August 28, 2012

The Writer's Ego

Yesterday, at our public library's annual book sale, an older acquaintance and I happened to meet at one of the many tables. "So I see you're on my Facebook," she said.

"Oh, well yes," I said, a little confused because it was she who had sent me a friend request.

She went on to say how the whole thing disgusted her, and how from her point of view, it was all a big ego trip, a way to say "Look at me, everyone, look at my pictures and see my great life." Although I know she was talking about the site in general, and could not deny at least some truth in her opinion, I began to feel sensitive about how much I share on the site.

I told her how I have a lot of family and friends spread half way across the country and Facebook is a great way to share photos and jokes and little things about our lives with each other. I also joked that I was fairly careful not to brag about my children too much, because I know that can be irritating to some people.

"Oh, I don't mean you," said my acquaintance. "I'm only joking." And she walked away fairly quickly.

As I continued my search for gems hiding somewhere between the pulp fiction and the self-help books, I tried to shake off the discomfort I was feeling as a result of the exchange with my acquaintance; perhaps she did mean me and didn't want to tell me point-blank to my face. Suddenly my Facebook life flashed before my eyes. Every photo, every quip, every opinion, every link to my two blogs I had shared over the past few weeks passed through my mind like the pages of a flip book.  I decided not to spend any more time (just then) worrying about what had just passed and concentrate on finding some books with my youngest daughter who had accompanied me to the sale.

The experience at the book sale brought to mind something a friend had said to me when we lived in the  Campbell River region of Vancouver Island. Campbell River had been home to a writer named Roderick Haig-Brown who had become nationally and internationally famous for his beautifully written books on fly-fishing, on nature and the adventure of living and working on the West Coast, and for his stories for young readers. Haig-Brown, while well respected by local environmentalists, outdoors people and literary types, was somewhat scoffed at by others in the region, my friend being one of them. "That guy?" she said, "He couldn't wait to die so everyone could hear the eulogy he wrote about himself." Poor Haig-Brown. I will admit that my friend is something of a philistine, but then, I didn't know the England born Haig-Brown personally, only visited his house which was a Provincial Heritage Property now run as a B&B by a live-in caretaker and read a few of his books - the ones not about fishing - so I was not in a position to argue. In addition to being a prolific published writer Haig-Brown was a magistrate in Campbell River and drove around in his sleek Jaguar. He died in 1976. As usual, I thought of something to say to my friend in reply much later. (They call that 'carriage wit', as in, you think of your witty retort in the carriage on the way home from the party.) I thought perhaps my friend did not understand the personality of a great writer like Haig-Brown, of their need to communicate their thoughts, to bounce them off, well, somebody; the great pleasure they take in something they have written to their satisfaction after mulling over it first in their minds until it has the right aura, and then getting that intangible glowing thing down on paper in words, glorious jumblings of letters on the page which culminate into something like art, if not art itself.

I knew my friend was mocking Haig-Brown for his ego because she had said as much, so I decided to look up the word. In my tattered copy of Webster's New World Dictionary the word 'ego' has three meanings. 1. the individual as aware of himself; the self  2. conceit  3. psychoanalysis the part of the psyche which governs action rationally. The first two meanings interested me the most because people generally think of ego as being conceit. When it comes to a writer, however, I tend to think most writers are individuals incredibly aware of themselves, and this, while doubly a blessing (because it enables them to be incredibly aware of others) and a curse (because all that awareness can be exhausting) for a writer, appears to others, especially those not terribly understanding of the artist's ways, as conceit and self-absorption and even exhibitionism.

I grew up with writers and learned to recognize the signs of productivity, and the signs of despondency in them. The constant juggling of the exterior and interior life of a writer makes for a rewarding but, at times, difficult path which is understood by few. This lack of understanding is both humbling and frustrating, and the writer must simply carry on doing what he must do. For his sanity, and for his art.

So, in the end and despite my annoying sensitivity to the opinions of others, I will carry on sharing my writing on Facebook, along with anything else I please. I have realized that it is communication and expression of ideas which make me tick - dare I call myself a writer - and if Facebook is one of the formats for that expression then so be it.

August 18, 2012

Mamma Mia! - Quite the Experience

Around Mother's Day (the second Sunday in May in this country) I found a full page ad in the one of the Chilliwack papers: 'Mamma Mia! Prospera Centre, One Night Only, August 17'. A big show like that rarely comes east of Vancouver, so I got a little excited. My friend Diane asked me if I would like to go with her. I said yes, enthusiastically, without even considering the ticket price. When I told my family about the opportunity, they offered to pitch in for the ticket for my Mother's Day present. Diane offered to obtain the tickets online, and then all that was required was to wait with great anticipation for the big day.

For those out there who don't know - and there will be very few of you - Mamma Mia! began on the London Stage and soon became a massive hit all around the world. It is the story of a twenty year old girl and her single mother who runs a taverna on a small Greek island. The girl, Sophia, is uncertain of who her father is, and when she reads of three possiblilities in her mother's diary, she invites all three of them to her upcoming wedding in an attempt to find out which of the three men is her real father. Two of Sophia's mother's friends come to the island as well, and the antics which ensue are highly entertaining and stitched together throughout with songs from the Swedish supergroup, ABBA. The production is fantastically fun and high energy, and of course, sentimental for those who grew up fans of ABBA. The musical was made into a film in 2008, starring Meryl Streep and a host of other fantastic actors, which was also a huge hit worldwide.

I was not a fan of ABBA growing up, but my sisters were, as well as a couple of friends, so I knew the music; besides, once I hear a song I rarely forget it and ABBA songs are nothing if not catchy. I saw the film version a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It was just such good fun, although I once heard myself calling the storyline "every menopausal woman's fantasy." Anyway, when the opportunity came to go and see the travelling production I jumped at the chance. I've always wanted to see something like that and just never have, although I've seen a few big rock concerts and plenty of good quality smaller scale productions in good theaters.

After spending much of a hot and sunny Friday up at a local lake swimming and enjoying the natural beauty of the setting with our families, my friend Diane and I agreed to leave for the show at 7 pm that evening. The show would start at 8 pm, but we wanted to get there early enough to find a good parking spot and perhaps buy a drink or something beforehand. We found a good spot for the car in the Cultural Center parking lot next door to Prospera Centre, which is a hockey rink, mainly, but also used for larger events and holds about 5,000 people depending on the event. The only times I had been in the building were for public ice skating, and after the heat wave we've been having, I was looking forward to spending the evening in an air conditioned building watching the show.

We walked into the building and presented our tickets to the friendly ticket-taker. The air in the entrance way did not seem to be cool at all, and we walked a few more metres to the programme seller, thinking the cool wall of A/C would hit us any moment. "So, is Meryl Streep in the show?" asked Diane, very tongue in cheek. "Oh no" the woman replied, most likely thinking these women were true hicks from Hicksville, "this show has all different actors. You can see them all in this programme" (which was in colour and $20). Diane, who'd seen Les Miserables on the London stage a couple of times, walked on with me, shaking her head. The wall of cool air never arrived. We were given the free black and white version of the programme by the usher who lead us to our seats, and we resigned ourselves to spending the evening fanning ourselves with it. Fortunately, I had smuggled in a bottle of iced water, because the line-up for the drinks was pretty long, understandably. The air conditioning either did not exist - perhaps the ice which was there throughout much of the year was kept cold from beneath, or it was broken. I never really found out the truth.

Before long, music indicated to the crowd that the show was about to begin. The lights were lowered and the  first scene commenced. We were sitting in section H, row 9, which meant we had to turn to the left to look at the stage, but our view was quite good and we were about half way up the risers. The seats were not very comfortable, just plastic fold-down things, and Diane regretted forgetting the cushion she had intended to bring; she'd sat through hockey games in the centre before. The first half was great. I was intrigued thinking about the whole stage management/production side of things, because the show was highly choreographed, including the set changes. I knew the film, of course, and also enjoyed the little differences in the stage version. The actors were very good, especially the young woman who played Sophia, but of course Meryl Streep was the best 'Donna' I had seen, and comparisons would have been unfair. The first half ended with the song 'Voulez Vous' and a rousing dance number with the entire cast, and then we were able to stand up and stretch our legs during the intermission. Diane also discovered an ice cream vendor and we had something cool to eat. We also went to the Ladies room and splashed cool-ish water on our faces and arms, and even our legs. Diane asked me at one point, "How hot do you think it is in here?" It was probably about 30 degrees, judging by the perspiration running down my back.

The second half was equally entertaining, but every once in a while I would look out over the audience to see a sea of programme fans waving to the beat of the music. The audience seemed to be lagging a bit. A few had even left after the first half, the older gentleman beside me included - I had noticed he did not appear to be feeling well. About twenty minutes from the end of the show, some kind of alarm went off in the back of the building. It sounded like a car alarm, but it was most definitely inside the building. The actors kept right on with the show, being pros, and the alarm kept on, too, 'Wooee, wooee, wooee, wooee," on and on for about five full minutes. Finally, someone managed to turn it off and the audience cheered, albeit tiredly. The final numbers in the show are meant to bring everyone to their feet, and soon everyone was up, clapping and singing along, some even managing to wave their arms back and forth. How the actors endured three hours of that heat, in costumes, under the lights, I'll never know. They deserved a standing ovation just for that.

A fairly subdued crowd filed out of the building, smiling wearily, with thoughts of a rinse-off when they got home, I'm sure. Diane and I chatted during the drive home. We had read in the programme that the Mamma Mia! crew were off to Penticton in south central British Columbia the next day, having presented the show one night each in Lethbridge in southern Alberta, Dawson Creek, Prince George, and Chilliwack, all in BC. as part of their tour. All of these cities are mid-sized with populations of under 100,000. I was quite sure that each of the centres in which they played were hockey rinks. We wondered if any of them had air conditioning.

Mind you, in retrospect, perhaps the heat in the building added to the overall effect of the setting. A Greek Island can be awfully hot, but we could have done with a bit of a cool breeze off the Mediterranean. Yes, 'somewhere in the crowd' there was us, and we, along with the cast, musicians, and crew were certainly 'Super Troupers' for making it through that night!

Here's Meryl, Christine and Julie performing Super Trouper for the film version of Mamma Mia!. Enjoy! (I did)

August 13, 2012

A Feast of Family

Our youngest was quite sad for the first day back at home after our recent trip to Nelson to attend the wedding of her cousin Gisele and new husband Paul. We had stayed at my parents' house along with my sister Clare's family. "I miss Clare and Brent (her husband) and our cousins (Clare and Brent's two girls, aged fourteen and eleven)," she said with a few large tears in her eyes.

"What do you miss the most about them?" I asked.

"They're just nice to be around," she said.

In these few words our daughter said much. The joy of meeting kindred spirits, even if it is only once in a long while, is not something to be taken lightly. Finding people who possess a similar kind of sensitivity, intelligence, and a flair for the dramatic was such a joy to her and she sighed when realizing that in less than a month she would be back at school with a whole lot of kids she feels little in common with. Well, I said, that's the human race, unfortunately, (And then to myself I admitted that is the very reason we have signed her up for acting classes at the local school for the performing arts starting this fall. For the past two summers she has taken part in summer drama camps offered at the school, and has felt right at home.) and it proves how lucky we are to belong to a family like ours.

Ours is a large family, growing ever larger with the addition of the groom's family now, and the prospect of baby cousins to come sometime in the future, their potential beauty much discussed at the wedding reception. I remember almost thirty years ago, a similar event when my eldest sister, Monica got married to Matthew, a man she met in Winnipeg after moving there with a good friend Catherine a few years before. Matthew's entire family including his parents, five siblings, and an uncle or two came half way across the country for their wedding and our own family grew some more. After I graduated from high school I went out to Winnipeg to stay with Monica who was pregnant with her second daughter (the one so recently married). My second eldest sister, Clare, had also gone out to Winnipeg a couple of years previously and met her husband, so I spent much time with them as well. Matthew's brothers took me to a David Bowie concert, Clare and Brent took me to the Winnipeg Folk Festival, various friends took me other places (mainly places to eat) and welcomed me into their homes.

My niece Gisele is the first grandchild of Matthew's parents to get married, and the second of my parents. Almost all Matthew's siblings came out to the wedding with their children. The groom's family, including a cousin and his family from Denmark all came, and the attending guests numbered around two hundred and fifty. I had not seen the Winnipeg family, except for the grandmother, since my visit in 1987. Getting around to visit with every one of them took the better of three days, but fortunately, there was ample opportunity. The party extended beyond the wedding reception to the lakeshore where we all enjoyed a day of swimming, visiting, and relaxing while grazing the afternoon away on the leftovers from the wedding banquet the night before, and then another gathering was held before Matthew's family all had to leave. All but one of my five siblings were able to attend the wedding, and most of my parents' grandchildren were also there. It truly was a family reunion as well as an extremely joyous wedding.

The happy couple's first dance...and a tiger

Beach Day, post wedding

Staying in my parents' house along with my sister Clare and her family was a treat for me as well as my children. Clare and I have only met three times in the past several years due to the huge amount of country between our homes. She lives in southern Manitoba which is a full three days' drive from us out here on the west coast. It has made the most sense for us to meet in Nelson on our rare holidays together. Clare and her family slept up in the sleeping loft at the very top of our parents' house, our boys in the loft above the kitchen and my husband and I and our girls slept on the sleeping porch which wraps around one side of the house -  where we siblings all slept in summer when our second floor bedrooms were too warm. Every morning, Clare and I rose at pretty much the same time and took turns making the coffee.  We would visit with our parents while one by one the kids got up to join us in the living room or around the table. Two mornings of our visit we went for a run together, which was great, and I showed her some of my yoga stretches and she showed me some new ones from her running clinic. We talked about our children, we talked about our husbands and their work, we talked about our work in our respective communities, we talked about everything and nothing with humour and that great and comfortable love that comes from growing up in a close knit family and increases with the mellowness of age. Clare's husband and I were friends from the beginning and I enjoyed getting lots of time to chat with him as well. It was he who was instrumental in bringing my husband and I together, and we talked about that time in our lives when we all lived in Vancouver. Brent also introduced me to a quirky little cooking show parody called 'Posh Nosh' which has many episodes online...and got me hooked. I remembered how he was the one to introduce our family to Black Adder as well, and how he once made me a mixed-tape of some of his favourite songs. Our boys were also now old enough to find plenty in common with him as well, and enjoyed getting to know him better.

Later in the week, another nephew arrived from Victoria, and he slept in the den/library/office which used to, long ago, be my bedroom. Cooking for the household of fourteen was a job shared between three of us and so was almost stress free. We pooled our resources and came up with very satisfactory meals (many including additions from our parents' fabulous garden) which were enjoyed with wine every evening. The young people sat at a table on the front porch, and we adults sat at the dining room table. Meals were quite civilized that way, at least at the adult table. We enjoyed dessert almost every night, so it was a good thing there was plenty of swimming and walking up and down those Nelson hills to burn off the excess calories. Other families involved in the wedding stayed in the houses of friends and relatives in town so it was easy to gather together for afternoons at the beach and for evenings of wine and music at one or the other of the houses. We kept each other barely aware of the events of the London Olympic Games - someone, usually Brent, telling us of the latest glorious victory or crushing defeat.

The week went by so fast, and if the truth be told, I could have stayed on longer after the wedding, and done more: some hiking in the mountains, some shopping, some more visiting with Nelson friends, but it was not to be. The wedding and the visiting with family was what we went there for and jobs called us home - we stayed until the last possible day. I was very tired for the first couple of days home, but I still basked in the glow of the event and our time in Nelson, as I always do. We are so lucky, so blessed to have a large and loving family, which includes some members who, although not related by blood or marriage, have been connected to us for so long that they really, honestly do feel like family.

Today we finished the moving of our eldest son Ian and his stuff to his new place in Vancouver where he will begin a term of study in September and become a part of the music scene. Our second eldest turned eighteen on Friday and I know it cannot be long before he also goes off to find his life. I am wistful, but I am also confident, especially after our family holiday, that my children, even though they will move on and branch out as is good and natural, they will be happy to come home for a visit - maybe even an extended one - and to take part in larger family events. Heck, I'm forty-two and I still love 'going home'.

What kind of mother would I be if I didn't promote my son Ian's new 5-track E.P., A Stone's Throw now available for download here. The first song is timely for his move even further to the west. Have a listen and hear the results of growing up in a large family full of artists, writers and musicians.

Viva la familia! (and thanks to my brother in law Matthew for most of these photos)

Ian on the beach with his first love