Granny Grad Student Reflects

I am almost done my first semester. By almost done, I should finish the final paper. It’s 80% written, but I’ve gone and found a bunch more sources, so it’s quite possible I’m going to rewrite it.

I’ve taken to describing my next grad degree as an expensive and painful hobby. There’s a challenge in that – I’m so very fortunate to be able to have the time and the money to do this. I also don’t want to diminish my fellow students. This is not their hobby, it’s deadly serious business for them.

Oddly, very few people asked me why I was doing this. It’s not a crazy question – no sane person takes a grad degree for fun. And here I am. I wanted to play with ideas like slinkies. I wanted to stretch. I wanted to spend time where what was asked of me was at the ragged edge of what I thought I could do. And oh, I’ve been there. When I tried to teach myself agent network theory. Each reading as I had to look up words. When my classmates used entire paragraphs to talk about something and I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. It was a weekly struggle to take my seat and tell myself that I was smart enough, that I could learn enough, that I belonged in that classroom.

My classmates are brilliant. Smart, engaged, passionate. Full of promise and vision and knowledge. Me? I go home and die on my couch. I read and I think and I read and I scratch out what I thought. Then I read their comments and I realize how brilliant they are. I will never be that smart.

That’s ok.

It has been fun. It’s been hard fun. I know all the business plastic words. I n use strategy as a verb, noun, and adjective. I know all the jargon. I n invent words with ease. I had no idea what semiotics were. I haven’t read agent network theory in twenty years. I somehow managed to doge ever reading Fouult.

I was never quite where I needed to be. At times during class I needed to be in the office. At times in the office I’d get notifitions of lectures I’d like to attend and . . . Well, there was no way. I don’t quite fit.

I played with ideas like slinkies. My goals very slightly exceeded my grasp. I learned new things, things I would have never been exposed to. I filled my brain with new and wonderful ideas.

It’s been worth it.

Posted in Grad Student | 1 Comment

And a Pot of Habitant

The man my mother was dating, the man I ll a sort of step father now, tells me that he uses the day he last spoke to you as a day of reflection.

You come to me differently. At the meat counter, when I see the pea meal bacon. In Nana Pearce’s shortbread.

You speak to me when I do not think that I n rry on and I still get out of bed. When I put my napkin on my lap, when I am kinder than I have to be. When I make lists of what has to be done. When I arrange the flowers at my former brother in law’s funeral. When I love with an open hand; when I struggle to understand that things are what they are. When I tell someone that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

There was not much good about you, if I am honest. Especially at the end, you were a bitter and vile woman. You would have destroyed me if I gave you the choice. I chose this quite and peaceful life. I am not sure that another 40 years of it will be enough to make up for what you inflicted on me.

Save this. You come to me in a pot of split pea and ham soup. In the loaves of sourdough that are rising in my oven. And when I take the soup and the bread and some flowers to a friend who finds herself starting over in a new house. That’s what you would have done.

That was the best of you. That was the part that I remember. If it was never for me, it was for others and you showed me how.

I miss you mumsy. You left without a word 5 years ago. Messiah playing in the background, a clear blue and cold sky. You saw a door open and you walked through.

I hope there’s peace. I hope there are flowers and a garden. I hope there is pea meal bacon and fresh bread and beautiful music.

Posted in Untegorized | 1 Comment


I wasn’t lying, although I appreciated the question. I have had a cold for three weeks now. I am an average of 67% mucus, which means that I am constantly sniffling and blowing my nose. My eyes are red. I blew past this colleague in a hallway, she saw the red eyes, and the quick interchange of “how are you/I’m fine” stopped when she turned and said “You are lying. You are not ok.”

I explained the cold, the sniffling and red eyes were not tears.

Although they could have been. They often have been.

I am in the dying days of my master’s class, slogging through an essay which is not coming easily. Constantly worried that I am not smart enough and I don’t know enough of the right ademic words to succeed.

Work is terrible. Having given my all, I have been removed from a project. My boss, tired of the vagaries of the world we were working in has resigned and moved on to another project. I’m hurt and weary, without much acknowledgement of being human. I was “bulk assigned” to a new manager. He’s a nice enough man, but I am aware that I lost a cheerleader when I could use one.

My nephew’s diagnosis weighs on me. I find myself at turns unreasonably angry, heartbroken and weary. I am so far away, there is so little I n do. Horror has come to them and I nnot protect them from this. They have only the dimmest idea of what this sort of tragedy is like. They are not sure if they n stand in the face of it; I don’t know either. I do know that the universe does not re if they n stand, they are simply going to have to.

Out of the worst of 2014, I developed a trick. I ll it the kind stranger. Effectively, if a stranger told me what I was going through, would I exercise re and empathy? If I n do that for a complete stranger that I am in no way invested in, could I not do that for myself? Could I not offer myself at least the re I would offer a stranger?

And the problem is the voice in my head. The voice which insists that I should be better at this, that I should be able to manage all of this. The voice that insists I should know imposter syndrome at school when I see it, and just be able to push past. The voice which reminds me that I must learn to separate my sense of self from my work life; that this has been a habitual and continual problem. I will not always succeed at work, and it will not always be my fault when I fail. And the voice which says that I am not dying, my husband is not dying, my parent is not dying, and I should be able to separate my grief and rage in order to support them.

I won’t lie, I’m struggling with those voices.

Posted in Learning Life | 2 Comments

Who Stand and Wait

I n tell you what the problems are. In a very real sense, they aren’t problems.

I will roll off this project and it will become someone else’s problem. It won’t get better, but it won’t be my pile of crud to deal with. That’s not nothing. I’m actively working on finding another gig, so that will help as well.

I n tell you, at least intellectually, it’s normal to feel like I’m not quite smart enough to be back in grad school. I n tell you that everyone feels this way, it will pass. I n tell you, from knowing some prof’s, that the prof feels that way. It’s a feeling and not fact. It will pass. I tell myself this in the same way that I tell everyone else.

I n tell you that the problem of my nephew dying is in some senses not a problem. There is nothing to be fixed. There is nothing to do. There is not a problem.

And that’s the problem.

My family, those I love, they are walking through hell. I n go and help do laundry and I n text and ll and tell them that I love them. When Christie asks if I will come and curl up in bed with her on the day that she n’t get out, I n tell her that I will. I will hold her and when it’s time, I will drag her out of bed. I will come at the end, if they wish. I will come and I will talk to doctor’s and I will direct traffic and I will kindly tell Christie when it is time to let go. I will look her dead in the eye and tell her that this is the hardest thing that will ever be asked of her, but she will not do it alone.

I will tell my nephew that death is a door we go through alone, but right up until that moment he crosses the threshold? I will be there. When he crosses? I will remain behind and I will hold his wife and children. I will guard them with every bit of fierceness I possess. I imagine I will find more than I thought I had.

I think of verses and I think of poetry.

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

“They also serve who only stand and wait”.

Doing laundry and buying milk and talking on the phone are not, I suppose, waiting. But they feel like it. My family is going through hell, and I n make sure they have clean underwear and a cup of tea. I’d say it’s something, but in the middle of hell? Let’s be honest. It’s absolutely nothing.

I n do nothing.

And that’s a problem.

Posted in The language of families | 3 Comments

Data Points

The night we told the children, I texted my best friend that I didn’t think I could do this. She told me I could. And I did.

As I was driving home from Montana, I texted a friend and told him that I thought I should be better at managing this than I actually was. He told me that he couldn’t imagine anyone feeling like they could handle this task.

Taryn sent me bath bombs to remind me to take some time for myself. Friends and colleagues stop by and listen and hug me. I am astonished at how kind people are to me. I’m not the dying one. This should be easier for me than it seems to be. It is not easy.

There are other problems which compound and add to this one. Work has exploded in the worst possible way. Something that wasn’t my fault, but will have dramatic, painful and long reaching implitions to my reer trajectory. Not the good kind of implitions, I should hasten to add. School is busy in the middle of the term. There are things due, research to be done. My brownies co-leader is profoundly disorganized, leaving me scrambling when I least have time and fortitude to manage this.

People ask how I am doing. I n’t answer. It’s not won’t, I don’t know what to tell them. I am almost out of gas. I remembered the cupkes for my colleague, but not the library books or the form I need to turn into university. This is better than yesterday, when I remembered none of those things. On Friday I me into the office without a jacket. I didn’t buy groceries on Sunday. I couldn’t tell you why or what I was doing. On Monday, I got to class. I had no idea I was supposed to present. It just slipped. It’s the sort of thing that would normally vastly upset me, leave me feeling ashamed and stupid for days. I shrugged, looked at the professor and said “Next Monday?”. I couldn’t tell you what I ate for dinner last night and I have no lunch for today. I seem to survive on granola bars and rrot sticks, and I do belive that I’m almost out of both.

Before I go back to Montana at the end of the month, I have to get the r serviced. I think it probably needs things done. I don’t really know what those things are, I’m not sure how to find them, I have an idea that turning up at the dealership and telling them to do . . . things is not a good idea, but I’m willing to bet that’s what is going to happen.

So, how am I doing?

The data suggests not well. I don’t know why I’m failing at this.

But there you have it.

Posted in The language of families | 2 Comments

Mr Rogers

Dear Ben:

I will make this apology to you on Sunday night, when I continue reading the adventures of Bad Kitty. It will happen right after I read to your sister from Anne of Green Gables. I will apologize, and I will ask you to remember this. I want you to know that admitting failure is both important, and ok. You will fail. Even as an adult. I also want you to learn from my mistake.

I made a bad choice on October 15. At 9:30 am that morning, having known for about 12 hours, and about 8 hours before you would know that your dad was dying, I got on to a conference ll for work. Your mum and dad were making lls to their family. it was hard, difficult. I got you fed, I cuddled your sister, I started the process of negotiating clothing choices with you.

And you had a meltdown. Your shirt was too . . . something. It was an autism thing, a little boy thing, an “everything is wrong and out of sorts thing”. It was too much and your brain went into overdrive.

Here’s what I needed to do. I needed to interrupt the senior business SME, I needed to tell them that my family needed me, that I was on vation, and I needed to hang up the ll. I needed to put the phone down, the work away, and I needed to just be with you.

Instead, I tried to do both things at once. I tried to comfort you and get you dressed and still pay attention to the conference ll.

You needed me. You needed Aunty Smarties, who has loved you since before you were born. You needed the Aunt that reads to you, sends you letters, is delighted by your kid drawings. You needed my full attention beuse in that moment you needed to be the most important thing in my world.

And you weren’t. You were an important thing. One among others. I allowed the fact that this project is on fire and my need to save things get in the way of the one thing I had to do. Which wasn’t about saving anyone, it was just about being present.

Here’s the thing. The thing I won’t tell you now, but I will tell you later, when you remember this apology as an adult. When I was 15 I tried to kill myself. They rushed me to the hospital, the hospital tracked down my mother. She arrived a few hours later, throwing the curtain open, demanding to know how I could do this to her, did I not know how busy she was. And I promised – I promised myself and the world that I would never do that. I would never put work ahead of people. I would never make my list of things to do more important than the people around me.

I broke my promise. I failed. I failed you and I failed me. Your mum and dad talk about Jesus, but I’m an agnostic. I think about being the person that Mr. Rogers wants me to be.

Great Nephew that I love beyond bounds – I was nowhere near that person at 9:30 am on October 15th. You deserved better. I failed. I am so very sorry.

Posted in The Cheerful Agnostic, The language of families, the nieces and nephews | 1 Comment


If you’ve never spent time around a mpaign office (and if you haven’t, you should. Everyone should volunteer on a mpaign at least once!) E-1 might not make sense. It means the eve of the election. It’s 9pm here in Alberta, which means the last of the sweepers have made sure that the door knockers are done. Someone in the mpaign office has made lunches for the scrutineers. The scrutineers have their packages. The mpaign manager is doing something lled closing the lists. They have turned off the phones, they are counting their likely voters.

mpaign offices are hives of activity, and over tomorrow that activity will wane. There is no mpaigning on election day. You n ll voters to remind them to vote. You n offer rides. But you don’t mpaign. You don’t tell anyone why to vote for your ndidate. By Eday, it’s all over.

And that’s not what I’m thinking about. You might think I would be, with a lifetime of mpaigning behind me, but no.

I think I was around 12. Maybe more, maybe less. At any rate, I was at the age where you ask your parents hard questions. And I asked my mother if she would vote for a ndidate she didn’t like beuse of the party she ran for. She said she would. As a rather black and white kid, I was appalled.

On my front lawn is a sign for an NDP ndidate. I know the guy, a little bit. I’ve followed him on twitter for years. I know a great many people who know him well. They speak well of him. He’s kind and lovely. I love the ndidate. He’s good and honest and kind and he will serve his consistency and nada well.

Here’s the thing. I’m not an NDP supporter federally. I’m a liberal. I’m pretty much completely opposed to a very large chunk of the NDP platform. Normally, in most elections, this wouldn’t matter. In this particular election, where there is likely to be a minority government, it does matter. The NDP will hold the balance of power. So, here I am handing them a vote which might elect a guy, which might give them another seat, which might lead to the enactment of things that will financially harm me in small ways, and which I will not like.

So Mumsy. You wouldn’t have voted for this guy. You and I both know that. I normally wouldn’t vote for him, save this.

I’m not voting for him. Not really. I’m voting for the single mum struggling to make ends meet. I’m voting for the Indigenous communities in nada that still do not have access to clean drinking water. I’m voting for gay and trans kids and adults. I’m voting for reconciliation. I’m voting for immigrants and someone who will stand up for Syria. I’m voting for those who have no place to sleep, no food to eat. I’m voting for the children I will never have.

I’m voting for this thing lled nada. Which is a place and a set of documents, but also an idea. A dream.

And Mumsy, that feels about as nadian as I n get.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Politics, Untegorized | 1 Comment

140 KM an Hour with Tears in my Eyes

I have struggled with how to start this.

The lab results they handed to me. The sinking feeling. When I thought my knees might buckle.

I could start with the scene in the kitchen – the part where Christie looked at me, weeping, saying that this was not the way it was supposed to be. He was supposed to bounce grandbabies on his knee. They were supposed to grow old together.

I could tell you about telling the children. I could tell you about when 9 year old Ben asked if his dad was going to die. We said that he would, but that we would make so many memories first.

I could tell you about the moment when I went and got the expensive bottle of scotch from my r. Poured Andy and I a hefty slug. Beuse I did not know how to do this. And then I dried my tears and went and did it.

It’s a glioblastoma. He has a year, maybe as much as 2. They’ll do radiation, then chemo for as long as it works or he n stand it. It’s fast, somewhat rare and aggressive. There will be no grandbabies on his knee. There will be no old couple on a front porch. There will be no dad at high school graduation. At weddings. There will be no 46th birthday.

I told her I would come at the end. When it gets bad, I will be there. I drove home from Montana as quickly as I could, with tears in my eyes. Not beuse I needed to be home, but beuse I need to know how long it takes to get back there.

11 hours. 55 minutes. Gas. Bathroom. More bad gas station coffee. 140 km an hour, with tears in my eyes.

Posted in The language of families, the nieces and nephews | 6 Comments

All those things that don’t change come what may

Douglas popped in and out of my life. Like many of the adults of my childhood, he moved in an unknown and unknowable rhythm. He’d ring the doorbell, stay for coffee, stay for dinner, stay for the night, stay for a month. I would turn up at my godmother’s, and he would be there. Sometimes alone, sometimes with his daughter. It was good when Christine was there – my god mother’s house is largely a house of men.

He was my mother’s first husband. A fact that was never hidden from me. They had a largely easy relationship. They maintained a friendship, never explicitly close, but always aware they had spent a dede together; lived through some good times and some hard times. I remember the line but not the context of the discussion – my mother saying “you forget Douglas, I was married to you. . . .” I n see both re and bemusement on her face, understanding and appreciation on his.

He was a singular man. Not in the sense of being exceptional, although I suppose he was that. No, he was singular in that he moved through the world alone. Late in life, he found a third wife, the one that stuck. He lived in a city I describe as 100 kilometers from back of the beyond. He liked it out there. He was happy. He liked the photos I posted of my ts, send me strangely punctuated messages. He still lled me Cheryl-Nancy.

Christine lled last night – he died suddenly. This morning, early I lled his sister, a favourite aunt of mine to say that I was sorry. I lled my godmother to let her know.

And while I was getting ready, I played Four Strong Winds. In my mind, I have this memory of Douglas and my mum singing along to it. My mother informed me that they used to go and watch Ian and Sylvia in the coffee houses of 1960’s Toronto. It’s a long way from Toronto and a longer way still from 1960. It’s a long way from the 1980s.

He was always bound for moving on.


Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change come what may
But our good times are all gone
And I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

Posted in Untegorized | 1 Comment

The Nature of Probability.

When you read that text at the bottom of a poll or survey, which says “19 times out of 20, with a margin of error of 5%, this poll is correct”, it has meaning. If I tell you that 50% of people prefer green beans to brussel sprouts, what I am really saying is that 19 times out of 20, if you re-ran this poll, somewhere between 45% and 55% of people would prefer green beans. It could be 47%, it could be 53%.

And the 20th time? Oh, it could be 12% or 98.2%. In the 20th time, all bets are off. That’s the very nature of probability.

I am seeing so many people offer prayers for my nephew. I have offered many of my own. Unsure if anyone was listening, but offered up all the same. The prayers, they are ascending.

And so many of them I see, they seem to ask for a miracle.

At some point, maybe a long time ago, maybe only a few short months ago, cells began to grow in Andy’s brain. Grow where they should not have. They are there now. They will be there when the biopsy is done on Thursday at 1. They will be there when a pathologist affixes them to a slide and stares at them under a microscope. When they are examined and graded. When the cytology report is written. When a diagnosis is made, when a course of treatment is prescribed. Those cells are immutable fact.

I believe in Genesis, after a fashion when it tells me that God (or the universe or just physics) created light. When the earth, which was formless was made into sea and land and sky. And I believe in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. When we are told that a light has been made to shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

I don’t believe that there are miracles. I believe at the start of time God (or the universe or just plain physics) created rules. The macro rules which give us gravity and plate tectonics, and the micro rules, which cover the division of cells. I don’t believe that God will suspend those rules, however much I’d like him to. At least in this se, for a little bit. That wasn’t what he promised. The earth began. The rules were set. The clock started. And then he gave us a light and he promised us nothing would put it out.

I don’t ask for a miracle. I’m willing to hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, this could be the 20th time. Not a miracle, just a mystery deep in the heart of probability.

Posted in Untegorized | 2 Comments