Saturday, 29 November 2008

Railing against the tireless watcher

2005 was not a great year. In fact, I would join with Lucy Van Pelt of the comic strip Peanuts in declaring that I had been stuck with a "used year". That February, I saw a television special called From Time to Time. It was a suite of six dances, all set to Joni Mitchell songs. The fifth of these was called "Neighbourhood Suite" and was set to "Sire of Sorrow", a song that I had not heard until then, probably because at the time the album "Turbulent Indigo" came out, I had one small child and was expecting another. The song haunted me for days after the television show, particularly its chorus: O you tireless watcher, what have I done to you, that you make everything I dread and everything I fear come true? In fact, one winter morning, as I was accompanying younger daughter to school from a speech therapy appointment, I was so mesmerized by that song playing in my head that I missed our Transitway stop and ended up way out in Orleans, having to find our way back.

The song is meant to be Job, railing at God from his ash pit, where he has retreated, covered with sores, having lost everything including his children. His neighbours come down to the edge of the pit to offer advice and to suggest what he may have done to tick God off. (Not helpful.) Eventually God himself shows up, only to ask: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? (Actually not terribly helpful, either.) Job is eventually relieved of his suffering and gets to have more kids, but the scholars aren't kidding when they say Job is one of the more problematic stories of the Bible.

The first person voice in "Sire of Sorrow" is for me, however, unmistakeably that of a woman, which is why this song gets me where I live. Besides, 2008 is showing all the hallmarks of being a "used year". Here's a YouTube video that furnishes the lyrics:

Friday, 28 November 2008

Hades freezes over

Winter has been playing cat-and-mouse with us this past week, filling up the streets with March-like muddy slush, and alternating between rain and snow. Rude behaviour from a season which isn't supposed to officially arrive until the solstice in a month's time. However, sometime around Hump Day, it pounced and the snow remained on the sidewalks, roofs and trees. Ottawans now retreat into their drab winter gear: navy blue, olive green, dirt brown, and dead black, with only the occasional flash of red. Long forgotten muscles ache in my legs as I try to get used to trudging around in boots again. We're in for this for the next six months.

Everything feels like a set-back at this time of year and I'm in rather a Joni Mitchell mood. Trust a girl from Saskatoon to get the feeling right. Here's an earlyish song of hers, "Urge for Going", sung on the old Oscar Brand show "Let's Sing Out", circa 1968:
Gosh, she was young then, and hadn't adopted her unmistakable vocal style quite yet. Oscar Brand is the fella seated to her right, and was very well-known in Canada, particularly for his song "Something to Sing About" which darn near supplanted "O Canada" as the national anthem, at least among folkies and around the campfire. (He also recorded a couple of albums of filthy traditional songs, but never mind....)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

....and He (She?) has a warped sense of humour....

...because I couldn't get Disc Number One or Five to play --- and those are the ones with the David Tennant video diaries. Furthermore, these are scant, compared to previous seasons because DT claims he hasn't "any more stories to tell". For gawd's sake, man, unbutton your shirt a little and read the phone book! These discs will play on the upstairs DVD player, but get this, we accidentally lost the remote in the waste bin one Garbage Day and we can't access "Special Features". Aaaaaargh!! I finally got both discs to play downstairs, but only saw a few minutes of the video diary before rushing out to retrieve younger daughter from school. Now I'm home, the Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter are watching "Voyage of the Damned" without any features and it isn't even one of the good ones....

What exactly did I do to tick you off, God? (No, no, put that list away...)

There is a God

Sorry, not meaning to upset my atheist friends, but the last 24 hours have stunk to high heaven, and it's taken every ounce of strength that I have not to sink into the slough of despond. Someone rapped on our front door:

See you later...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Do you extrude your food?

Okay, here's where I am today. This afternoon, we are scheduled for the feedback session following several intensive psycho-educational tests on my younger daughter, whose current label is PDD-NOS. I've learned to loathe and dread these sessions. Assessments are rarely geared toward strengths; they exist to justify funding, so I'm going to be spending half an hour or so being told what's wrong with my daughter. What I need is a distraction. But I have to ask myself, how desperate am I?

A few weeks back, when we'd just returned to Hades and the humid air flopped over my nose like a cloth soaked with chloroform, I was meditating on the Proust Questionnaire. At that time, I was considering my least favourite noise. Today, I'm thinking of my least favourite word. That word, my friends, is extrude. The very visions that word evokes makes my fingers curl convulsively, my gorge rise, and my nostrils constrict in self-defense. It is a disgusting word. I first encountered it during a First Aid course in relation to eyeballs. Ugh.

Now imagine my consternation in reading Jaywalker's latest post in her otherwise beguiling blog. Apparently Google thoughtfully supplies different advertisements with each correspondent who contacts Jaywalker through her gmail, presumably computer-generated to match our myriad interests and obsessions. The ads accompanying my love-notes to JW are about "food extrusion consultants".

What the *&%#@ is a food extrusion consultant? I "googled" it (of course), and got exactly two results: one is Jaywalker's latest post and the other is this, which informs me that food extrusion is: " A type of food processing in which a food product is exposed to intense pressure and heat within an extruder and cooked in order to give the product a particular shape or greater uniformity." Mmmmn. Yummy. This, of course, forced me to look up extruder and the first hit I got was: "device used to melt-mix plastics and powder coatings". So, I'm guessing we're not talking Jamie Oliver here.

Another question in the Proust Questionnaire is: "What profession would you not like to attempt?" Up until now, my answer has always been "anything in sales". My new answer is...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A mid-autumn week's dream

When the Resident Fan Boy was still in hospital, one of the things he was most worried about was the prospect of missing Spamalot and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the National Art Centre this week. It would have been a great pity if he had missed the glorious silliness of the former, but, oh dear, thank goodness we didn't miss the latter!

This MSND is the Dash Arts production featuring an Indian and Sri Lankan cast, most of whom are quadruple threats: they can sing, dance, act, and do acrobatics. No, wait...quintuple threats. They do all this in several languages, and this was the cause of a minor controversy here in Ottawa. An enterprising co-worker of the Resident Fan Boy set up a group-rate for the office, then sent out a warning e-mail with an offer to cancel the tickets when it was reported that some people were walking out. Apparently the issue was that this Dream is performed in eight languages including (Shakespearean) English, Tamil, Sanskrit, and Hindi among others. Actually, this was only a problem if you are unfamiliar with the play and you could probably work out much of what was going on from the eloquent body language, although I was silently grateful I had shown some tapes of MSND to younger daughter beforehand, both for my sake and hers. I had a quiet giggle listening to a couple behind me in line for the washrooms at the interval. She knew the play and, although he was claiming some knowledge, he muttered something about Coles Notes.

Anyway, I was enchanted, entranced, mesmerized. The actors seemed to switch seamlessly between languages (rather like a lot of Ottawans flip from French to English and back again within the same sentence), so all of a sudden, you'd realize that the words you were hearing were Shakespeare's original lines. The three female leads, Hermia, Helena, and Titania (who doubled as Hippolyta), were the only actors to speak in English exclusively, and what stunned and charmed me was how natural Shakespeare sounds flowing off an Indian/Sri Lankan tongue. What also struck me was the female strength in these characters: Hermia had the confidence of a pretty girl who has always had her way; Helena had the drive that comes from the desperate conviction that Demetrius is the man for her; and Titania had the power of a queen not bound by earthly restrictions and morals -- there was never any doubt that she was not Oberon's equal in every way.

Then there was the physicality of this production. The performers climbed the structures, balanced on platforms, tumbled and twirled in the dirt that made up the stage floor. Titania spent a good portion of the end of the second act and beginning of the third act folded up in a hammock like a beautiful crimson chrysalis, a testament to her endurance and flexibility. Much has been made of the sexiness of this production (elder daughter predicted, correctly, that this would fly over younger daughter's head), but it's not a leering sexuality; it's frank, funny, and urgent. When Bottom is transformed, he not only sports woven ears, but a wooden phallus hanging from his belt. Given the gentle, innocent fallibility of the character, we only hope that he will enjoy his erotic adventure -- which he does.

The cast were uniformly wonderful, but I particularly enjoyed Vivek Mishra, a Delhi actor who captured Peter Quince's exasperation, but also danced with expressive fluidity. When the cast brought the play to an end in a joyous and contagious song and dance, the audience clapped along spontaneously. I only wish we could have hung around for the impromptu cast discussion afterward, but younger daughter was slipping into a mid-autumn dream of her own. Her outstanding Grade Four teacher (who also taught elder daughter in Grade Five) had been somewhere behind us in the balcony, and caught us before we left in search of a taxi and younger daughter managed a sleepy greeting.

While madly putting holds on various MSND performances prior to the play, I had a chance to re-discover my two very favourite recorded productions, both done within a year of each other. The first is Jonathan Miller's interpretation, done as part of the BBC's Complete Plays of William Shakepeare for television in the late seventies and early eighties. It featured Helen Mirren as Titania, Peter McEnery as Oberon and Nigel Davenport as Theseus, but to my mind, the best thing of all about it was the "eternal quadrangle" of Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena as performed by Pippa Guard, Robert Lindsay, Nicky Henson, and Cherith Mellor, respectively. Overlapping each others' lines, struggling in muddy water, and bewildered by fairy forces, these are the funniest and most likeable versions of the lovers you're likely to find. I don't think this is available in DVD format outside of Region Two. The other is a 1982 Joseph Papp production for Shakespeare in the Park (Central Park, that is) with William Hurt as Oberon, a very young Christine Baranski as Helena and bizarrely, Emmanuel Lewis as the changeling boy that Titania is protecting. The lovers are very funny here too (their costumes scream "Eighties!!"), and William Hurt is very much William Hurt ("" -- I always said he must have attended the William Shatner School of Acting), but the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play is, hands down, the most hilarious rendition you'll see anywhere. Doubt this is available on DVD either. Sigh. See them if you can get your mitts on them, and if the Dash production comes your way (although it seems to have been around the world already), for heaven's sake, go.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

A soupçon of perspective

A footnote to the events of last week which have curtailed my blogging somewhat: When the Resident Fan Boy finally was admitted to the Neurology Ward after 24 hours in Emergency, he had a room-mate who had recently been transferred from Intensive Care. He was a young man, late teens or early twenties, who had been thrashed at a Hallowe'en party. I never actually saw him, as the curtains were drawn around his bed. All I could see and hear were his family's and his pregnant girlfriend's family's comings and goings, plus the occasional expletives. The girlfriend's mum came out to apologize, and I assured her I'd heard worse. When the family left for a dinner break, the RFB and and I continued to chat. Every few minutes, the young man would ask us to be quiet. He wasn't rude, but it was smack in the middle of visiting hours, and I'm afraid I flipped a bird in the direction of the curtains. It wasn't until later that I realized that the young man had no idea of what time it was, and that for all he knew, the Resident Fan Boy and I were gabbing late into the night.

For the remainder of his brief stay, my husband had quite a few exchanges with his neighbour, usually en route to the washroom:
"Did my family come to see me last night?"
"Yes, they did."
(Fifteen minutes later.)
"Did my family come to see me last night?"
"Yes, they were all here."
"Did they speak to me?"

When the Resident Fan Boy was safely home in the bosom of his own family, we often spoke of this and shook our heads at how bad it could have been for us, and wondered what the future held for a father-to-be whose short-term memory had been beaten out of him. We mulled over this until last Thursday. That's when his obituary appeared.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Painful Irony

"Crosswalk" by Vermont artist Gillian Klein
The springlike evenings that have marked early November may have been some comfort to the Resident Fan Boy as he lay stunned in the street after a cyclist slammed into him. My regular readers (all five of you) may recall my "gremlin" experience of a couple of weeks ago when I was assailed by fears of my husband's untimely demise on the verge of a business trip to Québec City. So, of course, when the crisis came, it was in a crosswalk less than two blocks from our house. The Resident Fan Boy remembers stepping into the street when the signal changed.

 That's all he remembers.

Back home, I was flitting between tasks, and beginning to wonder why my husband was late. I thought, given the balminess of the day, that he had chosen to walk home from downtown Ottawa which takes about 40 minutes. Elder daughter had left to do homework at a friend's, and of course, she didn't know the number. I had instructed her to call it in when she arrived, so when a classmate pounded on our door a few minutes later, I went prepared to say that elder daughter was gone, and as yet, unpinpointed.

But that wasn't why she was there. Her dad, who knows the Resident Fan Boy from church, had been driving his daughter home from hockey practice when they saw the Resident Fan Boy knocked to the pavement. Her father had the presence of mind to pull his car in front of the RFB's supine body, ignoring the honks and rude gestures from his fellow commuters. His daughter remembered we were up the block and hightailed it to our front steps.

I was attempting to keep calm. I didn't know where elder daughter was, and I couldn't leave younger daughter alone in the house. Luckily, the classmate guessed elder daughter's whereabouts and hauled out the ubiquitous cell phone.

 Somehow, I remembered to turn off the mini-quiches baking in the oven, and she agreed to wait for elder daughter at the house, while I led younger daughter down to the intersection where I could see flashing lights. Pounding on the traffic signal, I bounced impatiently on my heels watching the paramedics shift the Resident Fan Boy onto a body board. Several cars sailed through the red lights past the ambulance before I made it across the road.

It was, as I've noted, a warm evening and there was quite a crowd: the ashen-faced young cyclist who gave me a slip with his information; a medical student who had been waiting for a bus across the road; a pediatrician who patted my arm, saying apologetically, "Wrong kind of doctor!" and her husband. Of course, RFB's fellow church-goers were doing their best to reassure me and fill me in. 

The paramedics were asking me questions. "Hasn't he told you himself?" I stammered, gazing at my husband who looked back at me with mildly bewildered eyes, just before they had to tip the board to allow him to vomit. We were gently steered away before younger daughter saw this; she had begun to cry quietly.

Not much to do. Fellow Church-goer offered to drive younger daughter and me home to pick up things and proceed to the hospital. While my husband was loaded into the ambulance (his first post-accident memory), I watched the passing cars in fascination, honking impatiently, cutting each other off, their drivers chatting on cell phones, oblivious to the irony.

My late grandmother imagined Hell would be an airport. I've always imagined it would be an emergency room: bleak, noisy, frightening and dull, all at the same time. I was not overly surprised when the Resident Fan Boy didn't remember the accident, but I fought back the panic as he asked questions I'd already answered.

 I'm the daughter and the sister of physiotherapists. I know the symptoms of brain injury. At one point, they sat him up in a "peri-chair" to make room for other casualties. He crossed his legs and dozed, occasionally waking to complain of the pain in his head (from the road-rashed haemotoma on his right temple), and his dislocated shoulder.

The really frightening part came when the doctor arrived with the results of his CT-scan, and suddenly he was bustled back to bed.

Two "internal bruises" they said.
Transfer to the Civic campus of the Ottawa General Hospital, they said. 
Neurosurgeons, they said.

And, dear God, that's when I had to leave him, because our younger daughter is Special Needs and I had to get her to bed with the best semblance of normalcy I could muster. The nurses and doctor assured me they would take care of the Resident Fan Boy, but oh, I hated to leave him, all hurt and curled up awkwardly on his uninjured left side...

Home to smooth things over and prepare for a night of phoning Emergency at intervals ("slight bleeding to the brain", they told me at 2 am) and a day of getting younger daughter to second set of a battery of psycho-educational tests.

Obama was sweeping to victory in the States, and in bed, watching the older African-Americans, those who remember Little Rock and Selma and MLK, weep quietly during the acceptance speech, I grieved that Resident Fan Boy, a long-time election junkie, was missing this.

As of today, nearly 48 hours after the accident, the RFB is still in hospital getting mightily ticked off, which is the best sign of all I think. With each phone call and visit, he sounds more like himself.

But oh, you drivers, quit with the cutting off and honking and cell phones! And oh you cyclists, wear your helmets and remember you're a vehicle too! And as for us pedestrians? Practise defensive walking, I guess, because even crossing at the crosswalk with the signal is no guarantee...