Can Poverty be Re-branded?

“Sometimes when it feels like things are falling apart it’s just things falling into place”.

This inspirational saying brought to mind the Monty Python skit of “Catch that prize!” where if a contestant could catch, say a refrigerator, dropped from a fourth story window he could keep it. It is annoying how many pithy sayings there are for things falling apart.

I went to a lecture titled, “Is poverty a disease? Could treating poverty work like medicine?” Dr. Gary Bloch, a nice young  doctor who works out of a hospital in T.O. in an area with a lot of homeless people using the ER. *

I am biased, three times around the big C has introduced me to lots of doctors, I have found many doctors, young white males in particular but not exclusively, to possess large egos if not pugnacious attitudes of entitlement. I have read a bit about what internships are like, so I add exhaustion as an excuse for some of them, and then there are the ones who really want to do good… and this guy is one of them. But he is still coming from a culture (medical professionals) that looks at everyone as a set of symptoms.  It is also a culture that is very difficult to enter because of the costs of medical school. Why money should be allowed to be a deciding factor in who might want to be, or might be able to be, a doctor is another question. Most doctors tell me that I can discuss only two things per visit. However, if one of them is about O.H.I.P. the clock seems to fly out the window. Sorry I am griping. 😛

At the very end of the lecture I got to say my two cents worth. My heart was pounding so hard once I decided to try to speak that I might have not heard all of his lecture.  I brought up the Harris government, 25 years ago in Ontario targeting single mothers, reducing their family benefits by 1/3 OVER NIGHT and then standing back to watch the fallout. All the tax payers who could accept the cost of constant road repairs before they accepted the cost of social repairs? Well, if driving over the bodies of welfare mom’s had caused a bumpy ride to work they still might have supported this bludeoning of Family Benefits. I’m not sure but the effects were not as immediate as a bitter cold winter on ashphalt so they weren’t too bothersome. But a large number of women and children fell through the cracks. “Falling through the cracks” meant they went missing in the minds and hearts of the society that they belonged to. And many ended up in peril.

Harris’ cuts weren’t even cost effective, they shifted the expenses to totally ineffective services and removed large numbers from the data for political purposes only.  Add mismanagement of support payments, often those coming after a forced combative situation, a stipulation of receiving benefits was legal action against the absent partner, and voila, many families found themselves unable to pay rent. Their next step was into homelessness. There were piles of cheques for support that were months late and yet they sat unprocessed. Miscommunication, hostility and ineptitude turned up the heat on fathers who were labeled and threatened for being “dead-beat dads” which did not help moms and kids either. Many of my peers who didn’t have any other support network to help them were lost as the stress of jumping through hoops and sorting through requirements turned them back either to abusive situations or bad choices or emotional collapse and mental breakdown. The resulting years have led to the cost to taxpayers in law enforcement, incarceration, emergency services and health costs all skyrocketing and all caused by the repercussions of what were applauded as reforms twenty-five years ago.

I ended my diatribe with “Poverty is not a disease, it is a crime.” and I got applause.  (That was a bit frightening actually).

However quietly, fearfully we do it, we need to speak up about the things that maintain poverty so we can talk about the things that can alleviate it. Poverty is a crime being committed against the most vulnerable, and it is global. It is endorsed by the most wealthy and most priviledged. Poverty makes possible all sorts of abuses of human rights and so often leads to violence and even war. But I worry about calling it a disease. People living with poverty are already in isolation.

*I wrote this draft perhaps five years ago never publishing it.  If you go to the link for Dr. Gary Bloch you will see he is doing many positive and constructive things and lecturing other doctors. Maybe he is changing the culture from within? As I said, he is one of the good ones.

Sometimes I Just Bake Cookies…

MUSING BUT NOT AMUSING?

I have been imagining all the things that I could do now that I am no longer responsible for anyone else.

I still have my crossing guard job and within the three hours a day I am occasionally responsible for getting people (I wish more children walked to school) safely across the street.

Some adults think it is hilarious that I am crossing them. “I feel like a kid again!”  Some think it’s annoying.  I scold them when they are too impatient for the light to change and head out ahead of me on the red. I don’t tell them I have years of looking after people who were either looking forward to being independent, or looking back on the loss of it and so no stink eye of the type one might expect from a teenage is going to thwart me…

I didn’t look after kids or my mother for the approval I would gain.  That was good too because being a caregiver is really hard and often criticized by those who have never been one but know a lot about it from watching television. Although it was nice when  appreciation was expressed, it came, less often than it would in a television sitcom but more often than I probably remember.  (And I am sorry for this, truly.)

I just like knowing what needs to be done and then doing it.  It feels good. There, I said it.  I am not a self sacrificing saint or anything like it. I am just a person lacking in imagination.  Maybe. Maybe that is it.

So while I would like to sell everything and go and stand on the front lines of some injustice, other than getting hurt I don’t think I can contribute much; Or finish the two books I started to write when I was younger and smarter and able to drink more than one cup of coffee a day without a gastro-disaster; or finally finish that enormous painting I started (what was I thinking?) that is facing the wall as if the painting was ashamed and not me, it kills my back to stand and paint; Or try to learn to speak French, something that I found easier when I was still drinking wine, *sigh*.   None of these things will likely happen.

The anniversary of my mother’s death is rapidly approaching and I promised myself I would give myself a year before making any major decisions.

I am no longer responsible for anyone else. I come home exhausted and eat one of the frozen meals I made on the weekend and then do some hand sewing while some really violent Netflix show plays. It is the only way I can watch some of these programs.  If I actually look at the screen too often,  OMG, PTSD.

So I bake cookies when I am unsure, maybe I’ll manage a trip to see my Old Teacher over the holidays, bounce my grandson on my knee. And follow my favourite blogs, those that make the world still seem a place full hope and beauty and adventure, and good will for all.

 

Remembering a Dream

I had a diagnosis of stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002. I got in a panic about several areas of my life that needed addressing.  So as soon as I well enough after the chemo rounds were done I started painting.  I joined the Scarborough Artist’s Group. I also took probationary monks vows in the Soto Zen lineage.

openingtoopenness this was one.  “Opening to Openness, the four great vows”.

I don’t know where it is now.  I am still practicing just about everything there is to practice about being a human being.

 

Walking Woman’s post about Doris McCarthy brought back this reminiscence at: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/1450339/posts/1210833758

I think I was talking about my concussion,

…meanwhile I am so dizzy and this is my day: sit down, think of something I need, get up to get it, start something else forget what I got up for, sit down and remember what it was, get up and get distracted…spin and repeat. After years of looking after my mother while she was in a similar state I am now in that state myself!  I feel like I am fighting through mashed potatoes.

finding myself waiting for a bus in the heat and the sun (the bus shack is like a solar cooker, what is the point of a clear roof?) A nice young woman said she would let me know when the bus came so I could stand in the door of the Egg Smart restaurant.  By that time my head was throbbing and I thought I’d throw up…the medication I am taking is not really helping, I feel like I am reduced to waiting for the moment the yogurt will expire

not original

I don’t see the neurologist again for two months.  The thing about seeing a neurologist is, how do you really know what she has said if you are brain impaired? A friend cut out an article for me about post concussion syndrome.  I feel like I should just carry it around with me as my saying, “I have a concussion” gets no real response other than “Yeah eh, but you look good, your nose is really healing…”  I cut my bangs so you can’t see the lump that is still on my forehead.

This concussion, like with migraine, makes it so I can’t gage my affect.  Am I too loud, too urgent too hysterical or have I over compensated too much until I am whispering, calm to the point of coma, and sitting in a burning house?

Avoid parties, bureaucrats, people with agendas, opinions, and or grievances,  real or imagined, sunlight, heat and humidity, the urge to buy dresses…

Is it an affront that I am asked to get my photo ID for OHIP and told if I don’t my doctor’s assistant won’t book an appointment for me?  How useful will the photo be when I won’t have bandages on my broken nose forever?  Am a reasonable to not want to listen to my doctor talk about how difficult OHIP is making it for her and then tell me that despite the fact that I am crying she has a lot of other people to see and there is no time to discuss what I am upset about?  Or is it my brain?

Is it my brain?

I want to spend all my time with my grandson and his dog. They seem to be the only people who do not confound me.   😛

Not Quite a Poem a Day, but… It’s a good one!

When all the others were away at Mass’

[from Clearances in memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984]

by Seamus Heaney

3

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

From New Selected Poems 1966-1987 © Estate of Seamus Heaney and reprinted by kind permission of the Heaney family and Faber and Faber Ltd.

About the poem

A sonnet is, according to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a ‘moment’s monument’ and the moment captured here, in fourteen lines, is from Seamus Heaney’s boyhood. This poem is the third sonnet in an eight-sonnet sequence in which Heaney remembers with deep fondness his dead mother.

In the first section, the setting, that of a country farmhouse kitchen, is simple. A mother and her son are sitting in companionable silence, peeling potatoes. It is domestic, familiar, everyday and very special. In the second section the years have passed, his mother is dying and Heaney and his family are with her during those final moments. But the poem returns to that kitchen, years earlier, in the closing lines, which allows the poem to be framed by happy memories.

Read more at a poem for Ireland

I woke up at 5:30am with a migraine, took some pills and went back to bed. Continuing with the theme my dreams are taking these days, of being homeless, only this time I was meeting my son and his friend at a pub with an outdoor patio and me with boxes and boxes of stuff. I asked them to help me carry all these boxes home but each had somewhere to be and indeed had hoped I would pay for the cab we would share part way. There was something else too, I was barely able to walk, perhaps I was drunk or sick. We started leaving the boxes on the curb at intervals and people who were the colour of paper bags started appearing, hauling them away. (I had noticed at some point how there is a colour that is no-colour that takes over the appearance of those who are homeless, it seems to affect even their skin and hair. I don’t know if this is the crazy reverse  synesthesia I suffer from at times or if they actually do become grey/biege). We raised our glasses in celebration of our solution. Leaving, I took the arm of his friend to steady myself, at this point he was a much older man who looked like a writer I had known a long time ago. He said, “I have too much to do, my apartment is always a mess. I should do more to tend to my soul.” “Aren’t you your soul?” “I don’t know. That’s something to think about.” “Perhaps while you wash your dishes?”

When I read the poem I started to cry. For me a migraine can be the cause or the result of emotion. This time it is both.  And other things of course.

first born.

My first born.

I thought was very wise and mature until I had a baby. Before I had my son, things just happened and I did stuff. Sometimes I knew I had done well and sometimes I knew I had not. After I had my first child my heart was irrevocably torn open. It was wonderful and terrifying.

One of the things I realized was the universality of this love.  Suddenly pictures of mothers holding their sick, vulnerable or starving children were not of people in some far off place. They were pictures of me and their children were all my child and I felt helpless in a way I had never known before.

5495_600 The Christian story of a teenage mom giving birth to a kid in a barn essentially without a “real” father with only some crazy story to separate her from all the other moms out in the cold is a stark contrast to the excesses of the holiday, but it is compelling to the open heart in a way like no other.

Depaysement

This is an excerpt from a science fiction book I have been trying to write for a long time. I watched a documentary on TVO based on Romeo Dellaire’s book “They fight like soldiers…” and I wrote a bit about heroes and the meaning of Remembrance Day but instead I think I will share this chapter. I think it stands well on it’s own. Warning: This is not a funny post. There are references to violence not appropriate for children, even though it is about a child.

Depaysement

They shaved my head and shaved the cat too. We make quite a pair, skin and bones and no hair.

I have to watch she doesn’t scratch too much. They might think she has fleas and take her away. I check her closely but you never know. There are so many things that can go wrong, parasites and such.

The food comes regularly, every four hours I think: Little bits of this and that and weak tea, always weak tea. Not that I’m complaining, at least you know it’s been boiled. The cat sips what I leave in my cup cooling on the floor under the cot. I never knew a cat to drink tea before.

I sleep pretty very well. It’s quiet here.

The floor is cold. Once or twice a day I put my bony ass on a pot and do my business. There’s even a box of sand for the cat. The nurse comes and empties both every day. I guess it’s embarrassing but what can I do? I only mention it here because there’s so little that happens day to day.

They keep the place very clean at least.

Sometimes the cat snores. Maybe she has some congestion in her lungs. That’s a worry. Right now she is sleeping. Her one leg is outstretched and her paw is on my calf. She likes to be near me. I’m am writing this sitting up in bed while she sleeps.

Day two

I will write a bit about my life before I woke up here.

When I first saw a wanderer I was so young I didn’t even know what he was.

I was still playing with sticks, making little houses and telling myself stories while my mother worked.

I was playing in the cellar where we stored the root vegetables. It was a hot day and it was nice and cool down there. First I saw his bony feet on the steps. They were the same colour as the dirt floor. He was dressed in bits of cloth, wrapped with ribbons, like he was a present. I wasn’t afraid because of this. His face had paint smeared across it and his hair was gathered on top of his head and looked like a bale of wheat when it is bundled in the field to dry. I think I smiled.

But then there was the loud crack of my mother’s rifle and he crumpled and then fell, right on top of me.

I must have been screaming for a long time. My mother said she was sorry over and over. She didn’t see me. She had to kill him she said. She made me tea with milk and lots of honey and held me and rocked me for a long time.

The next time I dared to go near the cold cellar, there was nothing left to show he’d ever been there.

Day Three

The soup today smelled of garlic. I only mention it because the food here rarely smells of anything. I have no idea where these people are from but they seemed to have made a science of bland food.

We use to grow garlic. My mother made the best garlic soup. “People will always need to eat” my mother would say.

It makes me sad and happy to think about my mother. How can the two feelings happen at the same time?

***

Day eight/entry eight

I don’t think it has only been eight days that I have been here. I think I have been sleeping a long time. I am feeling better but I am also feeling worse.

I don’t believe there is much cause to go looking for things to feel sad about, but sometimes sad things pursue you.

I will tell you about walking and walking: If you walk long enough you become WALKING.

I will tell you about being pushed and shoved and about being afraid to cry. After a while you feel like you are made of wood.

I will tell you about seeing people get their heads cut off. It happens very fast but it also happens very slow. They look surprised. They look right at you even when their head isn’t attached any more.

See?

It is always raining and when it is not raining it is snowing and when the weather is fair it is too hot or too cold. There is always hunger, anger and fear. Mostly, there are lots and lots of days of walking.

Sometimes we celebrate and our leaders make speeches and we drink and chant and dance.

We are soldiers. We are wanderers. Our war is against everything. We move like a storm from village to town, stealing and burning and then moving on.

The loudest is the Leader today. Tomorrow, maybe you get to be the leader. Maybe tomorrow you will get drunk and have sex with a girl and eat until you are full and then kill some more people.

We never stop for long. We move into a town or a city and after we kill anyone who will stand in our way, we line the boys up and ask them if they want to join us or if they want to die and lots of them die but lots of them join. We give them a gun and we make them shoot their families.

The boys that cry we cut off their heads. Most stop crying.

Everyone cheers and slaps the ones who join on their backs as if they have done something special, as if they are heroes. Some of them even smile. But they are not really smiling. They are not even really there anymore. The real boys are gone and in their place are the arms of the monster.

I know this because I killed a boy. He looks at me from the mirror, pale and frightened. He is asks me to testify but there is no one who can hear my confession.

I whisper all of this in the dark to my cat.

I can never go home. There is no home for me now.