In my last post I talked about how important stories are in how we understand and see things, and the impact they can have on individuals, communities and societies. Telling stories about ourselves gives us power in that we can articulate where we place ourselves in the world and in our communities and families, and we can then see how to make changes or enhancements. Telling stories about ourselves takes us out of a sea of faceless population and validates our experiences. Telling our stories puts our voices out there into the grand dialogue of history
The problem of AIDS in Africa is huge. Mind bogglingly huge. So huge most of us have difficulty wrapping our brains around it and we tuck it in the backs of our minds as "way over there on a distant continent" with our, probably quite sincere, hopes that it will eventually go away. We might contribute money to the problem but we probably feel it's like throwing a penny in a giant, bottomless well.
But then you encounter a single story about one doctor and one man, and the problem is no longer a sea of faceless people on a distant continent, it is one person. One man who might have a lot in common with you and me. And you might think that penny didn't fall into a vast well, it went to help one real person.
I dare you to not be moved by Maithri's poetic prose and his stories of love and compassion and hope while he works to help one person at a time - and seeing a world of possibility in each one.
Read his latest story here: On difference.
So I made peace with his landlordship. No, we didn’t discuss the Matter of the Windows or his Jacking Up the Furnace Policy. Let’s just say we both know it’s an issue that would remain unresolved for as long as I chose to live there. He did say he’s thinking of building a deck for the upper apartment, so perhaps that’s his acknowledgement of most peoples’ need for fresh air and an enjoyment of summer. He probably thinks that the next tenant’s utilisation of a deck space will eliminate any need to open windows – but that’s a discussion I’m not going to need to have ever again.
At any rate, the exchange was friendly and generous on both sides, and I’m glad to be leaving him on good terms. He expressed sadness that I’m going, and I understand that. It’s not about the money for him; it’s about the comfort of having another body moving about in the big house. And it’s hard to find a good tenant, particularly when one is inclined to make much ado over small things. I’m glad to be leaving his control issues and mind games. I’m sad to be leaving behind the friendly, slightly cheeky man who gave me some prints of his bird paintings, which I’ll hang in my new home in honour of his good qualities, and because they’re lovely.
I get possession of my new digs tomorrow and the official move is Monday. I hope to use the weekend to get the cupboard and closet stuff in place, and thus ease SOME of the unpacking pain.
But then I never find moving painful. Well, leaving Windsor and the place I lived my entire life was painful. More bittersweet: moving closer to my family, but leaving my friends; becoming a homeless empty nester, but embarking on a month-long adventure to find love across the ocean in a country I’d never been to before. I couldn’t have known then that it would take years to overcome that shock to my system, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’ve always loved change – I crave it sometimes. I suspect that now I’m that empty-nester I’m a little too free to run after change any time the whim takes me. I won’t even begin to discuss my thoughts on where this has left me in the love and relationship department. Maybe I should be like my favourite bloggers – refreshingly honest and personally forthright – and lay that out on the table. Maybe in doing that I could affect some internal change in an area that could really stand some improvement.
But not today. I’m too jazzed about the move. It’ll be the fourth neighbourhood I’ve tried in Toronto since 2006. It’ll be different than any type of home or neighbourhood I’ve ever lived. Because in making this decision, I thought that it was time to let go of some ideas about re-creating that kind of neighbourhood and HOME that I had when my girls were growing up. After all, everything’s different now. I AM alone and I CAN follow these yearnings and go where the wind takes me. I truly believe in following the rhythms of the universe, and I’m looking forward to discovering where the path takes me.
As of Monday, everything will be new again. With wide open windows.
Change is the only constant. *~Heraclitus
For a long time I’ve been fascinated with the idea of what I call my inner “snapshots,” the idea that I carry with me certain scenes and images from my life of experiences always, while most other events are forgotten. That famous quote from Cesare Pavese seems to echo this idea: "we don't remember days, we remember moments." Teachers of memoir will tell you that these are the memories to focus on – that there is always a lesson in the inner “snapshot." That these are the moments marking the times when your life changed somehow, and if you really take a good look at these moments you’ll find they mark some point of learning or new direction.
A few of my earliest personal “snapshots” include:
Years ago I wrote a personal story based on one of these inner snapshots, which was eventually read by CBC Radio storyteller and author Stuart McLean on his popular show the Vinyl Cafe. The story is about a man who, for a time, showed up at public ice skating sessions in the small town where I lived when I was a kid; a man of a visible minority rarely encountered in that town.
Some of my friends and family members who heard the story on the radio said to me later they didn’t remember that man at all. And even though the memory is still distinct in my mind – after all he was so startlingly out of place in that town – I started to question it, and ultimately the veracity of my story. Did I dream it? These kinds of questions have come up again numerous times after writing other stories and I wonder sometimes, why do I question my own truth?
And these questions are not unusual – they come up all the time in my memoir and non-fiction classes: “What if someone I write about denies something happened? Or denies it happened the way I remember it happening? Am I still allowed to write it?”
Yes. Because memoir and personal stories are just that – personal. They are about discovering and writing YOUR truth, and honouring it; they are about recreating experiences and finding how these events changed you and helped to create the person you've become.
In discussing memoir, writer, author and teacher William Zinsser echoes the significance of these moments for writers when he says the writer should look to “small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it's because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life.”
Zinsser says, “Your biggest stories will often have less to do with their subject than with their significance — not what you did in a certain situation, but how that situation affected you and shaped the person you became.”
Indeed. After writing the story about the man at the skating rink, I discovered that what I really learned were lessons about compassion and the value and universal need for community and fellowship. Maybe some of the people I know don’t remember that man because the experience of him didn’t carry any message for them. But even if their memories don’t sustain the experience of the ice skating man, they DO share an understanding of a universal truth I uncovered in my memory.
My own belief is that the idea of “truth” cannot be labelled as one singular, universal concept. Truth is a personal, maleable understanding; it contains many layers and there are many factors which contribute to its existence. And I believe that in acknowledging these layers and levels of truth, writers will tell stories with more compassion – not only toward others but themselves. And if you write YOUR truth with both honesty and compassion, I can assure you, you'll be blown away by its power.
Figure skating is not my favourite Olympic event. I used to love it when I was younger but now the whole show biz aspect of it turns me off, I suppose. This is not to say that I don't appreciate the athleticism and artistry of these folks. I just find it painful to watch. Especially the women. It seems that in the last ten years or so the bar has been raised in terms of required elements – and most them are still catching up. Yeah I know – that's the principle of the whole Olympics thing. But women figure skaters fall down a lot. And they're all alone out there on a stage in front of everyone and all the TV stations are showing deep closeups on their faces.
So it's kind of funny that I can say that two of the most beautiful moments I experienced in the last few days were during the Olympics women's figure skating competition.
Tonight, one of the skaters went out there and promptly started to fall. She fell on her first three jumps. With each fall she lost a little more in her stride. After the third fall she looked as if she might break. I picked up the remote control as I saw her shoulders wilt toward the ice and every ounce of will to pull herself back upright again.
What kept me on the channel was the audience. They encouraged her when she got up, louder each time. The level of applause and cheers increased when she got back into pace and started skating fast again, toward another jump. She landed it. And the crowd went wild. With each jump there was more audience love, and she finished the program clean.
That collective show of support must have been the thing that got that girl through that several minutes. And at the end she bent over, composed herself for a minute, and then skated off with a kind of "well I fucked that one up good didn't I?" kind of gesture. And they cheered even louder.
Two nights ago the Canadian figure skating champion Joannie Rochette went on the ice and skated her first round. The significant thing about this fact is, that shortly after arriving in Vancouver a few days before, to see her daughter skate, Rochette's mother died suddenly. And the daughter made the decision to skate anyway, for her mother.
Coward that I am – I almost didn't watch. I couldn't bear to see anything happen to that girl on the ice with all the closeups and television commentators and media. But then again, if she was brave enough to go out there, the least I could do is support her from the perspective of my sofa.
As it happens, Joannie skated beautifully. The best she'd ever skated, according to the judges. Biggest champion ever according to the audience.
Compassion and courage. Great big beautiful things on day eleven of the 30 days of beauty challenge.
I don't know if why it creeps in, or how it chooses its moments to do so, but every now and then I'm really shocked when I pay attention to the nastiness of the inner dialogue that can go on inside my head. Name calling, berating, chiding, making fun of. It's insidious really. It's kind of like someone you love whispering mean things to you; and it's a thing that doesn't hit you until later, and then you wonder where on earth it came from. And you realise just what this dialogue has done to your self worth and to your ability to keep plodding on.
I've never been someone with a low self-worth, I've always been pretty confident in who I am and I do like myself. So I'm not sure where these negative inner dialogues come from.
Last year my new year's resolution was to be kinder to myself. Lately I've noticed that hasn't entirely transpired because of that mean voice inside the creeps up when I'm not expecting it – that nasty side of me doing its level best to tell me I'm a failure.
And so I'm going to go to work to counteract it, and this year achieve that resolution. I'm going to work on it in my personal journalling and personal art and replace it with a nicer and gentler voice.
We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.