when it all becomes too much…

 
Make art.

DSC05676It’s a good day when you find a door on the sidewalk.

DSC05677 And the door has feelings.DSC05679This actually reads: “chalk art is meant…”

DSC05680 “to be destroyed.”

An artist statement that makes the artist all the more remarkable in my view. DSC05690 DSC05689 DSC05688 DSC05687 DSC05686 DSC05685 DSC05682 DSC05681 DSC05678 DSC05674 DSC05673DSC05691A couple of lads walked by as I was taking these shots and they were swaggering in that way that suggests they’re just too sexy for their shoes. Or something. Attitude. But the chalk art got to them. They looked, slowed down, forgot the swagger for a moment, almost cracked a smile. I caught their eye, said nifty noodles, eh? Or along those lines, small talk. Unable to speak in sentences perhaps, they made a sound, nodded, and kept going, with a bit less swagger in their step I thought.

Art has this effect.

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rolling

 
I have a thing for graffiti.

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It feels like compressed expression.
DSC05425Or maybe I mean repressed.

Like there’s so much more to say.
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Too much for available public space.

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So it’s done in this amazing code.

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The messages there, clear as day for anyone to see,

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…at the same time hidden among the chaos against those who can’t.

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rainy day people

 
I was writing with a group of women at the shelter recently.
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I do this once a month; they call it a workshop, but really we’re just writing together.
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I’m always amazed by what gets said on paper by people who aren’t always used to holding a pen.
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Amazed also that in the middle of the madness that is currently their life, in the middle of everything they’re going through, have gone through for god knows how long, that they can write with such clarity, such honesty.
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They’re surprised when I tell them their words are beautiful.
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At first they don’t believe me and then, something happens, the magic of unlocking, of tapping into a part of themselves that so rarely gets out, the magic of being heard… and I can see something change and I know that it’s a tiny thing, but even that is big, because, even for just a while…
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…they believe, they know,  that something about them is beautiful still.
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“I hate the rain, but I love puddles.” ~ (shelter resident)

 

story of a recipe

 

Once upon a time there was a folk dance group that required its female dancers to wear a dirdnl’ish costume with a corset over a cotton blouse and sometimes real, sometimes fake, carnations stuffed down the front of said corset. This effectively rendered the girls dancing flower pots. Boy dancers were encouraged to ‘smell’ the carnations while the girl dancers twirled coquettishly from one to the other. When they weren’t sniffing carnations, the boys danced ‘figure’ dances, pretending to chop wood or other acts of physical prowess meant to attract the hapless flower pots.

I was a member of such a folk dance group.

For the record, it wasn’t my idea to join. I was fourteen and shy and my parents thought it would be just the ticket to bring me out of my shell.

I suppose in a way it did. It was also where I learned to drink beer.

And it’s where I met Laura, from whom I received the recipe mentioned in the title. Laura wisely left both the dance group and town at the first opportunity, stuffing everything she owned into a small car and driving west until she got to Calgary.

A few years later I followed. Not to Calgary, but to Edmonton. Close enough. Only 300 km away, it made Alberta a place where I knew someone. We’d visit each other on occasional weekends, mostly me going to her place, the main floor of a big old ramshackle house with no yard but access to a back stoop, room enough for a Hibachi.

The kitchen smelled of meatloaf, coffee and Joy dishwashing liquid.

Laura was the first person I knew (my age) who not only liked to cook but talked about food, grew herbs on windowsills, owned actual cookbooks and shopped for food with all kinds of serious enthusiasm. Even more amazingly to me, almost ten out ten times she preferred inviting people to her place for a meal over meeting at a restaurant. She was interesting in different ways (she once moved into an apartment with a bright red fridge and spaghetti on the ceiling; beyond enviable when the rest of us were still living in bungalows) but this cooking thing struck me as a little over-the-top… remember, this was eons ago, when food as a ‘thing’ hadn’t been invented yet. When only five people in the whole world read Gourmet.

In that ramshackle Calgary kitchen Laura served me my first Caesar salad, and I remember thinking it was pretty groovy that she made the dressing by throwing ingredients into a jar and shaking it like maracas.

I came across the recipe recently—the original paper version I wrote out while she dictated precise instructuions all those decades ago. More than slightly splattered and used (though not for some time now as I’ve since discovered other recipes. Julia Child’s and Ina Garten’s, for two).

But they don’t come with a story.

(Actually, the Julia Child one does… it can be found in the book From Julia Child’s Kitchen — a tradition in this house is to have someone read the passage while someone else makes the salad…)

But that’s another story entirely.

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(All recipes with stories welcome. In fact that would be exceedingly groovy…)

 

welcome to my dream(s)

One of my favourite new discoveries—The Sketchbook Project.

Such a clever idea by the people at the Art House to share and promote various forms of art—and have fun doing it. Imagine.

Anyone can join for the price of a blank book, which is then ‘arted up’, sent to New York, digitalized, and then sent on a tour across North America with some very nice stops in the process, including both the MOCA and the LACMA in Los Angeles, Toronto’s Distillery District, Vancouver, Portland, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and others, before returning to its permanent home on the shelves of the Brooklyn Art Library, where anyone can visit at any time.

Here’s a great little write up by Ashville BookWorks, in North Carolina, where the exhibit rolled through (in a custom built bookmobile) in March.

My contribution — I am Somewhere  — a collection of dreams (yes, mine) with illustrations in collage. (What else does one do with dreams?? And am I the only one who, when explaining a dream to a friend, begins with that vague sense of being “somewhere…” and if I am [the only such one], what do other people begin their dream-telling with? And if you don’t tell dreams, why not? And if you don’t dream… um, Freud has something to say about that; can’t remember what.)

Anyway, it was a great lark and I thoroughly enjoyed the two winter afternoons devoted to it. Nice to exercise a different muscle. And thank you, dear local library for your abundance of cast off magazines.

Here’s a sample of the madness:

**
I’m somewhere,
reading about owls
and how their wings
make no sound
(there is down involved in this magic)
and then I fall asleep and in my dream I dream about
owls flying in a line across
the sky… but my double dream state
doesn’t believe that they are really owls
even though their chubby cigar shape
is unmistakable.
They fly to the west (my left)
and then disappear bit by bit
in puffs of smoke
or clouds
or swirled air.
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More somewheres here.

pinning, pining and penning

So the other day I was repairing clothespins.

Because, yes, I hang my clothes on a line. Two lines, actually. In good weather, outside, on a circular thingy. And in bad weather, or in winter [for everything but sheets, which go outside year-round], a line in the basement. The clothespins I use are wooden, held together with an ingenious metal squiggly [there may be an even more technical name for it that I’m unaware of]. It delights me to what is probably an unusual degree that somewhere there is a factory making these tiny works of art, that they are still necessary and that [while they’re also made in plastic] for the most part they haven’t become scientifically enhanced, engineered or in some other way ‘improved’.

There are the dolly peg kind as well but I never got the hang of using them. As a child I was taught the art of laundry, using the wooden/metal squiggly kind and it would be like breaking rank… plus, to be honest, they annoy me because once they break it’s finito la musica… They can’t be repaired.

Unlike the avec metal-squiggly version.

Which brings me back to my point.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, fixing a basket of broken clothespins and thinking: well, this is pathetic. Shouldn’t I be doing something grander than this?? Shouldn’t I be at work on that next great novel, the one that will allow the world to continue turning? Shouldn’t I be penning brilliance of a poetic or opinionated nature, blazing trails in form and incomprehensible voices with short fiction, or hammering away at something entirely made up, like creative non? Shouldn’t I be painting? Or compiling something? At the very least, shouldn’t I move that bag of leaves to the compost?

And as much as logic wanted to say damn right, another part, much brighter than logic, kept insisting that, no, these clothespins were where it was at right now and that these few moments of tending to something so mundane were to be relished, that there was a gift in the seemingly ‘backwardness’ of this kind of work. I thought of my dad, a master of fixing things; he’d prefer that route any day to buying new, and it had nothing to do with saving money. It just pleased him to take the time to repair something. There was the satisfaction with the end product of course, but it occurred to me as I mended those pins that part of what he enjoyed may well have been the meditative quality of mindless but worthwhile tasks… the sort of thing we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing in our never-ending search for faster, better, easier, more—as we get sucked into thinking we don’t have time for this sort of thing in our clever-clever Jetson world—but if we’re honest we waste more than mere minutes doing a lot less of value… it’s just that we do it with things shinier than clothespins.

Anyway, the point [at last] is this: what a difference I felt once I allowed myself the luxury—a sliver of time to do this wee job—once I allowed myself the odd and simple pleasure of it rather than feeling I must always and forever be getting on to something more important…

Important being decidedly relative.
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blackberries and a shrunken sweater — the things that stick

 
I was in Niagara recently, driving past the house where I grew up. An elderly woman was sweeping the front walk. I pulled over and watched, remembered how on that very bit of pavement, next to the stone planter, I wore a bathrobe with pink rosebuds and corduroy slippers and a bowl haircut and wrote my name in sparklers one firecracker night while my dad—in a Hawaiian shirt, cigarette tucked into a wide smile, face tanned and dark hair falling forward a bit, Clark Gable style—scrunched down, arms around me, for a photo.

He built that planter, two of them in fact, from stones I helped him collect at the beach. I see that someone has knocked one of them down and put nothing in its place.

On a whim I get out the car, pace in front of the house. The sweeping woman doesn’t seem to notice but it occurs to me the pacing might look odd so I decide to walk over, tell her I’m not staking the place out; I explain that I used to live here, that my parents lived here forty something years. She asks if I’d like to see around. I wasn’t expecting that, but yes. The woman’s name is Minerva. She’s from Nova Scotia and she says Come along then, my dear.

We start in the backyard. My dad’s gardens, rockeries [more stones from the beach] are wildly overgrown. Trees and shrubs haven’t been trimmed for years, a rose bush has become a tree. The vegetable garden is gone, but the conch shells my parents brought back from Bermuda thirty years ago are still there in a small triangle of white stones beside the patio.  I ask about the blackberries that grew on a trellis and she shows me through a forest of leaves that, yes, they’re still there. She says there’s not much fruit though. I don’t explain about pruning, how that increases yield. She’s smiling the whole time, proud, beaming, clearly in love with this mad wilderness.

We move inside where things are tidy with doilies on furniture, tea cups in a china cabinet. There are homemade quilts and afghans, newly stencilled walls. The bathroom is bright blue with a nautical theme, maybe for memories of Nova Scotia.  A mural of flowers and trees is painted on the inside of the front window. She takes time finding the switch to turn on fairy lights woven among some branches in a large floor vase, a gift from her son. She likes to knit. She shows me a yellow dress for her granddaughter.

The whole time, I’m kind of listening, mostly remembering. She’s made changes, yes, but not as many as I imagined. (She kept a wall-sized mural of a beloved Bermuda beach scene that my dad painted a million years ago.) It’s different, definitely, yet absolutely familiar. We are everywhere here—my mum, my dad, my sister. And we are nowhere. They’re gone, it’s just me.

And Minerva.

And her life in this house. Her son, her grandkids.

And it’s okay. It’s very good in fact. If anyone had to live here, I’m glad it’s her.

We’re oddly connected, all of us.

She tells me to come back anytime.
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I couldn’t find that firecracker night picture, but here’s another. Five hundred years ago, the blackberry trellis in the background. He, wearing a sweater I gave him that my mum accidentally shrunk and that he would not let her throw out.