Great thanks to Kevin Cooper for this fabulous review. I was so glad to read it!
The Second One
A second cake, a second book.
A second painting, a second dish.
Each brings its own kind of worry.
That you’ve let down the side somehow.
Missed something, screwed up something.
Put in curry when it should have been cumin.
Painted light blue where it should have been green.
Said hello again instead of letting things end at goodbye.
Then the fear that those who loved the first will hate the second.
And your name will be mud, but none will look you in the eye and say so.
There’s only one thing to do, I know, because I’ve worried about many things.
Look your fear right in the eye, sit down somewhere comfortable, and laugh and laugh.
Dedicated to Brenda and everyone else who’s ever created a second something.
Up Close and Personal
I have good news to share: my second book comes out this spring.
I can hardly believe it.
When a radio interviewer asked me in 2014 about a second book, I told her I’d started a sequel to A Good Home but had run away from it. In the new book I had bravely/foolishly decided to confront what it’s like to live with PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder — and it terrified me.
I embarked on a gardening book instead. After all, I love gardening. But I hate PTSD!
No-one pushed me to return to the book I’d dropped, but something happened that made me see that I had to face my monsters again — in writing.
My thanks to everyone who has encouraged and helped me along the way. In addition to family and close friends, I’ve had one doctor encouraging me to “Write!”; one therapist-researcher-writer who directly contributed to the book; two mentors, two editors, one publisher; one painter and one photographer; great beta readers and one discussion guide producer.
I hope the book will inspire discussions – among families and friends; in book clubs and workplaces; among therapists, doctors and others. I imagine some will discuss what happens in a family when one member is seriously incapacitated; some may talk about the nature of survival and faith; therapists and doctors may discuss the treatment of PTSD and Chronic Pain and why both are so hard to accept, especially by the people afflicted with them.
And I hope all readers will reflect on love and courage. Both are recurring topics in this book. (And most of the courage isn’t mine, by the way.)
The Canada Council for the Arts recognized my writing with a small grant to pay for some of the expenses involved in writing a book like this. Thank you, Canada Council, for that vote of confidence.
Above all, this book is an up-close and personal look at a much-changed life. Some of it is painful, some parts hilarious, and some are both.
The book – An Honest House – comes out in June.
Below the Waterline
Can you imagine smiling politely as someone insults you and the people you love most in the world?
I recently met a man who came to our home to repair an appliance. His work completed, we got to talking about ethnic food. He asked me: “What do you think my background is?”
I stared at him, his European ancestry evident in his face, skin colour, hair texture. But he wouldn’t have asked that question unless he had been born somewhere outside Europe, I reasoned.
“Maltese,” I said, picking the first place that came into my mind.
“No,” he replied.
I was still staring at his face.
“I give up,” I finally said.
“I’m Canadian Indian,” he said.
“Seriously?” I asked. I know that indigenous people come in a variety of shapes and shades, but still….
“You must be mixed with a lot of European blood, then?”
“No, only a little,” he said. “My grandfather on my father’s side was half German. I look a lot like him. But all my brothers and siblings look completely indigenous, with darker skin and black hair.”
I smiled knowingly now. “My extended family is kinda like that,” I said. “Our family’s racial mix seems to disappear for a generation or two, then it pops up and a child will resemble an ancestor two or three generations back. Funny how that happens, eh?”
We chatted for a while longer. But after he left, one thing he said stayed on my mind. Because everyone he meets assumes he’s caucasian, he sometimes hears people talk about indigenous people in disparaging terms.
“That’s my people they’re talking about,” he remarked, sad and matter-of-fact at the same time. “That’s me they’re talking about in that way.”
Our conversation reminded me that when we meet someone, we never quite know who we’re talking to. Below the waterline, beneath the obvious, lie differences that we can’t see.
If you met some members of my own family, you wouldn’t know their racial mix either.
And if you met me, you wouldn’t immediately realize that as a consequence of my car accident, I struggle with a head injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the depression that accompanies those challenges. Yes, mental disability.
I have Muslim friends who are rarely recognized as such because Muslims are seen as brown-skinned, and primarily from the Middle East or India/Pakistan. I have Jewish friends who don’t fit someone else’s idea of what a Jew should look or behave like.
I have deeply religious friends who have heard others disparage their belief in God, and atheist friends who are disdained for not believing in God.
And until quite recently in Canada, it was often acceptable to talk about gays, lesbians and transgender persons in very negative terms. In some quarters, it still is.
These are just a few of the many invisible differences that exist among the people we know. Differences that are sometimes disparaged, even rejected.
The talk with the appliance repairman left me thinking about the potent mix of emotions a person feels when they are accepted as “one of us”, knowing that if their true identity were known, they’d likely be rejected, as would the people they love.
What must it feel like to be allowed ‘a pass’ because of the way you look, but to hear people, over and over, deride a group to which you belong?
My visitor described his experiences without self-pity, without anger.
I didn’t ask him: are you glad at times that you don’t look Aboriginal? Doesn’t it gain you entry to places where your real identity would deny you access? But perhaps I didn’t ask because I already have a sense of such things — my own background being what it is.
And not for the first time, I wondered: is this the kind of adversity that is supposed to make a person stronger? Or does its effect simmer quietly out of sight, corroding one’s soul?