Friday, October 2, 2015

Bullying in Montreal

Today I gave a talk about my book, Too Close to the Falls, at a CEJEP  (College) in Montreal, which was populated mostly by students from other countries. The students were very taken by my chapter on bullying called Anthony McDougall.  The gist of the story is in Catholic school in grade four Anthony bullied me and no one would help. I asked my parents for help and they said, turn to the principal. The principal said to pray (didn’t work), my mother said to invite Anthony to lunch and make him a friend (Insane).  Roy, the delivery car driver at my dad’s store, told me to hit Anthony with something sharp when he lease expected it. (worked like a charm). 

I was explaining to the students that in a memoir you have to explain different realities. In the bullying chapter there were three realities: my parents democratic view, the catholic church, and The rough and tumble world of Roy.  Juxtaposing realities is inherently exciting, loaded with inner conflict and is a good technique to use in a memoir.

I then asked the students if they had any conflicting realities they had to juggle.  To open them up I said I assumed they had to keep several balls in the air since their parents were from one culture and Canada had another culture.

A smattering follows of what I was told. I used their voices because they were so succinct.
-- I am from Rwanda. My brother was a child soldier and I had to get away from him by swimming a river.  The rebels killed my parents and now my uncle who was a rebel, lives in Canada.  Thanksgiving does not work at my house.
-- I am from Afghanistan and the Taliban bullied our family and my father was killed in the town square for a reason we never understood. Now in Canada my mother does not ever want me to talk to anyone outside of our family.  That is paranoid so I just don’t tell her I go out with friends who are not relatives.  

When I went to have a  coffee in the school cafeteria after the talk, some students from the class joined me and more stories poured out. These were too personal to say in the full classroom.
--My mother and I were raped in the same room by some Serbian soldiers.  We left the scene silently and never talked about it. When I got to Canada I learned that you were supposed to talk about trauma or bullying. I tried to bring up what happened to us, but my mother hit me and said it never happened. She said if our father knew of it he would leave us. I have to balance the two cultures.  I am learning to do it but it is hard.

 A boy whose father and brother were killed in Afghanistan and who fled to Pakistan alone at 16 said, “War is just bullying on a large scale.”  He said he fantasizes every day about attacking those who killed his relatives.

After an hour of stories I left Montreal feeling that being bullied by a boy who pulled my hair out was fairly minor in the world of ‘bullying’.  One thing I was glad about was that the Anthony McDougall story touched so much within these students that they carry around every day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Heebie- Geebies


Three years ago I was hit by a hay bailer and had a full body whiplash and a blown out knee.  I got sick of limping and decided to go bionic with a new knee.
I was told that the surgery is only successful if you are aggressive with the physiotherapy.  Every day you build up scar tissue and every day you have to break it down so you don’t get a stiff leg.  It is very painful and you must take these small pink pills for the pain called morphine.
  One guy in our physio class had a history of addictions so he couldn’t take the morphine for the bending and stretching so he regularly screamed and passed out from pain.  As the rest of us walked around him while he lay splayed out cold on the floor, we thanked God that we could take our tiny pink pills.
Being an over achiever in small and unimportant situations, I made really quick progress, so I decided to cut back on the painkillers.  I woke up pre dawn huddled in a corner of my bedroom with severe nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, sweating and uncontrollable weeping. (The last time I wept was twenty-one years ago when I mistakenly erased my contact list.) This crying was because I felt like every synapse in my brain was on fire. If I tried to think of even the most mundane thing, flames leapt out of that thought and singed whatever idea resided next to it.
 I went back to my surgeon and told him what hell I was going through.  He said casually, “Sounds like the hebbie-jeebies to me.” “What?” I asked. He said, “Don’t you know the signs of morphine withdrawal?”  I said “Who do I look like, Billie Holiday?”  He said, “Who’s he?” 
It is not often an “addiction” to morphine drops in your lap so I gave it careful scrutiny. I, unlike a lot of scientific researchers, had a chance to study the whole phenomenon from the inside out.
 I am a gregarious person. I love meeting new people and getting together with friends.  Yet under the morphine, I had no desire to talk to anyone.  I lost the to and fro of conversation. But more than that, I didn’t care about people at all. People who were my best friends seemed like mere acquaintances. It was as though I was at a cocktail party stuck in a boring conversation and had no way to extricate myself.
Another change was time slowed down. Spontaneity had left through the back door and didn’t carry me through conversations. Now I could see myself at the table with other people and hear all the inane things I said. Socializing for an hour was as much work as being in a one-hour play performance and I would come home and sleep of two hours after any interactions.
Morphine kills your appetite. I read there are no fat morphine addicts. I could munch on a prune, which seemed as big as a turkey to me, for two days before I finished it. I lost 22 pounds over two months. (When I complained to my friend about all I’d been through she said, “You lost 20 pounds and you’re complaining? Shut up!”)
I never worried about the future.  I didn’t even think about my book tour coming up in a month. When I got emails about author events, I thought everyone was being obsessive (a month translated to ten years) and pressed delete.
So morphine had done several things to me. It took away all desire to be with others and I never planned for the future. These were previously two of my most enjoyable activities. I was now in a medically induced solitary confinement. 
I now totally understand why some people would crave Morphine. They may have had toxic parents and then gone on to have unsatisfactory adult relationships. These relationships hurt but we are social animals so they keep going back for more pain.
  On Morphine you are not a social animal.  You really don’t need anyone.  So all the people who used to hurt you are no longer important.  Morphine slammed your social needs door shut and you don’t have to let them hurt you anymore. The best part is you are not lonely.  Suddenly all the pain stops.  
The future for this kind of person, who has troubled relationships, is often limited. They are faced with futures yawning in front of them that are filled with all kinds of woes. Morphine takes care of the problem because there is only the present.
 The two things that tortured them, relationships and the future, are gone. And the divine part of it all is that you don’t miss any of it.
I have no desire to stay on this drug now that the pain in my knee has subsided.  I look forward to wanting to be with people again and getting back to planning my future. It is not that I am not an “addictive personality”; it is that I don’t need or even want the few qualities that morphine offers me. It was a bad fit.
One person’s high is another person’s downer depending on need. If they had a pill that would trim my troubles I’d be the first addict lined up to mainline it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


When you travel, a lot funny things happen on airplanes. We are all crammed together and you get a chance to see the dynamics of other families minus their ‘indoor voices’ and in public manners. Airlines are so annoying now and air travel has been so stripped of its former glamour (I remember in the 50’s my mother bought an outfit for the plane.) that people are not on their best behaviour. All the indignities of taking your shoes and belts off and your belongings rifled through, and the snaking lineups, slowly strip away the defenses you usually keep reserve for public decorum known as civilized behaviour.
Last week I returned from Mexico and a tourist would not force her screaming two year old to wear her seat belt for takeoff. The flight attendant tried to get her to comply, then the pilot came out, then a big wig from the airport came aboard and told her she was holding up the plane and for safety reasons the belt had to be done up for takeoff. We were now into our second hour on the tarmac. I found it interesting that no one on the plane yelled at the woman or even addressed her. They only glared at her. People grumbled to each other but not to her. Finally she had to de-board with her now sleeping child and the ground crew had to find her luggage and get it out of the plane. Literally dozens of people missed their connecting flights in Houston. We had to run for ours. The whole episode was not the least bit amusing, but only another example of how parenting has totally gone to hell in a hand basket.  When that toddler grows up along with her cohort, the book Lord of the Flies, will look like a utopia.
Three weeks later I had another incident on a plane, which was far more amusing and in many ways was the opposite of the first incident. The first incident was where the child controlled the mother to an absurd degree and this latter incident was again an interesting incident of child-parent control. A woman with her two teenage children was in front of me in line at the counter where I was checking in.  She wanted to get three seats together for herself, her seventeen-year-old son, who was visiting Harvard, as she told the flight employee, and her thirteen-year-old daughter. The clerk said there was a hefty fee to change seats at this late date since she already had hers assigned on line. The mother gladly paid the fee so everyone could sit together. The daughter said nothing and was wired and up to all kinds of gadgets and the son said, “It is an hour and a half flight, don’t pay to get seats together. We can sit on our own.” The mother insisted they sit together. The son who was a head taller than his mother and clearly shaved and was clearly desperate to fly the coup in the fall, said again, “I don’t care what you say, I am keeping my original seat.”
She said “Just do this for me.”
He said, “No.” and the daughter couldn’t hear a thing and she was swaying to the music she was listening to as she texted on her phone.
We all boarded for Toronto and the woman said we couldn’t leave because her son wasn’t in his seat. They called his name. There was no response. Finally he was located in the back of the plane and was told to sit in the seat his mother had paid for. He refused. Again, just like in Mexico, we sat on the runway. 
They flight attendant talked to the mother and then went to the back of the plane and talked to the son as he sat slouching in his seat and sulking. Then the pilot came out and talked to the mother and again she said son was visiting Harvard. The hearty Midwestern pilot, who clearly prided himself on having man to man chats, talked to the son who told him to “butt out and fly the plane” since that was his job.
Then the called someone from the airport. This time he didn’t look as official as the Mexican airport boss.  He came on board wearing an orange glow-in-the-dark vest, heard the whole story, including the Harvard bit for the third time, and then he said in a heavy southy accent to the stewardess, ‘Move this puppy off the tarmac. We got backup. The plane isn’t full. Both seats are empty and I don’t give a shit where this kid sits as long as he wears his seatbelt." Then he turned to the mother and said, “What do you want him to wear a diaper for Christ’s sake?” Then he hollered from the front of the plane to the back, where the boy was seated, “See ya next year in Boston when you’re on your own,” waved and got off the plane. We all took flight.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Life in Florida has some shockers

In this photo you can see my high school  friend, Sally, who is unfortunately still beautiful, and I are heading out of her garage to go  to her country club so I can give a book talk on my memoir COMING ASHORE over dinner.

 Before I spoke I was seated next to an emergency physician.  In an effort to make conversation, I asked what are the most common emergencies in Florida. He said drunken golf cart accidents which are serious since people are old and many are on blood thinners and they bleed out when they tumble out or roll into a pond. The second most common emergency is, believe it or not, venereal disease.  He said when people move into assisted living, they have a 'randy stage' where they jump from bed to bed having unprotected sex. Wow! Back to my chicken dinner.

Well those are just two sociological nuggets from the Sunshine state.  Of course one of the glories of the state is the weather and being able to dine outside under the palms--- or so I thought. Another  Florida shocker is that no one sits outside--ever.  When I arrived from Canada I was so happy to be at my friend Sally's place. I asked if we could eat breakfast  outside since it was so beautiful in her garden. She said no for two reasons. One the sprinkling system sprays on the cushions and they are wet and the other reason is her husband does not like eating out of doors.

Then I went to another huge house in Orlando with huge gardens  and asked if we could sit near the  pool to have our drinks. She looked at me horrified and said , "No, the gardner is coming tomorrow and there are a few dry  leaves on the ground near the pool.  Sorry, Oh and I have to close the drapes or the furniture fades."

Off  I went on another day to the most exclusive spot in Sarasota in a golf community that I needed a code to get into. A grounds man drove in front of me to get to the house. ( I guess he wanted to be sure I didn't loot places on the way.) These people had a mansion and huge wrought iron porches a la Gone with the wind  on the first and second floors. I asked if we could have drinks on the porch before going to the club for the talk and she said, "Absolutely not. You could get brained by a golf ball.  It is totally unsafe out there. If you want to sit outside we have to go to the club."

I hoped to have better luck on the other coast in Florida further south. However I was told that no one goes outside. The woman said, "We had gofers or some small brown furry thing.  I had to fill in the pool."

When I got to  Boca Raton, I was staying with a woman from Buffalo so I knew she'd understand my need for some outdoor warm air. She said, "Ok, one drink, but then we are moving inside. Bugs come at dusk."  So you can see me below after my 13 stop tour of Florida where I can sit outside for five minutes only  and have my drink.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Florida Book Tour---Plane from Toronto to Orlando --Disney Express

I am on a Florida book tour publicizing my last memoir Coming Ashore. I am going to rent a car and go from Orlando  down the ocean coast past Palm Beach and Miami and then I’ll drive up the Gulf side and hit Naples and Tampa and everything in between. I’m renting a car, I”ll have GPS that says Welcome to Florida, Cathy,  (I’ve done this before). I’m taking my books in my trunk, and I’m heading out into, as my son calls Florida, God’s waiting room. There is something fun about being alone and observing a foreign culture—-and let’s face it-- Florida can be strange.  I thought I’d blog a bit along the way.

Plane From Toronto to Orlando—Disney Express
Is there anything worse than being on a plane to Orlando in spring break? It is full of disciples making a pilgrimage to Disney World.  There are parents who call each other “mom” and “dad” and who say to their gaggle of kids, “You have fifteen minutes at the window and then you have to let your sister have a turn.” Of course the boy says, “No way.” And the girl cries and then the parents argue with the wife telling the husband that he should never have given the window to the boy, etc.  They all finally give up on human interaction and rent ipads with games for each of them @$14.95 each. After that there is silence and they are not heard from again.
     Just when I thought it could not get worse, a family with a baby has just joined me. (Late arrivals.) The couple is taking their eight-month old drooling baby to Disneyworld. Why?  Is he really going to recognize Mickey Mouse as an American icon or be terrified of a gigantic mouse? They have brought a music box they continually rewind that plays ‘The wheels on the bus.’  When it is finished they start it again.
     On my other side is a middle-aged Iranian couple who are going to Disney World as adults with no kids. They want to “experience America.”  Are Goofy and Donald Duck America? I just read the first part of the American Travelogue by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard in 'the New York Times'. He decided the best way to see America was to not talk to anyone and visit hollowed- out Detroit. That turned out to be America for him and anyone who reads his article, it will be America for them.  So these Iranians are going to go home and report on Disney world as America? I suppose it is as much America as anything else.
The woman in front of me who has a massive lung infection  is wearing Mickey Mouse ears and spitting up Dumbo sized yellow globs from her lungs into her eye shade. I guess you have to pay extra for a Kleenex on air Canada. An older man next to her said, “If you are so sick you shouldn’t travel and infect all of us.” (I was with him on this score.) She said she’d paid for Disney world and she was going if she had to be carried through the pearly gates into never-never land.
The eight year old girl across the aisle from me  has blonde hair with dark roots and is wearing a crop top, short shorts and cowboy boots. ( How did she get out of record cold temperatures in Canada in February in that get-up?) she told the ever inquisitive flight attendant that she didn’t care about the rides or the Disney figures. She just wanted to eat at the Hard Rock CafĂ© and see celebrities. There was so much wrong with the outfit, the celebrity mentality, and the delusion that famous people eat in Disney World in Orlando, I don’t even know where to begin.  Who knows? Maybe they pay people to eat there.
I’ve made  to Orlando Airport  alive and I’m at the baggage claim. Children have run amok. It is like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  Disney acolytes have now departed from other flights. Little boys are running all over the moving baggage carousel,  surfing and screaming as they took the winding  turns. Their parents have apparently disowned them by this point because no one is taking any responsibility for them. Then large men in uniform appear and shut down the baggage carrousel by the emergency stop button and tell the parents, who now look like walking zombies, to remove their children or they won’t start up the carousel.
As I got into my compact rental car that smelled of cleaning fluid, I have never been so happy for silence and my destination in a retirement community.