Moving Mountains: Day 228

So 228 days of coping with isolation, terror diminishing to apprehension of Covid, apprehension building to terror about democracy, …

I stand in my entry way going over my armour – ok, glasses, sunglasses in case, scarf and hat for the other in case. I stare in the mirror. Oh yes, mask. It’s routine. Nothing happens except grocery shopping once a week. And recycling while I’m going down in the elevator and have to take the bundle buggy any way. There is so much recycling in the 15 storey building now that I have to hit the right day and hour or keep it til next week. Sometimes there is a parcel from Amazon, sometimes a Door Dash food delivery.

Then last week all hell broke loose.

So far as the family is concerned, I’m the eldest and centrally located. The latter is immaterial now since no one can flee to me and sleep in my solarium. There were video calls. The ones from across the sea had valiantly tried to wait but I am such a later sleeper. The ones from across the continent were more a slow burn. But, at least, the two took turns.

Our family gives us lots of opportunity to lose it. Past generations gave us a gene pool of psychosis, borderline personality, bi-polar disease, clinical depression, sociopathy, suicidality. Did I miss any?

In the course of my long life, I have had 5 therapists and 2 clinical psychologists. I have tried Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism, Transcendental Meditation, self hypnosis, hospitalization, journaling – I have 150 hard cover journals of 200 pages each, group therapy, primal therapy and a curious kind of mutual therapy, sort of damaged friend to damaged friend. My friend had a lot of money and all I learned was that the rich are more worried than the poor.

When someone calls in deep despair, I know what to do. Which is listen. Then listen and finally listen. It is also useful to inquire whether they are taking their meds. Across the ocean felt much better after taking the correct dose for the occasion.

Across the continent was a harder problem. Young person shooting himself in both feet, ending up with no income and no transport. Young person does not seek help because he is all powerful. If broke and possibly hungry. So we adults mull it over and over. We consult each other, even cross continent and ocean and conclude we have to leave him be. No more rescue ‘fish’. He needs to learn to ‘fish’.

I don’t mean to imply that I am beyond needing help myself. Depending on the problem, I can choose my sister, Georgia up the street or Julia, across the continent. Can’t breathe from acute anxiety, I usually choose Georgia in case she has to come down and apply a paper bag. Recently, a news item managed to pitch me deeply into PTSD. A family can’t have that many serious psychological problems without ‘breaking eggs’. Events from 40 years ago caught up with me, events I couldn’t stop then and have even less power over now. Twenty five years ago, we went to the police, but they were never able to substantiate our allegations. Recovered memories are shifty that way even when recovered by half a dozen members of the family subsequent to a funeral.

In Canada, we have almost 10,000 deaths from Covid with 1/3 the population of the U.S. which has about 220,000 deaths. We are glad to have Justin Trudeau leading a more or less effective national government and Doug Ford, our province. The number of cases is rising. Toronto and environs and Ottawa have closed bars and dine-in restaurants down again. It doesn’t materially change the way I have been living. Basically, a boring, long-haired life.

The U.S where most of my immediate family lives is either going to explode in two weeks or start repairing damage done. I can’t bear it, so I don’t watch anything but Netflix. I am reading Fareed Sakaria’s Ten Lessons from a Pandemic and intend to read Dan Rather’s What Unites Us. Please don’t assume I have not already read Bob Woodward, Mary Trump, Michael Cohen, John Dean, Brian Stelter, Michael Wolf, and John Bolton. But now I’m trying to read only more positive books. I also like a good mystery.

Why do I care? I’m Canadian. Why does the whole world care? And I have the kid who has no job or transport in L.A., the one I have to let be, as well as a willowy, red-haired 3-yr-old and her blonde little sister who is just getting words. And their dad and mom, both doctors in Texas.

And, as a child, I fought Hitler, scavenging metal and paper and meat fat for the war effort and praying for the Warsaw Jews. We won. So why is this starting up all over again?

Remember the line from Waiting for Godot: I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Depression, Aspiration and Paris

Paris from Notre Dame

Well, the news isn’t good, we know that much. It’s October, 2020 and the number of Covid cases is rising everywhere, except Antarctica. Places are moving backwards, closing down bars and restaurants and gyms again. The people next door have moved their previously allowed 50 person party from a bar into their apartment. They are yelling and singing and smoking pot. Does this mean aerosol whatnots are flying through the wall?

This is Thanksgiving weekend here north of the 49th parallel and we are not supposed to mix households. Unless we are one-person households. We are. Three of us. So yahoo! I’m bringing champagne. Only problem is there were only three real champagnes left. One was rose, so I snagged a lesser known brand, weeping softly as I paid almost as much as I would for Veuve Cliquot. They just can’t get it, they told me. I’ve heard that first class Scotch is also scarce. All the first class Scotch islands were shut down for weeks and production suffered. But I gave up Scotch to save my stomach a long time ago. I gave up Scotch before most of you were born. Unless you are over 40.

So number two cause for some degree of unhappiness: I am 84 years and 5 months and 5 days old and at the present rate, it looks as if I will live the last years of my life in isolation reading e-books, watching Schitt’s Creek, and ironing my tastefully colored masks for my once a week grocery shopping expeditions.

But then I thought why should I? I have evaded Covid for nine months. I know how to do it. Just a question of discipline. Not that that is easy, but spending a couple of hours on video calls every day talks me down from rushing out with a bare-naked face looking for human touch. A hug! A hug! No, the problem is mortality in general. Actuarial tables. That sort of thing. So I came to a very serious decision – I will just have to go on.

My grandmother set an example. She was born in 1900 and passed on in 1996.

Now she lived her entire life on a farm surrounded by forest, high on a hill and under a mountain. She drank spring water, ate simple food and breathed clean air. I haven’t. On the other hand, I prepare all my own food and live on the 14th floor. Not good enough. All right. I’m up for this. I used to study and teach tai chi. I’ll start up again. I’ll learn to breathe. I know just who can tutor me on a video call. My goal is to get strong and healthy enough to have a few good years post virus.

But I need a carrot, something to pull me through the dark, isolated days of the next six months. Then it comes to me. There is an empty apartment in Paris. It’s a lovely old place with high ceilings and a balcony. It’s next to a subway stop and close to a grocery store. It belongs to my daughter’s Persian/American friends. They live in California. They don’t rent it out. They feel indebted to my daughter, who doctored their parents. Daughter assures me they would say yes in a minute. They have already sent her there on a first class ticket. Not that I expect they will send me, of course. But, if I keep saving the money I used to spend in bars and restaurants, I should get together enough to fly. If anybody ever flies for the hell of it again.

I invite my Brussel’s brother to join me. I have forgotten he hates Paris. He worked there for many years and lived in a 500 sq ft apartment in an iffy district. He talks my bizarre idea over with my sister Georgia. Who also hates Paris. She tells me. I don’t tell him, but I revoke my invitation. It would be better to go with my daughter anyway.

I love Paris. Did I say I love Paris. I went there long ago with the only man I ever really loved and our two young children. We separated 6 years later, about the time I reluctantly gave up Scotch. When he was in his last weeks with cancer a year ago, I said to him, “Do you remember that crazy little hotel near the Arc de triomphe in Paris? The children were across the hall and every time the subway passed the leg fell off the bottom of our bed. We thought the managers were gay but then…” “No,” he said.

“Well, I’ve been there so many times since,” he pleaded. With other women, I heard in my head. So no, we won’t always have Paris. I will have Paris.

I made my brother take me back one Christmas when I was in Brussels. We went to the Shakespeare bookstore across from Notre Dame. Ah, yes, Notre Dame! The centuries old trees in the attic. Well, who hasn’t suffered the ravages of age?

I will go back to Paris. I love the architecture. The city that Haussmann rebuilt, the ancient buildings like the Louvre, the bridges. I will go to look at the many-floored hotel de ville where the Ephrussi family lived. I will take a Cara Black mystery or two and visit where they are set. I know there are Cara Black tours of Paris.. I don’t do tours. And I don’t visit galleries. Too much standing and slow walking for me now. I have never taken a river boat. I would like to do that. I would like to see the tower that way. I think you can.

One wall of my home has black and white photos and sketches of Paris. One is a series of postcards depicting the construction of the tower in 1888-89. One is a photo taken from underneath, up into the woven iron work with a blazing rectangle of light in the centre. One is of the River Seine at night, all the bridges lit and Eiffel’s tower golden in the background. I know the gold is photo-shopped.

As is my dream. But how remarkable it will be if I rebuild some strength into this old body and survive and prosper and go to Paris once again.

Requiem: moving mountains #1

There were 4 of us, ages 11-13. I was eldest, there for the summer. The younger kids were my two uncles and my aunt. (I know – hill people.) We had climbed onto the roof of the wagon shed. The corrugated tin was hot under our feet. There had been a dance down at the hall the night before. It was too wonderful to let go, so we were putting on a show. We had sneaked out the potato masher and a wooden spoon for microphones. I was singing, “South of the border, down Mexico way’. Evelyn was backup because, honestly, she couldn’t carry a tune. Ted was on air guitar, twanging away and Percy was battering the roof with 2 sticks. I got to the sad part, “The mission bells told me that I could not stay.”

Hereford Mountain hunched over behind the corn field and the Old Place.

I was happy, really happy.

“Whaaat?” my grandmother screeched as she came around the corner. “Get down from there before you break your necks. And give me the masher. I need it. The men will be back for dinner.”

Mountains don’t move, not even for Mohammed. Hills don’t give up farming to find work in a steel mill. Hereford Mountain is still there, although it has a bike trail up from the East Hereford side. There’s a new vacation house out back of Bungee, snugged up under the mountain’s shoulder. The road to this dead-end has been improved. There is a pond.

But Hereford is gone.

The 10 farms that climbed up from river valley are turned into tree plantations or rental properties. The sunny hay fields are now mostly dark and foreboding, thick with tall spruce. Perhaps some dairy farmer out from the prosperous wide valley is still taking hay from the old Owen place.

Those hills were great for farming stone. They yielded an excellent crop every spring, but never more than one crop of hay. The top soil was thin having been scraped off and washed into the valley. The Owens who came to Plymouth on the Hopewell, 3 ships after the Mayflower, had too many surviving sons. My great great (about 1825) migrated north to these bony hills and set to work chopping down trees and hefting stones, starving and working themselves to death.

I joined them in 1936, arriving in a tiny backwoods house -out around the Horn- with no electricity, running water or telephone. No horse but shanks’ mare. A woodstove in the kitchen. The good news was that my father had worked at pulp logging all winter and saved up $18 for the doctor to deliver me. He brought ‘twilight sleep’ for my hysterical 19-year-old mother. My Aunt Mae, perfectly capable of delivering a baby and possibly more adept than the doctor and his bag, stood by. All she had by way of anesthetic was raspberry tea, laughter and Jesus.

The last time I went back was 8 years ago, a birthday treat for my younger sister, Georgia, on her 70th. We stayed at the Ayres Cliff Inn as if we were rich people. On the way home to Toronto, we realized we could not go back. One of us had a back spasm and both of us never wanted to get behind the wheel of a car again.

Last weekend, Georgia, thanks to DNA testing and Facebook found Julie, whose mother Rose grew up on the hill. Thus I learned that the only survivor of the people I knew is Rose’s 97-year-old father. One or two of my Aunt Mae’s grandsons may still be there, but I didn’t know them. All my mother’s 6 siblings are gone. Most had died in Ontario where she had, and of cancer as she had. They had all worked in steel or aluminum. Evelyn and Ted had crossed the border to work in the U.S. They had been born there in 1937 in a hospital because of the risk with twins. I had felt Ted was gone, but not Evelyn, yet she had in 2013. The last of the old people, the previous generation, Julie’s aunt, her husband and his brother, Ron, another Owen uncle, had died since 2019. These were the people I had last contacted. I had learned then that our favourite, Ron had dementia and was in a home.

I left there almost 80 years ago. Or rather, we escaped. Afterwards, we sometimes were hungry but never starved. I wish I could say we left the worst of hill life behind, but I can’t because we still had Dad. Hereford Hill breathed a sigh of relief that he was gone no doubt. Gradually uncles and other folk followed in our tracks and tried to create the good old days, plus readily available booze and the odd mob contract to supplement income.

So this week, as well as facing democracy’s destruction and rising Covid figures, I bade farewell to the beauty and joy and awfulness of hill life. Ave atque vale!

See also https://115journals.com/2018/03/01/hillbilly-elegy-a-personal-reflection/
https://115journals.com/2018/03/04/hillbilly-elegy-reflection-2/

Going To Church

celiadermontblog

Going To Church


(inspired by our president's 
walk of shame from the
White House to the church)

Like a BOSS
I know where to pray
on the mountain
with the Babylon of
rocks and boulders
on vertiginous peaks

Twisted Limber pines
much older than me
Flowers that no one else may see
succulent white liquid
petals, wet desert daisy
tiny... pink... stamens
(sparkling eyes) drowning
in the vast crown
Rooted in dry gravelly ground
Short-stemmed like me
Cutting every corner to
conserve energy
for the grand, miniature display
My heart is rejoicing automatically

Holy people praying on TV
The virus is culling our weak
Be a humanist and
take care of the herd because
we all have our turn to die

The Bishop is in a hurry The Rabbi is pedantic and brief The…

View original post 172 more words

The Two Percent

celiadermontblog

Photo by ksh2000 on Pexels.com

Sadistic sociopath
Streets and alleys bleed
across my adopted country
The Black man can't breathe

Centuries of slavery
make the blood run
bouncing over jagged rocks
I feel its legacy
in every Black pulse
people now assumed free
The rough run of fluid in veins
traumatized for generations

My Appalachian heart
distilled in the North country,
running from the violence
nurtured on Assassin's Hill
A successful white immigrant
brought down by comorbidities
of profound injury

My pulse is choppy too,
the imprint of torture and murder
resonating in the flow

One American son moving
corporate mountains
to heal the heritage of
Satanists and Nazis

The other hand in hand
with his love,
where I could not be,
wearing a gas mask,
shot by rubber bullets,
no lost eyes
Left his gun at home
and walked peacefully through
the hemorrhaging streets because he is a…

View original post 83 more words

Watching the Breath: listening to the light

Day 93: Yes, I know there are other people still locked down. Steven Colbert was last week. Possibly, my region can be opened up this week, but the last I heard cases of Covid-19 were still going up, especially in my suburb. Although, honestly, it won’t make much difference to me, given my advanced age and the nearly 20% chance that it will be fatal if I catch it.

For the first three weeks, I didn’t leave my apartment, but then grocery delivery stopped working. You could order a large number of things and sit up until 12 a.m. to get a delivery slot, four nights in a row and never get one. Conclusion – I had had too few children, the two I had were wanderers and I would have to scuttle out before daylight and buy my own.

So for three months, I have been staring out my high windows at the sky, my feet touching earth once a week to hunt and gather. The good news is it’s now daylight at 6:50 a.m.

I know everyone has had different stresses and pressures. I’m grateful I wasn’t shut up with the man I married nor our children who needed the challenge of strenuous exercise to keep from killing each other. We were both teachers, and good at it, except with our own offspring, who tended to run screaming from the room when their father tried to teach them algebra.

So there’s that to be grateful for.

I also know there are many, many single people who have got to the end of their rope, like me, around 9 p.m. when they haven’t heard another voice all day. Except of course on television. I am proud of the fact that so far I have had only one real panic attack caused by a sudden vision of burning cities and gunfire. We had already had some of that, but this was worse and involved Trump’s rally in Tulsa. I called Georgia my sister, who was puzzled because I couldn’t speak. Finally and with no sociological reference, I managed, “I can’t breathe.” It was a doozy combining all the symptoms of suffocation, heart attack, food poisoning and seizure-like spasms.

Georgia said in a kindly, scolding voice, “You know we all signed up for this. Every last one of us. We made an agreement to take on these roles – victim or killer or Covid patient. We came to do these things, to learn a certain lesson. Anyway, it’s all already happened.”

Now you may not agree with Georgia’s view of destiny, which we undertake pre-incarnation. I’m not altogether sure that I do. At the time,  it seemed a wise idea, although I nearly drew the line at it had “already happened”.

Half an hour later I had calmed down.

Next day I checked in with my daughter in California and she seconded everything Georgia had said, despite the fact that the two of them have barely spoken for forty years. I still want to nail them down about the simultaneity of time. Certain times I absolutely do not want to ever encounter again.

Such as this one.

Thank goodness for household chores that ground me, thank you for Face Time and video calling and even telephones, thank you for television – for  news channels and Netflix and Acorn, thank you for e-books and library loans by internet, thank you for socially distanced chats in Georgia’s backyard and drive-by birthday parties and thank you for the strange experience of being a monk in a mountain cave.

I had read a lot about these chaps in my study of Buddhism and Taoism. I knew that they depended on routine. That seemed an odd way to organize nothing, but I leapt to the task. One of my first daily tasks is to put my hair in order. It was last cut in late January. I wear it short, very short, usually. Now it is half way down my long neck and curling up in an awkward reverse pageboy. This morning I found myself saying, “Fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear..”

Both Georgia and my daughter are fond of reminding me to breathe. I, of course, always respond in my robot voice, “What is breathe?” “Watch your breath,” my daughter says. “And listen”.

I can see about 50 miles of horizon out my floor-to-ceiling windows. The view’s horizon is the shore of Lake Ontario. The photo above does show a line of darker blue that is the water. In the east, I can see the C.N. Tower in downtown Toronto and in the west, I can see the height of the Niagara Escarpment, the only height in this flat land. I particularly love Rattlesnake Point there and longed to go there for the long weeks of shut-in.

I used to live in a ground floor apartment in a triplex. There were bushes and flowers, trees and birds at my level. Now my view is of doll house roofs and tree tops. And sky. I have taken to noticing the change in light throughout the day. At the moment the ground is all green kodachrome while the sky is light blue fading to white over the lake. I have watched a line-squall suddenly tear through with floods of rain and tree-bending winds. I have watched its darkness leave just as suddenly to lash the city. I have remembered the names of clouds from my sailing days and the weather they presaged.

I have sat in absolute stillness listening to the quiet.

At dawn this morning, I dreamed of a man who loved me when I was young, a tweedy grad student who smoked a pipe and wrote me love poetry. I liked him well enough, and spent time with my roommate in the house he lived in with other grad students. It was good to get way from residence food and rules. We laughed and pretended to be intellectuals. After I left university, he called me to invite me to a cousin’s wedding Friday night two days hence. He had tracked me down at Blake’s home. I said I was sorry I couldn’t go. He said, “I suppose you have something important on.” He could be snarky. “Well, yes,” I said reluctantly. “I’m getting married.” I may have named my son after him, although I spelled it differently and reasoned it was my grandmother’s maiden name. He died young, in his forties, of a brain tumour. I didn’t learn that until years later, by which time I was divorced.

“I thought you knew,” my ex-roommate said when she told me. “We thought you were the woman in the veil who came late to the funeral and sat in the back row.”

Last night, he turned up in my dream. We were both still young. He was working in a hospital in Toulon, he said. That was odd, considering he had studied physics.Then he enfolded me in an enormous hug. His body was more substantial than it had ever been and he held me tightly for a long time. So thank you, Brian, after all these months I needed that human touch.

 

 

 

Who Wants to Live?:

Who wants to live to be 103?
A 102-year-old.

My point of view is not unique, but it is not shared by a large percentage of the population, so I thought I would share it.

I am 84.

It was a struggle getting here but, considering that, you may wonder why I want to stay.

I suffered an extremely abusive childhood. I barely survived my sixth year. It led to years of mental anguish and much therapy to recover. A pattern that was continued in my adult children. I was divorced, enduring not only the loss of my beloved family, but also loss of financial prosperity. I have survived two different malignancies. Recently, I have helped my ex-husband as he passed painfully on and then I managed his estate. Finally, my life seemed to sail out into an open, calm sea with a following wind.

Then covid-19 appeared.

For weeks we have heard stories from Italy and just today from Spain about how stressed hospitals are triaging acutely ill patients. Older people are going to the back of the ventilator line. I have just watched a video of a Spanish doctor crying as he introduced the audio of another doctor, describing how patients older than 65 are being sedated. There are not enough ventilators. Of course, their families are not allowed to be there. Health care workers hold their hands as they suffocate.

As my ex-husband fell into unconsciousness last March, four of us sat beside his bed, talking to him and to each other, laughing even and surrounding him with love as he made his passage. Across the continent, his daughter supported him long distance.

I am 19 years over the cutoff of 65 years used in Spain.

I have changed my care directive. It already said ‘do not resuscitate’. Now it says that I opt not to be treated by ventilator if there is a shortage. Probably unnecessary, but it may help those who have to deny it to me.

But I am not ready as apparently Glen Beck, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, 69, is to die to raise the Dow Jones or the S&P average. Talk about volunteering to be cannon fodder. The economy, like the human spirit, has resources not dreamt of in his philosophy..

I’m lucky that my country, Canada, has a sane and thoughtful leader. He and his cabinet assure us that preparations for the surge of patients that is coming is being prepared for. I have now been in self-isolation for more than two weeks as have most people in my province. I had to go out for food last week. Stores let older people in an hour early. The first store was all but empty. There was a line to get into the second one, everyone six feet apart. I am being very strict with myself, even refusing to join my sister and niece for an at-home movie and pizza. I wash my hands like Lady Macbeth and clean my devices as I’m told.

Eighty-four-years that’s enough surely. Can’t ask for more.

Well, any extra are not going to be subtracted from your allotment. I’ve made that clear. And, surprisingly, where there’s life, there’s hope. Living things do not usually want to become non-living. Some people want badly to stop hurting and confuse that with not living, but the two are not the same.

So when you hear the news that’s supposed to cheer you up that covid-19 is fatal only for the immune-challenged and the elderly, don’t misunderstand. For one thing, young people, even infants and teenagers, have died of it. For the other, a great many of us have underlying health issues and some of us are old. Curiously, we still want to survive.

Yes, we are all afraid. And bored. And under-funded. And going stir-crazy. In that we are as one. Let us carry each other.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Bullet: Diary of a Dead Man on Leave

David Downing takes the title of his latest spy novel, Diary of a Dead Man on Leave from a Comintern expression roughly equivalent to the American saying “dead man walking”, which describes a prisoner condemned to death. Spies for the Soviet Union expected to be eliminated eventually, often by their own side.

Josef, the narrator of the diary is a German national, returned from South America to Hamm, Germany to foment revolution there. He has seen the inside of prison in his previous assignment, but in Hitler’s Germany in 1938, prison is the least of his worries. Any Germans with communist ideas have learned to keep their head down or even to espouse the ideals of the fascist German Social Democracy party, which Hitler heads.

It seemed appropriate that my library hold on this ebook should come through in the first week of March 2020, given the news.

In this winter of my 84th year I have been battling chronic pain in the first place and the side effects of the medication that alleviated it in the second. Briefly, the meds worked brilliantly, except they made me seasick. I staggered about, trying not to throw up, but reluctant to quit them because of their good effect.

At the same time, news of the novel corona virus came at me from every direction. I live in Toronto, where SARs made itself at home in 2002-3 and I knew people affected. The good news being touted was that Covid-19 was not as deadly as SARs. The other good news was that it could be mild, didn’t seem to affect children and most of the people who died were elderly.

Just a minute – that’s me.

The average age of those who have died at this date is 80. Those over 80 have over a 20.5% chance of dying from it, according to WHO’s February figures. I tried to put that in perspective. Twenty of one hundred 80-year-olds who caught it died. The other one presumably became a zombie. No, no, stupid, you have to think in terms of 200. Forty one of them died. Okay. Got it.

Well, should I even bother hoarding toilet paper. The average age of those hospitalized was 60. I’d be carted out of here snappish at that rate. No problem. My apartment door is opposite the elevators. No troublesome narrow staircase.

So that’s settled. Someone else can raid my pantry in their desperation to survive the quarantine.

Like Josef, all I can do is wait for the bullet, comforted by the fact that if it’s my bullet, someone else will be spared.

I had a brief flirtation with Communist ideology in my youth, mostly to annoy Joe McCarthy, the U.S. senator who was persecuting liberal Americans. Never mind that I was Canadian. I cheered when Castro ‘liberated’ Cuba, the day that I was married. Got over that pretty fast, certainly by the fall of 1962 when the Soviets seemed bent on blowing up my babies.

Spy-wise, Josef’s return to Germany, is not a success.The first sign is that he decides to keep a diary: spies should never commit anything to paper. He has found a room in a boarding house run by a widow, Anna, who has a 12-year-old son, Walter. Walter is trying to navigate his way through school assignments, which require him to support Nazi ideas and policies and he turns to Josef for help. It is this unexpected human need that prompts Josef to start his journal.

At that time -the summer and fall of 1938 – Hitler is laying the groundwork for the annexation of Sudetenland, the “Germanic” part of Czechoslovakia. It looks as if he will gobble up the whole country. Probably he delays because, despite the armament he has built, his railway infrastructure is not yet up to the job. Josef knows this because he works on scheduling trains. Czechoslovakia will be annexed entirely in March 1939, but it will take the invasion of Poland for the Allies to declare war. The main narrative of the diary ends before that.

There are four boarders in Anna’s house, avid followers of the news. One of them Rushay delightedly recites newspaper accounts of  the latest Nazi  ‘achievements’ at the breakfast table. He is not the only boarder who is in love with Anna, but he is the most persistent.

Reading these scenes is like watching CNN today, leadership indulging in half-truths, self aggrandizement, unapologetic disregard for facts and downright lies.

David Downing lives in England with his American wife. And yes, they do get CNN across the pond. My Belgian brother gets a head start on us because he gets up six hours earlier and sometimes wakes me up with outrages I don’t yet know about. I have explained to him that my medication is supposed to be calming my nerves, which are otherwise set on maximum alert, that I don’t watch the news anymore.

Addicts lie, but you knew that.

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave alludes to the ever worsening persecution of the Jews and concentration camps, but it dramatizes the persecution of Walter’s African-German school friend, Marco, who gets called a Rhineland bastard. He was conceived there at the end of WW I and his father, who loved his mother, was shipped home, not knowing about the conception.

Josef lives in expectation of recall to Moscow and the bullet that will probably await him. He is not sure he will answer the summons when it comes and meanwhile, Anna’s family needs him more and more.

He has always put his ideals before individual needs. The good of the whole and all that. How much of conscience should be sacrificed for pragmatic personal reasons?

Like many others, I would be better off today if I had been more pragmatic and morally flexible, but I chose to defy that logic. The same defiance that brought me here leads me to say the Covid-19 bullet is not for me.

If I am wrong, it doesn’t matter.

Ah Josef, this life is a school after all.

 

 

Hillbilly Elegy: a personal reflection

I read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy not as a political explanation of why a crazy man is in the White House, or why a generation of white men is unemployed and opioid addicted – although it is both – but as a personal reflection.

At the age of 5 in 1941, having just moved to a small town 30 miles from the ‘hills’ I came from, I screamed, “Runaway horse, runaway horse”. My cries led to much merriment. It was the first time I had seen a horse-drawn van. When I was 12, a city classmate asked me why I talked and walked funny? I thought my difference was safely hidden inside. I set about immediately losing my hill twang and my bouncy stride in desperation to ‘pass’. The drama society helped immeasurably, although in my 6th decade, I still imagined I would drop the crystal wine glass, and somehow shatter it on the deep pile of the Persian carpet. I knew how to behave in a five star hotel, but I wanted the staff to stop grovelling.

You can take the girl out of the hills, but even in her old age, you can’t take the hills out of the girl.

J.D. Vance poses the question: how can a hillbilly develop the confidence to go to Yale, become a lawyer and write a best seller. He has always been J dot D dot, but he was born James David Bowman. After his father allowed his mother’s third husband to adopt him, he became James Donald Hamel. After that his mother, a trained nurse, went through a string of men, a lot of alcohol and a good many drugs including heroin. J.D. was saved by his maternal grandparents, the Vance’s, Mamaw and Papaw. Their house near his mother’s was a refuge.

The Vance’s had left the holler in Jackson, Kentucky when Mamaw got pregnant at 13. Papaw was then 16. They went north. She lost that child, but Papaw got a job at the Armco. He enjoyed a drink or two with the other Kentuckian immigrants.Whole families moved up to Middletown at Armco’s encouragement. Out of the coal mines into the steel mill. Mamaw eventually kicked her drunken husband out, but he had reformed by the time J.D. needed him. It was true even in her old age, Mamaw could still take down grown men and did so whenever necessary.

My family came from a northern branch of Appalachia in Quebec, and twanged and drawled more New England than southern. When the war ended in 1945, my 4H father lost his job to a returning  veteran. He moved us in a borrowed gravel truck to Ontario. My seat was in the gravel bed wedged among the furniture under a moldy tarp . I was armed with a package of Asper gum to quell motion sickness and a flashlight to be used only in emergency. My companion was a 14-yr-old Ontario boy, Daddy’s moving assistant. In those days, before super highways, the distance measured 800 miles and took all night and well into the next day. I remember only the first hour. The banging and bumping of shifting furniture and the steel gravel bed, hitting the tarp, trying not to throw up or panic is mercifully all but forgotten. The gum and the game of shadow animals had lost their effectiveness. I was convinced that my parents and two little sisters were forever gone. A gravel truck bed doesn’t access the cab’s window. The gravel never has to pee.

Thus we arrived in the much more advanced province of Ontario, Canada, in true hillbilly fashion, and finally ate sandwiches for breakfast on the grass at the side of the road.

We ended up eventually in the heavy industry town of Hamilton. Three of my mother’s five brothers arrived in due course to get jobs at Stelco and turn into alcoholics. My father never needed any help achieving an altered state. He could turn on a dime, faster than we could duck and run.

Violent, alcoholic, check and check, but did we have the Kentucky code of loyalty to family. I don’t think so. J.D. got in early, clobbering boys who said as little as “Yo Mama.” If anybody needed clobbering around me, well – I was the oldest, girl or not, and my weapon was mainly a loud, nasty voice. Once, all four female family members jumped on his back and took down our father as he whipped the smallest Then hurled his belt into a hay field. By the time he found it, he was sweating and not in the mood anymore. I want to say he was giggling, and perhaps he was, but my father’s giggle was just another danger sign.

In short, our family home reverberated with loud verbal and physical violence as did Vance’s home with its serial father figures – he said living with his mother and one ‘Matt’ was like witnessing the end of the world- as did the homes of hillbillies in general.

Vance’s grandparents still had strong ties to Jackson KY which was only three hours away and they visited often reinforcing the values of family loyalty, hard work and hard play.

As a 9-yr-old, I was convinced we could never go back to the hill. I would never again see the great aunt who had taught me to love Jesus. She had also helped me become a friend of an older cousin. His mother was ‘the teacher’ at the one-room school, and he was going to university himself. Never again see the ‘rich” and educated woman across the street I had befriended when I was five.

My mother grieved as though she could never go back. On the hill, she had had all of the women she had known since childhood, no matter how annoying, as backup. In the small town, she had had her cousin from the hills at the other end of our rented triplex. Now she had no one and she lost her mind. She locked me in a trunk. If not for my 3-yr-old sister, I would have stayed there until my father came home from the gravel pit in Orangeville the next weekend.

Still I did well in school. I was determined to. It made my father proud.

Vance was not such a good student. It was hard for him to find a quiet refuge to study, except at his grandparents. Fortunately, my father worked two jobs. After supper, I could count on the time until midnight to quietly study.

As well as his more or less stable grandparents, J.D. had his Uncle Jimmy Blanton who flew him out to visit him in Napa Valley. These visits and trips with his grandparents expanded his possibilities. When J.D. graduated from high school, he knew he was absolutely not ready for college. He joined the marines. In three years, including a stint in Iraq, he learned an altogether different code of living – disciplined, orderly, self-controlled,   He came back to do three college years in two, and to get admission to Yale law school. He credits one of his professors for mentoring and guiding him. And most of all the woman he fell in love with and married.

The boy I fell in love with came from working class Yorkshire, England, but his mother worked as a secretary in a law office and was a terrible snob. I was way beneath her son, but caving in to the inevitable, she took up my education, lending me books I hadn’t found in libraries, introducing me to English eating, gin, sherry and trifles. Then I escaped my violent home by insisting on living on the university campus. There the dean of women and all the middle-class girls continued my training in social niceties. I even ended pouring the tea at one of our white gloved afternoons. The manager of the retail department store which had given me money for tuition, was fond of asking me to pour tea for his guests. Much to my humiliation, for I had to sit still while he praised for 5 minutes. Hillbillies don’t cowtow.

The coal mines in Kentucky shut down. Armco and Stelco went steadily downhill as car manufacturing turned from solid steel to steel frame and plastic. My mother, who had worked in an aluminum plant, and the two uncles who stuck it out in steel, died young of cancer. My father stayed on as a mechanic at Ford, Oakville until he retired.

The three girls in my family earned degrees and had careers. Our dyslexic brother got his education on the road -Europe, India, Afghanistan, Turkey. He married a Belgian French girl and made a career in film and antiques. He never in his life borrowed money until a few months ago. In the 3rd and 4th generation, most have college degrees and all have jobs, although one is caught up in the gig industry. Economic downturns have left some of us the worse for wear. I no longer own my home, for example, but I am constantly surprised that we didn’t end up homeless addicts considering our impoverished and abusive beginning.

J.D. Vance’s book is called Hillbilly Elegy, a song of lamentation for the dead. In this case a whole class of people, without cohesion or identity. Gone. The hillbillies had valued family loyalty, hard work, God and the American Dream. They moved north in large part to give their children a better future, as our father did. When industry failed and they couldn’t get work, they continued to pay lip service to industriousness, even though they never worked a day in their lives. Vance says they practice avoidance and wishful thinking, living on welfare, addicts and alcoholics, like his own mother and her string of boy friends.

Vance regrets that.

Our hill culture has been assimilated. We live in Ontario, California, Belgium and Boston. The hill itself is nearly depopulated. The fields, so laboriously cleared, are going back to trees -plantations and wild woods. I keep a picture of our mountain on my computer. I do not think I will see it with my own eyes again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Cure for PTSD Terror: you’re soaking in it

This post may trigger PTSD sufferers.

In our search for mental health care, we once sat in a Kern County, California, mental health clinic listening to a psychologist exclaim that our patient could not have PTSD because she had never served in the army.

In fact she had been conscripted at birth as all the rest of the family had, and our sergeant major was a bat-shit crazy man, known initially as daddy and later as grandfather. His sadist attacks were so traumatizing that we dared not reveal them even had we been able to remember. So it was that the patient had been repeatedly taken back to that house of torture by her mother, the author of this blog.

(To be fair, mother could not recall that her own life had almost ended when the b-s crazy man raped her as a child. And she has spent the last 30 years since b-s crazy man died and she did remember, in profound guilt and grief. But enough of personal angst.)

Suffice to say Dad could have given the North Koreans or even the CIA lessons in torture or a 2.0 course in mind control. He himself had rather an unpleasant death, which I describe at the end of my e-memoir, Never Tell, recovered memories of a daughter of the Temple Mater. joycehowe.com

That’s the back story as to why the patient developed suicidal impulses and then intractable insomnia. For most of her life, she was able to repress the trauma, going so far as to contend that the rest of us experienced it, but she didn’t. This was lucky, because by then we had put in years of dealing with it, worn out therapists and come to realize that terrifying as it is, the past is dead and gone.

As, by the way, were quite a few people outside the family, who encountered our very own psychopath. And, no, a million dollar police investigation, involving three police forces couldn’t prove that.

How to deal with such insomnia? Even the strongest drugs couldn’t put her to sleep for long. In one 5 day hospital stay, five other drugs were tried. The fifth one precipitated a heart attack. So we cast about for other methods.

Finally last April, I concluded she couldn’t sleep because she was afraid to dream.

At one point, she fled to Toronto and her loving mother’s arms. I would sit at her bedside until she fell asleep, sometimes for 90 minutes. It is a moving experience to sit in the dark beside someone you love as she does her best to sleep. Going to sleep for her isn’t easy, but it is easier than staying asleep. I wasn’t up to being there at 4 a.m. when she usually comes wide awake. Or 3 am or 2 am. Sometimes she doesn’t sleep at all, just lies in a semi-conscious state, which surprisingly can generate bad dreams.

While I was studying the NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine) Treating Trauma Master Series , I came across the idea that therapists don’t do their clients any favours by trying to make them feel safe. That is a technique that Grandad and hosts of his fellow abusers use. Trying to make the trauma survivor relax is an immediate trigger – they want to run a mile.

Our patient came at the idea from a totally different angle. She watched a terrifying movie, went to bed late and slept like a baby.

We reached the conclusion that, instead of avoiding fear, she (we in fact) had to soak in it – like that Palmolive dish detergent commercial years ago where the woman is in the nail salon -“You’re soaking in it”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bEkq7JCbik

We are in the research phase. Our patient has spent the last several months reading about psychopathic serial killers and watching shows like The Mindhunters. The Mindhunters interview serial murders in prison in order to understand them. Patient reports that the single scariest scene so far was one in which the woman on the mindhunter team was at home in her apartment at night wearing only a long  man’s shirts and pouring herself a glass of wine at the kitchen counter. She was at the left of the shot. The right side showed the rest of the kitchen and hall, an empty floor. An absolutely terrifying space. Into which something could suddenly come. I myself found the next scene where she goes down to the building’s laundry – still dressed only in the shirt – and while the washer starts, hears a cat meowing outside the open basement window and decides to feed it her leftover tuna. I will not divulge what eventually comes through that window.

Who says recovering from PTSD can’t be fun?

I’ve always hated Hallowe’en and horror shows, but now I begin to see their value. We can’t evade our terror. It may be buried, but it’s there, so we might as well face it, embrace it as far as possible. We don’t need to defy it. We can acknowledge it and even say this is what made me who I am. We can say, ‘I have been to the edge of death more than once, but I can still permit myself to sleep’. At least six hours most nights.

And of course, we can refuse to put ourselves in real life situations with people that scare us.

See also https://115journals.com/2013/10/18/the-cure-for-pain/