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Leaving San Diego 

As my sojourn in San Diego is coming to an end, I am reflecting on what makes this place a home for three months. Years ago I would watch Survivor and one of the finale shows would glimpse a participant traversing the island, pausing to review or recount an event, a person , an emotion experienced in haste but reflected on in leisure, as if sampling a sweet or meaningful food that had lodged in their consciousness, but in the quiet of being mindful, the thought re- emerged for consumption.

So here too are my thoughts on my refuge from the bruising Canadian winters. Above all is the clear cerulean sky that is the backdrop to trees and walks in this city. There is almost an aural clarity to that sky, the picture perfect backdrop I associate with Giorgione paintings in Italy, the limitless of space that theNorthern Italian painters created in the looming expanse above their heads. In Joshua Tree National Park, it was the same- emitting that refreshing blueness: that if you stare too long, you will be turned to stone. I have noticed hummingbirds recklessly dart into those orange flowers with their extended necks, crows play with the currents, allowing the wind to swoop them higher to soar on inclement puffs of wind and flocks of gulls move together over the breaking waves on the beach. In the Galapagos, it is different as the colours of vegetation and wildlife contrast in their setting, dazzling red crabs and the naughty turquoise footed boobies strongly observable against the black and grey rocks, but here, it is all one, meshing and coalescing indivisible , perhaps a total mindfulness of setting.

How often Howard and I remark on our location here because we never imagined that within 10-20 minutes, all necessities of life could be gleaned: from food to book groups to exercise to windowshopping. With my sturdy feet, a bottle of water and sun visor, I set off for yoga or pilates, secure in knowing the level of instruction is confident, attentive and challenging. There is no judgment in classes, but careful teaching provides for variation in exercise, attuned to “ mature” bodies whose necks, shoulders or backs might not be as limber as in youthful arrogance and ignorance when all is accepted as functioning and moving gracefully. The Community Centre not only welcomes all, but offers a plethora of programs to educate mind, spirit and limbs. It is here too that a friendly face is always willing to acknowledge an outsider, making them feel welcome.

I engage in yoga here, twisting and grunting and extending, but never properly balancing (as in the tree, pose), fascinated by the names of poses such as happy baby who grabs the soles of the feet or warriors.one, two and three, feet arranged for battle. What always comes to mind is Maxine Hong Kingston’s book Warrior Woman whose battles, I recall, had to do with her paths through and into life. I find it strange that a non competitive exercise commandeers the name of “warrior” for a stance. Before the classroom mirror, do I look fierce, ready to battle? No, for my arms and legs, each wanting to wander off and sit with the the bougevvilla or sift the sand stands at the ready.

At home my Pilates person will endeavour to realign my parts, correcting my errant head and re-aligning my hips. But for the meantime, there has been no pain, only the reawakening ache of new muscles, different from my routines at home. The reformer instructor at a private establishment is young and when I enquire that I think my zoas muscle is protesting when I go up or down a hill, she dismisses my query by responding, there are lots of muscles in that area. It is a group class that meets on Sundays and I recognize the Pilates exercises but with arms outstretched, legs rotating, head bobbing up and down, my co- ordination most times is lacking. She comes to correct and last week when I feared placing my feet on the movable bar might cause me to tumble, she gently reorganized my trembling parts into safe and correct positions. I may be the oldest of the eight people on the reformers, a few slightly younger, but mainly the women are in their 30’s and this is a level one class! I challenge myself and feel proud as my shaking legs practically knock against the walls when thankfully, the 55 minutes have been completed.

And my California friends. Yesterday I met a former Canadian for coffee. We began by attacking Trump, totally in sync. And somehow we veered into guffaws and laughter that shook us from the inside out. My other passel of amigas feels genuine- even having known them for such a short time. Yesterday one reached over to warmly touch my arm, conspiratorial in her understanding of a shared confidence. Our former condo owners are like guardian angels always checking in,, offering insight , warmth, care and camaraderie. I can pop up stairs or call for a favor. Like a steady current, they ensure my security, as friends known a lifetime. And the newest friend is a kindred spirit. She, like my Wednesday lunch companion, discusses books, family, reminisces about our prior lives and we share a deep connection. This is a kaleidoscope of varied personalities.I am mindful of the Le Petit Prince and the fox whose regular meetings bound them in spirt. But truly, what could be more delightful than expressing one’s thoughts under a brier of twisted branches beneath that fabulous sky?

As an added sprinkle to my cupcake are my cousins who live in Laguna Beach and LA, the very people who began my enchantment with this state when I was young. Meeting with them reawakens my original delight that helped ensure an awkward 15 year old could build confidence and procure enduring friendships. I return to those memories of my cousins, embracing them time and again as the backbone of my writing. The recollections and renewed conversations refresh me.

As an added perk, my writing is more often published here- first in magazines, then in journals. I will have two pieces on Celebrations and Passover in The Jewish Journal. The editor wrote in an email that my pieces always make her cry. I was touched. I feel a connection built through our exchanges, and next year hope to meet her face to face. Several years ago, I was contacted by a travel magazine to travel with “ real” writers to Nevada. I imagined this was the kickstart to a new career, but it did not happen so this little surge of articles tickles me immensely: small publications here and there occurred, but here it has been closer to a little flurry.Pleasing.

So with a heavy heart, I leave but am anxious to meet my.brand new granddaughter,Georgia Parker, and return to my wonderful Toronto friends, my cosy house and lovely children and grandchildren.

Always I am in awe that these three months are due to my mother’s careful saving who like the elves turning straw to gold, provided us with the means to extend our path into the California climes.

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Trains

Observing myself,  I should be returning to Mindfulness, maybe listening to those Sam Harris meditations that my friend introduced me to, however something about his voice sounds a bit commanding, authoritarian, although some are actually quite short and neat so my thoughts can’t wander too much. But instead, I am playing “Trains.” For those of you unfamiliar with “Trains”, it is one of the games in the Lumosity program, part of a variety of math, brain switching, fill the coffee cup, follow the trajectory of the pinball, count the fish, divide the stones… Somehow I am at 14 in Trains which seems to be the end program of switching multicoloured trains from track to track.
 To play Trains, you must safely direct your train to its stationhouse identified by its matching colour. You create circuits of a sort so that purple train can return to its purple station house while the orange, green, white, etc. trains are all quickly emerging and also need to find the correct paths on a variety of tracks and there is no surprise that because I am on level 14, there are14 trains, all quickly departing the one main station house, to direct! Every configuration is different and you must quickly switch and arrange the tracks so that your train arrives at the right station.
 Sometimes when I see the tangle of tracks on the screen I think, I wonder which one most accurately reflects the pathways in my brain that must be switched, closed, altered for my behaviours that arise or the subsequent emotions that will accompany or prelude my actions. Most likely my brain patterns are reflected by the multicoloured mixup of tangled yarns I knot with -that can be straightened out by either carefully unwinding strands or just breaking them, but in this game, the trains if not properly sorted will find their end in the wrong houses: useless for scoring points. As well, a defeated, angry or frustrated noise is released by the player, me.
 But as there is a lesson to be learned from all endeavours, or so they say, even though the gambler or game addict most often returns in hopes of winning and being successfully to demonstrate she can beat the system and retire as champion, what I have learned from this is that if I am calm, I have a pretty good chance of being successful in this game. However the moment one train arrives at the incorrect location, I lose my concentration, my cool and shout out, become flustered and inevitably lose the opportunity to get the next two trains to their colour-coded stations: until I can take a breath. At this point, I know the pursuit is really over so instead of the excitement of the adrenalin win, I retire to a state of –maybe just finish this off… and try again.
 But this pattern is not new for me. I am an emotional person whose feeling overrun my behaviours. I am aware of the bubbling core that composes me but even as I ascertained this in my work place, as a trembling voice at an interview or an angry look at a colleague belied a smooth carefully planned countenanceas. I am victim to the emotions that are barely hidden beneath my skin’s surface. It is as if there has been a battle between the rational and emotional sectors in my body with my silly brain deciding to champion those unruly messy parts, my ego and superego battling and one or the other attempting to actually trip me up. In my head, I can see the cheerleaders in their fuzzy red sweaters jumping wildly around, encouraging the spurters and screamers and crazy types who run wildly in circles, encouraging the floods that are coursing through body, causing my face to redden and my knees to quake. In my head I command this cheerleader squad to return to the bench for a breather, move on, sit by the sidelines, quiet down, but a tiny voice murmurs to this wild and inflammable crew of miscreants with a chortle, just watch this girl be swamped by her feelings and screw up. So I consciously and serenely must assert, oh no, you won’t. I’m able to be in charge here. Well, sometimes…

In Trains, the combinations move too quickly for this fight, but the result of a misplaced train triggers those real messy emotions, the flashes of anger and then eventual resignation, chin tipped downward in despair and defeat, for the game is all ready lost.
I wonder why is that battle present at all: between my emotions and my rational being who evidently roots for my undoing by my unruly surging emotions. Is it the rational part of me taunting me, “ Give in, these are the principal residents in you: that is who you are; so let them roam and jump and scurry over the top and main floor of your head; we rational thoughts with pencils tucked neatly behind our ears in gray flannel suits are quite happy following recipes, making phone calls and adding sums?
For so much of my life, the emotions ( “Pat,” admonishes my father, “You are too sensitive,” as the tears begin to drip on my cheeks as he is attempting for the umpteenth time, to explain chemistry to me; or “Pat, pay attention to the road when you drive.”; Of course, it is sensible not silly to watch the road when you are learning to drive) did run ram shod over me.
So that is what occurs in my head, the dueling factions, but even my body seems out to be out to trick me. Last night, nicely dressed and put together, as we went to our seats in a restaurant, my new boots slid on the floor and had I not grabbed the back of another’s seat, I would have fallen hard: tripping is also one of my specialties as I forget that I have feet that must be co-ordinated. In fact my mother started me at ballet because my feet appeared to be encased in cement and even then I was hitting rocks and curbs with my sad little knees. My husband as we take our seats, turns around once I’ve stabilized my errant boots and says, “There is a 60% chance that you are always going down.” Then looking thoughtful, he says, “Strange- as you can contort your body in Pilates and you are flexible for over an hour at class, but you can’t ever seem to walk a straight line.” But there most often, my bum is the centre of gravity and all ready on the ground and I do not have to contend with hips, knees, ankles or rowdy toes.
I think of the recent almost trips again, just yesterday :over raised seams on cement sidewalks and this last potentially fatal one as my new boots slid across the cement floor. As we ate our supper for 2 ½ hours, no one else, in boots, flip flops or oxfords even appeared to lose a millisecond of balance. And yet for me, a tiny hillock, an uneven pavement, a floor of varying material can cause my literal downfall. At one vineyard wedding, one guest discretely whispered, “You fell so elegantly” and fortunately my purple knees matched my purple dress.
After years of falling down ( not to mention the curb walks home from elementary school that I thought might stand in for tight rope wires and always resulted in scabs and blood trickling down to my socks,) I have finally accepted that bumbling part of me. I know one leg is slightly shorter than the other, as is the case with almost everyone on the planet, but mine has a disposition to go its own way, saying to its partner, “So long chum, I’m setting off now, so take care.” And so I have concluded that inevitably, the confrontations between my body and gravity and surfaces beneath are truly not my fault.
In terms of my emotions overrunning my demeanour, now retired, I am not concerned should my expressive face give me away, for a sudden tear or a shaking pencil will not impact on my delivery. Back when I did work at my profession, the efficacy of my work, my research, my professionalism did happily overrule the messy parts. In deed, I knew how to draw on emotional effect for purposeful manipulation ; and eventually even my well rehearsed and memorized presentations became performances that could be altered like a knowledgeable thespian because I had an excellent script to play off and my emotions were tamed, governable. But no longer is there that need.
Still I wonder at my brain, my mind that like the control tower still sends bad or conflicting thoughts, even in Pilates, when it whispers, you will topple and I silently respond, “Be quiet you; NO, I won’t.” I wonder at the tangle of train tracks, and the routes that require straightening, reconnecting and aligning to get me from one destination to another. I wonder at the voices in my head, my parents, my teachers, my own fears that try to trick me up so I have to reassert myself or find better solutions. I wonder at my feet that often seem totally unconnected to my body and want to go off on their own routes. And I consider that I am a mess and mass of electrical wires, circuitry and connections- much as my father used to rearrange on every cake box when I was young.
I suppose that is all we are, except for those damn emotions that light our faces, make us giggle, cast us into doom, tickle our imaginations and make us special. At 68, I am who I am, having learnt I must attempt to balance on a tightrope whenever something truly important chugs up to my door.
 

Tripping the Life Fantastic

We never cease to feel that we have been given a gift by my mother now two years dead. Even today as I silently fret about the too hot hot weather when my friends and family are shivering at -17 and worse in Toronto. Partly it is the lustrous colour of the sky, not quite the cerulean clarity of Venice, but a clear and lustrous blue, that wraps around my vistas. Here I view the sky through the dappled trees that recall the sidewalks of The Impressionists, so I enjoy turning my head upwards.

And the flowers. Outside our condo , the magenta Bougainvillea welcome every day. Along the path towards our door, huge fans of fringed palms frame our entrance, and at the side white flowers that recall for me the shape of Canterbury bells. The condo and its grounds establish my oasis .  

Not just overlaiden with my sweet memories of LA when I was an adolescent, San Diego too recalls family trips to the world renown zoo when the town was the site of mainly military operations. Still we have made the place our home and our own,endowing the walls with photographs and paintings we love. We laugh to reflect on our home in Toronto where rooms stood empty for years and where Howard painted the walls a shocking pink when he had the time. I think our first real purchase back then was a rug woven in somewhere distant -and eventually piece by piece, we furnished the room: the place of honour given to a huge painting we purchased in Australia and made me cry, evoking some primal emotion by its shapes and textures. Although it was an Aboriginal work that included mandalas, the feet of the artist’s child, hedgehogs and straw bags, it worked much as a Hans Hoffman abstraction, the colour black popping out as foreground, the reversal of what might be expected. It arrived in a wobbly crate barely held together by dangling hinges, somehow magically surviving the arduous trip. Funny how something can touch you so deeply.Maybe it is as Duchamp reflected on an implicit memory that triggers a narrative from within although I had no words for the feelings that emerged from me. 

Our room at home holds small secrets as does our San Diego habitat. A painting of a Muskokoa landscape Howard commissioned for one of my milestone birthdays presents three separate but adjacent trees moving to the hum of the winds. To me they represent my three wonderful and so different children. Here too on a walk in Solana Beach at Fletchers Cove,I gathered a trio of flat distinctly differently marked flat stones. I arranged them at the foot of a tiny Buddha who sits on a platform of brightly coloured Mexican tiles that surround photos of my grandchildren. Like a tiny altar, I pay tribute to my children who have along with their father fostered my growth in unexpected and unintended ways. 

Today I hobble to the store because again I have tripped. Yesterday at Mission Beach. My one knee is permanently purple from its meeting with the ground. Last summer,at a vineyard wedding, I lost my footing on a hillock. Blushing with anger and embarrassment, I quickly popped back up, hoping that those with their tinkling champagne glasses were more focused on cascading flowers entwined in boughs than a tumbling mature lady. But a thoughtful guest came by to express that she had never seen anyone tumble so elegantly.That comment eased me back into the gay mood of the event and fortunately for me, I did not tear my pink dress from Thailand nor dirty my silver heels from Spain.  

Only my burning knee now surrounded by torn layers of coloured skin spoke to the fall. Sometimes I do worry about my balance except for the fact that even as a young girl and a teen, I would appear at our store, always with scraped, bruised and bloodied knees, having daydreamed and tripped on the way home from dreary school days many many times as I unsuccessfully navigated curbs en route home.. Even my sister recalls my return from a grade 12 exam wherein I burst through the store door, crazily crying, my black tights in shreds, seeping and gushing rivulets of blood trickling and gushing from the holes newly created in my foot’s folly. In my self congratulatory mood of praising my responses to the history exam, I stopped short to revisit the exam question in my head and realized I had answered the question on the Stuarts not the Tudors! Awakened from my heady reverie of an A exam, I fell hard to earth, pride and hubris at the heart of my tumble, broken in both body and spirt. 

At Mission Beach , the walkway is varied and slightly rocky, much as if the ground had been creased and pleated and so I once again lose my footing. As I began to trip, I tried to straighten myself, feeling I was in deed regaining my upright stature,balancing and righting my position.. But in a second I perceived I could not do it, my innate lopsided senses seeking their own points of reference. And so once more-flesh meets hard concrete . 

So it goes with me. If I cast my eyes to the ground to observe the undulating surface I encounter a pole, a tree, a door. Should I gaze straight ahead, my feet tangle with the unevenness of the street. So it is a conundrum for one so awkward in connection with the pavements beneath because truly my paths exist somewhere deep in my heads, or imagination, truly unconnected with my wobbling feet. 

The result this time are badly crusted medallions on both knees but worse yet, a leg that refuses to bend. And so each day I ice and re- ice, elevate, walk for brief amounts of time and eventually and slowly attempt to extend the knee’s angle a few degrees. I am angry to miss my yoga and Pilates classes as I cannot transition from floor to standing without support . I am humbled to think of my father and his polio because he could not stand or move at all without his crutches, every dip in the walkways, every uneven sidewalk a possible invitation to a fall- from which he might not be able to regain his mobility. For me, it is a week or so, for him, it was a life sentence after the age of 28. It is as they say, half full or half empty glasses. So we/I should not complain.   

The sun is back out and the variety of greenery draws my eyes as I drink my coffee and my mind rests. 

Maybe wearing knee pads is the answer.

Coincidences or not

The latest trend 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 just as words and phrases, “ gratitude” seems to have forfeited 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.

When we worked at the College, Fred M ( he was a brilliant scholar and thinker) and I used to discuss how certain phrases had lost 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. One of my favourites was the transformation of the word “ collaborator”. During war, to be a collaborator was a dishonourable action in that it meant to conspire with the enemy. Now, all children are taught to collaborate with their peers- and 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.

My Pilates instructor has begun her writing 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. 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.

I offered a similar story. I had been at York University immersed in a course on artists’ materials and re-created an illuminated manuscript, even applying the gold leaf bits with egg yoke as I endeavoured to imitate original techniques. I finished the piece, ( spoiled it by adding my name too flamboyantly) 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 the 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?

And similarly just in the past few weeks, I suddenly discovered that my grandson was the ringbearer at a wedding where my best friend from high school whom I had not seen in 40 years- was the mother of the bride. The bride now carries the same name as my daughter-in-law. Spooky stuff!

My Pilates instructor says we are on paths that take us to places. To this I gloomily queried, then we have no free will as our journeys 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 the three Greek goddesses whose job it was weave, measure and cut the cloth that determine our trajectories. A fatalist, I am, stuck in the factory of human beginning and ending the of our lives as so many garments.

When I taught Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, I structured my classes with different theories of creation, referring to the male and female origins adopted by various early societies. I found in The Chalice and the Blade (Riane Eisler 1987 ) interesting ideas, 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 endeavoured to protect Rapunzel from a male world.

That is the beauty of these old tales.

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.

I am not 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, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. Maybe we veer here towards the mystics defined as “one who believes in spiritual apprehension of truths beyond the understanding, (The Concise Oxford Dictionary 1911) which also adds, “whence mysticism (n.) (often contempt)!” Contempt??????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 and others.

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 think too of the Romantic poets and their landscapes such as Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, The World is Too Much with Us. Certainly Worsdworth and his pals placed immense importance on mysticism; indeed, symbolism and mythology substantiate the language of the poet. Wordsworth believed 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.( SeeThe 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 lights them towards another level of existence that disconnects with this sad, torrid life that is crumbling by greed, politics and pollution- even in the times of Wordsworth and Kandinsky the inner life provided the solitude and balm to a less than perfect society.

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 likely 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)

The Sesame Street Phenomenon

When I was still at OCT, I often had occasion to work at the Ministry of Education, attending briefings and conferences. One particular day, I sat beside an employee who was ragging on about her child’s teacher. The woman said, “My child is reading War and Peace and the damn teacher won’t let her read in class. She can do her work and read too.” I suppose I was expected to remark how brilliant her Grade 4 child was, and maybe she was. But although reading Leo Tolstoy is awesome, it is necessary to be appropriate in a variety of places and actually attend to each task we are presented.

Trying not to roll my eyes and be judgmental, I wanted to tell her and her progeny to slow down, and smell the proverbial roses. Or as Heraclitus is reported to have said, “No (person) ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river…” Maybe it’s just baby boomers and their parents, but life moves so much quicker today that often it feels as if we are enveloped in a merry-go-round of images and events.

Personally, I actually charge Sesame Street for the phenomenon of attention loss and the increased frenetic pace of life. When my kids were little and Sesame Street had just come into being, their goal apparently was to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.” Endowed by The Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation and two years of research, Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) developed a show that reached millions of children.

Unlike Mr. Greenjeans, Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Pockaroo and others who maintained a human pace of interaction, Sesame Street was fast, funny and furious. In truth, the animation and colourful sets made the others look dowdy and slow-dare I say boring? Jim Henson’s puppets in particular were thrilling and hilarious: the dour reflective Kermit the Frog, the outrageous pink-boa wrapped and overbearing Miss Piggy, the humming Swedish chef all tossed into the Sesame Street mix that taught about relationships, alphabets, sensitivity and the minutiae of a pre-schooler’s everyday existence.

Even thirty years ago, I recall wondering how will an ordinary teacher, bespectacled, polite and ever smiling, ever compete with this phenomenon. In 30 seconds or usually less, the characters emblazoned in boldly textured costumes immediately grabbed their audiences and taught them something exciting : like the powers of the letter M. Bells, whistles, music, noise, over-sized eye catching decorations ensuring memories stuck because of the mass appeal to the senses.

This is not to say it was bad.

Kids’ attention quickly fades and they lose interest. Sesame established equity, especially for toddlers of poverty, providing ubiquitous television learning; however, there is little in real life that can match their pace.

Interestingly or perhaps prophetically, Sesame Street foreshadowed the fast pace of life that would soon emerge as more technology made information emerge more swiftly, thus avoiding waiting time. (That desire for expedience even effecting road rage as we sneer and yell at other drivers when construction on the road has us fuming. )

I think of the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel. A child was offered something sweet and told that if s/he resisted the urge to gobble it down immediately, a second treat would appear. The wait was about 15 minute minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! In follow-up studies, the researchers noted the apparent benefits of delayed gratification were patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower, all of which are involved in self-regulation. I tried this with my grandson, he laughed and persisted a few minutes- which even I could not do. Maybe his tummy was all ready filled with tasty treats. ☺

Everything seems to have sped up.Now we have to be reminded to breathe- in exercise or Pilates classes, to find time in our day to relax. We catch ourselves giggling as the instructor implores us, “B-r-e-a-t-h-e”.

Does anyone remember Hans Selye and his warnings about the impact of stress or The Hurried Child by David Elkind in 1969. We presently believe that it is normal or just part of life to be stressed out as we multitask and, like that crazy juggler with the spinning plates that we once watched open-mouthed Sunday nights on Ed Sullivan, expect to keep it all together, not anticipating the crash. We are so similar to the Cirque de Soleil acrobats hanging upside down, turning ourselves inside out, twirling non-stop, forgetting to take a moment to inhale and exhale.

In a sense, we do feel more powerful, more alive when we think we are accomplishing a lot: we see ourselves as Superpeople, superheroes, able to control, manipulate and maneuver whatever befalls us or the boss throws our way. And in today’s world, we do encounter more frustrations, more bureaucratic curveballs, less means maybe for redress, more opportunities to stuff the issues away,put them on hold, grin and bear it, and get on with the job. And likely, more depression and cynicism, when we reluctantly accept there are many things we cannot control. ☹

Even at home when my computer could receive but not spew out emails, I of course contacted Rogers. Sweetly but disingenuously I was told that there was no problem with the server and to try another Roger’s venue. That I did calmly TWICE, and then again, and again, each time growing in frustration. And each time, serviced by Saleh and then Tyler through live chat- which means you don’t speak but chat with them on-line, each kindly provided me a “link”. The link would not work because my computer could not send emails to contact the link! Finally in desperation, I called Harold V., a friend, knowledgeable in the ways of computers.

Like the doctor who once made house calls in the middle of the night, Harold V. came, spent much time on cleaning up files, answering questions and eventually got around to addressing the problem at hand. I think this typical of people who problemsolve on computers as every aspect of that damn technology fascinates them so, and Harold V. can lovingly discourse on the reasons, possibilities and delights of the hunk of plastic. I try and remind him that users like me just want it fixed and a day of tutorials is meaningless. Once when I worked at OCT, the best instruction consisted of single operations that could be practiced, applied and absorbed so that dulled brains like mine could move on after learning one easy task.

In any case, Harold began to bore into the guts of the machine, who by the way, we take rather seriously, endowing them with personalities and emotions much like avenging angels sent onto this planet to try our patience, incur our swearing and drive us to the edge… Harold said the problem had occurred because my mail program was two years out of date( the machine being an Apple is only 2 years old!) And he would return to clean it up; however, because of the snowstorm that was heavily threatening, he would give it one more try. He suggested we call Rogers again.

We called, and with Harold on the phone, he asked the right questions and John responded appropriately and easily and quickly, remedied the issue. John from Rogers listened.

I reflected on how often we are pawned off or passed on to someone who refuses to hear what we are saying. Likely they are multitasking or cannot be bothered. Best yet, we are angry, filled with seething emotion, smack in the throes of a problem and being put on hold or disconnected doesn’t increase our ability to communicate effectively. However, is there nothing sweeter than a recorded mellifluent voice or musical pap that confronts you while you are pulsing in rage? Talk about stress. We’re like the roadrunners of cartoons in days past scurrying in circles in clouds of dust that gets thicker as we pound our feet in the same place.

Will that little Grade four year remember what is important in War in Peace? Can she possibly in Grade 4? What has the experience taught her about life, handling complex issues and attitudes towards the world? As my early days in the Jane-Finch corridor ( See previous blog “A pair of Ducks)instructed me: it’s all paradox. The more we have, the more confused and frustrated we become, unable to juggle without dropping something of value.

Bones and Backs: more than body obsession

When our grandparents were young, they wore shapeless clothes, laboured from dawn to dusk and fell into their soft chairs in the evening. They had little time or concern about how they looked. As a little girl, I recall my little grandmother and white-haired grandfather who arrived late Saturday afternoons to our store for supper. They came by bus. My grandmother was tiny, heavy and dowdy; my grandfather was taller, reserved and aloof.

My poor mother who had slaved all week in and behind our store now was required to cook a meal for her in-laws. She would often tell me how much my Bubby Molly adored her only son, my father, eeking out a few pennies to buy him sardines as a special treat when he was a boy and how she only truly finally accepted my mother once she saw how my mother had reacted to my father’s polio: not abandoning him, as her own mother had admonished her to do.

I don’t recall exactly what we ate on those Saturday nights, although it was likely Friday night leftovers: the remnants of a delicious tomatoey fricassee, and roasted chicken saturated in Heinz sauce. The dinner that stands out in my mind does not concern the food, however, but the actions of my grandfather and a bowl of chicken soup hurtling across the table. It was the one and only time my father actually smacked me across the face because of being goaded on by his father, outraged that I would speak up and perhaps be rude, mocking or disrespectful. Truthfully I do not remember what silly words had sarcastically spun out of my mouth, only the shaming repercussions of that terrible event. Shame, embarrassment, my father’s anger, my grandfather’s satisfaction, my refusal to cry as my cheek burned.

Usually they brought us chocolates and we would thank them dutifully. My grandmother had difficulty breathing and was said to smoke special asthma cigarettes. In my mind’s eye, they appear non-descript, her small and heavy-busted; him with that shock of white hair. They felt distant, and particularly him, judgmental.

Years later, and perhaps because I harboured that memory like a festering wound, when my husband and I gathered Zaida Sam’s last possessions from his dark house on Arlington, I refused to include the waffle-maker in the bundle we were transferring to the Baycrest or Moishe- Zakanam so- referred to in Yiddish,which I assumed meant old folks’ home. He made a plea for its inclusion but I looked sternly at him and refused to give in to his request.

Unlike today when we sit on the floor with our grandkids, joke and jostle with them, both my Bubby Molly and Zaida Sam sat ensconced in the pink brocade chairs in the corner. I think she smiled a bit. She loved my father unconditionally and maybe the first grandchild, my cousin Jon, had held them lovingly transfixed in his heart. I don’t know. Perhaps there were perfunctory kisses with my sister and me, but certainly not a lot of holding or touching.

When we visited their house for a family meal or stopped to took them for an occasional Sunday drive, I can resurrect in my mind a long alleyway of a house, couches that pressed the wall lengthwise, a television at the end, a tiny kitchen behind, very dark, badly lit and the feeling of claustrophobia. Yet welcoming smells did emerge from that kitchen and my aunt Goldi’s stories always included stuffed peppers, pies and the family chocolate cake-whose recipe I never received.

When my mother passed away, I discovered old photos of my grandparents and was amazed that Bubby Molly had once been lithe and lovely, slim and stylish instead of the baggily dressed, audibly breathing, straggled- haired woman I barely knew. In the pictures, she wears large beautiful hats and the narrative that was told was that Zaida Sam had wooed her with a very elaborate confection of a hat that he later tore to pieces before her eyes, he caught in a demonstration of rage. She was known to be modern, a procurer of new fangled things such as washing machines and frigerators, curious, loving and the scourge of her husband’s family Friday night poker games. Her life was hard.

Exercise I imagine consisted of walking to the bus stop en route to work at Tiptop Tailors where both of them sewed and beautifully executed fine cloaks and suits. Likely at the end of the day, they uncoiled their tight bodies that had been fixed to their chairs at their sewing machines hour after hour. This was the story of unions past, not quite the pits of New York or the sweat holes of Bangladesh. Certainly the Union’s desire to free people from the chains of their bosses gave rise to slightly improved situations. One has only to recall The Triangle Shirtwaist Company where 146 deaths and an unknown number of injuries occurred on Saturday, March 25, 1911. It is laughable to think any boss considered their employees needing bodily relief or even a bathroom break, let alone an outlet for stretching tired or sore bodies. Not to mention the sexual harassment foisted on young pretty women afraid to lose their jobs should they refuse the bosses’ attentions.

Jogging, stretching, massages lay far in the future, we only imagining how exhausted, tight and twisted their bodies felt. Maybe the Italians understood better that an evening promenade around the town square would ease the endurance of a long day’s arduous work, especially of sitting unmoving for long long hours. Research now shows that getting up from your desk and strolling even the length of the office frees your mind to be more creative. But then, no one was much interested in the creativity of drones wrapped around their machines, doing piece work.

My parents also never spoke of their bodies or appearances as anything but the mules that drove the work load, although my mother had her hair done once a week, sprayed and lacquered. My father laughed at men who styled their hair, ones who did not visit actual barbers, believing it an offense to one’s manhood. But she always looked nice and my father would compliment her. She dressed very practically, rarely in pants until she was older, reveling in the freedom from stockings and garter belts. Yet, even prostrate, practically comatose in his final hospital days, my father’s eyes would follow my mother around the room, approvingly savouring her freshly washed demeanour.

Once she had bursitis- likely pulling her shoulder when she, a mere 100 pounds, carried my father’s heavy equipment or televisions in from the car as he possessed no power in his legs. For the most part, neither of them complained of aches and pains. My father had experienced such searing pain as he succumbed to polio at Riverdale hospital that he confided that he willed the pain into the night table. It was excruciating. He dragged one foot ahead of the other, Sisyphusian, his life’s philosophy unspoken but emphatically conveyed to my sister and myself: keep on going.

Physical effort was difficult for someone in his condition. He resented being labeled crippled, much preferring the term “ handicapped’ as a golfer might be, but not a handsome man like himself who stood a proud 6 feet.

Once when my husband and I took him to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), he asked us to wait while he visited the men’s room. It seemed as if he was taking a very long time. Only then did we notice that he had had to climb up three flights of steep stairs and then back down again. Not much different than scaling Manchu Picchu for able-bodies persons. He did not complain, doggedly accepting while resenting this was the fate cast him. Fortunately? there were side rails so he could drag the heavy crutches along with him. No broken down curbs or accessibility washrooms back then. But I absorbed his living mantra: put one foot in front of the other and keep on going.

Having fallen out of bed the first night home from the isolation hospital and needing to be hoisted back, he told my mother he wished he would have died. Somehow the two of them trudged on. Much later, he would somehow get himself to Sunnybrook’s pool where a contraption lowered and raised him into the pool there. He did love swimming where at least he could stand free and without his hated supports. He’d laugh as he swam with the grandkids in the small pool he had designed for their house years later, calling out to the grandkids as he managed to chase them :that he was the big fish or shark. They laughed and played along. He was happy.

Still that generation, by and large,did not indulge their bodily concerns. My parents understood that life was hard and told themselves: get on with it- in rain, and snow and slippery surfaces, bodies sore, painful and throbbing. No matter the obstacles.I suppose in the past, people merely accepted the physical pain, plodded on and felt it was their due to suffer as generations before appeared to have also persisted in silence, with perhaps a small, wealthy handful, visiting chiropractors and knowing how to soothe that uncomfortable knee, painful shoulder or that more than troublesome pinch in the hip joint.

Today you rarely meet someone without an issue that revolves around their body, usually a back complaint. I have three herniated discs, no doubt incurred by an uneven gait and a wild ride down the Truckee River in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. So I personally know the torments of back pain. Recently I encountered a dentist whose twisted stance over his patients for so many years has resulted in a back that must be shot up with epidurals and will eventually result in surgical procedures. He too comes regularly to Pilates classes. Ah, the relief.

I cringe to remember myself instructing at Vic Tanney’s in the 60’s where I put people on a vibrating belt that jiggled their fat. I knew nothing about physiology of the body or kinasthetics. I was a pretty girl in a sparkly tunic, smiling and encouraging unhealthy people to stay with their program. After work, I would visit Sutton Place’s coffee shop for a chocolate soda.

In many ways, although I’ld bet my grandparents and parents would disagree, things are better and improved today. An awareness of our aches and pains has sparked an industry of real sportsclubs, massage therapists, acupuncturists,caring Pilates and osteopathic professionals who through education and course have learned how to treat or at least ameliorate the ravages of the work day. Classes are part of our routines and we miss them when a class or appointment needs to be cancelled.

Today many boomers still do endure; however, many make attempts to find the person or people who will aid in easing the agony of their aches. For me, it was five long years at Pilates to begin to tame those discs that caused me to lie flat on the floor after teaching a full day. Thank goodness no university girl ever put me through the paces that would have further damaged the disks. When I mutter about my back, I sometimes think of my father, his struggle to literally propel one foot before the other and how he and my mother made a life that continued on in spite of all its rigours.

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