DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond
This post is the first in a series called Directions: Taking the scenic route to Parkinson’s and beyond. I explore some of the ‘things’ that have changed, are changing and will change the ‘direction’ of my life. I know, ‘things’ is a very imprecise word and is overused to refer to almost anything (well, there you go, eh?).
Do you know that delay and equivocation in decision-making is one of the many non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s? I kid you not. I am not going to blame all my procrastination on Parkinson’s but the title of this post eluded me for a very long time. It did not come easily. It rarely does but this time it was doubly difficult. I kept delaying a final decision and even now I am not convinced I have hit the right chord. You see, words are tricky things – double entendre, multiple meanings, concepts nested within concepts, different levels of discourse with different intellectual and cultural origins. Sorry, but lately I just can’t help but be amazed by words and language. It is as if I have been near-sighted all my life and then thrown abruptly into a world where my micrographia, an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease, makes it impossible to read my own handwriting but is also, quite magically, a feature of enlightenment. It is all a matter of perspective.
At one point it occurred to me that perhaps I should follow journalistic practice and task someone else with the responsibility to decide on a title. I remember being amazed when I first learned that journalists don’t (at least in those days) write their own headlines. That explains why over the years I have noticed a few headlines that are out of sync with the text of the article. One of my favourites is an article reporting on the government of Sri Lanka sending a representative to an international meeting. The headline read, “Lanka plans to attend.” It is so nice to know that Ms. Lanka has sent in her RSVP.
Eventually, I settled on the title: Directions: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond. Of course, that was some time ago as I went through further periods of procrastination and indecision about the content and order of publication for the first few posts. Stay tuned as this is still a work in progress.
The idea of exploring the many different directions of my life has been tumbling around in my brain for quite some time. It should be simple enough, don’t you think, to articulate how I got to be the person I am … at this moment…. in this place… with a traceable historical timeline complete with events and documents? You would think so but it is never that straight forward, is it? My research and rough drafts started out smoothly enough but it soon became evident that the process of uncovering, analyzing, interpreting and communicating the direction of one’s life is a daunting task and, dare I say, disorienting, unless you have a reliable metaphorical gyroscope to stabilize the entire endeavor.
Unfortunately, the temptation is to write a chronological account and that turns out to be deadly boring and resembles an application for life insurance. I quickly scrapped this approach. I once worked for someone who would comment on my work by saying, “I don’t know what I wanted… but this isn’t it.” There was never a reason given as to why it didn’t meet the grade or what I should consider doing to correct the shortcoming. The lack of feedback meant that I had to become skilled at listening, guessing, extrapolation, and interpretation in order to survive. While these are very useful skills they are quite inefficient as tools. Am I being reduced once again to a guessing game, but this time it is trying to figure out the nuances of my own life so that I can understand myself? Whoa, that sounds like I should be booking some couch time with a professional. We’ll leave that for the moment.
Taking a small step back, I can safely say that a chronological “listing” or cataloguing of ‘things’ that I think are important is not my primary objective. Oh, there will be ‘things’ and ‘events’ but they must be accompanied be “the ‘stuff’ of life” i.e., by whatever makes the static, dynamic. My trusty thesaurus suggests that “stuff” is a synonym for ”things” but that is not how I see it. For me “stuff” is what gives “things” life but you should also know that: “stuff” can lay dormant for years and be resurrected with one fortuitous nudge or change in ‘direction’.
While I am at it I may as well clear up a few other potential ambiguities. When I say the “direction” of one’s life, I do not mean ‘achievements,’ ‘goals,’ ‘legacy,’ or ‘good deeds,’ which can sum up one’s worth on earth. Neither do I mean ‘destination,’ or ‘defining moments.’ I am not trying to reach nirvana, to go to Mecca, or even to see Altamont, Manitoba one more time. And if I wait until I win the Nobel Peace Prize or equivalent before I consider my life to be worthy enough to bring into the spotlight, I will be waiting a long time. That doesn’t mean I won’t go places or that I won’t live a full, useful and worthy life such that people will speak well of me after I am no longer physically present; it just means that in as much as these form part of the ‘direction’, they are not influencing agents with the ‘stuff’ necessary to alter course, those ‘things’ (positive and negative) that have ‘nudged’ the ‘trajectory’ of a life onto a slightly different ‘track.’
Being astute readers as you are, you know that the word “direction” has many meanings and nuances. For the sake of clarity, I rarely use the word “directions” to mean “instructions” so I will not be issuing recipes for matrimonial cake; or shop instructions on how to build a three – story 15 unit wren house; or instructions on how to make a snowflake quilt. When it comes to matters of life, each of these approaches would be tantamount to telling you how to live your life. No matter how much I might want to tell you how to live your life, I won’t. Rather, in this series I am content enough to expose the vectors of my own life such they convey a more complete understanding to me … and to others whose eyes may pass over these words.
The ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ I find most intriguing and insightful are usually small and maybe insignificant to others. Why they are intriguing may not be evident immediately and might be revealed only upon focused reflection at a much later time, but know this, the consequences of ignoring a small error in measurement in carpentry can be monumental when you get to the corner or to the top of the wall. The old saw (no pun intended), “measure twice, cut once,” has broad metaphorical applicability to all areas of life.
In sum, life is not a curriculum vitae or a compendium of artifacts; it is a force inherent in every aspect of being, no matter how exciting or how dull and insignificant it appears. This force is integral to every life as it establishes the ‘tendencies’ within the ‘direction’ of life. Or put another way, “I didn’t know that the little ‘things’ would turn out to be so big and that so many ‘factors’ can influence and change the parameters of the original course.” We shall leave aside the question of how the original course is set in the first instance for the moment. Right now, my task is to illustrate ‘stuff’ in the comings and goings of everyday life.
There is a Buddhist saying, ”Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” It has been echoed by many others including Ralph Waldow Emerson, Aerosmith, theologian Lynn H. Hough substituting slightly different words for “Happiness” e.g., love, religion, success, etc. I believe we should indeed enjoy the journey as life has a rather inhospitable destination (dead is dead) for those who do not believe there is a Heaven.
I prefer to think of this post as a journey along the Red or Assiniboine Rivers in Manitoba, especially in the spring and summer. In spring they overflow their banks seeking to breach every dam and flood every unprotected low-lying land with free flowing and often-undefined waters that carry danger as well as richness. Once the flood subsides and summer arrives there is no need to spend the rest of the journey treading water just to keep our noses clear. The rivers are now within their channels and meander with a lazy habit and we have time to contemplate the rush of earlier times. I have found that one of the most important questions we have to ponder is whether the river has determined our destination or have we navigated the river?
As regular readers know, neither my process nor thinking is linear. In keeping with that approach, I often do not have a self-evident point of beginning but begin we must, so read on to Part I.
DIRECTIONS Part I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!
“Stay werr you’re to, ’til I comes werr you’re at, B’y” is a saying that has almost become synonymous with Newfoundland and Labrador. [See Note 1) When you look at the words sitting rather alone and limply on the page, it doesn’t seem all that funny or profound. Still, when you catch it mid-monologue, swimming in a stream of consciousness and slang tripping off the tongue of a fast talking (not slick, just talking fast) descendent of the original Indigenous people and the Irish, French, Scots and English who came to the shores of “The Rock” in the early 16th century, the oratory is theatre, comedy, music and gospel with a smear of blasphemy and a nod to graffiti.
At my former workplace we employed highly trained and very skilled professional interpreters (English to/from French interpretation primarily) for our National Executive Board meetings. Occasionally the interpreters would apologize that they could not provide proper interpretation into French when Brother O’Leary from Newfoundland and Labrador was in a jocular mood and in full swing in English with his Newfoundland accent and slang. It had less to do with “salty” language than it had to do with Brother O’Leary’s version of the “English” language. Neither the interpreters nor the rest of us English-speakers could understand a word he was saying. We often joked that we needed a third interpreter for the English spoken in Canada’s youngest province. [See Note 2]
Now, the language and the accent on “The Rock” is such that some people recommend that you travel with an interpreter if you are a “Come from away” i.e., someone who is not local and therefore without a family heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, my lover and I found the locals to be quite tolerant and accommodating and would switch to an understandable form of central Canadian English, especially if a commercial transaction was imminent.
Maybe it is my inquisitive nature but I find that the instruction, “Stay werr you’re to ’til I comes where you’re at, B’y” is one that begs the question…. well, what was the original question that spawned this response? The question undoubtedly was, “Where am I and how do I friggin’ get out of here?” The Newfoundlander is kindly offering assistance by coming to get you. I hope so because if you have ever tried to follow directions given by a Newfoundlander, you might inadvertently go “out on da neck” instead of “down da arm” or “up da shore”… or is it up da arm and down da bay? …. Oh, never mind. [See Note 3]
Of course there may be extenuating circumstances. For example if you are “some stunned” or are recovering from a “Screech In,” you might be a little foggy on how you got to be where “you’re to” or exactly where “you’re at.” I don’t consider myself to be particularly dense and I have always gotten along well with the sisters and brothers from Newfoundland and Labrador but the night that I was “Screeched In” is indeed a little foggy in places and I am at the mercy of anyone who has a better recollection of what transpired that night than I do.
Is the “Screech In” a rite de passage?
An argument can be made that from a cultural anthropological perspective the “Screech In” is the celebration of a “rite de passage” which confers a new status on selected candidates. How and why the candidate has been selected is of no great relevance except that the selection is not random i.e., each and every citizen does not have an equal probability of being selected. This means of course that if selection is not random then it must be determined in some manner. For example, in many societies age is a determining factor and these ceremonies mark important moments as a child becomes an adult and accepts responsibilities as an adult. In this case, it appears that the candidate must have already achieved the age of majority (19 years old) in Newfoundland and Labrador in order to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony. Another determining factor is that the candidate must be a “Come from away (CFA),” i.e., a resident of someplace, any place, other than Newfoundland and Labrador, and you must have wandered by design or by accident into the territory of the Newfoundlander, and been selected (or even self-selected) to be a participant in a Screech In.
The significance of the CFA designation cannot be overstated. Newfoundland and Labrador is similar to many other unique social groupings – it is very difficult to penetrate from the outside. Once a CFA, always a CFA or so the saying goes. Even if you lived on “the Rock” for 40 years, it is likely that you will be identified as a CFA. With any luck, your children will not carry the designation but they might. I am reminded of a woman who lived in Altamont, Manitoba for over 50 years. She initially moved to this small village as a schoolteacher and when she married a local farm boy, she stayed. Together she and her husband built a successful business and raised a family. In spite of the lengthy time spent living in and participating in community activities, she could never quite escape that somewhat derisive moniker, “city girl.” If her ways didn’t quite mesh with the locals or if she didn’t know how to do something, it could be explained by saying, “Oh, she’s a city girl, ya’ know.”
The “Screech In” carries the promise of a change in status from a pure “Come from away” to “Honourary Newfoundlander.” Cultural anthropologists tell us that there is a period of ambiguity or disorientation called “liminality” when the subject has moved on from her/his old status and has not yet accepted her/his new status i.e., s/he is on the “threshold.” Everyone who has been “Screeched In” reports that they experience this period of fogginess and disorientation as they shed the pure “Come from away” status and accept their new status as an “Honourary Newfoundlander” or a “Screeched In Newfoundlander.”
All that for an asterisk?
The problem is that the whole “Screech In” thing is bit of a fraud if you stack it up against the measure of a bona fide rite de passage. It seems that in the mid-1970s a St. John’s nightclub owner named Bill Walsh and a few of his cronies cooked up a fake tradition and called it “The Screech Club” to attract out of province business. It was pure genius because what better way to attract tourists than to give these “Come from Away” a chance to become something they desperately wanted to be but could never become – a member of a unique, quaint, welcoming society where its citizens carry a sense of humour 24/7 for 365 days a year.
“Lard-Tunderin’ Jeezus B’y!” The clubs on George Street in St. John’s are usually packed with tourists all too willing to be screeched in – all too willing to be called to the altar of cod in a rite de passage which confers honourary status but no actual rights. Funny thing that; the ceremony provides the candidate with a sense of inclusion in a culture that specifically excludes her/him. The “Screech In” rite de passage admits you into the “Royal Order of Screechers,” a club to which native Newfoundlanders would never belong … and can never belong. The “Screech In” leaves you almost exactly where you started – as a CFA with an asterisk for the official statistics (CFA*) – a “Come from away, Screeched In.”
Armed with your certificate attesting to your status as a “fake” Newfoundlander, you are now welcomed with generous and open arms in all ports and as an added bonus you can watch with a new appreciation the many fine comedians from “The Rock” who have dominated Canada’s comedy venues and television shows for decades. Andy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Malone, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Tommy Sexton, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch, Bob Joy, John Sheehan, Jonny Harris, Diane Olsen and many others have established Newfoundland – style comedy and political satire not just as entertainment for the masses but as mandatory education for the elite.
My God, there is no cod
I personally was “Screeched In” at an odd ceremony 20 years ago in Marystown in the Burin Peninsula late on the night of the “scoff n scuff” (dinner and dance) of the annual convention of our Newfoundland and Labrador Division. An “appointed” representative (a native Newfoundlander) of all that is good and wholesome in NL ushered us into the dance hall, accompanied by suitable music (“I’s da b’y wha builds da boat…”) and a huge outburst of hands clapping, boots stomping, and voices hollering and hooting. Those of us who were “Come from Away” were directed to form a circle holding hands as we did so. The Officiant, wearing the traditional yellow sou’wester and slicker, solemnly called the congregation to order and began the liturgy of the “Screech In.” I don’t recall everything about the service but some elements still wash through my memory banks at high tide.
Officiant (addressing all who are “Come from Away”): “Do ya want to become Newfoundlanders?”
“Come from Away” (collective response): “Yes B’y!”
At this point each “Come from Away” is called forward individually and his/her name clearly stated for the record. The Officiant proceeds to tell the assembled crowd a few amusing “lies” or stories that must have been true because no one could ever make up such ridiculousness, about that particular person (clearly, the Officiant had been briefed in advance.) At the time I was an Executive Assistant to our National Secretary Treasurer so there was much joking about how important it is to “follow the money” [little did they know how close this jesting was to the truth about some practices within the National Secretary Treasurer’s Office – more on this at another time perhaps.] Also, a few shots were taken at my “landlubber” and “mainlander” origins in Manitoba and the Canadian prairies.
Officiant (addressing each “Come from Away” by name): “Are ya a screecher?”
Come from Away: “ ‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” [Translation: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”]
At this point the liturgy directs that the Come from Away must to kiss a cod. Sometimes the cod are not in plentiful supply so there are a few acceptable substitutions e.g.,“Newfy steak” (baloney,) the rear end of a rubber puffin, or any other ugly non-cod fish that can be found. In this particular case, a helpful Newfoundlander with a warped sense of humour had located a package of frozen capelin (a small fish that spawns on the shores of Newfoundland.)
Officiant (getting into the spirit of things): “I decree the capelin to be sacred for the purpose of this Screech In.”
Officiant (after a brief pause to consult with a group of locals acting as advisors): ”The absence of a proper “Host” (the Cod) and the sanctification of the capelin can only be granted if the “Come from Away” not only kisses the capelin but also bites its head off.”
There was uproarious laughter and hooting from the assembled throng. I suspect that alcohol was a major factor in this decision but as the Officiant decreed it, it must be done, and it was done.
One of the Officiant’s more thoughtful advisors provided a tin bucket into which the “Come from Away” could spit the head of the capelin if s/he chose not to swallow it. The bucket also proved to be a suitable vessel for depositing anything else that came up to accompany the head of the capelin.
To my knowledge not one “Come from Away” actually swallowed the capelin head but to our credit (I think) each of us did bite the head off. It should be noted that each “Come from Away” was given a shot of Screech, which s/he was required to down before kissing and then biting the head off the capelin. The Officiant’s advisors, being naturally helpful, were ready with a second shot of Screech so that the taste of the capelin could be washed from our sophisticated “Come from Away” palates immediately after spitting the capelin head into the bucket – and after we finished gagging of course. The bucket again proved to be handy for a few of the “Come from Away” group immediately after the second shot of screech hit her/his gullet.
Officiant: “You have honoured the body and blood of our ancesters and the great God of the Cod so by the grace of the ghost of Joey Smallwood [the last founding Father of Confederation as he was premier of NL when they joined Canada in 1949] and the authority vested in me by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, you are hereby enrolled in the Fraternity [and Sorority] of Screeched In Newfoundlanders.”
Once you have received your certificate it is advised that you carry it with you whenever you return to Newfoundland and Labrador as proof of your “Screeched In” status. Failure to have your certificate on your person is equivalent to revoking your status and it is mandatory that you experience the “Screech In” ceremony once again to bring your status up to date.
If you are an astute critical thinker, and not too foggy, groggy or stunned, you will know that come the morning there are questions that will need to be answered – no, not the questions that I usually ask in sequence after a night of celebrating e.g., “Where are my glasses? Where is my wallet? Is there any money in my wallet? Where are the painkillers? But first things first, before you go to sleep or fall down where you are, your most important task is to remember that there are important questions that need to asked. I enumerate only a few of them here to start the process because I find the more that I think about these questions, the more questions I have.
- Does it really matter if a rite de passage originated as a crass marketing tactic to fill the pockets of nightclub owners and the distillers of Screech and other beverages?
- Is it possible or even desirable to be a candidate in the same rite de passage more than once e.g., can you pass into adulthood twice?
- Is it possible that the “Screeching In” ceremony is more for the amusement of the native Newfoundlanders than it is for the Come From Away (CFA)?
- Does a steady stream of CFA celebrants kissing cod (or biting the heads off capelin), drinking screech, singing, dancing and otherwise being made to look the fool tickle the Newfoundlander’s funny bone (that place at the back of the elbow where the ulnar nerve rests against a prominence of the humerus.)
- Can a “Come from away” ever learn the language of Newfoundland?
So many questions, so little time … for a chucklehead like me to learn a new language and hatch a plot to exact revenge by dressing up like a mummer at Christmas… wait I am getting carried away. One thing I know is certain; it is pointless to try to get the last word in with a Newfoundlander.
The celebration of the “Screech In” for the newly minted Honourary Newfoundlanders in Marystown continued for at least another four hours. I recall the President of our NL Division (let’s call him Wayne because everyone else in NL does and they wouldn’t want us to stand on formality) dancing a little jig as he stepped to the Convention podium first thing the next morning, all bright eyed and bushy tailed with not a hair out of place while the rest of us were “all mops and brooms” and looking like we had been “hauled through a knot hole.”
Wayne addressed the assembled delegates at 9 a.m. sharp with an informal report on the dance the previous evening. He had supervised the entire event personally to ensure it was a huge success and to win a bet with the National President at the time (let’s call her “Judy” because everyone else does) that he could keep her dancing until the band “gave’er up” and that was at 4 a.m. Wayne relayed that he was glad he hadn’t taken his shoes off when he went to bed because when he woke up in the morning, he looked down and his feet were “still flappin’.” I dies at ‘im [translation: he is some funny guy.]
I didn’t know it at the time but Wayne’s professed experience of continuing the dance all night even after going to bed, was to be my future. I wake up often to find one or both of my feet “flappin’” as my medication has worn off. These involuntary muscle movements are more than mere tremours which many of us identify as being Parkinson’s; they are strong, constant, persistent, repetitive and painful muscle contractions over which I have little or no control without pharmaceutical assistance. I sometimes use some meditative techniques but they are successful only to a limited degree in some speciifc instances.
Don’t get me wrong; Wayne’s little joke is still very funny in context but it is not quite as fun or funny if you consider what a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) feels and faces upon waking with feet ‘flappin’.” Nothing is absolute, as they say, and thank goodness there is room for humour in many things that we may think to be sad, painful or grim. Sometimes flappin’ feet can be funny and fun and it makes us laugh when our two kittens think it is a game and pounce on my feet as I kick and wriggle under the covers.
As long as the arse isn’t outa ‘er
You know, the highly expressive language of the Newfoundlanders is exactly what I needed to help me identify, clarify and sum up my objective for this series of blogs. My goal is to begin to understand of how I got ‘here’ from ‘there.’ What happened along the way? Have I passed through the requisite rites de passages on my journey to my present status in society? How many of those events were real and how many were fake and does it matter if they were ‘meaningful?’ What kept me on course and what threw me off course?
Usually when a Newfoundlander says that the “arse is out of ‘er,” s/he is referring to the fact that the economy is in hard times and that things have gone wrong, very wrong and probably out of control. I hesitate to think of what that means when applied to the direction of a person’s life. I am counting on not hearing, “The arse is gone right clean outa ‘er,” when I continue my journey to explore the factors that hold my life together.
We’ll continue the quest in these and other questions in Directions Part II: No mea culpa here, coming soon to thepdgardener.wordpress.com.
Note 1: On December 6, 2001 the Constitution of Canada was amended to change Newfoundland’s official name to Newfoundland and Labrador. In keeping with that change, I will use the full Newfoundland and Labrador assignation when referring to the political entity, the province. However, when I reference the cultural entity that is Newfoundland, I will use the short and original form, Newfoundland.
Note 2: It is nice to be referred to as young and I bask in this moment as Newfoundland came into Confederation as Newfoundland in 1949, the year in which I was born. It became Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001, see note 1 above. For those who are asking: Nunavut became Canada’s youngest Territory, not a province, when it separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999.
Note 3: Shaun Majumder is a comedian of note and a native Newfoundlander. He has a very funny bit on what happens when you ask for directions to a pharmacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Be warned that this clip does contain mature language and explores some mature themes. It can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxR6YPW24X0
RESEARCH AND REFERENCES
Martin Connelly, ”Why I won’t be screeching” in The Morning News https://www.themorningnews.org/article/why-i-wont-be-screeching
Shaun Majumder, Newfie Directions, on YouTube.com https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxR6YPW24X0
© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017
LIST OF POSTS IN THIS SERIES
DIRECTIONS: Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond
DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“
DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, Outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa