You’re Never Really Ready

I’ve known that my mother is dying for several months. She has end stage heart failure and has been deteriorating slowly since early spring. This week, though, she’s taken a sudden turn for the worse and now it’s only a matter of days until she’s gone. Mom lives in a nursing home and most of her caregivers are kind and good at their jobs, but they’re busy. Very busy. Many days they work short-staffed and the dozens of patients they care for need a lot of care. Nursing homes in Ontario admit only patients who need full-time care and most of the people on my mother’s ward need help with everything from getting dressed to toileting. Staff does the best they can, but it isn’t the standard of care that I would give to a palliative patient so I’m visiting several times a day to help her be comfortable. This is my comfort zone. It’s when my clinical brain clicks in and I can push the emotional shit to the edges and be a nurse. Being a nurse is easier than being a daughter about to lose her mom.

There’s a phenomenon in palliative care known as anticipatory grief. It sometimes happens when a loved when takes a long time to die. The bereaved starts to let go of the relationship while the person is still alive. It comes near the end when caregivers are tired and it dulls the emotions. It’s one method of coping and I’ve often heard caregivers say that they’re ready for their person to die. In some ways they are. They’ve started the process, but they’re tired and dull and anxious for the struggle to be over. The thing is, though, that even if it takes a person a long time to die the moment when death happens feels sudden and no-one is ever really ready for the vacuum that appears where care and concern and love lived only a moment ago.

I’m an only child and we have no other family here. My mother’s relatives are all far away in Germany and there’s only the two of us left here. We’ve had a complicated relationship, mom and I, and I’ve worked through a lot of issues over the course of my life. I’ve let go of a shit ton of anger and in these past months I’ve made sure to say all the things I wanted to and to listen to all the things she wanted to say. I’ve been surprised by how much love managed to survive underneath all those other complicated emotions and I’ve let that guide me in these past few months. I have no regrets, there’s nothing left unsaid and I’ve been telling myself that I’m ready. It’s my coping mechanism, too, it seems, but in these last few days I’ve been surprised by how tender I feel and the facade of being ready is fading fast. I’ve nursed so many dying patients and their families that I thought I had an edge, but not even a palliative care nurse is ever really ready.

The Woman with Lapislazuli in her Teeth

I’ve had this tab open for ages because I really wanted to share this story with you, which is cool and sad atb the same time, as it shows how modern notions of society have clouded the vision on the past.

What Anita Radini noticed under the microscope was the blue—a brilliant blue that seemed so unnatural, so out of place in the 1,000-year-old dental tartar she was gently dissolving in weak acid.

It was ultramarine, she would later learn, a pigment that a millennium ago could only have come from lapis lazuli originating in a single region of Afghanistan. This blue was once worth its weight in gold. It was used, most notably, to give the Virgin Mary’s robes their striking color in centuries of artwork. And the teeth that were embedded with this blue likely belonged to a scribe or painter of medieval manuscripts.

Who was that person? A woman, first of all. According to radiocarbon dating, she lived around 997 to 1162, and she was buried at a women’s monastery in Dalheim, Germany. And so these embedded blue particles in her teeth illuminate a forgotten history of medieval manuscripts: Not just monks made them. In the medieval ages, nuns also produced the famously laborious and beautiful books. And some of these women must have been very good, if they were using pigment as precious and rare as ultramarine.

Read the whole story here.

Sex, Torture and the Nazis

Well, if you came here for sex, or torture, or Nazis, I am not sorry to disappoint you. I just stole that title from the CBC article featured in this post.

Instead, I want to talk about Norm Eastman. For someone whose art was so ubiquitous, there is surprisingly little information to find – some sources even label him an American artist. He is, however, Canadian – the CBC story is fairly short, but it provides interesting insight into an artist whose art is simultaneously recognizable and somehow obscure. I think part of this obscurity is due to the perceived anonymity of many cover artists, especially those working in pulp fiction (that is, not ‘literature’, according to… someone). Well, perhaps with time, notoriety – or at least, recognition – eventually follows:

Few people would have guessed that shy, unassuming Norm Eastman — born in St. Stephen [New Brunswick] and trained at Mount Allison University — was one of the top illustrators fuelling the fantasies of a generation of young men.

“We used to hide those illustrations under the bed or in the closet,” said Jane Eastman, Norm’s wife of 27 years.

“He thought it was funny. Norm probably was the most moral person I’ve ever known, he really was. It was a matter of being able to afford a loaf of bread and peanut butter to eat.”

Times sure do change. In 2019, original Norman Eastman illustrations can sell to collectors for as much as $15,000.

But how Eastman’s bodice-ripping illustrations made it from small-town New Brunswick into the hands of millions of readers is a story that remains, for the most part, untold.

Pause here, because I would like to point out that Eastman was certainly talented – I particularly like this one, one of his early self-portraits:

Portrait of the artist as a young man: a self-portrait in oils Norm Eastman painted in 1952 as his final project in the fine arts program at Mount Allison University. (Submitted by Owens Art Gallery ) From the CBC link.

I like his feel for light and shadow, all those detailed accents and reflections. His style here reminds me of someone well-known, but I can’t for the life of me say who. Anyway, moving on:

In 1958, Eastman brought his portfolio to the iconic U.S. artist Norman Rockwell, who said Eastman’s art was “of very high quality” and encouraged him to move to the United States.

Eastman took Rockwell’s advice — and in 1959 moved to New York City, where he rented a studio in an badly heated, roach-infested warehouse. Breaking into the publishing scene was slow going.

“He was very poor in New York,” his wife said. “It was really, really poor living.”

He got his first big break drawing for men’s magazines — but the subject matter was fairly predictable.

“They wanted beautiful girls, big bosoms and torture,” Jane said. “But never show the girl grimacing. She’s always got to be pretty.”

That last line there. How tenacious these ideas can be.

[Read more…]

Driftwood Art

This short informative video caught my eye the other day:

The CBC covered the artist a couple of years ago:

When Alex Witcombe decided to make a raptor from driftwood, he never thought it would get so much attention.

The Comox Valley resident enjoys strolling on beaches and looking at the driftwood, and that became his studio space.

“I like the gnarly pieces,” he says. “Ones with character.”

One summer day he was walking on Stories Beach in Campbell River when he was just inspired by the driftwood and got to work, building ‘Sheila the dinosaur’ in just a day.

And now he does animals, aliens, and imaginary beasts, too! He’s also on Instagram. Here’s a couple more samples, via Seashore Inspirations:

And my favourite:


Looking at 2018

Since it’s the time of the year to traditionally do so, and since my colleagues have mostly done so already, I’ll do my personal account of 2018.

It’s the personal, and also some of the political, and looking at all of it it would be silly to expect one year, a unit of time whose start and end us humans decided,  to be one thing. 2018 started with fraught. My teacher training was nearing its end and it almost ended my career as a teacher (it did so for a friend of mine). I scraped by a “pass” and I passed several months in a mixture of anger and despair. My family and you, my friends, always had an open ear for me and helped me to cope with the stress. Caine always had a kind word, while she herself battled with cancer.

Meanwhile, the world descended further into fascism. The Brits kept committing the suicide called Brexit, the Trump administration locked up kids in cages, and in Germany the Bavarian conservatives made refugees the one and only “problem”, despite the fact that few are still arriving

Then summer came, and things were looking up, at least on the personal front. I found a job that I really like, with all its challenges, and Caine was nearing the end of her treatment, when the news of her death knocked the feet out from under me, and all of us. How can you love a person you have never met in the flesh so much? How can you miss somebody you have never seen so fiercely? Some days I still cannot comprehend that she’s gone.

Affinity survived, it’s community survived, because especially in these times, you need your friends.

Therefore, the best thing in 2018 was friends.

Voyager, I’m so happy to have you as a friend, across that big wide pond. Your posts make me smile and your friendship means a lot to me. And thank you for the card. Yes, I noticed the tits right away.

Rq, sometimes it seems like there’s just one script for life with kids and we both follow it. I know that 2018 wasn’t an easy year for you either, family wise. I hope things will get better. I know they can. I love your music posts and how you often discover art and share it with us.

Charly, you Jack of all trades. You have so many talents and you create so many beautiful things, from living trees to hard metal. I often envy your dedication and endurance in your projects. I hope you will have a lot of time and good health to spend on these projects in 2019.

My dear friends and readers of Affinity, I won’t try to name you all, because in the end I’d miss somebody. You make this blog what it is. You keep sending us pictures and projects, let us glimpse into your lives and cultures. To all of you I give a rose in memory of things passed.


©Giliell, all rights reserved

And a rosebud as a promise for things yet to come.


©Giliell, all rights reserved



A fixture of my childhood has passed away suddenly. The sister of my godfather, actually. I went to Latvian school with her children, and she was certainly an unstoppable force – abrasive yet good-natured, she didn’t stand much for politeness where undeserved, or properness where a bit of liveliness would do; she had opinions and wasn’t afraid to let them out. She laughed loudly, sang loudly in church, and wore flamboyant hats in loud colours.

We weren’t close, but I’m going to miss her.

Affinity is growing

It is with great delight that I announce that rq is joining the blogging team here at Affinity. Many of you are familiar with rq from the comments section of the blog where she has been contributing for many years. She is now ready to step up and do some blogging herself and we couldn’t be happier. She brings a lot to our team and we can expect posts on an interesting mix of subjects ranging from Baltic culture to the arts. Perhaps she’ll even share a peek into the random and interesting things that cross her path. For now there will be no fixed schedule for rq’s posts. Instead, they will come as happy little surprises that surface amidst our already mixed bag.

So now we are four. Four bloggers in four different countries, all with different interests and different points of view, but all wanting to share our worlds with you. We’re also a curious bunch and we want this blog to be a vibrant international community where other people share their worlds with us. That’s one of the best parts of Affinity. It has many voices and you just never know what will pop up. We also hope that one of those voices will be yours. We still invite you to share your favourite recipes, photos, arts and crafts with us. You don’t have to be a great photographer or a master artist to contribute. I’m certainly neither of those things.

I would also like to take a minute to acknowledge the founder of Affinity, Caine. This blog was her vision and she always welcomed contributions from her readers. Her voice was always encouraging and it is because of her support that I even dared to try blogging. Caine expressed a desire for rq to become part of this blog and I know that she would be thrilled by the news.

Affinity just became more interesting. I hope you’ll all help me welcome rq.

Jack’s Walk

Jack with Mr. voyager, ©voyager, all rights reserved

That handsome fellow with Jack is Mr. Voyager and the photo was taken on the boardwalk in Perce about a month ago on the occasion of our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We’re not the type of people who make a big fuss about things like that so we didn’t have a party or go out for a fancy meal and we didn’t exchange gifts. Instead, we went down to the beach and set off fireworks just like we do every year. We did talk about giving each other gifts, but in the end we decided that we’d rather save up for a trip. During that discussion Mr. V mentioned that I haven’t yet posted a picture of him on this blog. I got the definite feeling that he’d enjoy it if I did, but I wanted it to be a surprise so I waited a month. I hope he’s pleasantly pleased.

YouTube video “People who like martial arts and weapons are normal”

Well, some of them are. Some are assholes and some are downright dangerous. And some are capable of formulating comprehensive (though not perfect) argument for their point of view. I must say that I too don’t find watching people kicking spherical object around the field for 90 minutes even remotely entertaining.

However if we take “normal” in this context to mean “not different from any other group of people” then I would say the title is completely correct. Assholes and dangerous people are in any and all human congregations. The compounding problem here is that while a dangerous footballer will at the worst hurt one o their fellows on the playing field, a dangerous person with a gun can do much more damage.

I think I could have a reasonable discussion with Matt Easton, author of this video and I think he missed slightly a good opportunity to enhance his point by not wearing his “Fighters Against Racism” T-shirt in this one.

To me this is another issue that is not clear-cut black&white. We have a saying in Czech “Když dva dělají totéž, není to vždy totéž.” – When two (persons) do the same thing, it is not always the same thing.  It applies here.

The key difference is the attitude and intent. Weapon collectors will grumble about laws that restrict their hobby, but most of them will respect the law and for example limit their collecting to weapons of the type that is legal in their country and they will buy ammo and shoot only a the shooting range for example. They will not found and congregate in corporation-like organizations lobbying for complete abandonment of said laws . They will not amas  a load of super-modern weaponry and pallets of ammo to go with it. They will hunt the rare, the peculiar, the unique pieces.

It is possible to appreciate weapons for their aesthetics and technical intricacy and enjoy learning the skills to use them without ever hurting anyone, or ever wanting to hurt anyone. And it is possible to pursue such hobby even in a country with strict gun laws – only, like in any other hobbies, other people’s needs have to be taken into account and respected.

A Love Letter To Bolivia.

© Kevin Faingnaert.

© Kevin Faingnaert.

© Kevin Faingnaert.

© Kevin Faingnaert.

Belgian photographer Kevin Faingnaert spent a month capturing what he calls a love letter to Bolivia, penned to, “the land and to the generations of people and animals who have shaped it.”

Bolivia is a country of extremes: from the Andes to the Amazon, its landscape offers seemingly infinite horizons, each more spectacular than the next. Enchanted by both the topographic extremes and the cultural tradition of the country, Faingnaert photographed what he saw as he traveled from the famed Lake Titicaca, across the Salt Flats and to the wild-west of the country. In the interview below, we spoke to him about his month in Bolivia, the majesty of its landscape, and the traditions that still thrive there.

You can read and see so much more at iGNANT. Amazing photographs!

My Kind of Study.

It’s long been associated with anger and coarseness but profanity can have another, more positive connotation. Psychologists have learned that people who frequently curse are being more honest. Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science a team of researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and Hong Kong report that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated with lying and deception.

Anyone who has been reading me for any length of time knows I tend to cuss. A lot. Can’t say I’ve ever considered it to be a possible mark of honesty though.

The international team of researchers set out to gauge people’s views about this sort of language in a series of questionnaires which included interactions with social media users.

In the first questionnaire 276 participants were asked to list their most commonly used and favourite swear words. They were also asked to rate their reasons for using these words and then took part in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable. Those who wrote down a higher number of curse words were less likely to be lying.

This is interesting, but I have to wonder if the ability to lie was taken into account. Many children in abusive situations learn to lie extremely well. I was one of those, and while I can rarely be arsed to lie in adulthood, I am very good at it. Someone who is a good liar wouldn’t neglect a good intensifier. There’s an obvious tendency for those listening to take someone at their word, too. That would answer for people assuming someone who was cussing to be truthful, because we still have that ‘in polite company’ thing in our heads. We are, well most of us, taught that cussing isn’t polite from a very early age. Our languages are littered with euphemisms in place of cussing, which are considered to be acceptable, golly, darn, geez, etc. A lot of that has to do with so much cussing being religiously based.

A second survey involved collecting data from 75,000 Facebook users to measure their use of swear words in their online social interactions. The research found that those who used more profanity were also more likely to use language patterns that have been shown in previous research to be related to honesty, such as using pronouns like “I” and “me”. The Facebook users were recruited from across the United States and their responses highlight the differing views to profanity that exist between different geographical areas. For example, those in the north-eastern states (such as Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York) were more likely to swear whereas people were less likely to in the southern states (South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi).

As a native Californian, cussing was often heard, and often a part of any conversation. Especially if you were in the surfing crowd. Here in nDakota, cussing is not heard much at all, and it’s frowned upon for the most part. That’s changed a bit over the past 20 years, but not a great deal. The more rural you go, the more frowning it gets.

The full story is here.