pick a word, any word…

 

I do writing workshops with women who are currently living in shelters. They teach me extraordinary things.

Most recently, the meaning of prehensile.

It came up in one of the exercises where we give each other a word and the word T. gave me was prehensile.

It had a vague ring about it, I was sure I’d heard it before… maybe… but I couldn’t put it into context. “Pre what?”  I said. And T. smiled, said a monkey’s tail was prehensile. “Anything like that,”  she said. “I watch a lot of nature shows.”

Hmm. Okay.

So the exercise was to use the word as a prompt to write fast and without thinking for a couple of minutes. And this is what I wrote:

Pre tail? Do I assume hensile  means tail? Before tail? Where’s the monkey part fit in? I mean in terms of word origins—I’ll be figuring this out for a long time—I’ll be discussing it with friends: do you know what prehensile means, I’ll say, and I can guarantee you several will say… pre what?? And so it will go. And this is the beauty of not knowing because we’re never the only one who doesn’t. What somebody knows, another is clueless about and so on. None of us knows it all, which is a fine thing to remember. In fact I honestly consider it a good day when I bump into a word I don’t know or one I’ve heard but can’t actually say I know the meaning of, like when you read a book and don’t quite get the meaning, you can’t actually say   what it means, but you get the gist of it, enough to keep reading. About monkey tails though—I wonder when we lost ours.
I wonder what direct descendant of mine was the last to have a tail and where he or she lived and what was their favourite colour…

~

(Please don’t look for a lot of meaning here. Notice I’ve filed this post under Blather and ShillyShally. Am partial to a regular dollop of both. Essential at times. Also, it’s Friday. Also, if you happen to play the pick a word game and want to share the spoils… I’ll welcome that with pleasure and a pot of tea.)

Photos taken at Story Book Primate Sanctuary, in Sunderland.

Important to say THIS IS NOT A ZOO. The animals here are rescued from horrible circumstances and given a chance to live in a safe environment. (The guy in the pic is Rudy… found in a storage locker with a lot of other ‘exotic’ animals… People, eh? Prehensile is better.)

More info here…    and a fabulous place to send loose change.

 

*don’t tell me to buy a lawnmower either, shirley

 
Kerry Clare recently wrote a piece about the prospect of not necessarily coveting a house or even lamenting the impossibility of owning one in Toronto any time soon. She wrote about being a happy renter in her city of choice, about living close enough for her husband to stroll to work, close enough to walk the kids to and from school and how everybody’s home at the same time to have dinner together.

You wouldn’t think this would inspire negative comments, but then you’d be silly. Because, it seems, everything inspires negative comments.

It’s actually stunning to watch, anthropologically, this need humans apparently have to take things personally. How almost anything can be interpreted as a slight against something else. In this case the fact that she’s coming out as a contented renter is really pissing off a lot of people who own, which begs the question why?  If you’re happy in your world why does it trouble you that others are happy in their different  worlds?

This isn’t about lawns or renting or owning, it’s much bigger. Sadly, the emotions triggered by the small stuff may suggest an intolerance also to the bigger stuff… race, class, gender, religion, age, and all those other isms.

So what is it? Are we wired to create divisions? How else to explain this constant sorting of them  from us. And why don’t we get that there is no them? There’s only  an us. Some of us like lawns. Others of us don’t. Some of us like bubble gum flavoured ice cream and others of us have taste. (Ah, see that? That’s exactly how easy it is…)

Also, don’t we get tired of it all? The sides, the I’m right you’re wrong, no I’m right you’re wrong, no me, no me…  the incessant, uninformed griping about The Other. Do we ever get beyond it, smarter, more broad-minded? Or does our brain function max out at self-righteous smugness?

For the record, Shirley, (tho’ I doubt this makes us kindred spirits) I live in a house probably similar to yours. I didn’t always. For more than a decade I lived in Toronto in various apartments similar to Clare’s. I also lived in a council flat in Oxford, a pretty house on a hill in the Caribbean, an impossibly tiny bachelor in an Edmonton basement. Had you asked, while I was living in any of these spaces, I’d have told you I was content with my world, not just the structure of where I lived, but the lifestyle it allowed me to live.

Because that’s what it comes down to: are you happy with your life/style?

The point, Shirley, is that I would love it if we all stopped categorizing everyone. We are all of us ever-changing bits of various things based on where we’ve been and where we happen to be at the moment. Today’s renters are tomorrows owners. Or not. And vice versa. Who cares. We deal as best we can. And if someone’s managed to make their own version of lemonade (or bubble gum ice cream) then maybe we can celebrate that instead of telling them iced tea (or vanilla, obvs) is the way to go…

Finally, Shirley (are you still there?), I think it’s important you know that not everyone who lives in a house needs a lawnmower. And that you surely, Shirley, do not speak for me.

* The title for this post is a riff on Kerry Clare’s response to one of the comments her piece inspired and it amused me no end.

 

 

 

 

 

things i learned in a few patio hours with my favourite eccentric

A teaspoon of red wine vinegar tossed into a bowl of lentil soup just before serving apparently turns lentil soup into nectar.

Shivasana is THE most important yoga move. Ten minutes is good.

Persimmons for arthritis.

Raccoon poop is best disposed of with a) gloves, b) crumpled newspaper. Forget the trowel or shovel because then  how do you clean off the toxic??

Margaret Carney, nature writer and birder extraordinaire, once upon a time worked as an editor at Harlequin.

Lima beans, aka butter beans, will last — tops — three days in the fridge once the tin is opened so after you use half a tin for making a butter bean flan, use the other half — straightaway! — in a butter bean salad (red onion, celery, dressing of choice).

A lavender farm has opened not a million miles away from my front door.

And if that isn’t enough there’s ANOTHER lavender place even closer.

Ways of peeling garlic. (The knife crush is but one.)

Levine Flexhaug.  (1918 – 1974)  Famous for more or less painting the same cheesy landscape scene over and over in audacious colours and with various ‘differences’. So bad it’s brilliant.

The word minim.

 

 

if i ever write a mystery thriller it will be set in an art gallery and called ‘The Hidden Plywood’ and here’s why:

 

Installing the couch photos I learned four things.

1–   I’m no Meg Ruffman with a power drill.

2–  It’s an exhibit  in a museum, an exhibition  in a gallery.

3–  I thought you only needed a bag of nails and a hammer to properly hang photos. Apparently, a magic formula is also handy, which has something to do with math and therefore will constantly be just out of my reach.

4–  Gallery walls only look like ordinary walls. They’re actually lined floor to ceiling, side to side, with plywood, which means you can hang anything you want anywhere you want anytime you want and as often as you want without the whole thing falling down.

**

Which brings me to the idea of a possible mystery thriller, which I may as well write since I’ve been making notes about the comings and goings of people that visit the upholSTORIES show… and I have all those spare minutes between people (i.e. future characters) wandering in.

So here’s the outline, the who, what, when, where, why and how of my soft furnishings potboiler in progress… (SFPIP)

**

Who—  The guy on a downtown heritage walk who takes a wrong turn and accidentally finds himself in a gallery surrounded by couch photos and couch memories and when asked if he has a couch memory of his own he chuckles like Errol Flynn and says oh, yes, he has, but it’s not something he can tell me. Har har. He does tell me he’s 86 and that his wife has Alzheimers and it’s hard for him, he doesn’t know how long he can continue taking care of her. I sit on the edge of a coffee table as he talks. He sits back comfortably against the cushions on a striped couch.

—The two women who hold glasses of white wine as they tour the exhibition and say what a great place it would be to have a dinner party.

—Three grey-haired women with walkers who, by the time I get there, have been sitting on the couches a while. They eventually totter off, having established it’s already 3 o’clock.  They leave the cushions alarmingly askew.

—A man who tells me that after he left the chaos of the former Yugoslavia and moved here, the first thing he did was buy a couch from Leon’s.

—And the woman with the long white blonde hair, visiting from Manchester, who doesn’t say or do anything particularly memorable… she’s just so lovely.

What— A dinner party during which it’s suspected that the soup course has been tampered with. There is what looks suspiciously like a trace of gesso, a dollop of resin and a practically-impossible-to-see splash of Castilian brown in the otherwise scrumptious vichyssoise. The party is held on the eve of an 86 year old heritage walker’s birthday, in his honour. But will he make it to midnight? (Therein lies the mystery.) And I don’t mean will he stay awake that long… (therein lies the thriller).

When— The dinner party takes place in June. The weather is unseasonably warm, torrid even. The night is young. There is a full moon. Love is in the air. Or not. There is soup. There is definitely soup.

Where— A swanky gallery in a swanky town.

Why— Why a mystery thriller? (Because the world can never have enough mystery thrillers. Obviously.) Or why did someone tamper with the vichyssoise… in which case I’m hardly likely to tell you now am I…

How— Who knows. But based on the title you can guess it will have something to do with those genius gallery walls.

Look for it at better book stores everywhere.

 

visitors

 

When people come to visit, I never know where to take them.

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Inevitably, we find ourselves at this diner or that café or the restaurant that does the excellent veggie naan even though the server is a pill.

Almost always we walk. Through the ravine, downtown, around the ‘hood, the beach. I point out the tree with windfall apples I use to make a crumble each October. And the place where once the kids and I ate pistachios and played Daniel Boone eating pistachios. It’s not a high end tour but there are almost always stories that spring from it… mine, the visiting people’s.

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We’ll go to the galleries of course. There are a lovely abundance of them here. The market. The bookstore. The emu farm.

A concert maybe. A slice of local theatre.

There’s a junk store I might think of taking them, depending on mood and whim and inclination, where you can barely move for the amount of crap and treasure and the owner’s hoarding instinct, which prevents him from ever wanting to sell anything. The only store where when you ask how much this is, you’re told it’s not for sale. You don’t go there to buy, you go there to do anthropological studies.

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If it’s summer we’ll paddle a rented kayak and have fries from the best chip truck in these parts or sit on a patio in a trailer park luncheonette and drink iced tea with some not too bad grilled cheese sarnies.

If it’s winter we might stay home and light a fire. I might make a feasty meal or maybe just keep it simple, make an omelette… I’ll mention that final scene in the movie Big Night and I’ll put on the CD and we’ll talk about first times… first omelettes, whatever…

We might drive. To see the xmas lights or the country lights.

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This is what I do… and sometimes I wonder: is it enough, these emus and sunsets? And then I wonder why I feel that way because when I visit someone this is exactly what I want. NOT the Eiffel Tower, not a string of organized entertainments, but the experience of actually living in a place… the small slices of everydayness.

(Although I will not decline a quick dash into the Louvre.)

So tell me… when visiting, what is it we want?

And by we I mean you.
  

 

 

 

simon says

 
A boy in his driveway the other day shouts hello as I pass. He says his name is Simon, what’s mine? I say Carin and he tells me he has a Batman tee shirt. He opens his coat. I say that’s some great tee shirt and he says yeah, then tells me he’s seven. Not that I asked. He continues talking, about being seven maybe, or the tee shirt, just chattering away… all of this in only seconds; I’ve barely slowed my stride. His mum is raking leaves, smiling. And in all the chattering somewhere the boy asks… in a way he might ask a chum at school, or anyone… “How old are you?”  His mother’s smile immediately turns into a nervous laugh, she puts down her rake, edges Simon toward the house and tells him that isn’t the sort of question he’s supposed to ask. Meanwhile I’ve answered by saying “Well, I’m not seven!”, as I continue on my way. Also laughing nervously.

And for the rest of my walk all I can think about is why.

Why is that not the sort of question Simon should ask? And is it only not the sort of question Simon should not ask people of certain ages? And how should Simon know which ages those are? And who decides that anyway? And doesn’t the whole way his mother reacted give off a vibe that suggests to Simon, if only subliminally, that there’s something *wrong* about certain ages and THAT’S why we don’t ask.

And if there’s something wrong with certain ages… what, exactly  is that wrongness? I mean if Simon were to ask his mother Why can’t I ask?  what would she say? Something about politeness probably. But why is it polite NOT to ask someone their age when you are seven and you ask everyone ? (And everyone asks you.)

Of course I was taught the same lesson as a kid. (But we’re back to the why… Is it to spare people the embarrassment of admitting they aren’t seven, or twenty-seven or thirty-seven or whatever decade + seven it suddenly becomes an embarrassment to *be*?)

North America’s twisted version of age aside, what really bothered me was my own response, that weird bit of laughter I threw out in order to make Simon’s mother feel okay about the whole thing. By laughing it off, by saying “Well, I’m not seven,” I condoned her discomfort and was party to the stupid lesson Simon was being taught.

Why didn’t I just answer the question?

Conditioning, that’s why. (And, mostly, conditioning almost always sucks.)

The thing is I happen to be a non-ageist kind of person. Even as a kid (just like Simon) I barely noticed someone’s vintage. I still can’t see how it matters. It’s their energy that registers with me. One of my favourite people to hang out with lived to be 101 and it never struck me as an unusual match.

I also have friendships where *I’m* the 101 year old.

And a few in between.

The thing is this: dullness and negativity, ego and bullshit appear at every mile marker. So do joie de vivre, curiosity, kindness, engagement with life, humour, a creative spark and the balls to be yourself. A tedious schmuck at sixty was probably a tedious schmuck at thirty.

Only with better abs.

My walk takes me on a loop and eventually I’m heading back toward Simon’s house. I resolve to tell him my age as I pass. I’ll throw it out, casually, maybe mention that I have a fondness for the colours green and orange and yellow and that I do not  know how to tap dance. Not that anyone asked.

But the leaves in front of Simon’s house are raked and no one’s there.

Too bad. Because I think Simon would have found that particular line of chat quite normal. And that would have been so much better a lesson than the last.

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