Schrödinger’s Guitar Player

Photo on 16-08-29 at 6.58 PM

I have a lot of back story to cover, this blog is going in that direction. My past, present and future; or what is left of it. Regarding the last of those three things, I am going to write about it her in great detail – next Wednesday morning. To heighten the suspense, it will either be really bad news or not as bad as it could be news.

Maybe suspense is the wrong word, nobody reads this blog, but I will be directing a bit of traffic here if anybody has a, “Well, why don’t//did/didn’t you…” infinite regression (which can be tiring as fuck) set of questions.

My last blog post mentioned tests I was having “in four days”, that was 3 days ago. I checked out what was involved with the test, basically it uses a form of palpitation to generate pressure, the machine then calculates the flexibility of the liver. They came up with this recently in France, it is less invasive than biopsy and can sample more areas. Then it spits out a number, from “Okay” to “You’re Probably Going To Die Soon” is 1 – 14 kPa. The numbers go lower than 1 and higher than 14 but 14 is the, “Sorry, You’re Fucked” threshold. I caught a peek at the screen before the technician shut it off, it was 13.4 kPa.

Photo on 16-09-01 at 6.10 PM

So, Yesterday when I had my SIL’s iPhone, I called the Gastroenterologist’s office because I wanted an appointment ASAP, I gave my name and explained that I had completed all the tests he wanted prior to our first appointment and should have the results of the Fibroscan by Tuesday. She said the earliest opening was in November or December. I was speechless for a moment, she then said, “If he needs to see you earlier, we will call you.” The called this morning, it’s Friday, Monday is Labour Day, I see him first thing in the morning on Wednesday.

So, I think it’s bad news, or bad news but we might be able to do something if we start treatment now. I’m hoping for the latter, I’m also not going to get my hopes up too much.

So this blog’s main purpose is going to be either my journey through terminal illness, …like poor Gord has to go through, …in private probably. Or, I can document my escape from the infinitely sharp scythe of the grim reaper. That was probably overly dramatic, but here we are.

I haven’t cried yet, I haven’t started a grieving process, the only people I’ve told have been my pharmacists, and two particularly empathetic Facebook friends I’ve never met.

And of course, you Dear Reader, but then… right now, nobody reads my blog.

Okay, so for now, for me… I’m Schrödinger’s Guitar player until Wednesday, …hey, that’s kind of catchy;  Schrödinger’s Guitar Player.

Thank you for indulging me, Dear Reader.




It’s probably safe to say that; aside from what comes of satisfying curiosity (I’m torn between pity and contempt for the incurious), much of the world is mundane, meh, ho hum. It’s like a static background for a real-life graphical interface we call experience.

I am a collection of atoms organized in such a way that, for a short time there can exist; another version of subjective and quite virtual reality …and disappointment.

I’m slowly but surely losing my identity, that big set of abstract nouns that informs on why you do, or don’t – do stuff. This could be because of: Severe depression, early onset dementia, multiple TBIs and cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome but the one that worries me is hepatic encephalopathy.

Anhedonia is the millstone around my neck, I’ve forgotten what hope feels like and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I feel like the missing parts of me are already dead… Whether the dead man at the bottom of the stairs tripped or was pushed, matters not to the dead man at the bottom of the stairs.

There are things that inspire me sometimes, this usually wears off after a few days or weeks, or as soon as I see what’s behind an illusion.

It’s only 6:00  AM and it’s already a bad day. I’ve been wavering between wishing I wasn’t alive and dreading the results of tests in four days that may be explained to me by being told, “You have about 8 to 10 months to live.”

Either way, in the last decade I’ve almost lost everything; both material and familial. I’m penniless,  lonely and very sad.

A bad day in an ugly world. I take some small comfort in knowing that no one is likely to read this.


Grace Too

Gord Downie’s powerful and poignant rendition of The Hip’s “Grace Too”.

No mere drop, he threw the mic, then “You can here the exact moment the country’s heart broke.” I think that sound will resonate for more than a generation or two. He doesn’t walk away, in a display of “Canadian-ness”, he picks up the mic and gently puts it back on the stand.

This is probably the most emotion I’ve ever seen come from a stage, it’s sublime. If it doesn’t hit you in the chest and make your face wet, you might not have a heart.

Grace Too

Please consider donating to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research



For all my non-Canadian friends who may not know what went down in Canada last night
We were all in Kingston, let me explain…
No dress rehearsal
This is our life



Canada closed down early at 8:30 to watch the last concert by probably the most iconically Canadian band that ever existed.

Emotionally, it was one of the most courageous and emotively charged things I’ve ever witnessed, I was in tears for almost the entire concert, a tour they booked to promote their latest album, released in June, what it turned into was a farewell tour of sorts, a reciprocal one.

“We’re in good hands…”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even attended wearing a Hip t-shirt  He was addressed at some length by Downie at the end of the show, he stood up when he was mentioned and mouthed a “Thank You” to Downie.

It was also a message to the country about their Prime Minister, and First Nations people; a very supportive one.

Trudeau spoke with CBC about The Hip


It was one of the most Canadian events I’ve ever witnessed, The concert was, indescribably emotional, I don’t think there’s anything it can be compared to anywhere in the world. It was almost unbearably tragic yet beautiful and dignified at the same time. If you get a chance to watch it, watch it like we did, without long pauses or breaks, watch it how it went down.

Last December the band’s singer, Gord Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma. It’s terminal brain cancer, a particularly relentless kind of cancer tumor. He’s had brain surgery and radiation treatment and chemo, is still on chemo and he’ll probably have to be on chemo until his time is up.. Statistically, the best he can last is around 2 more years, that’s the optimistic maximum, so far. Realistically though, he’ll no longer be with us after next spring.

For many years I wasn’t a “Hip-fan”, boy would I catch flack for that. I wasn’t apologetic about it either. I’ve just never been one to build tall pedestals, I’d rather play music than listen passively to someone else do it, it’s a quirk and eccentricity. I like the band now — I loved them last night, and still… I’m going to dig into the lyrics side of the band a little deeper for a while. “Hip-fans”, BTW, are true to the origin of the word “fanatic”.

I have to admit, the Prime Minister was right about one thing, they have been “an inevitable and essential part of what we are and who we are as a country.” And, on Twitter a while back, he posted: “Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years. #Courage,”

Yep, when The Hip came on the radio or someone’s shuffling playlist you knew within the first second or two that it was The Hip, even if; like me, you didn’t go out of your way to listen to them. I wish I would have listened closer. I did get to do that last night. I get it now.

First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
And that’s where the hornet stung me
And I had a feverish dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight we smoke them out
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century
Stare in the morning shroud and then the day began
I tilted your cloud, you tilted my hand
Rain falls in real time and rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
But that’s when the hornet stung me
And I had a serious dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight we smoke them out
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century
And disappointing you is getting me down



Gord Downie has been an incredible lyricist with far more depth than I gave him credit for. That’s what I missed, because I was distracted by what I took to be very monotonous playing by the band. Now I know that this band wouldn’t be the same with any of its members absent. It took a while but they slowly won me over. Gord Downie may very well be one of the world’s best rock lyricists, in the very least he’s a national treasure.Canada’s unofficial poet laureate.



He’s one of us, he’s ours and last night he owned all of us with every stagger, every spread of his hands, the half smiles and knowing looks…


…every single tear was repaid a thousand-fold.

The image below is from a moment in a song called “Grace Too”, that they did towards the end of the show, 2nd encore I think, After singing the last verse, he sang the last vocalizations of the song, not words, but these incredibly fierce half growl half screams of angst and frustration, not despair but more like a  wordless but forceful “FUCK CANCER!” kind of thing.  He then threw the mic down forcefully (not a mere drop), which struck the stage with very audible cracking sound, most poignantly described as “the sound of an entire country’s heart, breaking”. (Video in my next blog post)


Then, he picked up the mic and gently put it back on the mic stand, I don’t think it could have been more “Canadian” a gesture. The band finished the tune and they left after hugging and kissing each other and saying goodby to the audience. Then right before leaving, before he turned his back and walked away…

“Thanks for listening, have a nice life.” ~ Gord Downie

They came back for a third encore of two songs. Last night a 52 year old man with terminal brain cancer shook this country until it cried, and it cried for over 3 hours.

I couldn’t help but notice the irony (in context of their author) in so many of the lyrics being sung, It was pretty much non-stop tears for me, I’m glad I was alone and could cry without any inhibition or distraction. Gord Downie had to do it in front of a country, that’s a bit more than distraction. I almost felt as if I owed it to him, for my easy dismissal of his masterpiece portrait of what “Canada” means.

Just wanted to let you know. This was way more than just music, or just a band, or just a singer-songwriter to Canadians. They weren’t really well known in the US, not because they couldn’t sell out concerts there, but because Canadian ex-pats would always buy up all the tickets. Yes, The Tragically Hip …are that Canadian.

Canadians have always thought of them as “our band”, I get it now.

Let’s honour Gord Downie with the Order of Canada


The CBC streamed it live, commercial-free on all its TV stations across the country as well as all CBC radio affiliates and digitally on their website, a three hour+ concert. A lot of people across Canada watched on  big screen TVs in their homes, backyards, boats, projected on sheets, barn walls, in many city parks where residents could enjoy the concert on big screens, together as a community. Canadians around the world, some having to stay up through the middle of the night and into the morning. It was that big a deal. Over 30,000 gathered in front of city hall in Kingston:


In Bobcaygeon Ontario, a small town (as well as a Hip song title) with a population 3500, they filled the streets:



Saturday night’s live rendition of  “New Orleans is Sinking“.

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I Am That Which I Can Recall


I was diagnosed with depression by my GP in 2002, it was actually just a roll of the dice, I had spent the previous 4 years or so going to so many specialists for physiological maladies that I lost count, everything, all the tests came back negative. I switched to a new doctor. At my first appointment he reviewed my records after a short chat and looked up and said, “I want to try something, it’s possible that all of these things may be physical manifestations of severe clinical depression, I want to start you on antidepressant medication and see if there are any changes”

So he started me on Effexor XR, I was hesitant… me depressed? Impossible. I “did my research” on Venlafaxine, mostly to check for side-effects, after three or four days I started taking it.

My (ex) wife asked me how long it would take before the meds started to work, I told her, “Around a month and a half, I have to ramp up to a full dose, sometimes it takes longer than that.”

Two things happened over that period… my brain fog started to go away, the fatigue and pain started to lessen and I started to drop a pound a day, without any change to my activity or diet . The second thing that happened was… an escalation of what I hadn’t realized was, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and some physical violence. That next month and a half was horrific for me.

That’s where my life as a diagnosed “Major Depression” person started. But that’s not really what this is about, I’ve also started to worry about my memory.

My mother’s side of the family has  tradition of creating self-published books, with contributions from the extended family of my great-grandparents, Isak and Sanna Leland, who came to North America from Norway in the 1800s, they settled in North Dakota for some years, then sold their farm and took advantage of a government sponsored homesteading offer from the Canadian government to populate the southern part of the North West Territories, …which became Saskatchewan in 1902.


There are literally thousands of Leland “cousins”. So there are family history books, beautifully bound books with pictures and histories, a family tree going back to the 1500s. A few family cookbooks, also beautifully bound and illustrated, I used to have these, I passed most of them to my daughter.

 The last book that was published was in 2002. The Great Grandparents were long gone, only a few of their children were left, and their children’s children and so on. There were memories of the great-grandparents as well as grandparents who were no longer with us, memories that would cease to exist when those who held them were gone.

This last effort was spear-headed by my aunt Esther, a grand daughter of Isak and Sanna, a wonderful lady who had an amazing life, still with us, she loved to write I used to get letters from her wherever I was, they contained news of family and also her thoughts and reflections on life, the world and everything. She’s still alive, as is my aunt Marie, the only two left from both pairs of grandparent’s offspring. They’re both in their 90s.
This is all about memories, we are our memories, without them we no longer have identity.

Life can be cruel, I think most of us have an understanding of this. In a tragic and ironic twist of fate. My aunt Esther began to have short-term memory issues. I think this started around the time this book of memories was being compiled. Whether she was aware of it or not, I think it’s what drove her to get this last book finished before it was too late, not only because of time running out for the older “cousins”, but because her own faculties were slowly slipping away.

She contacted me in 2000 to let me know about the book, I was primary care parent of my daughter at the time and ill. I never did write out my memories of my grand mother and family. The book was published without any of my memories.


My aunt is healthy, physically, she may even hit the century mark, as a few of the cousins did, her mother, Ida, my grandmother, made it to her 99th year. Aunt Esther’s short term memory is now down to a handful of minutes. She’s in a care facility in Vancouver, where my aunt Marie can visit and spend time with her. She doesn’t write letters any more. Every so often she tells someone, “I’d like to go home now.”

She wrote the forward (see pic, above) for the book that I failed to contribute to, largely I suppose because of my mental and physical state. This forward sums up in a way, my motivation to write this, and more. I don’t want to die without some record of my being here. Sure there is music, buildings, an airport, things that represent an idea of legacy.
But, no memories.

I am tired, sad and lonely, these three things are like shadows growing longer and taller…  My own memory as well as my cognitive abilities are starting to become unreliable, this is the symptom of several different things I’m diagnosed with, one that leaves me with little time to ponder anything at all.

Whether the dead man at the bottom of the stairs tripped or was pushed, matters not to the dead man at the bottom of the stairs.

~ R. E.