I’m in a good space. Recently someone was going on about my choice of home and work locations citing with disgust the dirt and grime and pace of the city core. “Yeah but,” I interjected, “I’m really happy.”
I thought of that as I walked to work this morning with the delicious September air on my skin. It was warmer today after a few overcast, chilly, damp days. Everybody seemed grateful. Or maybe it was just Friday Mode: you sense a relaxation in the bodies collecting at the street corners – hands gripping bags a little less tight; shoulders a little looser; conversations with friends a little lighter. A pretty, smiling girl in a floating dress sails by on her retro-styled bike riding standing up, her hair tossed back. TIFF is everywhere, adding to a mood: white tents and sections of red carpet and temporary stages and other photo op units dot the downtown core. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought of striking a campy, movie star-ish pose in one of them.
The oft-mentioned getting off the subway for two hours a day and onto the sidewalk for one, is doubtless a major factor in my current feeling of strength and contentment. And that one hour walking is just the commute. Having given up my transit pass, I’m walking over all those distances I wouldn’t have thought anything of covering on a streetcar months ago. Sometimes I curse that once-handy card, but really only when I’m overloaded with groceries, collected after work when I’m hungry and my lack of judgement in gauging things like how much that giant Ontario cantaloupe will impact the weight of the bags holding the other fifteen things I’ve got to get home with me.
Work itself is coming together. Changing jobs is never an easy adjustment. For the first few months I felt like I was floating in the wind, unknown amongst my far-flung colleagues, but my [new] manager has been putting effort in getting my name out there and I’m finally meeting people and getting to know those that work around me. After months, I’m finally feeling like I belong.
This summer I joined a gym. Yep, me. The new job gave me access to a great corporate rate and the new location gives me access to a small women’s gym where I go at lunch to engage weights and strength training, but mostly indulge in all things related to yoga. I’ve practiced yoga off and on for many years, mostly at home. There are some fine instructors at my gym and I’m working harder, posing more courageously, challenging myself in ways any recorded instruction could not generate. If you practice yoga, you’ll know what I mean when I say my body is breathing, my hips are singing and my spine is floating.
My girls and I are gearing up for a road trip tomorrow, back home for a wine festival on the rolling grounds of Fort Malden at the edge of the Detroit River in Amherstburg. I may need to detox by Monday when I come home. But right now, being in a good personal space is the right frame of reference in which to take myself back home to my always loving people for a couple of days.
I can say confidently in advance, after a couple of days in the country and the space and timing of a pretty town on a river amidst old friends, my good space will be shining like a diamond when we return on Monday.
The other night I saw a film presented in Toronto’s HotDocs festival, Imagining Emanuel. If you’ve visited me for any length of time, you’ll know I’m preoccupied with the power of the personal story, and how we can explore our own personal stories to gain self-understanding, understanding of others, recognize and act on our potential, even re-invent ourselves. Us bloggers are using that to marvellous effect, and the thought of our voices out there, adding to the beautiful mosaic of humanity is something I find immensely gratifying.
So it would have been from that perspective that I watched the film about Emanuel, a refugee who landed as a stowaway in Norway.
The only thing Emanuel has is his story. He has no identification, no “proof” of where he came from, he has never had any “papers” of any kind. He tells us he was born in Liberia, and because of the war, fled to Ghana with his mother. They lived on the streets in poverty, and she eventually died. He supported himself by helping market vendors carry their goods to market for pay in food.
He decided to seek a better life, and hiding in the propeller cavity of a ship, became a stowaway to an unknown destination. After days of either sitting or standing in the small, wet space with no food or water, he emerged and gave himself up and found he was in Norway.
Norwegian officials do not believe his story. They have determined he is not from Liberia but from Ghana. The illiterate Emanuel has never wavered from his story, it’s the only thing he has. Ghana has refused him citizenship papers that would allow him to travel, and with no status in Norway, he is in limbo. No longer incarcerated, he has been given a temporary home on the farm of a man who has befriended him. He has nothing to do – he can’t read. He can’t work, he can’t upgrade his skills; he can do nothing to provide for himself.
All he has is his story, and because the officials say it isn’t true, his story means nothing.
I think about the people who have taken my classes and how empowered they become when they get the opportunity to tell their stories. I think about how gratified I feel because you read my stories and you tell me they have made a difference to you.
I think about my own experience of the story against that of Emanuel. His story is essentially taken away from him and re-told, probably for the reason of not granting him refugee status. And the invention of him by others has left him with nothing.
But thanks to media attention in Norway, and a young documentary filmmaker, Emanuel is not invisible. The filmmaker took photos of the audience to send back to Emanuel, and it felt good to wave at the guy and let him know his story was being heard beyond the context of official "truth" – that his story might mean something in itself.
Today was the next-to-last class for the current run of my Creative Non Fiction course. I don’t talk much about my classes here. That’s because for any person taking a writing (or any kind of art) class, there is a level of personal risk invested. For lots of people, just signing up for a class like this requires a measure of courage. Whatever kind of art you make, it’s part of you. And when you share that art or even your own special process of making it, that’s like baring a part of yourself for what is to you, scrutiny and judgement. My job as facilitator is to create a safe space in the hopes that people will take those kinds of risks and take their art to a new level. I like to think of those classrooms as a nest: where ideas are born and fostered, where the world is not allowed in until those ideas are let loose to fly.
I know what the rewards are for anyone who dares tell a story, that’s why I do it. And being able to participate in the unfolding of a story is a greater gift than its new (or old) writer could ever know.
If I’m honest, after twelve weeks I am looking forward to getting Saturdays back for awhile. But, as always, I’m also thinking I’m really going to miss spending Saturdays with a group of people who have grown and evolved into something very special. Kind of like a snowflake – most beautiful and utterly unique. Today I’m feeling like I’ve grown a bit more, and that I’ve got an even greater appreciation for the story than I did when I came in. Each person in this class has contributed a little bit more to who I am – as a faciliator, and as a person. I couldn’t be more grateful.
“Long before I wrote stories
I listened for stories.
Listening for them is something
more acute than listening to them.”
This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt. Visit Magpie Tales to find other fine poets and writers responding to the same prompt. Give it a try – creative play is good for you! This story is inspired by a certain puppet.
Hamlet awoke, aching and sluggish. He felt bleary as if he had slept for days and the vividness of that dream left him feeling as if he’d lived it. Instead though, he attributed his exhaustion to the of mysterious egg object he had stolen the day previous and the tremendous effort it took his tiny limbs to roll the thing from the human cottage to his home in the middle of the wood. Still draped over his pallet, he admired the thing standing like a sentry at the entrance to his den.
His thoughts soon drifted back to the dream – he had never had one that felt so lifelike. From the heightened beating within his chest when he first laid eyes on that shiny glass orb hanging from a tree in a grove near the castle, to the momentum he gained in rolling it back toward his home – Hamlet felt as if he had lived the experience, not dreamt it.
In his dream Hamlet was invincible, acting with swiftness and precision; first climbing the tree and releasing the knot in the net-like hanger that held the orb, then scrambling to the ground, removing the orb from the hanger and rolling it across the open field toward the forest and safety. The dream was so alive in his mind that the confidence and strength with which he manoeuvred the heist still coursed through him, and certainly that is what compelled him to explore the grove of trees near the castle and see if the orb really did exist. He had never felt such certainty embarking on any pilfering excursion before.
And then, when he reached the grove of trees at the edge of the castle grounds, there was the orb – just as he saw it in his dream. With joy he thought of the egg standing sentry at his door and felt certain it cast a magic spell on his dreams. Greedy now, he thought of the riches and objects he would find in his dreams.
After scanning the landscape to ensure it was free of humans and other creatures, Hamlet scrambled up the tree and just as he did in his dream, he pulled and tugged at the silken knot holding the orb’s hanger to a branch and watched it fall to the ground. Back on the ground he released the orb from the woven strings and began to roll the thing out of the copse and into the field back toward home.
Halfway across the field, Hamlet froze, sensing eyes on him. Vulnerable in the open field, he struggled to retain his composure he looked around and saw no movement or sign. Feeling panic, he rolled the orb as fast as he could to the edge of the wood and nestled it against a tree. He looked around him again – seeing no visitor but sensing a presence. Perhaps it is the magic warning me, he thought, and fast as he could, covered the orb with leaves and marked the spot with a seemingly casual arrangement of sticks and flowers.
He crept back to his den under the familiar camouflage of forest undergrowth. Next day when it was safe he would go back and retrieve his prize from the tree. He lay down on his pallet and soon slept, tired from the exertion in the two days of thieving.
When Hamlet awoke with the sun, he was not rested but sore and exhausted again, seemingly from the events of his dream. Enchanted with the dream of the beautiful glass orb hanging in a tree in a copse near the castle, Hamlet had no memory of the same dream the night before or his adventures in finding the glass ball.
Hamlet was right. That egg had cast a spell on his dreams. Only he could not know he would awaken each day devoid of any memory of having dreamt it before or the events of retrieving the object. And of course no memory of the lurking presence or the hiding of the ball near the tree.
The spell rendered Hamlet like a goldfish, who with no memory finds a new surprise every time it circles to the other side of its bowl. And thus every day Hamlet awakened having experienced a brand new dream.
Four days later as Hamlet ventured across the field on his fourth venture toward a tree that no longer held the glass ball, a shadowy figure lurked on the edge of the wood watching, thankful for the fairy’s odd repetitive game. Indeed it was opportunity for capture of a most elusive species. That travelling human in the caravan on the edge of town would play a handsome price for this little fella.
This is a response to Willow's third Magpie Tales creative writing prompt. Stop in, give it a try – visual prompts are the imagination's friend! And check out all of the imaginitive stories and poems by the other participants.
She stepped on something hard and cursed the pain stabbing the sole of her foot as she bent to inspect the offending object. It was a small weight, like that she had seen in the apothecary’s shop. She brushed dirt off its surface, tracing her fingers over the marks on it – one side etched with the amount of its measure; the other side the tiny image of a dove. She held it tight in her hand, feeling it cold and heavy, its solidness evoking a world of problems and puzzles it had been put to use in attending. She felt some level of pleasure in holding the thing, as if a symbol of humble duty. She thought of it as a charm and tucked it into her pocket, which now pulled down with the weight of it.
Over the next weeks she carried her charm with her, feeling the presence of its weight, as if it was holding her to the earth, and she began to recognize a measure of comfort in her find.
As spring flourished into summer, the girl’s village grew animated with the anticipation of the arrival of the prince and his annual visit and celebration. Shopkeepers travelled far to accumulate the best of goods. Innkeepers scrubbed, women beat rugs, farmers repaired fences, and boys groomed horses. As the girl set about helping her mother ready their home for a royal welcome, the girl began to feel a heaviness grow in her heart. She didn’t know why and did her best to push it aside as she went about her tasks.
But melancholy grew with each passing day. One day as she roamed the forest collecting mushrooms and leeks, she found she couldn’t shake the weight on her heart – it was as if this gloom had settled into her body and attached itself to her.
Each day as the prince’s visit grew closer, gloom began to overtake the girl, and she walked about as if all her fears and preoccupations were hefted on her shoulders. She would find herself sobbing without warning over the course of the day. Once, her mother found her in this condition for the fourth time since morning, weeping as she dug potatoes from the garden. Admonishing the girl to overcome this mood, her mother sent her to bed to collect herself and not come down until she had done so.
The day of the prince’s arrival in the village found the girl abed for the third day, unable to rise from her melancholy. Her mother and her aunts managed to upright her, and dress her and sat her in a chair in the garden for the royal procession. If they couldn’t get her into the village square for the feast, at least her spirit might be lifted by the honoured visitors at their home.
The prince’s procession arrived and as they admired the gardens and livestock, the girl sat watching from under a tree, feeling as if she could barely breathe. The prince spoke softly to the girl, and wished her a speedy recovery. But he couldn’t shake the image of her from his mind, and later, after the feast, he approached her father. The father apologised for the daughter’s absence and told the prince they feared her condition to be grave.
The prince, gripped by something in the girl’s dove-like eyes, offered to take her back with him to be attended by royal surgeons and apothecaries, the best in the land. Her grateful parents bundled her into a straw filled wagon and wept as they bade her goodbye, fearing it would be the last time they would see her.
Two maids tended the girl along her journey to the castle. When they stopped for meals and rest, the girl was carried out and reclined in the sunshine on piles of quilts and cushions. The prince would talk to her softly, telling her stories of his travels, and encouraging her to speak to him of her life.
It was during one of these rests the girl rose shakily to her feet, and waved off the maids as they started to follow her to a nearby brook. The girl sat herself on a rock and reached down and cupped some water and drank. She drew more and let it wash over her face and neck. The water revived her somewhat and she could feel gratitude for the sun warm on her face. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her charm – running her thumb over the tiny dove carved into its side.
She heard calls and saw the maids approaching from the hill – it was time for the procession to move on. The girl rose slowly and began to move toward them. Then she stopped for a moment, looking again at the small weight in her hand. She bent and set it on a rock.
As the maids and the prince and the royal attendants looked on, the girl flew.
The instant she walked into the room there it was, arranged on the middle shelf as if set there for the subtlest impact, to blend gently in with the other pewter pieces with their similar curves and patinas. But there was never anything gentle or subtle in anything he did. That pewter creamer was placed there as a symbol of a host of dead-end discussions and pointless arguments and delicately slicing jabs and so it was no less apparent than a neon sign saying “LOOK THIS WAY.” She knew this gift signalled the end of them.
She trailed her finger along the delicate engraved edge and felt the essence of its history, the laughter and debate around the tables on which the little piece sat in service to supply milk for a cup of tea or a bowl of porridge. She admired the heart-like shape of the thing, her hands moving over its sloping curves and exquisite balance. She felt the weight of it, as if all the history surrounding the little vessel was contained within it. What of the stories that had been told around the tables during its time? In her chest she felt a heaving sense of grief at the story unfolding around it now.
Why had he done it? Was he conceding one last attempt to salvage this? He had told her many times he didn’t understand her, that he thought she was frivolous and clung to meaningless ideals. His buying of this piece then would always serve to remind her of that – of this one gulf between them. “Why don’t you spend your time thinking about more practical things? Instead you covet such waste and cling to silly romantic notions.” No, there was no benevolence behind this gift. It is merely his move in the game, meant to satisfy her, to keep her happy with things, to settle her restlessness. And it would always serve to remind her that all she was worth was the shelling out for some piece of ephemera he thought useless and silly – just as he did her sensibility.
She would have to talk to him, to thank him. And she’d be expected to show gratitude and fondness for his act. This small thing she’d loved so many times in the window of the antique dealer – how it must have irked him to pull out his wallet and pay for it – a meaningless knick-knack that would fill some frivolous need in her.
As she carried the piece with her to find him, she felt sick with the anticipation of the conversation; and with the temptation to hit him over the head with it.