The Mind

by Edgar Guest

The mind is that mysterious thing
which makes the toiler and the king.
It is the realm of thought where dwells
the nursery rhymes the father tells.
It is the source of all that gives
high color to the life he lives.
It starts the smile or shapes the frown,
it lifts man up or holds him down.
It marks the happy singing lad,
it marks the neighbor kind and glad,
and world wide over this we find —
a man is fashioned by his mind.

How strange it is that what we see
and seem to cherish tenderly
is not the outward garb of clay,
for all are formed the self-same way.
Not in the hands and legs and cheeks,
not in the common voice which speaks,
lies man’s identity on earth—
all these come with the gift of birth.
But love and friendship and delight
lie in a world that’s hid from sight.
The mind of all is master still
to fashion them for good or ill.

So men and women here are wrought
by this strange hidden power of thought
and each becomes in life the thing
the mind has long been fashioning.
Man’s body moves and eats and drinks
and but reflects the thoughts he thinks.
His every action leaves behind
merely the prompting of his mind.
Bad men have arms and legs and eyes.
That which we cherish or despise
and shapes each individual soul
is wholly in the mind’s control.

From the Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest
© 1934 by the Reilly & Lee Company

Of Snow, Hair, and Hot Pepper

The Word of the Day prompt is TACTILE

We have a soft, white world this morning, but it’s warmer: -8̊ C (18̊ F) instead of yesterday’s -18̊ C. I swept off the step at 7am and didn’t feel nearly as cold as yesterday, a deep chill that I didn’t want to experience for long.

Our cats, bored in this new house arrest, tend to annoy each other in lieu of exploring among the trees for furry little creatures. At times I toss small toy mice their way and they get enthused for a bit, but the fake ones just don’t have the same wriggly feel or the tantalizing squeak of real ones. Alas! Snow is all about tactile and cats have a natural abhorrence for cold and wet.

This prompt reminds me of a friend from years ago. She was manic-depressive — today they say “bipolar” — and very much into the sense of touch. When I went to the mall with her, she gravitated to displays of plush velvet or fake fur garments. She’d run her hands over the fabric, relishing the soft or silky sensations.

She told me this inclination got her into trouble the odd time, but she was so cheerful and smiley, she seemed to get by without serious consequences. No one could think of her as sinister. One day she was going somewhere by subway and the fellow sitting in front of her had a luxurious head of dark hair. She couldn’t restrain herself. She reached out and ran her fingers through it, exclaiming, “You have gorgeous hair!”

A shy type, he looked back at her and timidly answered, “Oh…uh…thank you.” Of course she was embarrassed afterward, but appreciated that he took it as a compliment and responded so graciously. These days she’d likely be called a creep and may even get charged with sexual harassment. But I think certain mental health issues do “settle down” as a person ages.

Tactile also reminds me of my experience with hot sauce. We have enough people in our church who have had contact with Mexican cuisine and developed a taste for tacos, burritos, tamales, enchilladas, etc. Hubby and I enjoy this kind of food too, but I’m really sensitive to hot pepper and can have only a little salsa or my whole mouth will burn. I like the taste, but not the fire after.

On Thursday a group of us did some cleaning at church and our lunch — burritos + salad + squares— was provided. I put on about a tablespoon of the salsa marked MILD, but soon found that even MILD was too hot for me. I said to the couples sitting nearby that I should have gone easier on the hot sauce, my mouth was burning. Then I was reminded of an old commercial and said, “For me salsa is like Brylcreem: a little dab’ll do ya.”

The two men (decades younger than I) looked at me, puzzled. “Brylcreem? What’s that?”

Oh, dear. Okay, I’m ancient.

I wonder how many of you can recall these ads from the 60s?
“That greasy kid stuff”
banished by Brylcreem
“a little dab’ll do ya,”
blown away by “The Dry Look”
back when hair care choices were few
and girls dared to “run their fingers through your hair.”

Traces of Paranoia

We moved back to Saskatchewan from Quebec in 1998 and I soon made the acquaintance of an older lady in Saskatoon. In time she became very dear to me, though she lives in another province now. Over the time we’ve been friends I’ve had lots of fun visits with her. We went out for coffee often and I helped her figure out various things.

You see, she’s what sociologists call “functionally illiterate.” Bank statements, bills, contracts, sales slips: she’s brought them to me and had me figure them out — until she moved away five years ago. She finds it about impossible to figure out her (direct-deposit) pension by looking at her bank statement. She can buy things, but has a hard time looking at the sales bill and figuring what she should have gotten for change. Also, she was often suspicious people were cheating her.

This spring she called me up one day, all alarmed because of the discrepancy in a purchase she’d made. The item cost $6.25 and only got back a dime and a nickel (15¢). It really bothered her to think that sales clerk had cheated her. I did a quick bit of math and reminded her of the 60¢ tax on her purchase, which would account for the difference. Ahh! She was happy again and we had a nice visit.

Concepts like health, nutrition, drugs and their use, all needed to be explained in the simplest terms. Different times I went to the doctor with her and translated. She didn’t ask him, because she didn’t want to appear dumb.

One day she told me her doctor had said she was borderline diabetic. “But how can a person be ‘borderline’ diabetic?” she asked me, somewhat annoyed with her doctor for that dumb diagnosis. “I figure it’s like being pregnant: either you are or you aren’t.”

I went for a simple illustration. “Your body’s pancreas, that makes insulin, is somewhat like a well. A well holds so-and-so much water, but when the well’s almost empty, there’s just a bit of water and the bottom is muddy. That’s borderline. When there’s no trace of water or even mud, we say the well’s gone dry.

“Our pancreas gland makes insulin as long as it can, but when it can’t keep up anymore, we’re on the borderline of having diabetes. When the gland stops producing insulin, we can’t digest sugar anymore. We’re diabetic and need to take pills or injections to make up for what our body can’t do.”

That made sense to her.

Before she moved, being almost eighty and forgetful, she was misplacing things, then was convinced they were moved or stolen. “Someone with a key, ” she claimed, “is coming into my apartment and taking things or moving stuff around.”

With her eyesight not being very good, she couldn’t see the normal wear-and-tear until something was quite worn. Then she’d say, “Look what someone did to my blanket. They frayed it somehow. It wasn’t like this before.” Sometimes the intruder would scatter a few things on the floor, just to annoy her.

She was convinced that “someone” was watching — that is, sitting beside a closed-circuit camera somewhere all day — to see whenever she went out. Then they’d come in and do mischief. She started hiding her precious things (she had nothing of any real value to a thief) like her many rings and watches into suitcases so they wouldn’t be stolen. Which made things even worse because she couldn’t remember which suitcase they were in.

I tried to be a helpful friend and hurried to the city several times to help her find important “lost or stolen” bank card, wallet, credit card, etc. Thankfully they’ve always turned up — in her apartment. I’ve helped her replace credit cards when she’s lost them. I’ve tried to be patient and be there (if I could) when she needed help or transportation, even though it meant an hour-long trip to town.

She bought a motion sensor camera to catch the culprit but, though it’s been set to take a picture every minute, saw no trace of the culprit on her film chip. I tried to convince her that people have more to do with their lives than sit and watch her apartment on closed circuit camera all day, but one thing I’ve learned over the years: you can’t reason with paranoia. Fear doesn’t respond to common sense.

She extracted a trace of criticism from what I said, got angry with me for not being supportive, and wouldn’t speak to me for a couple of months.

I was happy for her when, with the help of her children, she moved to a seniors assisted-living apartment in another city and her intruder woes faded away. I do miss her — just not THAT part of her nature.

Fandango’s prompt today: TRACE

Visiting a Favourite Site

Fandango’s prompt word: ROUTINE

While my husband and I are enjoying a relatively normal day at home, today’s a break from routine for most of the folks here in Canada: Thanksgiving Day. A holiday for most working people at least, and for many it’s a time to gather with family and gobble turkey, mashed potatoes, veggies and pumpkin pie. I think there’s usually a play-off football game happening somewhere as well.

For me it’s been a day to visit one of my favourite sites, Troutswirl, the Haiku Foundation’s blog. I was going through an older post where poets shared verses about the sights seen in meadow and field. Here’s the link, if you’d like to take a look.

Which has inspired me to write my own verse, suitable for this post-harvest season we’re in:
out-of-work scarecrow
fallen in the wind
shredded by young coons

This is also the day I can’t get proper responses from WordPress on my desk computor. I can’t fathom what ails it, so I’m working totally on my laptop. One issue here: the keyboard is bilingual — and the spell check is all francais. It’s highlighting almost every word I type as a spelling error. 😦

The Word of the Day challenge is FATHOM, a very useful word. For some time now I’ve been trying to fathom why I get into obssessing about small issues. (Was I always? Is it old age settling in — or the result of chemo?) Molehills so soon become mountains.

This prompt gives me a new senryu:
sounding the issue
I fathom the wrinkles
of my obssession

Maybe I’ll print this off and tack it on the fridge. 😉 I’d like to be more aware of when I’m sliding down that slope and catch myself, learn to skip over the issue. Procrastination should come in very handy here, right? Worry about it later.

For over thirty years I’ve had a friend with mental health issues (paranoia) and talk about obssessing! A look from someone — always interpreted as negative — can set her off on a deep examination of how hateful that person — and everyone else in the world — feels toward her. She could spend an hour on the phone with me, analyzing all her interactions with that person.

I’ve discovered that you can’t fight fire with fire. You can’t reason with obessession, nor counteract it with positive thinking. “Try and look on the bright side” has never worked for her. Likewise the commonsense, “Most people don’t even know you, never mind hate you,” goes nowhere. I’ve learned to deflect her thinking into a different avenue altogether, by reminding her that someday the troubles of this life will be over and we’ll be in that better world where love and peace govern everyone’s heart. She starts thinking down that line and her fears over today’s evil plotters shrink to a more manageable level.

I looked outside a few minutes ago and saw big white flakes coming down. A quick flash of winter again. Well, we can be thankful that our weather is changeable rather than boring, and we’re not subject to hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Of Traffic, Tangles, and Tangents

Fandango’s word for today: TRAFFIC

Ragtag Community prompt: COMEBACK

Word of the Day challenge: SCINTILLATING

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day: WELTSCHMERZ

Autumn’s Goings and Comings and Goings

The snow that fell on our land last week disappeared and fall made a little COMEBACK —until Sunday night when fluffy flakes drifted down on us. Monday our land was white with snow again and all but the very hardiest of our summer bedding plants are stiff.

TRAFFIC news from Calgary yesterday, after the city was beset by its own cloud system and got smacked with 40 cm (16 inches) of snow in twelve hours:
many flights cancelled; 251 collisions reported; 80 city buses stuck or having mobility issues. (The transit system hadn’t put snow tires on yet.)
The city of Edmonton sent thirty snow-plows and other nearby cities have also sent plows to help clear streets.

Traffic news from here is mostly avian:
On our trip to Saskatoon yesterday we passed a couple of fields along the road that were dappled with black and white. I had to look twice: it wasn’t snow after all. I’m guessing at least a thousand snow geese in the first flock and another thousand in a second field nearby, half of these settled and half milling around in one big tangle above them. I think this is the greatest number we’ve ever seen in one gathering. They appeared to be enjoying SCINTILLATING conversation with their fellows.

When the sun shines on milling snow geese they can appear like a sparkling, mostly white cloud. Rather than in clear vees like Canadas, snow geese fly in a number of vee shaped streams that seem to tangle and untangle as they go. The birds come in a mix of true white and “blue morph” varieties, often mingling with Ross’s and other geese. As I’ve said before, they make an amazing sight spread out over ten acres or so!

And on the way home we saw many vees of Canada geese southbound. It seems this latest snow has given the geese a very clear “Time to Go” signal. We’ll be looking forward to their COMEBACK next April.

Weepy Weather

Ragged leaves offer their last respects to summer,
altogether expired now. No wake will be held.
I bring the eulogy, north wind brings the mourning,
the rain brings tears enough for us all.

According to M-W, the word WELTSCHMERZ means:
1) mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the
actual state of the world with an ideal state
2) a mood of sentimental sadness

This describes to a T how I feel when I look outside. The “ideal state” is a long, lovely fall. Not snow. Not yet! I remember all those promises of “global warming” we heard a decade ago, and see winter settling in at the beginning of October. But this too will pass— for awhile.

It’s not that I want to knock the ideal of conservation, being responsible caretakers of the planet and not polluting nature until it can’t recover. But climate predictions come and go with the wind, I’ve observed. Speaking of wind, there’s a stiff, cold one blowing today. Our cats aren’t very brave to venture out.

At any rate, the general “sad to see summer go” adds its tones, along with an “I’ve accomplished so little this year” sigh, making for a tangle of feelings. A mild case of weltschmerz? I wouldn’t dare toss that word around amongst the unlearned, though, lest folks think I should be quarantined or put out to grass at the Funny Farm.

Avoiding Fruitless Tangents

I try to decide priorities, but there are so many tasks that need doing. Some days I think I should just carry on as I have been and live with the frustration. Surely it will pass? Other times I think of major changes, like giving up my goal of writing books and be content to communicate with the world via my daily blog post. I wonder if I should abandon writing altogether in favour of keeping on top of housework and sewing. Indecision can be an obnoxious little tyrant!

Lately I feel like I’m sitting on the brink of some big decision and dare not jump for fear of breaking something. Like Robert Frost, I see several forks in the road immediately ahead and I must soon choose one — but I can’t decide which. A To-do List wafting down from Heaven would be nice. 🙂

People say, “Which is the most important task?” and I say, “ALL of them.” Plus, I’m so inclined to pick activities that bring the most emotional payback — or back pats — but this activity may not be so important. Dear friends, say a prayer for me. I feel in need of courage and wisdom.