Sunday, 10 December 2017

What is the Kindest Thing You Ever Did for an Animal?

What is the kindest thing you ever did for an animal?

A few months ago my nephew Isidore finally wore me down by sending links to interesting things on Quora, a site I have mentioned here before (methinks), where questions are asked, answered, and bandied about. I could no longer resist at a certain point, and signed up so I could answer a question. I have myself only asked a few, and I discovered today that one that I did ask several months ago has about a dozen answers, some of which are very moving, and all of which are touching in the way they reveal each author.

In reading through the answers which for some reason I just discovered I had not been notified of, I was inspired to write another, edgier question. (Which just got it's first answer, I notice.):

What is a time when you did not act to help an animal and have always regretted it, and what were the circumstances that made you hold back? Would you act differently now?

Used correctly, this site can be a great way to affirm my sense of the goodness of humans, and my part in it all. (Used incorrectly, know.)

Here are the answers so far; the link, in case you want to add a reply or see if there are any more comments, is above with the original question. I would love to hear what you have to say.

12 Answers

Eon McLeary

Friday, 8 December 2017

Glum Facts and the Power of Song

As you may know I have been contending with a few glum facts lately, in amongst the riches of life. The struggle to find new and welcome housing, a few private matters that are weighing me down, and now the love of my life, our community garden, is being torn up to make modular housing for homeless folk. The city says they will relocate us, to which I muse, why not put the modular housing in this new location and leave us be? You can't really "move" a garden. You can destroy one and start another, but the soil carefully tended takes a big step backward, and the soil they supplied last time was riddled with horsetail spores. But all that could be handled--who am I to begrudge the homeless?--except for one abiding concern. If they move it away from the Skytrain station, I may not have easy enough access to carry on there. So again we wait, this time for the eventual announcement of our garden's fate. In the meantime, I am mourning another loss.


I have also been trying to inject a little singing into my days, the last few months. When I am away or horribly forgetful or horribly busy, that ends up just being me tweedly-dumming through the day. When I am home and see my "SING!" notecard on the counter while busying myself with other things, I run through a bunch of vocal exercises and when I really get it together, like today and yesterday, I pull out my big black binder of Irish songs and run through a few.

Today was "M" and "O". I admit there are still a lot of songs in the binder that I haven't learned (but with the internet I have more hope of finding their tunes), and too many more whose melodies I have forgotten, in the long interregnum between the days of yore when I learned and sang songs galore, enjoying them at Irish music sessions with the likes of Ken Howard and Michael Dooley, and the days of now, when I almost lost my ability to sing. I have missed that music-making very much.

So what good does it do to limber your vocal chords up and sing a few tunes on your own in your room? Isn't that a little pathetic? Isn't music made to be shared? Look at all those eager folk on Britain's Got Talent. To them, singing at home is only the beginning. For me, it may be an end in itself.

When I take an hour, or half an hour even, out of my day and offer it up to song, I feel as though I have repatriated myself in the country of my heart. My body, inside and out, is completely involved, with the workout of breath, posture, and so much more. My emotions are engaged. I strive to do the best I can vocally but also to feel the song in its fullness. The result of all of this is a wakening from at least some of the weight and dullness that come with constant worry and self-criticism, coming back from fear and regret to a complete moment in which the song and myself are the only things in the world--and that is joy.

So delight with me in the full throated strains of another dedicant of the gods of music. And then, taking his inspiration for your own, open your heart and sing.

Image: 'Rufous-naped Lark, Mirafra africana at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa' by Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Video: English: "Singing seriema (Cariama cristata) at Areia city, from Brazil's northeast state Paraiba (PB).

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Is There a (Happy and Rested) Doctor in the House?

Do you ever worry about your doctor's health? If indeed you have a doctor? I have to confess that I only occasionally remember to wonder if my doctor is doing okay. I am much more likely to be thinking in terms of whether she is available to me, competent, perceptive, on top of things concerning my health, friendly and considerate and compassionate when I need her to be. As someone who spends a lot of her time thinking about how my friends are doing, and offering support when I am able, it is disappointing to realize how one-sided my thoughts are concerning someone who I have known and liked for quite a few years. We do express affection for each other, and when she was brutally assaulted a number of years ago I was sensitive to her distress for months afterward. But then I fell back into being the baby in the relationship.

Now that it is stirred up in my mind, though, I can't help stringing together all the moments I have stopped and wondered how a doctor friend of mine manages his or her enormous and taxing workload, or been horrified to hear the hours that ER doctors work, heard about increasing restrictions on the amount of time allowed per consultation, and so on. It adds up to a lot of moments over a bunch of years. Doctors in this country are suffering, and I have been mostly oblivious to it.

What stirred these thoughts up was an episode that aired this week on White Coat, Black Art, on CBC: Doctor Burnout. It begins with a recording of a doctor freaking out at a patient who has made a demand on him that he is in no shape to respond to. It was a wakeup call for me.

At one time in Canada we felt pretty smug about our health care system, especially when (imagine us fluffing our feathers here) we compared ours to the system available in the United States. We meanwhile streamed in and out of our doctors' offices and hospitals concerned only with how well we were treated and how good the food was, and, of course, whether we got better. I speak only of those I knew. Doubtless there were holes in the system even in the good old days, but those holes got bigger and bigger over the decades, and in time there was a constant flow of talk about the myriad problems we now face, from increasing costs (both to society and to the individual), loooong waitlists, a rising two-tiered health care system, and suddenly (or perhaps not so suddenly), the near-impossibility of getting a GP (family doctor). Our cries of "Unfair!" resounded, and I was not alone in looking with fear at the disintegration of that once envied system, hoping it would not crash at last into a mimic of the US system, sure that this was the direction certain forces were trying to make it go.

In the midst of all of that, I for one felt disappointed and at times angry with my continually disappearing GPs, leaving me in sometimes a very difficult position, with a grouchiness that arose not only in some physicians but in the nurses, receptionists, and other practitioners that people the health care sytem, with overlooked health conditions (even when I pleaded with them to take care of them--I am thinking particularly but not only about the cancer that went undiagnosed for nearly a year despite my repeated requests to have the lump removed)... But only occasionally did the fog of my (reasonable) self-interest clear enough for me to see how the people in that system were suffering.

I particularly remember being helpless in a hospital bed when a certain nurse was cutting and abrupt with both myself and another patient. It was only later that she said to me--I suppose I must have called her on it in a gentle way--that she cared a lot and was in a fractious state because she couldn't do what needed to be done for patients and was exhausted. So her distress that arose from compassion resulted in her acting uncompassionately. A lightbulb went on, then fizzled out again when I got back to normal life.

There are a million reasons why we need to shore up our ailing health care system. The suffering of the people whose job it is to deliver it is one huge reason. Even if that suffering didn't result in mistakes and bad bedside manner, it would be reason enough to put things right. We wouldn't want to live stretched past the limit ourselves. Why would we expect it of them?

Below are links to the radio program I listened to and to an excellent article on the topic I was pointed to by a doctor friend of mine. The article, from a US newspaper, points out that 300-400 doctors (presumably in the States) kill themselves every year, and that doctors are at double the risk of other professionals to take that terrible step. Women physicians are especially vulnerable.

So, I am glad that I start every appointment with my doctor with the question, "How have you been?" and that I get to actually hear from her how she is. Now I hope I will be more forgiving when she is impatient with me (as she has been perhaps twice in the decade or so I've known her), and that I will remember that she is doing the best she can in an imperfect system. And, by and large, doing it very well.

Doctor Burnout, CBC Radio One, White Coat, Black Art, with Doctor Brian Goldman. 11 November 2017.
Taking Care of the Physician, by Perri Klass MD. The New York Times, 13 November 2017.

Image: "Daydreams of a Doctor" by Columbus Barlow (1898) (14778458162). By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Putting the Garden to Bed; Waking up to Community

What a blissful yield from today's community garden workday, the last of the year.

I weeded, wheelbarrowed, and wandered around (sorry--needed a third W). I signed up for several jobs, most of which I have already been doing (minding the lupines and blueberries, for two, but also helping paint some doohickey). Of course, there was also the occasional chat with friendly folk, some of whom after (four?) years are familiar, one of whom (Clélie!) is a dear friend.

A couple of hours later, I got to work on my own garden. Harvested all the beans and tomatoes and leeks, (inherited some carrots and tomatoes from other beds), pulled up old veg of various sorts, and then added back a lot of material to the beds so they can snooze all snug and happy.

After a few errands I got home and contented myself with shelling a LOT of scarlet runner beans and white pole beansI even found a few young enough to munch down while I was working. It looks like I can supply much of the garden with bean seeds next year. (Hint, though you wouldn't want to do it with some seeds, beans can be frozen and used in the spring.)

As always, even when I am in pain and tired and reluctant to go, it was very rewarding being in the garden. Particularly with the uncertainty around my housing, having this one piece of "home" that I don't expect to part with soon is very comforting, and as I lose my neighbours one by one (or two or three at a time, in some cases), these garden neighbours grow in importance. I have a keen need to have stability in my community. Sharing the work and pleasure of growing food is an amazing way to nurture that.

I left my writers group this year, one I have enjoyed being a part of for many years. The leader, Eileen, my dear friend and the reason I joined it in the first place, was retiring, but also it was getting to be too much to get out to Port Moody once a week, plus do all the prep for it with the diligence I demand.

Apparently, though, I have found a new activity to replace that. A call for new board members at the garden came out and I found myself thinking I might actually like to do that. (Normally I run like the wind.) It would be a concrete service to the garden, and an opportunity to become more invested in it and to know some of the other gardeners better. After a few preliminary questions, I decided to join up, if they will accept me with my various limitations. I am feeling quite happy about that, about stepping out into the world a little in a realm that gives me great joy. Also feeling happy about my beans.

One weird thing: my potatoes have disappeared. Only found one little one, and all the the leaves and stems were gone. Odd and disappointing. But hey. I have bundles of garlic, trays of beans, and all manner of lovely things. Maybe next year I will get to keep my potatoes, too.

Image snitched from Still Creek Community Garden Facebook Page.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Throwing Out Your Loved Ones’ Stuff: A Letter to CBC The Current

A letter in response to an article I caught the last few minutes of the other day:

Friday August 25, 2017

How unwanted family heirlooms create a divide with aging parents

Dear Current,

I am one of those apparently clinging oldsters—not so old, actually, but one who places value on belongings kept over many years. Not economic value. I have not owned anything worth a dime nor have my friends, by and large, who have died and whose homes I have helped to dismantle.

Stuff costs money to house. Along with dumping our inherited belongings before we have had the chance to really understand what we are ditching, we fill up every inch of our increasingly tiny homes with random things that, often, we would throw away first if only we had the mental space to sort it through.

I have lived for over thirty years in the same room. Compared to most people I don’t have much stuff. But I certainly have enough. My furniture is carefully acquired antiques, none worth much except in the warmth their soft woody lights brings to my eye. I have books, mostly old, beautiful to me for their age and content, again, few worth much in dollars. I have petalware plates and bowls lifted from the trunk of a friend who had just died, a neighbor I had cared for increasingly over many years until I was his main support. I have knickknacks, including an Olde Englande teaset that is cracked and glued together. These I inherited when my Northern Irish friend died, suddenly and distressingly. I have, too, her granny’s potato masher, worthless to her brothers, and some pieces of Tyrone crystal that she adored, as do I, but her executor couldn’t move them at the yard sale. I have souvenirs of my family—Dad’s old sweater and cap, Mum’s last oil painting, gifts from nieces and nephews, some from siblings, too. Meaningless to anyone but me.

When I have a friend facing death, I do everything I can, if I am able, to support them and connect with them in their present life. And when they have died, if I am able, I sit in their room or rooms, see what they saw, touch their obscure and well familiar belongings, reinforcing what I knew of them, learning something more. If I can take some memento home then I bring a piece of that friend with me. Every time I see it, year in and out, I see that friend.

When I die, no one is likely to want many of my things. We all already have too much stuff. But this saddens me. I have spent a lifetime making as gentle a home as possible; I would like to contribute that gentleness to the people I love. I would like them to pass the old wardrobe and not just think, that damn door is always drifting open, but, Auntie Casey is saying hi to me.

In many ways, I have felt incompletely understood by people. I have this odd sense that if they took the time to be with my things, as they might not have thought to be with me (that is, still and receptive, rather than chatty as we usually are—as much my doing as anyone's), they might know me better after death than before it. Or, perhaps, as I have done with my friends, invent new versions of me to carry with them. Even that is a communication. A continuation.

Some of us toss out everything but the “best” stuff from our parent’s homes when they have died or are going into care, and later keenly wish we had not let everything go. We are so into being practical that we forget that we are something more than that, too. I regret throwing my dear friend’s letters away because there were so many of them. He is long dead and I can never have those conversations again. Would it really have been so hard to keep them?

Sure, there is a time to let stuff go, even beloved stuff. But it should not be rushed, if there is any other option. Besides everything else, that stuff can open the doors of our hearts, and help us heallong after our loved ones have turned to dust.

So, divest away, oh modern practical people. But do not throw out the deep connections that are possible through the loving acceptance of a well meant gift. One that will be there long after your loved one is gone. Think long and hard before you pitch. You can always toss it at another time. But you can never bring it back.

Image: Parents see heirlooms. Their kids see junk to clean up. It's a keepsake dilemma for families. (

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

“what wolf cubs need” by Casey June Wolf (poem)

what wolf cubs need

brown and curled and wet with mother's dew
each cub slides into this world
cleaned   tongued   nuzzled
until the mewling starts
until the new wolf waves her helpless nailed paws
into the air
against her mother's cheek
until the sealed eyes and questing mouth
find their way to her white-filled source

every cub needs her mother
her brothers and sisters, too
to lean against in slumber
tumble over
tweak in play
to run with
growing smart   gleeful   strong
each cub needs her father
warm against the night
gambolling when mother's gone to hunt
stretched out calm and watchful
running quick and eager
barking against those who'd pull her down

those cubs who have them are the lucky ones
cubs with "aunts" and "uncles"
who wrestle long with them
who sleep with   eat with
bring treats to them
you are my uncle wolf
caring when you need not care
bringing me the long red leg of a fallen deer
to chew   and fight   and chew
you are my brother wolf
wrestling   playing
barely conscious of the cougar on the hill
you are my comrade wolf
and i walk with you contented
safe as i can be
on this long expanse
of snow

Copyright: Casey June Wolf. 3 June 1993.
Image: Timber Wolf Cub - Colchester Zoo, Colchester, Essex, England - Saturday July 21st 2008. By Keven LawThis file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Genericlicense.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Quora—A Web of Thought

I had avoided getting on Quora, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc., keeping my social media presence to a dull roar at Twitter and Facebook. I was pleased with this success. I know how easily I can fall down the rabbit hole and I had a big enough warren as it was.

My nephew, however, is very active on Quora, and he knows me well and from time to time would come across things he thought I'd find interesting, and send them to me. Sooner or later something came up that I really wanted to respond to, and that was it. I signed up, I was hooked.

What is Quora?

According to their website,
Quora is a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. Its publisher, Quora, Inc., is based in Mountain View, California. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.More at Wikipedia

Fair enough. So why do I bring it up here?

I do so because it is, in a way, all about writing in its deepest senseat least, for me. There are endless categories of questions and ways to find specific people or categories of people to answer them, or you just let your question swim out into the waters and see who (if anyone) responds. I'm not much of an asker of questions. Not many pop to mind when I am at the site. But I am very often drawn in to answering.

The first and most satisfying question experience I had was when a spider half-drowned in my shower and when it recovered several hours later, it began performing odd movements. I asked the question,

Why would Pholcus phalangiodes do deep knee bends (see my comment below)?

Then I used the search field that allows you to find specific people to request a response from. I put "arachnologist" in the field, found several, asked them, and got some interesting ideas, though no definitive answer. Quora pointed me to a related question, which had received no answers, so again I requested the help of arachnologists. Between the two questions and the folk who responded I learned a ton about my spider neighbours, connected with some lovely people, really enjoyed myself, and found a satisfactory answer to the question (which turned out to be what I had hypothesized in the first place, so that was cool). The key thing is that the behaviour I was interested in is not mentioned in writeups about this beast, yet within a couple of hours I had contacted people who knew the species well and were able to help me think it through. Citizen science lives!

A second satisfying question I asked was,

How are Irish people reacting to Leo Varadkar's politicals goals?

This was excellent because to be honest I hadn't even heard through Canadian media (though perhaps it was said) that Enda Kenny had stepped down as Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, whose job Varadkar now has), and the little I found on the internet about Varadkar was pretty cheery and meatless. So it was great to get on the ground responses to his presence in a political scene I can't easily espy from where I live.

Mostly, though, my time on Quora is spent answering questions. Sometimes my answers are off the cuff and meant to be amusing, as well as giving some genuine response. Sometimes I am drawn to think very deeply, take risks in exposing my own vulnerabilities, and work to find the best way I can to transmit my thinking, perhaps to someone who is in a position of fear or depression. That's what I mean about "writing in its deepest sense". I find myself challenged brainwise, heartwise, couragewise, and of course, stylewise. The wrong writing style will kill your message, but the right might carry it home.

I have no idea if any of my answers mean much to anyone, but I think that Quora is helping me to broaden my appreciation of the struggles people are facing, and their hopes and perspectives. I get to talk to people I would normally never encounter. And I get to dig into my foggy brain and do my best for someone, one Quora comment at a time.

Here are a few of my comments, fyi. They aren't perfect, but I think they are slowly improving.

Sara Ralph
Sara Ralph upvoted this
Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

I love spiders! My job as a little kid was to be summoned to every closet where my mother saw a spider, rescue the critter and take it outside for release. I felt awfully proud of myself because everyone else on earth, as far as I could tell, was either afraid of them or hated them, and spiders were in grave danger when those people were around. In fact, I was proud of my mother, too, who cared enough about both me and spiders that she didn’t let them get killed, which she knew would upset me, but let me help them out instead.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Good News for Creators and Publishers in Canada

Well this is happy news.

For several years there has been dismay among writers, illustrators, publishers, et al because of the reimagining of the copyright laws by educational institutions, who were essentially allowing themselves out of paying creators and publishers fairly for their work. At last the federal court has ruled against the practice, as we heard from Access Copyright yesterday. And bravo to that, say I.

I will not labour the point. Hundreds have explored it more fully than I am able to. But I will say that where I of course sympathize with cash-strapped schools, their ways of trying to get around the deficits too often fall on the shoulders of the very people who make those schools great--from creators and publishers, in this instance, to employees such as sessional instructors, who are ill-used six ways to Sunday.

Perhaps in these enlightened times we can start funding education, health, and the like to the extent that over-zealous (or panicked) administrators will be less destructively creative in their attempts to economize.

Here's the poop from Access:

Access Copyright is pleased that the Federal Court of Canada upheld the rights of creators and publishers with its judgment on fair dealing which has helped to clarify its application in the context of the educational system.
On July 12, 2017, the Federal Court issued its decision in the action between Access Copyright and York University.  Access Copyright, a copyright collective that represents the creators and publishers of printed and digital works, brought the proceeding in the Federal Court to uphold the rights of its members.
The legal decision, which is the first to review the Fair Dealing Guidelines adopted by the education sector, in this case York University, concludes that “York’s Fair Dealing Guidelines are not fair in either their terms or their application.”
The Court concluded that the guidelines do not meet the test for fair dealing established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Court also found that tariffs are mandatory and confirms that, “There is no opting out.”
The Court noted that, “There is a mutual dependence between libraries/professors and the copyright regime which may suggest that a better system of protection and more certain criteria (such as in a licence or in a tariff) would assist all parties interested in education and access to educational materials.”
 “The Court struck the right balance between the public good that is education and the need to reward creators to ensure that this public good continues to be well supported by quality Canadian content. Up until today, the state of the law regarding fair dealing left creators and the institutions that copy copyright protected works in a state of uncertainty.” said Roanie Levy, CEO & President of Access Copyright. “This decision will help the parties understand what can be done and paves the way to re-establish stability and royalties to creators.”
Access Copyright would welcome the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to entertain a meaningful dialogue with a view to resolving any outstanding issues between them and establish a relationship that emphasizes the common ground between those who create and those who teach and learn.

“This does not have to be a zero sum game.” said Cameron Macdonald, Chair of the Access Copyright Board of Directors. “We – creators, publishers and educators – have an opportunity and responsibility to serve the considerable common interest between content creation and education.”

Read the full decision here.

Roanie Levy
CEO & President
Access Copyright
Copyright © 2017 Access Copyright, All rights reserved. 
You are receiving this email as an Access Copyright stakeholder (affiliate, licensee, member organization, Board member) 

Our mailing address is: 
Access Copyright
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Images: "Model writing postcards" (1906)Carl Larsson [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Русский: Это ремикс, выполненный к женскому празднику.Есть "в кривых" Coreldro. By Astrofilosof (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons