All that I know

Parker and Gia


Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.

Observe. Notice that pause platform, that attosecond of time between the end of the in-breath and start of the out-breath, that neglected, imperceptible space that’s part of the most basic, automatic and essential functions of the body — breathing.

Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.


Ben’s got curly blonde hair and big blue eyes and is curious about the world and when he smiles he looks like a cherub or a four-year-old angel and proof that you cannot judge by appearance alone because when you get to know him it’s quite apparent that he isn’t an angel. He fights with his older brother. He’s pouty. Crazy exuberant. Moody. And he doesn’t want to go school. Ben is his own person, in his own world. His father yells and yells and yells. His mother does not yell. She is kind and understanding, if not a little exasperated.

More often than not Ben is down on his knees, in the dirt, looking at bugs and arguing with his parents, fighting with his brother and making up stories. He recently discovered sidewalk chalk. Now, we have chalk glyphs of creatures that Ben has dreamed up in a line  halfway down the street. They are quite inventive and appealing. After it rains we get new drawings. I’ve taken pictures of his complete body of work (to date) that I plan to catalogue and keep for when he gets famous. I can say I knew him way back when.


Gia and I were coming back from the park.

Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Notice the attosecond, that pause between breaths. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out. 

There’s a whole series of chalk glyphs on the street between Ben’s house and my house.

“Hey Ben, whatchya doin?”

“Where’s your big dog..?

I look to Ben’s mother. She knows. She sees the water in my eyes. I look away a second to mentally shake my head, prepare it, attending deeply to my breath. When I look back at her, she nods.

I will my voice to evenness, letting grief be where it wants to be in my heart, in my body as I crouch down beside Ben to explain where Parker is.

“Parker’s not here Ben. He died.”

Ben keeps drawing on the sidewalk with his stick of yellow chalk. I stand up and look at his mother. I notice that her eyes are watery too. She liked Parker. All of the neighbours liked Parker. Even people who didn’t like dogs liked Parker.

Breathing in, I’m aware I’m breathing in…attosecond…breathing out, I’m aware I’m breathing out. 

No response from Ben, but it seems as if his little lean body has tightened slightly. He is drawing.

He doesn’t raise his head as his mother says, “Parker’s gone to doggy heaven, Ben.”

It seems as if Ben’s mother and I are waiting for him to say something, words of universal wisdom or kid logic or some cute kid thing because that’s what kids do when adults share parts of the human condition with them.

Silence. Ben’s mother giving me a sympathetic smile, Ben still crouched down on the sidewalk, drawing. Gia sitting by my right foot, attentive, wary of Ben. I’m listening, hearing, aching. Breathing with awareness, feeling my feet in my shoes, my shoes on the ground. Noticing with awareness the hole in my life, in my house, in my heart, in my world that was once filled by a big black poodle.

“My mummy killed him,” said Ben in his out-loud voice.

Her eyes widen. “Ben!!”

Perhaps I can offer a simple explanation. “No, Ben. Parker was really sick. Remember how we talked about that? Nobody killed him. Honest.”

He does raise his head.

“Oh,” he says and stands up, holding his stick of chalk. “There’s your big dog and your little dog.”

I look at his drawing. Big Parker. Little Gia.

Except for the tails and the eyes and the missing ears and the shape of the bodies and the legs and the faces and noses it is an exact likeness of something about my dogs as expressed by a four-year old and because it is an exact likeness of something about my dogs, my eyes water again. Is Parker in doggy heaven? It takes a moment before I can say anything.

“Thank you, Ben. It’s a beautiful drawing of Parker and Gia.”

Gia, hearing her name, stands and looks up at me, wagging her tail. My heart is in my throat.

Ben nods, furrows his brows and crouches down again to draw something else on the sidewalk.

“Time to go,” says his mother.

Ben doesn’t argue. Doesn’t ask for more time or explain what he wants to do next or why he can’t go home right now. He stands up, sticks his hand inside his mother’s hand, looks at Gia then at me and silently walks away.

Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Attosecond pause. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.

Posted in dogs, Life, Mindfulness, pets | Tagged , , , , , ,

Bad drivers


Some scientists have recently made headway in creating an invisibility cloak similar to the one used by Harry Potter. It’s all very complicated, involving things that scientists get involved in like light refraction and microwaves and super-thin bits of solid material that become flexible when measured in micrometers. While the labs are working away under deadlines and budget constraints to create invisibility, I’ve found an easier way. It’s quite simple really. Let me share how you can do it and please excuse some of the less-than-polite language.

First, dress as you normally would for the daytime. Then head out for a walk to a store a couple of blocks away and when you reach the lights at the corner, wait patiently for the light to change. Wait specifically for the bottom light to turn green — the green light that says, hey pedestrian, it’s safe for you to cross because the cars are on a red light and they are required to stop for you. Check twice to be certain that the light is green and when you are certain, step off the curb and begin to walk across to the other side of the street. When you are two feet from the curb that you’ve just stepped off of (and this is important) do not be surprised when someone in a red SUV thingy comes barreling along, not noticing the red light or your green light. Don’t be surprised when the driver doesn’t stop the vehicle as it gets closer to you and when, out of concern about being smushed to the ground you stop, and the driver drives past you, oblivious to you and your look of shock and nearly knocks you down. That’s when you know you have become invisible.

You might look for an explanation in the immediate environment as to why that driver didn’t see you, but you won’t find an answer. You could think things that border on cultural, religious and gender discrimination, but nothing you think would be true. You could get angry, thinking things that are beyond rude; something like how an (ostensibly) sentient human being is little more than a living, breathing mindless asshole of the first, second and third orders, an ugly-mug kissin’ cousin to crocodiles, komodo dragons and alligators, who probably has really bad breath and smells like some mixture between a skunk and a diaper and who deserves to be visited by the ghosts of the past, present and future and peed on by a pack of feral chihuahuas.

You could think those things and they’d all be wrong and so the only conclusion that holds water is the conclusion I reached, that even though you showed up for this moment of your life, at this particular time being mindful, accepting the suffering of life, the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows, being present, being aware and devoid of illusion, accepting the interdependencies, and the illusion of duality, your non existent self very nearly did disappear, not because you understood the non existent self and finally, fully grokked its meaning. No siree, you became invisible because someone — a driver — did not, could not, would not see you because seeing you would mean slowing down and stopping and making room for, giving space to and being considerate of someone else and for some people, specially some people who are drivers, that’s just not on when they’re behind the wheel. Which is not to say there aren’t crazy pedestrians, because there are but that’s a subject to talk about another time. At any rate, now is the time to take a breath and accept that every situation is a teacher, even situations with asshole drivers.

Now some people might say that me being rendered invisible is because of karma. <Furrowing eyebrows> I cannot say. Let’s talk about that some other time, shall we?What I can say is that being invisible won’t help me to change the world in any substantive way because let’s face it, no one’s come up with an acceptable business case for changing the world and you know what that means, don’t you? It means that the only hope for change hinges on solving the following equation:

(small, unanticipated events) x (the uncertainty principle) x (ideological ignorance and arrogance) divided by (the number people who refuse to learn from personal, tribal, political and economic patterns of human history) x  (the net amount of quantum time travel between here and there and then and now) – (the residual influence of Freud in the West) + (the seismic shock of the European and Asian as they watch Honey Boo Boo) = the number of artefacts that Warehouse 13 must deliver to each world leader and power-brokering special interest group to get everyone and every institution and every fundamentalist belief to move from the -isms and -ists and the -ologies that they’ve been glued to for centuries. It’s a tough equation but no worries. Even though math is not my first language, I’m close to solving the equation. My hunch is that the answer is 3 and if I’m right, it is yet another speck of proof that Douglas Adams was onto something. I’ll publish my answer on once I confirm the results.

Meanwhile, after a deeply engaged consultation with the process which coalesces (notionally) into what the world sees as the consolidated me (a confuffuling concept designed to shock the conceptual mind but you get the idea) and a retreat to contemplate next steps, I now know what I am going to do with my invisibility. I am going to change the world on bad driver at a time. Here’s how: I’m going to haunt bad drivers, gently at first and if that doesn’t work, well, I’ll just have to fill ‘em up with life lessons that they won’t soon forget. In my invisibleness, with all the equanimity, patience, compassion and loving-kindness my all-too human self can muster, I will whisper to the mindless drivers to remind them to pay attention and if that does not work, well, then I will grrrrrr loudly as I pluck them from their seats and plop them in a busy intersection in the path of other bad drivers and see how they like the feeling.

Posted in Life, Mindfulness | Tagged , , ,

Real life stories

At the Distillery district, Toronto

At the Distillery district, Toronto

In between a few snowstorms, cooking and caring for a terminally ill dog, home renovations, searching for new running shoes, maintaining a social life (to wit: the tragically romantic night of Valentine’s Day spent in a vast room with hundreds of people, including children-type people, to see Lemony Snicket) and hunting down the precise hip movements of an ancient dance rumoured to appease the Snow gods, a dance passed down from our teeny tiny furry Gwondanian ancestors to the ancient Greek woman across the street, I spend time listening to people as they tell me about their days and what they encounter. I also read a lot.

I like to collect factual, truthful stories about real people in real life doing real things because truth is stranger than any confected fiction. Everyone knows that. Look inside anyone’s head and see the thoughts and memories and regrets and fears and wishes and fantasies and nightmares pinging back and forth. Now, you might not accept that what I’m saying is true; however, strictly speaking, acceptance is not required for a universal truth is it? You might not know that truth is stranger than fiction but I do. And I have proof: other people’s true, real life stories.

For example, I heard a story of a less ancient, widowed Greek woman. She’s 80 years old and until fairly recently, has not locked the doors of her house for a minute of the 56 years that she’s lived in it. Her house is across from one of Toronto’s many subway stops and around a corner near a local hospital’s outpatient methadone clinic. Lots of people pass by her house. Business people and drug addicts. Students, soccer players and shift workers. Some good, some not so good. Some in their right mind. Others, not-so-right in their mind.

One morning she comes out of her kitchen to find a wild-haired, grungy guy in her hallway who doesn’t belong there. He grabs her and starts to haul her upstairs. She tells him she has a terrible contagious disease so he changes his mind and pushes her through the hallway, into the kitchen and makes her go down stairs to the basement where he locks her in. She smashes a window in her basement and calls out for help. The neighbour to the left of her house happens to be in his backyard with his teenaged son. He hears her, walks over, bends down to the window to hear what she has to say and moves rather quickly to call the police who arrive faster than you can spell Rumpelstiltskin and Scheherazade backwards while chewing gum, rubbing your tummy counter-clockwise, standing on one foot. The police arrive to find wild-haired, grungy guy in the kitchen in front of an open refrigerator stuffing his face with food. They arrest him on the spot.

The 80-year-old woman has turned 81 and keeps her doors locked at all times. The wild-haired grungy guy is in a federal prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence for home invasion.

You might think it’s a bad, sad and scary story. And in some ways it is. Who wants to find some random, confused drug addict standing in their hallway? You might also think it’s a story full of clichés. It’s that too. Fast-thinking elderly woman vs. drugged up, messy, grungy white guy, who may or may not have had a second thought about harming the old girl. Neighbours helping neighbours. Police doing what they do, justice system doing what it does. All real life. Humans being human. Systems being systems. Clichés, every one of them. Or wishful thinking.

Still, it’s a true story. I listened to it while I was on the massage table, blissing out to the sounds of waves and seagulls as gentle electrical currents pulsed through the acupuncture pins stuck in the back of my hip. When I floated home, I locked the back door and filed the story in the back of my mind. I was about to ponder some other stories when real life called and it sounded a lot like a dog asking to go out to eat snow.

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Love in all its forms

found on

It’s snowing. It’s snowing on Valentine’s Day. Whoever said that Toronto averages about 303 days of sunshine forgot to mention that averages are, for the most part, non-existent: average is an in-between number, an imaginary friend designed specifically for adults and policy makers who need imaginary friends and imaginary average citizens. But I digress: back to Valentine’s Day.

Roses are emblematic of love. Red for passion, white for purity, yellow for friendship. Roses in bunches, or more exotic flowers: wild ginger, or bird of paradise perhaps? No. No cut flowers, thanks. They die and have to be thrown out, not to mention slav(ish) labour and environmentally unhealthy growing conditions.

Amazing dark chocolate is always welcome. On the other hand, maybe a little something for Valentine’s that’s atypical with fewer calories, and less fat, less sugar? You see, a few weeks ago I called my (not in a possessive way) valentine to say, “Love, I hope you don’t mind but I just found out about this. I tried calling you but you weren’t available and I am quite keen to go so I went ahead and registered and got two tickets to see Lemony Snicket. Would you like to go?…” and then added somewhat sheepishly that it was on Valentine’s Day.

I waited and waited for what seemed like forever but was really only a second or two.

“Sounds interesting. Sure. By the way, who’s Lemony Snicket?”

“A writer.”

If we go, it’ll be the fourth time. Listening to authors.

My writing’s been slow lately. And because it’s been slow, I have surrounded myself with more books and have grown curious about authors of books, wanting to hear more directly from them, outside of biographies and radio interviews. It’s been somewhat enlightening listening to authors.

Over the airwaves, I felt a smile. I sniffed love. “Okay.”

Mixing loves on Valentine’s Day. Writing. Writers. Words. Love. Learning. Humanity.

We’ll sit close and hold hands and listen and later, sipping a wee bit of something we brought back from Poitiers, France, we’ll have a meandering, fascinating conversation about it all that is in no way average.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

found on

found on

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If words have no meaning

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If words have no meaning, we wouldn’t need them. And if we didn’t need words, we wouldn’t need an alphabet. We wouldn’t need a language or grammar and syntax or the fields of Semiotics or Linguistics. We couldn’t hurt each other by the things we couldn’t say. We couldn’t damage kids with words or tone of voice. We wouldn’t have a nonsensical QWERTY keyboard. We wouldn’t need learn to read. We wouldn’t have books. We wouldn’t have song lyrics. We wouldn’t have disagreements over who said what, when or how it was said. Our left brain development would be different. We’d be different.

If words have no meaning, there would be no wedding vows, no promises, no love letters. There wouldn’t be I love you on little notes taped in the shower, stuck on the pillow or the espresso maker. There’d be no reading stories out loud to each other in bed at night, no shared jokes about semantics and mispronunciations. There’d be no notes to the dog walker. No long contracts with confining fine print to sign. There’d be no telephone calls to friends, no words of comfort late at night, no cheerful hello from the people at the cafe. There’d be no talking theatre or talking movies and there’d certainly be no movie quotes. There’d be no billboards or signs with words, no newspapers, no junk mail, no telemarketers, no preachers, no sermons, no political speeches.

If words have no meaning, there wouldn’t be IMs or emails or post cards or birthday cards or nasty comments or cyberbullying. There wouldn’t be motivational speakers or lifestyle coaches. There wouldn’t be any pontificating know-it-alls or party bores. There wouldn’t be mindless people talking on their cellphones, bumping into other people on the street, or yakking away about stupid vapid stuff at the market and on the subway or in the restaurant subjecting the rest of us to more and more stupidity. There wouldn’t be widespread cheating on exams in high schools or universities. There wouldn’t be menus or love letters or wishes upon a star or prayers and sacred texts or whispers or instruction booklets or jet printers or voice mail.

If words have no meaning there wouldn’t be a business built on the use of affirmations. We wouldn’t talk to ourself or share our troubles: we wouldn’t have exclamations of Aha! or words to push us through challenging times. We wouldn’t use words to support our narcissistic disorder or our internalized self-loathing or replay echoes from long ago of taunting kids telling us “how retarded” (sic) we are. We couldn’t use that inner voice to conjure up a little dose of courage or feed delusions of grandeur, self-righteousness and martyrdom or to tell potential employers how good we are or a loved one how lucky they are to have us. We wouldn’t need marketing or PR or crisis management or journalists.

If words have no meaning poets have no place, writers have no calling, dictionaries need no shelves. There’d be no need for libraries, booksellers, editors, fact checkers or storytellers. No creation stories shared around campfires. No fables, no myths, no fairy tales, no radio shows, no reporting stupid people saying stupid things, of stupid people writing stupid things.

If words have no meaning, there’s nothing that anyone, anywhere has to say about anything, about anyone, anytime for any reason, for ever and ever because there wouldn’t be the words to think it all. Which would make the world a much quieter place, with people practising charades or sharing pictures and glyphs and uttering gutteral noises, and thumping on chests and jumping up and down which might mean, in that brave new world of no words, Look at me! Look at me!

If words have no meaning, people couldn’t get upset at other people saying stupid things because stupid things could not be said which means there’d be no verbal abuse, no hate graffiti, no hate talk and no hate literature against any group of people.

If only. But that’s me dreaming in technicolour.

It’s no secret that I’m semantically sensitive, fascinated by the power of words, the effects of the power of words between people, the use and misuse of words in all of their manifestations, the use and place of words in relationships, particularly the relationship between writers and readers.

Writers and readers care about words. They care about the stories carried in the arms of words, the images reflected in the mirrors of words, the dreams sparked into imagination through the fuel of words, the tears pouring out of the irrigation channels of words, the mountains created by the piles of words, the winners and losers plucked from the race by the placement of word after word after word.

In our world of new programs and platforms for sharing with everyone all the stuff that used to stay safely tucked away in our head, we are now all readers and we are all writers, using the words of our language. And if some words to some people have no meaning then perhaps no words can have meaning, and if no words can have meaning, then civilization as we know it is doomed because everything is based on a word, including the Beginning, remember?

No matter the warping or degree of obfuscation or ignorance on the part of users, words convey meaning and what’s so wonderful about words is that they show and tell and prove everything, including how nonsensical some of us can be, how truth and reality are in the eye of the beholder, how each are carefully crafted in ways large and small by people to uphold a view of self and the world that does not exist anywhere except in mind, created in thought and filtered out in words.

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