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Here I Am :Jews in America

Books that have Jewish connections have always appealed to me. As early as kindergarten and only subliminally aware what being Jewish even meant through family dinners and Sunday school, I was drawn to stories that featured families that somehow conveyed to my developing brain that there was a connection, something “yiddishkeit.” Early walks with my mother to the library resulted in finding scary tales of the holocaust and children who were abandoned or hidden. Soon followed Anne Frank and her bravery. Eventually Bernard Malamud, Chaim Potok, Saul Bellow, E.L. Doctorow, Joseph Heller, Elie Weisel and Philip Roth, among many others were my predilection for gleaning the face of Jews of the diaspora, these authors American who had lived knowledge of the “Der goldene medina”–the land of gold.”

Canadian versions of immigration from my parents’ quiet talk concerned a subtle anti-Semitism with shocking references to “ dirty Jews”, number restrictions in the professions and an alignment with any who had broken through the Jewish barrier to be acknowledged without any slur to their religion. Forest Hill-where I attended school although our store was perched at the farthest edge of the public boundary- celebrated more Jewish holidays than I knew existed and the population was almost 100% Jewish. So in spite of the wealth and airs of the country club kids and their summer camps, there was a safety in numbers and a push towards the student body making their mark in the world and not being defined by religion.

For whatever reason, Roth spoke to me of a contemporary American (and Canadian ) experience relatable to my personally alienated condition of life. Goodbye Columbus presented the misfit, the worries, the search for the American dream, all part of my own growing up and awkwardness. My Jewishness was not overt, but it was there. Brought up with traditions that forbade mixing milk and meat, eating pork, being a mensch, giving anonymously and feeling insecure, particularly about my curly hair, along with a need to know who might hide me should another pogrom or holocaust erupt, Roth’s scenes felt familiar. So throughout my life, I followed Roth, sometimes growing away from his exaggerations and hyperboles, but occasionally embracing them. In deed, much much later, I was caught breathless when he published American Pastoral, now a film I refuse to see- lest it dislodge the strong images he has engrained with words in my imagination. What shook me in American Pastoral was his depiction and the demise of The American Dream. If The Great Gatsby was the apostasy of the dream, American Pastoral was the crushing ruin of broken America in pieces, perhaps our own contemporary reality of the ruination of unattainable dreams, racism, and discrimination. In shock at the dissolution of the family and by extension America, I grieved for the loss.

Jonathan Foer is a worthy successor to Roth. His most recent book Here I Am is much like the proverbial stone that ripples outward and poses so many essential questions, wherein personal crisis stands in for the public one. Jacob Bloch, the protagonist is first an everyman representative of the metrosexual who is a sensitive, loving, a hard working screenwriter. He too is a Jew, a Jew in America whose Jewishness is as familiar to me as is his privilege in society, his wisecracking irreverent humour ( he wonders if the Germans will run out of “ guilt and lampshades”), his listening to NPR podcasts, his support of civil libertarianism, his Vitamix, his Ball & Farrow paint, his upscale home in Washington, D.C. There he espouses the markers of Jewish life: bar mitzvahs, the two days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur at synagogue, family suppers celebrating minor holidays, a certain lapsing devotion to one’s parents, kvetching, questioning, sarcasm, and a loose relationship with Biblical stories from Hebrew school. He is a familiar face of a certain kind of non-observant Jew still governed by the tales and traditions of his faith.

Somewhere between the holocaust and the creation of Israel as the safehaven for the Jewish outcast and the wandering American Jew stands this story, the novel caught between a sadness for the relatives one can never know and Israel the tenuous land where one will never live. Foer’s ripples extend from Jacob’s progenitors to his sons and then on to his cousin Tamir, a sabra who lives in Israel.

What does the Jew in America look like? He is indistinguishable from anyone else. He eats bacon and shrimp, protests unjust causes, cares deeply for his children, is careless about his email, ponders putting down his dog, and worries a lot. But because his heritage is Jewish and Foer the writer is too, there is an embediness of Jewish schtick, the Woody Allen angst in much Jacob does. He is a likeable man in spite of his technological sloppiness and his self awareness that makes him try over and over again: to get it right. Much like Sisyphus, he rolls the stone up the hill, only to be dragged back down to the bottom of the heap. He confronts his fears, as early as the night before his own bar mitzvah, jumping into the lion’s den at the zoo like the Biblical Daniel, the intensity of the moment surpassing almost all others. Yet he laments to Tamir, regretfully,“ I am smaller than life.”

He wants to believe that his son Sam has not written inflammatory words in Hebrew school and champions him. He engages in truthful conversations with his other sons, attempting not to scare or scar them. With Julia, his estranged wife, he practices how to explain the marriage separation to the boys. Unable to fulfill Isaac’s, his great grandfather’s, last wish to be buried in Israel, Jacob sits beside the corpse for days, a responsibility usually fulfilled by Jewish others at the funeral home. He assumes the burden of putting down Argus, rubbing the animal’s stomach to ease him to sleep. And because Foer adores lists, when Jacob tells the reader about the times he will not forget, the last “times” the tiny details of our lives are noted, they resonate with our experiences, particularly with our children as babies, toddlers, and adolescents: the last bath, the last bedtime, the last bedtime story, the last whiff of an infant’s head.

But this is more than just a story about Jacob as it moves outward into America and gives us Israel. Like Roth, who teaches interesting information in American Pastoral such as how to make a glove in his factory in Newark, New Jersey, so Jacob a student of language also tutors us. He tells us that a group of swans are a “lamentation”, hummingbirds a “glittering,” orioles a “radiance.” After all, he is a storywriter, but also an enquirer, curious and wanting to learn, even writing a novel based on his family.

The stories of Jews are here too. At Isaac’s funeral, the young rabbi in running shoes with laces undone, surprises Jacob with his insight and visits to his grandfather, his eulogy focused on the Bible: what did Moses do with the broken tables hurled down from the mountain when he saw the golden calf used for worship? Why did Pharaoh daughter spy Moses in the bullrushes? What is Jewish crying like?

We learn there are three ways to mourn: with tears, silence and song, each proper in its own time and place. The word Israel comes from the root “ to wrestle”, a theme that we attach to Jacob’s manner of dealing (or not) , and are reminded that Jacob’s name in the Bible was changed to Israel when he wrestled with the angle; and even in Max’s bar mitzvah speech, he reflects, “What we don’t wrestle we let go. Love isn’t the absence of struggle. Love is the struggle”. The emphasis on words, writing, miscommunication, word games and the need to communicate paramount in this novel.

Later when the prime minister of Israel summons Jews from around the world back to the homeland, he picks up a shofar and blows. The Biblical story of Abraham having to choose between sparing his son or responding to G-d is the backdrop to this novel. When G-d calls out to Abraham, he answers, “I am here”: the same words that are the title of this book. Abraham willingness to sacrifice what is dearest to him is also recalled by Jacob’s admission that he has too much love for happiness, that his love overpowers being happy for his children. Cousin Tamir asks,” You find such complicated ways to say such simple things”, but life for Jacob is incredibly complicated. And there are so many questions that this novel does pose: do we maintain tradition just for the sake of it? Are words so much more powerful than deeds that they should destroy a marriage? What role does Israel actually play for the Jew of the diaspora? Is it neurotic to love one’s children so deeply? Which choices are the right ones…

The novel is a meditation of sorts on loving one’s children, and how we must let them go. Sam’s bar mitzvah speech works out a compromise as he explains that unlike Hamlet’s question, to be or not to be is NOT the question. The question is “to be” AND “not to be”. The carefully drawn children are believable as they disregard their parents, mock them, experiment and find themselves. Sam’s extensive explorations into masturbation with rice pudding, “alien green aloe vera” among other substances and his desire to construct ( and demolish) a synagogue through the machinations of his female alter ego avatar on the internet’s, Other World, are likely the stuff of adolescent boys, even recalling Roth’s Portnoy’s fantasies.

The seemingly calm Tamir, Jacob’s cousin is his foil. Hairier, less worried about social niceties, out right brash and concerned for the fulfillment of the present, especially Israel, Tamir puts his own life on the line in the fight to save his country as does his son Noam. Tamir and Jacob, along with Sam and Noam, are two sides of the same Jewish coin, the one who stays; the one who goes, repeating their fathers’ and grandfathers’ legacies. In spite of the macro-conflict occurring in his life, Tamir patiently and kindly listens to Jacob’s micro-conflict with his wife, the destruction of the family paralleling the bombardment of Israel by a united Arab front when an earthquake happens there to destabilize the country.

Alex Clark in The Guardian speaks to “ the fetishizing their inner lives… that flirts with taboo and exposure.” In this way and others, I think of Jonathan Franzen’s books, most recently Purity in a desire to connect with one’s family, the intrusion of technology, casual relationships, over indulgences in today’s world, and an over-engagement in meta analysis. At the start of Foer’s novel, Jacob and Julia play word and mind games, wanting to identify what is bigger on the onside than the outside. Likely it is this over thinking, the abundances of thinking about too many choices and their consequences that leads them into the dark night of separation: regretfully, this is our society today, one that lauds multitasking and unriddling riddles, with a backdrop of oldsters, the baby boomers, wishing for a simpler time: when kids could cross the street and not worry about the pedophile or car rage- or the absolute best face cream or nursery schools for their kid.

Foer’s novel has been criticized but also praised, and by non-Jewish critics as well. It touches a deep chord on more than one occasion, promulgating the “ what ifs” and causing the reader to reread or lay the book down and actually think about something that Foer has thrown into the “eruv”, what he describes as a space in Hebrew as cordoned off, differentiated from the public into private. I like how Foer teaches me stuff, even Bible stuff. He’s not a self-hating Jew, or a particularly Jewish Jew. He’s an American with Jewish problems. He is a representative protagonist in American literature who deserves more than a glance, Jew or not.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The American Landscape and Canada

I have often stated that I want- at this point- in my life beautiful. San Diego is that. However, arriving in LA for an event, I am confronted with everything I dislike about America. The buildings resemble 14th Century Gothic churches that eventually collapsed because of the competitive desire of the builders to touch the sky,pushing them higher and higher. Hotels here not content to be solo versions of rest and repose combine as the JW Marriott and Ritzcarlton have done here: the second a looming appendage to the first. The Weston sprawls for an entire block. Even restaurants are overly encroaching octopi, presiding over almost entire blocks.

The resurrection of Downtown LA reminds me that in spite of the line of overly heaped bundle buggies toppled here and there that the U.S. desires to be the biggest, and most imposing, stretching upwards to the stars and sideways wide to encompass numerous freeways and acreage. How appropriately had Betsy Ross envisioned their flag in 1776 to have created the symbol that flutters in the breeze!

As a girl in the 60’s who came to LA to visit her cool cousins, I had no sense of America’s expansionism- even though our history classes focused on the Monroe Doctrine or the Manifest Destiny or the Purchase of Louisiana. My cousins’ friends asked if I drove a dogsled to school and if l occupied a teepee. I merely giggled and guffawed at their lack of knowledge of Canadian history. I devoured my first big Mac in California and luxuriated in being away from home, alone, for the first time. I sped through traffic on the back of a motorcycle en route to beaches named Hermosa, lazing all day in the scorching sun. I was driven about in cars, even rising before my aunt and uncle, to trudge up some hill to watch the sun glisten through the smog.

Back then I cared little for politics ( although I still maintain that the play in politics is about power only using the issues as excuses for self-aggrandizement, cynic I may be ). If I was considered an oddity as a homegrown product of Canada as a visitor to the US back then, so be it. It played smally into my hedonistic teenage romp. Only later, did I realize that love for Canada is in deed bred in the bone. Much much later, when I noted that turning on a tap in a faraway place yielded beautiful drinkable water did I pause to consider that Canada was truly spectacular in many ways. And its vistas humbling.

Just last weeks at a Blue Jay game, I watched as a family struggled to contain a large man in a wheel chair. It was obvious that he was impaired, likely from a debilitating disease that had robbed him from not just standing unaided, but even keeping his head from bobbing this way and that, his glasses attached by a thick elastic to the back of his head. When our National Anthem played, he immediately leapt from his seat, terrifying his family that in his attempt to “stand on guard for thee” he might just topple over the glass barrier. How deeply does our passion for our country reach- and even when we cannot control our limbs, that we somehow jump to attention to demonstrate our feeling for this country.

Canada is my home. I applauded John Chretien’s refusal to align itself with the US, demanding real proof that were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq . We stood alone. Our health care system demonized by US is still a thing of beauty, equalizing both rich and poor. We like to pride ourselves on being different from the Americans, that we hold different values. Sadly, however and over the ages, we too have looked the other way, on issues of immigration our statesmen touting none is too many or some such nonsense to crises of real life and death matters, opening and closing borders, separating serious practical concerns from theoretical ones. And in terms of our environment, while 181 of 193 countries in the United Nations recognize their citizens’ right to a healthy environment, we have not enshrined it in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even pulling out of the Kyoto Accord, demurring that the price of enforcing it would bankrupt us.

Yet, we accepted same sex marriages, allowed women and their doctors to determine necessary abortions, promoted cannabis for the very ill, and are working towards operationalizing euthanasia. I reflect that no country is perfect and we ride on a tide of politicians who drive our boat into uncharted or fearful waters.

Yet here back in LA, it is the display of these ridiculously high and monstrously wide buildings that flash silver and reflect the sun right into my eyes that gives me cause for complaint. At the same time, I love the new Disney concert hall designed by our own Canadian Frank Gehry with its unbelievable shapes and curve. Just today I read that his fascination of the curvilinear was likely engendered by the fish kept alive by his grandmother for their Sabbath dinner. In Toronto.

I laud the Getty museum with its staggering art collection as a tribute to the good of some Americans. Yet I am uncomfortable with the showiness, the lack of humility and the bravado of the Towers of Babel that symbolize the presence, the riches of a country where at the bases of these edifices homeless people sleep in their dank hoodies curled like the tendrils of ferns. In my head is the ignorance of a Donald Trump insulting, bold, brash and so embarrassing allowed to compete for the highest position in the land. And the right to bear guns, well, that is an unbearable story.

It all confuses me: the display of power, who grabs more, who displays better?.

Later as we anticipated the event for which we had come to LA, I admired the dashing hubub of people in tuxes and black lace. We were beginning to worry we would not arrive on time at the Biltmore, lusciously tiled and gilted as the first home to the Oscars. My husband suggested we call Uber and before we knew it, a grey car burst through the entwined mess of traffic permanently stalled in the driveway of the Marriott. The driver who was cordial and accommodating managed to detangle his car and we were off for the short blocks that separated us from the celebration.

Chatting about the rise of Uber, our driver, a dark and handsome young man explained he worked for Uber only part time because he was studying to improve his speech which was very good I, a former English teacher, thought. Carefully and haltingly he responded to our questions, revealing he had no family in LA, that he had come from Syria only on year ago. Reluctant when we continued to question, he said only his flight from his home could be a book: he had swam from Turkey to Greece and the United Nations had allowed him to stay.

Always wanting to accept and believe, but sure there is a story behind the tantalizing tidbit, we respected his privacy and did not press. He was grateful to be in the country, hoping once his English had improved to follow his dream- of all things- into marketing. This revelation drew me back to a night at the Saigon hotel at the Rooftop Bar overlooking Louis Vuitton and Juicy Couture where I considered the irony of a disastrous war fought for values that were in not in sync with the economy or desires of people.

I’m not sure of how to think about Syria. I want it black and white and people allowed to live and thrive in democracies so their lives are about good choices. I pondered how this Uber driver had afforded his car which he proudly proclaimed he owned. I wondered if he would meet some sympathetic beautiful Valley girl who would support his American Dream.

My thoughts on America are always tied to the Gatsby story and the image of the green light bouncing off the water. As well I carry with me Philip Roth’s American Pastoral with scenes of rotten decay that twisted the dream. Yet here in the flesh was not just a dreamer but a young man who through dint of determination was wrestling a new future for himself, fulfilling the dream.

Of course I cannot say to what lengths he had gone : had he bribed? lied? Or merely kissed his parents goodbye as they urged him to leave in the dead of the night? My imagination emboldened by my knowledge of the Holocaust and the fiction of heroic movies set my mind racing. Yet in the front seat, neat and quiet spoken was a person who like Tennyson’s Ulysses had striven…not to fail.

Impressive.

Almost a year later, the newspapers present us with the child washed ashore, an unsuccessful attempt for him and his family to achieve a safe harbor, his dreams dashed, and Canada at a pivotal point .

Pondering how far is the distance between connotation and denotation and confusing and conflating much else in between

The latest thing seems to be writing on gratitude- not that is a bad thing as it doesn’t hurt anyone to pause and consider the good in our lives. But like words and phrases, “ gratitude” seems to lose its meaning as people post their reflections: on Facebook, for example, and there attach them to certain notions and expressions that have become rather hackneyed or taken for granted, even twisting original notions into strange knots.

When we worked at the College, Fred M (and he was a brilliant scholar and thinker) and I used to discuss how certain phrases no longer purveyed their original intent because the “actual” meanings had been subverted and perverted as individuals put their own spin on expressions: words such as “Post-modernism” so that we often debated what was really being spoken of, what was anticipated , or morphed from the intended term.

One of my favourites was the transformation of the word “ collaborator”. During war, to be a collaborator was a bad thing in that it meant to conspire with the enemy. Now, all children are taught to collaborate with their peers- and to co-operate when they are engaged in their daily activities. Holocaust images of women who conspired, hair rudely shorn, shouts out at me as the signs hung beneath their necks publicly proclaimed them as collaborators, heads wobbling low. A bit like Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame on a recent episode of Game of Thrones. No one would want to be called a “collaborator”!

So now I ponder what it is that “gratitude” actually means and how we have spun it into another realm of meaning. My Pilates instructor initiated her blog writing on the topic of gratitude and I complimented her on her second piece that extolled water, connecting her experiences in a communal bath with friends in Morocco. It was an exceptional piece and I told her so. She segued into revealing how writing had triggered an unexpected line of events. For example, she explained that several years had passed since she had lunched at Marche downtown with her sister and a friend, F . Deciding to frequent the restaurant with another friend who was leaving town, she was aghast to run into F again: as they had not seen one another or spoken in quite some time. And I wondered is that gratitude or coincidence or a flick of fate?

I could offer a similar story. I had been at York University immersed in a course on artists’ materials and re-creating an illuminated manuscript, even applying the gold leaf bits with egg yoke as I endeavoured to imitate original techniques. I finished the piece and presented it to my sister when she graduated from medical school. Some years later, my husband and I were in London and rambling this way and that through the British Museum, with no specific plan, in the medieval section where precious pieces were housed beneath glass. Even few days, the manuscripts and treasured books were changed, pages turned or repositioned. As we strolled casually, my eyes were drawn to something that looked vaguely familiar. As we approached closer, I gasped to note that on display was the REAL manuscript- exposed there for only a few days- in the time when I chanced to pass by in my meanderings. How was that possible? How had my path crossed that of my manuscript? Was I filled with gratitude for this sighting?

My Pilates instructor says we are on paths that take us to places. Likely it is certain words that trigger our exploration and signify signposts around which we decide to allot meaning to certain events. To this I gloomily query, then we have no free will as our journeys then appear determined by something or someone, and we are perhaps like

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.

They kill us for their sport.” (William Shakespeare, King Lear).

She, my Pilates person, might say no, that we are all intertwined in the cosmos, Gaia, the personification of the Earth, one of the Greek primordial deities, the great mother of all: the primal Greek Mother Goddess; creator and giver of birth to the Earth and all the Universe.

But I also reflect on those three Greek goddesses whose job it was weave, measure and cut the cloth that determine our trajectories. A fatalist, I am, perhaps! Stuck in the factory of beginning and ending the lives of just so many people as throw away garments.

All words- as we were taught in school- have both connotation and denotation, as we pad them out with our own interpretations and conjecture, layering and bundling them with more than the dictionary assigned, conflating “gratitude” with something else deeper and more mysterious. More likely, this is the work of imagination or faith or belief, for should we strip all words of their associations, we would inhabit a life of bare bones without colour or possibility. However, if we cannot trust what a word really means, are we able to communicate at all?

When I taught Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage I structured my classes with different ideas of the Beginning, referring to male and female origins as adopted by various early societies. I found in The Chalice and the Blade (Riane Eisler 1987 ) interesting theories, some also harking back to Gaia. I recall relating to my students interpretations of the story of Rapunzel where transformations from single to multiple could also be discussed in light of the earth’s beginnings of asexual and sexual reproductions… along with ideas of communities of womanhood… and even explanations of the witch not being so witchy as she sought to protect Rapunzel from a male world.

That is the beauty of these old tales that almost call for paradoxical interpretations as an invitation to debate and conceptualization. But I also think in terms of embroidering a term, blowing it up like a balloon, stretching it beyond the literal, and losing sight of the triggering denotation.

So many concepts about where we come from, where we are going, the whys, the wherefores and perhaps ultimately how we choose to describe our own limited comprehension of our miniscule place in the scheme of things. Some might venture , hey, whatever gets you through that long dark night because we cannot live with utter simplicity.Play with your words; re-invent them; however, if we cannot agree on their meaning, we have returned to Babel: confused illiterates who cannot get the meaning of worlds because we all speak different languages and so we wander in our own small worlds.

I am not completely skeptical but hold to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation of the willing suspension of disbelief -for the moment, which constitutes perhaps poetic faith and fascination with the past and language. Maybe we veer here towards the Mystics as I imagine ladies in séances poring over crystal balls and Madame Blatavsky, her Theosophists influencing Kandinsky, Mondrian and Gauguin, William Butler Yeats, L. Frank Baum. But how far have we come when a “collaborator” is the aim of our education?

But what would life be without metaphor? As well, a fundamental belief in unity leads naturally to the further belief that all things about us are but forms or manifestations of a divine life. I ponder too the Romantic poets and their landscapes in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, or The World is Too Much with Us. Certainly Wordsworth and his pals placed immense importance on mysticism. Symbolism and mythology are, as it were, the language of the poet: Wordsworth staunchly trusting in an inward eye focused to visions, infinity, the boundlessness of the opening-out of the world of our normal finite experience into the transcendental.( See The Project Gutenberg EBook of Mysticism in English Literature by Caroline F. E. Spurgeon). Often artists and poetics see so deeply into a reality hidden beneath their paints and words that enables them to light their works towards another level of existence: that happily disconnects with this sad, torrid life that is crumbling by greed, politics and pollution. Even in the times of Wordsworth and Kandinsky, an inner life provided the solitude and balm to a less than perfect society. But the populace on Facebook, plagued as well by all the burdens of everyday existence appears in their posts far from poets in using language.OMG!

Maybe we have come full circle to the notion of gratitude with which I began this string of thoughts and I end with my favourite but crazed William Blake who wrote:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour (Auguries of Innocence).

With ONLY “infinity” and “eternity” open for diverse interpretation.LOL!

Where is home and how do we get there?

Like one million others last year, my daughter who lives in Pennsylvania had been without heat and power for three or more days. It’s no joke with a seven month baby.

Unable to locate a hotel room, her small family moved in with an aunt and uncle, taking over their daughter’s room. My daughter felt badly putting cousin Catharine out of her bed so they moved on, seeking another place to stay. Fortunately their wonderful babysitter offered refuge to not only my daughter’s family but also to their pets.

As disruption continued on, my girl wrote,” I had a sad realization last night that I don’t know where home is anymore—our house didn’t feel like it. Home in Toronto isn’t the same anymore…I just felt so lonely and sad—despite the fact that there are so many people who have reached out to care for us…”

This put me in mind of a question that focuses the writer’s, J.M. Coetzee’s work,

Where is home? And how do you get there?

I responded to my daughter that home is not a place, but a feeling where one knows security and love, yet I am aware that is only partly true for a house houses the minutiae that are associated with memories of who we are, where we have been and where we might go. It is a tangible extension of ourselves. And for me, connotes Jean-Paul Sartre’s thoughts on why we are unable to toss the old toys and items we grew up with when we were mere tots: having a relationship with those items provides a snapshot of ourselves- that we have a particular history- at a variety of stages in our own lives.

When I look around my own living room, I see the numerous photos that line the walls: of children and grandchildren at various points in their lives. I see objects such as a beaded horse brought back from Botswana; and the painting of purple and orange rocks and three blown pine trees that Howard commissioned for my 60th birthday. My eyes linger on us in wet suits just before we plunged into the waters of The Great Barrier Reef. I notice a smiling group of my children as young adults, smartly dressed with me at the center. I reflect on the pink walls of that room that were thought so bold but, so beautiful, and I recall that the seemingly impossible hotness of colour cured down.

I focus on our little grey nook in the kitchen with the huge uncovered windows where I sit and paint and write. My son-in-law admonishes me to cover them because we roast in the summer. I give a nod to the tiny red leatherette nook in my first childhood home when I was a curly headed child on Glengarry and imagine that the two nooks are linked to positive feelings of food and family.

I note the brown carpeted steps that connect up and downstairs in our home where children and grandchildren bounced off their bums before cautiously learning to navigate the small drops and eventually proclaim “I did it.” To our applause, of course.

A place becomes imbued with so much. And being removed from it is hard.

There is that famous question: if you had to leave your house immediately, what would you take with you? This was the fate of so many people during the holocaust. And what would YOU grab in your panic, your head spinning? Likely you might frantically locate something warm like a sweater or a coat; maybe money with which to barter, and for sure, a ring or photos of your loved ones. Book after book reminds us of the worn images tucked into a tattered shoe or secreted in a body fold that enabled a survivor to make it through dark passages and hopeless days.

Homes for writers, perhaps are a means to discover a sense of where their characters fit, where they can slump comfortably and rest and cease from their journeys or quests. The outward appearance and colours of a bedroom might suggest the inner sanctum or perpetual turmoil of their protagonists. A context substantiates clues of personality badly obfuscated.

The expression by Thomas Wolf, you can never go home again, is apt because everything changes. Although we might wish for the constants of a mother’s loving cuddle or joyous whoop of a dog as we enter through a door, these are only bits savoured and pasted into our hearts, fragments from a time before, that we may have idealized and cemented into our mind’s record book. The notion of home cannot be recaptured- only in memory can “home” remain fixed, and, thus, fantastical.

Yet, the thoughts and familiar objects we associate with home likely persist as signposts to feelings of acceptance and love, or ones we associate with belonging.

Today as I edit and rewrite this, the newspaper recounts stories of Nepal’s shattered lives due to earthquake and World Vision implores us to help; and Baltimore’s unrest shouts of unfathomable destruction and unrest in secure harbours where people can no longer return, meager habitations dashed where once they fragilely ensured respites from the day’s pains.

In our deepest and darkest of hearts, we carry the first nomads with us, the hunters and gatherers who searched for protection and safety from the elements, and our being homeless enjoins us with our primordial ancestors who knew the bitter cold, the need for fire and friendship to survive. We are terrified to encounter face to face our restless roots, fearing a return to that state of peril.

More than that, for us, there is a baby unsettled by missing the rituals of a morning schedule and his cosy crib and Dano, the massive dog, licking the baby’s chubby limbs. Yet with his mother, my daughter and his father, he must intuit the security that he is cherished, protected, held and loved in the most of unstable circumstances.

Where Home Is

Like one million others( last winter), my daughter who lives in Pennsylvania has been without heat and power for three or more days. It’s no joke with a seven month old baby. Unable to get a hotel room, her small family moved in with an aunt and uncle, taking over the daughter’s room. My daughter felt badly banishing Katharine from her bed so they moved on, searching for another place to relocate. Fortunately their wonderful babysitter offered refuge to not only my daughter but also to her pets which include several dogs and cats. As the disruption of their life continued, my girl wrote, “I had a sad realization last night that I don’t know where home is anymore—our house didn’t feel like it. Home in Toronto isn’t the same anymore…I just felt so lonely and sad—despite the fact that there are so many people who have reached out to care for us.”

This put me in mind of the question that drives much of J.M. Coetzee’s work,
Where is home? And how do we get there?

I responded to my daughter that home is not a place but a feeling where one perceives they are secure and loved, yet I knew that is only partly true, for a house is filled with things that we associate with memories of who we are, where we have been and where we might go. It is an extension of our inner selves.

When I look around my living room, I view the numerous photos that line the walls; of children and grandchildren at various points in their lives. I observe objects such as a colourful beaded horse brought back from Botswana, and the incredible vibrant painting of purple and orange rocks and three blown pine trees from Canada’s North that Howard commissioned for my 60th birthday. I reflect on the pink walls of that room that are so bold but, to me, so beautiful and remember how the colour cured down after we first bought the house. I think of our little nook in the kitchen with the huge uncovered windows where I sit and paint and write and read. I note the steps upstairs where children and grandchildren carefully learned to scramble, navigating and eventually proclaiming in triumph, “I did it.” Rooms and furniture become imbued with so much more; and they carry tales. Being physically removed is hard, especially when you have not chosen to leave the premises. I can certainly empathize with my daughter’s discomfort of having to depart her home.

I used to quote, making it a mantra that always invoked from my kids, “ Yes, we KNOW, Mom!” whenever we pulled into our driveway,“ Home is the place when you have to go there/, They have to take in (Robert Frost, The Death of The Hired Man). Back when I was in Grade 13, several millenniums ago we sat “provincial exams” and this poem was required text for the literature part of the English exam, but even then, the concept of home had been seared in my mind.

There is that famous question: if you had to abandon your house immediately, what would you take with you? Of course, this was the fate of the people during the holocaust.

And what would you take?

Likely you might grab something warm like a sweater or a coat, maybe a necklace or money to barter with, and -for sure- photos of your loved ones. Book after book reminds us of a worn image stashed in a shoe or a pocket covetously sewn into a garment overlooked by harsh authorities, a photo that somehow made it through dark passages and hopeless days.

I think too of the cookbooks scrabbled on bits of paper in concentration camps so that the inmates might reimagine the warming smells of challa baking or a fragrant roast, recalling home when the family once greeted Shabbos by candlelight, warm, safe, sated by love. Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin is one such book that describes how a remembered kitchen and kuchen prolonged survival.

For writers, maybe there is a sense of discovering where the fit is right for their protagonists, where they can slump comfortably and rest and cease their journeys or quests. The expression by Thomas Wolf, “you can never go home again,” is apt because everything changes so that the notion of home cannot be recaptured. It is Heraclitus’s famous saying, you can never step into the same river twice idea, for it is never the same: one moment tossing up sticks and leaves; the next calm and clear, your toes splashed or caressed.

Only in memory can “home” remain fixed, and, thus, fantastical. Yet, the thoughts and familiar objects we associate with home persist as signposts of acceptance and love, or ones that we associate with home. Being forced to leave one’s home is a brutal shock that causes one to experience feelings of being uprooted, unsettled and lost. I reflect always of Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation in which the words gleaned in her new language do not connect with her childhood experienced in another. When her name is changed to make it “American”, Eva is displaced, unable to access her former self in even small scenarios: piano classes with a teacher who communicated with her in Polish words now rendered foreign and unreachable to her in the adopted country.

Even our one day pilgrimage to my son’s during the Christmas ice storm made me appreciate the warmth of my own bed once we were able to return for a cozy night’s sleep. Ahh, snuggling deep beneath accustomed sheets. Ummmm.

Maybe in our deepest of hearts we carry the first nomads with us, the hunters and gatherers who were searching for protection and safety from the elements. Being homeless recalls and enjoins us with our primordial ancestors who physically knew the bitter cold, the need for fire and friendship to survive. Yet at the same time, many of us long to travel, to leave home, to reach out, to explore, to encounter adventure, difference and diversity, to learn in foreign contexts –however, desirous of returning home to integrate that knowledge into the sanctity of our cherished abodes, dreaming perhaps of the excursions, but still hungry for more experiences. This is the archetypal journey described by literature. This rejoins us to our restless roots.

For my daughter, the exile from her home, there was a baby unsettled by missing the rituals of a beginning schedule and his cozy crib and Dano, the massive dog, licking his chubby body. Yet with the baby’s mother, my daughter, and his father, he must have intuited the security that he is treasured, held and cared for in the intensity of difficult situations. So home unembellished is a feeling, and a memory of being loved and cherished, rocked and resplendent in someone’s arms.

Maybe at the end of our days that is the home we will ultimately seek.

Clutter

I’m not sure why certain books or sayings lodge in our brains. I often say I’ve got Teflon brain because not much seems to stick; having said that, there are things that I think I remember clearly and one in particular is lodged from a first or second year French class at U of T ( University of Toronto).

We were studying La Nausee by Jean-Paul Sartre, likely the translation back in the 70’s, that imprinted on me. I recall Sartre saying that we keep objects around that we have had relationships with- that our teddy bears and even our hairbrushes speak to us. The connection between the object and our consciousness of it reasserts our identities because it connotes who we were at a particular time and in a particular place. It extends the “I think, therefore I am” of Rene Descartes, as our selves are reasserted by the toys and paraphernalia with which we engaged once upon a time. I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the great philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz and others were well versed in the magic of mathematics and science, going deep beyond numbers and ciphers to contemplate an “otherness “ that stood for something more.
Think of how the word “Rosebud” and the role it played in the film “ Citizen Kane”, supposedly based on William Randolf Hearst, the newspaper magnate. Interestingly the film was praised by Jean-Paul Sartre so he must have admired the connection between word to evoke a life story.

I recall a Friday night dinner at my parents when my son was a small boy. He paused peering over the edge of his chicken soup and queried, “Maybe I am just a thought in someone else’s mind. “My mother guffawed, “ Jordan, just eat your soup”.

But in terms of “rosebud,” and the precious trinkets we feel unable to pitch, I’m not referring to those who hoard like my Auntie Marion whose library was overflowing with books or magazines she was unable to discard. We had to navigate through piles of past newspapers even in her livingroom to reach a chair in her house. She recalled Dickens’ Mrs. Haversham to many of her nieces and nephews.

I am talking about those objects we keep around us that do remind us of events, people or specific times. As I sit here by my kitchen window at my computer mid- December I glance at the 10 or more cards on the granite island from my husband’s birthday (July 31) and even our last anniversary (July 2). I even spy one from past Valentine’s Day. Besides what I rationalize is an informal art arrangement, this impromptu exhibit provides colour, design and texture to a room that holds pots of orchids, my recent paintings, a corner full of my grandchildren’s pursuits such as Mad Libs, markers, puzzles and stacking bears…. Yes, I admit “clutter”.

However, my table is a place where my family gathers and where I paint and write. There used to be a birch tree outside that practically cradled the house, but recently it had to be cut down. An outsider arriving here might wonder at the carefully arranged chaos and only realize it is a kitchen because of the stove and frig.

I absolutely need these props. Birthdays, celebrations, bric-a-brac or photos that speak to my life filled with significant events that fill me with happiness and establish a barrier to the bad things that creep into my mind and torment me with worry. They are a shield, a panacea of love and establish balance.

I am an admitted worrier, although as my husband points out, worrying does no good and neither stops what might occur. Superstitiously I reflect that worrying is an amulet that will outwit bad events from unfolding. After all, Jews believe that if you give a sick person a new name, the Angel of Death will fly over him or her unrecognizable and hidden by a fresh moniker. However, I can think of many times, I did try to think good thoughts, but they failed to stave off the inevitable onslaught of trials and tribulations.

I think I am not alone in my penchant to surround myself in good vibes. Many of us cherish our photographs: usually group shots of families, vacations, trips that remind us, make us feel lighter, happier. And how many holocaust victims rudely forced from their warm beds and permitted few possessions did not grab for a photo? I once read a book about the inmates in concentration camps maybe Ravensbruck or Terezin who curried together scraps of paper, and cut into bits of leather recipes from their former lives that were resplendent with memories of warmth, love and family. Some dreamed of the aromas, felt the press of their children’s bodies or re-envisaged the smile of mother: all evoked by the words “ cream… butter…”.

I have been called a cynic but for most of my life I actually naively expected people to behave honorably, but for the most part, have been disappointed.

That is the miracle of Nelson Mandela. In spite of an excruciating hard life, separated from his family and home along with the daily punishments and bonebreaking work, he did not lose his optimism. In deed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in 1996 where murderers, arsonists, rapists were given amnesty when they admitted their crimes was a miracle of belief in the power of forgiveness.

Films such as Cry Freedom that give voice to Steve Biko’s tortures, Dry White Freedom, or The Power of One deplore apartheid. When I developed my Post-colonial classes at Northern, these movies taught the students more than I could. Most contained montages of images that dramatized moments that were fraught and composed in the pain of the people in South Africa,1976. Imagine my delight when visiting the Hector Pietersen Museum in Soweto, South Africa and discovering the images in the films were the real stuff, actual saved documentation used in the production of the movies. A film is, of course, a distribution of images that can endure and together form a work of art. Fortunately someone decided these pictures were worth saving to record the past.

So I am back to my perpetual theme of art, a clutter of things that holds meaning for me-or for you. That clutter that reaffirms what we find important, what we treasure and hold close, what we maintain that encourages us to continue on, persevere.

It is however, the Nelson Mandelas who are so much more than the scraps that surround us in our daily ventures. The Nelson Mandelas who stop time, who do not allow us to linger in the past and drone on about the good, bad or particularly ugly old days. And yet, it is all paradox for without the past, the memories, the photos, the mementos that evoke a former me or you, we could not forge on, and we could not hope to change what has gone before, resurrect what has been good, human and worth preserving.

Playing Catchup

I write my blogs when an idea hits me. Always the English teacher who demanded her students compose several drafts of their work and continue to refine their writing, I, too, play with a germ of a topic, see if it will grow into a paragraph, if it can go the distance of having something to say with a few examples that actually tie it to the topic of  “boomerism”.

So it is for that reason that my last blog on Kennedy was created near the anniversary of his death on November 22, and there was a lag between the so-called story I was sharing and the publishing of the piece here last week. And a few of my favorite pieces, some actually safe in my computer (others sadly lost) such as “Ghosts in the Glade” about returning to California for a wedding are narratives that have been stored after being rejected by journals or magazines. However, because I believe that these stories propel me backward to a notion of who I once was, I have not shredded or trashed them. Fortunately for me, they survive.

I chortle a bit, because even as a teacher at Northern Secondary and the advent of commandeering computers for mark-input, my department head suggested a perfect job for me was to be hired by a computer company: to demonstrate how to make any document disappear. So it was true, that my draft thesis, “ The usefulness of art in education in and out of the classroom” in 1996 hid unretrieviable somewhere in the bowels of technology. Gulp!

 There is much of the old teacher in me, the love of Bakhtin’s dialectic, for example. ( See Bakhtin, M.M. (1981).(ed. Holquist). The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.). I think of Bakhtin’s treatise as suggesting a vertical conversation. A writer/ speaker puts out an idea; a reader/ listener offers a response that ponders, adds, changes or critiques that idea, morphing it; thoughtfully the author of the idea also contemplates the new direction or the evolution of his/her original idea, and the conversation grows, swells, soars upwards, goes off in a new direction because a second consciousness has added depth, or prompted a new awareness to it. That is what I adore about a good discussion; it takes you to unexpected realms because someone else’s experiences enhances your own comprehension and your idea becomes fresh again because of another’s insights. In this way, a conversation spirals, veers and catches both/ all participants in a volley of cogitations.

Here I offer the feedback of a few of my readers to my blogs with their own memories in tribute to Mr. Bakhtin. In Blog 3, while describing the jaunts to the library and the milkshakes afterwards, a friend actually researched strawberries, saying that strawberries are sometimes associated with purity and freshness as they are the first fruits to appear in the summer and hint at hope for the future. He quoted, “Strawberries are also sweet, they might symbolize sweet personality, kindness, and childhood.” As well, their shape suggests a heart. He proceeded to discuss his ailing sister in palliative care in Florida who brightened when he brought her a milkshake. More than a drink, a milkshake instigates associations with cheerful days when we were young, even when we ourselves cannot physically perch or spin on bar stools at soda shops. I recall Norman Rockwell paintings that stand as icons of an innocent age and remind us that once we were free of fears and worries, where the rich sweetness of thick ice cream was all: the consuming moment in childhood. I can envisage my own childhood, clasping my mother’s soft hand, my heart bursting with love, skipping along Eglinton and savouring the taste of Saturdays, hoping they would never end.

Another reader suggested a reference to Katniss in The Hunger Games. Can you find strawberries?

Much like the icongraphy that I once studied in art history classes: fruit, particularly in 17th Century Dutch or Flemish work, symbolized death in life, the so-called “ vanitas” of life, that all things ripe will wither and die and our time on earth is fleeting.  Painters often inserted skulls into their work, but most comprehended that fruits and flowers concealed the metaphors of mortality and thus, morality.  Reflecting on this last reference again gives me rise to the giggles as sometimes- although it is so me to find the blight under the rose petal, the half full glass- sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. 😉

Another reader, Emma reflected surprisingly, or maybe not, “Your piece has evoked very powerful memories in me.” She contributed that for her, it was the Wychwood library, and very slowly sipping Vernors Ginger Ale at The Egg. She continued to ferret out one of those flashbulb memories, a day in Grade 3, walking home from school and finding a slightly muddied picture book on the road, encountering bewildering pictures of starving, wide-eyed people, naked bodies in mass graves: her discovery of the holocaust . ”To this day I remember the moment of picking it up and instinctively being strangely connected to these images”, she contributed in an email. I could imagine a shadow falling on her face and downcast, the taste of ginger ale souring in her mouth.

While I worked at the College of Teachers, presenting to many of our faculties in the province, one of my talks concerned which of all the days of our lives we actually retain strongly in our minds and emotions. I used that as a mental activity to engage novice teachers into contemplating what a “good “ teacher does, how a role model might act, and eventually I segued through their own personal experiences into the standards that we had developed as a guide for teacher behavior. So powerful are these triggers from our pasts.

Certainly it would be impossible to recall every single day and every single moment in our lives, yet the happiest and brightest days, such as birthdays, holidays; along with the abject sadness of other days do filter through our heads with stark details and vivid sense reactions so that you are able to restore the smell of pancakes, the sizzle in the pan, the delight in your mother’s voice, even the clothes you wore on your fifth birthday breakfast celebration. Such events impact so forcefully that they continue to fill one with the impressions and sensations of those days. Yet, standing back from those memories, we rationally must admit that we are remembering in present time and all of the years between may have actually warped the memories somewhat.

When I taught Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro’s short stories, contextualizing their fictionalized remembrances made me realize that not all of our images are literally true; that you can never really go home again because the home you fantasized about  is –not only gone, but never was ( half-empty again?).

And as I reflect more honestly, I never liked the clogging thickness of milkshakes; I was a chocolate soda girl even years back.

But to end on a more positive note, I will add Kerrie’s reflection, “”I too have wonderful, happy memories of visits to our local library–but it was my dear maternal grandmother (Nanny) who took us.” And the bare bones of going to the library, with a dear one , surrounded by love are a testament to the real and true, then and now, forever.

Whether created, collected accurately or not, these are the moments we go to, serene and supportive places that make our bodies actually relax and dream of a sweeter alternative that has built our present day realities in a good way. Half-full?

 

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