Sunday, November 23, 2008


At the age of twenty-one, I was paid to clean a psychiatric ward. It was like something out of the movies, back in the seventies. Desolation is the word to describe the feeling of being in that place. Put a sane man or woman there and for sure the person would come out worse than when he or she went in. I had bad dreams about the noise and behaviour of certain patients.

Apparently such places don't exist anymore. Medication has become more sophisticated. Contemporary psychiatric wards look like any other ward in the hospital. I spent a month, back in 1978, cleaning walls, windows, air vents, ceilings and stripping, sealing and waxing the floors of adult psychiatry. The experience made me realize the importance of making an effort to cultivate wholesome mental habits, in order to avoid getting sick. Mental illness is complex, involving factors such negative conditioning, alcohol or drug abuse, family violence, sexual assault or incest,biology, family history, social and economic problems such as stresses related to work, failed relationships, loss of a loved one, accident, financial loss and numerous other situations.

The other day at work I had a flashback to the psychiatric ward. I remember the first day on the job. My cleaning buddy warned me not to talk to the patients. It felt strange to go up an old, heavy metal elevator, operated by a key, thick doors, a security elevator leading up to the locked ward. Patients interred there would not be able to escape. It felt strange to get out of the security elevator and to step into an archetypal world—madness, the real thing, after hearing about it, finally to be there.

On the first morning a man defecated into a waste paper basket and then wandered down the hall, muttering to himself: “This is for real.” A couple of mean-looking youngsters, in punk hair and clothing, laughed as he walked by. A woman climbed the step ladder I brought along for cleaning the high part of the walls and the ceilings and asked me to grab her bum. An anorexic woman came up to me, a few hours later, and asked if I could be her boyfriend. I felt sad and embarrassed. An orderly witnessed the scene and told me not to worry about it.

That's one diary I shouldn't have thrown away. I walked around, folded sheets of paper in my back pockets and would write during pauses, in an empty room or stairwell, in the janitor's supply room, or on a toilet in a cubicle. As a hospital janitor, I spent most of the shift in the public eye. One had to look busy and be as invisible as possible. My buddy told me the tricks, where to find an empty room or seldom used stairwell. Staff washrooms were excellent places to take a break and do some writing, because they were spacious and you could lock the door. I loved writing, and still do, writing for no other purpose than the pleasure of writing.

My buddies were fascinating people, from a side of life I never even knew existed. I grew up in middle class comfort, the son of a preacher man and then suddenly was working along side a refugee from Europe who had lived through war, blood and guts and had a drinking problem. He berated me constantly, pointing out my character flaws, poor behaviour, and careless grooming habits. It was an educational experience to be the object of so much projection. That guy, about forty-five years old, really hated himself and couldn't bear to be next to a healthy, sane young man. He did have a point: what was a guy like me, with so much opportunity, doing in a janitor job? He was born into poverty and abuse. Most of the people doing that job had horror stories.

I obviously didn't belong. I was there because for a few years I was really unhappy and wanted to commit suicide. I remember one day my buddy even offered to help. He wanted to watch me die. He offered to get hold of some rope and to secure the rope to the ceiling of the janitor closet. I said, no thanks. Then he criticized me for walking along, so bored. At one point, the supervisor sent me for a medical exam, because I had all the symptoms of a living-dead, glazed look in the eye, no energy, always tired, a bag of jelly, a zombie. The doctor said I was suffering classic symptoms of boredom and should not be doing such a job. My social-economic situation would not allow it, without psychological damage. Fortunately, I only did that job for nine months and then went off to do a masters degree at the University of Western Ontario.

That's why it was scary to clean the psychiatric ward, because I didn't feel too confident about my own state of metal health back then. I worried about going insane. At the age of twenty-one, the future appeared bleak, like a gaping pit of misery awaiting. Nobody has an easy time on the road of life.

I started out a space alien, lonely, desolate, forsaken, and heart broken. I prayed to the Mother of Jesus to release me from self-absorbed, self-pity, bitterness and resentment. I asked her to enter my heart.

A woman in mauve velour, body moving in two sections, bottom and top, separated by exposed midriff, with navel in a soft belly, walked beside her boyfriend, a man dressed in what looked like a Halloween costume he'd been working on for years, a blue mechanic shirt with pencil pocket, name-crest, baseball cap, work-boots, jeans, black case and mobile phone strapped to the belt.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Author's apology, at the end of a text or drama, an apology would sometimes happen. It was a traditional part of old time etiquette.
Sometimes the apology could get out of control, for example, when Gogol burned the manuscript of part two of Dead Souls. His great novel remains incomplete because a priest told him his writing was sinful so Gogol destroyed it.
Kafka gave instructions to have a friend destroy his writing and so on and so on, authors apologizing, feeling bad or uncomfortable about the writing. Beckett's later writing became stripped to the minimum, for example the short novel, Worstword Ho, is written in terse, short sentences with sometimes no more than one word at a time. It's like the narrator would like to erase each word immediately after writing it down.
Even the average Joe blog writer, like myself, might feel an urge to apologize, for example, please don't take anything on this site seriously. It's just psycho-babble of a guy squeezed in the machine, doing the process of life, without understanding what it's all about. I have no idea why existence is happening. I look at this the writing day later and think: what a waste of time, to write such nonsense. I did a web search about blog and read in one place how most blogs have less than five readers, but the process is beneficial, therapeutic, even to the point of boosting the immune system and making the writer feel better. My only defence, against the urge to apologize, is to say, even when I destroy the writing, I end up writing it again, over and over. A few times, during moments of despair, I filled garbage bags with sacks of writing and put them out for garbage. Years worth of diary and random scribble, thousands of sheets of loose-leaf, went out with the trash. I have no regret. There's plenty more where that came from. It's also therapeutic to let go and destroy. It's a way of letting go of the past, especially after a divorce. Suddenly, everything felt worthless. I would have put myself out for trash, were that possible. Despair. Most people know what that means. Fortunately, those moments don't last. It's like water under the bridge. The wheel keeps turning.
Anyway, no need to apologize. It is what it is, no big deal. The ego in me sure gets neurotic sometimes.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Meditation on Sound

Drive a northern country road into imagination of some place like northern Alberta. Fields in the country, land, spring, huge puddles on the dirt road, easy to get stuck, park the car. Get out. Walk around. Straw sticking up through mud exposed after snow melted. There's nothing like a walk in the country.

Euphoria of space.

Field of vision, field of knowledge, lilies of the field, immense fields, subcategories of subcategories, huge fields, some of them between brackets and set aside to deal with later—a very unusual, and at first, bewildering situation, but, in fact, quite ordinary. So many details pop into awareness and lead to difficult, but extraordinary relationships.

These are the words of a cartoon philosopher. A fly dancing on the table, listen to the sound of a spoon scraping food out of a cast iron frying pan, fried rice.

Sound is easier to digest than dinner spilled all over the table like billboards along the freeway, as I listened to the sound signature of a rental car. Microsounds of coffee swooshing into a cup, buzzed on sound, sneezing, slapping sound, construction powder dust, musty, rotten wood, door-slamming, delivery trucks, important intersection.

Complicated, very serious, migraine, dissonant, hectic, random sound situation. Plug in the toaster. It starts to rain. The phone rings. It stops raining. I left the butter on the stove and when I got back, it had melted into lemon yellow fluid.

These are random Sunday afternoon images that floated through my mind as I slept for half an hour in the easy chair, while the sun went down about 3 PM.

It's soothing to sleep in the easy chair, in a quiet room in a house in the arctic. Straining my ears to hear something, I hear nothing except a buzz, the buzz of the ears, various tones. There are those who head off in search of new sound and those who return to the sound itself, the sound as no sound. If you listen hard enough, suddenly there's no sound. You could be running after a new auditory sensation, but then it gets all mixed up with voices in the head, (as Samuel Beckett suggested in the novel Company), or voices outside the head, voices somewhere, a world full of voices, some trying to say something, others attempting to eliminate silence with the rumble of nonsense.

Hectic, happy grandmother, grandfather sound, acceleration of a motorvehicle, slowing down and then speeding up, everybody is going somewhere, if we didn't all go, we'd stay. It neither comes nor goes. It doesn't start or end. I remember how grandmother stood beside the huge, cast-iron woodstove inside the kitchen, while I waited outside and gazed at her through a flimsy screen door, a few holes in the screen where flies got in and how she waved her finger, warning me to stay away from psychotic gibberish. It was also ok to admire bee hives in the meadow and then to wander into a stand of paper birch at the edge of the muskeg, filled with tamarack and some jack-pine nearby.

Each time I set off down the road of sound, I meet distraction. I can't listen more than a few econds before another sound grabs my attention and leads me off into different music.

Chorus: hammering, tearing, drilling, cutting—circular saw, power drill, bird song, hammering, tapping, ripping, battering, sinking, tumbling, teeth-grinding, fingernail-destroying sound. An epidemic of noise, degrees of clarity or obscurity, turn towards the uncomfortable sound. Bring it into focus. Leave out the reaction to sound. Listen to the actual sound, burning, freezing, tearing, scraping, crushing, piercing, biting, sucking, throbbing, suffocating; or perhaps joyful, like that famous piece by Luigi Nono entitled: Calm and Serene Waves.

Monday, November 3, 2008

blah blah blah

Ok, I'm having technical problems and was unable to insert this text below the picture below, of a couple hugging. This text is supposed to go with the post called Company, but i got an html error. so here goes:

The romantic moment is from a comic I drew last weekend. It reminded me of the short novel
Company by Samuel Beckett. When all else fails, there's always the company of imagination, or whatever you want to call the voices that may or may not be in one's mind. A voice comes to one in the dark, that's how the novel begins, sort of like the famous beginning of Proust's giant novel about memories, a child lying in the dark, trying to figure out exactly where he was. Amazing things happen when you look at the mind. I love imagination and the wonderful things that happen in my mind. Even when outer situations are not pleasant, there's always the playfulness and adventure of inner worlds. Imagination is my sweetheart. I hug her many times during the day and during dreams at night. After a few failures at relationships, at the age of fifty-two, I finally came to terms with living alone. Part of dealing with living alone is learning to find company. Friendliness is the way to go.

I woke up this morning and a large black dog came running to say hello. The dog sat down and we had a little friendly conversation. The swoosh of wings, a loud sound of psychedelic laughter, a raven flew by, dark blue, almost black, a perfect moment, a dog and a raven, early in the morning, there's no need to lie around in the dark when the world is out there with open arms, ready to offer good and bad.