Creative Non-Fiction - A Personal Essay

My Therapist's Cat
I’ve been paying a great deal of attention to cats lately. These last two weeks of my life I'll forever remember as my mid-life cat obsession period. Cats are everywhere now.

I like cats, although it's taken me quite a long time to get this fond of them. The first one I can remember belonged to my mother. Lee was named after Mom's favourite WWF wrestler in the late 60's. A martial artist style combatant, he later became a second-rate referee.


Lee, the cat, was a magnificent specimen of female feline; likely a purebred Siamese. I remember how she sort of slithered stealthily around the house in a continuous state of assessing everything and everyone around her. Mom and Lee definitely had a very special connection. Their relationship was way beyond traditional pet and pet owner type arrangements. Growing up, I was convinced that they could communicate with each other telepathically. They could read each others thoughts. I had the impression that they were both very witch-like in their mannerisms, Mom actively practicing a bit of witchcraft at the time. Come to think of it, she never read cards or tea leaves without Lee present in the room, although hiding underneath the couch.


Not being superstitious by nature yet I can no longer help but notice that neither the black ones nor the white ones will cross my path anymore. Hardly any of them in any color will cross me at all now and I encounter a ton of them along the way everyday let me tell you. Nowadays, any of my fury friends I engage'll either do one of two things: sit there and watch me pass by or wait until I approach close enough to walk alongside me for a short bit. I eventually did realize that it's the white ones that prefer to stroll with me whereas the black ones make it appear that they are disinterested in me and don’t seem to bother with me much.


I have no trouble remembering the solemn trip to the vets Mom and I took together when we had to be put Lee to sleep. There was a song playing on the radio that to my Mom's dying day she was unable to hear again. I could never fully understand the depths of mourning Mom had for that cat, until today.

Luckily for me I enjoy walking and I enjoy hunting. When I arrived in Vancouver three years ago, with not a penny to my name, it was a natural fit for me to become a picker when I ended up homeless. I spend much of my day and night combing up and down the alleyways in search of redeemable bottles and cans people would bag up and whatever else of value folks would put out for pickers like me to window shop. That's where I've been seeing the bulk of my cats lately; in the alleyways.

A great side effect to walking is that it gives me time to think. I'm quite sure the experts would insist that adequate thinking time is important for someone recovering from addictions and mental health disorders. I suppose thinking about my stuff all the time is better than avoiding dealing with myself or staying completely distracted somehow. So I am happy that I have a lot of time on my hands and that I always seem to have many things to think about. I use up a lot of my walks trying to reason with myself about my behaviours and choices. And being a practicing artist, I use some of my walking time when conceptualizing art projects. Sometimes when I am feeling brave I quietly sing out new songs I'm writing. Whatever I’m up to, walking is always therapeutic and calming for me.


There’s a bit of a danger with engaging in too much walking and thinking. Sometimes during excessively lengthy thinking periods I can become a little bit delusional I suppose, my therapist’s cat being a good example. I have now conclusively determined that cats have extraordinary powers of communication. They can even relay message to me from my dead Mom. Last night I added copious quantities of alcohol and drugs to this insanity and I became a complete raging lunatic in my room for over half an hour. Amidst the blackout that night, I recall attempting to invoke hallucinations of Siamese cats. I'm unsure as to my success on that one.


All this recent lunacy revolving around cats is Brad's doing. He's been my addictions counselor and for about a year now, I must admit, I never really liked him that much. I found him somewhat uninteresting and way too gentle. What kind of therapist is this that treats me with kids gloves on? My mother used to rip my heart right open in order for me to see myself clearly. 
Tough love she called that. My counselor gently pries me open. I suppose in the end, his approach eventually made me develop a respectful admiration for him as a therapist. And finally, after all's been said and done, I've concluded that he's an exceptionally talented counselor because he given me clues into some of the things that have been blocking my progress. Not only that but he's left me ample rope to hang myself. So subtly has he dug deep into my emotional turmoil that I've found resolution to grieving my mother. Today in some very distinct ways recovery-wise, he has filled in some of the space my Mom once occupied in her supportive role that she played in my life.

Anyway, the crazy appointment started off like all the others. I gave him a run-down of my last month’s successes and failures. We noted the need for improvements and talked about some new fan-dangled effective harm reduction strategies I could attempt to implement. I could tell though that something was on his mind. At the first real pause in our hour long interaction he suddenly blurted out “I had a dream of you last week. You were playing with my cat.” He busily minimized windows on his monitor to show me his desktop backdrop of this fat black and white patched feline; his long dead cat.


“How long’s it been dead?” I asked. His eyes dropped for another moment. “Two years” he quietly replied. I didn't say anything for a few moments as I tried to absorb the moment. Naturally I thought the dream significant but my immediate reaction was that my life would soon be over, my day was coming and that my ultimate fate is to end up being just another desktop background image on my therapist’s computer monitor. I began wondering how long it will take Brad to mourn his cat death or even my death only to realize that it'll likely be as long as it took to find a new pet to care about.


Brad was looking at me for a response but my silence and deep thoughts continued. How would my mother interpret this dream? She was clairvoyant you know. She'd tell people that they would get pregnant or catch a moose this fall and for some reason these predictions would happen. What does a dream of me playing with a cat mean? I have learned in my recent research that cats appearing in dreams normally symbolize that there is something in life that needs to be accepted. This can be a self-acceptance that requires resolution but they are usually about accepting something in someone else. A cat’s mood can also be an indicator as to what the dream may mean. A happy, playing cat can only mean a good thing but getting bit by a cat is a nefarious foreshadowing of an unchallenged inner conflict.


I shook myself out of it. I didn’t want to have the self-impression that I was thinking crazy thoughts so I decided not to talk to myself about what I was experiencing. The meeting terminated somehow and I walked away with questions continuing to bombard my mind.


A week later, during a particularly lengthy treasure hunt, I got so deep into thought that I slipped into a daydream-like state. I started off the walk contemplating how I got into my addictions counselor’s dream and what playing with his dead cat could signify.  The thing’s been dead for two years and he is still mourning over her. What does this mean? Has Brad not been attached to anyone or anything since?


Then the day before my next appointment arrived. I took a quick inventory of my progress with the obsessions regarding cats. I have endured nearly thirty days of mental madness revolving around my mother and cats. I'm pleased that I've sorted through most of my cat psychosis in spite of my best efforts to avoid them. I have come quite the distance with it all. The most important revelation came when I knew that I was not on the verge of dying because Brad's cat has nothing to do with death at all but everything to do with change. It was not my dream. I was playing with my therapist's cat in my therapist's dream. It's a bit of a stretch but I am convinced that since it was Brad who conceived a dream that caused me to think extensively about the relationship I had with my mother, that the dream must in fact be a message from my mother's spirit. Her spirit's very much alive. Furthermore, because I was playing with the cat, the dream could only mean that I am in a good phase in my recovery and that I am on the right track. There are no major acceptance issues in my life right now although I still need to change things about myself but nothing drastic at this stage. My mother is telling me that I am to continue on the path to my recovery and that she is still supporting me despite her not being with us anymore.


The dream made me think about my Mom. It made me think about all the wonderful things she used to tell me about myself even though I could never see it, I sure could feel it. It was the therapist's cat that made me feel how much of a loss I am without her and of how much I truly miss her. The experience has left me understanding that even four years after her death she is still finding ways to encourage me. Maybe it is the same for everyone else but whenever my mother is in my thoughts and in my heart I feel comforted by her. I still love my Mom.

2015 Christmas Song, Lyrics, Screenplay and Music Video


On a Christmas Day song lyrics

Verse 1
In the entrance of an Eastside shop.
I lay my cardboard on the cold sidewalk.
So tired and so weak,
I can barely stand on my feet.

And I’m an addict, my back's against the wall.
Sinking down another eight ball.
I am prepared to meet;
My final deal on the street.

Chorus 1
I’ve been a-runnin’ in the Eastside.
How could this be Christmas?
I'm alone now dying in pain.
Didn’t I pray for a new tomorrow?
On a bright light’s ray.
On a Christmas Day.

Verse 2
Wasn't it three years or more.
The first time that I walked to the shore.
I searched across the sea;
Basked in a full moon's beams.

If there's something far out of sight,
Come to help me in the midst of this night.
I need a break in life.
To get another roll of the dice.

Chorus 2
So I stood there on the seaside.
Thinkin' maybe this'll be the Christmas;
When I stop playing my games.
I am praying for a new tomorrow;
On this bright light’s ray.
On this Christmas Day.

Musical Interlude

Verse 3
The beating of my heart;
Fading as the years tear me apart.
I start screaming and I don't know why.
Crying out to angels in the sky.
Hoping one will save me today,
Show me the way,
This Christmas Day.

Chorus 3
I’m still running in the Eastside.
Wanting a better Christmas;
But I keep losing the same.
Even though I prayed for a new tomorrow;
On a bright light’s ray.
It was on a Christmas Day.
On a Christmas Day.

On a Christmas Day screenplay


video locales:
  • ARA Mental Health Advocacy, 163 W Pender, Vancouver BC - East Side storefront
  • English Bay Vancouver BC
Musical Introduction C Dm C Dm Am G C
video begins with various scenes of homeless man at identifying Vancouver as location and introducing a man dressed completely in white who is his angel and is always seen somewhere in most of the scenes
Verse 1 C Dm C Dm Am G C
video scene 1 - homeless man on bench at English Bay with blue Canucks cap, empty bottle in hand, preparing to sleep, removes his boots, angel dressed in white is seen nearby
In the entrance of an Eastside shop.
I lay my cardboard on the cold sidewalk.
video scene 2 - homeless man now sleeping, blue Vancouver Canucks hat falling out of his hand, angel walks by
So tired and weak,
I can barely stand on my feet.
video scene 3 - homeless man still sleeps but hat is gone, angel drops off new white Vancouver Canucks ball cap
video scene 4 - homeless man in alleyway, new pipe in hand, white hat is on his head but getting dirty
And I’m an addict, my back's against the wall.
video scene 5 - an eight ball falling into corner pocket
Sinking down another eight ball.
video scene 6 - homeless man in alleyway, broken used pipe, very dirty white hat, angel walks by
I am prepared to meet;
video scene 7 - playing cards thrown down on sidewalk
My final deal on the street.
Chorus 1 C G Dm G C G Dm G Am F G
video scene 8 - Christmas on Hastings
I’ve been a-runnin’ in the Eastside.
How could this be Christmas?
video scene 9 - homeless man walking on Hastings looking upwards
I'm alone now dying in pain.
Didn’t I pray for a new tomorrow?
On a bright light’s ray.
On a Christmas Day.
Verse 2 C Dm C Dm Am G C
video scene 10 - well dressed, well groomed man with luggage walking to the Pacific Ocean with blue Vancouver Canucks hat
Wasn't it three years or more.
The first time that I walked to the shore.
video scene 11 - same man sleeping on bench across the Sylvia Hotel on a moonlit night with blue Vancouver Canucks hat in hand
I searched across the sea;
Basked in a healing moon beam.

If there's something far out of sight,
Come to help me in the midst of this night.
video scene 12 - a pair of dice rolling on the sidewalk
I need a break in life.
To get another roll of the dice.
Chorus 2 C G Dm G C G Dm G Am F G
video scene 13 - ARA and adjacent Christmas storefront up and down West Pender Street
So I stood there on the seaside.
Thinkin' maybe this'll be the Christmas;
When I stop playing my games.
I am praying for a new tomorrow;
On this bright light’s ray.
On this Christmas Day.
Musical Interlude C G Dm G C G Dm G Am F G
video scene 14 to 16 - well dressed man man deteriorates into homeless man with several similar scenes of him entering and exiting Sylvia Hotel
Verse 3
video scene 17 - homeless man drunk on park bench at English Bay and angel walks by unnoticed but drops off a new white Vancouver Canucks ball cap with new logo. Homeless man wakes up and puts it on his head.
The beating of my heart;
Fading as the years tear me apart.
I start screaming and I don't know why.
Crying out to angels in the sky.
Hoping one will save me today,
Show me the way,
This Christmas Day.
Chorus 3 C G Dm G C G Dm G Am F G
video scene 18 - homeless man walking out to shore, angel behind him is unnoticed. His white hat is completely discoloured and tattered.
I’m still running in the Eastside.
Wanting a better Christmas;
But I keep losing the same.
video scene 19 - homeless man sleeping next to log, angel watching over him. Man no longer has a hat.
Even though I prayed for a new tomorrow;
On a bright light’s ray.
It was on a Christmas Day.
On a Christmas Day.
video scene 20 - angel drops off original blue ball cap
Musical Ending C Dm C Dm Am G C
an animation of the song On a Christmas Day
to be performed by Fred Joly and the Freaks of Nature Band December 2015
Fred Joly and the Freaks of Nature Band

A Bit of an Artist Bio

I thought I'd write a bit about myself and what it has been like being an artist.

I have always enjoyed creative writing as long as I remember. In the seventh grade I won a writing contest put on by the Timmins School Board. In school I got into the habit of faking essays and book reports. I would even invent the titles and authors of books. Once my teacher failed me because she believed that I plagiarized my book reports from other sources. Even after I informed her that I actually created fictitious books that didn't even exist she still wouldn't believe that.

I wrote my first song in my early teens. It was a protest song. I may someday try to re-create that.
Fred Joly singing a song on stage
Canadian artist and songwriter Fred Joly

There were many years of my adulthood where creating art was not a part of my life, either I was too busy working, in prison or on the street active in addictions likely. Ironically, in was on the street in Montreal where I first come across an art studio drop-in place located at the St James Church. This is where I did my first painting. That was around ten years ago.

I stopped painting for a number of years after that but picked it up again at the CMHA in Aurora Ontario in a program they called Community Connections. They had an art studio started and I joined in. I produced probably about thirty paintings, wrote a dozen poems and shorts stories. I also used the space to write and practice six new songs. Some of them I later recorded and created videos for but they no longer exist to show you.

Last year I attended UBC's Writing course. That is a twelve week program run by the Arts & Humanities department. I was invited as writing mentor for the next term and they presented me with an award.

Six months ago I joined a couple other artists to create a new studio. Our Vancouver art gallery and studio is gaining popularity. We even have a new web site Recovery by Design.


Old Collection Recent Painting

I wanted to try out an old painting I did for my mother long time ago. I attempted this a few times but here's my latest version of the painting.
the painting Angel Guide
an acrylic on canvas painting

Why I Enjoy Painting


I have been practicing art in some form since childhood. I’ve always enjoyed writing stories and songs.

As an adult I started creating mosaic wooden jewelry boxes, coo coo clocks and crucifixes from small pieces of wood and sticks. About ten years ago while at a street art studio in Montreal and completely out of material, the studio manager slapped a canvas down in front of me and demanded that I paint.

“I don’t paint!” was my response, “They paint.” Pointing to the painters. Then I became silent for a very long time staring at this huge canvas of white space. I went for a smoke, or two. I grabbed orange, red, green and yellow acrylic, a medium sized brush and took my first dip. Gives me Goosebumps today thinking of how it made me feel. I got into a rhythm. I played a song with the drumstick and thought words in my head, my own thoughts. I wanted to cry so I painted an evening sky with trees in tears … green ones and red ones and yellow ones. I wrote a poem that went with to further describe these feelings and suddenly, a bit of weight was lifted off of me.

I started practicing what I describe as multi-dimensional art therapy. That is where I use various media (painting, stories, songs, videos, photographs … in a collection to express my inner-struggles and my inner victories. I can do this now with or without speaking a word. Creating anything is therapeutic, but there is nothing better for me then to spend an hour here and there exploring myself on the canvas. Without art, there’d be no point in living I suppose. It’s the only thing that can point me back to the light when I get down or get mixed around. I can talk to shrinks, yell at the guards or I can scream like a madman across the street; without resolve. Luckily for me I’ve discovered that I can slowly unravel the chaos, face my fears, deal with my anger, my sadness, bewilderment … I can express my awe of the universe, the wonders of love and life; that’s why I paint.

Behind His Mask

“Behind The Masks” – Testimonials of Those Marginalized by Income, got its name and was inspired by singer/songwriter Fred Joly who performed as the audit was being held, and also for those attending the audit closing dinner. Fred wrote the song Behind His Mask based on his true experiences. The playing of his song prompted Rapporteur Daisy Wai to remark that his song affected her as much as anything she'd heard that day. We have included an excerpt from the song below.




A Report on the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition
(ISARC) Social Audit in York Region on April 20, 2010

Behind His Mask




Do you see the old the old man under the bridge?


Sitting there with a suitcase in his hand.
He’s been drinking there for years and years;
And whenever he’s tired he just beds down on the sands.
 
Does anybody know him?
Can someone please tell me his name?
Because whenever I see him walking through the city;
He keeps his head down in shame.
 
He’s a refugee.
Or is he just another shipwreck of society’s.
Looks like a rebel.
Penting up the angers from the past.
Into a twisted fantasy.
The empty bottles are just escapes from his realities.
Bums around wearing a loner’s mask.
 
The morning’s sun’s an awakening misery.
No doubt another aweful day.
Cramped from the cold misty whispering night.
He doesn’t want to go but he knows that he cannot stay.
Stumbles to the ground on his hands and knees.
There’s mud dripping off of his face.
Then a tear draw a line down his wrinkled cheek;
He cries out “Lord help me please!”
 
I’m a refugee.
And I’m running from the scorns of this society.
But I’m in a lot of trouble.
‘Cause I’m drifting at sea with a broken mast.
And everybody judges me.
As I’m trying to find my own destiny.
It looks about time to put on my “keep away from me mask”.
 
When I heard about the old man from under the bridge.
Died there just the other day.
I decided to show up at his Sally Ann service.
Where the Captain tried but he didn’t know how to say.
 
That’s there a new star’s light shining in the sky.
Because another soul has been set free.
The man spent his final moments scribbling in the sands.
“I think, I see, my liberty.”
 
Look way up at the refugee.
Can’t you see the castaway of society.
No wonder he was such a rebel.
Still hurting from all the pains of his past.
Living in a fantasy.
Trying to escape his own reality.
 
From up above beams down a man.
Behind his mask.