Today I’m hammering away at my computer in my office with its rectangular windows with their rectangular venetian blinds overlooking a landscape filled with other rectangular concrete office buildings under rainy skies and I get a text from Debbie: “Thinking of you. Taking pictures of lupines in Parry Sound.”
It’s a nice thought – that a bunch of bobbing, wild lupines make your friend think of you. And that she tells you so. And that at least she is standing in a place where they are.
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These days more strangers seem to be smiling at me on my walks to work. It’s probably because last week I was listening to the wonderfully charming audio book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” and this week I’m listening to David Sedaris read his stories. I’m grinning and snorting and chuckling (and sometimes crying) all the time on my walks to work these days, and finding many passers-by with open faces smiling back at me. Reminder to self: Smiling at strangers always pays off – and it doesn’t even have to be intentional.
* * *
Summer hasn’t even shown herself yet, and still, people are already complaining about the weather. Maybe all of those people are the types that ACTUALLY LIKE seemingly endless winters with seemingly endless snow and ice and seemingly endless strings of -25° days with whipping winds that hurt your whole body when you go outside. Me? I prefer a season with lupines.
Last night I had conversations with four of my oldest and most valued friends. I wish we didn’t have the reason that we all talked, but that we did made me feel better than I had in the twenty-four hours previous. I hope that was the case for all of us. Mostly for Denis, because on New Year’s Day he lost his dad.
I’d been feeling blue about it on a number of levels. Mostly because someone I love is torn up; he’s been hit, unexpectedly, with life’s cruellest circumstance. His dad was a really lovely man; a husband in a seemingly inseparable partnership, a good father and pépé and neighbour and respected teacher and now he’s gone.
If I’m not censoring (it’s a start, Lisa), I’ll tell you that this is one of the two situations in the past year that threw my own mortality in my face. Hard. It sounds so selfish. My heart is truly with my friend, but a feeling of scared came swift and forceful. A parent is only one generation away.
I have all my parents – and none seems like s/he is going anywhere soon. But I got scared about losing them. They’re still too young. Like Denis’s dad. He shouldn’t have gone yet; his family’s hearts shouldn’t be heavy now. And yesterday evening I was wondering how to move out of the sudden funk – how could I call my friend and be supportive and somehow make it a little better when I felt like I was teetering on some thin emotional wire; psychically a piece of shit?
And then after supper I talked to Debbie. And then Denis. And then Robbie. And then Lynn. And at the end of the evening I was back on terra firma. I’m sure it’s because each of them were part of the journey to now. Last night I'd got away from the moment and they brought me back to it.
We all exist here in this unstoppable march of time and we all have to face it, and most of us deal with loss when it happens and maybe we don’t get over it but we learn to move on and to be happy again even if there is a new hole in the family’s fabric. But then again, isn't the fabric richer and more beautiful for that person having been a part of it?
The fabric is precious and beautiful and it’s all any of us has. And I’m not that articulate, but I’m sure it’s pretty much the point of it all.
The gruff, drawly voice of one of my oldest and dearest friends, which I haven’t heard in at least five years, growling “Jenn-i-ferrr” when I picked up the phone the other day, was one of the most beautiful things I’d heard in a long time.
Beautiful things considered, first day of self-imposed challenge.
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
~William Butler Yeats, 1899
Or: In which we are inspired by Selma opening up a can of whup-ass
Some things just demand to be written. They sort of grab hold of your collar out of the blue and get their nose right in your face and say “Hellloooo! Get on it sister!” The signs were coming at me from all corners this morning: "This is what the story is about today."
Sometime in the mid-morning I read this fabulous post by my friend Selma, which prompted a too-long and impassioned response. But as I read over the thing before burdening her blog with it, it started screaming "I BELONG ON YOUR OWN BLOG." Then I caught some catty jesting coming over Twitter. Then there was an unnecessarily barbed comment in a meeting. And here I am.
Selma’s piece was about several things, but mostly about her rising up and taking a stand against some uncalled for catty behaviour by some acquaintences. Opening up the proverbial can of whup-ass and the subsequent "Whoo! I rule!." But the issues she raises have resonated with me for many years.
So, a few hours prior to reading that I’m on the streetcar headed to Union Station, and there are two attractive young women in the seats in front of me having a conversation. It is just chatting about mutual friends and what-are-you-doing-this-weekend kind of conversation, nothing real interesting to your average eavesdropping blogger.
Then another attractive young woman gets on and sits near the front. She’s turned sideways in her seat and is surveying the people in the car behind her. Again, nothing so remarkable, until she fixes on the two women in front of me and starts giving them the old “up and down” look. Not just an “up and down checking out the outfit” kind of look, but a repeated “'I scorn thee' up and down;” increasingly scornful with each journey of the eyeballs. She “ups and downs” them for so long I wonder if she is trying to get them to notice her doing so.
So I get thinking, what is it about them that irks you so? All three of you are attractive, well dressed and seemingly going off to decent jobs – certainly luckier than the majority of the women on this planet.
I get to the station and onto the subway and forget about them; until later in the morning when I read Selma’s story about self confidence, soldiering on, nightgowns, cows catty sorts, words and brown eggs.
This is not a new issue – us women have talked about us being catty to each other for decades. Most of us have probably behaved this way on one level or another. At the very least we've seen it – starting in elementary school. There are numerous explanations for it put out there by various factions – from the “you women are petty and shallow creatures anyway” to (what I consider to be the most logical one) the notion that we have a good deal of fucked-upness based on centuries of cultural oppression and objectification.
I can just see my mother cringe. She and I differ greatly on the merits of the women’s movement and women’s issues. I expect that’s related to her devotion to Christianity, one of the biggest culprits in the objectification of us gals as far as I’m concerned, but that’s another post.
And let me say, this is not a man-bashing post. I love men, I adore them. I’ve often said I’d rather hang around with the men at a party than the women. Maybe that’s got something to do with womens' inherent prickliness toward one another. But I can say with confidence, I have many amazing men in my life and I do not hold them responsible for my, or anyone else’s, fucked-upness. Our fucked-upness wasn’t their idea.
I guess you could say it’s more of a women-bashing post. Because let me put this out there sisters: as long as we are divided, we’ll always be conquered. As long as we are judgemental of each other and our bodies, our looks, our beliefs, our actions, our intentions – as long as we make catty, underhanded remarks designed to make ourselves feel somehow superior to each other – we will not rise above anything that held us down in the past.
Selma says she thinks people should have to obtain a license before they speak. How about we just think for a minute about the power of words? I am still working on rising above someone telling me I wasn’t talented enough more than 30 years ago. And once, in my early 20s, I was dancing with a guy who told me I was a bad dancer. At 49, I’m only learning to dance with joy now.
I take 100% responsibility for my own life. I’m not shifting blame for my issues to other people – but I am trying illustrate the power that words have. I would suggest that my best qualities – my strength, self assurance, compassion and competency are no doubt also the result of the many positive messages passed on to me.
What I’m trying to say is that maybe us gals should think more about these issues that seem to pit us against one another, wherein we see each other as the enemy. Because there’s room for all of us. We’ve shown we’re strong, capable, innovative, and, by nature, we work great in team situations. Imagine what it would be like if we focused positive energy on one another; imagine if we directed our attention away from our privileged selves and directed our energies to our less fortunate sisters, and said “yeah – rock on girl.” The world, in turn, might be rocked right off its axis.
One of the last signs that I should write this post: After I drafted out part of this piece, I saw that a friend had posted this on her facebook page:
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. ~ Buddha
My girls and I leave the city Saturday morning and head southwest to my hometown for an oft-lauded wine festival and visiting with old friends. We listen to classic rocks songs on the radio which instigate one memory after another - a nice accompaniment to the flat, boring stretch of highway. As we get close to Essex County, the sky gets more and more overcast and we curse the imminent rain for intruding on the much anticipated party.
Navigating the once-daily haunts due south of HWY 401 is like I always say: everything’s strange and everything’s the same. I drop the girls off at their dad’s and go to Debbie’s where we catch up over a Guinness. I hope you have a friend like her.
The rain is coming down hard and steady and we carry on cursing it over a drive to the grocery store to pick up what will become the beautiful spread of a breakfast the next morning. Once we’ve all gathered back at the house we pack up golf umbrellas and plastic sheeting to cover wet picnic table seats, and the rain lets up just then. Even the weather gods shouldn’t mess with serious wine drinkers intent on a good time and happy homecoming.
The grounds are a bit mucky but certainly not “Woodstock” as some grim souls had predicted. As soon as we walk into the place and before I can get some wine into my glass we start running into old friends. I didn’t send out a “facebook blast” saying I was going down, thinking that with the short turnover in time I’d be content to bump into people as the fates would have us do.
There are lots of long hugs. I don’t know if I can describe my gratification in the love I got from my old friends – to still "belong" to them. I make my home in Toronto now, but despite a number of moves around different neighbourhoods I still don’t feel as if I “belong” anywhere. Maybe that’s related to my single, empty-nester state. But whatever it is, these wonderful old pals can’t possibly know how easily they filled what has been a rather empty vessel for quite some time.
Next morning at Debbie and Len’s we all sleep late, maybe a little groggy from all those bottles of that excellent D’Angelo Foch. After the big breakfast, Deb and I sit out in the backyard with spiked orange juice and admire the day – particularly the clouds.
Not willing to waste the weather gods’ change of heart, we go back to the festival site and see some more people, and try some foods. It's such a beautiful spot beside the river, and it is great to look around the town and all its changes.
As I told a couple of my colleagues about the weekend Monday morning, one said she thought I looked particularly happy. She’s right. This sort of weekend is one of those reminders about what exactly it is that sustains us. I don’t care what they say. You can go home again, and they will all love you as much as they did the day you left.
Recently my friends Jamie and Frank moved to a new house, and with it got themselves a substantial, well-established garden. Jamie, who has never been, well, “outdoorsy,” has taken on her new project with a little trepidation and lots of gusto. Lately, as the garden begins its springtimey flourishing, she’s been posting pictures of the various plants on Facebook with the request that her friends near and wide identify them so she can learn what to expect and how to care for them. It’s been a fun little exchange, with people from all over the world arguing whether a thing is a hydrangea, some kind of ivy or a forget-me-not. (And I since this is my blog, I’ll just say that I have NEVER seen a forget-me-not as big as a PERIWINKLE.)
Anyway, it’s been really wonderful connecting with Jamie again on that funny old forum called Facebook six years after I left her back in Windsor, and it’s been great seeing her embrace this garden life. Last night the posts got me feeling lonesome for my wonderful pal Debbie, who still lives in the country near where I embraced gardening for the first time, back when my ex-husband and I started out on our own.
We first lived in a charming white farmhouse with red wooden outbuildings, lots of old fashioned shrubs and an apple orchard. I didn’t know much what I was doing, but I tried. And it’s no doubt where I got my love for un-manicured country and cottage yards, with bits of flora growing up willy-nilly in every corner.
Later when we built our own house nearby, I constructed a rock garden down the length of the driveway. It was hard work, slugging and lugging those rocks, but exceedingly satisfying. And by the following summer that garden was bursting with growth, with help from my Aunt Martha and my Grandma who shared plants from their own gardens. Aunt Martha even shared with me a fragrant violet which had originated in the garden of my other Grandmother who had died long before I was born.
Debbie lived directly behind me on the other end of the country block a mile away. Those were really happy years; our families were together all the time, raising our small kids, going for walks, feasting on seasonal produce and barbeque, chatting around kitchen tables – and gardening.
Every spring we would take an excursion out into other parts of the county to buy our bedding plants for the year. Debbie and I have always shared a sense of the aesthetic, and there is no one I’d rather wander through gardens and greenhouses with, lingering over some odd leaf formation or stunning hue of orange. Or just wander in particular – Debbie is undoubtedly the easiest friend I ever had – we never had time for anything but enjoying each other’s company.
Those summers we walked our country road daily. We’d fill bowls with wild mulberries and admire little pink roses growing wild in the ditch. The last summer we lived out there was the time Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. While the volcano wrought terrible destruction to people there, it, ironically, gave us on the other side of the world a summer of spectacular sunset skies. (It was something about those nasty little particles, like those that grounded Europe a few weeks back, reflecting light.) Every evening we walked and marvelled at the colours we saw beyond us. And just at dusk millions of fireflies would come out and join us along the overgrown abandoned railroad adjacent to the road.
My marriage was coming undone that summer and we were getting ready to move to Windsor. But I’ve never forgotten the magic of that time. Because I’m certain that without Debbie to appreciate it along with me, the magic would have been greatly diminished. In fact, thinking about the consequences of having lived that particular time – and this life – without those shared experiences with her is devastating – I would look back on a life with much less colour and substantially less appreciation for beauty.
Beautiful thing sighting today: Two elderly ladies sitting on a bench at the mall waiting for a taxi. One has a walker. The other one reaches over and pats her forearm, not in a mild way, but with a robustness that comes with years and familiarity. Giving the arm a squeeze she leans in and nudges her friend with her shoulder and says something in Italian.
I don’t know what she said but the gesture said, “I love hanging out with you pal.”
(that'll be number 21)