There isn’t a thank you big enough

“We’re gonna put you through hell,” the doctors said. “It’ll be brutal, but we’re confident it will work.”

Because I want to live I said okay, registering the fear that was coursing through my body and the concern for the special someones in my life, two of them being canine someones. The doctors said other things too. “It’ll be at least a year before you can even begin to process what happened to you.”

It hasn’t been a year yet, and it’s true: I can’t process a thing.

It’s possible that at some time I might write about it. I might write about the odd language of cancer: battling (or fighting) and journey and survivor and gift. Or I might write about how three of us on my street were diagnosed with different cancers at the same time, and how we all wondered what we did wrong to get cancer and how we came to realize that living a healthy lifestyle and being healthy doesn’t prevent cancer; it just helps you weather the treatment a bit better.  I might write about all that at some point in time. But that time is not this time, and to be honest, I don’t think too much about time other than the moment that I am in, here and now.

A few minutes have passed and I have spent that time searching my brain for a transition, a bridge (you know, the writerly techniques) to move this post along. I can’t find one. So I will start again.

There is perhaps never a greater sense of absolute separateness, of existential isolation as when your ears receive (or your senses perceive) the fact that you are in a life-threatening situation; when you are acutely aware that the moment that changes everything is fading away and the next moment has yet to show up. When it does, with luck it brings goodness and connection from kind, caring, wonderful and fun people. Friends, family, neighbours, strangers, and dogs. All who just do stuff you didn’t know you needed or wanted done. All who do Helpful, Essential, Life-Saving Stuff.

I had luck. We had luck. Or something like it. And help.  Friends, family, neighbours, strangers — people near and far, and of course, health care people. There isn’t a thank-you big enough.

Meanwhile, the dogs: baby poodle Piper and senior terriermix Gia got to know new people who took care of them when we couldn’t. And, when I couldn’t be with them, Tinababa captured their antics in illustrations and digital recreations.

Did I say thank you yet. For all of us?

Thank you.

surgical waiting room

illustrations by Tinababa




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

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