Saturday, 28 May 2016

Left to her own device

I'd been waiting to see The Shakespeare Show for over a month. I mean, it's clearly my kind of entertainment: Shakespeare, David Tennant, Shakespeare, the cream of Britain's acting community with a couple of foreigners thrown in, Shakespeare, ballet, Shakespeare, musical theatre, Shakespeare, jazz, Shakespeare....

We arrived at the cinema early enough to snag our favourite seats in the middle of the back row. Soon, I was in my element. I even enjoyed the intense hip-hop performance about a quarter of the way into the two-hour show. That's when I started to become distracted by a bright light to my left.

A woman seated about four empty seats over appeared to be reading in a Kindle-like fashion on what was either a very large phone, or a very small tablet. She sat like a toad in white capris, with the device held out in front of her. Each time she shifted or tapped the screen, the glow would change and draw my eye back. I held up my ticket print-out to shield the left side of my face, and endeavoured to ignore her.

Every now and then, she'd set the device aside - presumably when something interested her in this pageant chockfull of different styles of delight. I let my hand fall, but shortly, the bright light was bobbing again.

As heaven is my witness, she was watching a video.

I debated inwardly. Should I take action? I wanted to throw something at her, or better still, hurl her damn device down to the bottom of the theatre, but that would cause more problems than it would solve, and a woman who comes to a special showing of a once-in-a-lifetime event and spends it reading and watching videos is probably not in the best of mental health herself.

What do you suppose would be her rationale?

I'm in the back row.

I don't have the sound on.

There's no one sitting immediately next to me.

I don't give a #*&@$%.

Most likely, she hadn't given this any thought at all.

About three quarters of the way through, she packed up and left. I sagged with relief, and settled to watch the show.

The two young men in front of us started texting.

Now, these guys were in some danger, because I was reaching the end of my rope and they were within an arm's reach. We were also watching Othello strangling Desdemona, and Lady Macbeth brandishing bloody daggers - fuel for my darkening fantasies.

These remained fantasies because I didn't want to embarrass my family nor disturb the other patrons who were attentively appreciating Judy Dench, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, and a host of others. Elder daughter, alas, picked up on my body language and thought it was directed at her. The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter were having a lovely time, being on the right side of elder daughter.

The lights came up and as I descended the side stairs, I mentioned the lady with a device to two kindly women preparing to leave. They gazed at me in astonishment: "Why did she come?"

That is the question.

The following is a much-discussed (and much shared) portion of the evening, featuring several Hamlets bickering over the correct delivery of the opening lines of the most famous soliloquy in English theatre. The "Hamlets" are, in order of appearance: Paapa Essiedu (the most recent of the Royal Shakepeare Company's Hamlets, age 25), Tim Minchin (Australian songwriter, comedian, and a particular favourite of elder daughter), Benedict Cumberbatch (being mistaken for Eddie Redmayne here), Dame Harriet Walter (an accomplished stage actress who is also known for films such as 1996's Sense and Sensibility, and is a niece of the late Christopher Lee), David Tennant, Rory Kinnear (apart from his stage accomplishments, a son of Richard Lester favourite Roy Kinnear), Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, and some guy from the audience.

What isn't shown in the clip is the aftermath. Paapa Essiedu, after all this hilarity, still has to deliver the soliloquy and win back the audience. (He does.)

'To be or not to be_' featuring Benedict Cumberbatch & Prince Charles - Shakespeare Live! - BBC from Mai Martin on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Carpe diem

I'm nipping into a supermarket for a quick purchase, so I slip down the side corridor, which ends behind the cash registers.

I'm listening to a podcast, earbuds in, so am momentarily confused as a lady wearing the store's worktop backs into me. Beyond her I glimpse a splayed arm.

I yank my earbuds out, and step to the side. A man is stretched out on his side, eyes unfocussed, limbs jerking in a seizure. An older man in some sort of uniform kneels by his head, supporting him and restraining him. I can't tell if the elder man is a paramedic or a security guard; I don't want to just stand and stare. I glance discreetly (I hope) over my shoulder as I make my way to the shelves, doing my best to get out of the way. The kneeling man seems to be consulting with a semi-circle of three supermarket employees.

Around us, business as usual. People are maneuvering their carts around the trembling, sprawled man -- there is just enough room to pass.

It feels callous to make my small purchase and leave, but I have no help to offer. It is clear that they are waiting for medical assistance.

I decide to depart by way of the main store, figuring a gurney or stretcher will need a clear way in through the corridor. I emerge into the street to find a young woman bearing down on me on her bicycle. As I sidle out of her way, I notice she's clad in a yellow visibility vest. She's a police officer, a vanguard of the approaching ambulance, which I don't hear for several long minutes. I'm at the bus stop when I spot it several blocks away, zigzagging its way through stubbornly oblivious motorists and pedestrians. It finally pulls up outside the supermarket, and after what seems to be a long pause, the paramedics climb out, set up the gurney and wait by the door where I was nearly bowled over.

My bus takes me away from this man's altered day. Gazing out at the passing buildings, I imagine his morning: sunny, with no hints of the sudden bend in the road.

Unbeknownst to me, a friend of mine is being driven down the Pat Bay Highway outside Victoria by her husband, who suddenly suffers a major stroke. In the confusion and panic, she grabs the wheel, ending up in a ditch with her neck broken. She will spend the next week visiting her speechless husband while hobbled by a body brace.

Last night, I learned of his death.

Every now and then, we are confronted with the unpredictability and fragility of our situation. As with the shaking man on the supermarket floor, I have no help to offer beyond prayer and an inadequately worded note.

Nothing to do but seize what handhold I can find and hang on for dear life.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Two solitudes (with a possible third)

The expression "Two Solitudes" comes from the 1945 novel of the same name by Hugh MacLennan.* The "solitudes" of those of anglophone Canada and francophone Canada, and the topic has come up a lot over the past seventy years, along with words like "separate" and "distinct".

Hades has two solitudes as well: there's Winter Ottawa and Summer Ottawa.  They're separate, distinct, and living here in Hades is a bit like living in two different cities -- different planets, even.

Winter Ottawa is a real solitude.  People are bundled into parkas and even those who - like me - don't drive, are carefully insulated against the weather and against human contact.  Our winter coats are mostly in the same dark shades, making us indistinguishable from one another.  The hoods, hats, and scarfs, along with heads bent against the wind, block off eye contact.

When summer comes to Ottawa, as it has this week with temperatures rising above twenty degrees Celsius for the first time in months, winter seems like a colourless dream.  Strangers acknowledge each other on the streets.  Acquaintances exchange greetings as if there has been a long separation -- which isn't far from the truth.

When winter comes again, this too will seem like a dream.  I will pace the harsh and narrow sidewalks and try, in vain, to recall what the pavement felt like, just like I cannot quite remember snow right now.

I have my own third little solitude.  Each summer I return to Demeter in Victoria, where Hades slips mercifully out of my grasp for a few brief weeks.

*MacLennan got the phrase from Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his Letters to a Young Poet (in the second-to-last paragraph).

Monday, 9 May 2016

Messages from the Spectrum: lost in the cloud

There is little wonder that one of younger daughter's favourite songs is "Over the Rainbow". She lives on the spectrum after all - the autistic spectrum, that is.

Last year, not long after she turned 19 and hence became an adult in this province, we decided we needed to start taking steps to greater independence before she broke free in frustration. So we got her a cell phone.

What became immediately evident is that this young woman, who struggles a bit with processing language and is often left tongue-tied when put on the spot, is a natural texter.

The past year has given us glimpses into her world: some startling, some warped, some touching, and most, eloquent.

I've been transcribing her messages to keep them safe "in the cloud". Maybe I should reach over that rainbow now and then to share a nugget from the pot of gold.  (Her texts are in bold; my responses in regular font.)

April 21st, 2016

There was a working dog at church today during the service!  It turned out there didn't appear to be any Sunday school because one of the little boys with blond hair wasn't there!  His name is Emery, which is kinda a very unusual name for boys and some who are his age!  He's probably like five years old or something rather!  Anyway, Dad finally got to announce your birthday and my sister's 24th birthday and the queen's and William Shakespeare's!  However, I didn't quite get to announce my 20th birthday that's coming up on the 10th of May!  Then we got a lift to where we live by one of  the gentlemen who goes to the church!  I can't remember his name!  Anyway, we are at the Second Cup and we believe you and the 24 year old know what you want from there!  I'm sure I can get the chance to announce that I just turned 20 in May!

April 30th, 2016
My eyebrows are done!  They are beautiful now!  Jessica is going to be away because she's going to have her baby!  I hope it's a cute and handsome boy!  Anyway, Jessica has hired a nice lady named Linda to do my eyebrows and I hope she knows a lot about eyebrows but she'll figure it out!  I hope she's as lovely as I am!  Anyway we're at Cora's!  See ya soon! :)

You like boy babies better than girl babies?  I'll look forward to seeing your lovely brows - all ready for going out tonight!

I know! And I think a boy baby would be the best that Jessica should get pregnant with!  I hope he's born soon!  Anyway Cora's is getting noisy because of a few ladies roaring and cheering and even screaming because of a birthday party they're celebrating or something!  They were even clapping loudly!  But that's the end of that!  OTG!

I'm glad it has quieted down a bit, so you can enjoy your lunch!  It's going to be *very* loud at Jennifer's house after she has had her baby!

My brow employee's name isn't Jennifer!  It's Jessica!  That's the name I typed in!  "Jennifer" has two "n"s, two "e"s, an "f" and an "r"!
"Jessica" has two "s"s, one "e, a "c" and an "a"!
It is going to be at her house!  Much louder than today at Cora's!  Because in life, a woman has to yell and scream a lot when her baby is about to come out of her!  The doctor or nurse has to tell her to push until the baby's born! And when it is, it cries and coos a little!  I remember sounding like that when I was born!

May 1st, 2016

We are late!  It is all the bus driver's fault for not show up on time!  Now we've missed out on the opening hymn!  We also missed out on the cantor hymn!  Even the beginning of the gradual hymn!  There's also no Sunday school again!  The cute little blond haired boy is not here!  Not even any other little boy with a different hair colour!

Alas, while I was transferring these messages from the document to which I'd been saving them, that document disappeared into cyberspace.  Now I have to start saving them all over again.

The clouds, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, are always getting in my way.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Jingle Dog

In Canada this week, the papers have been full of the trial and conviction of the father and mother whose nineteen-month-old son died of meningitis because they thought he had croup, and, believing in natural remedies, gave him mixtures containing horse radish, garlic, and onions, among other things before consulting with a naturopath. By the time they realized the severity of the little boy's illness and took him to hospital, he was beyond medical help.

Well, you can imagine the debate, and the largely unhelpful comments accompanying the online articles, mostly along the lines of:  "How could they not know how sick he was?"

The Resident Fan Boy and I know all too well how imperceptibly illness can creep up on a small body.  The week after elder daughter turned six, younger daughter slid quietly into lassitude.  She didn't seem seriously sick, but she kept drifting off to sleep.  We'd find her sprawled across the living room carpet where she had been playing, the cat sitting on guard beside her.

Our regular family physician was on holiday, but the locum was attentive.  I think we took younger daughter to the doctor's office three times that week as she failed to improve - or worsen.

That Friday, I was observing an ESL teaching practicum, a nicely flexible job that I did for the university.  The Resident Fan Boy stayed home from his work to take younger daughter to the doctor, as we'd prearranged as a follow-up to the previous appointment.  I returned from the morning class to find the house empty and a message on the answering machine.  The locum had sent them straight to the hospital.

I frantically starting throwing clothes, diapers, and other supplies into a packsack, weeping to myself:  "Oh my little darling, she'll be so frightened!"

The RFB knew I'd arrived when the nurse informed him that his daughter's grandmother had come.  For some reason, she thought she should repeat this story to me as she led me through the corridors.  I had no time to be irritated; younger daughter, flopped against the RFB's shoulder, caught sight of me, and started arching backwards, crying out and reaching for me.  I automatically lunged toward her, and as I took her in my arms, she sagged bonelessly against me, clinging to my neck.  She was clad only in a diaper and already hooked up to an IV.

When I placed her in the crib in her hospital room, I rummaged in the bag I'd flung together, and produced Jingle Dog, a favourite toy that one of my English cousins had given her the previous autumn.  It was the first time I'd seen her smile in a week.

The RFB went home to resume care for elder daughter, and I spent the night snatching sleep on the love-seat next to younger daughter's crib, not quite having the nerve to try to crawl in with her.  In the morning, the nurses discovered that she liked Pedialyte popsicles, and soon took her off the IV drip.  Late that afternoon, after a very long wait for a doctor to sign her out, we took her home.

All through their childhoods, we vaccinated our daughters and took them to doctors regularly.  I'm not sure that makes us superior parents; we still slid into this crisis doing all the "right" things.  We were lucky - younger daughter came home from the hospital. I do know people who do not vaccinate and who distrust doctors, like the mother and father who have lost their son.  None of these people are stupid or uncaring.

It's just hard to grasp how gradually, then how quickly, things can go wrong.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The sorrow and the curry

Oh sweet heaven, elder daughter is having a curry week. I loathe curry and am sickened by the stench of it. Elder daughter and the Resident Fan Boy love curry and thus experience the smell as an aroma. Younger daughter has not expressed an opinion, nor seems to notice.

I had an inkling that this would be a problem from the get-go. When I cook the Christmas tourtières, the fragrance lingers for a week -- the thing is, nobody minds because to my children, it's how Christmas smells.

Elder daughter tried to mitigate the curry odour by cooking a week's worth of work lunches while we were out at a concert, but I was bludgeoned by the smell on our return. I spent the better part of an hour before going to bed deodorizing the kitchen drains with salt, vinegar and baking soda, then scrubbing out the burners and stove top. I even had the RFB take out the compost, and wiped out the container.

Still my eyes burned, and the back of my throat constricted. I took herbal sleeping aids to deaden my senses, but woke up with the stale ghost of curry in my mouth. Soon I was driven out into the misty morning, gulping in the rain-washed air, and half-wishing it would sprinkle inside our house. From the safety of a coffee shop, I cudgelled my brain for a solution. I am morally opposed to those so-called air fresheners that claim to clean your house of pet-smells and cooking fish-smells, but I was desperate, so marched to the supermarket, searched out the most neutral spray, and, opening windows throughout the house, went after the curtains, furniture, and carpets that I suspected of harbouring and prolonging the stink. It seemed to help a little, though I could still detect a stubborn whiff in the area of the stove.

Elder daughter went out to play board-games with friends (that's a thing these days), and texted her father, complaining about the spray I'd used, and would the smell be gone by the time she got home?

It was, but the curry carried on.

This morning, elder daughter reheated one of her curry dishes to pack it for work. The smell, as predicted, has lingered, but not with the acridity of the weekend.

I hate to deprive her of what is obviously a culinary delight, but I have to live here too, and it's not like I haven't had to make sacrifices over the years. Maybe she can go curry-crazy when I'm in Victoria for the summer?