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Binging

I could say it was the unexpected Christmas ice storm that provoked my behavior: but that would be a lie. I think we recognize aspects of our behavior, aspects that we control or control us, depending on circumstances.

But last night after minus 26 degree weather and comfortably tucked into my sofa under a chenille afghan, I had to admit that every aspect of my evening existence screamed : binger.

Binging Behaviour One:
I love anything chocolate and although I had purchased chocolate popcorn to share with my husband that night, the bag was being steadily emptied from noon onward. I rationalized that the 2 second walk to the kitchen was burning some calories. Did I really believe that closing the bag with the chip sealer would somehow deter me from finishing them?

Funny how we can delude ourselves when we want to: imagining, bargaining, making deals, whatever. I admit the delectable savouring, the prolonged sucking of the chocolate bits off the popcorn, very slowly to sustain the moment when the hardness softens and then melts dreamily on the tongue- is tantalizing.

So being drawn back to the kitchen over and over again to scavenge for- just a few more handfuls is like a siren’s call to hit the rocks no matter what. Interestingly, I did not feel guilty in the slightest, each grabby searching handful re-establishing the lure of my addiction. So much better than just regular popcorn, or whole chocolate bars, although Cadbury’s fruit and nut hits the right note sometimes; however, this popcorn satisfies me. It has the crunch, the velvet texture, the crispness, the nubbly feel on the tongue and the noise I love that usually comes from stomping on chips- to my family’s annoyance, but fulfills my aesthetic need. I think as well it’s the uneven textures of chocolate on popcorn as I hold it in my mouth. It invites me to continue on until the bag is empty, even turning it over to seek for crumbs.

Binging Behaviour Two:
Frustrated as I await two shipments of wool from the UK, I needed something to do with my hands. I finished the wonderful Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, appreciating her thought that we seek beautiful things because it leads us on to bigger beauties, and her understanding that art is a midpoint between reality and illusion, perhaps a hiding place when life becomes really too hard to bear. The book recalled for me the rapscallions from Dickens’ streets, the Oliver Twists in the memorable abused character of Boris. I thought The Goldfinch a good example of the picaresque, a genre that depicts realistic episodes as the protagonist travels through multilevels of society: from New York to Vegas to Europe, scams and relationships and lost boys in search of identities. Throw in art work and I am happy. Binging again as I cannot move from being ensconced in my couch unable to tear my eyes from the page, except perhaps to snatch popcorn from the near empty bag.:-)

Cathy Tile’s book group’s next book, The Watch about an Iraqi woman with no legs coming to bury her brother’s body in Iraq is a pretty grim read, echoes of Agamemnon. As antidote, I take out the yarn to knit my grandson a new sweater to distance myself from the ugliness I know that pervades the world, particularly war stories. Thus, calling a hiatus from my binge behavior.

Binging Behaviour Three:
Most people knit a bit, leave a bit, resume whenever. Not I. I am so obsessive that I do not stir for hours until the garment is almost finished. No matter tearing eyes, I am driven to complete, breathlessly pursuing a sleeve, a design, a cable pattern to its end.

Last night I completed an entire back. To put it down is so difficult as I almost hear it entreating me, to complete me, make me whole, scream the elves locked inside the garment, get on with it., win the race and scream success. In my closet there are umpteen knitted projects in a variety of colours. I fantasize that I am problem-solving by following a pattern, making it look as it does in the patternbook picture.

Yet quite often, I concoct solutions to puzzles that are not really there , for I do not read ( former English teacher that I am!) properly, quickly scanning the instruction and then having to tear back because there is a hole where no hole should be. My addiction is balanced by a belief that my fingers are being kept supple as they race back and forth over the lines of craft . Yet for me, there is much that fascinates me because of the interweaving of colours and textures, thick and thin, variegated and soft, that sets my mind on fire, satisfying that aesthetic call.

Binging Behaviour Four
We were even binge watching. This new term we recently discovered in the newspaper this holiday describes exactly our- at least my viewing habits. Netflix runs great stuff: from House of Cards to Orange is the New Black, Hannibal and now Weeds. Weeds is old stuff but this holiday, we have been truly watching show after show, often 2-4 a night of the 25 minute variety.

The characters as discussed in previous blogs are immoral. In this case, Nancy in Weeds is a widowed mother selling pot- to the destruction of her two sons, Silas and Shane. She momentarily feels compunction, but not enough to get an ordinary job as most of the population must, to survive. The people she interacts with and that includes her creepy brother-in-law should never be around children.

I imagine we are supposed to think this plucky skinny woman who always has a plastic drink container complete with straw in her scrawny hands ( “This woman has balls,” says a biker pot dealer) is impressive and the equal of any guy. And so she may be, but she pushes her family over and over again to the edge of danger, involving herself in crimes beyond drug dealing.

I know it’s only a show and yes, I binge on watching it. Maybe like the knitting and popcorn to get to the other side of it; the end ( ironically to start all over again), but the show presents a morality that has become more and more acceptable to kids because it is constantly dramatized, de-sensitizing the issues that provoke outrage not acceptance. As in the humanization of the mom who goes to great lengths to provide for her family, just as Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street, maintains his bilking people of hard earned funds to make money is justifiable,we are shown the tough resilience of keeping the course, fighting off bigger fish so these anti-heroes can be successful in their quests and triumph over difficult odds. Even some softening of their characters is included : “ as your mom” in “Weeds”, the horrible mother murmurs, as she kisses Silas’ head. Feh.

It’s true that there would be no story if Nancy kept her pants on and went to church and chose to sell purses at the Bay. The anti-hero, the trickster gets the space and like the Perils of Pauline, we are transfixed by her penchant to survive at all costs.
Yet, our society has lauded so many bad heroes that we become junkies in our need to watch and cheer them on. From video games to reality shows, these examples cannot be good for teaching values, and instructing good from bad.

Although Orange is the New Black presents a plethora of humanizing narratives, the protagonist Pyper on furlong for her grandmother’s funeral is shown wrapped around a bottle of booze, at least admitting she is a changed person to the one she was when she entered incarceration. She boldly informs those who have maintained her image that she is no different from the other inmates, white colour crime or not, and that she has succumbed to doing bad things and she understands how similar she is to the rest of the inmates.

Someone, also a former jailed inmate, wrote to say that although the show brings attention to incarceration, the show is glamorized and unlike Oz ( strong revulsion on my part as I used to say, “ It’s like being inside a toilet bowl) it does not reveal the reality of jail.

Yes, I am a luddite, grown up in other times and I know that life will continue as it does shaped by the contexts that continue to change and reflect the mores, advancements?, sadly technological advances in society.

Do I enjoy my binging?

Yes, I do.

Fortunately I have learned that I must not keep the house stocked with chocolate, especially chocolate popcorn. My husband has become the gatekeeper of addictive shows. But unfortunately the store of sweaters continues to tumble from my cupboard and as long as there are beautiful wools with great textures, fabulous colours or pattern books that call for me, I will respond, lead by the lure of their song.

Well, what to do while the husband falls asleep in his chair?

Comprehending Music

I am a visual art person. I have a Masters in Art History. I have always drawn and more recently started to paint. However, although I enjoy music, particularly, classical or what my grandsons refer to as “dinda music”, as my special name from them is “dinda”, I truly do not know how to listen.

My father’s avocation, vocation and passion was the perfection of sound and therefore, music. I rejected this aspect of my early life: unable to understand this link he shared with my musical sister. In any case, my lateral, visual- consuming brain would not have cottoned to the search for the purity of electronic calculations that snaked through circuitry, wires and tubes and out into the world to produce a more perfect realization of sound in installations that found their homes in university listening rooms. He was gifted. I see him in my mind’s eye at his workbench, a watchmaker perfecting each jewel until it became a masterpiece.

Both my sister and I were given music lessons at the piano. I did not practice, possessed no talent and as she demonstrated an ability that landed her in competitions and concert halls, even Massey Hall, I demurred and scowled. One day, I discovered a note from a piano teacher that exhorted my mother to stop wasting her money, that I was a lovely girl, but… When I confronted her, she said that people can be wrong. Well, this teacher was not wrong.

Eventually childish behavior loses its grip and we understand that our bratty actions only hurt ourselves and deprive us of something we may actually enjoy. So it was for me, allowing myself to go beyond silly jealousies and feelings of resentment. Eventually the dial on the radio came to rest on classical stations that attracted and calmed me.And lately I’ve been attending free concerts at the operahouse and exposing myself to a wide assortment of music from Indian ragas to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier.

Sometimes I attend with friends, sometimes by myself. November 19, 2013 . Artists of the Glenn Gould School performed a Brahms Quartet in G Minor, Op.25. I pinched my eyes shut because it helps me concentrate on the music. Any visual stimulus distracts me and the setting for these one hour concerts is glorious: all floor to ceiling windows on University Avenue, the old colour-turning trees in front of Ogoode Hall, people in a rush crossing the street- loiterers, even repairs on the Avenue draw my attention. I am suddenly delighted to pick out a bright red hat or intense yellow jacket in the gray throng that flows on the street. Pop, away from the sound and towards the visual I veer.

In critiquing art, I know the language. I can consider social context; I can examine the physical properties of shape, texture, line, colour, relate parts to whole; I can place the painting or sculpture within historical parameters, comparing or contrasting it with artists or art movements in the day, before or after. I can parse the elements as Albert Barnes did or reject that form of analysis: I can call up the critical interpretations by the Griselda Pollocks, the Clement Greenbergs, the Christopher Humes. Sadly I possess no such compass for music.

So as I listened, I saw things: I translated the beginning disruptive invasive sounds into Kandinsky’s bursts of colour on the canvas; the rising crescendos propelled me upwards towards multicolored stained glass windows in 14th Century Gothic churches,experiencing an almost ecstatic soar; the folkloric repetitions plummeted me back to earth , towards tables of beer mugs and camaraderie that recalled Brueghel’s swaying peasants, dancing and thumping one another on their shoulders. My friend heard motifs. I cannot say that I discerned them throughout the performance. I could entertain a movement from dark to light reminiscent of say,Michelangelo’s Adam parting the heavens in the Sistine Chapel, suggestive perhaps of from chaotic to collaborative from the commencement of the Allegro to the final Rondo all zingarese: Presto.

I wondered how others perceive music. Did they know the language, the arrangement of crescendos and diminuendos; were they were guided by their knowledge of the Baroque? I knew about Baroque in art: all those twisting tornadoes, staircases, oddly shaped pearls, overdecorated room, dramatic contrasts…. Were others like me content to just float on their emotional response? I seemed to be the only one swaying, moving my body to capture and respond viscerally to the instruments. Or maybe they swayed inwardly.

My friend said she enjoyed watching Jamie Parker, on the piano, stretching his stubby fingers to unbelievable octaves. I noted but did not pause on that technical triumph. It did not interest me. I thought, Renoir later in life also strapped paint brushes on his fingers when arthritis overtook his flexibility.

Just as a few weeks previously when Julie Hereish and Michel-Alexandre Broekaert from Montreal recently returned from studying in Vienna to perform here, I ventured they might be lovers, so entwined were they with one another and the music. Interesting threesome! I was transfixed by their faces and Julie’s graceful arms that never stopped lovingly caressing her cello. More emotionally engulfing than practical manoevers- at least for me. That day as at the Glenn Gould Artists’ performance, I reflected, the piano is the spine that supports and holds the music together. It is a champion in its own right, but essential to bringing out and together the music. It is a tender giant with power that dazzles for itself, but also kept gentle and tame as it plays nicely with the other instruments.

And I thought as I did seeing Kudelka’s new interpretation of Swan Lake: that these creators of dance and music are genius. Could my brain even stretch to imagine the difficulties of developing, and executing every single segment( for instrument or ballerina) that makes sense individually and ensemble?

On Saturday night, wise daughter #1 reminded me that there is a language, patterns and traditions that these composers began with en route to departing or reaffirming the precedent paths others had taken. Truly the artistry takes one’s breathe away- even if I do not know a way to officially understand it.

But I know it envelops my soul. It simply makes me feel differently! That’s the message in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch : art changes you: “ that a really great painting [piece of music] is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and particular… it’s a secret whisper from an alleyway- Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you” (Little, Brown and Company, 2013, p.758)

And because this is my blog, I cannot leave the topic without addressing the impact and importance that art has on our/everyone’s children: for itself and for learning. So here is my naked diatribe:

It is no secret that I love the arts and when I think that schools will not focus on them, or even worse remove them, I fret. My doctoral thesis work demonstrated their importance, particularly for at-risk students: motivating and providing a reason for staying in school. At the very least- administrators might look at the connection between math and piano, rationalizing that music raises those stupid scores that are supposed to indicate how well children have learned.

In 1980, Elliot Eisner , educational guru, wrote an (actually many) article listing what a child learns when she draws: problem-solving, contextual knowledge, relating segments, verisimilitude, physical control of tools, differentiation between real and imagined, competencies in multiple areas— and on and on. One crumby scribble opens up a huge range of learning opportunities. And I am quite sure the same applies to music, dance, and film.

Life without the arts? Unthinkable.

Lucky me to have sat for a blissful hour in a room reverberating and ringing with the resonances of magical sound. Maybe everyone comprehends in their own special way,ferreting out pleasure that makes sense to them alone. Like me.

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