Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When We Were Very Young

It’s the most special book in my collection of special books. The story of how it came to be so may not seem remarkable, and yet for me any reminder of it leaves me awash in feelings of being known and loved, of being intelligent and encouraged, of having choices and having those choices honoured. The story I attach to it might not even be accurate, but it is so much a part of my own mythology that no amount of reality would change the truth of it for me.

This is what I remember: when I was very young; well, more accurately now that I was six, my mom and I took a trip to the neighbouring “big town” from the bookless little hovel of a village we lived in. I wasn’t in school yet; having a January birthday meant I didn’t start school until I was 6 and a half. That last year at home was, in many ways, a long and lonely one. My sisters left early in the morning on a school bus that took an hour each way – most of the year they left in darkness and returned after dusk – and got home just in time for dinner, maybe an hour of play, and bedtime. My best friend Shiney who lived right next door had also started school. Her mom and I were equally lonely and often entertained each other, yet it remained a long and lonely year.

I remember playing school with my mom, as we had done since my middle sister started coming home and sharing her lessons with me. I read and drew and learned my letters and ate GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts). For mom I think it was a way to keep me quiet and contained for however long it worked. For me it was a chance to feel as big as my sisters and Shiney. I loved learning. I still do.

Then one day, probably not on my actual birthday but sometime near it, Mom and I took a trip. A road trip in winter in that region of the hinterland is always a risky business, so maybe we waited for spring, though I can’t imagine my birthday present being withheld that long, and when you live in those conditions you just deal with them. Maybe it was slightly before my birthday and the present got wrapped in shiny paper and given to me on time. Those details are sparse. What I do remember is the book. A real book. A big, hard-cover book with a shiny paper wrapper that I was to be very vary careful with. And a bear. An ultra-soft black and white bear with shiny eyes and a felt tongue sticking out.

I still have that bear in a box in storage. For decades he has had only the tiny remains of a tongue. Until I was married I slept with him every night. His stomach carries the brown reminder of my pubescent growth spurt when my nose bled almost nightly. Most of the blood was cleaned up; only a spot remains. For some reason I remember choosing him from the dingy department store of that slushy town. He is and was a very special bear. 

And he was a two-part present, since I also got a magical book – The World of Christopher Robin, 1958 edition, by A.A. Milne with original AND new illustrations by E.H. Shepard. I might have seen some of the stories on The World of Disney, before they were Disneyfied (by which I will always mean ruined). I’m not sure how I knew I wanted it. It isn’t even the stories – The World of Christopher Robin is the poem collections “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six.” There’s very little of Christopher’s animal friends in it. But I don't know if I've ever had a better present.

Post dust-cover
I also don’t know how a not-very careful little girl took such good care of it. The dust cover had only a slight tear in it until a pet rabbit got at it a few years ago. The book itself is still spotless. And there are so many of the poems that I still remember at least parts of by heart:  Vesper, King John’s Christmas, The Dormouse and the Doctor, Buckingham Palace … .

This morning I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie “Goodbye,Christopher Robin.” It purports to be the story behind the story, and in just the trailer I was reminded of the poems:  a little boy bows his little golden head in prayer and Vespers echos “hush, hush whisper who dares, Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.” The poem took on even more meaning for me when I had my own little golden haired boys. I haven’t lined up for a movie on opening night in years, but I anticipate doing it for this one. I anticipate being rapt with nostalgia. I anticipate happy tears. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Flashback fairy tale

I was happy. It was a solid warm purr in my belly that I carried with me. I walked tall, at ease with myself and the world. I had confidence - perhaps beyond proof - and an eagerness to see myself how he did.
The transforming magic of his look, like a fairy-godmother's wand, made my drudgery sparkle and smoothed my belly. It sparked desire on the ashes of fatigue and fear.
That magic lingered. After the joy was gone. After the fatigue returned. After the darkness descended. The magic never waned. It just got scattered in a puff of wind, focused in another direction.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

too long to tweet #IAmGreen-ish

Excuse me while I wax political: 

My Twitter timeline has been filled for the last day or so with #IamGreen tweets stating why people are choosing to vote for their BC Green candidate in our provincial election on May 9. I have debated participating in the fray, partly because I have a number of staunch NDP supporters in my timeline who I adore and respect and do not want to offend, and partly because how I vote is no one else's business. Mr. Green didn't even ask me who I voted for, and he's a politician! But I've had more than one "Vote NDP or else" type ad directed at me, and, frankly, I'm over it. 

Here's what the pundits won't see on May 10 when they sit down to analyze the 2013 v. 2017 voting results and I show up (anonymously in what I assume will be a blob of X number fewer NDP, Liberal and non-voter votes to X number more BC Green votes): the BC Greens didn't steal my vote from the NDP. The BC Greens gave me something to vote FOR that kept me from not voting at all. This is the only election since I first voted in 1986 that I have considered sitting out entirely.

Yes, I voted NDP last time around, and I imagine they thought I would this time. I'm betting that voters are like donors and it's easier to hold on to them than to get new ones. In 2013 I knew my NDP candidate and respected her work, so I voted for her. That does not give the NDP a lifetime right to my vote. I've also previously voted Progressive Conservative federally (I was young and not yet thinking for myself), Liberal federally, and NDP federally. I have no idea what I've voted provincially, but I know it hasn't been for just one party. 

This time, the Lieberals (sp. purposeful) make me nauseous, so that leaves a 2-party race for my vote. I know candidates from both the NDP and the BC Greens and have met both leaders. I also read the BC Green's policy book (before their campaign platform was announced), and read both party platforms. I have asked questions both online and in-person of the NDP and the BC Greens. From all of that I chose based on a number of factors - direct, fully-costed, evidence-based answers were a big factor, but so was party leadership, fiscal transparency, platform costing, and the BC Greens refusal to accept donations from anyone but individual voters. The BC Greens also have an exciting policy framework on intergenerational equity that makes me think at some point my sons might have a shot at good-paying jobs, affordable education, and maybe even home ownership without having to leave BC. No one else gives me that hope. 

And so on the first day of advanced voting, I voted BC Green. And just like the NDP before them, the Greens do not now have a lifetime hold on my vote. They get a chance to prove themselves between now and 2021. Whether only the party leader gets returned to the legislature, or they secure enough MLAs to achieve official party status, or they (through the magic of BC politic's renowned volatility) become the official opposition or even form government really doesn't matter in terms of their hold on my vote. My vote is a trust I place on someone saying "I'll give you this 4-year chance to prove my faith in you is justified. At the end of the 4 years we'll re-assess." That's how democracy works. 

The NDP didn't do that. They didn't prove themselves. I have zero evidence that my current NDP MLA did anything to try to effect positive change while in office. He's a nice guy, but that's not enough. Moreover, many NDP supporters have been dismissive, insulting, rude and dishonest in trying to rally support for their party. It's so unnecessary and repellant. I have a dear friend and staunch NDP volunteer who has only focused on why she LOVES the NDP - the candidates, their leader, and their policies. She makes me stop to take a closer look. This other approach - the lying, insulting, nastiness that insinuates I'm too stupid to make an informed choice or brainwashed, or ... it's a huge turn-off. 

I hope you vote. Sorry, make that I hope you get informed, and then I hope you vote. And I really hope you vote FOR something you believe in rather than from fear or ignorance. And I hope you're respectful of your friends, colleagues, neighbours and family members who vote differently.

By the way, want some non-partisan information? Check out Generation Squeeze's "Swamplight on the BC Election":


We now return to our regularly scheduled navel gazing. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

50

It's one thing when your older sisters turn 50, as mine have over the past few years. "Older" is right there in their labels, not as a put-down but as a statement of fact. When your closest and 'oldest'  (meaning longest serving) friends start doing so, however, it's a bit of a cold slap in the face. 

So happy to get to celebrate with this beauty!
Two weeks ago my darling Diva had her Canadian 50th birthday party before whizzing off for a lovely family trip to Mexico for the actual day. Diva and I have moved in and out of each other's orbits since we were 11 & 12 respectively. However, it wasn't until we both moved to Victoria, shortly before her 40th, that we really became bosom friends. In fact, celebrations of that major birthday were the first photos I posted on Facebook. And now, suddenly, in the flash of a moment filled with love, loss, grief, near misses, dodged bullets, changes, samenesses, weight lost and gained, dreams attempted and postponed, new goals and old habits, here we are celebrating 50. 

I can't believe someone took this picture before
dragging us out of there. 
The day after the Diva's party one of my earliest chums, a man I haven't seen since we were teens, also posted about his 50th birthday party. But but but ... the last time I saw him he was 16. How can this be? Even more confusing, how can the boy I sat in this puddle with be a father, husband, leading firefighter? How can things change so much while I still feel so ... me.

It still breaks my heart that Dale didn't make it. Bobby has. The Rons will, God willing. And late next month it will be my Shiney. The day after Freckles clocks out of 50 Shiney will log into it. My other half since I was 3. My sounding board. One of two people I can tell anything. She will turn 50. And then it will be only me waiting for that milestone alone. Oh no, of course not truly alone, but without the company that has done these things with me for so long - they've all gone before. 

Perhaps my incredulity is a factor of being the youngest child. I never clung to my actual youth since the teen years weren't a joy for me, but there is some call of "I'm not ready" that is seeping ever louder through my daily life. Some resistance. Some feeling of loss. I question almost constantly how I've gotten this far with so many backwards steps. I feel the heavy impossibility of fixing my mistakes with so much time gone. I dread the future having wasted so much of the past. And yet the alternative, as we all know, is even less appealing. We have lost so many too soon. I know what their families would give to see them age.

And honestly, this isn't so much about physical age. I'm very clear I lucked out on the ageing gene lottery. I haven't taken the care of my body that I could have, and yet 'almost 50' is not what shows in the mirror or in photos. But the creaking and the aches. The moaning cacophony of this body. Those too are a reality much like the shortening of time.

It turns out I have nothing to say here. Nothing new or clever or witty. I just wanted to share this impending doom that isn't a doom at all. In fact, it's quite meaningless in so many ways. "Just a number," so they tell me. "It's all in how you feel," they console.

I feel old. And I feel sorry. And, I feel oh so grateful, especially to think of all the friends I've had for lo these many years and to celebrate their milestones with them. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

songs in the key of me

I had the distinct and unique pleasure last night to accompany Mr. Green and his dad to an Arlo Guthrie concert. To be honest, I dared not admit my deep ignorance of folk music in general or the Guthrie family legacy in particular to my dates given their 6 months of anticipation. I don't know why, but as soon as Mr. Green mentioned the concert to me in October I knew I wanted to be there. And I'm so glad that just 6 weeks into 'catching up' with Mr. Green I said yes to a concert that was 6 months away. For that yes I got a lesson in melody, history and being human. 

According to Arlo, when he was a kid folk music was just his dad (the legendary Woody Guthrie, whose iconic song "This Land is Your Land" I thought was Canadian until I was at least 30 and even when I heard the other version I thought "the damn Americans would steal and wreck something that so beautifully tells the story of Canada") and Woody's friends sitting around singing sea shanties, working songs, and other assorted folk songs from around the country. What set these men apart was that they were the first ones to begin recording those ancient tunes. Apparently, they weren't necessarily songwriters, though of course there are notable exceptions. In Arlo's words, folk music now mostly seems to be "songs in the key of me." What a line. As an opening statement and commentary on modern life, in general, that'll make you sit up and listen. 

I know the picture is fuzzy. Pretend it's the blue haze of Woodstock. 
One highlight of the evening for me was the keyboardist, who we eventually learned is Arlo's son Abe. I don't think I've ever seen such a consistent scene of joy as Abe Guthrie making music. His face was both serene and excited - I've dubbed it "resting bliss face" and hope it catches on like the more usual version has. 

At one point in the evening, I was reminded why I watch and re-watch The Waltons - for the peace. For the reassurance that what has always mattered - kindness, honesty, truth - still matters. It all felt so homey and familiar despite my not knowing most of the songs. I suppose that's the point of folk music - to wrap you in a warm, soft blanket while teaching you again to be human. It was poignant and political. Subversive and holy. I cried to "When a Soldier Makes it Home" and sang with gusto to the encore, the CANADIAN VERSION of "This and is Your Land." 

There was so much great music and story that I wish I could recreate it all. I can't, of course. There was plenty of Bob Dylan, both stories and songs. A fleeting reference to Johnn Cash and the "Train Song Genre" before playing "City of New Orleans." "Mr. Tambourine Man," after a memorial tribute to the man who inspired the song and passed away a week ago.

I can't say Arlo Guthrie's voice would be my normal preference - I like my big over-singers - but that magical blend of melody, history and humanity. Oh, I wish you were there. If you ever get the chance for one of Arlo Guthrie's musical life lessons, seize it. Seize it and smile.  
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