My dad used to say
in the garden
is out yet
you can see
My dad used to say
in the garden
is out yet
you can see
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.
I mean many of you (not all, see p.s.) but especially you, dear CBC Radio, because you are the media people I often pay attention to and lately I’ve heard you mention a little too often, a certain store about to open in the Toronto area. Soft openings. Grand openings. Why and when and what and oh golly!— each time I switch off the radio and mutter bad words in frustration.
Worse, I fear there’s more of it to come as soft openings and grand openings approach.
I don’t know much, but I do know this: this [yet another] big American store doesn’t need our help although I’m sure it’s grateful for all the attention it’s getting. Free and regular promos. From our public broadcaster no less. And so, as someone who happily and proudly supports you in many ways, I have a question:
Why are you doing this??
I mean it’s not like big American stores opening up in Canada
and selling loads of cheap stuff made under questionable conditions in countries far, far away is news. And if you’re worried that they might open and no one will notice and you feel duty bound to inform us of such goings-on, may you rest assured that word will spread even if you utter not another syllable about it.
Surely a store opening is not news, nor are the stages of its development worthy of monitoring. At least not this kind of store. Unfortunately, this store will do just fine without one bit of media interest.
Who might benefit from your attention, however, are the smaller, local indies that will suffer in the shadow of this most recent behemoth. Why not save your air time for THAT kind of news? News of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers that, despite being largely ignored by the media, and against the odds, continue in their Sisyphean task of slowing the rate of the world’s devolution to soulless Big Box status.
It’s the candlestick makers that keep us human.
Here’s the thing… No one will build communities for us. Builders only build profits. It’s up to us to build communities. And we build them by being informed of what’s out there and then supporting it. And I don’t mean only the new or funky patios in certain neighbourhoods but all manner of businesses across the city, the GTA, the province, the country—stores, restaurants, markets, manufacturers, service providers—real people who make a living despite the Goliaths, and who make those livings in real ways, and deserve real support.
If the Big Store Opening must be mentioned on your airwaves, although I have NO IDEA why it must be… then please leave it for the top of the hour news on the day of the opening. That’s more than enough ‘information’.
There’s worthier out there, and the power you wield is no small potatoes.
Please use that power wisely.
p.s. Thank you to THIS Magazine for continuing to be you, with *this*… WTF, indeed.
“Readings can be tricky affairs,” Irish author Aidan Higgins wrote. “There’s nothing more calculated to cause a gritting of the teeth, a shudder of the spirit or even a rising of the gorge than to be voluntarily confined in a Function Room to endure an hour-long ranting by the author in person, of predigested matter now regurgitated, delivered in a monotonous drone. It is enough to make a cat laugh or a dog throw up.”
So begins a piece by Douglas Bell in Saturday’s Globe, in which he goes on to wonder why readers “…who experience the writer’s work as an entirely private matter turn out in such numbers to experience it again as a public performance?”
Good question, though I’m glad they do. While it’s true that a bad reading can make you look around for something tall to jump off, a well executed one can be great fun, enhancing the private read and giving another dimension to the work. Also, not everyone at a reading has read the book; for many it’s their introduction. This is a good thing, no? People who haven’t read it are likelier to buy it. Which is why I can’t understand authors who don’t make the most of these events by making it an event rather than a dry reading. How hard is it to offer up a little background to the story, for instance? A bit of chat. A merry anecdote or two about the research or the way such and such a character wouldn’t take no for an answer. Anything.
Granted, public speaking and/or reading is an art and some people are just easier with it than others (recently heard Claudia Dey ‘do’ How to Become a Bush Pilot—now there’s an event; and the first time I heard Ann-Marie MacDonald, well, you forget she’s reading, you think you’ve bought tickets to a one woman play) still… readers seem to fall into three categories.
1/ Naturally brilliant (usually meaning they’ve taken the time to prepare and treat the whole business in a professional manner even if they appear ultra casual).
2/ Naturally enervating (often due to an over-infatuation with one’s own voice).
3/ Naturally somewhere between brilliant and enervating (a tolerable scenario, but why not, with just a soupcon of effort, be so much more… I mean we can all read the stuff ourselves… what the audience wants is not to hear the words but to experience the book through the experience of the author).
I say all this as if I know what I’m talking about. As if I spend my days poncing about entertaining the masses. Pay no attention. Just random thoughts on how maybe to enhance a fairly essential aspect of the The Process, for both reader and listener.
Additions to the list would be welcome!
— use a mic if you’re a soft speaker or if the room warrants it; it’s a rotten business to have to strain to hear
— unless you’re reading a whole short story (in which case, dear god, please make it short) let the audience know a bit about the overall premise of the piece/book
— best not to read the dullest bit even if it has the cleverest words; action is good, humour is best
— mark up places to pause, and then pause there (you will not come off looking like a dork, honest)
— slow down; however slowly you think you’re reading… slow down
— preface and/or break up the reading with those afore-mentioned bon mots and asides to the audience
— leave time for questions, and have a few favourites from past readings that you can share to get things started
Finally, as an audience member, pack a few general questions— even if we haven’t read the book we can ask about the subject matter, or what inspired the writer to begin the project. It’s always so painful when no one raises their hand for the first five minutes. Heart-breaking if it goes on any longer.
Let’s see… I think I’ll start with the bruschetta…
I thought on this downer of a day after the night that wasn’t, I might share a bit of ancient wisdom, one of the mini philosophies my dad was semi famous for in certain circles (some of which run along the lines of: A parking lot is the most dangerous place in the world, and Never go to bed with your vice grip open).
The one that strikes me as most relevant to the current state of affairs however, was one he delivered when I was about twenty and having some major drama from which I was certain I’d never recover. We were in the car, he was driving, I was in the back seat—I’m not sure why, a cat may have been involved in some peripheral way—and when I finally stopped whinging about whatever my tragic situation was, long enough to blow my nose, he said something like this:
I hope you know how lucky you are.
Huh? Maybe my ears had blocked. Surely what he actually said was oh-you-poor-sweet-trodden-upon-angel-would-a-hundred-bucks-help?
But no. He repeated the luck thing and then explained how, when you were about as low as you could go, you should be happy because according to the law of physics or the universe, or possibly carpentry, you have no place to go but up. In his books, gloom and doom was precisely the time to rejoice.
Then he added: It’s when everything is going just fine that you have to worry.
I don’t remember saying thanks. Probably blew my nose a bit longer and started talking to the cat; it didn’t matter though, he’d worked his magic. I’ve never forgotten the message. Ever since, every time life seems to suck, I think, okay, don’t panic, an upswing is around the corner. And every time, there is.
The point—and there is one—of all this, is to say I’ve decided not to mourn ‘What Could Have Been’ had last night’s election gone differently, but to accept the reality as a kind of juicy lemon. There may well be some sort of ‘law of balances’ out there and all will magically revert to good, but I think the real key to finding success after failure is the way failure can feel like a kick in the butt that rocks you out of complacency.
The point is this: as individuals, we all have choices about our future, including the kind of society we create, and despite what ‘They’ would have us believe, our lives are not in someone else’s hands and society isn’t built by governments but by what ‘We’ do and what we support. Let’s remember that we live in a country where we can exercise choices every single day. And in the long run, maybe making the decision to make those daily choices count is what will serve us best.
Here’s what I know: just when you think the thing you’re looking for doesn’t exist—that the world has turned to golds and reds, is more than tinged with madness and cruely—if you really want to find it, you will; in fact you’ll find there’s all sorts of it about. I’m pretty sure this works for everything. Including goodness. That despite appearances, it’s there all around us. We just have to really want to find it…
Well, there are several reasons. Not the least of which is that I can open one willy nilly from the dusty pile under my desk whenever I like and find odd things written inside that alternate between (only to me) mind bendingly brilliant, to (only to me) amusing bon mots, to… what the?
I posted an example of the latter on my ‘other’ blog recently. No flipping clue what any of it meant. But it did amuse me and could very well be brilliant.
Or… ahem…uh, not.
The thing is even if there’s no apparent purpose, if all those words from all those years ago amount to meaningless dreck, so be it. The fact is that they were written, jotted, recorded with intention. There was a message, an impression to share. And maybe it’s the sense of that ‘something’, more than the specific, that resonates. There’s pleasure and even welcome discomfort in stumbling across that kind of rawness in ourselves—like a piece of us that we choose to forget but that, at some level, still exists.
Not everyone feels this way. A friend of mine burns her notebooks at intervals, doesn’t want to be reminded of what she thought was important then. I understand wanting to avoid the cringe factor, but still, I think she’s missing something.
Anyway, after having that bouncing round my head for the past few days, this morning I opened a new old notebook and the first entry was this—a quote by Mr. Housman:
“The reason the words can have such a physical effect as to raise the hair on one’s neck is because these words are poetry, and find their way to something in us which is obscure and latent, something older than the present organization of our nature.”
Not that it has anything to do with notebooks. But to which I still say yeah.
And I don’t mean cheerio as in ‘goodbye’, but as in cereal… of course.
There used to be an ad when I was about eight or nine where this little kid would wake up before anyone else in his house and pour himself a bowl of Cheerios then set off on his bike into the wild blue yonder. Everything looked so appealing. The way he poured the perfect amount of Cheerios and milk into a perfect bowl in a perfect kitchen, his bike waiting for him right outside the back door, like the perfect friend. How he didn’t have to bother telling anyone where he was going, and the way the sun was just starting to light the sky and the day was all his—anything was possible and all of it was good.
After that I asked my mum to stop buying Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops and Honeycomb. They had nothing to offer; there was only one cereal that suited the adventurous outdoorsy freewheelin’ kinda lifestyle I wanted.
All that summer I ate a bowl of Cheerios every morning and then headed out on my gigantic rusted green bike that was an ancient hand-me-down from my very much older sister, and which was too big for me to sit on the seat and pedal at the same time—and I’d cycle to the other side of the canal to hunt for tadpoles and steal peaches from the orchards whenever I got hot and thirsty enough. (This was before the invention of water bottles.)
All of this comes home to me on certain summer mornings when the smell or feel or something about the air—some indefinable combination of summer warmth and early morning crisp—or maybe it’s the light or just a quality of the earliest hours of the day at exactly the right moment—that catches me by surprise (because it’s always a surprise)—and reminds me that our days, regardless of age or circumstance, quality of bike or choice of breakfast food—are filled to the brim with, if not tadpoles, then certainly the potential for their equivalent…
I’m convinced cats have powers of the Samantha Stevens kind. How else to explain things that just ‘happen’ as a result of little more than a glance…
Judge for yourself: