Finding Pockets of Artistic Magic

I’m not sure what I would do without the magic that is art in all its many forms.

Sometimes there’s no better antidote for a crappy week than a little magic when you’re not expecting it. And when you desperately need something magical and heartfelt and soul nourishing there aren’t too many things I can think of that equal the beauty of music and art. WesleyHardisty

I left the house on Sunday and headed over to Maillardville to check out the Festival du Bois. I was motivated when I saw that Wesley Hardisty from Salt Spring was part of a fiddle jam happening that afternoon in Mackin House, a beautifully restored heritage house.

We all crowded into the tiny living room, standing room only in the hall, and I felt as if I’d been transported to what I imagine a kitchen party in Cape Breton might be like, minus the good homemade hooch.

I love the collaborative and improvisational nature of how fiddlers decide on the next tune, the banter between them, and a wee story as introduction.  I was seated on the floor directly at their feet and it just made me so happy after, okay, I’ll admit it, being in such a bad mood for most of the week.   They played and somewhere in the dining room behind us, someone had a set of wooden spoons to add to the ambiance, and they clacked out the rhythm to the toe tapping.  It was such a welcome bit of magic injected into an otherwise frustrating week.

And again, this afternoon, as I often do, I got out of the house after a morning of focus. I headed over to Deep Cove and wandered around a bit before checking out the small Seymour Art Gallery there. I came upon an exhibit which focused on repetition. It was inspired by French artist Gilles Deleuze who wrote, “I make, remake and unmake my concepts along a moving horizon.”

The press release said, “In these six artists’ work by repeating the process of depicting their subjects over and over, the original meaning of the project starts to slip and the process itself gains importance.”

facesmall

This painting, above, by Suzanne Fulbrook, is a self portrait of a kind. She has exclusively painted her own face since 2008. “When you say a word 30 times or more, it appears to lose its meaning, becomes harder to say and becomes almost meditative. What happens if you repeatedly paint an image of yourself?” I guess she could now tell us.

I had a private curated talk by Vanessa Black, an Emily Carr grad, a painter, and the gallery assistant, and of course her descriptions provided the insights that brought the process and the works to life even more.

Monstersmall

This is by Elizabeth MacKenzie, a growing series of ink drawings to consider and affirm the experience of difference through the archetypal figure of Frankenstein’s monster. She is particularly fascinated by the un-named creature that Dr. Frankenstein created in Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic novel. She draws these on rice paper and puts them directly onto the wall.

It was a really interesting afternoon topped off by a late birthday dinner with a friend.

Vanessa will be hosting a talk this Sunday and a free bookbinding workshop for kids at 11 am and for adults at 2 pm.

A new exhibit called Tattoo, Ink and Flesh, with BC tattoo artists showing photographs of their most memorable works on skin, and discussing the challenges of working on a living medium is happening, March 15 from 2-4 pm. Local poets will perform and all poets are invited for some on the spot literary sharing.

Post Secondary 30 years later

AbnormalPsychologytextThose of you who know me off the Interweb know that last July I started taking courses as a part-time student. I enrolled at Vancouver Community College. I tentatively stuck my big toes across a classroom’s threshold to begin to gather prerequisites to eventually apply to a Masters in Counselling Psychology hoping to be accepted at one of BC’s universities somewhere in the vicinity of Fall 2016 or thereabouts.

That first classroom experience was excellent. The instructor was lively and animated. She was a woman who had returned to school herself just years before. My fellow students were an eclectic mix of people with former degrees, McWorkers, recovering addicts, and those, like me, who have overcome their own traumas and dramas and reasons for needing to seek counselling. They were a super lively bunch who ranged in age from mid 20s to late 50s. It was a great class! Had that experience been less than it was, I am not sure I’d be continuing on this journey.

At that same time, I enrolled in the six month Graduate Manuscript Workshop via SFU Writer’s Studio taught by Wayde Compton. I must say that writing and exploring writing, especially nonfiction if it’s related to personal history, fits really well with taking courses in counselling. The trick is to figure out how to keep writing when my focus is so dispersed.

Content of the courses aside, these new endeavours are proving to be most interesting not just because of what I’m learning but what I’m observing about the different campuses. I feel like a mystery student, akin to a mystery shopper, dropping in to VCC and Douglas, returning to SFU’s downtown campus and who knows, maybe I’ll cherry-pick another pre-requisite online from Athabasca. I feel like I should be carrying around a little clipboard taking notes of all the things these post-secondary institutes are either doing really well or need to do better. There’s a lot of each to choose from.

This term, I managed, in spite of 18 people on a wait list, to get into a course I need at Douglas College and going there is a little more personally daunting. The biggest challenge is that everyone, as they should be, is right out of high school. I’m like, Mom’s here! I think back to when I was at SFU, right out of high school, and had I seen someone my age, I would have been confused, maybe even a little hostile. Why is she taking up a spot? I get it kids. I understand.

At VCC, small classes are the norm, 20 people or thereabouts. I really like that. The instructors actually know every student’s name. The counselling courses are very interactive, obviously, and fellow students become practice clients which isn’t ideal in terms of boundaries but the most viable option. You get to know people. You feel a part of something.

At Douglas, there must be at least 35 people in the class and the instructor just finished teaching the same thing to a different section right before. Give the guy a gold star… or maybe some drugs! How do you talk in front of people, repeating the same thing, in the same afternoon-evening for more than 6 hours and not start to sound like a crazy person? He managed to stay incredibly articulate. Kudos to him. Still, the whole instructor at front lecturing seems so 1980. There’s got to be a better way. Luckily, they seemed to have improved the text book, complete with Canadian references no less. I opened to a page and a photo of a guy I was friends with as an undergrad, now a Psychiatry professor, was staring back at me. Shocking in both good and bad ways. I know too much. About him! I don’t want to see him looking back at me from a textbook.

At the same time I’ve begun training to volunteer at the Vancouver Crisis Centre and can I just say there is probably no better training that I’ve experienced in terms of let’s ramp things up here and get into the psyche and psych-ache of BC. I was worried about doing it. How will volunteering there impact my own mental health? That’s yet to be determined. What I’ve learned there in the first two weeks of training has been equivalent to at least an entire semester at any course I’ve ever taken, and more.

It’s been an exciting and intense start to the New Year. I’m guessing my brain is looking a little bit like that childhood toy, Lite-Brite.

“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” – Paulo Coelho

Thank you to my friend Elaine for the quote this morning. It seems to fit.

You as Peace

whiterose

In a world where some men appear to have gone mad and I use the word men intentionally because too often I read newspapers that use the word “people” when in fact it is, unfortunately, men who are perpetrating most of the violence in the world. Let’s be specific.

We listen as allegations of astonishing abuse rise against men who were once revered and who have now fallen from grace. We hear today about the evil and heartbreak perpetuated by some men whose humanity and reason have left them and where rationalizations will never explain because there can never be rationalizations acceptable for what we are witnessing.

There is only one possibility for me. That is, to acknowledge the victims of the atrocities in my heart and then to turn away to refocus on beauty and small graces and the awareness of nature’s cycle that is imitated via human destruction and resurrection.

To keep my own heart returning to a peaceful place, turning towards the light even on those days when I feel a desolation, when I feel battered and angry but knowing that is the time, especially, to find a way back to love, for myself first and then spreading that out throughout my own connectedness as best I can.

It’s so easy to become unconscious of mood and seething and worrying and the turmoil in one’s inner self in a way that turns us away from awareness of how we’re coming across in the world, how we’re infecting our own small space in energy and spirit.

The other day I went with a friend for a walk out of Stanley Park’s Nature House. The topic was Solstice and traditions but it meandered from identification of tree species to Norse mythology to rituals. It reminded me of the time I gathered some friends, made them each a little boat out of the bark of a tree found on the ground on the path around the Lagoon. I glued a tea light to each small piece of bark. We gathered on the shores and I handed out their lights and I said some sort of poem that made sense. We each then spoke of something we wanted to let go of and afterwards, we kneeled and pushed our floating tea lighted bark into the water and released as a symbol of letting go. It was such a small event but it was so fantastic. It reminded all of us of how far away we can move away from rituals that uplift our hearts, recognize our own impermanence and the inevitability of change heading towards the ultimate letting go.

It’s the time of year when I am most reflective. The season of winter is meant for that. An inward transformation bubbling from the quiet, a brook in a cold winter stream, easily mistaken for a static time when in fact so much is happening inside.

Reflecting. Assessing. Planning. Hoping. Dreaming.  Our inner selves on high alert, welcoming transformation.

We have come into a time, maybe a time that’s never not been, where every one of us, must become the peace as the change we want to see in the world.

Dreaming Psychotherapy into Fiction

DSC_0519Sometimes I wake up and I can’t get here, present, out of some forest I’ve never been to before and into the space where my body is. It’s as if my dreams, the ones I can never remember, even though I’m told that “we all dream” “keep a pen and paper by your bed” “write them down” have wrapped their gauzy claws around me and demanded I stay in character, just as I’m supposed to be –  there – wherever, a million miles away, another galaxy, as if I’ve been snatched to perform in someone else’s dream. That’s how I feel today.

I’ve just finished reading this fantastic book that I couldn’t put down called Love’s Executioner, Other Tales of Psychotherapy. It’s a book that had its moment of recognition quite some time ago even though, honestly, the stories of people’s lives and their problems revealed within it are timeless and amazing.

Written in 1989 by a somewhat famous Existentialist, an M.D. psychotherapist, Professor Emeritus from Stanford and writer Irvin D. Yalom.  

There’s nothing like being a voyeur into other people’s problems and other people’s therapy to learn that life truly is the stuff of fiction and truth can be at least equal to those carefully woven fictional plots.

I’ve been discovering that for myself in my own student counselling and I can see how peeling away the layers of another person, their story, their unique take on the world, their true life dramas can become quite addictive to learn about – trophy hunting revelations – maybe especially if you’re also a writer.

I find myself not just listening and trying to respond, with empathy, while trying to utter something that will lead them deeper into themselves, into insight and clarity and mostly failing, but suddenly, there’s an even more compelling layer where I’m imagining what I might do with that nugget they’ve just shared, how it could be changed and woven into some story into the future. Stop that!   

Ghomeshi: Canada’s Shakespearean Tragedy

 

tragedyOne thing is certain. Whenever there is a “he said/she said” situation as we have seen in the Ghomeshi nightmare, the shit has hit the fan and somebody’s version of the truth has taken a detour into some nebulous land of denial or outright lying to themselves and/or to others.

When I was much younger, I found myself in two separate “he said/she said” situations. I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe it says I was particularly attractive then even though I didn’t realize it, then, to the degree of the reality. Maybe it says I was particularly lonely and desperate, my vulnerability practically flashing neon. Maybe it says boys will be boys except it’s an excuse that’s no longer acceptable and you will get smacked down, rightly so, if you use it as your pitiful defense in the 21st century.

One of my “he said/she said” situations ended up in a labour arbitration which, in hindsight, was absolutely the wrong venue for any kind of real honest to goodness dialogue to occur. I was the key witness as a client of the therapist who was denying what I had to say about his actions in the form of a complaint letter. The labour arbitration had nothing to do with me except my letter had initiated the chain of events. The arbitration was between a union and a hospital. I had nothing to gain, except the inner strength that builds from speaking my truth in front of others in much the same way the Truth and Reconciliation hearings may have been powerful for some residential school victims/survivors.

The person I was complaining about – a counsellor in a small town – was fired. He grieved. When I wrote the complaint letter, I didn’t realize he was in a union.  My personal journals were subpoenaed. I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression and confusion and years of being focused on something that I could never come to terms with. In a 50-page decision, issued almost two years after the arbitration, the arbitrator upheld this person’s firing. He did not get his job back and the ineffectual rules related to counselling in B.C. did not prevent him from counselling others via self employment.

All these years later, I’m glad that the arbitrator made the right decision and fired him. The more I truly understand the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client, the more I recognize his actions as beyond comprehension and the more I recognize how unethical and inexplicable (read stupid) his actions were.  He crossed a boundary that’s there for all the right reasons. He may have been a good counsellor (for other people). He also made the biggest mistake (we can only hope) of his career, and then, even worse,  he had the audacity to lie about it to try and save face and his livelihood.  Apparently he was a bad liar.

I found out later that during the arbitration, this person had a long list of character witnesses. That part was laughable to me. Needing a lot of character witnesses has to be a sure sign of needing to cover your ass.

But here’s the thing. Why do people who have never been in these types of scenarios have such trouble understanding that human beings are complex? They can be president and still be ruled by their biological urges. They can be a fantastic dad and have feelings for someone that make them act in ways that are beyond stupid and damaging – to themselves and to others. Why are we so quickly willing to forget Jung’s shadow side, a side that lurks in all of us, in some, darker and more evil than most of the rest of us can comprehend?

I completely understand why these women did not come forward. I see all the outdated male/female power dynamics that continue to support the context for this type of scenario to greater and lesser degrees.

But I am left with the questions of why?

Why would this fabulously talented man, Jian Ghomeshi, allegedly act in this way towards women? Our overwhelming blame on social media, without any curiosity seems too Lord of the Flies like. I think curiosity would be so much more interesting. Why does that creepy teddy bear reference immediately make me picture him as a child? What do we know about his childhood? Did something happen to him as a child? Was he abused? I do not believe that anyone acts the way these women have described for no reason, even if that reason is invisible and socially unacceptable, and having just written that, I am in no way defending him.

But I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I am wondering about his mental state at this point in time having plunged from his perch of fame to what surely must be the depths of private hell in this most Shakespearean of ways.

Or is he just ranting, privately ensconced somewhere, unable to take one ounce of responsibility? I wonder.

It would appear that he needs some major psychiatric help.

These women need accountability.

I hope they all get what they need.

A Gum Ball Machine that Spits Out Poetry

poetrycapsuleI went to WORD Vancouver on Sunday, another gorgeous fall day and when I came away, I realized that it’s true that when you go through The Writer’s Studio (TWS) at SFU, you do indeed become part of a community, even if that community is more likely to be woven across the landscape of the many writing events that dot the city than up close and personal in your living room.

As I walked around, I met up with Barb, a poet who was at TWS the same year I was. I hope she won’t mind me saying that she’s re-energized about getting back to writing poetry, hunkering down for the winter as the mood more easily shifts into a reflective mode but right now she’s working on a piece of non fiction.

Before then, I chatted with Andrew Chesham, publisher, writer and program assistant at The Writer’s Studio. He was asking me about a tweet I’d posted the day before in reference to some writing event I’d been to and my less than enthusiastic response to the famous author. Andrew was worried it may be something related to TWS which it wasn’t.

Barb and I put our Toonies into the Poetry Machine that was designed by Anne Stone, a novelist, editor and teacher, and Wayde Compton’s partner. I put in my Toonie and out popped a poem written by Anne Hopkinson. I was wracking my brain all night wondering why that name sounded so familiar only to realize that she’s in the book club of my friend, Anne Watters, who lives in Sechelt. How strange that I should get her poem, of all the poet’s words stuffed into the plastic containers inside the revamped gumball machine.

Barb had a bit more difficulty with the technology but eventually ended up winning a poetry book as a prize in the capsule that finally got spit out.

Wayde, poet, essayist and director of The Writer’s Studio was there with his six year old daughter. He was reading from his newly released debut work of short fiction, The Outer Harbour.  I missed Wayde’s reading intentionally because I’m aiming to attend the official release at the Vancouver Public Library on Sunday, October 19th at 2 pm. You should come too if you’re into that sort of thing.

I passed Elee Kraljee, Thursdays Writing Collective and as I was arriving I noticed Rene Sarojini Saklikar, children of air india, going outside.

I think I saw Karen Jean Lee, whose non fiction piece, Happy Hour, was published in Prism International’s Love and Sex, Fall 2014 issue.

Brian Payton, former non-fiction mentor from 2012, was there reading from his book, The Wind is Not a River.  I believe Lorraine Kiidumae was in the audience. Afterwards, Barb and I ran into Brian in the library foyer and chatted, briefly discussing his impressions of the new cover on the paperback version of his novel which was released earlier in the month.

Cynthia Flood, Red Girl, Rat Boy was seated behind the Joy Kogawa House information table. I didn’t know you could actually rent out that space for readings for 15-20 people.  Cynthia will be reading as part of an event to support the People’s Co-op Bookstore on October 10th at 7:30 pm at the store on Commercial Drive.

Coming up the stairs from the Alice McKay Room, Kagan Goh was leading the dragon procession going down into that area for reasons that weren’t clear, and then we had a nice chat afterwards about his recent engagement in a hot air balloon in New Mexico and thoughts about him and his fiance, Julia,  possibly moving to Mexico. As I write that it strikes me someone needs to write a gossip column focused solely on writers in Vancouver. There’s only one problem, I don’t know any really juicy gossip and even if I did, I’m not sure it would be the wisest move to put it out there.

Finally, just about to leave, Brian O’Neill who is in Wayde’s Master Class with me came up to say hello. It was his birthday and he was recovering from a party the night before. I wasn’t masochistic enough to ask how young he might be. How many candles on the cake? Just a baby.

I’m sure there were many others there from TWS throughout the day that I didn’t happen to run into or notice, but it was a really nice way to spend a sparkly Sunday afternoon. How could you not have a good time?

There should be a whole bunch of other familiar and new faces this Thursday, 8pm at The Cottage Bistro on Main Street when the feature reader will be Doretta Lau from her latest book, How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?

Looking forward to however the evening unfolds.

Letting go when gone is here

Labryinth

I met up with a friend the other night. As I listened to some of the details acknowledging an unexpected transition, which seemed sad to me mostly because of the amount of time that can be invested into a construct of togetherness, I couldn’t help but hear that saying about relationships being for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

In relationship, letting go, after the other has made the decision to leave, because they checked out a long time ago, even if they didn’t have the courage to act on the leaving themselves, is the only sane option that exists between adults.

Someone either wants to be with us or they don’t. We either want to be with them or we don’t. Trying to force either one of those things when the feelings are no longer there for one or both is a waste of emotional energy and time.

Life is a stroll into a labyrinth. Sometimes we walk together, side by side, so close our arm hairs prickle against theirs, and other times we are alone. We keep walking. We pick up and meet new faces, the unexpected, those we’ve known before, walking, walking, here and there, retracing our steps, meeting with groups for a while, then two by two and back to solitude, always.  Choices from the past no longer fit, not the choices we would make now.

Birth. Life. Death. Everything in between grace, chance, choice. Reasons sometimes clear, sometimes not.  A floating away that was meant to be. Hard for us to realize nobody did anything wrong. Ambivalence that’s tipped its scale toward indifference.

They say it’s good to walk a labyrinth in times of major change. The in and out, around and back, shows us, in a very explicit physical manifestation, that whatever situation we find ourselves in – alone, alienated, loved, coupled, single, in groups of friendship –  it’s all a movable feast, loss the temporary illusion.

The journey is so short. No point in hanging on to what has already decided it needs to be elsewhere for better or worse, right or wrong, no point in sticking around waiting to see what regrets might arise from emotion that’s finally been acted upon. No looking back. Actions truly are everything. The story that tells all.

It’s a lesson that I know I’ve taken much too long to learn.