PS. Theme changes

I may be updating this site and changing themes sometime soon. I’ve been exploring alternative looks for this blog and, although I have not decided on a particular one yet, am interested in switching to a layout that has some features this one lacks. If you see changes to the look and layout, it’s because I’m experimenting. It may abruptly change to look radically different, too. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Plus the host service I use plans to migrate content to a new server, but has not identified a date for that. I expect it to happen in 2021, but that’s all I know. The move promises faster page and post loading when completed.

That may result in a short downtime, as may any theme changes I make. Please be patient and return later to see the results. Thanks for your patience.

The Cancer Diaries, Part 27

I didn’t really expect the hormones to be so disruptive of my daily activities, but there are times when the “hot flashes” interrupt everything. They tire me out, sometimes making even simple tasks a chore, making my breathing more difficult. And, of course, they wake me at random times during the night, during which I throw off the bedcovers as I toss and turn until I cool down again. And along with the covers any cat or dog who was sleeping against me. Then I flap about to pull them back up when the heat has passed and I cool down.

Uninterrupted sleep is a fondly remembered dream of the past. And I still have the rest of the year on Lupron.

I can only hope it proves to be less disruptive in the warm weather when there isn’t such a jarring difference between the room temperature and mine. We turn the thermostat down at night to 16C or 61F; I’m pretty sure that my hot flashes are in the same temperature range as a blast furnace. I am becoming a believer in spontaneous human combustion.

Sometimes I know they’re coming, these surges of heat and sweat. They well up at a modest pace; a creeping ivy of warmth that climbs my trunk to my limbs and unfurls itself in a swelter. Other times they arrive unannounced, rising abruptly from some mysterious magma within, a lightning strike to make me immediately uncomfortable. I become feverish, my clothes clinging damp and uncomfortable. More sultry than torrid.

There seems no rhyme nor reason to guide me as to why or when either happens. Sometimes they’re just annoyances, other times they’re weakening, making it difficult to breathe and walk.
Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 27”

The COVID-19 Vaccination Screw Up

Vaccines!For a long time during this pandemic, Susan and I were in the “not eligible” age bracket for the COVID-19 vaccination (65-79 years old) here in Ontario. Why our age group was left out I have never been able to uncover. Maybe some politicians felt we were more expendable than other groups. But late last week, the provincial government finally announced it had expanded eligibility to our group. Whoopee! So we immediately went online to book a slot.

The Ontario government site, however, directed us to book through the local Simcoe-Muskoka health unit (SMHU). So we went to its website and dutifully entered our information with email and mobile phone contacts. Then we waited.

And waited.

Of course, we didn’t expect to get an appointment right away, but we expected at least an acknowledgement that we were in the queue. Something to let us know the system was working. But we heard nothing.

After five days of not hearing anything, I went back to the SMHU website to see if anything had changed, or if there was some problem. I could find nothing to explain the silence. But now it had a notice saying to “CLICK HERE to book online through the Province of Ontario’s online booking system…”

Sigh. It seemed we had to start all over. So I dutifully clicked and went to the province’s booking site to enter the information again. The province’s site is not designed to register a couple, just individuals, so we could only hope that if we did get one person’s appointment, we’d be able to book the other’s at least the same day. One wonders why the government didn’t take couples into account and make it easier for seniors.

(And by the way: if you go to our town’s own website looking for information about vaccinations, booking appointments, and eligible age groups… forget it. It’s a waste of time. They have nothing substantial; just links to other — hopefully more informed — sites.)

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Musings on Poets and Poetry

Best PoemsFor me, reading the American literary critic, Harold Bloom, is often like wading in molasses. Intellectual molasses, to be sure, but slow going nonetheless. His writing is thick with difficult ideas and difficult words. Bloom’s historical reach, his knowledge and his understanding of the tapestry of literature far outstrip mine, so I find myself scuttling to the Net or other books on my shelf for collateral references, for critical commentary, and often to the dictionary.

Bloom’s commentaries and essays are a challenge to me because his terms of reference are so much greater than my own. Hence my appreciation of them: he makes me work, and work hard to keep apace with his quick mind. Well, perhaps not apace, more like a few kilometers back, but at least following more or less in his tracks.

Shakespeare: The Invention of the HumanI first encountered Bloom’s writing several years ago through his 1995 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, in which he argues that the Bard “invented human attributes that we think are very much our own inventions” as well as creating our language in which to talk about ourselves. Bloom goes through each of the plays, exploring and explaining them to make his point. It’s a brilliant analysis that ranges through not only Shakespeare’s works, but other parts of the “Western canon” to underscore his ideas. I often turn to Bloom’s essay on a play before I read it to get perspective and milestones to look for within Shakespeare’s words. 

A couple of years ago, I ordered his book, The Best Poems of the English Language, an anthology of poets from Chaucer to Frost. When it came, I stayed up into the wee hours reading it, then looking through my other anthologies to compare their selection of poets and poems. I was looking through it again recently as I was downsizing my library.

I have a lot of books of poetry, and most I intend to keep despite the pressure to relieve the congestion on my bookshelves. Yes, I still read poetry, perhaps not as much as I did in those younger years when I fancied I could write it, too (back in the Paleolithic of my late teens and early 20s). But I am as easily moved by poetry as I ever was, and also find it as baffling, inexplicable, contentious, beautiful, tasteless, passionate, tedious, exciting, and relevant as I ever did. However, I freely admit that what poems moved me in the past may not do so today, or at least not in the same way. I now appreciate poets who in my past I either never knew, or found leaden and incomprehensible, and wonder at my immaturity for liking those I did way back when.*

While the scope of his “Best Poems” covers an enormous, almost unwieldy, number of poets, Bloom decided to stop at those born before 1900 (to his credit, Bloom does not limit his selection to only English poets, but includes several American poets he exalts, too, but, inexcusably, he includes no Canadian poets). Although this still includes many 20th-century poets, it also means some of the century’s greatest modern poets, and some of those I consider among the best poets in the language, are missing from his collection simply for their misfortune of being born after 1899. Yes, that’s right” no Dylan Thomas!

So for me, the term “the best poems” is a marketing term; hyperbolic at best, inaccurate at worst. 

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Musings on Computer Gaming, Storytelling, and Seniors

Senior at play

Every day, for an hour or two, I kill demons. Or I build houses and shopping malls. Sometimes I command armies in battle. Or fly an airplane into a foreign airport. I might manage a hospital, build a settlement on Mars, lead a band of survivors after a nuclear holocaust, hunt Nazis as a sniper in WWII, drive a tank onto the sands at Omaha Beach, move Roman legions around the Mediterranean, build an empire, sail with a fleet of starships into the vastness of space, trade for equipment with aliens on a far distant planet, craft my own Jurassic Park, perform quests for a magician, or dig a deep mine under my house to look for crafting items. All done in any one of a hundred or so computer games I own.*

For me, gaming is interactive fiction: engaging in virtual stories. Like books, games let me escape into another world, to be someone else, to live in a different time and place, to play out a role. I am not a mere spectator in a game; I am a participant. My decisions matter in these virtual worlds.

“I grow old, always learning many things.”
Solon Nomographos, Fragment 18.1

I’ve learned many things as I played. I’ve learned that infrastructure and planning matter when growing a city; that armoured units are vulnerable to enemy attacks without supporting infantry; that trying to land a small plane in a crosswind is tricky and dangerous; that a hospital without sufficient support staff can’t handle the patient load; that a population without a supply of food soon withers, that cavalry can’t charge uphill very well; that gravity wells can drag your ship into a star if you get too close, and that having a good supply of health potions is as important as having a good weapon when killing demons.

Okay, maybe not everything I’ve learned through my gaming has been useful in the real world. But almost every game is a learning experience, even if that education is internal to the game itself. And any sort of learning is good for keeping the brain nimble and to exercise the memory. I always remind myself that Cicero learned to read and write Greek in his “old age” (De Senectute, 8). Learning while playing a game seems much easier and less taxing on my memory than learning Greek.

…for he thought that all time was wasted which was not spent on study.
Pliny the Elder, Letters 3.5

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Lichens of South Georgian Bay

Lichen and moss on a limestone garden rock
Lichen and moss on a limestone garden rock in Collingwood.

In recent months, I have developed an interest in lichens: wondering what species live in our area, how and where they grow, which plants are their competitors or companions, why they grow where they do, what they live on for nutrition, how they reproduce and spread, what lives on them, and their microbiology.

Small, innocuous plants you may mistake for a discoloration on rock or even a disease on a tree, they are nonetheless very common throughout our local environment. In fact, lichen have been found on every continent, including Antarctica, which has earned some of their 20,000 species the classification of extremophiles. Ontario has around 1,100 species of lichen, with several new species having been found within the past decade (you can see pictures of more than 850 of these on the inaturalist.ca site).

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Musings on My Father

Bill at 17That rather handsome, 17-year-old young man to the left was Watts William Chadwick. My father, although he wouldn’t become that for many more years. So serious, so formal looking. A lot more so than I was at his age (I can’t say for sure that I even owned a tie or sports jacket at 17!).  I was remembering my father of late as I go through my belongings for downsizing. I’ve been putting aside to keep anything that might continue to connect me to my family. There’s not a lot of it.

And I was also thinking about the recent pandemic. As a child, my father went through another pandemic: the “Spanish” Flu that killed an estimated 70 millions starting in 1918 and continuing until the spring of 1920. Back then there were squabbles over lockdowns and wearing masks among the ignorati, as there are today, even in the Manchester region where my father grew up. What must it have been like for a young boy? What would he have to say about those arguments today?

I don’t have a copy of that photograph, though, just a digital scan. The original photograph was taken in 1931, between the world wars and in the middle of the Great Depression. In the UK it lasted from 1929 to 32. It was an era also dominated by radio and film, but TV wouldn’t take hold for another two decades. What did he watch or listen to? What music did he like, what actors did he admire? What books and newspapers did he read then?

My father was known as Bill to his friends and family, and he always used his middle name as his first when he moved to Canada. He passed away in Toronto at 92, dying slowly in hospital of esophageal cancer. I thought, too, about his struggle with the cancer that claimed him. He also had prostate cancer, as did his father, but for my father, it never became the mortal threat that it did with me. But I was never able to share my experiences with cancer with him, or ask him very much about his.

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Musings on Downsizing, No. 2

Dave deletes HAL's memory
In the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s a memorable, somewhat spooky scene towards the end where astronaut Dave is pulling the chips from the memory banks of HAL, the ship’s AI computer. HAL begs Dave to stop while his memories recede:

Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave…Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I’m a… fraid…

I felt a bit like HAL while I was sorting through my book collection during my downsizing exercise these past weeks. I’ve been setting aside books for sale, or donation, clearing piles of books from the floor, unwinding two-and-three-deep stacks, comparing editions of the same title. I’ve been making keep or discard decisions like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of a defeated gladiator. Thumbs up? Back to the shelf! Thumbs down? Into the box! And with it goes my memory.

Every title is a memory, a piece of my history, a plank in my foundation; every book pulled from the shelves for disposal feels like I’m abandoning part of who I am. I am betraying myself. How will I still be able to connect with that past, with that person, without the book to transport me there? Dave, I’m afraid…   I felt sympathy for the computer during that scene. I know his pain.

Memory, you learn as you age, is both precious and fragile. I looked through a box of old photographs, only remembering the people and places in them because I am holding the image in my hand. They had retreated among the benthos of my memories until the moment I looked at it.

Emotions are attached to memories; the simultaneous sense of loss and re-discovered passions boiled up within me when I looked at the photograph. Friends and lovers restored, even if only for that brief moment. Throwing those images away is like Dave unplugging HAL. With that photograph in hand, I can go spelunking into my past and rediscover a whole subterranean world buried within me.

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Musings on Downsizing, No. 1

Early EB special I wrote for
1991 municipal election coverage. EB special issue I worked on, and the first municipal election I covered for the paper.

Downsizing seems to be all the rage among people our age. It’s so popular, it might be classified as a sport or a game for seniors. Assuming someone could codify the rules, that is.

I’ve been told it’s all over the TV, too, but since we haven’t had cable for a decade or more, I am only going on hearsay for that. But the topic shows up now and then on the front cover of grocery-store checkout magazines, (along with headlines about glitterati of whom I’ve never heard), so perhaps it is a popular activity outside our age group, too.

As an inveterate book buyer, I’ve always resisted downsizing my books. However, a few times in my life I have succumbed to the madness and donated a dozen or two boxes of them to the local library. My library of chess books, those wonderful books for learning Egyptian hieroglyphs I never quite managed to master, histories and biographies I’ve read, Latin textbooks, illustrated coffee table books of dinosaurs; all sorts have been passed on. But like falling snow, they seem to build again into drifts across my shelves and soon spread to the floor. 

Huronia Sunday and EB issues
Sections from the Collingwood edition of the Huronia Sunday paper; a publication of the Enterprise-Bulletin I edited, designed, and wrote for. I kept them all.

This time, I’m more determined. I’ve already crated 15 boxes of books for donation or sale, and have at least ten or twelve more to go before I’ve cleared the piles from the floor. It’s hard because every book has to be looked at, opened, considered thoughtfully for enjoyment, relevance, longevity, and the inevitable question, “Will I ever re-read this?” Or with textbooks (like Latin) and technical manuals, “will I really learn this subject?”

I also take the time to update my list of books on Goodreads.com when I uncover a title I’ve read that is making its journey into a box, destined for downsizing.

And that’s only the upstairs part of the project. The basement could be a set from an early Universal monster movie, you know: those dark, cluttered spaces full of boxes that haven’t been opened so long they have grown roots. I’ve got boxes that haven’t been opened or sorted in three decades. Downsizing is emotionally cathartic, and not for the faint-of-heart to tackle.

Some of the publications I wrote for.
Some of the publications I wrote for, mostly between 1980 and 1990.

I collected a copy of almost every publication I ever wrote for, some dating back to the late 1960s. I had every issue of the Huronia Sunday paper I edited, designed, and wrote for; and many issues from the Enterprise Bulletin I wrote for and later edited. Plus copies of computer, marketing, aviation, paintball, printing, wargame, gaming, military history magazines, and various newspapers I wrote for, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. There’s a forest worth of trees there.

And then there was the box of software manuals and technical guides I wrote in the 1980s for computers that are technological paleontology these days. Aside from me, who cares about this material? Nostalgia has a limited range and is not contagious. Boxes and boxes of archived material. The recycling bin opens wide to receive my treasures.

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