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Archive for the month “November, 2015”

California 

I think California is in my blood, as my family, certainly not during The Gold Rush but sometime later sought a better and warmer life in California. My father’s aunties – Dora and Annie arrived and settled in Los Angeles. They had their children, Annette, Julius and Frances who married, had children and grandchildren in that state. And cousin Harry Geller from New York moved there too, somehow involved in the music business with a record or two under his belt. When we visited to celebrate one of my sister’s birthdays, Harry’s son in a station wagon drove us through the Hollywood hills and we felt very special.
I have no family tree so there is a tangle of branches, one that also involves an Uncle Joe, my grandmother Molly’s brother I think. He died penniless in Miami. He was, so the family gossip goes, a lover of show girls, a gambler, a “ good guy”: his profession an auctioneer, flitting all over the country. The first time my family visited LA, he must have been working Las Vegas and visiting his sisters in LA because he took us to a posh restaurant called Sportsmanship’s Lodge where we caught our fish for dinner. At least surprisingly, I did. He gifted my sister and me with silver pearl necklaces which I still keep in one of my jewelry drawers. So impressed was I by this handsome renegade that I wrote him a poem. I recall he seemed touched. He seemed dashing and cool, tipping everyone and gliding through that luxurious restaurant. To a young girl, he was the embodiment of suave and charming, a Jewish Clark Gabel or Harrison Ford, a guy with panache.
LA was a merry- go- round of novel experiences and sensations when I was barely eight years old: colourful family barbecues, mini amusement parks, sparkle, fun and sun. While I was struck by the lure of an endless summer, my father struggled with the dense and poisonous air that clogged the skies and so he returned home early as the smog caused him tremendous breathing difficulties, but my mother, sister and I stayed on: to be charmed and dined by the mishpocha in this place of low houses and incredible vistas.

This was my first taste of a life style that was relaxed and welcoming. Farmer’s Market with its fruits, vegetables and Mexican crafts, Disneyland with all its incredible lands that spread for acres. We panned for gold at Knoxberry Farm and we were loved and catered to by our glamourous peddlepusher clad family, frolicking in their crystal pools that glistened in the never ending sun. My first bite of the magic apple entreated me for more.

Later when I had completed Grade 10, I was allowed to travel by train, sitting up, for three days and nights -all by myself, even having to change trains in Chicago- to visit my mother’s sister’s family who also had recently relocated to LA. I chortle now for I would not have allowed my fifteen year old daughters to set off by themselves, but I do recall low voices arguing at night between my parents before that summer trip, but my mother surmising that my grandparents would be there later in the summer to supervise. Ha! Only then did my father finally succumb to our consolidated nonstop pleadings.
That summer was a whirlwind where I learned parents existed as only landscape, that teenagers moved in packs, rose before the sun or stayed out all night, apparently hunting grunions, that girls did not wear girdles, that they knew how to apply eyeliner and the only way to get to the beach was on the back of a motorcycle. It was froth for me that summer. I felt I belonged, that I had friends and I was liked not for what I did, how much money my parents had, what synagogue or country club I belonged to (NOT), how I looked, or what I had accomplished in school, but for me: whoever that might be and was evolving.
When the summer was over and the grandparents much more solicitous that summer of my aunt than myself, drove me to the train station, I wept copiously and clung to my cousins who had provided me deep insight into how adolescents should live, and the true meaning of freedom. My grandfather in amazement remarked he had only seen such grievous parting when families were torn apart in Europe to avoid the holocaust.
For me the sweetness of those days, of belonging to a roving herd of happy accepting kids contrasted markedly to the snobs at my school who had demarcated the lines that separated cool rich people like them with unkempt, socially awkward skrags such as myself. Even when I began my life back at home, my few friends disparaged of the language I had acquired during my summer sojourn. Into my sentences, I casually dropped such exclamations as ”bitchen” or “boss” as my Californian friends had as they lazily tanned and hung around Hermosa Beach or by the surfside of warming fires at night. In spite of the looks and raised eyebrows in Grade 11, I felt lighter, happier for my summer experiences.
I would return to California every few years, as my cousins inviting me, wanting to be part of their gang who partied, ate new and different foods and relaxed on the beach for hours. I even met my first real boyfriend there. I certainly learned how to tame my curly hair and rid myself of split ends.
Still, there was a shadow of disbelief regarding this lotus land, in stories passed down. For once my father’s grandparents had also packed up, intending to cast their lot with Dora and Annie in the Golden City. The story I heard was that polio had begun its devastation there and my grandmother fearful that her chubby children, but especially her beloved Solly might succumb, prevailed on my grandfather to return to Toronto.
She must have been terrified as I had heard that my stern and haughty grandfather who spent every Friday with his family ,berating my grandmother and accusing her of wasting their hard earned cash on new fangled and modern appliances such as washing machines, actually prevailed and they came back here. Life was hard and both grandparents labored for Tiptop Tailors, artisans, and perfectionists both. Ironically my father succumbed to polio when he was 29, I wondering if he had stayed on in Lala land, would he have escaped the cumbersome braces and necessary crutches and lead another life, free to walk holding his grandchildren? Would his attitude towards me differed?
My aunt Marion, born Minnie, hated her father’s father who was blind. According to her and her sister Goldi, it was rumoured he groped the granddaughters. My grandparent’s courtship that had begun with his gift of extravagant hats devolved into my grandfather tearing them to ribbons before my grandmother’s eyes. As well, my father would retell bitterly, his father hid chocolate medallions that the children loved, rarely sharing them. My father vowed never to argue about money as his parents had. So no matter how small his income, he never fought over finances with my mother, leaving her to figure out how to stretch the small amounts he earned from his passion: the perfection of sound from his investigations with condensers, tubes, circuitry that covered all of our cake boxes en route to creating the perfection of music and sound. When I think of my father, I see him, sitting at his worktable, focused inward, still, and listening to some sound he is coaxing from a piece of equipment, centred, unmoving, fixed in his investigation and pursuit of musical excellence.
Although our family did not derive much from his work, we always had the best of food and that was sufficient. Several times a year we would drive to Buffalo and purchase our clothes, or search the sales in Toronto. As a girl, my profound embarrassment involved standing at the corner bus stop of Eglinton and Bathurst with shopping bags that I implored my mother to turn inside out, bags that hid underware purchased from Honest Ed’s. I, fearful that some deb from school might see me and laugh at another transgression.
So my father’s parents had returned home to the drudgery of the sewing machines at Tiptop Tailors. I don’t think they ever forgave one another, only adding fuel to their fire. I recall the Saturdays that they visited. As the sun was setting, they came to the back of our store and into our living room behind the door, sinking deeply into the deep pink chairs in the corners of the room.
I think my grandmother’s face lit up when she saw my father. My poor mother always with the burden of cooking, running up and downstairs, ironing, cooking, making life seem as normal as possible, even interrupted should she try and bake a cake because customers had come into the store. When the grandparents approached every Saturday, she was always ready with supper, barely able to conceal her week’s exhaustion on her thin body, often lamenting why Saturday for those suppers?
Nights were the worst for her as she feared my father on a service calls to install hi fis or fix television sets might slip and fall in the snow, and how would he lift his braces-enveloped body from the ice and mounds of snow. I remember her sitting hunched on a couch, her eyes far away in worry. Only on Tuesday evening would the limping hunched Mrs. Ward appear to babysit us so my parents could go to a show.
So many years later, the call of California in my ears, with my own young family, we explored the coast line, delirious in Napa’s wine country, haunted by San Simeon’s Hearst castle, driving along Big Sur even in the foggy mornings to that miraculous zoo in San Diego where my parents had taken me long ago.
California holds for me so many memories at pivotal moments in me life, moments that buoyed me up, and floated me away from my ordinary self back home. Not surprisingly I continue to return, seeking the sun and friendship I experienced so long ago.

 

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Before the Election

In yesterday’s Globe( October 3)
Ian Brown conjures an interesting picture of Justin Trudeau, impressing me more than when I heard him speak. Towards the conclusion of his article Brown writes “ When everything is performance, nothing is performance: It’s all real.” This statement reminded me of Philip Roth in American Pastoral when one of his characters comments that beneath the surface, there was only more surface. This leads me to my realization that Don Draper from Mad Men, elevated advertisement and consumerism by the lies that billboards boast to make us believe something- is so much better, so idealized than what it is. And that notion has sustained us weary travellers in our desire to think the ideal presented is truth, not just concocted phrases and images to deceive. Playing with our desire for the good and beautiful, charming us into a false state so we can be persuaded and lead -in Draper’s case: so we, as the consumer, the client will buy into and for a product. 

Im not saying that is case for Trudeau.Maybe he is more than I thought. Certainly Brown probing and elegiac article makes me want to reconsider Trudeau as possible leader.( As I publish this, Trudeau has been well elected, proving to his antagonists that he was “ready”, and more than just hair).

 Still, my understanding of the performance statement in regards to any individual is that perhaps the melding of performances in real and professional lives can produce a seamless or so called “ authentic” person. My husband more darkly says , that in fact, that performance is just that, performance, a thin enactment to make us believe that there is substance when really there is none. Again, we try and sort out the meaning of words, denotation and connotation always at odds. We debated our views this morning over bagels. Me, the forever disappointed optimist persisting in my perspective; my husband more realistically , perhaps,unbending in his. Me, wanting to drink coca cola with Draper on the beach in the sun.

 I laugh to think that the words I hear and that are bandied about in 2015 are ones from my doctoral program back in 1996. We spent ages discussing what “ authentic” really meant as everyone of course wants to be  real and authentic and gee, mom, I really am a sweet, corn-husking, lovable type with no artifice.

 Back from a conference, the husband relayed that “ reflective practitioner” was the hot topic for lawyers there too. Ha. Connelly and Clandinin might wonder at why it has taken so long for such terms to be appropriated in the open. Universities and books have been telling students forever to be reflective and with that, the rise of the first person “I” to substantiate  a bias that is built on the thoughtful pondering of who I am when I write something ;and avoid the brashness of first impressions or equally as bad, the omniscient voice that like G-d seems to see, hear and know everything. For ages, journals would not accept the very “non- scientific “evidence that accrued with articles using “I” ,as if statistics and such are not skewed by the I,  the scientist, the researcher who also measures, calculates and hopes to prove his/ her certain thesis with a particular perspective.

 My husband may have also heard “ multiple intelligences” or “ diversity ” bandied about in his session too. I guffaw at how long it has taken for these phrases to enter into professional conversations. And then I lament that when they do, the meaning is warped and changed until the expressions become pieces of overchewed gum having lost their original intent along with their meaning, not to mention their flavor. So it happens when terms go public; they become public property. At least emojis are pretty clear as to their meaning! As always when a phrase or word enters a larger arena, the irony of wanting a thought to be more wide spread is to exert impact on the life of a society, but in doing so, the spin doctors spin it to pieces that have little connection to the intended idea behind it. This bothers me greatly. No longer authentic.😤

 Once -people possessed values of responsibility, hard work, truthfulness. We grew up with these notions. Now they are mere words that describe how we should be, but they are  morphed to fit a variety of molds and occasions, like applied makeup over the real visage.

 I don’t know if we can blame technology , or if it is just change that older people rebel against, wanting and desiring the authentic, the honest, the true- which we know can differ from person to person. I find it troubling. Sometimes I think we are like Alice down the rabbit hole, not being able to discern what is up and what is down, chasing the red queen around the garden.

 For me, it is the arts, the wordless beauty of art, dance and music that stands alone without someone lacquering over what is there. I can see, hear and watch with my own eyes and ears and communicate with the work directly, ferreting out a meaning intended or not by the artist. His/her performance/painting is the thing itself. I, the responder, put my own spin on it, interpreting it as I will. I am not told how to think about the thing unless I chose to read the critic. My relationship is direct. The thing stands for itself.

 But how do we know that the “performance” of a politician is in itself the thing itself, the result of belief and hard work that has not been corrupted by a desire to win, to reach, to be morphed when needed into something else? 

Parenting 2015

I heard the story of a well known pediatrician when finally allowed to babysit his first grandkid was admonished, “ Now if there’s an issue, we’ve left the name of our doctor. Please call her”. So it goes that we, the boomers are feeling discredited by our children in many realms; as if they had discovered all the whys and wherefores of child rearing, sourly smiling at us tottering dinosaurs whose forays into Dr. Benjamin Spock and Burton L. White were to be relegated to the burning pile.
 Yet sometimes I wonder how keen and alert I really was as a parent. My youngest daughter ‘s interest resides in death. And in deed, the trajectory of her professional life has revolved around caring for terminally ill children, addressing the needs of military personnel who have risked death and suffer from PTSD, working with the siblings of children who are deceased and now researching the words of the dying under the guidance of Raymond Moody who coined the phrase “near death experience”.

She says that as a young girl she was always plagued by thoughts of death.

However, when I recall her growing up years amidst childhood tantrums, mischievous tricks and schemes and teenage rebellion, I could not discern a fascination with the morbid. Did she occasionally visit the warmth of our bed when witches visited her or nighttime fears corrupted her sleep?

Yes.
Did she compose stories of heroines much like limp Victorian consumptives with names like Lavender who succumbed to deadly illnesses?

 Yes.

But did my girl badger me with questions surrounding death and dying or an afterlife?

Not that I can recall.
Yet her older sister also relates that she too was on the ready should Nazis or murderers invade our house. She tells me there was a sweet spot beneath the stairs that she reasoned would keep her safe. Even forty years later, she explains she has an escape plan should there be a zombie invasion.

My husband blames me for prefacing many sentences with “ I’m afraid…” although for me, this phrasing was an amulet, a reverse psychology plea to the universe to keep the demons away. So I wore my fears as a shield, taunting but not truly expecting the onslaught of horned toads, spotted dragons or masked villains to ravage and tear me apart, disrupting my life.

 I, of course, blame my mother, who had real reasons to fear. She recalled a picnic in Poland, a spring afternoon, a freshly ironed tablecloth set on the grass and the thunder of horses’ hooves as Cossacks approached and her father swept her up beneath his arm and away from danger. She also recalled being kidnapped but refusing to hand over her doll with the sleeping eyes, even though her sister did. From my mother’s true dramas I segued into holocaust tales where terrible thoughts admittedly crept into my head, even as I safely nestled into a soft chair at the library and my mother’s promise of a milkshake on the way home.
Apparently, my seedling fears were not to be scattered to the wind but instead planted themselves deep into my girls’ imaginative heads. And I, embarrassed to admit, had not taken their words seriously enough. Or perhaps as a working mother with three kids all below the age of seven, I was too exhausted to analyze their predictions and spurious concerns. I preferred instead the physical hug or squeeze , the brush of nighttime kiss as they finally closed their eyes at the end of a long day.
 I think I might have sung out “ Don’ t worry! You’re OK. Or the proverbial soother, ‘”Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite”. Now I reflect those bed bugs must have had laser shooting eyes, green tentacles and the ability to pinch and terrify my pyjamed tots.
So I thought we were good parents providing the necessities for our offspring: being there with the necessary right words when needed, but their memories tell us NO. There were gaps, places and scary stuff that we did not cover- places where fears of wild things made lasting claw marks on their innocence. 

Mea culpa, kids.

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