There was no denying that there was something seriously wrong with me.
I’ll just say this about it: there was black blood in the bowl when I looked back down. I’ve become an expert over the years at avoiding the little aches and pains. I can sit here and write this because I have never had a symptom that didn’t resolve itself, often with no help from me. But some things just can’t be denied, and so I knew had to go to urgent care.
Black blood portends nothing good. I felt like a lifetime of neglect and excess was now oozing out of me, demanding that I pay attention. Could it be fatal? I didn’t know. Do the reading on Google, as I did. It’s not encouraging, to say the least.
And so, I had to take stock. I looked around my apartment and wondered if I would ever see it again. Or if I would, when? And if when, who would have been in there in the meanwhile? Friends? My daughter? I had no idea. I wasn’t well enough to clean it properly on any account. There was no time to write a will, to leave instructions. Suddenly, there was no time. Just like that, I wondered if I was out of time, finally.
I may have talked myself out of leaving, but the trips to the toilet were becoming more urgent, more frequent, more painful. I packed some books and notebooks, some extra ink in my bag, put on my coat and shoes and left my apartment. I locked the deadbolt. I stopped and took what may have been one last look at my door, the umber 507. I was not certain that I would ever see it again.
This may seem a little over-the-top and melodramatic to some of you. But when you reach a certain age, as I have, and you live alone, as I do, then you have to at least account for the worst case scenario. Once you do, it’s not hard to spiral down and go to the bad place. To put it mildly, it was an emotional leave taking from my place. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so alone or vulnerable in my life.
After being poked and prodded and even entered (as it were), and having had my blood pressure taken scores of times, I was examined by a gastroscope-wielding specialist whose name I didn’t quite get. This involved sliding the instrument into my stomach by way of my mouth, a procedure that the doctor and nurse and others in the room sneakily knocked me out for. (Which I am so thankful for.) In their examination, they found a small vein that was “actively bleeding,” I think was how my doctor put it.
This they cauterized and in so doing, solved my problem. No more bleeding. Good thing, because my hemoglobin count was down a full third from all the blood I lost. They wanted to keep me in the hospital for three days to monitor me, but I checked myself out the next morning. I knew what we were all looking for; I told them I could monitor myself at home.
I had an AFA grant to apply for. I had an important rehearsal to attend for a collective play I am shepherding into existence. My doctor said sarcastically that it was too bad my healing was getting in the way of my busy schedule. I told him I am a person of the theatre and that there was nothing I could do about it.
So after all that, home and back in a little over 24 hours. I have no complaints about our health care system in Alberta, let me tell you. I was treated with consummate professionalism ever step of the way.
It took a little out of me. I’d already lost 25 pounds in 2016 and I lost another 5 throughout this ordeal. I’m a little weak still, probably from the loss of blood. But I was never so glad to get back to my place, to my own personal mess, the books that never manage to find their way onto shelf, the laundry that never gets put away, and to my very own bed.
And yet, something lingers . . . that dread that I felt when I closed my door and walked down the stairs of my apartment to the street and on to urgent care, that sudden awareness that we can delay the inevitable but we can’t cheat death, it will find us all. Never had I felt it more intensely before. The chill lingers, even though it looks like it missed me. This time.
I’m glad to be here. I really am. I don’t really care that I had a rotten night’s sleep. I don’t mind that it’s cold outside again, because I can go outside, again. I have a play to get into production. I have a book to finish. I still have things to do. I’m thankful to be here.
If you are reading these words, I suggest you look around and give thanks for what you have, in your own way.
For all it’s problems, it’s still a beautiful world after all.
In front of my grandma’s apartment in Regina when I was a tad younger.
Ten years ago I was facing what seemed then the rather grim prospect of turning 50. 50?! That seemed like a gigantic number when I was 49. How had I gotten to be so old? Surely there was a mistake! Was I done? Was my race run? Was I spent and washed out, through, finished, caput?
The prospect was daunting and depressing. Making matters worse, ten years ago I found myself without a “partner” (of any shape or form), so I was going to have to go it alone. Yet I knew if I were to celebrate such an auspicious birthday alone in my apartment in my soiled underwear that I would become very depressed indeed. And so without a significant other to do it for me, I threw a surprise birthday party for myself. Well, guess what?! It turned out to be one of the best nights of my life. What I can remember of it.
Well, here we are, ten years later, and other than the enormity of the number (WHICH WE SHALL NOT NAME) nothing much has changed. Still getting older, some new scars and aches and pains accumulated in the last decade, still alone in the world, still afraid of ringing in the next decade all alone in my underwear, so now is the time to invite you to a surprise birthday party for myself.
This year’s (decade’s) extravaganza will take place on Saturday, September 24 which will be in fact my 60th birthday. (There, I said the number, not so bad.) Guests are asked to assemble and congregate and muster and comingle around 5:00 PM. The birthday boy himself is scheduled to arrive around 6:00 PM, with the idea that as I enter, guests will jump out from their hiding places and scream “Surprise!” and give me a near heart attack in the manner of surprise parties from time immemorial.
The location for this great event is my new local in the beltline, The Blind Monk Pub, which is located at 918 12th Ave SW, across from the Board of Ed building and Barb Scott Park. If you can’t be there before 6, no worries, come anytime, it would be nice to see you.
Presents. This is a big concern. You might be thinking to yourself, Eugene hardly seems like the type to want a present. In this, you would be wrong. Of course I want a present. How could you even think of showing up without something for me? Come on, get with the program, it’s my freaking birthday. (Just kidding, kind of.)
The last time we did this is was at the old Auburn Saloon. I told Jesse (the owner) that there might be 100 people there, or it might just be him and me playing cribbage. Mercifully we had a great turn out and I was able to catch up a lot of old friends.
This year, I’ve told Spyder at the Blind Monk the same thing. Of course, there’s no way of knowing numbers because it’s a surprise party. But I hope you will come by and hoist a drink with me.
Remember, if you see me between now and then, don’t mention the party to me. It’s supposed to be a surprise!
Thanks for reading.
Going into the next month or so, late August to late September, I find myself in a rather unique position, breathing some rare air, as they say.
I have just returned from Wells, BC and a stint with the Sunset Theatre, a real gem and ray of hope in the Canadian theatre cosmology. I was there as a dramaturge, helping worry Michaela Jeffery’s new play, Hardscrabble Road, into production and into the world.
At the same time, I was working with the truly gifted cellist, Morag Northey, helping her create a one woman show for herself and her cello. We got a good start on that and hope to premier the play back in Wells next summer.
It felt good to work in the theatre again — it’s been a while as I took a detour the last few years into the world of the novel with the writing of my own novel, The Piano Teacher.
It’s been a wonderful ride, so wonderful in fact I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. This week I will be taking part in a reading at Shelf Life Books on Tuesday, August 16 in conjunction with the W.O. Mitchell Award. This is an award given by the Writers Guild of Alberta and the City of Calgary to honour what was felt to be the finest book written in the city in the last year.
I am a finalist this year for The Piano Teacher, along with Sharon Butala and Will Ferguson. The three of us will be reading from our books on Tuesday.
Maybe it sounds trite, yet it’s true, I respect both of these writers tremendously and will be honoured to be in their company – win or lose, this nomination means a lot. They will announce the recipient on September 28 – more on that at a later date.
At the same time, I have been occupied with a new venture, a volume of poems that I have written through the years, titled Nocturnal Emissions. And so another book of poetry comes into the world. In some ways it is difficult to get excited about a book of poems, and yet I am encouraged by the words of the poet William Carlos Williams:
It is difficult the get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.
I find there has been too much news in the world of late. Maybe a book of poems is needed more than ever.
I suppose for me this book is really a labour of love. It’s a way for me to celebrate my upcoming birthday, as I endeavour not to go gentle into that good night!
Nocturnal Emissions will be launched on September 22 at Shelf Life Books, and then relaunched and christened with beer on my birthday, September 24 at a surprise birthday party I’m throwing for myself (I know, I know) at the Blond Monk pub on 12th Ave.
Here’s one of the poems from the collection:
The colour drains
The spirit wanes
I hardly know
What to make of it
It was a day like this
When jazz first got blown
Or Bell talked into his phone
Or Einstein bent a ray of light
Or Leonardo dreamed of flight
Not to be alone
Anything to discover a reason why
And so I write, deep into the night
There are better ways than this
Making out with a stranger in a basement suite
While a big dog scratches at the door
I struck on this
A hundred years
Here I sit
I called this post Factotum, which, as I understand the word, means someone who does a lot of different jobs, which in the writing world seems true of me. I’ve always enjoyed this sense of versatility, being able to express myself artistically in a number of different forms and genres. Seems they are all converging these days which is really quite magical.
All in all, I have to say the next six weeks are so are shaping up to be very exciting in the world of Eugenius. I hope you can help me celebrate my birthday by attending any or all of these events and of course, buying the books.
Thanks for reading!
It’s been a while, I know, since I spilled any electronic ink here on my blog.I hardly know myself where I’ve been. I could add I’ve been through one of those times when I feel I hardly know myself, period. Well, it happens. Life happens. Until it doesn’t. Anyway, I’m still here.
For those who want to know, I have been teaching a lot of late. I finished yet another term working with foreign-educated doctors and other professionals at Alberta Business and Educational Services. It’s always rewarding, but I’m a little exhausted after 12 weeks, as it’s 6 hours a day in front of a class. That’s a lot, by anyone’s standards.
Over the winter, I taught a writing workshop for interested people in the community. Twelve of us gathered every Monday evening at the Opera Centre on 7th Street and by and large the enthusiasm of the group and the quality of the work produced was gratifying and rewarding. I’ll probably do another of these even as early as the fall – I’ll put a notice of the next workshop on Facebook.
Finally, I taught a spring session prose writing class at St. Mary’s University here in Calgary. There were some really wonderful writers in that class, young and old, and the six weeks went by so quickly, in the blink of an eye it was all over.
My novel The Piano Teacher keeps creeping back onto the Calgary Herald best sellers list which is truly amazing – it’s been over a year since I launched it. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell me how much they enjoyed it, either in person or on Facebook. Writing that novel when I did was once of the best things I’ve done for myself in recent memory.
And yet for all that, the last several months have been all bout poetry for me. The sudden reappearance of my muse a few months ago (and regrettably, her subsequent disappearance) inspired me to finally put together a volume of my poetry. I’ve been meaning to do this for years and now it’s finally happening.
The name of the book is Nocturnal Emissions. I will be launching it at Shelf Life Books in Calgary on September 22. I was originally going to call it 60 because its publication is part of my planned events around the celebration of my 60th birthday. I know, I know. I’m trying to get my head around that number, it’s seems enormous and it simply sounds old to me. But as I hope I’m not jinxing anything in saying I’ll still be kicking around in September, one has to think it’s better than the alternative, of not turning 60. But the fact of the matter remains that I am up to 69 poems (and counting) and I also think Nocturnal Emissions is a damned good title for a volume of poetry.
As was the case with The Piano Teacher, I will be having a second launch of the book at the Blind Monk Pub on 12th Avenue on Saturday, September 24, which is my actual birthday. I am actually planning a surprise birthday party for myself that evening, but more on that later.
The Nocturnal Emissions document is open so with little effort, I can offer a sneak preview of one of the poems:
There is a scent of aloneness
That blows through in autumn
It remains aloof from you even as
You remain aloof from yourself
The shadows of former lovers lengthen
As the days grow short and cold
Till all that’s left is a faint
Indentation on your bed where once –
And now you spend your days
And dreams alone
Wound up and falling apart
Into the creeping hours of the endless night
Aloof, all of it
Distant and detached
You can only watch
In silent disbelief
As the purpose of your life
Slips by, gliding
Like a great dark river
Flowing through the dead of night.
Well, there’s a little update. And to leave you with something a little more uplifting, here’s one of my favourite songs ever. Maybe part of my problem is that I still think I’m one of the young dudes . . .
Thanks for reading!
From time to time, I type out what I’ve written in my daily journal. This is from today, January 11, 2016.
RIP David Bowie
I woke up early again, too early. 4:30-ish. (Once upon a time, that’s when I went to bed. Whatever happened?) I looked on Facebook on my iPad (with a coffee in my sleepless bed) and read that David Bowie had passed away yesterday. I think I saw it first from my daughter Hanna who lives in Europe and posted something before anyone in North America would have seen it.
I got up and put on a You Tube compilation of his songs. So many songs that have always been a part of my life, somehow. Ashes to Ashes is likely my favourite. But then there’s Space Oddity (the original appearance of Major Tom). Maybe I like it more. Changes. Heroes. Wild is the Wind. So many great songs, no point trying to enumerate them all.
I feel very sad today, which I find a little surprising. I mean, people die every day. I didn’t feel any particular strong bond to David Bowie. Or at least I didn’t know I had. Obviously he meant more to me than I had realized.
I mentioned this to one of the young women who works at Caffe Beano and she reminded me to look at the bright side, that he had an amazing life, he was old, he had cancer, etc. etc. I know she’s right. Of course she is, and it was good of her to try to cheer me up. But when you get to a certain age yourself, though, when someone who has always been there, a part of your life, suddenly dies (or even not so suddenly) you are reminded of your own mortality, and just how quickly our lives pass by. And that’s enough to make a person sad.
Looking back, I remember buying the album Scary Monsters when I moved to Toronto from Regina in the fall of 1980 to go to York University. I was twenty-four. I was suddenly exposed to the music (and art, generally) that my fellow students from across Canada were into. (I remember getting into the Talking Heads at the same time and buying their album, Remain in Light. 1980 was a good year in music.)
My new friend Janine definitely turned me on to Bowie. Of course, I knew his music before then, but she ramped it up significantly. It was very cool to identify with Bowie, and even dress in the new wave fashion – skinny Edwin jeans, black leather jacket, white running shoes and a hair cut that now could only be described as a mullet.
I damn near wore that Scary Monsters album out, I played it so many times. (Btw, we’re talking vinyl here. I didn’t get a CD player until the late ‘80s.) I was open to pop music again after a foray into the classical world that had lasted for about ten years while I seriously studied the piano.
Whoever Major Tom is, and whether that song is about drugs or just the general alienation and otherness that we all feel from time to time – whatever it means, exactly, Space Oddity has always been helpful, giving words to our experience and a balm to our alienation and in this way it could be said to be an anthem for a generation.
(There are others from around the same time – notably Stairway to Heaven, Hey Jude, Born to Run, and some earlier ones like The Sounds of Silence, Heart of Gold and Big Yellow Taxi. To name but a few . . . )
I seem to have a memory from back in the day (and I say that I seem to because I’m not 100% certain that it really happened). I was driving along an empty stretch of highway in Saskatchewan on a warm summer’s night. The sun roof was open, the great canopy of stars was vibrating above in the inky blackness. I had smoked a fatty and was listening to Space Oddity full blast – floating in a most peculiar away . . . sitting in a tin can . . . far above the world . . .
It comes back to me now as a moment of perfect contentment, one of those rare moments in a lifetime. It’s a nice memory, even if it never happened.
The world feels a little emptier today, the silence a little louder.
Thanks for reading.
And then there’s this . . . .
This came in the form of an email from my old friend and brother in arms in the playwriting game, Neil Fleming, who is the current President of the Alberta Playwrights Network:
I’m wondering if we can hit upon your goodwill as an APN member playwright to participate in an event we have coming up on November 28th.
APN is turning 30 this year and we are trying to raise $30K in 30 days by asking for 1000 donations of $30.
On day 30, we are hosting a Birthday Bash with a playwright version of TV’s Chopped.
Chopped pits 4 chefs against each other. Each round they are given mystery ingredients and have to make a dish. Each round is judged, and one of the chefs is “chopped” from the competition until there’s a winner.
We plan to do “Turg-ed” where each donation of $30 allows you to buy a word (ingredient) for the four playwrights to make something out of. $300 for curse-words
Playwrights would have 30 minutes to incorporate things the best they can, and then they’re work would be read out loud.
One writer would be cut from each round until there’s a winner – but each “turged” writer would then become a ‘turge and join the judges.
There will be one event in Calgary and one in Edmonton.
We’d love you to be one of our Calgary Writers if you’re willing (and available on November 28th)
What could I say? I’m a sucker for punishment and the type of public humiliation that playwrights know probably better than anyone else. (Maybe other than goalies and placekickers?) I am also past president of the APN and so I am aware first hand of the great role this organization plays in helping Alberta playwrights get their work from page to stage. Without their support, for example, my play Queen Lear would likely still be lying in ruins instead of being currently produced in Russia of all places. (I’m big in Russia, what can I say?)
It should be fun. If you check out the trailer below you will get a better idea of what’s in store Saturday evening. (Honestly, I’m still trying to get my head around it myself.) Clearly, I am the grey beard in this group, but I’ve been training hard and hope to be the last writer standing. Or sitting. Or drinking. Or whatever.
Should you be reading this and have no chance of making it to the event, don’t be afraid to go to the APN website and make a donation. 30 bucks sounds about right. It’s an investment in the future of theatre in Alberta, that is, the theatre that is created in Alberta, by Albertans, for Albertans and maybe even for audiences far away. That’s got to be worth 30 bucks, right?
The event takes place Saturday, November 28 at the APN offices WHICH HAVE MOVED — they are now at #208 – 331 41st Ave. NE. Doors open at 7:00, the writing commences at 8:00. There will be a silent auction. And a DJ. And there will be a bar. At least there bloody well better be a bar!
For further info here’s the APN website: https://albertaplaywrights.squarespace.com
There’s an online auction here: http://albertaplaywrights2015.eflea.ca/view
And finally, just below, the trailer.
Thanks for reading!