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Hitler’s Tasters

From earliest ages, we have poured ourselves into holocaust literature, trying to understand, witness, empathize. For the most part, the perspective has been a Jewish one, sometimes a scholarly dissertation, a history book, a probe into evil, a horrifying tale or memoir. And we are mystified, amazed, speechless. We are fascinated, distracted, hurt, aware, for we as survivors, the children or cousins or descendants or friends of survivors are only able to glimpse the horrors we did not experience. Thank G-d.

As years pass and more distance accumulates, we can stand slightly apart and instead of engulfed in tears and anger, we are able to glean other stories, perhaps not written by those whose narratives are first hand. In At the Wolfs Table by Rosella Postorino, she rewrites the story of the last surviving woman tester, Margaret Wolk, forced to taste Hitler’s food before he did. Although Postorino changes Margaret’s name to Rosa, recalling her own name, Rosella ,the author, personally embodies the question of the protagonist faced with a terrible moral dilemma : What would I do if…..? By sampling Hitler’s food, Rosa/Margaret is ensuring Hitler’s survival, and knowingly supports his war endeavours and atrocities. Obsessed with her protagonist’s issues of guilt and responsibility, Postorino states, “We cannot ask everyone to be a hero, and I wanted to tell the story of an ordinary woman.”

Margaret Wolk was a secretary living in Berlin in 1941, married to Karl, with Jewish friends. Her husband departed for war and her apartment was bombed, forcing her to relocate in Gross- Partsch( now Poland) to live with her mother-in-law. The details of the true life are closely replicated in Postorino’s book as she describes the circumstances of Rosa’s life : her meals of vegetables, grains and fruits Hitler demanded in his diet; her escape on Goebbel’s train aided by a Nazi; and even the return of her husband from a Soviet prison camp. Because Wolk died at 95 before Postorino could interview her, she gleaned the facts revealed in podcasts, articles and newspapers such as der Spiegel that lay out the interment at Wolfsschanze and after. It took decades for Wolk to speak publicly about her wartime life.

Rosa Sauer, our protagonist in Postorino’s book is a sympathetic German, forced along with nine other women in the story to taste Hitler’s food to avoid his being poisoned. Born into a family who has resisted and scorned Hitler’s philosophies, Rosa’s idealistic father is a railway worker, her mother a seamstress so Rosa comes to the reader as the innocent bystander. She recalls a vivid memory from high school fixated on Adam Wortmann, a beloved math teacher, marched away because he was a Jew.

She confides ,” I had never been a good German”, and explains even at an early age, she had played at the game of death by swallowing threads from her mother’s creations. Rosa’s mother dies when their apartment is bombed and Rosa continually returns to her past, her former life and her mother’s admonitions regarding the necessity of eating. She remembers her mother saying that eating was a way to battle death: “She said it even before Hitler, back when I went to elementary school”. Chosen by the town mayor in Gross- Partsch as a taster, Rosa has become party to the war effort and so, the correlation between food and endurance continues : ironic when most are starving. Three times a day , a bounty of asparagus, peppers, peas, rice, salads, milk and even cakes are her daily fare : “ Hitler nourished me and that nourishment could kill me.”, she relates.

Rosa says, “We were ten digestive tracts.” Wolk herself commented, “Some of the women cried at the beginning of every meal, fearing the food [was] indeed poisoned and they were going to die. We had to taste everything and wait an hour, after which we cried our eyes out, knowing that we were saved, day after day.” Although treated to delicacies and the finest foods, eating is far from a comfortable, enjoyable pastime. In one scene in the book, many women succumb, faint, become extremely ill, vomit, but ultimately recover .Hitler’s tasters are always in peril, for the food might be toxic ;the Allies, but especially England had wanted to destroy Hitler.

Fears for Hitler’s security were not unfounded. On July 20, 1944, Claus von Stauffenbergs, a trusted soldier, detonated a bomb in the Wolfsschanze in an attempt to kill Hitler. He survived, but nearly 5,000 people were executed following the assassination attempt. In the story, Rosa describes meeting von Stauffenbergs at a party given by her father-in-law’s employer, the baroness who is quite taken with the Fuhrer, believing he will save Germany. She is also entranced by Rosa, inviting her to the castle where they ride horses, talk books, music, film and theatre: a contrast and brief respite from the Wolf’s Lair. However, with assassination attempts, the tasters are forced to live on the premises believed secure. Rosa never encounters Hitler, but glimpses his dog, Blondi. At the baronness’s party Rosa -the- taster becomes Rosa -the -love interest as she is noticed by one of Hitler’s obersturmfuhrer, Ziegler. Before the lock down, he begins to appear at Rosa’s window at night.

Besides the wartime examination of the tasters, At The Wolfs Table illuminates many themes that pertain to women, many feminist ones. It is a story of victimized women forced to comply during wartime to the orders of men. Rosa talks about missing love and her own body. For the baroness’s party, Ulla, another taster, had come to arrange Rosa’s hair and Rosa herself altered an old dress from Berlin’s nightlife in attempt to feel attractive. Her dalliance with Ziegler is part command performance, part investigation of self. She believes she ultimately has no choice, but also recognizes a desire within herself.

As a young bride before Karl’s departure, Rosa spent barely a year with her husband, dreaming of children, a life of normalcy, but of course, the extremes of war disrupts lives and hopes. In Gross- Partsch, tormented by his absence, she writes to Gregor everyday,” a diary of me missing him.”

The other women in her group also cope with their stilted loveless lives and their used but de- sexualized bodies. One of the tasters, married with two young children, becomes pregnant by a young farm hand , and Elfreide , another of the inmates, is able to procure a clandestine abortion for her in the woods.And another of the young women, Leni with a blotchy complexion dreams of her first love experience, but naively allows herself to be courted and betrayed by a soldier. She blames herself, disclaiming the admittance of rape. Elfreide speaks up, refusing to allow the outrage to pass. Rosa briefly in a position of power demands Ziegler provide protection for her, but Rosa too is betrayed when the woman disappears, likely sent off to a camp. Yet the Rosa- Ziegler liaison is complicated as he does insist on finding safe passage for her on Goebbels’s train once the war appears lost. She had told herself, “ But at night , Gregor( her husband) disappeared because the world itself disappeared and life began and ended in the trajectory of the connecting of Ziegler and me.” Cold comfort and rationalization for her nagging submission to Ziegler’s advances and withdrawals.

Rosa’s escape back to Berlin on the train, her discovery among the luggage and simple meal with a young family, the crooning of a lullaby and simple kiss to their baby juxtaposes the chaotic inhuman cattle cars that drove the precious human cargo of unfortunate targeted Jews to camps. Without mentioning that final destination, it is strongly evoked in the gently contrasted paragraphs. I doubt any Jew could read the section without a gasp of sorrow for those lost in the persecution.

As well, the theme of eating that should be pleasurable becomes a main obsession in the book. As readers we think of bulimics and anorexics who cannot tolerate or vomit their meals. Forever, women have considered their bodies too fat, too thin, playing with, balancing their diets.From skeletal Twiggys to curvaceously plump Sophia Lorens, the size of hips, busts, waists, legs and butts( whether to enlarge like the Kardashian’s or not) are the fodder of magazines and the cause of self doubt plaguing women forever. One of the tasters papers her room with images of stars, fantasizing about the perfect looks of a German actress. The women are all stand ins for Little Red Riding Hoods, guessing who or what ( food) will destroy and devour them, helpless? And will they all be blaming themselves or others for bad choices, too tight clothing, wrong moves, uncertain paths, neglecting the advice of those older and wiser.

Rosa aware of this strange life she is leading writes, “ The ability to adapt is human beings greatest resource, but the more I adapted, the less human I felt.” In a wash of contradictions and consumed by guilt, she admits her personal punishment was not poison, or death but life: as she had persisted in living by ingesting food, engaging in a romantic tryst with the enemy and seeking escape back to Berlin.In all of these situations, Rosa cannot rejoice or even forgive herself, as women often refuse to do, for there is shame, guilt, the burden of surviving when so many others succumbed.

At The Wolf’s Table raises many complicated and complex issues. In real life, Margaret Wolk’s leaving Wolfsschanze and return to Berlin was not the end of her story. Her treatment by the Russians was a nightmare. It is not surprising that only towards the end of her life did she reveal the horrors. As Jews who have continued on with our own memories, I think we can empathize, once more sadly aware of lives lost and destroyed – even those who were not Jewish.

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Time Lapses

Watching This Is Us this week triggered some emotional residue that concerned my family.In this particular segment of the show, hospitals play a pivotal role. Kate confined after Jack’s precipitous birth, ministers to her underweight premie, However, the underlying focus is Rebecca, Kate’s mother who not only keeps watch on the infant but is revisited as a patient: once as a young mom in a car accident, her body broken but also her mind slowed by meds; then at the conclusion of the episode, her hands fidgeting , her eyes blank, likely beset by Alzheimers. The children now grown and grey- haired gather, perhaps for the final goodbye.

The juxtaposition of Rebecca’s hospital scenes of young and old combine for a curious and sudden effect, the immediate ellipsis of foreshadowing an event, a mind under attack, with its eventual outcomes. And within less than an hour of the viewers’ time, we observe Rebecca grow, interact, age, decline: the cycle of life as if captured in one of those National Geographic photographic speed ups of a seed planted, blooming, blossoming and dying. For a flower, it’s startling ;for a beloved human, it’s painful because we know that this is our fate as well, and for the inevitable trajectories of those we love.

As a child yourself, perception and time is skewed. Summer vacations of sun and redolent sand of a few months seem to stretch forever, oases from dreaded pounding school. Teachers, in reality young and perky in their twenties, even kind ones appear to be ancient, so so old. Proceeding through middle and high schools, life accelerates soon, shorter vacations, an awareness that more closely conforms to truth. But eventually before you are even aware, the reverse sets in and months seamlessly turn into days as you mark out holidays, milestones, plans for weekends, next month, next year, checking them off in red on your calendar as quickly as they appear. It’s Groundhog Day in reverse.

Even if you are ignoring or not noting your own changes, your children are the physical markers of the days as they first crawl, then walk, then leap to adulthood, all ready making plans for future endeavours and love relationships. In your own head, you’re still the same, but your mirror records the alterations on your face, your back, your walking gait, that shrink you each year, reminding me of Marquez ‘s One Hundred Year’s of Solitude, both in confusion and imagery of shoes or clothes enormously large for bodies that have become the size of dolls. Still you collect treasured precious moments in photographic books or digitally, in which you’ve frozen the frozen perfect marriages, celebrations that slowed the days, making them memorable and retrievable of a good life you created for your family.

In the flow of time, I think too of my parents and their last days in hospital, and I don’t want to think of them. My mother ,who like me hated hospitals, demanded to go home, turned her face away in anger, and my own response of self protection and little acquiescence; my father enclosed in his hospitable bed, the victim of doctor ignorance, then in a coma when only a few days prior I had been rubbing his feet and he assuring me, “ Of course, I loved you Pat.” He 68, younger than I am now. I think both would have preferred to drift into sleep at home, never to return. Or my mother-in-law’s agitation, her final days as a patient in an institution where she once, warmly welcomed, was a volunteer.

Rebecca’s leap from active to passive, the dramatic speed up of time, ephemeral time was what caught me off guard. Even in my doctoral thesis, I had quoted TS Eliot in the Four Quartets, so fascinated have I always been by the seconds, minutes, hours and years that can lapse, meander, speed by, confound and heal. Eliot once wrote,

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.”

And so watching the combination of “ time” in Rebecca’s life in This Is Us exerted a profound effect on me. Perhaps more than ever, it’s my own age as I struggle to accept I’m no longer young, for the belief of the baby boomers was that, unlike their parents, they would endure fresh, active and able forever, time posing no barrier. Unlike our dodgy parents who toiled, wore white gloves only in the summer, obeyed rules and conventions, we would dance at dawn, free. If you are a boomer, you know exactly what I mean.

Now there is an incredulity that accompanies what slows us down now, amazed at our selves. Strangely, what we wore, our clothes, tie dyed,high waisted have been reverted, unlike us, persisting, now lauded and reissued as retro and our rock groups of Jagger and Lightfoot and Fleetwood Mac make last gasp tours as their boyish( and girlish) charms and talents have faded. But even they must know time has marched on. And we finally acknowledge what our parents knew and tried to impart to our stubborn refuting heads.

As above, the poets said it best as in Tennyson’s lament by Ulysses,

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remain…

Ironic words for Tennyson was 24 when he wrote the poem in 1833.

In one of Tara Brach’s meditation, she soothes by quoting Tilopa,

Let go of what has passed.

Let go of what may come.

Let go of what is happening now.

Don’t try to figure anything out.

Don’t try to make anything happen.

Relax, right now, and rest.

At present, this is my mantra.

Decluttering

Ok, I admit it. I’m hopeless when it comes to purging my drawers and cupboards.

Having returned this week from my three month sojourn in San Diego in my neat little condo( sigh), I face my house here with the thought, “ what a lot of stuff I have”.So today I decide it’s time to declutter in the kitchen and get rid of unnecessary accumulated items that I have stuffed in drawers although it seems to me in a dark memory, that I did in fact, reduce some clutter a few months ago when my friend Anne counselled me to do just 20 minutes a day of cleanup.

But when I pry open the kitchen drawer where I’ve stored so many significant pieces of my life ( why, you may wonder, the kitchen drawers???? another space to fill, I guess) ) I am awash in memories. There I observe in a tangle not only my kids’ grade five report cards offering a glimpse into who they would become, but the commencement booklets in which -in a leap that consumed ten years or so- they had fulfilled their teachers’ promises to garner outstanding achievements and student awards.

Unpacking the mess, I’m thinking that my son’s sons might get a giggle from descriptions of their dad at their present ages with comments regarding his almost illegible handwriting, his commitment to task, his improvements. So too, to add to his trajectory from boy to adult, I find a piece called Passages that I wrote the night after his wedding at the King George Hotel, and shoved into the drawer.

I had observed,

“I thought I would be cool at the wedding. I didn’t even carry a hanky! Yet when my husband and I paused midway down the aisle to greet our son, I experienced emotions I had never known. What began as a fluttering in my chest grew and grew, threatening to explode and consume my body. My sole awareness was my throbbing heart that had overtaken all of my senses, shrinking my limbs and head to leave only the sensation of pounding…

next came my two girls, stunning in cranberry gowns. But rather than a release from my throbbing heart, I felt it intensify. As a captive of my emotions, I was truly servant to them, awash in terrible, raw emotion. Minutes had stretched and elongated, binding time, place and persons into a sticky, unrelenting concoction of feeling…”

So glad am I that I did not pitch that piece from an earlier attempt to cleanup.

Now, it is true I might not still need the map of South Africa from a trip Howard and I took about 8 years ago, my certificate of teacher qualifications from 1970, or birthday and anniversary cards, handmade and store bought, both funny and sincere, some with actual photos secreted in the creases, almost all with scribbled comments, but truly, these are artifacts that document my life and pinpoint my important comings and going : the liminal exits and entrances in our family.

Along with these treasures are unpublished pieces, a most recent one on Lawren Harris, (OK, maybe two years ago), a schema for drawing the human head, some carefully bound candlesticks in bubble wrap from Israel, a balloon inflater, multicoloured pipecleaners…and a letter from William Whitehead on writer Timothy Findley’s passing, 2002. This in its envelope I note, for I had taught Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage in the 90’s, the irreverent retelling of Noah and the ark in which Lucy/ Lucifer, the crossdressing angel plays the hero to a maniacal god in the tale. So ahead of the times, so clever and compelling, Findley was, devilishly so. In response to my note, Whitehead had responded,

“ Dear Patricia

Many thanks for your warm letter, and for sharing with me your response to teaching Not Wanted on the Voyage. It was a continuing source of wonder and satisfaction to him( Findley) that the book seemed to have such an effect on young people…”

These pieces of my past illuminate my activities as a mom, a teacher, a person, and how I lead my life- one in hindsight that has fled awfully quickly. I see myself as an interesting, provocative teacher who held my students’ attention, engaging them with smiles, their intellect and curiosity peaked and their learning enhanced because of challenging literature and their thoughtful interaction with carefully posed questions and contemplations.

No doubt, one day a bulldozer will level my house of memories and beside, it is perhaps only I who cares for these amulets, my own kids totally uninterested in old projects I proffer, compiled in Grade three, or their teachers’ comments. They say, “Mom, just pitch them.”

But really I cannot, for it would be as if I had severed a foot.

I did keep journals ( these housed in bedroom drawers) when it became the fashion, but rereading those words in worn notebooks, I am cast back into gloom as I had recorded anger, outrage, sadness, the dark side of my being; or the flip side, the mere noting or listing of the tedium of daily events .The ordinariness of those entries does not interest me at present. The banal home for Facebook comments now, the personal made public : such as a funny spotted dog performing a backward leap ; or a visit to a grocery store where there were twelve kinds of olives ( oh my) ; or an important bit about how Mary borrowed my skirt and did not return it, tsk, tsk, or what to serve cousins coming for dinner, blah, blah, blah. The trivia of life. In deed, the contrast of extreme, perhaps.

My kitchen drawers’ actual pieces although many replete with emotions of pride and connection somehow feel more objective than journal entries. The clutter of papers I have collected in these drawers I am unable to disregard, the occasional thoughtful note, not effusive or hot blathering all over the page is evidence of I wrote, therefore I was, apologies to Descartes.There is distance in these writings because they are the edited product of my head and heart , a controlled closeness, not a gush of freerange consciousness, these ramblings organized and tempered because of the format; or alternatively, not by my hand at all, but collected, written by another, not me , as in graduation booklets or report cards. I can stand aside and revisit a moment I had deemed important. In deed at the time of my keeping some cherished artifact, I felt it must be stored in that kitchen drawer- the heart of my home- too precious to be tossed.

Now, I have no saw with stream of consciousness or journal writing as I believe it provides an outlet, but my issue has to do with its public publication ,and for me, the resurgence of pain it promotes that I would rather leave behind than reliving it. In contrast, this collection of memorabilia invites a revisit, a pause, a spurt of happiness.

I suppose I could be more judicious, for truly, does every luminous wrapping ribbon, whether emblazoned with the word Lindt or not, need to be saved and recycled, and what’s with the three tiny grimacing plastic chickens still in package with the heading “ Chickenrun” that my husband refused the grandkids ? Not to mention the single envelopes and shutterfly calendars whose months are described by the smiling faces of my grandchildren and their earliest forays. Long passed.

Yesterday my sister told me of a person who comes to your house and divides up “ your stuff” into piles of five, explaining one should hold an old piece of clothing and listen to hear if it speaks to you. If it does, keep it.

Well, that’s my answer, I suppose, because I still hear voices loud and clear, some even chortling with laughter.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood

I’m not a fan of fantasy and truthfully when I read the blurb of The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I wondered why I had added it to my list and who had recommended it to me.

But because we are all glued to Game of Thrones and witnessed strange transformations there and Kafka’s cockroach has survived many generations and yiddishkeit holds a fascination for me, not to mention any story about European shtetls and persecution of Jews, I began the story of Liba and Layla, daughters of the Rebbe Berman in Dubossary, a town between Moldavia and the Ukraine. Dubossary conjured for me the pictorial landscape of Marc Chagall’s Russian hometown of Vitebsk in Russia with Chassidim, travellers, farm animals and lovers.

The sisters, temporarily abandoned by Mami and Tati, as occurs in many coming- of- age novels, must fend for themselves, while the parents deal with pressing familial obligations in Kupel nearby. However before departing, Mami imparts strange information to her very different daughters, Liba, tall, dark and big-boned, and Laya, graceful and long- limbed: Liba is part bear like her father and Layla is part swan. This unsettling knowledge complicates the lives of the almost 18 and 16 year old adolescents.

With many authors, we might guffaw and stop the read immediately, but in the hands of Rossner,in spite of this being her debut novel, she has tweaked our interest and curiosity in the plight of the sisters, living at the edge of the forest, all ready not totally accepted by the town yentahs : because Mami is a convert to Judaism, not always covering her hair.

The story is told from the dual perspectives of the girls who know themselves to be Jews. They are aware of their lineage from the Berre Rebbe and the lore that has marked them as special; Tati insists that the young men in the village are not to be considered suitable marriage prospects. But in most tales of becoming, love plays a major role. Laya is enchanted by Fedir, a “ goy ” who along with his handsome brothers travel from town to town, selling fruit; their origins Rossner tells us in an Afterward, is derived from Christine Rossetti’s Goblin Market wherein the protagonists’ names also happen to be Laura and Lizzie.

Liba, too, experiences her first sexual awakenings with Dovid Meisel, the local butcher’s son, whose entire family reaches out to her. Aware and perplexed by her difference, Liba reflects, “I feel his breath on my neck and I think, we breath the same air. We are not as different as we seem…we believe in the same god, practice the same religion, like the same food, laugh at the same jokes. I want a normal family and a home where I don’t need to fear the woods around me.”

In parallel stories, the girls face infatuation and love. But along with this comes anti- semitism aroused by Fedir and the townsfolk. Based on actual events that occurred in Dubossary in March in 1903 , two non- Jewish victims were discovered drained of blood, one in a fruit garden. Often to explain terrible events in times passed, Jews were harassed, slandered, and their blame attributed to the myth that Jews baked matzoh with the blood of non- Jews. In Rossner’s novel as in the real life event, the Jews of Dubossary organized, fought back and prevented a progrom. But overhanging antisemitism was and continues to be real.

In both the truth and fiction, Jews in nearby villages were not so lucky. Five hundred in the Kishinev area were murdered, hundreds injured, their stores and homes destroyed. Between 1880-1920 there were over 1300 pogroms in the Ukraine. And in 1940, back again in Dubossary , the Nazis rounded up 600 Jews in the synagogue and burnt them. The remaining 6,000 were lead into the nearby woods and shot. Not surprisingly, Rossner dreamed of the ghosts of the town, personally effected, as her lineage comes from Dubossary , fortunately a great uncle having escaped to America years earlier.

Rossner was raised with Chassidic tales such as the Shpoler Zeiyde, Russian superheroes such as “ bogatyrs”, fairytales such as Snow White and Rose Red, and Jane Yolen’s Holocaust retelling of Briar Rose, later she was influenced by Jonathan Foer Safran’s Everything Is Illuminated and others. To sweeten the dark violence of these tales in her recreation of the events in The Sisters of the Winter Wood, Rossner includes the sweetness of her own Romanian grandmother’s expressions so that every few pages underlines her background: with Yiddish evocations such as “ zichrono livracha (May her/ his memory be a blessing)… shidduch (arranged marriage)…niggunem (melodies)…shaynah madele( lovely girl)…oyam ( world).” When dreaming of varenikes, Liba speculates, “ They are soft and plump and the onions and gribenes she serves them with are always so crispy. Her ( a neighbour) borscht is thick and creamy and she never skimps on the marrow bones that flavour it. There will be sweet wine, too, and Mami already brought over some of her flakiest rugelach. I lick my lips in anticipation.”The melding of Yiddish and the description of Jewish foods works to augment the warmth of a strong tradition in a village where Jews are not trusted, merely tolerated, yet there is vibrancy in their presence that recalls our sense of shetl life before the wars. The novel is an echo of significant influences that have shaped both Jewish life and Rossner’s growing up.

When Laya disappears with Fedir, Liba attempts to rescue her from the enchantment that has turned trees to fruit- bearing, overloaded with sweet succulent peaches, pears, plums, pomegranates, apricots … dizzying in their smell, touch, lure. Yet their roots have encumbered Laya’s movement, for she is held captive, but a willing one because of love she imagines for her green eyed suitor. For Laya, being in love has altered the faces of Fedir and his brothers. Soon she will realize her mistake and like the veils in Blake’s Book of Thel and other poems, stories of maturation, she eventually sees clearly, understanding the forest for what it is.

Libya’s comprehension of love and life is less dreamy, as she learns how to arrest her transformation to avenging bear: by calming herself, focusing on water, ensuring she does not respond emotionally.That knowledge will come to Laya later so the girls can learn to command their metamorphoses.

However, what is most difficult to accept is the girls’ transformation to bear and swan. But even Libya’s awareness of this strangeness mirrors our own as readers when she murmurs, “It’s a dream…it must be a dream. A fairytale coming to life in my head, nothing more…maybe I’m sleeping…” When she observes her own powerful muscles and paws with claws, she marvels, “ None of what I am, what we are, makes any sense at all.”

Yet one might consider the many Russian folktales about bear- men and women the traditional donning of brown fur cloaks at the time worn to celebrate the new year and chase away malignant spirits. So too, Chassidic tales of Tati’s great grandfather’s kindness of averting persecution of other Jews as the Shpoler Zeiyde, as the retelling of his dancing with a bear in a contest to win the freedom of destitute Jews forced to pay rent and taxes on time. Liba explains, “ My mother once told me that my great grandfather became a bear because of great need…we can all become what we need to be in a time of danger.” And so we recall modern stories in which a mother somehow lifts a car off the body of her child pinned beneath or other extraordinary measures to save a loved one.

And in a similar moment of amazement, we might recall the mother of dragons in The Game of Thrones calling her babes home. And although we might not accept Zeus changing himself into a swan, or magical raindrops to impregnate Danae, we do not doubt him as a god of power. Or even the ability of Captain Marvel to propel herself into space or transform her arms to efficient attack machines. And what do we make of Spider-Man or Batman possessed by the power of transformation in times of greatest need? Magic is magic, and the possibility of transforming to another form, ice to water to gas, or human to superhero or animal is- at the very least- provocative. So we watch, read, transfixed.

Metaphors and similes in our language also allow for comparisons between the mundane and the exceptional so we accept that we might be as hungry as a bear or as sly as a cat, ready to trick or outwit our opponents. The woods around us can be internalized or external, alternatively inviting or threatening, suggestive that there are forces, spirits that await in the darkness. Why else do children insist on nightlights at bedtime?: to prevent witches or goblins from dragging them away. This is Coleridge’s willing suspension of disbelief that permits our leap to imagine and to engage in other realms.

The notion of transformation as presently witnessed in the films based in Stan Lee’s comics is welcomed by audiences, perhaps as an anecdote to the craziness of life. And even today as congresswomen cast aspersions on our people, or riots in Charlottesville where even the U.S. president does not disparage or condemn the white suprematists, terribly, antisemitism has not disappeared. Not in the bear dancing contests, the attack of blood letting for matzoh, or being pushed to the edge of forests, whether real or imaginary, it has endured. Sadly, that image of Chagall’s diaspora Jew emerges as I write this, the outcast traveller’s pekkalah on his shoulder, searching for a place to live freely without harassment. Liba’s statement comes to mind, “ Being a Jew means always changing- staying true to what you are, but adapting to your surroundings.”

Rossner gives us a fairytale that is underpinned with history and the reality of Jewish discrimination we continue to face. Would that we were like the sisters able to transform and learn how to defeat the biases that continue to confound us .

****************

Also see The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), Canada Mar 16, 2019 O8 French journalist and novelist latest book Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What It Means for Us) by MARC WEITZMANN

She said, He said

He said. She said.

SNC- Lavalin drama has devolved into he said, she said, coming pretty close to be told as a gender debate. With Jody Wilson-Raybould as the female, hearing instructions from her bosses as directive, as inappropriate. With the resigned Gerald Butts countering with measured comments on balanced appropriateness, taking counsel, turning over every issue in care, composed, assured. Wilson- Raybould’s professional legal training and experience downplayed, careful listening, making reasoned decisions, she has become the woman who has over reacted to a highly demanding situation.

I love Konrad Yakabuski ( Thursday’s Globe and Mail) comparison of Butt’s amiable, even joke- cracking demeanour with Marc Antony’s takedown of Julius Caesar by sweetly damning Caesar as an ” honourable man”. In spite of Wilson-Raybould not exploding on the scene, receiving direction from her own lawyers and acting in a reserved, quiet way befitting her position as a respected and valued cabinet manner, she becomes the archetypical woman, scorned by her demotion in her position: crying out in revenge. It’s the old wink- wink because she’s a woman; she’s unbalanced, emotional, untrustworthy, time of the month slurs. Even though she took notes, documenting events, was measured in her performance, good reputation prior and during her tenure, but ultimately retorting, No, I will not go along with you, I will think for myself, and act accordingly: that has pushed the players into the corner, crying out there was no “ inappropriate pressure!” How ludicrous, how embarrassing that that gender card is being played. The affable thoughtful Butts versus the shrew. Because the shrew did not do the womanly thing of acquiescing, backing down when the more powerful stared her down. And when she refused, her position of attorney- general was the price to be paid, the unfaithful woman punished and removed to a position of less authority. Get her out of here.

Following up this idea, Martha Hall Findlay in the Globe( Friday) says, “ Suggesting, as some are now doing, that more principled behaviour is ‘normal’ for women, which implies that it is to be expected of women more than of men, takes away some of the power of their actions. Doing so also, perversely, sets higher, purely gender-based expectations for other women.” I’m not sure that follows that women as a group, then, must strive to uphold principles that men are allowed to ignore. And it is true, not all women in positions of power act nobly.

It’s the 21st Century and as Kit Harrington ( Jon Snow from Game of Thrones) suggested on Stephen Colbert last night, some governments just don’t change, and so we see- nor do politicians, sunk in with employing the race card, the gender card… How tiring it is not to be able to separate truth and hype, acknowledging what is good, bad, slander, slur and lies. But if words are viewed in certain ways with overlays of intensity, innuendo, anger, manipulation they can no longer speak for themselves. And that’s how we hear them, for what we see, and who speaks them colours and distorts the innocence of what is right or wrong. And that is terrifying.

Laugh or smile or smirk and you undermine the actual intent of a message. Yell the words or hide them in deep meaning and they are twisted. We know this, and films shot from diverse perspectives that showcase the same incident from various points of view, each transformed by the personality of the seer demonstrate this. Everyone thinks they know the actual event. I understand that, yet at the heart of a tale there is , or at least be clarity, some agreement, some facts. And I suppose even here at SNC- Lavalin there is.

But surrounding it all is political dishonesty because there is much to lose, and even a government may fall. So the principles of truth, interference are essential to the telling of the story. But likewise, politics most often obscures for the purpose of saving face, averting national emergencies, protecting the people, keeping the players in their places. Sadly the rules of the patriarchy protecting their own, deciding on the basis of need to know, or as the Republicans have demonstrated, maintaining a government of lunacy.

How horror full to be slicing life into these dualities of he said, she said, gender rather than truth and falsehood. Like political correctness that refuses to admit the emperor has no clothes, it is disheartening to have parties besmirch their own for votes. Understandable, some would maintain, when there’s so much to lose, but in terms of the human condition, depressing and deplorable.

Hall Findlay concludes, “We …all [can] benefit because the different experiences and different perspectives [ of both men and women] they bring permit better, broader analysis and decision-making.”

Yup, both men and women.

Those Damn Emotions

Why do we react as we do and why are we wired in certain ways? I do find this aspect of existence interesting, but more so, perplexing. Like many others, I play Lumosity and I am addicted to those games in which I can achieve well, wracking up high scores, trying to better myself each time. Games such as Trains and Trouble Brewing are my favs, and although at the outer reaches of both, I cannot seem to extend my wins.

What I’ve discovered is that the coolest I can be, the better I do.

Beginning positively, ready to better my numbers , I imagine myself improved from last day, even achieving a higher score, but as soon as I falter on one trial, I feel a heat, an emotional disruption and I lose my way, a domino effect of one mistake pushing down the next, my cool lost in the sudden rush of anger, annoyance, regret while I attempt to replace the calm, gain control and participate in the game again. In the meantime my emotion, my spurt of annoyance at losing has overturned my applecart, and my spirits plummet as I know my numbers will not be good until I can regain my composure and banish my anger. Undaunted but bristling beneath the surface, I do eventually reclaim my positive attitude and if I haven’t decided to quit or start the game fresh, I continue on, knowing my score will have suffered even a momentary disruption.Grrrr.

This moment of flaw, of weakening makes me wonder at my past successes or failures in school or writing exams. How well I remember my grade 11 history exam in which I read the question requiring a response for The Tudors, not the Stuarts- as I imagined it would -and I wrote a brilliant paper on the former, so sure THAT was the question, so I did not pay attention to the actual words on the page.

Feeling wonderfully pumped, I left the exam, buoyed , only on my walk back home, did I revisit the exam question in my head, so delighted I was with my response: but suddenly, stopped in my reverie,, I actually revisited the questions on the exam with the name of the royal household of the Stuarts imprinted on the paper, I disbelieving but not believing, realized my mistake. And like a balloon instantly deflated, I tripped, my feet flying out from beneath my amazed body.And I fell, my tights ripped to hanging shreds at the knee, gushing blood streaming from my bruised knees.

These moments of emotion have confounded me throughout my entire life, even recently as we discovered that in our condo, both a faucet and a shower door required replacing. I, in discussion in the bathroom with a salesman explaining that the glass surface could resemble rivulets of rain, and my husband, attentive to the water escaping and flooding the kitchen floor. He in concert with the plumber. As he entered my domain to explain the kitchen dilemma, I observed his face annoyed, frozen. Instantaneously reading his troubled look, I intuited the fix would be costly and I reacted to his chagrin by losing my words, unable to communicate to my salesman, my tongue refusing to utter syllables, only unintelligible sounds. Not an earth shattering event as my Tudor-Stuart was, and yet I was inextricably seized by my emotions who impacted on both my limbs and my voice, actually knocking the wind out of me on both times so that I landed in an emotional heap, imprisoned by my frozen body.

Of course my father had always chastised me, labeling me as overly sensitive from his mentoring, trying to teach me how to drive or the wonders of chemistry wherein my response to him and my frustration was to cry. He, scratching his head, wide eyed in his appraisal that something so simple ( to him) should not be accessible to me, and more so yet ,incredulous that I should behave in this manner, rather than grimly nodding, accepting or attempting to comprehend better. But the tears once bidden refused to halt, eclipsing him and a world that made no sense to me.

These were not reasoned, manipulative behaviours for me, they were/are me. I learned to scorn and hate myself, ashamed upon the eruption of those tears that refused to stay hidden and overwhelmed the rational me, blurring my eyes as my body chose to react in this fashion.

Sometimes I rationalized by retorting that these messy emotions were the best part of me as one could read immediately my reactions and know my thoughts. No subterfuge or “False face doth know what false heart doth know” mantras from the Bard. And yet, something that so interrupts one’s ability to speak, to achieve, to literally see clearly, to advance, to make your case clearly and succinctly when you possess the tools, makes you wonder why some of us are wired to react in this manner, as if the robot parts have been splashed with water and the circuits cut. If you are a robot, you wait till you are reprogrammed, but if you are a human, you can try myriad ways to avoid this annoyance, but deep, deep down, you might be able to bite your lip, smile sardonically, conjure your mantra, but once the trickle bursts forth from the dam, it’s almost impossible to cut off the flood. Or conversely stand frozen.

These Lumosity games make me query how many times these sudden reactions have lead me astray onto a dark path where I should have been able to prevail and succeed not deterred momentarily.ha! Or longer. In deed, what role have my emotions played in warding off people, causing myself injury or deepening regrets, or allowing my mind to wallow in negativity?I’m not unhappy with how my life has turned out for the most part- but I cannot help but wonder, had I been able to hold back or stop those messy emotions or control them, what more might I have attained.

At this point in the game, there is acceptance of self and those who truly know me, for we have learned to live with our foibles, not exactly as friends, but acknowledging they are part, not all of who we are.

Where is Mummy?

I write for a magazine in San Diego. It’s a glossy production with a wide range of topics that attempts to connect with the city’s diversity from holidays and theatrical shows to important political issues of the day. It’s left leaning and I like that. I am pleased to be listed on their roster of writers. And when the major Jewish holidays arise, the editor invites me to produce something on Rosh Hashana, Chanukah and Passover.

For the last four years,I have contributed articles that deal with family, but I actually worried about this year’s request. After scouring my mind, wanting to add something new, cull a deeper memory from my treasure trove of family gatherings, I felt I had reached the end. But as luck would have it, we met with a cousin of Howard’s who commented on the role of water in Passover.In our reunion, she mentioned the role of water at Passover.” Water?”, I query. “ Yes”, she retorted, surprised, amazed I hadn’t considered it before. She enumerated, “Moses was found in the water…the ten plagues where water is turned to blood…the Red Sea parting so we could escape from Egypt…travellers thirsty in the desert, that according to the Midrash, are sated by water from Miriam’s miraculous well…we dip our greens in salt water…and we wash our hands often with water during the Seder…”

I demure at her wealth of examples, for my mind had always fastened on the symbols on the Seder plate, not water. A new perspective refreshes my thoughts, uniting the past, the present and the future . For even now I reflect on the wondrous bounty of water here, especially when we returned from some spots in Africa and Asia: where in most places in North America ,one can turn in a tap, and miraculously water flows and you can drink or bathe without fear. Once you experience water that comes out of a faucet, not gathered in the street or in a rain barrel, you never again take it for granted, marvelling at the luck of feeling it stream over your body or the availability of sippping it when thirsty.

And this new thought did in deed trigger fresh ideas although the old standbys of our family gatherings, freedom, the diaspora, but especially- again- the food set me writing so I found I could in deed build an article for the magazine. Yet rereading my words, I was struck by the absence of the central figure in the holiday: my mother. My mother, dead tired from the preparation and with no help at all, still greeted us with a smile at the door, took the babies from our arms, hugged us with “ Yom Tov”, returned to the kitchen, set the table with the Rosenthal China ( used only only holidays), served, cleaned up, played with the children, mentioned her aching legs, bid us good night and dragged herself to bed. My mother the queenpin, both emotionally and physically, was not mentioned in my piece.

And I wondered why.

It has been more than five years since her passing and most days she is the angel on my shoulder, chatting with her, hearing her views, receiving her insights, both good and bad. But as we move away from the trauma of a beloved’s death in time, the picture becomes more balanced, and we see both the good and the bad of our parents. In deed I marvelled that as my mother grew older she could cast my grandmother, the unyielding matriarch, terrible and repressive to my own mother’s growing up : as a woman herself overwhelmed with caring for every landsman from Poland off the boat whom my grandfather encountered on the street and dragged home for shelter and food.

My mother’s observations of her mother had softened as she herself aged, comprehending the burdens my grandmother must have endured, torn from a position of wealth and esteem in Europe to the place of a servant here in Canada: bereft of parents, cousins, familiar cousins, with no welcoming landscape of home. Arguing to reinstate what I had experienced myself such as choice indictments as “ Send her to commercial” or her harsh disregard of a African violet on (Grand)mother’s Day and my mother’s own longing for an education, a maternal cuddle or simple word of praise, I rejected her kind words of my buby. My mother’s renewed revisionist thoughts perplexed me, but perhaps she had fashioned a vision to sustain herself.

For me, it was the opposite as although my mother had sustained and supported me in so many ways, I felt angered by her casting me as “pretty” to my sister’s “ smart”, polarizing us from our earliest days into enemy camps, both of us hungering even now for the opposite’s description: my deep need to prove I was more than my façade, yet obsessed with my outer appearance. My mother’s words dictating and describing me burned into my sense of self.

And perhaps worse yet, her passing on of humongous fears and paralyzingly worries that went beyond the Jewish stereotype of the Jewish mother. And yet I’m fully aware of her terrible life, first as an abused daughter, then the wife of a polio victim, unaided by family, who like The Little Red Hen, she often quoted, “ did it herself.”.And yes, she did it all herself- and did it incredibly well. A rooster who soothed our feathers and created a world of safety. And as I write this, I feel the guilt of betraying my mother ,for she achieved so much, always lamenting her own lack of education viewed as frivolous and stupid by her mother, considered the family’s ugly duckling, so much taken away in her own life.

And yes, as a mother, I know you never get it right: that the overhanging grapes of your past can shade and sour your soul and just as you rage at your mother, you castigate yourself for the errors, omissions, lost moments you wish you had seized or alternately let go. But as you age, you reflect on, acknowledge your life, regret or embrace, and you realize how central a role your parents, your guardians play and it is so easy to blame or alternately laud them, praising or damning them to the extreme.

And because I loved my mother so deeply and knew the central stabilizing place is not just Passover, but our broken lives, I was amazed that in my piece for the magazine she was no where to be found. This surprised and bothered me immensely. Where was mummy?

Was I finding the balanced picture, locating my resentment, rationalizing, empathizing with her as an older woman? Had I lost her in the swell of tumultuous memories?

Or maybe, more accurately, in the Passover that is coming soon, I knew in my heart of hearts, she would be absent, not present to hold it all together, to bind us by her presence, to reach out at the door and hug me close, kissing the dear heads of the children and grandchildren waiting in a knot for her welcome. And my subconscious knew what my conscious mind this year could not accept.

Educated

Bourgeois families come with certain expectations: that parents take care of their children, providing supports such as education, guidance, health , outlook, well being, especially in the 21 st century. Yet Tara Westover’s family might herald from Oz as the reader visits a world where none of that can be assumed. Like Dorothy, she is searching for home because the country she has landed in is so full of distortions, that she must find a way to unlock the doors that will lead her to real life.

Born in Idaho in Buck’s Peak at the base of a mountain she calls Princess, hers is a fundamentalist Mormon family. But added to that is a bipolar father, an obedient mother, brothers and sisters who are unceasingly dominated by their bible-shouting father, so paranoid that he rejects all medical assistance along with public schooling for his children. He stocks an underground bunker for the end of the world, truly amazed when the millennium arrives unimpeded. Tara recounts,” His disappointment in his features was so childlike, for a moment I wondered how God could deny him this.”

What fascinates the reader is that three of his children actually reach out, educate themselves and earn Ph.ds, Tara’s at exalted Cambridge. All under the brutal reprimands and descending boom of their father, Gene! He is a tyrant, whether separating iron and copper, salvaging scrap, riding and ripping apart enormous machines, setting broken machines ablaze, he expects and demands the fealty of the kids, unconcerned for their ( and his own ) safety, devoutly believing the angels will protect and it is God’s will should accidents occur. With this mesmerized attitude, he constantly puts the family in harm’s way, but miraculously when brain- shattering events occur, the family survives over and over again. And more than survive, they prosper. Originally slowed by a near fatal accident on ice, the mother continues in her work as a midwife to create and sell a line of essential oils that even a pharmaceutical company is willing to pay millions of dollars for.

At the centre of the family is Tara and her education and re- education of her sense of self. She is on paper “ home-schooled”. Her gaps in knowledge so enormous that in college, she raises her hand to ask her professor what the Holocaust was. Incredibly she had prepared for college acceptance for Brigham Young, was accepted and went on to study at both Cambridge and Harvard.

Badly taunted and besieged, especially by her older brother Shawn, also severely damaged in an accident but previously having displayed signs of cruelty, instability and violence, his berating of her as a whore, her small acts of defiance, his role as henchman all besiege and colour her mind and create a schism wherein her allegiance to her family is positioned against her setting out and away from them. And yet she is constantly drawn back, a deep abiding love for her family worming itself through her. Seen as an outcast because of her desire for a liberating education, she writes, “ I could take it all back- blame Lucifer and be given a clean slate. I imagined how esteemed I would be, as a newly cleansed vessel. How loved. All I had to do was swap my memories for theirs , and I could have my family.”

In some moments, her father appears calm, even caring as when her lilting voice is a reason to perform in community plays and Gene attends, proudly acknowledging her talent as a gift from God. After many confrontations and a serious rift, Tara is startled to hear her parents who have never left the mountain are coming to Harvard to visit. Although it might be to witness the location at Palmyra, New York, of Joseph Smith’s divine beginning of Mormonism, she realizes their trip is intended to save her soul and wrestle her from Satan.Aware of the widening schisms in their perceptions between them, she confesses that when her father observed the temple there, he saw G-d. She says, “ I saw granite.”

From this point on in her memoir, the language turns stronger, reflecting the terrible fight between herself and Gene that is tearing her apart, the back and forth of her troubling thoughts of loosing all of family, the fears, the sense of herself as bad, as lost, as prodigal child set against a growing understanding of a huge world that she seeks and wants to explore. She is on the edge of a breakdown, spiralling down into her own hell.

Interestingly even her thesis, “The Family, Morality, and Social Science in Anglo- American Co- operative Thought, 1813-1890” seeks not to undermine Mormonism but provide a place for it in the “ larger human story.” Concordantly she wishes she could replicate that fit for herself, somehow locating a compromise. She tosses,” I was losing my family, and it seemed to me that there were no stories for that — no stories about what to do when loyalty to your family was somehow in conflict with loyalty to yourself. And forgiveness. I wanted a story about forgiveness that did not conflate forgiveness with reconciliation, or did not treat reconciliation as the highest form of forgiveness.”

The voice that Tara appropriates expands towards the end of her story. Through footnotes in Educated, she questions herself, wanting to ensure she tells the truth, providing other versions of the narratives she is relating, as for example in the Shawn pallet one, unable to trust herself to be the loudest or the most truthful in explaining the threats and behaviours of the Westover brood. And although it is true that we remember in our own way, it is most telling when she questions herself over Shawn’s violence, not satisfied to rely on her own or one of his former girlfriend’s accounts because both would be damaged or biased, she acknowledges. Only when the story of the girlfriend’s account is corroborated by an impartial bystander does she accept the veracity underlining her own memories. And although she allows for several anecdotes of lovingly recounted family episodes, she does not wane nostalgically. Rather in a dispassionate voice, documented by journal entries, does she present her story, not self- pityingly but seemingly straight forward. And it is chilling.

That children in today’s world can be so brutalized and made to internalize the demons that have been set upon themselves is no less than chilling. Yet when in this time, children have been put in cages and separated from their parents, I suppose anything is possible.

A Simple Compliment

I scurry to the the centre to see if my last article has been posted in the magazine I write for. After all it’s February and after culling opinions from my nieces and daughter with possibly a photograph of my grandson, I’m excited. My piece dealt with an entrepreneur who sends thousands of books around the world free every month. But because this is the month of the Jewish Film Festival in SanDiego, the magazine contains mainly reviews of the upcoming films. I’m disappointed.

But still.I flip through its pages because maybe there’s a recipe, an op ed. Last month I learned about a special kind of sheep that apparently originated from the days of Rachel and Leah called Jacob’s flock! Then I see a letter to the editor that references my own review on Paul Auster’s 4321 and my spirits soar, my toes barely touching the ground, even an hour later in downward dog in my yoga class. Less than a paragraph and my mood has altered.

Now if you knew me, you’ld know I’m not a braggart and most would say I’m pretty humble, but like most people, a few positive words go far in lifting my heart and mind.

My mother taught me the benefit of a compliment, not by lecture but by her actions. Even out to buy her groceries in a casual interchange with a cashier or even a dog walker, a person involved in an ordinary job, she would take the time and thoughtfulness to address them, always respectful, finding something upon which to remark. (Not to everyone, of course). Always sincere, a smile, too. I think of those tiny acts a lot, trying to brighten someone else’s day. Because it does make a difference.

In my painting class in La Jolla, I observe a plethora of works that range from enchantingly awful to quite wonderful. A drawing of the model in pencil catches my eye and I note it is very good so I tell the drawer and she is pleased. Although she can see with her own eyes more than a likeness, a piece that has made more of the subject than mere representation, the drawer smiles warmly and I can tell she welcomes my comment, receptive to my words. I think of how easy it is to speak a truth and have the recipient acknowledge it. And how better to actually have your forthright compliment accepted with grace, not false pride, dismissal or embarrassment- even though I am sometimes guilty myself through embarrassment of reacting that way. But for the brief interchange between she and me, its a small sparkle of sunshine that bounces off her and warms me too. The entire conversation has lasted maybe a minute or two.

Drawing is an interesting process as you need talent, truly to do something worthwhile. For most of us it’s a kind of therapy as we leave our worries, our preoccupation with ourselves and focus on “the thing”, the model: whether it be a vase or a nude. Even with practice there is a difference between technique, even excellent technique and that splash of talent that brings together form, colour, composition so the work sings, transcending the ordinary. In many cases such as in my mundane class, most participants strive towards creating the verisimilitude that approaches the feel or even actual similarity of facial features. I watch my granddaughter move to music and know there is an inborn ability that causes her body to swing just so, not awkward or cutesy, but natural. That’s how it is with art that reaches out and beyond the” Yah, that’s good!” and the woman I praise has made her work quietly resonate, all parts coalescing into a song, not just individual sweet notes- the whole as Coleridge wrote, greater than the sum.

And even though she may be secretly pleased, it’s good to hear someone echo your own thoughts. The drawer in my class does impute, making the model somehow more, and in a gesture, or my overall perception, new information is gathered, a fresh or unique understanding is gleaned. There’s that frisson, deep new knowledge afforded by the drawer’s work. In truth, artists, drawers, students of art history have been taught how to look, how to see and comprehend, understanding what the illerati scoff at with, “Any child could do that” or, “ Haha. A polar bear in a snow storm.” However, the more time one takes to look, they really do begin to see.

When I marked student essays, I was asked , “What is the difference between an A paper and a C?” When you read enough of them, you begin to see how language can be transformed to connote more, that the inclusion of figures of speech such as hyperbole, allegory, simile, alliteration can dress even the dullest sentence with style. You notice the flow of words, the argument that tickles your mind, pushing beyond the page. It just makes more of its topic. And that’s art.

And how hard is it to note to the writer, the drawer that their work has reached out to you, the reader, the viewer, the silent audience.

So I say it. And I mean it, “ That’s a lovely drawing.”

iPad Annoyance

iPads are frustrating, especially for Boomers, those who have not grown up with the technology, not to mention those of us who never felt truly comfortable with more than pen and pencil. Perhaps that is one reason I love to draw: the sweet comfort of a piece of wood held gently against my fingers or a lovely Montblanc nestled in my hand, appreciative of its design and feel: the birthday gift of a beloved son.

This morning I push the “ reply” button on my email and the responding alphabet splits into two. I’m not sure why. In all the years I’ve commandeered the tablet, this has never occurred. Has my finger slipped? Has the tablet elf decided it’s time to add a new element or prompt the appearance of an underused feature?Are you listening to me and playing with me, machine? I feel the sheer scorn of all the Millennials and their quick- fingered ilk.

I look for a way to undo this annoyance, but the arrows that go both ways only work if I want to erase or remove entire words? I write in this irritating configuration to my husband shivering in Canada, inviting his counsel. He suggests turning the machine off and on. I move to another area of the Ipad, hoping that perhaps the dreaded overused incomprehensible machine will forget that change of alphabetic setup, return to default( does it even have a default position?),hoping this pain-in-the-ass new combination will magically disappear to allow me back to the original configuration I’ve used forever . But NO! It remains fast even having spread its infestation of trouble to other locales where I must write or communicate. I return to my email. Maybe if I jump up and down three times, wish upon a glittering star, cast omens, think pink thoughts, but it’s still there. Grrrrr.

Somehow I “ wipe” the two sections together and bravo! they coalesce but into a new formation in the middle of the page, not sitting neatly at the bottom as they once did.

When I worked at OCT and even as far back as Northern Secondary School, my colleagues suggested my

perfect job would be to make things disappear on the computer because I was really really good at that. Even my tech wizard boss would scratch his head in awe and wonder at my talent, unable to retrieve documents, programs, whatever because poof! all had vanished. I made sure I had a paper copy of my thesis, fearful that this “ skill” might unexpectedly and unbidden banish years of focused research.

What also perturbs me is the Ipad’s “ thinking” that it knows the word I intend to write, not just suggesting, but obliterating my thoughts. Sometimes it provides me with unwanted suggestions, or a variety of verbs in multiple tenses. I punch in my correct word to the sneaky little demon who would usurp my machinations, but still, it insists upon actually replacing my chosen word , causing me double effort to extricate its permutation from my own. This makes me furious. It’s as if we are playing” choose a word” and the IPad not ME is in charge, reprogramming me with some rubbish expression that has nothing to do with my context or intent. And because it’s a damn machine,I cannot yell or curse at it because some moron has programmed the first three letters of pro-, for example, to give me “protest, protesters, proactive, prototype, probable, procrastination… “whatever- that slows my thoughts and interrupts my intent.

And who too taught this jerk, this computer whiz about apostrophes, the difference between its and it’s, and that every proper name also requires an apostrophe? What lessons has the programmer forgotten from their year of failing Grade 9 English on the proper use of grammar.

And even now, having at least made those two sections come together in one swoop, I must have commandeered some other feature for as I type this, those damn bars are preventing me from seeing what I am writing . Double Grrrr.

And now – alas again-it’s a fight between me and the machine as it hides what I am writing. My only recourse is to keep typing behind the encroaching alphabet bar because it is obscuring my view, yet I refuse to stop, to bend, to give in to this annoyance, this shape shifter. I pull the bar down; it stubbornly bounces back to block my view, mocking me by refusing to move. I touch the screen gently, whispering terms of endearment, wink provocatively, suppressing the desire to smash it to smitherins ( a word with which it is unfamiliar. Only that recognizable red underline used on students forever to indicate error. Mea culpa) No improvement.

Now I notice the words, my words are emerging beneath the obscuring bar. So hello!, I see you and can make my own corrections. Brave stupid word- wherein the machine can order and rearrange my concepts, blocking or reinventing what I am trying to communicate, causing me to type and retype ( not “ restyle” the word this stupid thing just replaced, and so I must retype “ retype”).

I know I am not slick, admittedly backward in fact in technology and I acknowledge some leaps and bounds in this advance in computers and iPads afford us- from Scrabble against an invisible “intermediate” opponent , Lumosity, on line meditation and new language learning, but those are the things I trigger for myself, not the remedial restorative programs all ready living in this device sitting on my lap. I want to trigger my thoughts, not request corrections or reinterpretation from a blockhead god whose “mind” has all ready been set, set to react to a few incipient letters of a word not fully formed, prefixes of a handful of consonants and vowels. When I put something down on this ersatz paper, I don’t want it interrupted so that my consciousness must correct another’s versions of what I am going to say, arrest my flow, yes my flow of verbiage that I may decide to correct, but I want to own that privilege.

I suppose there is some way to unprogram and rebuke this expensive piece of trash that apparently knows my thoughts better than I, attempting to obliterate my writing persona. But should I turn this bad boy upside down, shake it, bang at its buttons, scream at it( totally useless), it may make everything disappear and perhaps, only perhaps I might be worse off. Of course, I could retire to my desk with luxurious pen and pencil once again, but then, aside from snail mail, how could I tell my followers about my weekly rage?

And now that we know early use and exposure to this kind of technology will in deed impede the development of young children, how too it is not raising the blood pressure of the boomers, extending a reason to delegate this invention to the closet with our old shoes and retro clothes?. A strange contraption this and yet I reluctantly admit I have become its slave as I constantly seek its company, like a friend I’ld rather drop and yet to which I am attracted by what they offer in the way of entertainment, puzzle and stimulation, enlarging my world while captivating me with its charms, an evil witch full of tricks and tribulations, bamboozling, erasing my thoughts with their own. Moving forward we are drawn back into the realm of the shamen( no Ipad, not “ shaken”), my plural for shaman. Or does no word exist for you?

More magic , less reason and razzledazzle from the creators who spawned us. What else does the future hold to control and perturb us?

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