dream

Massey Hall is a magical place. I saw Neil Young perform last night for an imperative cause. My cheeks were in high colour and I kept feeling like I was going to cry. Why? Because I love him and I can’t stand the thought of losing him.

Neil Young is an amazing man.  Musician (guitarist, pianist, organist, harp player, etc.), performer, writer, inventor, environmental activist… The list goes on. Genius might be the right word. I adore him. Am I making that clear?

What a night! The audience was energized and receptive. If you have the CD Live at Massey Hall 1971, you might get the idea of what it was like to be there with Neil in 2014. Highlights for me were hearing “On the Way Home” and “Helpless” back-to-back, “Old Man,” “A Man Needs a Maid,” “Ohio,” and “Heart of [freaking] Gold”!!

The evening ended with the perfect encore:  “Comes a Time” (one of the only Neil Young songs that I can play comfortably on the uke) and “Long May You Run”(I love the little nod to the Beach Boys in that song: “Caroline, No”). I realize that I’m practically naming the entire set list. Truly though, I loved it all. What a treat! Whenever I think of complaining about anything for the next while I’m going to remember that I saw Neil Young at Massey Hall and know that dreams really do come true. The song that’s in my mind this morning though is “After the Gold Rush.” Neil revised the lyrics last night to “Look at Mother Nature on the run / in the 21st century.” With the tar sands issue in Alberta and recent talk of recruiting astronauts for a mission to Mars, the song seems chillingly premonitory.

Because I didn’t get to sleep until after 2:00 a.m. last night (I was too wired!), I briefly considered driving my daughter to school this morning. Remembering the message last night though, we bundled up and walked instead with the sun in our eyes, crunching ice underfoot, and beautiful music in my mind. 

“All in a dream, all in a dream / the loading had begun / They were flying Mother Nature’s silver seed / to a new home in the sun.”