For My Father








My Dad, Dr. Charles Quon

When you were just a boy,
the smallest and fastest
to chase the pig bladder ball
down the dust-covered streets
of Chien chun,

You saw the ones who had died
of starvation, swollen and ragged
in those same streets,
their ghosts drifting like dust
to join their ancestors at the temple.

But you, you didn’t believe in ghosts.
You believed in Mao, and the men
who followed him up and down the mountains
as you ran from the Japanese
into the dust-coloured hills.

You were hungry, and hungry
for knowledge. Your belly was empty
but your head was full of beautiful thing,
equations describing the universe,
A swirl of dust, how a radio works.

Later you wanted architecture
but settled for physics,
spoke loudly in order to sound tall
and married an English girl,
who kept a dusty house

You’re still making sacrifices
not like the first born son you are,
precious as an egg. You bow
in the dust, make me finish the rice,
try to pay for everything—

As if you haven’t already.
As if the years you spent
working off the debt
of your future, the dust of your past,
were not enough.

Anna Quon


It’s almost time to leave my attic in the sky and float down to the lake to spend a jobless summer at my Dad’s. I am not unhappy. There is no other place I’d rather spend the summer, really, and if he is willing to let me,  I will do my best to keep my bed made when I’m not in it. Leaving my bed unmade is about the only thing I habitually do that ticks him off, so I am very, very lucky.

It’s not really luck though, is it? My dad is one of those old-school Asian parents for whom sacrificing for the sake of their kids is  practically a religion … or a profession. Without my Dad and his steady support over the years, I might be dead. I certainly wouldn’t have the life I have today.

It’s a privileged life. Not  wealthy or stress-free one. but  one where the hallmark of my days is freedom.

I don’t have a job. Soon, i will not have my own place to live. But my biggest fear right now is not going hungry or homeless. My biggest fear is falling while rollerblading and breaking my knee caps.

I bought these roller blades from a friend second hand  with more money than people on assistance get for a week’s worth of groceries. I don’t have regular work, so I can get up and go to the Oval and skate, then swim, then meet a friend for coffee.  This is a ridiculous amount of freedom for a middle-aged woman with no income to speak of.  I was acutely aware walking home this morning that my situation is unusual, and some might say, outrageously irresponsible. Definitely privileged.

That said, part of my reason for living this way is to put my health first. Having spent a year of my life, all told, in the mental hospital, this is not irresponsible. If I can keep out of  the mental hospital for the rest of my life  I will save my parents and other people who care about me a lot of grief, and the powers that be thousands if not millions of dollars. More than I will ever earn, at my short-term part time gigs.

But I don’t give two figs about saving the government money. If i can save my brain from further trauma, my mind from disintegration and my heart and soul from the terrible pain of my acute illness phase, I will do what I can. The second last time I had an adult full-time job, I crashed and burned and ended up a guest of the Nova Scotia hospital for more than a month.

My last full-time job was amazing, because my boss was amazing. I loved, admired  and respected her (still do), felt appreciated by my colleagues, and  had a certain amount of autonomy, independence and, yes, freedom. But it was a very special job, not one that I will find again, one that was grant dependent ( the Nova Scotia government cut those grants this year), which was located in a town I have since moved from,  and administered by one very special person at one very special organization. And even at this very special job, which was more fun and more fulfilling and paid me better than any regular job I’d ever had,  basically ensuring that I had a carefree life financially, I couldn’t see myself staying longer than a year.

When I am mentally ill, I am the opposite of free. When I am well, I  guard my freedom with my life.  I don’t want to look at my life and know what I will be doing and where I will be in two years, let along five.  I don’t want to be able to see that far into the future, because it makes me panic and feel trapped.

I only have this luxury because of my father who studied and worked hard all his life,  is still willing to support me financially as need be and in any way he can. He often tells me not to worry, to enjoy life, not to let stress overtake me.  He often says, if you need money, it’s there. It will all be yours and your siblings’ one day anyway, he says.

My father enjoys his life. He paints, walks, cooks and eats well. He has even written his memoirs. My father might, however, be  a little lonely. I don’t spend as much time with him as I could, but living there this summer will of course change all that.

I was on my roller blades today for the second time since I got them. Before that I think the last time I skated was more than 15 years before. I’m out of practice. Today was better than day 1, when I fell three times and scraped my leg up.  Today I made it around the Oval four times and didn’t fall. I think today was different because I had managed to buy wrist guards,  and knee and elbow pads, which might have protected me if I fell and which made me feel so much more secure on my skates. I felt like I could loosen up a little, go faster.  I was free-er of fear

Not to say there was no fear. As I squinted into the sun at the broad, curving expanse of the concrete path I was on, I felt dread. But I knew if I could get past that fear, I would feel pleasure, even exhilaration. I would feel free.

A certain amount of security, cushion, protection, helps reduce the dread and uncertainty that comes with freedom. This is what my father has given me. It’s not so much that I will always need that security, cushion, protection or whatever you wan to call it. It’s just knowing that it’s there, that helps.

There are many other things my Dad has given me over the years. Time and space and theories about time and space. Delicious home-cooked Chinese food, walks, and a place to swim. A house full of books and a room of my own, whether or not I make my damn bed. Thanks, Dad, for everything.

Love poem challenge

Can you write a love poem that doesn’t make my teeth ache? challenge!

Here’s mine:

Someone said
give internet dating a try.
Internet dating my eye.

I wrote my profile
in blood. It took hours
to list what I’m passionate about–
sunshine, water, words, and so on.

At the end I realized they had asked me to mention
I am passionate about.
I ignored the question.
I am passionate about my list.
I am not a good listener.

They asked me what people would notice about me first
I rolled my eyes
because the question was stupid,
and told the truth
as pleasantly and passive-agressively
as possible
I dress funny.

There were other questions
But I was tired
I uploaded the photos of me when I was sick, exhausted and cold
the most flattering ones I could find

The ones you will never see
because you are not looking in my direction
because you too
are sick, exhausted, cold

and over there is a bright fire
burning with all the things you love.
You’re mesmerized.

I am too.
But I’m holding on to my list
You’re on it.
I’ll never burn it.

Year of the Lollipop

A new year. A brand new year in which to dress up, mess up, ‘fess up and hopefully success up. What a treat, a terrible, terrible treat, like a year-long lollipop. But thankfully you only have to lick it one day at a time.

I actually have a good feeling about this year, which is not wholly unrealistic, despite a number of handicaps which beset me at the moment  (not quite enough work, no truly permanent address, chronic lack of sleep). I have a good feeling about the trajectory of this year, which seems to me to be rising ever so slightly, and curving, like a smile.

My health is good (knock on wood). I have a little financial padding (thanks, Dad).  There are good people in my life striving to better their own health, fortunes and futures.  Cherished friends, family who haven’t yet written me off,  and things to look forward to. A decent astrological outlook, lengthening daylight hours and waterproof boots. I’m doing just fine, thanks.

There are always complications of course. But the best thing about this life is that complications make the pattern prettier and more interesting, and even those mistakes we make over and over again, are a part of that design. Perhaps if we could see the panorama of our intersecting lives, the places where we fall down and lay splayed on the sidewalk, time and time again, might be where the beauty happens.

Who knows where I will be a year from now? The hope is Mexico. Before that, Slovakia and after that who knows… China maybe. But right now I’m licking this here lollipop, and it’s a big sucker. It’ll take me all year to finish it. if I were a kid I might enjoy it more, but I as an adult it’s going to take some work, persistence, patience. Still, sweet is sweet.  Never going to turn my nose up at candy.

What’s in that box?

It’s that time again. Time to sit and reflect on all the brilliance and brutality that has come to pass since our last go round at the Christmas tree, though we’d rather sit and drink eggnog.

I am not really in the mood. For either the past year of for the eggnog. Because I am tired and my eyes are dry and it’s grey as a corpse outside.

I feel like a drowned rat in the desert. but still I am thankful for my warm sweater and comfy couch and angel cat and cbc radio and decaf coffee.Hopefully tomorrow I’ll perk up and feel less hungover… because i have nothing to be hungover about. Life is good, in this particular body at this particular moment.  I got gratitude. I wish you all some of that… some gratitoothpaste in your stocking. It’s sure better than a lump of coal, unless you want to bbq the turkey.

A foot in the door

Moving… for the second time in a little more than 2 months…weird to be heaving my stuff around yet again, for what will only be 3 months, before I give in and move once more. Not all my stuff, mostly clothes and a few personal effects.  but footwear alone  fills up a duffle bag. That frightens me. If i ever want to live lightly as a traveller on this planet, I’ll still need footwear for different seasons and conditions, and my feet are big and difficult and need the right habitat. Orthopedic shoes, insoles and waterproof walkers. none of those fancy  pretty thing with heels for me, I’d crush them as soon as i put them on.

In some countries, people don’t wear shoes. They can’t afford them, no one else is wearing them, and their feet become tough and streetwise. i love to go barefoot, but to do so year-round would be impossible. In cold places, people have to hunker down, and find appropriate footwear for the season. Or not. i have seen many people wading though slush in sneakers, but I treat my feet better than that.

I am not a driver but a walker, so I work my feet hard. But recently I went to see an RN who now has her own foot care business. She treated my feet to an hour of healthy attention, which involved a dremel with special attachments for filing away callouses, medically sanctioned moisturizing cream, industrial strength toenail clippers and (ouch) antiseptic lotion for the cut on my toe.  it was all very medical, surgical almost. I have never been interested in anything like a  pedicure, but the experience was somewhat relaxing, when not jolting or stinging–  akin to going to the dentist for a cleaning. ( lie back, close your eyes and let me stick this electric buffer in your mouth).

Taking better care of my feet is part of my desire to take care of myself in some basic ways that have never been that important to me, but which I realize are related to having a humble and reality-based attitude toward myself and my place in the world.  A clean, organized home is not the sign of a crazy person with mixed up priorities, as I have sometimes thought. It is the sign of someone who does not consider themselves too good, or  too bored, for basic chores, who understands that we are dependent on our environment for our health, our happiness and our very lives, and that the way we keep our homes says a lot about how self-aware we are, because dirt and disorganization undermines our ability to think, feel peaceful and rested and hopeful about the next good thing.

I slip up all the time of course.  Just as in any religion, the ideal of Perfect Cleanliness is one to strive for but never attain, and sometimes even willfully oppose. Not that I sprinkle my floors with dirt but often I leave my dishes to marinate in their own juices overnight, I admit. But in this lovely flat i realize what a treasure it is to have space to think and breathe and move unencumbered. It is someone else’s cleanliness and orderliness that I am striving to preserve, but I am hoping that such habits will grow upon me.


I moved in before i finished this post. I am padding around i pnlastic slippers indoors and praying my clunkiness doesn’t disturb my downstairs neighbour and that I’ll be able to sleep when this blog’s put to bed.  On the subject of getting back to basics– I have a little way to go. But i am on my third pot of soup from scratch in this apartment and I consider that a good sign. I have swept the floor a few times and put my little bit of clutter into piles.There is a place for all those footholders…out on the landing, where smelly things belong.  Thankfully, in this nice space I am calling home for a little while, there are places for things.  And for me.