Announcing! The Unschool…

I am so pleased to share with you that I have put together a newsletter of writing, an eclectic mix, 8-10 pieces each month, including craft pieces, grammar/punctuation, reviews of time-tested and favourite books on writing, as well as encouraging, maybe even inspiring pieces– everything from mental/emotional health of writers to a look at connections between craft and the Tao Te Ching. Fiction, nonfiction, writing for young people, even really young ones, and more…

It’s on Substack, and you can explore at:

Check it out, enjoy, let me know if you have any questions!

I am so excited about this! I’ve left teaching at the University of BC, after 14 years, and this is now my way to connect with writers of all ages and “levels” of experiences…

Wow! We so need a new word for that. I’ve left academia to lose the hierarchy. So let’s call it “spaces of experience.” Or… ?

See you there.



Putting COVID-19 into the Box(es)

It’s been a week since Mr. Trudeau gave that talk. (Yes, there have been others and will be more…. but I’m talking about the first one that really registered.) Last Monday night, I went to hear some live music, for what I knew would be the last in what will be way too long. There was a small number of people there, all keeping distance. And each thoroughly enjoying, because we all knew, This is It.

Tuesday, I began to teach the first of my two UBC classes online. And just as I thought: my quietest class EVER bloomed full-on with active participation! I have been so heartened by them.

Days tick by. Slowly. I am managing to write almost 1000 words a day. But there are–of course–other demands on my time. And as I was standing outside my corner grocery store, Union Market, in a lineup that did not look like a line, waiting for my turn to be one of two people inside, a thought occurred to me.

This time we are going through, while very different from my time of caregiving, also shares some commonalities. In that time of crisis, I found that I needed to create mental boxes to place pieces of the reailty, and to differentiate between what needs to be considered or responded to each day/week/month.

And now I am doing that again. I have had moments of thinking of “future.” The first few times that my mind went there, I began to feel some bit of panic at the edges of the thought. I had to pull myself back from it. ( I have learned how to do that.) The panic and the need to pull back made me realize that I am back in crisis-land, and I realized I was going to have to unpack and use those old boxes again.

The boxes: The today box is for what needs to be done Right Now. Today I will think about the meals I will be making. I will look to see what I have. If I can delay shopping, I will. I’ve always loathed shopping of all sorts, anyway. What do I need to do for my teaching? Can I get my daily word count written? Are there phone calls I need to make? My mother is very lonely, and a phone call can make a big difference. Are their emails I need to make for the same reason? Then, too, there are emails and things that must be written in lieu of the book promotion that I had planned. When my mind begins to slip into that other mode–the thinking ahead or panic mode–I pull back to Today mode, and the Today Box.

But then there does have to be a This Week box, too, and in that box I plan when do I really have to grocery shop (Forage For the Family), and what do I absolutely need. I keep a running list so I don’t have to go out again for something I’ve forgotten. I do not want to hoard. And my new home is not big enough to hoard. But I also don’t want to be in a store for a minute longer than need be. I’m finding being in a store to be overwhelming. When I leave I always feel I have a sore throat…psychosomatic or what? When I get home, I do the rinse-with-hot-water-and-too-much-salt thing…and it goes away.

For This Week, I look at the calendar and plan for the on-line meetings, and class lectures.

Then there is the This Month box. This month…well, you get the idea.

There IS a Future Box, too. One for the looming summer. What will that look like? And now we are hearing rumours that the fall will be about Wave Two of This Virus Thing. So, for five minutes a day, I need to think about that. And on Facebook, when a friend posted lovely pics of the pottery candles she is creating, I wrote about how they look like Christmas shopping to me…so that is in a Future Box, too. I hope.

Oops. Don’t go…

I have become too good at cutting off mid-thought. Getting back to what is at hand.

When my mother was dealing with my dad’s ALS, she said she worried constantly about the future. I reminded her she had a lot to do today and this week. But she said she still worried.

“Put on a timer,” I said, almost harshly, really. “Ten minutes. No more. Think about the future, with a pen and paper and jot down what you need to do for it. When the timer goes, you know you’re done. You’ve done as much planning as you need, and as you can. and then get back to today.”

What’s that quote about writing a novel…? “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (E.L. Doctorow)

Same thing really. Thing is, you have to drive and you have to write (if you are a writer). You can make the trip. That will happen. But you are only ever exactly where you are on the road at any given moment. So be there. In your This Minute Box.

A Frosty Christmas Eve

I wish I had a photograph of this memory. But I don’t remember even owning a cell phone at the time or, if I did, I’d left it at home…where it belonged.

Once, years ago, I took my sons to Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen on Christmas Eve. It is a beautiful place, looking across the water to the town of White Rock. And to the south west is that bit of America, Point Roberts, rather wild looking.

It was a rare December day in its sunshine and clear cold; we do not have many of those days in the Lower Mainland of BC.

Rarer even, at the time, at that beach, one could build a fire, summer or winter. Though to that date, I’d never seen a winter fire going.

But that frosty Christmas Eve day, one fire pit was roaring, sparking into the crisp air, and there were two ageing women sharing the warmth. They’d brought fold-out chairs and afghans, and were bundled up with heavy bowls of soup in their hands. I remember the steam curling up from the bowls, and their hands holding those bowls and spoons, and their faces.

They were deeply in conversation, enjoying their meal, taking pleasure in the fire and the bright frost, and the togetherness.

Those were the years when I went to the beach at least once a week with my sons. And even as I did that, I was aware that that time in my life was passing, that one day I would not be here with them, that they would grow up and away, and that was natural and healthy. But that I would grow old and life would change, and change might be terrifying. I might be alone someday. Little did I know my spouse would be not with us anymore not many years after that, when my youngest was still in his mid teens.

I looked at those two friends–friends of many years, I would guess–and felt reassured that while life would move on in its way, there were good times to come. All one had to do for a memorable time was to pack a hot lunch on a cold day, and a blanket, and box of matches.

So now I spend a day writing by my Christmas tree, in my home in the city where I now live, and my woodstove crackles, and I remember that day, and those two friends. Little did they know how I needed to see that, and hear their laughter over the sand.

Back Home to CBC Radio

Yesterday I spent the better part of a day in a booth at 100 Hamilton Street in Vancouver–the CBC Radio building. The booth was carpeted and dark and filled with equipment. All I needed to do was put on headphones and speak into the big microphone. I’m such a tech-dummy that I forgot to put on the headphones and it wasn’t until I heard a voice–a small faraway voice–and looked for a volume button…though I could not recall being told anything about “volume”… at last it occurred to me to put on the headphones. Wow. I can only laugh at myself sometimes.

I grew up without television for the most part, and while my father listened to a bit of radio news, for the most part my home was silent in terms of media. Even music, records played on the stereo, was never background. No, if you put on a record, you were supposed to sit and listen to it. And true, music IS something to listen to, but it’s also good just to play it and enjoy.

It wasn’t until I met my husband Marty that I actually listened to our national radio. And because I was not aurally initiated, it took a number of months to begin to be able to absorb words in this way–yes, this was true for me. Marty on the other hand, grew up with the CBC. When we visited his father in his upholstery shop, CBC was on, and Don would work with the radio voices as his co-workers through the day. Then listen more at home at night.

The title of my memoir, Dance Me to the End, is from CBC radio. It is Leonard Cohen’s song title, and yes, I’d heard it before I heard it on the radio, but there was a morning when I was caregiving my husband, and I had to pause because the song had come on, and I was hearing the words as I hadn’t before. And yes, there is a poem in the book that opens with a line about CBC in the morning.

Marty passed away on a Sunday, and I remember my hand on the dial, turning off the radio that day. I remember other times, later, and trying to turn it back on. But in truth, I have not been able to listen to CBC as I used to; it is so connected in my mind with other times.

A couple months ago, I received an email from the publicist working to promote my book: she shared that she’d had a request for me to do a spot with CBC Syndication…meaning, short interviews with various show hosts from across the country, the ultimate in getting out the word about one’s work in this country. Exciting news indeed! The publicist and my publisher were thrilled, and I was too, along with a bit anxious to do this right, and also a sense of circling back to something…

A week ago, I found the right number on my car radio as I was on a lengthy drive, and listened again to the station that was, for decades, such a part of my life. I realized, as I listened, how this had been such a source of knowledge of my world. And how I have missed it. I wrestled with the sadness, too.

So yesterday, I showed up. I was led to the booth. I finally figured out the headphones before they tossed me out. And the first interview happened. After the second was over, and there were just some short seconds before signing off, the host wished me all the best “with the others,” as he knows the process, and nature of being asked similar questions repeatedly, and also with a thought to the subject matter of my memoir, the re-living of painful times. In fact, a small number of hosts did, in those post-interview seconds, share their own losses. At some point, I realized that as difficult as I might find talking, they too have jobs that demand speaking about the uncomfortable–probably often. And then continuing on to the next… That is not easy.

There was a knock on the door of my booth. I was so immersed in the process to that halfway point, that I had to think about where I was, bring myself back. A woman was looking in through the narrow glass panel in the door. Gloria Macarenko. A familiar voice. “Let’s do this one face to face,” she said and led me to her office. She mentioned the coldness in my booth, something about a flood in the building, and how the heat was working and not working.

We did the interview. She asked me how Marty would feel about what is happening now with the book. I started to answer, and then laughed and said how pleased he would be that I am here, at the CBC, doing this. How that would mean something to him.

She walked with me back to the booth and asked if I might need a shawl. I had a woolly sweater. But was warmed more by her offer.

Such professionalism in her work, and yet such human compassion, too. The two can co-habit. I could feel similar from the remote hosts, too. And as I went through the second half of interviews I was remembering what it was to feel connected with the CBC. I caught a bit of news from one station–weather and such–and felt the size of the country, and the tenuous threads that hold us together.

As I gathered my belongings to leave the booth, I knew I had another gift in my life: I was back home with the CBC. This process, the writing, the sharing the writing, has made it new. And that’s how we return after grieving.


Dance Me to the End

October 8, 2019 was the birthday of this 11th book.

This is a particularly special book. It is possibly the only memoir I will write; it is the second book I have written for adults (and the first was almost–gulp–twenty years ago).

It is also the book that I was looking for when I was housebound and caregiving.

Reviews have been posted, and I have given interviews and written blog posts and articles. I will post links to all here…

Most recently, a piece in Chatelaine:

A blog post for All Lit Up, a wonderful blog for readers.

And a VERY lengthy URL for an article in The Delta Optimist, about the Ladner Black Bond books signing:

Review in Library Journal:


Inspired by the Leonard Cohen song Dance Me to the End of Love, this lyrical debut memoir from Acheson (creative writing, Univ. of British Columbia; Learning To Live Indoors) captures life as a series of snapshots, as a couple grows simultaneously closer together and further apart in the wake of a sudden life change. Acheson shares dreams and letters, notes and journal entries from the months after her husband, Marty, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She relates how Marty, a guitarist and music teacher, distracted himself with golf while she found solace in writing and reading. Alternating between hope and acceptance, Acheson recalls her decision to enter the role of caregiver, longing to remember who Marty had been and who he still was. Her prose shines when asking questions with no easy answers, including how and when to disclose to their sons and extended family. As people volunteer information and ideas, and as the family turns to fundraising, she considers the meaning of words such as struggle in relation to illness. For Acheson, caregiving requires humor, flexibility, suspending judgment—and the willingness to accept her husband’s end-of-life wishes. VERDICT A mesmerizing memoir by a talented writer on coming to terms with the unexpected.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal


Review by Sarah Murdoch, for the Toronto Star:

My second interview, for Mica Lemiski, of Fainting Couch Feminists:

The Storytelling Show, Vancouver Coop Radio, Sept 1 and Oct. 10:


February 4th would have been my dad’s 88th birthday. It is almost two months since he left us…and has left me thinking about him. About his way of being in the world.

When Dad had his first bit of pay in hand, so many years ago, he took one-tenth of it and gave it to his church. And with every pay-cheque following, through his entire life. In the Bible, it’s called “tithing.”

He tended to have conflicts with churches, and he would go through times of keeping his study of the Bible and his worship personal, and retreat from the more public practice of attending a bricks-and-mortar. At such times, he would bank his tithe in a special account or donate it to missionaries. His grandparents had been missionaries, and the role of missions was critical to him. So over his years of earning, he supported missions, missionaries, their children, their schools. He supported an airplane pilot in Indonesia, and a Bible School in Brazil, and behind the iron curtain radio ministry, as well as broadcasting elsewhere with the message that meant so much to him.

In the 80s–so long ago now it seems–I was earning not much more than minimum wage, but I remember wanting to buy unbleached paper. It was significant to me; I used so much paper. I always needed hard copy for writing my stories. I couldn’t think and type. I wrote long hand for first drafts, and then typed and then used a computer for later drafts. I was constantly buying and using paper, and the process of making that clean white stuff disturbed me. But at that time, it was new technology to create a product that was a bit less harmful for the environment, and it cost so much more. Much like buying organic food does now, or clothing not created in places of workplace horror.

I remember paying the extra, for dingy clay-coloured paper. And I remember thinking this is what it is to believe this is just right. Money where mouth is and all. Supporting what matters to one.

I couldn’t help but notice this past month, accumulating numbers for my taxes, the amount I’ve spent on music in the past year. Not much, really. Depending on how you look at it. A month of Vancouver rent for one or two co-habiting musicians, is what it would amount to. Add with local bands, the funds going to the restaurants and bars that host the musicians… maybe another month of rent. Maybe a food bill.

How much to bookstores. Small independents… My rule for buying second-hand books has been this: the author must be rich or dead. Small number for the first group, bigger options for the second. But alive and broke? Buy new. Watch the books you buy: if there’s a black marker slash across the bottom, it’s not a book from which the author will see earnings. (Is that another post? Do you know how this works?)

What you want to eat, drink, read, see, hear–tithe and buy. On a mission.

Tree cut

On my way to teach I drive through Kitsilano, along Beach Avenue, and then 4th. Second day of teaching in the new year, less than a month since Dad passed away.

And I see this:

Look closely and you’ll see at least four seats with reclining backs cut into these tree trunks. When it’s not grey and pouring rain–as it was in early January–you can sit back and look up at the stars…I’m guessing. I’ll have to return on a clear night. With a friend or two or three.

My first thought, when I saw this, was that I’d have to share it with Dad. He has a thing about big trees, and enjoying them for years, and then taking them down once they get too old. But not like most would. No. He creates picnic places and magic when he does this. Here are Dad’s trees:

When I passed the tree by the beach, I didn’t stop. I continued, took the corner onto 4th Avenue, found myself looking at the clock; I’d been hoping to get to work early to allow my brain time to pull together the last threads before a lecture, and the energy I need for that.

If I were to stop, I’d have less time. Yet even as I drove on, my thoughts were stopped at that tree, and words were coming in to my head about it. These words. I realized that if I took the next right, and the one after that, I’d end up back at the tree. How long could it take, I thought, to get out of my car, walk through the rain, take the pic, and get back in? Would it really make me late?

So I turned and did just that. Took a half dozen photos from various angles, and was a bit wet when I climbed back into the warm car.

The clock said I’d spent a mere seven minutes. And I arrived in my office no later than I’d planned anyway.

I wrestle with teaching. I teach what I love to do; I teach writing. But teaching writing, and writing, are not the same things. They both bring different types of energy to me. And the energy that sustains me, and has through the past few years–in particular, beginning with the journal I kept while my spouse was ill–is the energy that comes from writing. That is the energy I need to feed myself before anything else can happen.

It’s like the yellow oxygen mask that is supposed to fall out of the compartment overhead if an airplane is going down; you’re supposed to do it for yourself first, before others.

So I took the right turn, got the pictures, and am now writing the words that began to churn through my mind. And I notice that the above words about my dad and his love of whimsical tree cuts are in present tense. So maybe there is another reason to have done this, and even to write.

Needed: one Crowbar…

No one told me that if you move to the suburbs to raise your children, there is a strong likelihood you will need a crowbar at some later point.

Shortly after my spouse passed away, I received an invite to a neighbour-friends’ party. The town I lived in was small, and I rode my bicycle to the party because my role as designated driver had come to an end, I’d decided. There was no one to designate, and I was weary of responsibility. Cabs are things you have to wait for in a small town. And I didn’t want to wait or to walk. Drink and ride, like a teenager, was a choice. And there was something about stowing a six-pack in the grocery basket over the back wheel that made me feel like Angela Lansbury cutting out. Yes, I put teenager and Lansbury in two sentences back to back.

Even the people who had invited me were surprised when I turned up. And when I spoke rather easily about my spouse, his passing, the months of care-giving…I’m not sure how people took that. It seemed to me that there was some element of relief; we could talk about it. Mostly, it seemed, people were happy to see me. I was happy to be out of my house, my house that had become hospital and hospice, locus of grief. Just as music supported me, the sounds of partying were capable of holding me up and carrying me. People, life. Silence, too, had a significant role, and I sought out hours of it. But music and human connections became vital. (Maybe this is that “music hag” blog entry I promised in my last…)

That was before my realization that, living in the burbs, I was going to soon need that (mental) crowbar to wrench people from their couches.

That party was one of few invites. After that evening, it became up to me to contact people and say, “Hey! So-and-so is playing at the pub. Do you want to meet and dance?” In the initial months, some brave folks went with me. Maybe I wore them out, going to three venues in a single evening, following the music of friends.

More and more I heard the answer: “I’m already settled in for the night…” (eh? it’s 7:34…) More and more I found myself climbing into my corolla and heading into the city. More and more often, on my own.

I began to study real estate sites, looking to see what was in the city. For what could I trade my 2600+ rambley huge house? A 600 square foot condo with a $450/month maintenance fee…that might, randomly, go up? I went and prowled around on a Saturday, looking at everything in my price range. Nothing. I didn’t want to live at 30th and Main. I wanted to be IN the city. By my definition, anything that required more than my feet to get places was a burb. I’m going home, I’ve done my time… That’s how I felt about returning to the city after two dozen years.

Then one day up popped an 1184 square foot half duplex, with wood stove, detached garage (insulated and finished, it turned out, perfect for a son with friends at music school), no maintenance fee… I knew the photos were exaggerated. The living room appeared to be able to hold three elephants. The kitchen could host the last supper. In reality, maybe an elephant foot fit. And the table could be pulled away from the wall for Christmas dinner. It was perfect. Strathcona, east side of Vancouver, walking distance to the Drive, the old Railway Club, and The Pat Pub, house of jazz, blues, and good beer.

I went to see the place one night, along with twenty other people, most of whom bid, and all I outbid. I knew it was my place. I could leave my crowbar behind.


I bought with no subjects and a lot of faith on May 30, and sold my home June 12. In little more than a week I cleared out enough to hold a weekend open house. I left no less than six bookshelves at the end of my driveway, carted off by neighbours. Several dressers went. Old tools, garden implements. Boxes of who-knows disappeared into my mom’s storeroom. One room was painted. Clutter was gone.

But after it sold began the real process of getting rid. In the end, I estimated 70% of everything I owned was distributed to the neighbourhood via the driveway—a constantly changing pile, the thriftshop (I had to begin to sneak in bags and boxes full after closing), varagesale, and the process of finding homes for things that meant something and deserved to be given: an ancient ventriloquial figure (with the correspondence course I’d taken at age fifteen) found a perfect home with home-schoolers with Children’s Hospital performing ambitions. An old flute found a similarly suitable home.

In the end, all that was left fit in one moving truck and two carloads. I had a new home where everything had its place. That had become my criterion: can I envision this in an exact place? If not, it was out.

I had no grass to mow. I had no more decorative jugs to line up. I had empty spots on my bookshelf. For every piece of furniture I kept, at least two went. Maybe four.

I was delighted to discover that the living room rug I had bought a year or so earlier, too small for my old home, was just the right size for the new one. That the one book case I did keep, made by my dad, fit perfectly on the stair landing.

What I didn’t know, at the time I moved in, was that the most significant change in my life that would come as a result…was the Gift of Time.

Not that I spent much time Taking Care of My Stuff. (Do you hear George Carlin’s voice in that phrase?? ) At least, I hadn’t thought I did. I dusted…never. But somehow less stuff equals more time. How is this? (Try it.)

At the end of the first year of living in my new home I had completed a 250+ page memoir of my time care-giving. Written a new picturebook. Completed the writing of another about to be published. And I’d—finally—completed a lengthy novel for teens that I have been working on for far too long. I can’t remember when I last wrote so much. If ever.

Emotional crowbar at play.

“music makes you smarter” is the hardwood floor…

Here: Imagine a visual of a doctor’s prescription note. Written on it:

MUSIC (must be Live!)  3 X week minimum

Dancing — daily.

That’s about right for me now. I experience a feeling of restlessness when I need Music. So much so that after texting or contacting a few friends, if no one can go with me, I go by myself. It’s not a bad thing to take myself out for an evening; I’m good company. I meet people who do interesting things, and make new friends. The music world is not a huge one. Though there are wonderful layers to it. I like doing my piece to support it, because it supports me, and most of such mutual support is Being There.

Like a writer without a reader–arts needs people to be there. To listen and hear, to watch and see.

As a writer and as a human, I need to experience, and I need for experience to be raw and full-on. That is the basic ingredient of art. (Though it’s easy to say I’ve had more than my share of raw and full-on these past two years.) It’s as if I need more of a different type of raw/full-on to mitigate or balance; maybe that’s why there’s the drive for music and dance in my new life. Not that they didn’t exist in my old, but the intensity at which I need–and I do say NEED–is fentanyl-level. (I use that word as I became conversant with that drug and my spouse’s need for it to see him to his end.) But I am loathe to medicate my experience, though I am fully aware that I could be on any number of meds to navigate post care-giving and grief. I do believe that grief is a normal part of life, and needs to be lived through, whatever that looks like. And I know those are provocative words. And more and more, I deeply believe it’s my bloody job to BE provocative. Let’s step outside, come to blows, and then go back in for a beer…is how I’m coming to see the artist’s role… So… onward:

When people post those wimpy pieces about how music makes children smarter, and how that is the reason for music lessons, I cringe, I feel angry, I feel sad. It’s as if someone looks at a visual masterpiece, and then comments on the nice hardwood floor in the gallery…really!?

So thoughts, and my list of reasons why music should be in all our lives.

1. Music goes with everything — from morning shower, to homework, to making love, to warding off road-rage…there is Sinatra, and reggae, and Foo Fighters, and of course jazz in all its iterations…. And there’s always the volume. And there’s Spotify. And there’s no excuse.

2. Music is a good indicator of capacity for life. If you don’t like music, you are probably dead; check your pulse, or ask someone to do it for you. Use it in your on-line dating profile to weed out people-to-avoid.

3. Music creates a living wall between you and bullshit. When you’re sitting on the right side of a band, on the other side is the office and the laundry and the bedroom, and the rest of your life…and all you need to think about is the notes and maybe the voice. And when to clap to say thank you.

4. Music is root canal filling for the soul. Take the small notes and begin to push it into the corners (souls have those, along with wrinkles and folds), and fill it and fill it–fill it well to avoid infection. Sometimes, most times, infection is warded off with alcohol–though if one has issues with this, music will do the job on its own. But fill and pack it in–you know how the dentist does it–grabbing your jaw, levering, bearing down… Let the music do its work. And as it does, it pushes out the bad. Leaves you with some serious chompers to eat up life.

5. Music creates wonder. And “wonder is respect for life.” (Wm. Steig quote) Music gives you reverence and irreverence, version and inversion. Respect creates integrity. Connect the dots.

6. In case you didn’t understand that last one–because I know I don’t always make sense at first–music helps you remember who you are. If you listen. That would be the “smart” piece right there…because 13 years of elementary and secondary education SHOULD help you learn who you are, but too often takes you further from that knowledge. Music will take you back to that place

7. Music will help you remember others and who they are, too. This works even if you aren’t a “musician”–as in “one who can play an instrument with others who can play instruments.” (part of how I define “musician”)

8. Playing music alone and/or with others, or listening, focuses you. It focuses me, anyway. When I’m playing (piano or my dad’s old sax), I can’t think about anything else; if my mind wanders, so do my fingers. In this, music is meditation. It fixes my mind on itself.

9. Music is so much more fun than prozac, effexor, and the dozens of other synthetic options. If it’s not enough for you, then mix with a cocktail of dance.

10. Music is… this will come. More to learn…

Note 1: Buy the band a round of beer. Just do it. It’ll make you feel good.

Note 2: If people label you groupie, just smile and correct: junkie will fit, thanks. Or music hag.

Music Hag: that’ll be another post…

the sharpest corner

I’ve neglected my blog. No, not neglected. Life has had many turns and a few sharp corners.

I re-read my post about our wonderful old dog, and that seems like so long ago. Just some months after that, I was re-hired to teach in the creative writing program at UBC, and I am happy to be back.

I’ve had two books published in this time: one is a nonfiction book of “lists” about mental well-being (happy-making stuff) for young people ages 9-10. This was a first, working with an educational publisher. It’s a slim little thing with few words. I wanted for it to open thoughts for those who don’t like a lot of words, and/or do like a lot of thoughts! And the second book is a ghost-written Boxcar Children book set at the Calgary Stampede. I enjoyed the research. And spending time in the city with my pal Amy, and cousins Gwen and Mike.

But 17 months ago a very sharp corner came, and my spouse was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Most people with ALS live for 3-4 years, but in Martin’s case, he passed away this past April. Except for 26 hours at GF Strong for his feeding tube installation, he was at home. My boys helped me to care for him. We have a wonderful GP who visited our home like an old-time doc, and the community health nurses and occupational therapist and physio were amazing. Our community of neighbours and friends carried us through months. They raised funds so we could renovate our downstairs. They organized and attended (and had fun!) at a huge event with multiple bands and auction items. And they brought food. I cooked twice in the last 12 weeks. and never had too much or too little, even though no one consciously organized the contributions. It’s just how it worked out; that seems like a miracle to me. Some days I’d open my front door for air, and there would be a foil-covered dish with a card left on the front step. Or a jar of home-made soup. Friends came and spent evenings with Martin so I could go to my flamenco classes for as long as I possibly could.

Family and relatives visited and took part in the care-giving, too. My brothers and nephew designed and got the new bathroom set up with contractors, and built ramps and access. Others cleaned, put food in the freezer… Martin’s brother came twice from Saskatchewan and made him laugh; that was good. (One of the most significant symptoms with ALS is emotional lability: you cry easily and hard, but you can laugh the same, too.)

We had a tribute service at the end of April, and it was all about stories and music. Guitars covered the stage and toward the end, those who can play got up and grabbed one and played along with Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. We closed with a New Orleans-style second line–musicians leading out of the church into the sun playing instruments.

I still hear the line: Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cus every little thing gonna be all right…

Through corners, I hold on. Even through this. Somehow. Sometimes I’ve closed my eyes. But I have to keep my ears open for the music. It’ll keep my heart open.


Marty and Cousin Gwen – August 2015

Centennial Beach