apropos of nothing

Well, not entirely accurate. Not entirely nothing.

There was a conversation recently wherein reference was made to the job of waiting tables as low-end work. The implication filled with judgement and pity for the poor saps who have to shlep bowls of soup for money.

I disagree with the idea that waiting tables is a low end job.

Hard work for low pay, yes, but not low end.

If ensuring the comfort and happiness of someone’s breakfast, lunch or dinner is seen as menial work then we really do have our values twisted.

There are real stars out there, servers who bring a sliver of joy to strangers in a true and authentic way. One of them works at a diner in town, has been there for decades, calls everyone hon, or love, in a way that you don’t mind.  She is one of the reasons the place is full of regulars (when places were full) (also the toast is excellent). And you can tell that she’s not putting it on for tips, that the people are a big reason she loves her job. When you ask for peanut butter she brings it over like it’s the most important thing in the world. She’s constantly moving, talking, being asked, answering, carrying, ordering, changing orders, shlepping.

Is it hard work? Sure looks like it.

Is it rewarding? As with everything, depends how you do it.

There are certain establishments, towns, cities, certainly countries other than ours where waiting tables is held in higher regard, a profession not merely a job that, when done well, is a respectable, and well respected, way to make a living for an entire lifetime.

Along the same lines, someone was saying how food delivery people are also looked down upon, barely spoken to, if at all, especially now that so much take-out is pre-paid. Which reminded me of the pizza guy a couple years ago who came to the door and we casually said how ya doing, and without missing a beat, and with tongue perfectly in his cheek, he said… I’m livin’ the dream.

We cracked up.

He smiled, said have a good one.

That’s star quality.

 

david thingy’s green ink, & other recollections of a pink day

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Loving my discussions this week with friends about Valentine memories from their own childhood… like those of a pal who grew up in the UK and says how it was always such an exciting time, wondering if she’d get a card… (wait for it)… in the MAIL. Says she’d sometimes get two, which was a huge deal, even though one of them was always from David Thingy who wrote in green ink. You sent out only a very few, she says, and always unsigned, no identifying marks at all. After which came the fun of classroom chats about who got what and from possibly whom and maybe even a bit of show and tell with the cards. She ends by asking if I have any tips for making pastry.

Another friend thinks it’s possible she gave a card to everyone in her class because her mother thought it would be a good idea, but she’s not sure if that’s why she did it and doesn’t actually have other memories about the day.

Someone else says that while they were not forced to give every classmate a card, she thinks it was encouraged, not that it made any difference, she says, and then remembers there being a sort of tacit competition in terms of how many cards one got. (She closes by saying that since she’s not feeling particularly traumatized by the memory she probably got enough to see her ‘down the middle of the road’ as it were.)

The friend who says her family moved so often during grade school that she was always the outsider and she was grateful for the ‘everyone gets a card’ rule otherwise it would have been just another devastating thing.

Another person’s memory was giving everyone a card but making or choosing the nicest valentines and/or writing special messages for the friends she liked best so there was still an element of doing something extra for special friends, but presumably the others didn’t realize that.

Someone says the day always made them sad, a reminder of who is popular and who isn’t and regardless of cards because that didn’t change reality.

Only one person mentions edibles. They would include in the envelope with the card, a heart-shaped candy that had a little message on it. Not sweetarts apparently, but some other kind of message’d bon bon.

And a friend with lifelong mental health challenges (who I’ve written about before) begins by talking about the advances in awareness of childhood trauma and then says despite those benefits there is still the giant problem of society… and that while he doesn’t have any special memories of valentines day, he does believe that the number of cards a child gets isn’t the cause of trauma… that the cause of trauma in this case is the way society views the number of cards received, the way it defines winners and losers, and how it teaches us to be defined by that.

As for my own memories… in my class we put our names on envelopes and attached them to our desks or possibly in some other part of the classroom and you’d walk around, ‘delivering’ cards into whatever envelopes you wanted. Some kids got a million, others did not. I was not among those who ever got a million, but I don’t recall being sad about that. At all. In fact I do remember thinking, wow…. I got five! or whatever… when I was expecting two. And only some were signed, most were not. All of it quite thrilling indeed.

But the best part was always the cards themselves. I loved the goofy pics and sayings, loved choosing who would get which. Not sure if they still sell them. They looked like this:

I love the diversity of memories and how the day resonates with everyone in different ways, the way it has been, and continues to be, experienced with a wide variety of emotions… because what’s for sure is that this day is not in any way merely about the fluff that marketing would have us buy into.

Here’s to spreading some quiet joy… in whatever way you choose.

 

 

 

 

this is not a review: ‘falling for myself’, by dorothy ellen palmer

 

A few years ago on this site I told the story of watching a short man emerge from a large truck and how my mother, seeing the same thing, saw a handicapped man and how I just did NOT see the handicap. On the contrary, I saw resourcefulness in a world that was not built for his height. (And that if it were built to his height, well then, we’d be the ‘handicapped’ ones.)

I remember also a time when my sister, who had ALS, was confined to a wheelchair and the looks of outright peeved annoyance as I rolled her about some store or other, taking up, I guess, more room in the aisles than ‘normal’ people. I was shocked by these looks and later wondered if the people giving them were possibly the same people who, in a different situation, one that wasn’t inconveniencing them, looked at my sister with pity and prided themselves on their ‘compassion’, which probably more often than not translated into gratefulness for not being her.

My sister was also asked to please not attend the wedding of a close family friend (formerly close) because her wheelchair and generally emaciated and twisted appearance and inability to talk in anything more than grunts and slurs, was not the vibe the general wedding decor/party/event was going for.

Judgement.

All this, and more, comes to mind after reading Falling for Myself, by Dorothy Ellen Palmer, a memoir that addresses ableism and judgement and what Stella Young termed Inspiration Porn, (a reference to the way the disabled are treated differently, referred to as ‘inspiring’, and used to make the so-called ‘normal’ people feel better about themselves for a) not being disabled, and b) being ‘kind’ to those who are.

“In inspiration porn, the disabled person is reduced to the object, the silent prop. The heroic captain of the football team leans down and asks ‘a wheelchair girl’ to prom. A brave tech entrepreneur takes the ‘risk’ to hire a disabled programmer. A mega-millionaire basketball star drops by with cameras and has lunch, once, for ten minutes, with a  bullied, autistic child. In inspiration porn, the abled person is the hero; the disabled person is the second banana, the sidekick.”

Inside the cover (cleverly designed as an accessibility sign) Palmer writes from the place of someone who was born with the challenge of walking and staying upright. Her feet, as an adult, are size one and half, and two and half. She has given each foot a name. She also names her walking tools, her crutches, etc. She has done/continues to do much in her life as a teacher, activist, union executive, writer, and member of the Accessibility Advisory Committe of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). For starters. She is also a daughter and mother and citizen of a city and country that (like so many cities and countries) needs to take a look at how public spaces are built in order to accommodate both the disabled and able bodied equally.

Because the current tokenism that exists in the form of a designated parking space that is used by people who are not disabled and who justify that use since they’re only going to be a minute …. ditto that one wheelchair accessible stall in the loo… and a host of other issues knowable only to those who use chairs and walkers, who have impaired vision or hearing… isn’t going to cut it.

In a very conversational way, through frustration laced with humour, Palmer sheds light on an issue that shouldn’t exist but is, instead, sadly ubiquitous, and which stays hidden due to inspiration porn, ableism and much of the world patting itself on the back for NOT taking that parking spot.

Essentially, the book is about how she lives as a woman… also how she lives as a woman with a disability. The disability not being her body, she’s very content in her body… it’s the rest of the world that’s a bit of a challenge.

And if anyone reading this says well, heck, are we supposed to accommodate everybody??? The answer is a resounding YES. Because that would be the kind of progress that would actually benefit all of society, not just those who stand to make a profit from so-called ‘progress’.

“We all need to stop falling for the double lie that disabled people can be healed and should want to be healed.

Would love to see this as required reading in schools.

 

 

 

 

say the word

 

I just read this wonderful piece about seventh graders asking for tampons in their school and the powers that be who denied the request because of worries that the girls would “abuse the privilege”.

Because tampons are so useful for things other than menstruation. (Actually, I happen to know from an episode of Sex and the City that they can be used to staunch a nosebleed when cut in half lengthwise).

So the kids, instead of whinging and wailing

and crying about the unfairness of everything,

decided to bake cookies. Tampon cookies.

Which is lovely in its own self-evident way, but what got me even more than the cookies and the chutzpah is what someone in the article said about how things have changed, how once upon a time no one would have dared even SAY the word ‘tampon’. And when you think about that… I mean really think about it… it’s entirely mad. The silencing of what is so utterly normal.

Menstrual trivia: Not until 1985 did the word ‘period’ even appear in advertising, although, of course, many products were advertised (for ‘female conditions’ and ‘time of the month’ and other euphemisms. It was Courtney Cox who had the honours of finally outing the word in a TV ad for Tampax.

But for all the distance we’ve covered, we are STILL in this place where girls and women are made to feel a warped sense of taboo about their own bodies.

**

Two summers ago, in order to promote Gush, a book of essays, poetry, and stories about menstruation,  I sat at a little table on the sidewalk in downtown Uxbridge, outside the Blue Heron Book Shop, and chatted with passersby about menstrual memories. What were their stories? Etc.

It actually went brilliantly, as in PEOPLE (women mostly, but some men too, god bless them) WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF.

They just need to know it’s okay.

All that’s required is to normalize it. By saying the words. By asking the questions. By sharing stories that make us laugh and cry and want to change the world in tiny ways that are freeing. All of which toward the goal of changing things in bigger ways, as in, oh I don’t know… research into women’s health issues? which remain sadly underfunded and/or overlooked.

For starters.

Because we’re far from done with this subject.

(Slovenian graffiti in Ljubljana; courtesy of WikiCommons)

 

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Theme: objects hanging in trees or trees otherwise adorned.

At the skateboard park in town there’s a tree hung with sneakers in memory of, and to pay tribute to, a lad who died… while skateboarding or not is not clear. But the tree, heavy with sports shoes shouts a certain kind of respect.

There’s the dressing with ornaments of woodland trees in winter.

And just recently I met a man who is stooped and walks with a cane, but it’s like he doesn’t notice these minor impediments, who has a giant something or other tree in his backyard, from whose enormous (and very high) branches he’s suspended a variety of odd birdhouses from ropes on clips, which he removes and cleans annually, and stores over winter. All of which requires a ladder moved about a dozen times. All begun, he told me, when his brother came to visit many moons ago, from Belfast, bringing as a gift a birdhouse in the design of some historical Irish landmark, possibly a lighthouse, I’ve forgotten because as he spoke the details were less important to me than the animation and passion of the telling. He said he thought it was a stupid gift. And then he didn’t. Once he hung it and birds nested there he was hooked. He put out food. And now his yard is a bird sanctuary with feeders and twenty or thirty hanging-from-a-giant-tree birdhouses, most of them occupied, he said in the midst of much feathered to-ing and fro-ing.

A poet in Winnipeg adorns city trees with poems.

I’ve seen a collection of wind chimes in trees, and masks, and a woman who taught me how to work with cement had a few trees hung with glass bottles, dark blue ones and white frosted ones and strings of fairy lights. I didn’t ask why she hung the bottles. They were beautiful. The answer seemed obvious.

There are easter egg trees, and trees on which you tie little flags containing hopes and dreams, ,the clootie wells of Scotland, and in Kamouraska a few years ago I saw my first tree wrapped (so not technically hung) with knitting, which I’ve since seen many more versions of.

All of which makes me wonder why trees? What is our thing with them? Feels wonderfully druid, this veneration of nature and all its magic. And then I think… don’t question it,  just embrace the lucky fact there seems to be a lingering, primitive something in our dna… when we’ve lost so much else.

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

 

 

see glass

 

All winter it’s been almost impossible to walk the beach. So much forever-never-melting ice this year. And when it did melt, it just froze up the next day even icier. So, yes, it’s been impossible to walk the beach.

But… the ice is now gone, mostly, and the snow is being slowly replaced with snowdrops…

… and just the other day I was at the beach and it’s all sand and pebbles again, and ridges of stones where a recent wind storm has pushed them several metres from shore. (Given the size of stones one wonders how that is even possible.)

Seasonal differences are extraordinary but, even more extraordinary is the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) transformation of every day, the way the water changes colour, the size and sound and movement of waves, their connection to moon and tides and us.

 

And beach glass.

And whatever it’s connected to. (Sometimes cartwheeling along the shore with my nieces… those who know me… I can hear you laughing!... we imagine the maybe-stories attached to the glass we find. And sometimes I do the imagining on my own, in which case pirates with a penchant for expensive olive oil very often figure into things.)

The type of glass found in various places (these things are predictable to a point), on different shorelines, is fascinating. For instance, my Lake Ontario beach offers up big numbers of small pieces. I used to think they were a good size, but they’re really quite tiny compared to pieces I’ve since seen on PEI (though I find much less of it there; it’s possible I don’t know where to look and no one’s telling me); also small compared with what I understand is found on the shores of the St. Lawrence, and elsewhere, which begs a Why?… what makes the difference in what washes up? Not that it matters because a piece of smooth glass winking at me from the sand is a joy, no matter the size. And if it’s not quite ‘cooked’, i.e. entirely smooth, I toss it back into the water. Apparently to be fully cooked takes decades, between fifty to a hundred years on average.

If you’re still reading this it might be that you have some small interest in beach glass, or maybe you haven’t quite finished your tea yet. In any case, here’s some glassy trivia gathered from various sites for glass nerds—

Lavender glass is called ‘sun glass’ because it’s glass made with manganese, which, if left in a sunny window, will turn various shades of purple. (And can be dated to around the time of WWI, when the bleaching agent used to make it clear couldn’t be sourced and manganese was used instead.)

Red and orange are rare because gold was required to make red and orange glass, resulting in much less being made in those colours.

And that frosted look? Comes from lime leaching out of the glass over time.

But my FAVOURITE bit of sea glass trivia is that the cobalt blue pieces could very well come from bottles once made to contain poison. (Also possibly Vick’s VapoRub; Evening in Paris perfume [oh my god, the very mention of which takes me back to my family’s bathroom shelves, home to a small bottle of EIP I’d given my mother for xmas and which I pray she never actually wore though fear she did]; Noxema, and a certain brand of either Milk of Magnesia or Bromo Seltzer.) The poison angle is so much better though. Apparently when lights were dim and not everyone could read, a trip to the medicine cabinet (where, unwisely perhaps, both medicines and poisons were kept)(poisons being useful for ‘some’ things) mistakes were made. Move the poison I say but, no, someone thought it simpler to change the colour of the poison bottles, to cobalt blue, as well as the shape (triangular, etc.) so they could be both seen and/or ‘felt’ in a dimly lit room in the once-upon-a-times…

And should you be out glassing, here’s a list of glasses from the book Pure Sea Glass, by Richard LaMotte, who is some kind of travelling guru on the subject, giving seminars and talks all over the world and about whom much can be read. (And whose job wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.)

From most rare to most common:
Orange
Red
Turquoise
Yellow
Black
Teal
Grey
Pink
Aqua
Cornflower Blue
Cobalt Blue
Opaque White
Citron
Purple/Amethyst
Soft Green
Soft Blue
Forest Green
Lime Green
Golden Amber
Amber
Jade
Kelly Green
Brown White (Clear)

Happy cartwheeling/beachcombing!

 

 

hey, cupcake…

 

Once upon a time there was a girl who grew up believing in bravery, truth, equality and heart. She thought everyone was the same.

She grew up.

She saw there was a difference.

And then one day so many voices sang a song she longed to hear… “same, different, what does it matter? !” What matters is brains and heart and truth sang the voices and the girl was happy to hear this happy song and packed up her brains and her bravery and her truth and arranged them on her new desk and on her shelves and she opened books that said this is allowed and this is allowed and this and this and she memorized it all and took it to heart and she was very good at keeping things true and there were pots of tea, and fresh cupcakes everywhere and they were marvellous and all was well.

Tra la, tra la, things went (or so it seemed) until out of the blue (or so it seemed) the people who said same different doesn’t matter said what are you doing? And the girl said keeping things true. And the same different people said why? And the girl looked up from her books, looked up into their faces, and she was confused, didn’t understand the word why.

There is no same they said (or maybe they implied it), everything is different. We thought you knew that. We thought you knew this was just a desk and those were just shelves (who cares that you line them with truth?) and you are just a girl and stop eating the good cupcakes… the stale ones are for you. We thought you knew that.

Once upon a time there was a girl.

nova scotia, part three: how to visit three gardens

 

Find yourself driving from the Halifax airport to the Annapolis Valley when you see a sign for Coffee. Decide to stop, stretch your legs. It doesn’t matter that you don’t drink coffee, maybe they have something else, which they do… because you are at The Tangled Garden, which has not only beautifully out of season, unruly paths (devoid of other humans) that lead to a labyrinth, but also jams and spicy jellies and chairs made specifically for fairies.

Spend a good half hour walking the labyrinth.

And be so happy it’s October when there’s less to see so you can see it all.    **

A few days later in Annapolis Royal find yourself at the Historic Gardens where once again you are the only souls wandering this 17 acre space that abuts a wetland complete with dykes.

Enjoy an impromptu starling ballet.

**

A few days later still, in Halifax, spend the better part of a grey morning at the Public Gardens and marvel at this splendid bit of greenery in the heart of downtown.

Notice the extraordinary number of garbage cans in almost every conceivable space. (Regret not counting them.) And the corresponding lack of litter. Realize that you have never seen such generosity displayed (of the waste receptacle variety). There is even an off-stage area for garbage-cans-in-waiting, presumably in case any of the regulars get injured in some way.

Stop for tea at an oasis staffed by delightful young people. Be reminded of what a joy it is to come across people of any age who enjoy their work.

Take your rooibos chai outside to the deck where no one else dares to venture in October and watch those who wander the garden paths and wonder how it is that so many people are able to drink tea/coffee while walking. You have never mastered this skill nor do you want to as it seems to deny maximum pleasure of both activities.

Notice a man in a trench coat, a fedora and a bow tie.

Notice him stopping and looking at you from the path just beyond the deck.

When he says “Are you with the cruise?”, answer that no you are most definitely not nor would you ever be. Offer that there are a number of people inside the tea house and perhaps they are with the cruise if he’s looking for people from the cruise. He says he is not, he was just curious.

Realize that you are now engaged in conversation and that it’s only a matter of time before he walks up onto the deck and sits down at your little table and proceeds to talk for at least forty minutes, most likely longer, during which time you learn a multitude of things about him, not the least of which is that he is 83 years old and was once Harbour Master at the Port of Halifax and that under his trench coat he is wearing a leather blazer that he bought at a thrift shop for $2.00. He tells you that he often comes to the gardens to dance with his wife on a summer night when a band is playing and that they’re even on YouTube he says. (You will google this later and find that it’s true and then you will never be able to find the video again., which will be annoying as you write this post. Nuts, you will say.)

The best you have to offer is a furtive snap of him walking away after exiting the gardens together and agreeing it was lovely to meet.

Click on more Nova Scotia!

Nova Scotia: One Perfect Pot of Tea

Nova Scotia: Two Hammocks

 

 

 

 

decency and indecency

 

One is fueled by love,

which,

among other things,

includes altruism and respect…

the other is fueled
by fear,

which includes anger and greed.

In everything we do
every choice we make
we’re moving toward
either love

or
fear…

Love or fear.

There is no other direction.

 

*
With thanks to Elizabeth Kubler Ross… and John Lennon, whose wisdom I paraphrase.

 

this is not a review: ‘everybody’s different on everybody street’, written by sheree fitch; illust. by emma fitzgerald

 

This morning I made a pot of lemon verbena/peppermint/orange mint tea with leaves from my garden and read Sheree Fitch and Emma Fitzgerald’s extraordinary Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street..

Is there a better way to start the day than tea and a (picture) book?

Answer: hardly.

And so I sipped. And marvelled over the brilliantly colourful, completely delicious illustrations… (birdcages on head, balloons up one’s skirt, laundry and tomatoes on the roof, street meditation in the presence of turtles [personal favourite], an empty fridge, a command to dance, someone in a wheelchair, others kissing in a tree, a homeless man, an angry woman, images of loneliness and images of joy, all woven against a background of a father reading a story to a young child who imagines this ‘Everybody Street’ as crowded with so many ‘others’ and who comes to realize all of those people are actually one…that we are all of those people and all of those people are us… “Yes… EVERYONE is travelling on EveryBody Street and EveryOne IS EveryOne and AnyOne you meet…”

And as I read I could feel emotions rising as the everbodyness  contained in Fitch’s buoyant poetry practically floated off the pages.

This book is a testament to community, and to joy. It’s also about mental health/illness in its many forms. And to be honest, the power of it kind of takes you by surprise.

Oh but we are in such good hands here because, as only Fitch can do, we are gently (playfully!) shown that all those people who look and act ‘differently’, who for whatever reason fall outside the punishing parameters of what society calls ‘normal’… are simply displaying aspects of being human that we all share.

The very young will only see peacocks and happy chaos… in the way of the very young, who don’t judge. But the message of inclusivity is there, the subliminal suggestion of non-judgement and, for those old enough to understand or who, in the company of a reader sensitive enough to explain, it becomes a thing to celebrate, to embrace, the beginning of meaningful conversation.

I look forward to sharing this with my eight year old niece. We will eat french fries at the beach while we read and we will talk about how we feel some of these feelings some of the time and we’ll notice people around us and make up lives for them… and remind ourselves that they have feelings too.

(The Afterword, written by Fitch, explaining the motivation behind the story, and the difficulty of taking on this subject, is an equally powerful read, in which Fitch says “I don’t like poems that tell me how to think; I like poems that make me think.”)

What a bold book.

And what an important one.

 

I got my copy at Blue Heron Books, and you can too!

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