My Mother’s Shoes

The first time crippling anxiety assaulted my mind and body at age twenty-nine, I felt super-stimulated by everything going on around me. My mind raced.  I could not follow a radio broadcast, it barreled along too quickly, too much information. No matter how I tried, I could not fall asleep. This continued for seven days before I sought medical care and was forced to take sick leave from my job. Struck by a deep-seated fear that my career was over, I felt bowled over by a sense of shame at my failure to cope. I was convinced my mind was irreparably broken. One evening I labelled the myriad of spices in the rack and organized them alphabetically. It was an attempt to make order out of the chaos I was experiencing inside. 

And so I recognized something familiar in the nearly fifty boxes of shoes, labelled and organized by colour and style, I discovered in my mother’s apartment after she died. It was a work of art, arranged neatly on the shelf above her clothes closet. I understood, because my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and this organized mass of shoes must have been one way she tried to cope with her own internal chaos as the illness progressed.

Navy sling backs. Red running shoes. Peach coloured sandals. My pertly dressed, not quite five-foot-tall mother always matched her shoes to the outfit she was wearing. Her modest pantsuits, skirts and dresses each had their own carefully chosen footwear. Mostly comfortable, few heels. All a diminutive size five.

What is this pursuit of order, especially when our thinking is disordered? Is it an effort to contain and command the wayward thinking that characterizes mental illness? In my anxious state, I conquered the celery salt, cinnamon and cumin. Classifying her shoes may have brought my mother some serenity, as she traversed a disturbed mental landscape. I certainly hope so.


Bear Alert

It’s mid-afternoon on a cool June day. I am walking in the forest with Bear, my daughter’s dog. He’s a big, black-haired beast of an animal with a sweet disposition. The trees overhang the road, verdant at this time of year. We’re going to walk down to the boat house on the lake. It’s about a 20-minute walk each way.

Bear seems to be in his element. He runs ahead and then comes back to me. At one point, though, he disappears into the forest and doesn’t return. I call for him and walk back a ways, looking for the spot where he might have entered the bush. There’s no one around and I have no idea where he has gone. I am bereft.

I continue calling him, but to no avail. I race back to the cottage where my daughter is sitting and reading. Tearfully, I tell her what has happened. She grabs the keys and we jump into the truck to go and search for Bear. We drive slowly on the road, stopping to look and call his name. Nothing.

We travel the two kilometres to the gate, same drill. Nothing. We continue searching some of the less-travelled roads. Still nothing. By now, my daughter’s boyfriend has joined the search. He takes my car and starts along the forest roads. This continues for about an hour when finally, out of nowhere, Bear appears on the road ahead. He is covered in mud, but otherwise fine.

It’s been an hour of hell. I was imagining that we might never find him in these woods. It’s likely he wouldn’t know the way home.

Suddenly, we see him loping leisurely toward the truck. A prayer answered. But I was angry at him too, and spoke sternly to him. In response, he was completely lackadaisical, having just had a messy adventure we could only imagine.

Dancing Bear

An achingly beautiful dancing polar bear sculpted from a piece of light green serpentine. It is a sight to behold. The white specks in the stone have a slight bluish tint and the entire piece gleams in the sunlight coming through the window. The sculpture  simply radiates joy.

I am sitting quietly in the living room, aware of the beauty that surrounds me. Art of various kinds, ceramics, African and Indian wall hangings, sculpture and paintings. We are fortunate to have such splendour in our midst. The bear keeps me company and lifts my spirits.

It was carved by Joanie Ragee, a young man born in 1986 in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.

He began carving in his early teens, watching his grandfather and uncles at work, all skilled craftspeople. He works in the traditional way; his favourite subject matter are animals – walrus, seals, birds and, most of all, polar bears. His work is now well-known and he is famous for his large polar bear pieces, made out of serpentine.

I try to teach my young grandchildren to appreciate the art in our home. Partly, this is a defensive move, as in, “don’t throw that ball in here, you could break something!” But it’s also to help them attune to what is beautiful in the world and to what might draw them to particular pieces.

Thank you Joanie Ragee for adorning our home with this wonderful, joyful work.

Book deal signed

I have signed a contract to have my collection of essays, “The Swirl in my Burl”, published by Adelaide Books in New York. Feels pretty exciting. What is a burl?

A burl originates from a tree that is stressed. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus. The burl is formed coming out of the side of the tree when the grain of the tree has grown in a distorted or unusual manner. It is a round knotty growth that when polished is full of swirls and beauty. There is an entangled splendour underneath the bark and craftspeople say that it can take thirty years for the burl’s full beauty to emerge.

The swirl of my burl is my life stories, my children, my joy and pain. Through my writing I shine a light on that jumble of memory, fact and emotion, searching for truth. Like my stories and myself, the burl wood grain is twisted and interlocked, resistant to splitting. I look upon it with wonder as it teaches me to find strength in its misshapenness.

A dilemma

I’ve had two offers to publish my book “The Swirl in my Burl: Essays”. One is from a Canadian publisher and one is in New York. The deals they are offering are essentially the same. I am trying to figure out if a U.S. publisher will likely sell more copies than a Canadian one. If anyone has any experience in this, please let me know. Certainly it’s a nice dilemma to have but I need to resolve it quickly.

Discovering sex and pot at age 60

I am normally a somewhat shy individual, not in the habit of discussing my private life with the world. But who would have thought that at age 60 I would have an orgasm that shook my world? Not me. I had experienced a drought in that department for over thirty years. And then I smoked some pot, got together with my life partner of twenty years, and Bob’s your uncle. Enhanced libido and a lovely sexual response. What a great discovery!

It happened while we were on a canoe trip in the remote and beautiful Quetico Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. One’s senses are already piqued when canoeing and camping, the wilderness providing a delicious edge to everything. A little bit of pot thrown into the mix added a keener sensuality: the clear water felt silkier on my skin and the trees appeared greener, their canopy more majestic.

This was before pot became legal in Canada, but at that point I certainly wasn’t going to let a small legal matter stand in the way of a good orgasm. We returned home and got high from time to time, put on some sensual Latin music and went to bed. I began to enjoy sex more than I had in a long, long time. 

I remember talking to my older sister at some point during the demise of my first marriage. I must have complained about the lack of romance I was feeling then after ten years at it.  She pointed out to me that it was hard to feel romantic when you were busily cleaning hair from the bathtub drain and otherwise keeping everything going smoothly. I just figured sex would continue to simmer on a permanent back burner.

It didn’t help that I’d been on a variety of anti-depressants for over thirty years. They are known to dampen libido and sexual response and though I’d tried various remedies, nothing until marijuana had upped the ante for me. It was only now that I was rediscovering myself as a sexual being, with greater interest in pursuing an active sex life with my partner. It goes without saying, perhaps, that he was pleased by this surprising turn of events.

Then pot was legalized and I was able to get a prescription for CBD oil both for anxiety and one laced with a small amount of THC as a sleep aid. I tried them, very tentatively. Both seemed to help the respective issues for which they were sought.  My psychiatrist suggested that I only use very small amounts of the THC product, as there isn’t full research yet on its impact on the other drugs I must take.

I heed his caution and continue to use small amounts of pot from time to time. I now enjoy sex with my partner a great deal. I’m a bit like the lyric in Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Mama just wants to barrelhouse all night long.” Well, perhaps that an exaggeration. But you get the point.

So that’s my happy story. I tell it partly to suggest to people who must take antidepressants and other psychotropic medications that marijuana may be worth discussing with your care provider. It’s no replacement for a patient and generous lover, but can certainly add some spice. I can’t believe now that I waited thirty years for another orgasm to shake my world


I wanted to pass on some resources that I have been making use of in my pursuit of finding an agent and getting published. There’s a book called “The Ultimate Query Letter Tool Kit” that I found very useful. Also, in the same series, is “The Writer’s Relief Field Guide to Literary Agents: Find, Attract, Keep, and Manage Your Dream Agent.” I found both on Amazon and got them for about five dollars each as a Kindle book. Each one took about an hour or so to read through and provided lots of useful tips.

I continue to receive negative replies to my query/book proposal, although some of them have called the project “important” and “very interesting”. So maybe eventually I’ll hit upon someone whose interest is sparked enough to want to proceed with me. I’m not holding my breath!

The journey begins

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been sending out a book proposal to a variety of agents and publishers this week. So far I’ve received several rejections, some nice and others not so much. One agent wrote, “Not for me” and signed her name. A couple of others have said my writing is poignant or that it seemed like a compelling project but they’re not the right person to represent me. One helpful point made was that unless the essays had been published in highly visible magazines/journals, it will be difficult to break out a collection of them. I suppose they mean places like The Atlantic and The New Yorker. Oh well. I’ll keep on truckin’ and hope someone is interested along the way. One needs a thick skin in this business!

My literary bio

Miriam Edelson is a neurodivergent social activist, writer and mother living in Toronto, Canada. Her literary non-fiction, personal essays and commentaries have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, various literary journals including Dreamers Magazine, Collective Unrest, Writing Disorder, Palabras, Wilderness House Literary Review and on CBC Radio. Her first book, “My Journey with Jake: A Memoir of Parenting and Disability” was published in April 2000. “Battle Cries: Justice for Kids with Special Needs” appeared in late 2005. She completed a doctorate in 2016 at University of Toronto focused upon Mental Health in the Workplace and is currently at work on a collection of essays. She lives with and manages the mental health challenges related to bipolar disorder.