Monday, 3 August 2015

The envious moon

Photograpy is not allowed at most theatre venues - with good reason - so I have no shots of this year's Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival's production of Romeo and Juliet.  However, my friend pointed east to the almost-full moon briefly caught in the ancient Garry Oak, and since it was the intermission, I took the shot.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Reflections of a spiritual leech

I attended Quaker meetings for a couple of years during a turbulent time in my young adulthood.  I had three outside reasons for this:
1) My own church had just dumped its third minister, and I was a bit fed up with the power struggles.
2) The Resident Fan Boy had lost both his job and his mother.
3) I was teaching ESL and felt in need of an anchor of some sort.

I had inside reasons as well, the chief one being the nourishing and healing nature of the Friends Meeting for Worship.  Over the two or three years I attended, I did my best to conform with the rules of the Meeting: entering the hall quietly and promptly, taking a seat in the circles (I prefer the outer circle, of course, not being a Friend), and only speaking when I felt moved to speak.

The moment I wait for is the palpable one when the Silence takes over. At the appointed time, the quiet chat dies away and I feel the Silence, which drops gently over the group like a golden net.  This sounds alarming and oppressive, but it's the opposite.  When I first began, I did feel moved to speak on a number of occasions, but I grew to treasure the rare meeting that passed in absolute silence.

Why did I stop?  A number of factors:  An eccentric lady who, like me, wasn't a Quaker, but attended regularly, took a sudden dislike to me.  (To this day, I suspect she had me confused with someone else, and besides, she died some years ago.) I missed the music and interaction of the Unitarian Service.  (Unitarians occasionally have Quaker-style worship, but can't resist the urge to speak.)  I became a mother, and, being more familiar with Unitarian Religious Education, opted for that.  Besides, I wasn't a Quaker.  Becoming a Quaker is an enormous commitment.

But, oh, I missed the Meeting for Worship!  About five or six years ago, I took the meandering bus ride to the Meeting in Ottawa's Glebe Neighbourhood.  I was in a period of despair and alienation and needed a spiritual fix where I knew I would not be cornered or questioned.  I sat in a far corner, felt the familiar envelopment of the Silence, and wept silently throughout the hour, slipping out before the greeting.

This summer is the first that I've come to Victoria without younger daughter.  A crisis, which I may find the courage to describe some day, overtook us in June, but I had decided long before that we need to explore ways for her to experience the independence she craves.  She and the Resident Fan Boy will join me in a couple of days, and until then, for the first time in more than twenty years, I can decide how to spend my day. This Sunday I was free to make my way to the century-old Meeting House.

I half-expected to spend this meeting in tears as well, but although I felt fragile and withdrawn, the golden net descended, and I felt the peace rub against my cheekbones.  My hands seemed to become part of the surrounding air. I remembered the New Testament story of the woman with the "issue of blood" who was convinced if she could only touch the gown of Jesus, who was surrounded by a milling crowd of supplicants, she would be healed.

Is that what I am?  A spiritual leech without the commitment to Quakerism, but taking the healing anyway?  This morning, I didn't care.  I sat observing what has changed and what has remained the same.  The gathering is older, and no one began the meeting with a reading.  No children, but this is a summer meeting, so that is not so unusual.  The faces remained as kind and the clothing as simple as I remembered, although I recognized no one.  I held mental images of those I love and those who are a trial to me "in the Light", as the Friends put it, and asked for healing for myself, my daughters, and my ailing friends.  If the Friends felt the power draining from the circle, they gave no sign.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Get up stand up

I get my first true lungful of sea air streaming north on Cook Street as I trot south in the early morning sunshine, jet-lag having given me a jump-start on my first full day in Victoria.  After my ritual coffee at Moka House at my favourite table on the veranda, I give in to the siren smell of the ocean and make my way through South Fairfield.  Not my favourite part of Fairfield -- it's always a bit ghost-towny, as if nobody actually spends much time in their well-kept vintage houses -- but I spy neighbours perched on their respective porches, having a chat across the front of their semi-detached, and I feel compelled to wish every dog-walker and stroller a good morning, unless they beat me to it - this is Victoria, after all.

When elder daughter was a pre-toddler, I used to nip in for a newspaper at a downtown news-stand on the corner of Fort and Douglas Streets.  One day, I glanced down into the stroller and noticed my infant child had a bag of nuts clutched in each tiny fist.  I wheeled around and returned to confess that my daughter was a nascent shoplifter.

This morning, after a desperate search for an operational bank machine that dispenses more than sixty dollars, I dart into the same shop to purchase a newspaper in order to break a twenty so I can pay my art instructor that afternoon.  (I'm spending some of my brief and heady freedom on water-colour lessons, because --- when will the opportunity ever arise again?)

A Caribbean gentleman is regaling the the reserved Asian teenager at the till with an expressive tale, but I've entered too late to get the gist, although I am in time to hear the gentleman launch into the chorus of "Get Up Stand Up".

He turns to grin at me and apologizes, but I say, "Not at all! I always enjoy a bit of Bob Marley!"

He roars his approval.

"Smart gel!! I was teaching some respect to some people who were showing some attitude.  I made them listen!"
"That's not an easy thing to do," I observe.

He flashes a brilliant smile as he saunters out.
"You have yourself a great day, gel!!"

This never happens in Ottawa.

Friday, 31 July 2015

First time in a window seat in twenty years

The Fraser River is turquoise near Hope, British Columbia, turning brown quite suddenly as it approaches Abbotsford and the delta near Vancouver.  The mountains are sharp, or mounded with a round dimple of water on the top. There is snow, but not much of it in this warming world.

As the plane swoops down over the eastern end of Vancouver, I squint and peer, trying to catch that moment when we are low enough to make out actual human beings below.  I never manage to spot pedestrians, but I see bicycles twinkling in the morning sun along the edges of the roads.

I transfer to a much smaller Air Jazz plane and am surrounded by British Columbians, distinguishable from Ontarians by their easy chattiness and loose, layered clothes.  It's a seventeen-minute flight to Victoria, so the wheels drop down while the plane is still suspended above Georgia Strait.  The ocean changes from the muddy tone flowing out from the mouth of the Fraser River to the green of the shallows to the indigo of the deep water near Vancouver Island.

The sea looks ridged and wrinkled from this high up, the surface only slightly scratched by sailboats, motorboats, ferries, and industrial barges.

Once again, Persephone returns for a brief summer, and for the first time, not in the company of her younger daughter.  (That's why she has a window seat.)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

You know it's been a bad month when….

What can I say about this past month?
Nuthin'.
Oh, plenty went on, but I don't want to discuss it.  We're halfway through the year, and I don't like the way it's going.
One bit.

So, let's talk Game of Thrones.
I don't watch Game of Thrones.
Why?
Because I'm squeamish.
However, I know enough about it to find the following extremely funny.  It's from the first American version of Red Nose Day, which I tried to watch, but there were way, way, way too many commercials.  So I missed this, but found it later on social media.

I'm going to bed now.  I'll be taking several Sleep-Relax and pray that the year starts taking a turn.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Now how am I going to get any work done?

Some months back, a cousin who is also Facebook pal shared a charming 1940's style rendition of "All About That Bass" -- with an actual bass. 

However, seeing as I'm not that swift, I didn't realize that there was more where that came from.  The Postmodern Jukebox is a group of talented musicians who take songs from the 1980s to the present-day and set them in styles ranging from 1912 to 1970s - sometimes veering into bluegrass, or even mariachi.

Suppose you take a ditty like "Stacy's Mom", and drag it back to the 1930s?  Would it sound something  like this? 
(And doesn't that girl on the bar have an expressive back?)

Some of my favourites are the songs set in Motown-style -- partially because of the amazing vocals, and largely because of the antics of a maniac called "Tambourine Guy".  Listen to these guys "Roar": 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Chalk shock

When I was in Grade Five, we had a Welshman called Mr Jones for Math. When you raised your hand, he would query, "What is it, vach?" If your answer was wrong, he would scoff, "No, that's not it, you silly girl!"  Somehow, this was not wounding, couched in his Welsh accent.

In fact, his aura was a happy combination of gentleness and sternness; I don't recall anyone acting out in his classroom.  If you weren't paying attention, he'd pelt you with a piece of chalk, a bit of a shock to his Canadian students.

He also clearly loved math, and a teacher who loves his/her subject has won half the battle. My mother enjoyed hearing tales of Mr Jones.  Growing up in British schools, she'd been pelted with her share of chalk, and she passed along a multiplication trick from my grandfather (another Welshman): If you're stymied when the 11x sequence gets past 9, simply add the two digits of the number to be multiplied and put it in the centre. So, for example, 11x23: 2+3=5, put it between the digits of 2 and 3 that make up "23", and you get 253. Try it with a double digit number times eleven.

Mr Jones was incredulous when I told him, then openly delighted when he found it worked.  It takes a Welshman to astonish another Welshman.

The school year rolled around to spring, and some bright spark came up for the perfect April Fool's trick to play on Mr Jones.  His class was after morning recess, which afforded the opportunity for every one of the thirty students in his class to locate and pocket a piece of chalk. The ringleaders set up a lookout at each door at the end of the cloakroom, then ran to take their places.

The instant Mr Jones appeared, he had to duck out under a hail of chalk.  When he came back in, he was laughing, saying it was the best trick ever played on him.

Our principal, an ex-military man who had us march in PE and addressed us by our last names, was not so pleased.  The next day, two students were appointed to make a public apology at the beginning of math class.  Mr Jones listened politely, in some bewilderment:  "It was a splendid joke," he protested.

My math progress varied widely with the teachers I encountered over the years.  If I had had a teacher like Mr Jones every year, I do think I would have made steady, if unspectacular, progress.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

You banga da hell outa dis (another story from Demeter)

When I was little, Demeter worked at a clinic for kids with cerebral palsy in South Edmonton, on the opposite side of the North Saskatchewan River. One day, she was on her lunch break, trying to get some errands done, but held up by an endless stream of midday traffic and a light that refused to change.

Out of nowhere, a little man appeared at her side.
"You wanta cross the street, lady?  You banga da hell outa dis," he declared, demonstrating energetically on the crosswalk button to my startled mother.  "Just banga da hell!"


Monday, 30 March 2015

You're welcome

I feel guilty for not saying anything about St David's Day this year.  (It was March 1st, but you knew that, didn't you?) To make up for it, I'm offering Ioan Gruffudd, who has been on my mind because I was watching Forever this evening. Speaking Welsh. About Taliesin the bard.   I think this may have been filmed in Cardiff in 2000.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Another wrinkle

Yesterday morning I woke early, after a late night, unwilling to get up and dress just yet, but not wanting to wake my husband.  I padded down to the living room to retrieve my laptop, because I've been deliberately keeping it downstairs to discourage myself from going online before the day has properly begun.

However,  I had gone to sleep with the briefly glimpsed corner of a mystery on my mind.  It seems that the Disney corporation will be attempting to bring A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen.  There have been attempts before, including an adaptation to the small screen, an unsatisfactory televised version.  I'm wondering if a satisfactory version is possible, but I have a daughter living on the autistic spectrum, and thus have acquired an appreciation for movies, television specials, and graphic novels based on classics, so I tried to find out a little bit more.

In doing so, I noticed a sentence fragment in a Google search just before I went to bed, something about her son's death in 1999.  Madeleine L'Engle herself died in 2007, but I do not ever recall her writing about Bion Franklin's death; she devoted nearly a whole book to the final year of her husband Hugh. It was late, and I was working on something else, so I set my puzzlement aside for the morning.

With the covers over my head to block the dimmed light from the screen from the sleeping Resident Fan Boy,  I went back to the link --- and learned that Bion Franklin had died in his forties from the effects of alcoholism.  Bion?  The little boy who was the model for Charles Wallace Murry and Rob Austin?  I entered a few more search terms and stumbled on a 2004 New Yorker article, which said, among many other things, that Bion and his adopted sister Maria loathed the cycle of books about the Austin family, and that L'Engle's children and grandchildren alike detest L'Engle's Crosswick Journals series, especially Two-Part Invention which was L'Engle's memoir about her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin. Hugh Franklin drank quite a bit and had at least two extra-marital affairs.
Their eldest child Josephine read it and apparently thought: Who the hell is she talking about?

The New Yorker article, which has become quite notorious amongst L'Engle fans and which somehow I'd managed to miss, is not a hatchet-job.  It also reflects the love L'Engle's family had for her along with the exasperation.  But I, huddled under the covers with my glowing laptop, was fighting back my shock and a sense of loss.  I've read everything L'Engle wrote, with the possible exception of her poetry.  I grew up with the four books that begin with A Wrinkle in Time, and of course, I loved the Austin books which were about the sort of family I'd never had.  It turns out that L'Engle may not have have had that sort of family either.  The Crosswick Journals were the sort of books to which I'd turn again and again for comfort, wisdom and perspective.

As the shock wore off, an odd sense of relief took over.  I felt consoled by all this dysfunction somehow, and besides, I recognized something about her children's feelings -- anger, bewilderment, and the sense of having no say in the story.  It was the same feeling I had when I read the biographical essay featured in my father's order of service.  I wonder if they too had the cold sweat when they read the matriarch's version of their family?  Coincidentally, Alan Jones, L'Engle's ex-son-in-law, was the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco when my dad's service was held there.  Possibly he still is.  Speaking of L'Engle, he refers to the "confirmed construction of the self by means of narrative" which could also be a charitable way of describing the legend my father built up to support his life in California.

I don't know what I'll find now when I revisit L'Engle's books, particularly the Crosswick Journals, but I've been rereading many of my favourite books this past year (no L'Engle ones, as it happens), and I'm rediscovering that no book will ever be the same, anyway. That's probably true of most things.