Saturday, 24 January 2009


It’s been awhile now since I have had a dream that stayed with me in such a visceral way. Apparently, we all dream in some form or another during that phase called REM sleep, the deep, consolidating, replenishing phase that occurs in the later hours of sleep. Or as WS put it,"sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care." (Or not!). Perhaps that is why those dreams can appear so vivid, and we sometimes awaken still feeling disoriented. This type of confused awakening happened to me this morning.

In this particular dream I had discovered that I was one course short of completing or qualifying for some sort of designation. It obviously had to do with writing, because the workbooks and the test itself were all about language. I felt annoyed, confused, and frustrated. How could this be possible, with an honours degree, a specialist certificate in English, and two graduate degrees, where exactly was the gap, and how had I missed it?

One of the things that fascinates me about dreams is not so much the panorama of events, or the sideshow of images, but more the strong, intense feelings that the body generates. The heart beats faster, or so it seems; the brow furrows; fists clench; the body moans, groans, laughs, mutters. We are in another world, a parallel universe, living or reliving through memories, challenges, past or present problems.

So coming back to my dream, I began to wonder about its relevance or symbolism. Certainly, throughout my early adult life I was always taking one course or another. Teachers do that. But I also loved the world of academia. So while my children paddled in the water with their friends on a summer’s day, I enjoyed a lawn chair in the shade, with a text on whatever topic of literature I was currently pursuing. One of the motivating elements of those summer courses was that I got the reward of a grade that could accumulate into another category in my teaching grid, or another degree. I called it disciplined hedonism. It always felt good.

With this dream in mind, I could also venture into the deep, dark abyss of motherhood, and realize how inadequate my qualifications were in that department. I kept hoping that hugs, hot chocolate and warm cookies would do the trick. It seems to be working with my grandchildren. But one’s own progeny are more complex than that. I am sure, in fact I know, that I missed the grade, so to speak, on more than a few occasions in their young lives. And yet they have emerged as successful adults, by any reasonable standards. So I stand proud of them alone for being who they are.

A person can take full credit for a test score or a job well done. Those are measureable achievements. Children are not. Perhaps my dream was all about the feeling that I am missing a motherhood credential. One of the challenges of the second half of our lives is focusing on what we can change and what we can’t (thank you Reinhold Niebuhr), putting aside the self absorbed activities of youth and focusing on a more selfless approach to sharing our wisdom, experience, and energy with others, especially Grandchildren. Gosh I am trying my best in that department.

While I was chatting with my son last night to wish him Happy Birthday, he asked the usual, “What’s new?” I said that I was trying to complete the final draft of my novel (“You know; the one I have been working on for the past three years!”), by the end of this month in order to have it ready to send to a publisher for consideration. He said, “What novel?”

Now, he knows that I love to write, that I am always dabbling in something, and I have referenced my novel numerous times in the past. But he is living the life of the young, career oriented adult (husband and father), hearing words that don’t register, because his mind is so full of all the challenges and exigencies of his own day-to-day life. (Oh yes, that was me, not so long ago. Okay, I understand. )

I said one more thing to him. “Yes, I want to finish this first novel (with emphasis on first) so that I can legitimately call myself a writer (with emphasis on writer). His mortgaged mind immediately responded, “Yes, it would be good to get an income stream out of it.”

I didn’t choose motherhood, or take courses, for monetary gain. Nor am I under any delusions about making a fortune with my writing. We give birth, get an education, and do whatever else we do, garden, sculpt, paint, write, because it is in our bones, our hearts ,our visceral selves to do so. I write for the same reason that I love, because it is part of who I am. To misquote Jerry Maguire, “It completes me.” And obviously, as my dream reminded me, there is still some "completing" to do.

Sunday, 18 January 2009


The other day I began thinking about life as a series of interludes, a clever metaphor I thought, something like chapters in a novel. Yes, that’s right. Each of us is our own novel. But hold on. Within minutes, I realized that I was using the term incorrectly.

In actual fact, (I thought, correcting myself), while our life is, let’s allow, like an historical novel, although without the excitement, drama, and, god willing, the dire events that make a novel a riveting runaway bestseller, it is more like a chronological sequence of causal events, many of which are continuous and sustained over a long period of time.

For example, “She was born, educated, got married, lived a married life, had children, raised them, come hell or high water or chicken pox, interspersed, (God knows where she found the time) with a career, grandchildren, retired to a nursing home with visits from offspring, and then she died.” That would be it, and not too much of an exciting “it” at that, if it were not for, you guessed, the interludes.

To assist in clarifying my own thinking, I checked out the definition of my new found word-friend. Here it is:
1 : a usually short simple play or dramatic entertainment
2 : an intervening or interruptive period, space, or event : interval
3 : a musical composition inserted between the parts of a longer composition, a drama, or a religious service

Exactly, I thought, this definition fits my theory perfectly. John Steinbeck’s strategy in his famous novel, Cannery Row, was not only poetic, but also psychological brilliant. While the novel meanders casually through the lives of Mack and the Boys and their relationships with various members of the Salinas Valley community, without anything meaningful really happening, it is the chapter interludes that give the poetry and substance to the novel. So too, I suggest, is the case with many lives.

Let’s take, for instance, the interlude of a holiday. Now that is basic, brief and sometimes forgettable, but it is often the event that a couple or a family will return to again and again, in conversation. Do they narrate the details of breakfast cereal options or the sequence of birthday parties beginning at the age of two? Or even the twelve to thirteen years of schooling prior to work or university. No, it is the intervals between the day-to-day of our lives that sometimes have the greatest impact upon us.

I am not talking about a spa interlude, or a visit to the acupuncturist. I am referring to interludes with heft, those that have an impact on our lives, that give the pauses, and the punctuation. Sometimes they define or change the ongoing chronology of events. At other times they may just be what the purity of the word suggests, an interval, like a dam in the middle of a stream. The water stops temporarily, the natural flow is suspended. But then the pressure of the original momentum itself, breaks through the temporary interruption, and the flow continues. Maybe it’s a protracted illness, a near-death experience, a love affair, a period of sadness, depression even.

A family member went through a heartbreaking event in her late forties, which lasted three years. She now refers to it as her “little set-back”. In fact, once she “emerged” from the noonday demon, as it is referred to, she proceeded to reinvent herself, and to resume the intended chronology of her life with greater vigour and success.

Set-back or set-forward, an interlude can be one or both or more. I took a sabbatical from my teaching career when I turned fifty, (my little version of a mid-life crisis), in order to fulfill a long-time dream to achieve a doctorate degree. It was an interlude that relocated me to another city and consumed me twelve hours a day, for two years. And when it was done, it was done. I was surprised at how relatively insignificant the whole achievement felt. Immediately after, I resumed my teaching career, and my community/home life, as if I had only been gone a weekend. While it is an interlude I recall with pride and pleasure, I think I got a greater rush the summer that I ran a mile, non-stop, down to the end of our country road, something that I had “trained” for all summer with my kids.

So while interludes can be private, individual, shared, painful, joyous, they are identifiable markers in the journey we call our life. Too often I think we look at our lives as a total panorama, full of anecdotes about Uncle Charlie, or the new bike. But for the most part, they become a merged blur.

Perhaps it is worthwhile, as the sunflowers are drying on their stalks, to take one apart, piece by piece and notice the intricacies, the subtleties, the wonder, reflect upon the stages of the journey that make up a single living organism. We might be surprised as to how many (or how few) are in need of discarding and which ones we want to save carefully for replanting in the spring.

Thursday, 15 January 2009


I love fine jewelry, the more expensive the better, although I have never been one to wear a great deal at any time. I remember reading an article about an elegant society woman, whose preference was to wear only one exceptional piece at a time. If it was earrings, that was it, no necklace, bracelet, brooch. Just a single focus point, pure and simple. I began adopting that model for many years. Other than a requisite watch, I would wear only a single item. My other habit was to avoid costume jewelry. Much too tacky, I thought. It had to be gold, silver, diamonds or nothing. Just as well that I had chosen to decorate myself sparingly.

Over the years, (another benefit of time perhaps) the generous men in my life have gifted me with many beautiful pieces, so that after almost fifty years, I have assembled quite a collection. Recently I have begun surveying my jewelry boxes. I have even discussed “who gets what” with both of my daughters. Fortunately they chose differently, so no lottery required.

In more recent years, I have also begun to develop an appreciation for costume jewelry. Thanks to the collections of a few family members now deceased, I have an array of glistening and gaudy, grand and tawdry. My grandchildren delight in choosing from the collection to play dressup when they visit. Sometimes I let them each choose one piece to take home. And now that jewelry making, (repurposing new out of old) has become an au courant hobby, I am looking at the various semi-precious pieces with grander plans.

But here’s the curious thing. Recently, I have begun to actually wear more jewelry, more often. Even on days when I know I will be home, at the computer, in front of the stove or sink, I will adorn myself with earrings, necklace and sometimes even a bracelet. Almost garish, my mother would say.

My mother also tells me that her paternal grandmother wore earrings every day of her adult life, big, flashy, jeweled earrings. They were the first thing she attached to her body each morning. Whether gardening or baking the seven pies that she prepared each week for her husband and six sons, the earrings were the hallmark of her style.

The other day I put on a pair of large, round, sterling silver earrings that I have not worn for decades. It staggered me to realize that they were fifty years old, a gift from my first love, when I was eighteen. And they shone as if brand new. One of the beauties of jewelry, I suddenly realized, is that they contain memories. Clothing eventually wears out or shrinks. (That has happened to a lot of my clothing over the past few years.) But jewelry is eternal. The pharaohs had their jewels buried with them in their tombs, still intact to this day.

Now, when I put on a particular piece of jewelry, I feel I am connecting very viscerally with memories, my own history of past loves and generosities. And as I approach seventy, I am discovering that my natural inclination is to live a layered life, with past, present, and future comingling.

So I take new pictures of family at every opportunity and add them to the family archives. I pick up a ski sweater, that I will probably never wear again, from the bottom drawer of my bureau, and briefly hold it to my chest, reliving the swish of the skis, and the sun in my face. I replace it carefully, because, maybe just one more time, I might wear it. And I adorn myself in jewelry old and new, everyday, as if to wrap myself, in the most tangible way, with all the golden moments and brilliant people of my life. I love them all. This habit is becoming one of the most powerful urgings of my golden years.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

100 BOOKS IN 2009

I have signed up for the 100 BOOKS IN 2009 challenge as presented on J. KAYE'S BOOK BLOG.
Here are the guidelines:
1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.
2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.
3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.
4) If you don’t have a blog, please join our Yahoo Groups.
5) When you sign up under Mr. Linky, list the direct link to your post where your 100+ books will be listed. If you list just your blog’s URL, it will be removed.
6) All books count: children’s, YA, adults, fiction, non-fiction, how-tos, etc.
7) Feel free to post in the comment section or on Yahoo Groups your monthly progress as well as your favorite books that month.
Click Above
8) If you have any questions, feel free to ask below or email me at Comments usually get a quicker response.
powered by blogpoll***Update: You do not have to decided on your books ahead of time. You can add or subtract from your list during the year.

Such a clever idea. Each day I check Tessa's Nuts and Mutton blog to see where my discretionary time should be taking me. While our selection of books may vary, I certainly do take note of her selections and reviews.

Unlike others, I dont have a list complied. Instead I will just read books as the mood suits me. Titles and commentaries to follow. I hope you will join in on the fun and challenge.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


When I was still teaching my senior, cynical, know-it-all students, I would sometimes lapse into a good old “roll of the eyes” moment. I figured that if they refused to exercise their mind, they might as well exercise a body part close by. My “moment” would largely consist of extolling the beauty of a sunset and I would cite the writings and teachings of the American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. From a personal perspective I told them my goal was to try never to miss a sunrise or a sunset.

The sunset part is somehow easier to manage these days of indolent retirement. And it was with great delight that I happened upon this article by Bernard Baskin, in today’s Hamilton Spectator. One paragraph in particular opened up my morning. Rabbi Baskin referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson's idea that "if the sunset took place once every 10 years we would be so awed by its splendour and beauty that we would regard it as a miracle. But since it happens every day, we rarely pause to relish its wonder."

So, here is the first item on my list for the New Year. I will endeavour, each day of this year, to meet the evening sunset, with wonder and delight, wherever I may be, by the lake, the firepit, the porch, the roadside, the garden, the window. I hope you will find it possible to do so as well. I will be thinking of you.

The entire article by Rabbi Baskin is well worth a moment to enjoy, in advance of tonight’s sunset.

Thursday, 1 January 2009


Last night we watched “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. And in spite of Roger Ebert’s acerbic critique, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Jack was his usual rascally self, a persona that he has successfully cultivated on and off screen. The premise is simple. Two men, confronting imminent death, make a wish list of things they would like to do before they kick the bucket, so to speak. It is somehow a fitting theme to ponder on New Year’s Day.

Despite the fact that my sister always keeps her resolutions... (in a drawer) and that others consider this annual ritual silly and futile, I enjoy contemplating the year ahead, making plans, exploring possibilities. In doing so, it seems worthwhile to examine one’s own persona, if only to determine what will or will not be remotely possible. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s stage/ And all the men and women merely players.” Well, discounting the word, “merely”, I think we all know that old Willy had us tagged correctly.

As we emerge from the sturm and drang of childhood, we take on various roles: wife, mother, friend, neighbour, career colleague. These roles become our identity points. And, like the career actors of the world, we have a persona, which is sometimes different from the self we live with, one that we present to the world, recalibrating to suit others, or the circumstances.

So, who are we really? Is there a self that we can pinpoint, readily identify. How many of us can easily answer the question. “Who am I?” More specifically, “Who am I, aside from external associations, deep down in the core of my being?

Maybe the answer doesn’t matter. Maybe identity cannot be determined in a vacuum. Like any good photograph the foreground is defined by its background. But, aha, a photograph is a two-dimensional figure, and we are not. In fact, just as psychologists are now realizing, there are multiple types of intelligences, so too, our characters, personalities, soul-selves are multi-layered, multi-faceted entities.

I will make my usual checklist this year: Lose more weight; get more exercise; declutter home and mind; do unto others, etc. But, in addition, this year, and thanks to Jack, I am going to try to do some things I have never done before. The list is not yet fully compiled. Of course, it includes finishing my novel. But I am also thinking about exploring new territory, areas of life that I have never tread before. I may tread lightly and tentatively at first. But who knows where my quest might lead, or what aspect of myself I might discover in the process. I will keep you posted.