The end of an era

ImageThere’s something terrifically sad about the end of a generation, that moment when the last of a set of siblings pass away and you realize, with shock, that there is no one left who truly remembers your parents as kids and you forgot or were too busy or wrapped in your own details to ASK about them, to get the info, to spend the moments with your loved ones.

My dear uncle Laurence passed away this week. I say my dear, not because I knew him well, because I didn’t – but I knew him a bit and extrapolated from what I knew of him and what I knew of the rest of my dad’s family and my gosh I wish I’d sat down with him for hours and picked his brains about his life and the others’.

It was a remarkable and unremarkable family, tested with illness and some separations (most sadly, my family’s separation from the clan over time), but tied together with love and humour and a sense of family that is, to my experience, truly exceptional. I’m envious of the other Brown families – they are close together and supportive for the most part, and we didn’t manage that to the same degree.

The boys served in the war, the one girl became a nun, but a nun with a wicked sense of humour who couldn’t be restrained there forever, and left in her middle years to share her spirit and enthusiasms in a wider realm. The boys must’ve been a handful for my grandmother, a woman given to small smiles that hid an outpouring of love for them all. They interfered with their dad’s radio opera mornings, they played tricks on each other, they told each other jokes. John, one of my very faves, actually told dirty jokes to my mother’s brother, a priest, and managed to reduce him to helpless giggles. He introduced me to “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”. I’ve never recovered. Jim i barely knew, but I remember him calling my dad when he was sick with cancer, and telling him jokes until my dad could barely breathe. George I met in England, a wonderful, big hearted man. Every single one of these Brown families has, without hesitation, welcomed me and my siblings with open arms any time we appeared.

That’s not common in families, at least in my experience. They are truly loving people. I want to be like them.

Uncle Laurence, handsome enough to be on screen, given to a roguish twinkle in his eyes even when I visited him nearly two years ago – he raised a family of gentle loving girls. There are photos of him dressed to the nines, others of him with some disgusting trick goo dangling out of his nose (which reminds me so of my dad, tossing fake vomit out in front of my Cousin Grace, or feeding my Grandmother Warner and Aunt Annie grasshopper chips and then showing them the bag after they’d eaten a bunch.)

They were all capable to being funny without being cruel, of getting away with foolishness in the best way. I think they made the world a vastly better place. 

I’ve posted a photo by my sister, Margaret Gagnon, to go with this post, to give form to the family in a way. When we were in Florida one time, we came across a pack of laughing gulls like these that would hang around if you threw them Cheerios. They’re called that because their cry sounds like they are laughing. My dad was delighted. He’d recently found a book of Henny Youngman jokes and kept telling them to us to no reaction. You know, the “take my wife…please” sort of jokes. When he saw those gulls he figured, hey – the perfect audience – finally someone will laugh! So we threw up some Cheerios, gathered a crowd of the gulls, and he started talking. The gulls stopped laughing, completely. They were dead silent.

My dad did get a laugh that time – my sister and brothers were rolling on the grass, laughing at the gull’s response.

This family, god love ‘em. I just know they are cracking up the crowds in heaven. Be prepared for rain – tears of hilarity…

I miss them all. Love to Uncle Laurence’s family, particularly, as they cope with this huge loss of a wonderful man. xoxoxo

Moving on

Just listening to Stan Carew on Weekend Mornings – he plays the best music and woke me this morning with a rousing fiddle tune by Natalie McMaster. I’m feeling my toes tap under the covers as I sluggishly awaken.
But the song spoke to me.
Lately I’ve heard from a quite a few people who are by choice or not in a position where they are living in a hellish situation. Family dynamics, unhappy marriages, awkward locations, bad jobs. It seems so many are trapped, struggling against ties, but unwilling to take the risk, unwilling to bear the swirls of awfulness that come from change. We’ve all been there at some time….
There’s a part of me that still feels badly about the dissolution of my marriage. I was brought up to believe that marriage was a lifetime promise. But sometimes the contract is in fact broken, and then sometimes it is the right thing to leave, rather than stay and let the poison of our anger or hurt eat away at everyone in the family. Or so I tell myself. I don’t know.
Life is short. Should we make ourselves unhappy for all of it? Or should we move on, so that we are capable and have the resources to be joyful, bring joy to others? I’m not saying to cast aside things casually, but if we tried our hardest and it doesn’t work, what good are we doing breaking ourselves against the rocks?
See, the thing is, where we are at may seem like absolute hell. But, like standing in a prairie rainstorm, two or three steps to one side or the other may bring us into the sun again. Change doesn’t have to be dramatic, in fact, we are such small bugs in that prairie rainstorm, a tiny change may well be enough. A willingness to speak up, to try something a different way, to reach out or push away…
But we also have to be willing to draw our line in the dirt and say ” this far and no further.” And if we are still miserable, we can turn, and move on.

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Pseudopods

I love amoebas. They hang around in mucky water and do all sorts of tidying up activities. They can also hang out in your gut, and that’s extremely unpleasant, but left to their own 743px-Amoeba_(PSF).svgdevices, they are interesting little creatures, moving around their environment, one pseudopod at a time. They grow and reproduce.

They have a contractile vacuole, something I’m sure I have in the back of my head, where it squirts out unpleasant things to maintain mood equilibrium. They use them to manage salt.

They are filled with ectoplasm. Goo. So are we. Messy stuff, ectoplasm.

From Wikipedia:

The amoeba is remarkable for its very large genome. The species Amoeba proteus has 290 billion base pairs in its genome, while the related Polychaos dubium (formerly known as Amoeba dubia) has 670 billion base pairs. The human genome is small by contrast, with its count of 2.9 billion base pairs.[9] Unicellular budding yeast has an estimated 12 million pairs.[8]

For unicellular organisms, they are so wonderfully complex. Why?

I suppose the better question is “why not?” They’ve been around for so long. They probably picked up a bit here, a bit there, embroidered on their genomic life.

But it’s one of those things that makes me go, “ooh!”. And wonder. Is more necessarily better? Or are they like Swiss Army animals, able to pull up a genomic shift as needed for survival at a moments’ notice?

They also can curl themselves up and hide, waiting for the right environment to grow. Can’t we all?

So why am I thinking about amoebas? Well, I feel like one these days. I seem to be growing and going off in several directions, I have no assigned body shape (dieting and exercise are changing my exterior), I wield my contractile vacuole mightily to keep my brain and heart free of entanglements, and yet my inner life is increasingly complex. I’m reaching out to new experiences and pulling them in to me, savouring them.

And though other bits of my life are dying off, I jettison them cheerfully and heal around the wound. I find that as I get older, perhaps wiser, I’m getting better at determining what goes into the ejector vacuole.

I’m adapting to my environment, I guess.

Sometimes, though, I jettison something prematurely…and am oh so grateful when I can send out a wee pseudopod to make contact, and find the contact welcomed.

picture courtesy of Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amoeba_(PSF).svg

How will I know?

images-14Oh, sometimes I hate being a grownup.

See, when you’re a kid, you can spend hours gazing off into the distance and dreaming romantic dreams of life with your dreamboat, think about hours spent together, laughing as you walk along some mountain trail or canoeing down some whitewater river together. I remember spending hours and hours just envisioning a kiss. His hand would come around the back of my head, we’d gaze meaningfully into each other’s eyes, and we’d touch lips, gently, warmly together. No tongues. Thrilling!

When you get a little older, you can whisk up some dreams of families and homes with picket fences and Christmases together and warmth and cuddles. You think about joint trips to the hardware store, hanging lighting, renovating a house, camping, toasting marshmallows. Tongues might be involved. And other parts.

And then you get to an advanced age and realize the chances of whitewater rafting with your love approximate zero since neither of you wants to risk the injuries. Families are done, grandchildren dance offstage, waiting for entrance and attention. Cuddling is great provided it isn’t every night since, after all, a good sleep is sometimes better than sex and requires less energy. And legs kick and nasal passages snore and the elegance of sleeping together lacks something when one of you is hot flashing and the other is sucking in the walls a la Yosemite Sam. Hardware stores lose their appeal when you decide neither of you should get up a ladder. Camping? Ugh. Getting up to find a toilet in the dark and bugs and damp? Never. Love is in the simple things: the newspaper, the cup of coffee in bed, the back rub at the end of a long day.

And still, if you are dating, you find yourself reverting to the kid you once were. Does he like me? Does she think I’m handsome? Will he still like me tomorrow? Will we have anything in common? Should I call him? Should I write to her? Am I being too clingy/demanding/honest/deceptive? What about that errant nose hair? You’d think we’d have this down by now.

Is the effort all worth it?

Somehow, after years of being in loving relationships, I still don’t know how to judge them, if my feelings are real or false, if they are being straight with me or leading me on.

I don’t really care. Life’s too short for endless analysis. I want to feel while I can feel. Sing while I can sing. And dance the dance while my feet still know the steps. And if I end up alone at the end of the party, well, there are always the joys of solitude.

http://youtu.be/0hWwJLM4ZEo

Suburban evils

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Just finished Blind Crescent by Michelle Berry, a tale of a group of families living on a suburban cul de sac that follows well on the bizarre family relationships of August:Osago County. Initially in this story, you feel a bit like the suburban site is safely enclosing the residents, but decay is creeping ever closer. There’s risk outside, in the form of a sniper taking out random drivers, and there’s risk on the crescent in the form of a strange new resident and the shifting relationships of the families.
Unlike August, the characters do move, evolve, grow, learn about themselves.

For me this defines what is so much better about books than movies. The interior lives of the characters are explored in Blind Crescent, not so much that we feel we know everything about them, but enough so that each character becomes interesting to us, someone we can care about, feel for. In “August”, we get to know characters (mainly because of some excellent acting), but no one seems to change or develop or even question their motives. In each story there is suffering and angst, but in Berry’s story, the angst serves a purpose. The characters genuinely care about each other in their way, they learn to care more, they re-prioritize.

The book is excellent. At the end, although troubles still remain, you feel as if some sort of resolution is pending. The writing is luminous yet effortlessly so – you don’t pause, a la Stella Gibbon in cold comfort farm to star a sentence for its quality. Instead, you are inexorably drawn forward into the story, nailed to your seat by the details and heart in every sentence. You realize immediately that you are in the hands of a great storyteller and relax, let the story take you.

And then be forever grateful you have left the suburbs behind.

August:Osage County and the familiarity of dysfunctional families

Just back from this film, and I have to tell you it is a “high-residue” one, according to my family’s categorizing system.

Things like James Bond movies, adventures, most comedies – they’re fun, low residue. You watch them, forget them. You might remember one line, one scene. “Silence of the Lambs”, a mid-residue one. You remember the horror, the sucking of the lips. Other stuff slips away.

This one will stay with me, though. At first glance, August:OC seems like one of the long lasting set of dysfunctional family movies, with scarce humour and a certain grindingness about the endless anger and bad behaviour of everyone involved. Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, years of unsatisfactory conversations and relationships. Generations struggling with the baggage.

But then it grips you. The stories, though gruelling and very challenging for the audience (I heard a lot of gasping as the family secrets were let out, one by one, like goat droppings in the sand) – but the acting and the actors made the movie worth the endurance test. This family leads and has led a hellish series of lives. I can’t help but wonder how I would have turned out after such events. And yet, and yet, in so many ways they are the typical family, trying for the best for their kids, losing themselves along the way, making mistakes, picking favourites, keeping back what should have been said, making deals with one another. It is all both intensely familiar and chillingly strange.

As we were leaving the theatre, several women were chatting and smiled up at us. “Great movie,” they said, “highlights the weirdness in all of our families.”

That it did. I saw scenes my mother wouldn’t have been out of place in. I had a flashback to my wedding day. I revisited places I’d lived in myself – not the whole terrible mess of this family, but certainly little peeks through the blinds at them.

I think I’ll be unpacking this film for a few days yet.

So, not necessarily a pleasant movie, but a thought-provoking one, incredibly well-acted. Worth the viewing, though you may not want to take your family members with you…

The warped door

images-5In every life, there seems to be a closet of unresolved feelings, undealt-with crises, unhealed wounds. I know I have one, and sometimes  it’s all I can do to shove things in there out of my everyday sight so that I can focus on what needs to be done to get myself around in a day.

Unfortunately, the door to my closet is, like so many old doors, slightly warped. It allows THINGS to creep out and catch me by surprise, grip me by the throat at the most improper times. Like when I hear the song, “Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics on an oldies station while I’m driving and it brings back my dad’s death with an acuity that feels like it was yesterday, instead of 28 years ago, and I have to pull over the car until I can see again through my tears.

Or an old Rascals’s tune, which sends me back to my childhood. Initially I remembered my childhood as happy and was puzzled why, when I would write about it, trails of greenish-yellow pus would ooze out of my pen, colouring the page with infection and noxious smells. Now, sadly, I know better.

I should never have messed about in that closet.

But you know how it is with those closets filled with junk – suddenly you come over all efficient and say to yourself, “time to tidy THAT up. I can use the reorganized space for new memories, new thoughts.” And then you get mired in old photographs, your grade 2 report card (that said you had great potential, potential you haven’t used, even now). You come across throwaway comments that somehow imprinted on your brain, that experience with a boyfriend that cut you to the quick and showed you the folly of ever, ever falling in love again.

So eventually you tire of digging through, and you slam the door, vowing to never go there again. But it comes to you, through that warping of age.

When I left my ex, I didn’t want to wallow in bad feelings, I forcibly shoved them into the deepest darkest corner of that damn closet in a box with a lock. Somehow that box walks its way to the front of the closet now and again, telling me there are still things to deal with there, that trying to lock things away won’t work, alas. It’s annoying.

I did find a benefit to my leaky closet, in the end. Despite the anguish it sometimes costs me, stories lie there. The stories that lie closest to the bone, the ones that help me write truer, deeper.

Compassion is there, too, wrapped like a warm scarf around the most painful memories. I can take that compassion out and wrap it around others, warm them.

So maybe the warped door isn’t altogether a bad thing. A little escape at a time might be images-6okay. And I might tidy just that one shelf….

Now Accepting Submissions for our 2013-2014 Theme Issue: Love and Sex

Now Accepting Submissions for our 2013-2014 Theme Issue: Love and SexPosted on July 2, 2013 by PRISM internationalDear writers,We are now accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama, and translation for our Love and Sex theme issue. By love we mean romantic love, unromantic love, familial love, unrequited love, lost love, love of a friend, love of a friend with benefits, love of a geographic place, love of an imagined place, love of a pet, love of a possession, love of an idea, love of a memory, love of just about anything you can dream up. There are also many different kinds of sex. We’ll let you innumerate those in your own mind, but suffice to say, we welcome a variety of interpretations.We are NOT looking for pornography, which, for our purposes, is defined as graphic depictions of sexuality devoid of literary merit. Keep it hot and spicy, but keep it close to the human condition: vivid characterization, conflict resolution, provocative narration, etc.Theme issue submissions will be accepted from July 2 to November 10. If you are submitting for the theme issue, please make of a note of it in your cover letter. Theme issue submissions may also be considered for publication in future, non-theme issues.Next week Prose Editor Jane Campbell and Poetry Editor Zach Matteson will give the inside scoop on what they’re looking for in theme issue submissions. Stay tuned!Share this:

via Now Accepting Submissions for our 2013-2014 Theme Issue: Love and Sex.

I want a “do over”…

Just back from watching The Great Gatsby. It astonishes me how different all these books are from what I thought they were when I was forced to read them in high school. The whole feeling of Gatsby was so different than what I remembered (truth is I just lived for Robert Redford (still do) and dreamed of being his Daisy). I never understood the significance of the damn green light at the end of the pier.
I didn’t have the life context to even begin to understand the story. The endless striving for a dream only to find that the dream had changed while you strove, and hey, it wasn’t worth the striving anyway…you need life context for that. You need to have lost a few dreams enroute in order to understand the terrible terrible innocence of Gatsby, the horribleness of the people who used him.
If only we had the chance to redo our lives with the information we know now. Think of how much easier it would be if you knew the bumps ahead?
I was at the mall today, marvelling at the amazingly intricate strollers people were carrying their kids around in, and wincing at tired parents yelling at tired kids.
If I had it to do over, I’d be more patient. I’d enjoy my kids more. I’d force their dad to enjoy them more, too. What’s work, anyway? I’d have fought for our marriage, too, and forced him to be present in it. Even if I had to sit on him. I’d have sat on him more often, in a different way…
If I had it to do over, I’d have fought more to stay in the same place, to form lasting friendships with people. My friendships now are what sustain me. I don’t think I was always as good a friend as I could have been, and I’ve been lonely a great deal of my life. If I had it to do over, I’d work harder at being a friend, less hard at being a career success. I’d spend more time with my cousins. They’re like family bright – not as competitive as siblings, easier to just love.
I’d exercise more, if I had another chance. I’d spend lots more time enjoying the freedom of moving my body, of walking and running and flinging my muscles around while I could, before MS made every such exertion a guessing game, subject to sudden limitations. I’d tell my ballet instructor at Harriet Hoctor’s school to take her flat shoes and stuff ‘em and demand to be on point even if I was shorter than everyone else.
I’d spend more time on creative pursuits: writing, music, art. They are truly the only things of value in this cynical depressing world. Well, those and chocolate and ice cream and single malt. And full-on laughter.
I’d travel more. I’d stop spending money on stuff and spend it on seeing other places while I still could. I’d go volunteer in Africa or something, where my skills could be some use and where the kids (I’d take them with me) could see that I had value to others. They already know how privileged they are and do good things, but I have this irrational urge to make them proud of me.
Probably cos I’m so proud of them.
Yep, a do-over would be great. I might even be able to protect my kids from things that hurt them as they grew up – I’d know to be aware that some people were not to be trusted, that school was nastier than it was when I grew up, that drugs were so present.
Probably not. It’s hard to be everywhere, and I always valued my kids’ right to privacy. I still do. I just wish I could try it all over again.
Maybe do it just the teensiest bit better.
Or, at the very least, appreciate it more.

“Sex is a word count” Lilly Cain

Often, in a gathering of writers (what IS the proper collective noun? A scrawl of writers? A clattering of writers? A thesaurus of writers?), wisdoms shared expand to more global proportions.

Yesterday I was thrilled to attend the Romantic Writers of Atlantic Canada’s event on publishing your first novel. As with the mystery writers I hang out with more regularly, the crowd and panel were so wonderfully friendly and open and willing to help each other out. Even if I never ever publish a book, I like hanging out with these guys/gals – they are people worth knowing.

NRLLilly Cain writes erotic fiction, and was discussing how she is now writing a series of sweet romances and having trouble bringing down the steam rating. The quote above was from that discussion – she is used to having a certain number of words dedicated to hot scenes and now has to fill the space in with other words, actions, adventures.

Something about her statement resonated more deeply with me.

Sex as a word count…a space holder…a part of life, not so important, but needed in its own way. Without it, you must fill in the empty spaces with other activity, other stories. With it…well, life may be more full and rounded but you might miss out on some of the other generative activities you may use to fill up your own personal word count.

It becomes a balance, the sex, no sex, too much sex, not enough sex thing.

In writing, steaminess level (like bloodiness level) determines where your book is placed, whether a given publisher will buy it, who will be turned on or turned away. Many people write erotica under a pen name so that they can have a safe “real” identity. I know my tell all book about my post-marriage life won’t be arriving under my real name. Oh no.

In life, there are costs to pay for taking a relationship to that new, sexual, level – friendship becomes more difficult, things seem more fraught, you feel either intensely attracted or repelled, you feel shame or love or regret or joy. I used to believe it was something that people made too much fuss over, but I could have been wrong there.

In both, sex takes up time and thought and memory and room. How much and how it tilts your story is up to you.

For more thoughts, check out Lit Drift…or Tayari Jones (click on the cartoon to link to her blog), or Steve Almond’s article from the UTNE Reader: (I’m having trouble getting wordpress to accept another hyperlink…) http://www.utne.com/Literature/How-To-Write-A-Sex-Scene.aspx

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