About last week…

Like much of the world, I’ve been trying to process last week’s events in Paris.  To be honest, I’ve also been trying to ignore them.  The same way as I’ve been trying to ignore the outpouring of grief and outrage from Beirut, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. I simply don’t have the heart to take on all that pain and loss. Perhaps that is selfish of me.

They say even years later, people remember exactly what they were doing when “X”  event happened.  I was working on an anthropology paper in my studio when my news feed lit up with reports of the Paris attacks.  We have friends in Paris, this is the second time this year I’ve sent anxious queries about their well being. My kids and I spent a week in 2014 in the Republique district of Paris where much of the chaos took place. Somehow that makes it even more disturbing.

It’s only been the past few years that I’ve taken a more concerted interest in world events, politics, history. I’m not a political scientist or historian, but I know enough now to understand that as barbaric as terrorism is, there are complex root issues behind it.  On Friday night  I watched PBS’s documentary, ‘Losing Iraq’, which follows the growth of Isis. It helps me to understand the history of  middle eastern conflict and to revisit the impact of our bungled western, imperialistic, capitalistic involvement there.  I also read an excellent article on the Paris-Response-Retribution-Cycle.  None of this of course, negates the loss and pain of  those directly involved. But it’s important just the same, to examine world events through a sociological lens and ask “why?”

My son was working on a paper for his political science course this weekend. His class is analyzing Sartre’s play, Dirty Hands. Dirty Hands was written near the end of the second world war and examines whether it’s possible in politics and war, to emerge without dirty hands, no matter how idealistic the intent. We also talked about the Machiavellian question of whether the end justifies the means.  The timing of this discussion almost seems ironic.  Dirty hands, everywhere.

My generation of Canadians and our children haven’t directly experienced war, we live relatively free from that threat.  I can’t imagine the terror I’d feel over one my kids being drafted or voluntarily signing up for the military.  I’m not sure I could cope with it. There is nothing I value more than their lives. I also can’t imagine losing a child to join the fight for religious extremist ideals or as a casualty of a terrorist attack. My parent heart literally quivers and shrinks at the prospect.  I want the world to be a safe, peaceful, predictable place but not have it cost anything.  Perhaps that’s selfish of me also.

I feel pretty impotent in light of all this suffering and chaos. Besides exercising my right to vote, which I didn’t even do this year, my opinions and impact are negligible at best.  I hope we keep our borders open to refugees fleeing from terrorism because they need help. I hope those inflicting acts of terror are stopped but I’d rather it came as a result of negotiation, not loss of lives.  I hate that words like ‘neutralized’ are used in place of killed. For god’s sake, call it what it is. I wish we could all just play nice, understand, support each other and revel in the short, precious time we share on this breath-taking planet. On the other hand, if anyone threatened one of my own, I’d come out shooting like an Ozark Mountain hillbilly.

I have a friend who used to be museum curator in Ontario.  She moved to Iraq several years ago to teach photography in schools and help kids with heart problems.  This morning I came across a pic of her in a Libyan hospital holding a baby post surgery, wearing a hijab. She’s pretty much a rock star in my books.  I sent her a quick note saying so and she replied, ‘You and I are more similar than you think. It’s only ever about loving the person in front of you.’  I was glad to hear that.  Most of the time, it takes everything I’ve got just to handle the political, economic and religious diversities of my own home and head, let alone the world.

A great many people more eloquent than I have shared their insights online.  I appreciate Anne Lamott’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartening reflections.  Vox has a great short video info graphic called Syria’s War  which visually illustrates some of the political factors in the middle east.  My friend Scott explains the psychology behind ‘Why We Care More about Paris’. 

As for me, I’m just trying to figure it all out.  On Friday afternoon, saddened and conflicted after hearing the news, I stepped outside and clipped back the French lavender and oregano on my deck. In a moment of mindfulness, I cupped my hands over my face, drinking in the heady scent of the season’s last blooms.  Then I came inside, listened to stories of my kid’s days, served up some chicken soup and hung a string of  christmas lights. I’m not sure I can do much besides that.

Carl Jung tells us, “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

I sure hope christmas lights count.

Good Morning!

coffeeSo here it is 4:57 am.  My circadian system got all excited with the light of dawn and the convention of robins outside my window sealed the deal. Early morning is my favourite time of day.  I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of the warmth and energy I find in that first gulp of coffee everyday.  Hello old friend.

I took a creative writing class last semester.  One of our assignments was poetry package, including a haiku.  You might remember from grade school that haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of three  stanzas arranged in syllables of 5, 7, 5. (I had to look that up, it’s been a long time.) Traditional haiku usually takes nature as its subject, but I rather prefer coffee.

Mid morning coffee

Percolating today’s plots

With cream and sugar.

‘Good one!’ my East Indian prof teaching an English class on Japanese poetry commented.  That encouraged me so much, I wrote him another one.

Spring! Spring! Spring! Spring! Spring!

Oh, would my five word exclaim

Extend your brief stay!

Unfortunately, my five word exclaim didn’t extend Spring’s brief stay.  Summer rushed in like a 300 pound line backer and crushed the poor thing. I love the idea of summer, but I’m just not a summer girl anymore. (Flip flops & dairy queen, however…) I think by the time we’re 55, we all deserve an indoor cooling system. And a pool. And a really good garden hose.  I have 2 of the 3.  But let me tell you about the garden hose.

I know it’s a bit peculiar to get so frothy about a garden hose, but my brother introduced me to the X hose a couple of years ago and we became fast friends.  What’s not to love about the world’s first and only expanding hose?!  Compact, lightweight, never kinks or tangles.  Just watch this clip, seriously.  You’ll thank my brother.

I went out with my x hose last night, as I do every evening, in the cool, dusky light.  I turned the nozzle to mist, and gave all my flowers a long, cool drink.  As I stood there watching the mist make little rainbows above the hydrangeas and roses, I let the mist fall all over me as well. This  reminded me of a story in Anne Lamott’s awesome book on writing, Bird by Bird.  

When Anne was a kid of about 8, she was in the kitchen with her aunt and cousins on a hot summer day. Her aunt and uncle had just divorced and the aunt was sad, worried and wounded, and had done a little retail therapy.  She’d bought an extravagant lemonade making contraption, with a special squeezer and holding tank on top. Anne writes,

“Of course it goes without saying that to make lemonade, all you need is a pitcher, a lemon juice squeezer, ice cubes, water, lemon and sugar.  That’s all.  Oh, and a long spoon.  But my aunt was a little depressed and this lemonade making thing must have seemed like something that would be fun, and would maybe hydrate her life a little, filling her desiccated spirit with nice, cool, sweet lemonade.”

Now it may not be a lemonade maker that hydrates your life, but I’m sure there’s something.  This summer, I’m hydrating with an online course on European history, a couple short family trips, a lot of good books, a little writing, coffee (hot in the morning, iced in the afternoon) and my x hose.

How will be you hydrating your life this summer?

Cathedrals of the Mind

My first semester as a full-time student is drawing to a swift close.  I’m not sure I’ve ever done something so challenging and personally gratifying.  Yesterday I was working in the kitchen, talking out loud to myself about the chronological order of Byzantine emperors. How strange this all still is.   When did i start talking to myself about Byzantine Emperors rather than home related projects, personal issues or worse, cancer?  It’s incredibly empowering to understand and own a new body of knowledge.

A few weeks ago I discovered that the white ceramic statue of an enormous hand making an A-OK sign in my living room, is a satire of the enormous hand of the statue of Constantine.  Before Constantine moved the centre of power from Rome to Byzantium in 326 ad, he built a 12 metre high statue of himself in Rome.  Once relocated to the new capital,  he erected a massive 50 metre high column, and in emperor like fashion, crowned it with another monument of himself and renamed the city Constantinople, after himself.  Slightly narcissistic in my opinion, but the implications of that move have changed the course of history.  To understand that and to recognize the significance of a piece of art I previously had no context for, is quite amazing to me.  Who am I becoming?

constantine collage
1. Fragments of Colossus of Constantine Statue 2. Close up of hand 3. Satire of hand

This morning I received the final exam study list for my art history class.  Ever had the feeling that the universe has unexpectedly smiled upon you?  Among the forty works of art and architecture on the list are the two emperors and architectural works I’ve spent the last two weeks composing a paper on!  What an unfamiliar form of excitement!  I really never expected, even as little as a year ago, to have arrived at this new place of mind.

I’ve been researching the history, art and architecture of the Hagia Sophia and the Pantheon these past weeks.  It’s hard to capture the magic of them without posting an entire research paper.  But to give you a brief idea, the Hagia Sophia is a cathedral in old Constantinople, current Istanbul, built on the poetry of light.  The Pantheon is a temple in Rome built on the often unrecognized beauty and symbolism of geometry.  Poetry and Math.  Are those not amazing concepts to build cathedrals and architecture upon?

Both of these buildings have long and tumultuous histories.  They were originally conceived by people who never lived to see their completion in their current forms.  Built and rebuilt on top of the same site, sometimes the original monuments were destroyed by fire, lightening, or had all their resplendent artistic fittings stolen by other governments. Sometimes entire cathedrals were seized by invaders and converted into the architecture of another culture, another religion.  And yet in spite of this, thousands of years later, they both still stand as a testament to the enduring power of an idea.

I feel enormously small in light of the world I’ve stepped into these past months.  But as my intellectual world has expanded, I’ve found myself almost unwittingly constructing new mental architecture, or my own cathedral of the mind.  It’s a heady experience, one I highly recommend.  It seems almost crazy to me now that formal education is viewed primarily as belonging to the ‘college age’ population of late teens and twenties.  Of course, it’s challenging to find time and to finance education later in life.  However, an older generation benefits equally from the intellectual engagement that comes with formal education.  In my experience, it’s promoted a sense of wellness, confidence and renewed wonder well worth its time and tuition price tag.

In the celebrated words of Nike (who was, by the way, a Greek goddess representing victory before the athletic company hijacked her persona) if you’re considering further education, “Just do it”.  There’s a cathedral of the mind awaiting.

(This post is dedicated to Scott, who is my major impetus in the discovery of cathedrals, both real and of the mind.  Thank you.)

All in how we see it…

I was planning an exuberant post today about how viewing even boring, mundane things, you know, like math and history, through the right lens can become magical and transporting.  I’ve learned these past weeks to appreciate the geometry of architecture and composition  and have been intrigued with historical politics as examined through the art perspective.

Except, I’ve reverted to the hate side of my bipolar relationship with my course after yesterday’s mid term. Today I never want to hear of another dead artist, pope or king again.   And here I was all set for a new profession as an art historian.

So for a change of pace – isn’t this an amazing picture of the sandstone in the Arizona Desert? It almost looks like someone’s taken a paintbrush to it, doesn’t it?

The  hematite, ilmenite, feldspar, amphibole and mica casting striated, multi-toned,  pink and coral  water coloured brush strokes in atmospheric perspective along the diagonal tranversal line reaching to the foreshortened stone a the front of the composition…

This could almost get me in interested in geology.

sandstone arizona desert