The emotion of Art

I was at the Jane Siberry concert in Victoria last night. And she was singing Calling All Angels.

In the row in front of me,  there were what I guessed to be three generations of women in a family. A grandma. A mother. A daughter. And when Jane Siberry started singing her song, Calling all Angels, the daughter in her late 30s started to cry.

She was wiping tears away from first the right side of her face and then the left side with the fatty palm of her hand and she made those motions for quite a long time. Had she not been doing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that she was crying. I was wondering what had caused her feelings to push to the light. I noticed her mom didn’t even turn her head. Was that because she didn’t notice? Or was it precisely because she had? And when I found myself mesmerized by this young woman’s emotion, I realized how much it made me feel better to experience her crying.

Just seeing her response quickened something in my own chest. I closed my eyes and reached for it. I wished I could take that journey right alongside her. I was envious. It was like a memory I’d lived so many times before but have now pushed so far down, again.

Earlier in the day, I went to Chelene Knight’s presentation about home related to her book, Dear Current Occupant. She was speaking about what home means and how do you know when you’re there? Do you feel at home because of a physical place or what factors make somewhere feel like home? Afterwards, a woman in the small audience couldn’t get through her comments to Chelene without her voice quivering and the tears pouring out. Chelene’s book and the thoughts about home she’d evoked were able to touch this woman so deeply that she couldn’t help but be there in that moment fully, emotionally, in feeling.

So to that woman and to the young woman last night at the Jane Siberry concert, I bless you for your tears.

You’re alive and you can still feel it.

Here’s the beautiful song in case you’re not familiar with it:

Where books and shoulds may never meet

I’m sure there are extremely logical and disciplined individuals who happen also to be big readers, who tackle the long list of books they want to read and cross off books once they’re done like they’re crossing off their weekly shopping list.

For some people, regardless of what’s in their bookcase at home, they are as straightforward with their reading choices as they are with the weekly menus they surely must plan.

And now, I have a horrible confession to make. In the past year, I seem to have turned into a non-reader. Don’t get me wrong. I want to read. I love reading when I’m in the middle of the kind of book that takes me on a mini vacation inside my mind and when I get to the last page, I just don’t want to get back on the reality plane.

I still have the enthusiasm for hearing about books, to listen to Shelagh Rogers and others discuss books. Lately, I just don’t seem to ever get around to reading books the way I used to. And I’m trying to figure out what has led to this worrying state.

Is it too much scrolling on Twitter and Instagram? Is it aging and being tired after a day of brain work in front of a screen which is making me vegetative and making it all too easy to turn absentmindedly to another screen when I get home, where I begin pushing the remote as if I’m pushing the button for more morphine on my deathbed?

I’ve decided recently that everything I need in terms of reading materials is right in my own living room in my old bookcase so I’ve made a pact with myself not to buy any more books and not to take any books out of the library until I read what I have. I have at least 20 books in my bookcase that I’ve purchased at some time in the past or picked up from those little community book houses or have been given as gifts that I’ve yet to read.

I’ve always found it interesting that you can buy books and when it’s the right time for you to read a particular book, you will intuitively find your way to it. It will call to you as if you are the clairvoyant and it is one of your dead relatives saying, “May I come to you?” And you will say, “Yes, of course!” and you will sit down and read, leaving this reality for a more interesting or completely foreign one.  At least that’s how it used to work for me.

Part of my problem, I think, is falling into the trap of believing that I should be reading a certain type of book. I feel that fiction is the cut above so I tell myself that I really should like to read fiction but too often, too many fiction books bore me and I can’t get through them without being distracted in the first 10 pages.

I believe the last book of fiction I read was Brother by David Chariandy and I did enjoy that book and I finished it. Yay! I also finished Chelene Knight’s memoir: Dear Current Occupant. When it came to David Chariandy, what drew me in is that I could picture him in real life having seen him up close at an SFU reading that Dionne Brand was at and so I was curious about the real person, because he has such an interesting look to him, and simultaneously while I might be daydreaming questions about him and his life, I could, let the story he created on the page flow over me.

And isn’t that what we all really love about reading? The seemingly infinite layers, the dimensions and the conversations that are going on inside our own heads while our eyes decipher the words on the page delivering them like take-out for the brain?

I read Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet mainly because I was fascinated by the real hotel in Seattle called the Panama Hotel and enjoyed relaxing there during happy hours at the end of my days last September on a short getaway.

I have been reading Embers by the late Richard Wagamese in the morning as a meditation. During my favourite time of day, the quiet of a new morning at 6 am seems like the perfect time of day to read that book because you can imagine him writing it in those same type of quiet hours that bookend a day.

Books, in this way, are like different types of friends. A friend for the movies. A friend for entertainment. A friend to go to concerts with. A friend for advice and on and on; a reason, a season, a lifetime.

I subscribe to literary journals, The New Quarterly and the Malahat Review and I do read them but not completely. Like a finicky eater, I pick and choose, testing them out, either going the distance devouring the uniqueness of the stories and poems or turning away, unsatisfied and often confused about what’s being said, seeking something if only I could put my finger on what that something was.

So, it would seem I do have a list after all, if I could just sit down and get at it, pencil sharpened, crossing off the list except I don’t believe you should ever approach reading as a should. It’s a passion and like all passions, love and shoulds are inappropriate bedtime companions.

Here’s a list of the books in my bookshelf that I’ve purchased with enthusiasm at the time and have yet to get around to reading. Avid readers among you will review these and think to yourselves, been there, read that. In no particular order:

  • Milkman – Anna Burns
    Mammaskatch – Darrell McLeod
    Birdie – Tracey Lindberg
    For Today I am a Boy – Kim Fu
    The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore –Kim Fu
    Heart Songs – E. Annie Proulx
    The Parcel – Anosh Irani
    The Break – Katerina Vermette
    Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac
    The House of All Sorts – Emily Carr
    The Vision – Tom Brown Jr.
    The Conjoined – Jen Sook fung lee
    Rudy Wiebe –Come Back
    Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being
    Small Ceremonies – Carol Shields (read it in university, want to read it again)
    Alistair McLeod – No Great Mischief
    Thomas King – Green Grass, Running Water
    Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
    My Family and other Animals – Gerald Durrell
    A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
    The Space Between Us –Thrity Umrigar
    High Clear Bell of Morning – Ann Eriksson
    Travels with Charley in Search of America – John Steinbeck
    Malibar Farm – Louis Bromfield
    Island – J. Edward Chamberlin
    Dogs at the Perimeter – Madeleine Thien
    Outline – Rachel Cusk
  • Add to these books above, books that I’ve heard about recently that I want to read: The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari, My father, fortune tellers and me, by Eufemia Fantetti, Chop Suey Nation, Vancouver Noir, Fishing with John by Edith Iglauer (who just died at 101 years of age on the Sunshine Coast) and the list goes on and on.

I wonder what’s foremost on your reading list today?

Re-introducing yourself to yourself once a week

photo of Dale Chihuly sculpture, Seattle exhibit

The high point of my year so far has been an hour and a half on Sunday mornings at James Bay Community Centre. For the past five weeks I’ve been taking a course on reducing stress through yoga and learning about Ayurveda.

It’s taught by a lovely woman named Donna Miller, who lives on Mayne Island and comes over to Victoria to offer it. She teaches yoga, Ayurveda yoga and somatic movement and mindfulness.

There’s something so great about easing into Sunday by doing a little luxurious visit with yourself, your physical self especially, to check in on it and do a body scan which is how the class often starts.

She’s fantastic at talking the class through that moving from the toes to the crown and really tuning into to what’s going on. Is there pain? Where is it? Are there colours arising? What are you feeling at the belly, at the pit of the stomach? If you’re like me, too often scattered and overwhelmed by vatta in a pitta body, out of balance, not even paying attention to the physical body except when, it reminds you, through a pain in the knee or hips or ankle that your spirit has a container and lo and behold it’s aging and stiff.

I recently got an e-mail from a cousin who lives in downtown Toronto but does a lot better job of keeping in touch with me than vice versa and she said to me when she heard about my job that she hoped I was doing something for my spirit, my creative spirit, and it was a bit of a wake-up call. No. No actually. I’m bloody well not doing a single thing for that little amorphous creature and it’s showing. I’m feeling it. And winter is never my best time, mentally,  to begin with.

I was wondering the other day why it has always been so hard for me to maintain. Why five steps forward, 7 steps back? When I lived on Salt Spring it was pretty easy to live a life that felt in tune – with oneself, with nature, with other people who were part of a community that mattered and organically connected because of proximity and like-mindedness about the importance of connecting.

I look back at that time and think, wow, how far from that reality I’ve now strayed, again, which is what prompted the signing up to this class. And what I’ve noticed is that just taking that baby step, taking time to tune into the body, leads to all sorts of other thoughts about other changes one might make to counterbalance the inordinate amount of psychic energy required to go to a job five days a week.

Ideally, none of us would have to compartmentalize to that degree but too many of us have to and so we do, at least for periods of time.  Carving out time on the weekend, or whenever it works, is a bit of a spirit-saving necessity.

Blessings for Judith

You can’t measure love in time. You can spend a lifetime with someone and not develop the kind of feelings you might expect to have, not really. And then, you can spend just a few weeks with another and know you’ll never find anyone like them again.

Your unique combination of togetherness creates the magic of a loving friendship or of a love relationship and don’t ever think that friendship is less important than romantic love.

These are the thoughts I’m having as I think about my friend Judith.  In spite of the short amount of time we spent together, her calm, quiet, loving and accepting nature surrounded me and calmed me down whenever I was in her presence. It’s a way of being I admire, desperately need in my life, wish I was more like, hope to be around again, and will miss so very much. I always knew that she was farther along the path than me, in consciousness, and we all need that in our lives, to do and be better. She also had the same dry humour that turned shared amusements into delicious moments, the kind you think of afterwards and that still bring a smile.

Judith passed away yesterday after an incredibly difficult five months. She died of lung cancer; Mesothelioma to be exact. She could only guess that the cancer may have been growing in her lung from the time, as a young girl, she would go with her father, a plumber, to some of his work sites and where they were both unknowingly exposed to asbestos.

The picture above was taken on June 24th, 2018, one day before she had any indication that she was ill. Although, the very next day she told me that she was having some trouble breathing that day. It hadn’t been apparent to me and she hadn’t said. I took this photo across the table at a beautiful end-of-day meal on Salt Spring at the Treehouse in Ganges. The wine glass looks ginormous. It wasn’t! We spent a wonderful day on the island because I knew she would love it there and I wanted her to see a place that has been such an important part of my life over the years.  

She was from the prairies and lived much of her life back east, and then for a few years after her and her husband amicably separated, she lived in Nelson, B.C. She was a life-long meditator and yoga practitioner and a yoga teacher.

I knew very little about her life actually except that she’d been married for about 28 years, maybe more, and had three children now grown in their late twenties/mid-thirties, all living back east. I met both of her daughters and they are the beautiful people I would expect she would have raised. Her youngest son made it to B.C. twice, but we never met. I also met her ex-husband who was incredibly helpful to her when she needed him. It was unfortunate that she was on the other side of the country from almost all her family members when she became ill. They managed to re-arrange their lives to be with her as she needed them in these last months.

I met Judith in February 2018 at the Victoria Film Festival. We were in the line-up and started chatting and she sat beside me in the film.  I think the film was The Gospel according to Andre. Afterwards we went for tea at Wild, that very New Age coffee place on Yates Street in Victoria. From that first meeting, our friendship was formed. I was relieved and excited to make a connection with someone in Victoria who, from the instant I met her, I just knew I wanted to have in my life. You can meet so many people who are perfectly fine individuals but just don’t come close to fitting into that category.

I believe she’d just moved to Victoria from Nelson the month before. I’d arrived a few months before her. That type of connection doesn’t happen very often and yet every time I’ve acted on those feelings, the end result has proven my initial gut instinct to be correct. Judith was my closest friend in a city where I have yet to meet those she referred to as “my tribe.” “You will find your tribe here,” she said. “Just keep trying.”

On the day of this photo, we went to Salt Spring to the gatehouse on Stowel Lake Farm and I recall her saying that she could “feel the love” that had gone into creating that wonderful place. She hoped to go back there for a meditation retreat one day.

We went to the Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm and the Saturday Market and visited the cottage in the north end on Marjorie’s property where I’d lived before moving off island. I wanted to give Judith a sweet first-time introduction to a place I knew she would love. I believed then that this would be the first of many more visits with her. We didn’t even have time to visit Ruckle Park that day.  “You have to see the place that is my touchstone,” I said. I was looking forward to future visits with her.

The day after that fantastic day, June 24, 2018, I got a call from her telling me that she was having trouble breathing and her chest hurt. I immediately thought she was having a heart attack. I wanted to call an ambulance. She refused.  I convinced her to go to a walk-in clinic across the street from where she lived. It wasn’t long, maybe a day or two, before she was in Emergency having her lung drained of fluid. And then it happened again. Finally, after a few weeks, the diagnosis was made. She even endured an operation to remove fluid from around her heart. In her usual private and quiet manner, she carried on and when she was well enough, we’d meet for lunch, for a drive and then in her apartment where I’d bring a special treat from a nearby bakery or her daughters would make brunch, her husband ordered in Thai take-out. I didn’t get to see her before I went to Hawaii. She wasn’t up for a visit. She was struggling with pain.

I’m convinced her life-long meditation practice and personal spiritual beliefs enabled her the dignity to accept what she could not change. But I’m also shocked to know that in this day of modern medicine, it did not seem possible to manage her pain to the degree one would expect and desire for any human being. I’m confused by that and so sorry she had to endure it.

Now that she has left us, I will hold her spirit close to mine and remember her as the beautiful being of loving kindness that she was, knowing that I was lucky to have her in my life for the short time that I did.

I like to imagine her now dressed in a flowing, colourful gown, the kind she would not have typically worn on earth because it would have been too bold. She is leading a yoga class in a beautiful tropical environment, mingling with other spirits and a light is beaming off her because she is free, of pain, of all worldly concerns, journeying in peace. I will miss her so much.

The Big Island Version 3.0

I made a spontaneous decision to go to the big island of Hawai’i before Christmas. I felt mentally tired, had the vacation time, and going to the Big Island is an easy trip for me, given that it’s the third time I’ve been there.

It’s a bit like going to the tropical version of Salt Spring I know it so well. The weather was perfect, not too hot for a Canadian because it is their winter after all. It wasn’t crowded and I was told that the volcanic eruption of Kilauea in the summer had really impacted tourism, especially in Hilo and in the village of Volcano. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park had just re-opened (but not fully) in September.

My favourite thing about the Big Island is the diversity of landscapes from volcanoes to tropical gardens to waterfalls, lush green valleys and even pasture land up in Waimea country. You can go snorkelling or take a surf lesson. Whether you want to go out on one of the tours such as Fairwinds or BodyGlove or you just want to catch the trolley that goes along Ali’i Drive to go to the family friendly easy snorkelling beach of Kahhalu’u Beach park it’s up to you. From sea turtles to coffee plantations to golf to snorkelling with Manta Rays at night if that’s your thing, to taking tours of octopus and seahorse farms or just learning about the Hawaiian heritage and local arts and crafts such as the kapa quilt patterns in the quilt museum in Kona or about the history of Tsunamis at the little museum in Hilo. There’s touristy Hawaii in Kona village and the long strip of shops which keeps things interesting and there is not so touristy old Hawaii out in the rural areas.  Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one of the most stunning tropical gardens you’ll ever see and not to be missed. This time I found this unique and aptly named Peace Garden at the end of Painted Church Road. It was spectacular, perched high above Kealakekua Bay.

Because I’ve already seen most of the tourist things from my first and second trip, this was going to be just a more hanging out kind of trip. I wasn’t even going to rent a car until I realized, you have to rent a car if you’re going to go to the Big Island and not get stuck in Kona. So I caved, rented one for two days, and that was just enough to get me out to the Place of Refuge which is one of my favourite places and I dropped into the Painted Church. I also wanted to take a quick trip back up the hill behind Kona to Holualoa, a funky little place with some good artists’ shops. I also made the longer drive up to Waikoloa, and went to the spectacular Kua beach on the way back on an incredibly blustery day where the waves were frothing and flashing.

One day, I went to a beach area that a lot of tourists would probably just pass by because it doesn’t look like it would be very nice when you’re looking towards the ocean from the highway. But it’s really nice, runs for miles and it’s almost deserted. There were some locals surfing farther out. It’s only about a 20 minute drive North from Kona.

I was walking along when I spotted this guy peering intently into the water, poised to pounce with his net to catch fish the old fashioned way. I was slightly bemused. It looked like I’d stumbled upon some episode of Survivor. But that’s me being dismissive of long held traditions that actually work. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for him that day. No fish caught!

He came into shore and we started chatting. In no time at all, he offered me a beer. I thought about it for about 30 seconds and said, Okay. Sure. Why not. I was thirsty after all. And I put my towel down and we watched the fishing boat that had been trolling back and forth farther out and we talked about this and that and nothing really. I asked him how old he was. He asked me how young I was. His choice of words told me a lot about him. And then he asked me if I’d like some dried Ahi tuna. It’s great with beer, he said, and it was.

I like those kind of interactions while on vacation. They seem so pure. A mutual understanding that it’s a human connection made without expectations except sharing of realities and soaking up the other person’s energy. I really liked his energy. For all I know, he could have been homeless. He had a pretty wrecked Mazda truck. He didn’t have a job. He’d worked previously for 18 years at Holualoa Coffee Company. He had two kids.

Those kinds of interactions make traveling alone the adventure it can be.

I’ve been pondering Albert upon my return. We sat there for about 45 minutes that day and then when we parted he took my hand and we looked into each others eyes and there was a real connection there. I wanted to give him a hug but I didn’t. I’m thinking Hawaiian hospitality has to be pretty renowned and he did his nationality proud that day.

He told me where he lived and said I should drop in before I leave if I wanted to. But I didn’t. I’d be gone in less than a day.

Everything that mattered for me was in the moment.

Listening to what the heart already knows

Yesterday on a whirlwind trip to Salt Spring, we met a young woman at a retail location who was obviously wracked by trying to make a very big personal decision.

Her internal dialogue was not able to be contained. She shared with us a little of what was going on for her. She had made a decision, all set to pack up and leave, all set to proceed with a decision, offering up all the external rationalizations as to why it made sense.

Both my friend Judith and I, with a good 20 plus years on her age, could hear how the answer had already been delivered to her. As Judith said, “the body never lies.”

All she had to do was truly listen to what she was feeling focusing on what was best for her, not for anyone else.

It’s amazing how much better you get, through all the emotional mistakes, of hearing what’s really going on, listening and heeding.

Her angst brought me back to a time when in my own life the rational won, when it shouldn’t have, and how in your 30s, sometimes not listening to oneself when the inner self is screaming, can take your life on an entirely different path than what it would have been. But, alas, life does go on.

It was a reminder that the only person you should ever truly make a decision to be compassionate and supportive of first and foremost is that vulnerable little inner self. The one full of emotional truth that is often going to make life challenging because the “correct” answer that will lead down a flowered path of happiness is in direct contrast to the rational decision.

The gap between what we know and what we have chosen to do is a spongy mucky place where the treasure lives.

 

Childhood memories through a pepper shaker’s glass

I was doing the dishes the other night and once again, I took out one of those small wiry brushes that allow access to inaccessible corners of glassware or ceramics. I purposely bought those little brushes so I could see if I could get the inside of a small glass pepper shaker clean. For reasons I can’t explain, the pepper residue just won’t come off the inside of this tiny shaker. And as I was doing that it occurred to me that I’d been trying to get this little thing clean for about 2 months and I still hadn’t got there.

In the midst of doing what’s become almost a habit as part of doing the dishes, I stopped and asked myself, What are you doing? Why does this tiny little glass pepper mill that has no financial value matter so much to you, and apparently it really matters!

And when I thought about that I realized that this small object, smooth to the touch with rippled diagonal lines, elicits such strong memories for me of Sunday dinners in my childhood when there was almost always someone coming to dinner, an occasion at a time when having people over, not going out, was how special occasions got marked.

As a little girl, the child size of these must have been what appealed to me. I would often be asked by my mother to put them on the table from their usual resting spot in the china cabinet in the dining room, as if I was putting the cherry on top, the final accoutrements on the white linen table cloth as the guests arrived.

If it was Sunday, there was almost always someone coming for dinner. Uncles and aunts, my father’s parents, sometimes one of my eldest sister’s boyfriends and dinner, it seemed to me, would last a very long time.

Good china. White linen. Cutlery laid out correctly. The special silverware taken carefully from that heavy wooden box with the red velvet lining. My three older sisters moving back and forth between kitchen to dining room as a trio of servers  in that big old house in New Westminster, three storeys high. A fireplace in the the dining room, another one in the den. Beams on the ceilings. A sunroom. Window seats. Awnings. The kind of old house that few are lucky enough to live in now. The only time I’ve been able to call a house mine even if it was my parents who owned it.

After my parents died and their things were sorted and given away, I realized that these little glass salt and pepper shakers represent the feelings of togetherness, of family, that I have not had for a very long time. I made the decision to keep them when I could just as easily have given them away. And every time I look at them, they represent a link to a past that is a testimony to my mother who worked so hard as a home maker, to feed her family and mark special occasions properly. I never use them. They don’t work very well but that’s not the point.

It would have been my parent’s 73rd wedding anniversary today if they were still alive. They got married on February 25th, 1945, in Holy Trinity Church in Winnipeg at 6pm by a Reverend Findley. The reception was at the Marlborough Hotel. I only know this because I have my mother’s bride book and it has the details, along with details of what she wore and all the well wisher cards and strange long white ribbons with women’s names typed onto them, which must have been a custom at the time, the names of the attendees at the bridal showers held for her.

My parents eventually moved to New Westminster and they rented rooms in a house at 215 Fifth Avenue near Queen’s Park. There’s a receipt in this bridal book that details the cost of the monthly rent for these rooms. They paid $22.50 per month to a Mr. Taylor who, when he died, left them furniture and his son gave them a good deal on the house to buy it.

Maybe you have something that represents so much more to you than its physical value and even though it’s special, you haven’t explicitly acknowledged it yet, out loud that is. You haven’t really made it known to yourself even though your actions say it’s so.

All good de-cluttering books speak to keeping only those things in your life that you love. I de-cluttered before moving to Victoria and I can say that it’s good to look around my living space and have my eyes fall only upon only things that are meaningful to me and that I’m pleased with. Your mind engulfs the beauty and the joy of what those things represent and feels satisfied, not distracted or irritated or forced off balance which is what happens when your house if full of stuff that has no reason to be there.

In my life, and I expect in yours, these are the kinds of objects – the ones with much more meaning than that which is visible on the surface – that matter the most. Think about it a while and see if what I’m saying makes sense for you.