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“All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

My street-panhandler friend, Curtis James, was on a real funny rant today, outside Stadium SkyTrain:

Curtis: “Doctor Love! I should call you Doctor Love!”

Me: “Sure man. You wouldn’t be the first. I do make house-calls.”

Curtis: “You should be Professor Love!” Then he thought for a moment before continuing. “Naw, you know, you don’t need a doctor of science degree, or a masters of math degree, or a bachelors of arts and science degree. You don’t need a PhD or a Doctors of anything degree. What you need is an E.D. All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

Me: “An E.D.? What?”

Curtis: “Everyone should have an E.D.”

Me: (Starting to chuckle) “Naw man, I don’t want E.D. Anyway, they have a little blue pill for that.” No response except for Curtis’ confused expression. Then he was off again on his universal idea.

Curtis: “You need to be a Doctor of Education, that’s all you need! Then you’re the doctor. ED – the Education Doctor! That’s all you need man!” By this time, Curtis has really gotten me laughing.

Me: “I think that the good teachers want you to really learn how to learn, to be able to teach yourself, to learn face-first from life.”

I shook his hand and wished him a happy day.

Considering the Highs and Lows…

As I approach my fifth decade, I feel a renewed sympathy for my late mother, Angela. Angela Huntley Love (1931-1995) struggled with bi-polarism and depression throughout most of her life. In hindsight, it seems obvious that her mental health challenges held her back from becoming her best self. She might have become a professional singer, or maybe an actress, or a musician, or all of those things if she’d wanted to, but that never happened. She’s been gone since 1995, but she and her sad history of mental illness have practically never been out of my thoughts.

My Mum had at least two nervous breakdowns that I’m aware of, each landing her in Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam. As kids, all my sister and I knew was that our Mum had a nervous breakdown, but it was never explained to us what that actually meant. We had no idea what our Mum was thinking or how she felt. Back in the seventies, when an adult had an emotional or mental breakdown, it wasn’t a shared experience – least of all to the kids. It was something to be ashamed of, to regret, like a failure, or to just swallow down and keep inside, wrapped in mystery and dread.

I learned about my Mum’s condition or wellness by listening in on grown-up conversations, and I discovered her medications by finding prescriptions for lithium sulphate in her coat pockets when I was rifling around for change. That was during the seventies, when things like mental illness were still generally stigmatized. These days, our culture is so much more open and supportive regarding mental health issues, and we’re much better off as a culture, in my opinion.

We all come from somewhere…

In my life, I’ve been fortunate to have not been challenged with chronic depression or bi-polarism. However, I can say that I’ve had depressed moments, tiny little manic flights of grandiosity, and periods of time when the world seemed to bring me too many terrible misfortunes all out of my control. (Interestingly, that sentence made me sound as if I have had chronic, recurring issues, although in my experience they’ve always been separate, spaced apart by years at a time.)

In my pre-teen and teen years, there was always a quiet, invisible dark cloud over my family and over our home (the stage for our worst scenes). As a kid, I always felt the presence of the cloud but it was invisible or at least never publicly acknowledged around me. I usually walked around feeling extremely self-conscious, certain that others were speaking about me behind my back or gossiping as I walked by. You could never know if others were discussing your family behind your back, either with benevolent, supportive intentions, or just as lascivious, thoughtless gossip. Between the ages of twelve and eighteen, I was sensitive, insecure, and mildly paranoid most of the time.

I’d always wondered why I’d been born into a family with dysfunctional, alcoholic parents who always seemed to be so unhappy and fighting. As a kid, you perceive things in a self-centred “why me” sort of response, and so “why me” (and the inevitable side-step into “poor me”) were constant background questions as I grew up – pretty much until I was old enough to live on my own and finally move along a positive life path.

Looking back, now that I’m an adult closer to the ages my parents were when I was a teen, I can see that my Mother was deeply depressed about the death of her beloved father, and probably also very unhappy in her marriage, and probably in her life in general (and menopause may have also played a factor in her feelings as well).

Angela had been an only child, and had a very strong bond with her father – probably stronger than to her husband. She was Daddy’s Little Girl, and I have no doubt that this imbalance of loyalty between father and husband was noticed by my Dad, and probably frustrated him.

Angela began self-medicating with alcohol in her teens, and her drinking and depression only worsened as the years went on. Later, in our family, it became the “elephant in the room” scenario, where nobody spoke out or took positive action to get her help. I want to believe that Angela could not see other people’s points of view, nor realize how her depression and alcoholism were hurting the people around her. I need to believe that to keep her sympathetic in my mind. It’s so hard to feel bitterness or anger towards her.

As for my Dad, he was a deeply proud man from a family of four brothers and one sister. The stories he told of his parents were of hard-working people who selflessly raised their kids with the same values. It was an idealised image which I truly think he believed, and I believe it too. But, his idealism, when used to protect himself, could also be a smokescreen, camouflaging his worst insecurities and personal demons. It wouldn’t be until a few years before his death that I’d learn more about my Dad’s negative attachment issues with women, and years after that when I’d really understand the long-term damage he’d caused in my family. He did some selfish evil shit, which contradicted the values he preached to us, so my sympathy for him yields easily to resentment, whenever I do think of the bad times.

You might be done with the past, but the past ain’t done with you…

Angela never really spoke to me much, ever. I cannot recall one actual conversation with her – just a few minimal words here and there. She just didn’t interact much, and anything I think I know about her came from other people. She offered nothing emotionally, and I will never know what was in her mind or what she thought of me, either as her son or as a person.

Thinking about what I know about Angela’s personality and mental health challenges, I have always wondered how far my apple fell from her tree.

The Apple and the Tree…

Over the years, I’ve experienced my own episodes of severe sorrow, anxiety, or momentary depression:

  • Back in 1999, the following events caused in a me a dramatic temporary episode that really scared me: I was in transition between jobs, and my sister had reported that she thought her Doctor might diagnose her with cancer (she was waiting on the results of a biopsy at the time). Further, a childhood friend had been struggling with crack and alcohol addiction. (I’ve written about this episode before.) All of these things were out of my control, and as I worried about them one night, I felt my emotions just suddenly go dead, and I felt like I was falling down a very dark hole in my mind. This concerned and fascinated me, so I took my anxious self to the fridge and got a beer, and went to the computer to look up my feelings/symptoms online. The closest match I found was “mini nervous breakdown”. I listened to some Radiohead, drank my beer, and played with my cat, and told myself the feeling would pass, and that it was all triggered by feeling alack of control. The next day, I was much better.
  • In 2009, someone very close to me (whose identity and relationship I’ll protect) tried to commit suicide. I spoke to them on the phone as they slid into unconsciousness from a Tylenol overdose, and I tried to keep them talking until the ambulance arrived. I bargained, I begged, and I yelled. When I finally heard the sirens in the background and then the paramedic’s voices in the room, the phone line went dead, and I collapsed in a sobbing heap on the floor, thinking that I might never see this person again. They survived, but that moment on the phone was as close as I ever want to come to saying goodbye to that person. I realized afterwards that I fear being abandoned and left alone. I don’t want to be the last one standing in my family.
  • My obsessive attachment to my parent’s memories has manifested in a compulsive need to document them and talk about them. This is probably the only way I can retain my attachment to them posthumously. There’s nothing else left. It’s also resulted in my remaining direct (full) family member becoming symbolically super-important to me, such that if I don’t hear from her regularly, I begin feeling anxious and insecure.
  • In the absence of regular siblings around me, I have at times assigned parental or sibling roles onto friends, either consciously  or sub-consciously. So, older female friends may end up treating me with kindness (baking, or sweet words or sympathy) that to me, resembles motherly affection. Younger females (whether relations, acquaintances or colleagues) may also be treated by me as “little sisters”, particularly if they’ve ever sought my opinion or emotional support in the past. I like feeling a good son, and also like a protective big brother. It’s not always been well-balanced or healthy, but I guess I need my symbolic proxies.
  • I had what I would characterize as another mini-nervous breakdown in 2014, triggered by fear of a failing personal relationship, and then exacerbated by a falling out with a favoured coworker. I developed a severely anxious over-reaction to the coworker’s own insecurity and their resulting lack of reciprocal communication (I was frozen out, “ghosted” as I’ve learned it’s called). I’d never experienced such an overtly negative breakdown of affinity, and for months afterwards I held onto a deep shame over hurting them and in realizing that some of it had played out in front of my other colleagues. My professional veneer had been torn away, and in my mind I decided I had to try and repack my personal baggage away as soon as possible and re-establish a persona of outer confidence before it could regrow naturally on the inside. This internal confidence rebuilding took me months, and was like a wound being torn open and rehealed a number of times, gradually getting less raw with each iteration. There’s no band-aid for this shit – no quick fix – just the regrowth of protective scar tissue. I have a difficult time letting go of people and their symbolic value once I’ve let them get under my skin.

All of these experiences seem to have a few things in common: they are episodic (they seem temporary, with a beginning, middle and end, and do not persist chronically for year after year), and they are all connected to my perceived lack of control over events.

The most important thing for me to realize is that it’s my mind, my psychology, that’s truly at the centre of all my problems. My memories and my beliefs about myself are at the core of all my worries, regardless of whomever else I believe is involved. The only thing I can truly control is my inner landscape, and the way in which I choose to respond to outside events and attitudes.

gratitude for the small things

I have gratitude for small things:

For the territoriality of small birds, which to me sounds like enthusiasm for morning light and sweet air.

For the attachment of an enthusiastic little neighbourhood cat, whose daily visits feel like unconditional, unstoppable friendship.

For warm, sincere greetings from colleagues, which to me feel like affection.

For written words, telephone voices, and occasional in-person hugs and smiles from those people who matter, all of which makes me feel that I myself matter.

For singing loud and proud when others cannot hear, which feels like pure, unfiltered existence in the moment,

For little moments of reassuring eye contact, smiles, and an hourly “I love you”, given by someone from whose side I never wish to be parted again.

For knowing how to turn a bad situation on its ear, and transform sad, scared feelings into peace, by remembering that after all, its just in my head.

All of these things help to fill in missing pieces of other things which had been lost.

Piece by piece, from pain to peace, I feel grateful.

You might be done with the past, but the past ain’t done with you…

It can be easy to get through difficult times – traumas – feeling as if you’ve conquered them, or at least survived them. You pat yourself on the back, saying how good and strong you are. You tell yourself that you’ve made it.

You ought to feel so proud of yourself, but don’t be. In truth, you may have only won a single conflict – a skirmish. There may be more to come, and if it does come, it won’t be clearly-defined, like a battlefield scenario with easy-to-identify winners and losers. It will more likely be covert, like guerilla warfare, with values or outcomes that could remain ambiguous for years.

Basically, shit from your past will return and find you. It needs to be dealt with openly, honestly, and fully, or else it will continue to deal with you on its terms, and not on your terms.

The fact is, when you don’t understand, tame, and come to terms with (even befriend) your past issues, they will come back. Life can fight dirty, hitting below the belt, or hiding in the shadows, waiting for an opportune time to strike. Life seems able to hold off on its future plans for you until you are the least prepared.

Today, if you are vulnerable to the actions or reactions of certain types of people, it’s likely you were raised within that, trained by circumstance to respond a certain way, and rewarded either positively or negatively (both are effective teachers).Maybe you never managed to break out of the cycle of behaviour that you were born into.

The Mother Archetype.

For me, themes of guilt, helplessness, and shame were all connected to my mother, Angela Huntley Love. In her youth, she’d been a talented musician, singer and actor, and movie star beautiful. In her young adulthood, she was also diagnosed as manic-depressive (“bi-polar”, in today’s terms), and she began to self-medicate with alcohol. By the time I was old enough to know her, she was already a chronic alcoholic.

Angela had some good, happy times, but many more lonely, unhappy times. I feel that for most of her life, she was lonely, separated from her friends. Angela probably should have been surrounded by more caring people who could give her the love and support she needed. Throughout Angela’s life, mental illness still scared people.Very few people would have had the emotional tools to support her when she needed it.Nobody talked about it, except in hushed tones.

Certainly my Dad didn’t have any skills in that regard. Every talk that I remember my Mum and Dad having would degrade into a screaming fight. As kids, my sister and I could only cower, watching things unfold and get nasty. One time, maybe a shoulder got dislocated. Other times, blood flowed or furniture got broken. Sometimes bruises formed, and sometimes, thank god, the cops would arrive to calm things down. Those were the worst moments – when fear dried your mouth and you didn’t know what would happen next. The scars that  formed under our skin lasted years after the purple, green and yellow marks had faded from the surface.

Fear and self-doubt go hand in hand.

Loving, gentle moments were counted on one hand, across many years. We wondered what had happened to the smiling people from those wedding photos, the ones who looked at each other with such love and devotion? Why was nobody helping them now?

As a little kid, you find ways to blame yourself for someone else’s failings, and you project yourself and your meagre life experience into the empty void before you, trying to create a pattern in the place of a mystery, to fill the void with something, anything, that you can work with to try and understand someone else’s mind.

And so it was that my mother Angela Huntley Love remained a mystery to me, never telling me anything much about her life, and never demonstrating through her actions what a beautiful, angelic songbird she’d once been. She had been her Daddy’s little girl – the apple of his eye – and after he died in 1978, she completely gave up on life. She fell apart. Her nerves and her heart broke, and she didn’t even try to save herself. She probably didn’t want to live any more.

The fear of “I broke it but I can’t fix it”.

As a little boy, I would often take my toys apart to see how they worked, and as often, would not be able to put them back together. Until my parents clued in and started buying me Lego, I had “ruined” a nice train set and some other toys, and had been punished or at least severely yelled at for “breaking everything I touched”. This was sad and frustrating for me, and I developed a fear of breaking things that could not be repaired – irreparable damage was a great fear of mine. This kind of catastrophizing fear is easily re-opened in an alcoholic family where damage is emotional, not understood for years (if ever), and deeply, privately hidden. Once an emotional bond of love has been damaged by fear, it feels broken, and you may believe that it can never be repaired.

With Angela, I never felt particularly cared for or loved by her. I have photographs that show that she loved me as a baby (holding me or playing with me), but as I got older, we had few of those moments, it seemed. Maybe once every couple of months or so, Mum would become lively, animated and fun-loving, and take Kim’s tiny little bicycle for a ride down the block, or in a burst of creativity, create robot costumes for us out of cardboard boxes and coloured foil. A good deal of the rest of the time, she was emotionally flat or depressed, doing nothing and saying nothing – just smoking and not interacting with anybody.

So, I have come to understand her alcohol overdose and liver failure in 1977 as an attempt to drink herself into oblivion, perhaps to join her father in some kind of afterlife or final release from pain. Over the course of a year in 1977, she gave up eating meat, then gave up eating altogether. She drank nocturnally and either slept on the couch all day, or stayed in bed until one day, she couldn’t be roused.

After a transfusion and some kind of recovery in Burnaby General Hospital, she spent a year or two of being shuffled from private hospital to private hospital, and eventually ended up in Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, as a ward of the province, under long-term care. The liver failure and massive blood alcohol content had given her brain damage and memory loss. She was a different person than the mostly sullen, sometimes manic mother we’d gotten used to. She didn’t really recognize us any more, or seemed to have no connection to any past we’d shared. She had receded into herself even more, I thought at the time. Maybe she was a rebooted person. It was all beyond my control in any case. My mother was gone, replaced by this new, different Angela.

In the same room, a million miles away.

Over the span of the next 14 or so years, from about 1981 until 1995, I would periodically visit Angela, trying to reintroduce myself to her and rebuild some kind of familiarity with this evasive, quiet, strange woman. It was a long walk up the steep road through the Riverview grounds to the North Lawn Unit, not knowing what to expect or if she’d recognize me or even respond. I brought her chocolate every time, hoping we might bond over food. She loved it and would gobble it down like a greedy toddler, but it was no guarantee of any connection.

I would always ask her “Do you know who I am?” On a good day, she would make eye contact, as if she was trying to figure it out. She once called me her cousin Gene (I have no idea who that is or if they existed). Once, when I told her I was her son John, she protested, saying “No! John was blonde!” I reminded her that yes, back when I was nine or ten, I’d had dirty blonde hair, but my hair had darkened since then and I was indeed her grown-up son. It was heart-breaking to have to be so patient, to work so hard to try and rebuild such an elemental connection, but I did try, for a while anyway.

Over the years, I would bring my sketchbook and ask Angela to draw for me. The first time she tried, all I got was a cat that looked like a sausage, with stick legs. I knew she had more in her, and the next time we tried, she drew a very skillful profile of a human face in one continuous line down the page, from the top of the forehead down to the chin, without stopping. I’d watched her concentrate, moving the pen very slowly and deliberately down the paper, and I was amazed. It was the first indication I’d seen that there was still somebody at home in there.

Occasionally, she’d let me hug her and tell her I loved her, but I have no way of knowing if she really understood what was happening, really felt anything, or was just playing along with this nice, friendly young man who brought her chocolates and seemed to care about her. I tried to put into this relationship whatever I could, and to get out whatever I could. I accepted that she was no longer the same woman who’d once been my mother, and was now just Angela, a woman from whom I would try to raise a smile or a laugh, or just share a moment sitting together for as long as we could, watching the sun come in through the metal screened windows. She really didn’t have anyone else. We didn’t live together, we didn’t see each other very often, and we didn’t really know each other very well, but those little moments on the ward were still there for us to share, for whatever they were worth.

Detach, let go, and accept.

I gradually detached my feelings about Angela from the concept of “mother”, and got mothering from other people who really cared about me. I accepted that my Mum had left us years before she’d ever left our home on a stretcher, and this woman in front of me was just a ghost of that person, a pale reflection, reborn in a husk of skin that looked familiar. But hers was a different brain, probably just going through the motions of staying alive.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but in some very real ways, Angela continues to haunt me. Her face, voice, silliness, mania, and cold detachment echo on for me in some people whom I’ve known since her death. It’s a reminder for me to keep learning from her life – that my relationship with her continues. It’s a reminder for me that while I thought I was done with her, she may not yet be done with me.

My Family that Was, Is, and Will Be.

My Family That Was…

Life was a blur of confusion; contradictions.
Days blurred together in a little kid’s present tense.
The “always now” – too young to reflect and process.
Past days lurched forward through time, bursting unannounced into the present at the worst moment, like an obnoxious, uninvited guest.
Parents forgot that they were the centre of everything. They went out of control, abdicated responsibilities like the careless children they once were.
Their own offspring got lost in the mix, left emotionally out in the wild.

Some families seemed happy, bonded by trust.
Mine wasn’t. Were there others like us?
Father’s hands that were calloused yet gentle were also feared,
sometimes raised in anger against those they should protect.

Mother’s eyes and heart were kept to herself,
unable to deal as an adult, she surrendered to depression and booze.
No response came from her. No conversation seemed to reach her.
She was a woman thinking like a little girl, still missing her dead dad;
She couldn’t take the responsibility of parenthood.

Spun around in their young hearts, the offspring took on adult pains,
responsibilities came too early; dark abuses twisted roles out of shape;
Chronological adults became helpless from their misadventures.
Kids, forced to grow up too damn soon, sought proxy-parents to show them love in safe, harmless little doses. Over the years, they learned to shrug off the burdens that weighed them down since birth.

In my family that was, I was with them when they needed me.

My Family That Is…

Love, trust, and sharing are part of a grand journey,
where you find out who your honest friends and beloved family are.
The present time is the only time there is.
You learn that loyalty and love need not be used only in moments of crisis, but are a strength in the quietest, smallest daily moments.
You learn to be comfortable in yourself, and allow yourself and others to just be.

You learn that suffering, loss and recovery are common to us all.
My family that is, understands these things and lives from them.
You can forgive others, because you have worked to forgive yourself.
You can truly love others, because you truly love yourself.

In my family that is, they’re with me when I need them.

My Family That Will Be…

I’ll fast-forward the dream, looking towards the babies and children of today, to envision the grown-ups of tomorrow.
Sufferring will still come to them, as it does to us all,
but they will rise to the challenges the world will offer.
They will greet it with an open hand instead of a closed fist,
and an open heart instead of a closed mind or silent mouth.

They’ll remember to live by the golden rule their predecessors forgot: Treat others as you’d have them treat you.

In my family that will be, they will know who they are,
and they will feel loved and be worthy of love.
The family that will be will stay together and will be there to care.

Old Patterns never die, they just transform…

Mothers and Fathers are the archetypes for all your relationships in some way. Here are some of the lessons I learned from mine, directly and indirectly:

Bad Lessons:

Mother: Non-communicative silence means ‘I don’t care to talk to you, or perhaps I have stopped loving you. You will never know.’ (It was frustrating and sometimes terrifying.)

Father: Use your fists to defend yourself, or your family. (Fists also used on family.)

Mother: Creativity and imagination sometimes come in frantic manic bursts. (Bipolarism, depression.)

Father: Men don’t cry (and when they do, they don’t explain or share the reason.)

Mother: Emotions are scary and uncontrollable. (Little self-knowledge.)

Father: Men don’t accept the blame. Pride can be a defense.

Good Lessons:

Mother: Love of music can people together in beautiful little moments.

Father: A tough, strong or uncompromising man can still be sweet and gentle to young kids and small animals.

Mother: Grown-ups can still be child-like and silly and fun.

Father: Sometimes you just need quiet time, watching planes land at the airport.

Mother: Sometimes you have to hold your head up again and face the world, even when you feel like your time has passed, and you’ve lost everything.

Father: Honour someone you love by telling stories of their beautiful past moments. These stories show others how you loved them.

I said goodbye to Dad in 1989, just a few months after he attended my graduation from art school. I was by his side a lot of the time in his last weeks, as he gradually coughed himself to death from pneumonia. Whether one remembers him for positive moments or negative ones, it was a hard way to die. I missed saying goodbye to him by about 5 or 10 minutes, so I said goodbye to his beaten-up, bruised old body instead. He was hard to like sometimes, and easy to fear, but I cried like a baby, and soaked his hospital gown in my tears. I was glad he was out from under his suffering.

I said goodbye to Mum in an abstract, and yet very physically way. After 14 years of visiting her in Riverview, and usually having to reintroduce myself to her as her son each time (brain damage from her alcohol poisoning slow-motion suicide attempt in 1977), I just couldn’t bear to visit her very often anymore. I had the curiosity of “I wonder how she is nowadays’ conflicting with the expectation that ‘she still won’t know me’. By the ’90s, she was just a thought that I held on to – a regret I felt – as I looked east towards Port Coquitlam, at the idea of Angela. A warning of her passing came at midnight, March 1st, just as my 29th birthday came. I received a phone call from a nurse at Riverview, saying that my Mother was very sick with a flu that had transformed into pneumonia, and she might not last very long. I told the nurse I would try to come out for a visit, and she said she’d keep me informed. One week later, almost to the hour, I received the phone call saying that Mum had passed. I had never gone up to see her. I just couldn’t do it. The closest I came to contact after that was pouring her ashes into the ground at the Fraserview Cemetary. I brushed clouds of her off my hands, and felt a wave of sorrow and relief for Angela, whom I’d never really known or connected with. She’d lost everything – especially herself – and had suffered so much in her life.

God, how imperfect and flawed and damaged they were. God, how I loved them, and how I still miss them.

51 stories down. [infinty symbol] to go…

I have finally added in the last of the first fifty-one stories from my old True Life site.

I started writing True Life back in 1998 as a hand-rolled web memorial to my past family, events, and themes. It was then, and remains today, my personal mirror and cathartic echo chamber, and a place where I can polish my stories, refine my memories, and find patterns and meaning.

I stopped adding to the original site sometime around 2005 – maybe I just got burned-out, or bored with the way the site looked. It had just stopped exciting me, so I let it be for what it was. Not long after, my personal Linux server started to die, so I took it offline, and True Life (which was hosted on that server) went down entirely.

Strangely, I didn’t feel much loss from “de-publishing” the True Life project – maybe I even felt liberated. I didn’t have to carry that self-imposed burden of a shrine on my back, if I didn’t want to. I began resenting Mum and Dad for all their failings as parents, and then moved their little framed photographs off the top of my dresser, and down to a low corner of a bookshelf, where I wouldn’t be reminded of them so often. I decided that it’s okay to not want to see them, and to feel sick of them and of the one-sided story I’d been telling about them for almost 10 years. I decided that we were a failed family, and they were failed parents to my sister and I. Kids can’t choose their parents, but as an adult, I could sure as hell scorn mine, post-mortem.

I have noticed that I tend to obsess over people who are no longer in my life. If there’s nothing to be learned from conversing with ghosts, I really ought to let them go unanswered.

However, I eventually came back to my family background, as I always have. Reminders of past joys, sorrows, abuses and achievements kept entering my mind. Writing my memoir as “True Life” may be a compulsion now – a deep part of my identity. As they say, I might be done with the past, but the past ain’t done with me.

So, I’ll boot up Scrivener, or get my pad and pen, and start sketching out snippets of a path that will take me from 1976 towards the early eighties, when things got much, much worse.

It’s time to bite off more than I chew again, and choke down what I can of all those random scraps of daily life, and digest it all into some kind of coherent narrative. I will stick my head out, and see where the process takes me.

Should only take a few hundred more stories to get True Life up to the year 2000. At this rate, it may never get done, but I think the process is the important piece.

What magic has brought us here…?

Walking a crunchy, leafy path towards a new year,
maybe just too aware of the sound of my own footsteps
to enjoy the trees around and the sky above,
and the others who walk alongside me.

I won’t turn my head, and look back.
Not too much.

(Here’s a lyric from an Odds song called “The Truth Untold”.)

The truth untold
Will always lie between us
We may never unfold
The way our lives have brought us here

“True Life” connects me to relatives I never knew I had…

My “True Life” web project is connecting me to relatives I never knew I had.

I haven’t written any stories in True Life for many, many months now, but the project has attracted attention from people in different parts of the world, and some of them have contacted me to tell me they’ve read it. The most rewarding times for me have been when someone contacts me and tells me they’re a relative! This has happened a few times over the years. A few years ago, a gentleman from England named Brian Scanlon contacted me, saying that his grandmother was a cousin to my great aunt. Through his generous sharing of his research, I learned more about the family of my dear old Auntie Molly, a wise matriarchal figure who helped to raise my Dad and his siblings, and who was a strong influence on and a comfort to me when I was in my pre-teen years. More recently, a gent from England named Alfred told me that he was related to my maternal grandfather, whom I always called “Poppy”.

I grew up never knowing very much about Poppy’s upbringing or his early years, or even where he was born. When I was very young, around eight, sitting on Poppy’s knee, he told me that he came to Canada from England when he was about 12 years old. When I asked who he came over with, he fell silent and looked a bit sad. I learned from Alfred that Poppy was the product of his father’s first marriage, and that Alfred’s grandfather was a product of Poppy’s father’s second marriage. So, Alfred’s grandfather was a half-brother to mine.

Alfred’s research also showed me that my Poppy was in fact a “home child” – a kid who was basically shipped off to a foreign country (Canada, in this case) to provide labour to another family, and presumably a better life in another land. The folks back home in England knew that Poppy had gone to Canada and had became an RCMP officer, but they may not have known much more. I didn’t even know that my Poppy had a full sister, or that he had family back in England. Learning about his life, has helped to connect me more to my own.

True Life originally went live in 1998. It is my ongoing, online attempt to cobble together a complete, illustrated personal life story, documenting fuzzy memories from my birth, onwards. A collection of over 50 stories and anecdotes illustrated with photographs and original sketches, True Life is an evolving tribute to my lost family, past friends, and to the various challenges and people I’ve known over the years. It all begins not long after March of 1966…

To read True Life, go to and click on one of the album on the left side, like “1966 – 1971”.