March 30, 2012

Many Questions, Few Answers

We have had a tragedy in our town this week. On Monday night, a young girl who had just turned sixteen took her own life. I don't know why she did it, and it is not my place to pursue the matter at this point with her devastated family, so all I am sure of is my own sadness and my own questions.

What is it that makes someone take that fatal step to end any possibility of a future for themselves? Most people would say it is despair and utter hopelessness. But further, what makes someone, especially someone so young, get to a place where suicide is even an option? With all the preventative measures and supports in place in our schools, in government, in society at large, why are so many young people, particularly the First Nation young people in this country, deciding to end it all? I have no real answers to that question, only some general thoughts to explore, so please, if you are still reading, bear with me.

Someone recently said that we don't love ourselves enough in this day and age. Sure, we give ourselves every luxury we can afford and seek entertainment in every possible form, but is that love? I heard a phrase the other day that has stayed with me: 'self sabotage'. I think some of us, for a variety of reasons, do that a lot. I think most of us desire the right things, good relationships, self respect and a happy ending. Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us, instead of picking ourselves up again, making amends and carrying on, just dig ourselves a deeper hole. And it is often our children who suffer for it the most.

I knew a married couple with two young girls. One day I was over at their house while our daughters played together. I noticed a brand new kitchen appliance, a KitchenAid stand mixer on the counter. I 'oohed and aahed' appropriately because I'd always wanted one. The girls' mother told me that she had gone out and bought it to get back at her husband for purchasing of a $500 golf club without telling her. Two years later the couple divorced. I know the KitchenAid/golf club battle was only one of, most likely, many incidences of the couple's demise, and perhaps was only a symbol, but I did think at the time that it seemed something like sabotage to do that to each other, and that the situation would end badly. The couple's youngest was in my daughter's class when her parents split up and it was painful to see how upset she was each and every day of that year. My daughter and I did our best to comfort her, but I know we could not have done much. The couple's girls are much older now and seem to be doing well, but no honest person would say they aren't scarred from the experience.

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." I suppose I could expand on that to say that if we do not continually examine our lives and those of our children, life may soon seem unliveable. Many teenagers demand their privacy. They go in their rooms with their computers and cell phones and lock the door, only to reappear for food. As a child with five siblings and three adults in the house, privacy was not something I was allowed much of. Our telephone was smack in the middle of the house by the kitchen, we were never allowed to lock the door even of the one bathroom (which, in any case, was unlockable) in case someone needed to pee while one of us were bathing -shocking in this day and age, I know. An adult or older sibling was always home after school to talk over the day with, and while we had the usual scraps and scrapes, we were a healthy, communicative family for the most part. Mom was continually 'checking in' with us to assess our state of mind, and was generally on top of what was going into our heads via books, movies, television, and friendships. I wouldn't dare to say that parents today do not love their children as equally as their parents loved them, but I do wonder sometimes if they are really, truly listening and examining the whole lives of their children, ever watchful for gaps in their understanding, ever coaching them in their youthful, sometimes erring philosophies. I also wonder if parents are truly examining themselves and the example they are giving their children. I know this may all sound terribly idealistic, but I would argue that it shouldn't, and further, that it should sound like the norm.

My fifteen year old daughter, who reads a variety of genres from Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice to futuristic fiction and Harry Potter, was discussing with me the new teen phenomenon, The Hunger Games, the premise of which I am less than thrilled and a novel I will not allow her ten year old sister to read. "Have you ever noticed that the entire teen section of the book store is dark?" she asked. "All the covers are mostly black. It's depressing." I have noticed, and have worked hard to expose her to a good cross-section of novels to choose from. I don't approve of censorship but I do approve of giving her my opinion, because that's what I'm here for - to guide and help her interpret the popular culture that surrounds her. Do I not have that right as a parent? Do I not have that responsibility? A few vampires and ghouls are not harmful to her psyche if they are properly mixed up with a lot of bright fictional characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Hermione Granger to keep them in their place.

There is an ad on TV for Kids' Help Phone. The graphics of the ad contain several speech bubbles while the voices of fictional callers make their pleas. "Everyone's too busy. Everyone's too busy. Everyone's too busy," are the first three pleas we hear, and it breaks my heart to hear them, but at least that child thought to ask for help. I don't know why the young girl in our community full of caring teachers, community support and youth workers, felt so alone and so despairing. Perhaps those supports were not enough to show her how to love herself and to love life enough to seek out the light when all seemed dark.

As for the rest of us, life must and will go on. Somehow we have to do better by our children.

Our fifteen year old daughter, Emma took the photo above.

March 23, 2012

Happy Thoughts for Spring


I fell in love -
Taken by the innocence of
Child-face daffodils:

Their perky April fanfares -
Clarion calls from yellow-ochre brass bands
Presaging, rejoicing, calling us:

'Here we are! Here we are!'

Mark R. Slaughter

Technically, the 'daffodils' in the photo are the baby narcissus presently blooming in our front garden (and it is still only March), but they are close enough to the taller, bolder version that is popping out in all its bright yellow glory in the south facing gardens around town. I am always surprised by the early presence of daffodils. I think they must be the bravest of flowers considering they are often pummelled by rain, or what we commonly have here in March: 'snain', hail, wind, and other assorted confused symptoms of a season somewhere in between winter and spring, and don't seem to mind at all. For me, daffodils, crocus, and snowdrops symbolize the hope I begin to feel after enduring a long, dreary, wet West Coast winter. Some snow may still fall and chilly winds may still blow, but if the daffodil can persist then so can I.

My plan for today was to walk around the neighbourhood in the oh-so-very-welcome sunshine with my youngest daughter, snapping photos of the evidence of spring. I took about five photos before my camera's battery died. Besides a few scenes similar to the one above, I managed to capture a little junco, one of my favourite birds, in the silver maple in our front yard:

 Spring in the Bronx

Spring has sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is.
They say the bird in on the wing.
Ain't that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.


I have noticed lately that few birds are feeding at our birdfeeder, which hangs from this same silver maple, so I took a closer look. The moisture of late winter has turned the birdseed into porridge, which has begun to bloom with mold. Yuck. I wouldn't want to eat that if I were a bird, so I will be taking the feeder down, emptying it of it's mush and giving it a good spring cleaning before re-filling it to the brim with fresh seed. One of the joys of spring and summer mornings is to see what visitors we have at the feeder, and look up any new ones in the Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds which sits, ever ready, on the small side table by the living room picture window. My husband doesn't actually agree with the idea of bird feeders. He believes we should let nature take its course and not encourage wildlife to rely on humans for food. Part of me agrees with him, but it is such a pleasure to invite birds into the yard, I cannot seem to give up the idea. So, we agree to disagree, and he continues to help me hang the feeder up and take it down for cleaning. We humans continue to take so much of the birds' habitat away, we should at least give them some food to make up for it - at least that is my rationale concerning birdlife. I do not feel this way about other forms of wildlife such as raccoons, coyotes, or the squirrels that steal our best walnuts, so I admit to being inconsistent on that score.

Another sign of spring is the fact that my son has been called in to work this weekend at the ice cream/coffee shop in the nearby resort village. It is Spring Break in our school district, so with the good weather, families are pouring into the village for a day or two by the lake. We may see temperatures this weekend of 15 degrees Celsius - most likely at 1:00 pm and for about five minutes - but that will be enough to bring people out of their houses in search of something resembling a summer day.

One thing I love to do in spring is go for a drive with music blaring on our quite good car stereo. A particular song which came to mind the other day when I found out I have a couple of cavities that need filling. I was quite disgusted because I really do look after my teeth and asked the dentist what I should do to prevent further decay. She advised me to wean myself off sugar in my coffee and tea, as she was pretty certain that was doing it. On our way home I started to sing this song to my daughter, and I think I'll search out the recording for our next car trip. It really is two songs in one, and the second sort of fits with the spring theme, so...enjoy. And Happy Spring!

March 16, 2012

He's Good, but He's No Baryshnikov.

After spending four days last week performing my duties as chaperone to the senior band students of my kids' high school on their intensive trip to Calgary, Alberta, I have spent part of every day of this week allowing myself some recovery time. Yesterday afternoon I decided to relax by watching a DVD I had taken out of the library two weeks ago and which was due the day before yesterday. The DVD was a 2010 production of the Provokiev ballet, Cinderella, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. I enjoyed it and agreed with the critic quoted on the back: "As a ballet, this performance of Cinderella was good. As theatre, it was great!" The costumes and stage sets were fantastic, and the characters often comical and extremely dramatic. My son took the DVD back to the library for me immediately after I had finished watching it -so I wouldn't accumulate any more fines - and I can't remember the names of the dancers. Cinderella herself was danced by someone who could present the character with all the grace and sweetness we can imagine Cinderella to own. The prince was danced by a tall, male, heroic looking figure, and while I appreciated his performance I heard my mind saying Well, he's good, but he's no Baryshnikov.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is my favourite male dancer of all time. He is a lot of people's favourite male dancer of all time. After watching Cinderella, I spent a few minutes on Youtube watching videos of Baryshnikov, which only confirmed by long-held belief in his unparalled gift. I don't follow ballet much now. It is not because I don't want to, it's just that I really do not have the opportunity to do so. Perhaps there are some male dancers out there who are every bit as good as Baryshnikov, and perhaps one day when I have both the time and money I will see them perform. An elderly lady I knew on Vancouver Island held season's tickets to the ballet in Vancouver and would go over to the Mainland to see every performance. She would tell me about the performance she was going to see, and I would sigh and think how I would like to spend my old age doing just that.

I once bought a large poster of Baryshnikov and pinned it up with the other dance pictures on my bedroom wall. Those posters represented a lot of dreams for me at the time. I used to lie in bed at night and pray, "Please make me a dancer. Please make me a dancer. Please can I be a dancer?" I was with a small studio at the time. My Granny had died and left me and my siblings a little money, and I used mine to pay for dance lessons at a small studio which was a fifteen minute drive from my home. I had taken lessons when I was six, and again, with another excellent teacher who had come from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet when I was ten and eleven. I loved her and her teaching style (as did my mom who encouraged her to stay in our town), but she struggled to make a living and left after a year or two for the city. It was not until I was fifteen that I decided to take lessons again, and although I had the right attitude for dance and plenty of musicality I did not have the years of steady technical training that the other girls had, and I had to work very hard to catch up. The experience was good for me, and the other girls were surprisingly welcoming and encouraging. I had a wonderful four years with the company. I thoroughly enjoyed rehearsing for shows, and was chosen to play Snow White in our production of the same name - 'for your expressive face, Rebecca,' said the head teacher/choreographer. Even though our company embraced jazz and modern dance, my first love was ballet and I immersed myself in its world. I read books about ballet, saw films about dance, watched televised ballets, particularly with the National Ballet of Canada, bought pictures of dance, painted pictures of dancers, received ballet themed gifts, etc. A friend and I went to the States for a night to see the Pacific Northwest Ballets' Nutcracker (Ultimately I was disappointed - the calibre of dance was not anywhere near what I'd seen on TV).

I remember during my last year with the studio I asked for a meeting with the director and main teacher, Lynette. I wanted her honest opinion: did she think I had what it took to become a dancer professionally? I had thoughts of auditioning for a university dance program. I had taken a couple of intensive summer programs with other teachers and had felt encouraged by them. Lynette was kind. She began to point out all the areas in the dance world I could study: dance history, dance theory, dance administration...everything but dancing itself. "You're an intellectual, Rebecca. There is so much you could do." I was too much of an optomist to allow myself to be crushed entirely, but of course I was terribly disappointed. I didn't want to be an intellectual. I wanted to be a dancer so badly, it ached. I did audition for that university dance program and did not get accepted. I was called into a room with several other dancers who were all told we showed promise but needed some more training before we could join the full time program. Perhaps, looking back, I should have stuck with it, pushed forward, but I was beginning to realize that perhaps I just didn't have what it would take.

Sometimes, things don't work out the way we want them to, no matter how much we will them to. That's the seeming cruelty of life, and often, timing is everything. I remember when I worked for a dance company for a short time in Vancouver when I was first married. A wonderful flamenco dancer who had taught me during a week-long intensive course a couple of years before, came into the office. He gave me a hug and invited me to come dance with his company downtown. 'You are good!' he said. I could have cried, I felt so validated. However, I had also just found out I was pregnant and new dreams were beginning to flutter in my soul. Over the years other things came into my life and gave me joy. I became a runner, which gives me a bit of that sense of flight dancers have. I practise yoga, which gives me the strength and stretch I used to enjoy at the studio barre. I began to write, which allows me an outlet for my creative expression. I had children, which meant more to me than anything. Still, when I watch a ballerina, I can feel every move they make. In a sense I dance with them in my heart and in my mind.

And Baryshnikov? Well, he is beyond a dancer. He is a bird in flight, a lion in strength, and a unicorn in unusual grace. At least he is in the videos which captured him in his prime, and in films like The Turning Point and White Nights. He is older now of course. Aren't we all? I understand that now he is a generous and gifted teacher.

Here he is, the great Misha in his younger days. I chose this video to show what an amazing dancer, actor and athlete he is. So inspiring.

I am adding another video featuring Canada's extraordinary Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington. I once spotted Evelyn on the streets of Winnipeg when I was visiting my sister. She was just a teeny tiny thing.

I am behind in both my posting and my reading of posts. I promise to catch up soon. Wishing everyone a Happy St. Patty's Day tomorrow, and a Happy St. Joseph's Day on Monday - he's the patron saint of Canada, eh?

March 3, 2012

For the Love of Poetry

I  thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ~e.e. cummings
A fellow blogger posted the above bit of poetry on his blog recently, and it perfectly epitomizes what I have been feeling about this time of year. Despite the weather being a bit confused lately, the earth really is pushing forth with the idea of spring. The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming, choice shrubs are greening and leaf buds on the trees are beginning to swell, needing just a bit of steady encouragement from the sun to gain the confidence to open up.

I suppose the beauty of poetry is that the poet succeeds, with a few well-chosen and intuitive words, in expressing what we lesser mortals cannot. I can't say that I read a lot of poetry, but I do read enough to know its power.

I have been so busy lately, preparing for this weekend's events which I have helped to organize for the community, and my husband is just winding down a few weeks of work in which he, literally, spent more time on the job than he spent at home. The other day I had so much to do, yet in my tiredness I could not find my rhythm, nor create any real flow to the day. Another blogger expressed in one of his new poems exactly what I had been experiencing that day, and I was comforted by the fact that someone out there had been able to put form to my feelings, simply because he had felt the same way.

the day is passing too fast, forward, but jerky, stop motion clay-mation in the hands of an amateur. ~Brian Miller

When I was a child, I read plenty of junior poetry: A.A. Milne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dennis Lee, Shel Silverstein, nursery rhymes galore, and various illustrated collections, but it was not until I was introduced to adult poetry in my English Literature class in high school that I began to appreciate and understand poetry as an art form (although I am sure all that children's literature paved the way). Our teacher, Mr. Stephani walked us through Shakespeare, Pope, some Milton, Hardy, Wordsworth, Blake and Byron. I found I could understand and often relate to what these poets were saying about the world around them, and I was encouraged to carry on with my studies, which included Canadian and American literature, in college and university. 

I'm not sure if all college kids go through the same poetic phase, but I know I did. I remember another very romantic e.e. cummings poem which I had heard quoted in a movie. I was in the beginning stages of my first long-term relationship at the time, and after hearing the poem, I rushed to the college library, looked it up, copied it out and gave it to my boyfriend. I won’t quote the entire poem here, but the last stanza still takes my breath away, in a laughing, slightly cringing 'I can’t believe I gave him that poem' kind of way. In all honesty, I'm sure the poem described not how I felt about him, but rather, how I wished to feel at the time.

(I do not know what it is about you that closes
And opens; only something in me understands
The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

I never did find a poem that fit 'us' until after we had broken up. Perhaps that was a sign.

When I met and fell in love with my husband, I wrote him a poem. It had one line in it that I remember:
Our love is as light and unusual as feathers on the moon
My husband, a practical and steady sort of man (thankfully) was impressed that I had even written him a poem at all, and was deeply touched. Finally, for me, poetry and reality had met. I was happy.
Our lives read more like a to-do list now than a love sonnet, much of the time, but that's only natural after nearly twenty years of marriage. The important thing is that we write those lists together. As for poetry, well, it will keep popping up to help give shape and to make sense and beauty of this human experience. That is its special magical gift to those who are tuned to hear it.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The photo is of the walnut tree in our back yard.