It’s a thing


at the Brickworks

I don’t recognize the number.

Because I’m waiting for a call, I answer.  A pleasant male voice asks, “may I speak with Frances?”

Due to a cold and complicated bunch of other things, my voice barely registers as human. But I plod on and in a tone that’s close to the Low E string on a guitar, I ask, “Who’s calling?”

He hesitates a nanosecond, gives the name of my bank, then adds, “it’s a courtesy call.”

A bell chimes in my head.

courtesy is an act of politeness, like someone opening a door for someone else, or, when something is given free of charge to people who are already paying for something, like the repair shop giving a client a loaner car at no charge. How is it that the selling tactic of a call at home at night can be warped into something that a sane person would consider a courtesy?

The word who is in relation to a reference to a living, breathing being.

In this dimension of our consensus reality, acknowledging the malleability of the English language, a bank is a corporation and a corporation is not a who, it’s a what. I do not give a flying magic toadstool for greedy sleight-of-handers or the cabal of warped concisioners whittling away at laws and language for the insidious intellectual thrill of Poof! Turned a corporation into a Who! High-Fives all around!

Oh, and about the cabal of warped concisioners: take away words with which to describe things and the ability to express, describe,  communicate, convey in words our feelings and experiences and our ability to create connection and togetherness and meaning falls away. Which is not in any way to discount the possibility of replacing words with interpretive dance or fingerpainting as a means of communication. But I digress.

Back to the courtesy call

Something clicks in my brain.  It was not the thing in my brain that had once been a telemarketer before landing in communications. It was not the thing in my brain that had once been a supervisor of a 35-person call centre for a telemarketing company, or the thing in my brain that had trained telemarketers or the thing in my brain that had opened a branch office of a telemarketing company in another city. And it is definitely not the entire thing in my brain that is keen on the goodness of mindfulness, kindfulness, compassion and patience.

The thing that clicks in my brain also furrows my brows.

I croak out a question.”Why?”

“It’s a courtesy call,” he repeats.

He has a job to do. Get bank customers to say yes to the product the bank is selling.

I swallow, hoping my voice will hold up and ask, “Why do I need a courtesy call?”

My question is not included in the script of responses on the telemarketer’s sheet, which means he has to think but he’s not fast enough which means he misses a beat. Silence. Not something you want in a telemarketing call.

I have about 4 seconds before my voice is lost for the day. “Thank you.  I’m satisfied with what I have with the bank. I don’t need a courtesy call. Take good care.”

It’s not personal. It’s a thing.


(No professional communicators were harmed in the creation of this post)

Posted in Life, Words | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Three ways to avoid life

Me, Piper and Gia


1. Don’t care.

2. Don’t commit.

3. Don’t accept the reality that everything changes.




Posted in CHANGE, dogs, Life, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Missing: metaphors

Toronto graffit under the DOn River Bridge

I’m looking for a metaphor. Actually, maybe 200 or so. I don’t know how many are gone but I can’t find any so I’m guessing all of them.

Gone are the silly, luscious, colourful, insightful and succinct metaphors stored in the prison of my thinking mind.

I need my metaphors. The ones I built and shaped and learned and created out of the experience of my life and used with mindful awareness as the occasion or situation or person required.

My missing metaphors were last seen hoboing it (old definition) along the rusty, dusty railway tracks of over-used clichés. Rumour has it that they want to find an underground circus to call home and give up metaphoring forever.

Sure, I could go skulking around to those back-alley metaphor designers who push big-box-branding metaphors and get some market-researched and focus-grouped yet insipid and limp metaphors, but that’s not how the world of my metaphors roll. Besides, it’s not possible to make new metaphors who know me with the same depth and ability and polish and storytelling effects as the metaphors I created. Is it?

I don’t care what trouble they’re in, what bad deeds they’ve done, or why. I want them back. I need them back. If you see them, my metaphors, wrapped in public personas which are a happy mix of sometimes introverted, often cheeky, sometimes wise and sometimes quite goofy and everything in-between all that, tell them to go home. How can I think cancer if my metaphors are missing?

Posted in Cancer, Words, writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Stopped on the street

Toronto graffiti

Going for a walk with the dog in the afternoon is usually a safe activity. Quiet. Just me and my dog. We — Gia (little dog) and I — didn’t think anything of the slightly disheveled, grey-haired guy heading toward us. We moved onto the grass boulevard to the right side of the sidewalk to make room for him to walk by.

He stopped just as he passed my left shoulder, turned around and asked, “Do you have a few minutes?”

I turned to face him.

He continued. “Do you have a few minutes to talk? Under the tree, out of the sun..?”

He had a pen and notepad.

I smiled and said “sure” but did not remove my sunglasses. 

In the shade of the tree Gia intuited that we weren’t going anywhere for a while. She circled a spot on the sidewalk a few times and plopped down at my feet and curled up into a tight furball.

I listened as he explained what he was doing. He asked me a few questions and at question three, I removed my sunglasses so that I could make eye contact with him.

Question three: “what do you do?”


Ahead of thought, ahead of filter and inner critic, the word, the declaration flew out of my mouth, through his pen, into his notebook. Sense of safety evaporating.

I didn’t say that I haven’t written a thing in over a year. The last column was published a year ago this month. Parker died a month later. Haven’t written since then. 

I didn’t say that my writer self is wrestling with all the other parts of my self (not that a self, per se, exists) to see if there’s any more of anything to write or is it just quiet, silent, time. That space and place between now and then where things happen in the inbetween.

But I said writer out loud. I had to qualify it and added that I’m not working right now. Perhaps he understood the coded message, that I am not writing. Not a thing. Not a word. It isn’t writer’s block, or writer’s blockade. It’s simply not writing.

What do I do? Lots of things. I could have answered other things that would have been true and made me sound interesting. Like, oh, I teach. Or I’m studying. But no. Once a word is spoken, it’s out in the world. It can’t be taken back. Out of my mouth came  writer. Like a pirate stepping out blithely from the open mouth of a whale.

What do I do? Writer. I said it. He caught it.

I answered other questions. Gave him my full attention. When all the questions were answered, he checked the spelling of my name, bent down to scratch Gia’s ears, said goodbye and went off to find someone else to interview. I put my sunglasses on and headed off in toward the dog park, contemplating this question asked by the man who stopped me on the street: “What do you do?”

Perhaps my evil alter ego got in the way. There is that DSM-V certified toxic narcissism disorder in my family history, which I thought psychic surgery and duct tape therapy fixed. Perhaps remnants remain and the right questions posed in the right sequence triggered it?Perhaps I wanted to project an interesting sort-of-truth because what I do as a woman who’s working life is in transition is too complicated to explain, talk about, even admit to?

And yet…As soon as I opened my mouth, I fell into that trap. Education, parenting, media, our society, our culture. Who I am defined by what I do or don’t do. 

A writer who isn’t writing is like a boat hanging out in its dry dock, a yogi not practising asanas, a musician not picking up her instrument, a photographer not using a camera.

Seems I mindlessly bought into doing as an indication of being something, someone who requires a designation that matters. Seems I poured a lot of meaning into a question that has no value except to give a sort of shorthand, a label, a filter through which to view and define myself. A label to convey something about me, linked to mental models of whatever a writer does. A label that people believe conveys a cogent snapshot of the person who holds the label, writer. Or maybe just the identity.

Gia and I got to the dog park and I let her off lead to run around with her canine crew. I picked the label from my mind and let it go.

What do I do? Enough thank you, and you?


If a reporter asked what you do, how would you answer it?

Posted in Life, Toronto, writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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 , , , , , ,