A Sunday Afternoon Essay of Sorts…

My daughter and I stopped at the gas station yesterday for some Sunday afternoon treats. As she ran in, I sat in the car idly considering the strip of shaded yard behind the white concrete building. What else do you do waiting in a gas station parking lot but look around? It was a ‘nothing’ sort of space, a narrow fenced grassy stretch spiked with dandelions, stretching their heads toward the April sun. It seemed out of place beside the  industrial asphalt, gas and air pumps; a space used only by relieved station attendants, escaping for a quick, mid shift smoke.

As I continued to stare and wonder about the oddly placed yard, it suddenly transformed, in that strange way where two realities merge into one.  I was transported to my parent’s home on Lanark street in the early 60’s, to about four years old. From the wooden steps of our back door, past the blue rigid sided pool, stretching to the wildest edges of the back fence, my brother and I were monarchs of our childhood kingdom.  The grass there was also spiked with sunny yellow faces and fluffy heads of spent dandelions, poised to send their magic seeds into the wind.  We’d pluck them by their milky stalks, gathering them into bright bouquets, presenting them to our mom. She’d accept each bouquet as a treasured gift, displaying them in kitchen glasses until we’d forgotten about them. Even then, I somehow knew that dandelions were not roses.

I don’t often consider dandelions, except to bemoan their rapid reappearance on my own freshly cut lawn. Why is a dandelion considered a weed, anyways?  Is it a lesser flower than a rose?  A dandelion is magnificent in botanical analysis. Each spiky ‘petal’ of a dandelion is a flower in and of itself, collected into a composite flower head. Upon maturity, each floret transforms into a seed pod becoming part of a blowball. Anchored by wispy filament, the seed pod is able to parachute from the blowball, ensuring colonization of itself.

The milky substance found in the stem of a dandelion is natural latex. In Germany, Continental Tires is currently cultivating dandelion latex, piloting a line a dandelion tires, set to be tested on highways.  And let’s also remember dandelion wine, and that dandelion is an ingredient in root beer (‘root’ beer as in a beverage derived from roots, who knew?) and the dandelion’s edible, medicinal and pharmacological properties.  And that’s only the beginning.  You can deepen this magic via a quick wiki search of  Taraxacum.

***

I’ve been reading220px-Pilgrim-at-Tinker-Creek Annie Dillard’s  ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’  for months.  I’ve been equally absorbed and unable to bear any more ‘beauty tangled in rapture with violence‘ as Dillard recollects her year spent living in Virginia’s Roanocke Valley.  I can only describe Dillard’s writing  as reminiscent of a 1970’s acid trip, the kind where you stare in wonder at the previously undiscovered complexity, beauty and grisly dirtiness of the lines on the your palm of your hand. Tinker Creek explores pond slime and discarded snake skin, the luminescent segments of the back of a grasshopper, the roar of water off the slated mountains, the layers of life hidden in one square foot of soil beneath a sycamore tree,  the rush of time that comes toward us as waves and passes by us as particles. I’m boggled, enraptured then overcome. I read a chapter or so, then hide the book away in a box, attempting to contain the unleashed power of its narrative, wishing I could write  with half the drama and astonishment. But I’m not sure I could even bear to look so deeply at the world, for fear of falling forever down the rabbit hole.

***

I’ve been taking a course in academic writing this semester.  I thought at the beginning, that my general writing experience would translate easily into academic writing. I was woefully wrong. Academic writing is as different from blogging or creative writing as geometry is from free handing simple shapes. I’m out of my element, frustrated by the imposition of form, tradition, genre, lens and protocol. But I’ve been reminded as a result, of the lens from which we approach a question or topic. And how it shapes our investigations and conclusions.

My mother in law visited this weekend. At 84, she’s a still a gale force. Her lens is education, engagement and achievement; values she’s impressed upon  generations of family.  Others I’m close to view life through the evangelical lens, one they believe, encompasses all others.  As for my lens, it’s kaleidoscopic.  Arbitrary bits of inspiration and information collide into each other daily.  I can quite effortlessly weave together gas stations, childhood memories, latex tires, root beer, great books and academic writing courses in eight short paragraphs with no introduction, thesis, supporting evidence or conclusion. This is a rather under appreciated skill, especially in my writing class. 

Let me leave you with a link to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I suppose is the point of this ramble anyways.  If you find something noteworthy in the text, let me know. Perhaps we can discover some dandelions together.

Well hello again,

It’s been a while.  Been busy with a paper on the Goddess Venus, a bit of Spring sprucing and looking ahead to summer.  I have a full summer planned with a Creative Non-fiction Writing class, (travel! memoirs! personal essays!) a Children’s Literature class (Peter Pan! Anne of Green Gables! The Railway Children!) and either an Anthro or Community Arts project class.  Maybe take a real or imaginary journey or two once Spring really settles in. Isn’t Spring just lovely?

…Came the Spring with all its splendor,
All its birds and all its blossoms,
All its flowers and leaves and grasses…

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pop over and read all of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.  It’s lovely too.

came the spring

Photo Credits:  eiramis.tumblr.com

Late February Field Notes

I have the windows of my house flung wide today, letting in the scent of sunshine and Fraser Valley fertilizer.  Fertilizer aside, it’s been a pleasant afternoon of dumping rainwater from my empty garden urns, pulling last year’s dried stalks from the lavender plants and inspecting the new (early!) growth of my chives. Spring things are beginning to happen everywhere; my bridal wreath spirea is sprouting feathery red bits that will soon burst into the hazy white veil it takes its name from, my hydrangeas are budding leaf pods and the bare tree branches, if you look very hard, are noticeably pregnant, ready to deliver any day now.  I’m waiting for Spring with the anticipation and attention of a new mother. Spring, like the birth of new babies, just never gets old.

Last week I took a little imaginary trip to Latvia.  (Sorry, I went without you, it was quite unexpected.)  To be honest, Latvia has never been on my radar before.  Which is remiss of me, since its capital city, Riga, was the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Latvia is bordered by Estonia, Lithuania and Russia and is perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, (more romantically known as the Amber Sea) in case you’re scrambling to place it on your mental map. It’s also one of the best Eastern European budget travel destinations ~ with all the history, charm and incredible architecture one might expect of a European Capital of Culture.

latvia 2

But now that I’ve enticed you with Art Nouveau architecture and baby animals, let me show you the reason I ended up in Latvia in the first place. These girls!

girls 4

Oh, is there not something sublime about  girls in white dresses? (Can you hear strains from the Sound of Music? “Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes!”  Rodgers and Hammerstein must have been similarly inspired.)

girls 3

I chased their ethereal beauty to a Latvian luxury children’s clothing company, Aristocrat Kids,  whose handmade dresses are inspired by fairy tales.  This line is called A Royal Tale, featuring European vintage detailing and fine fabrics.  If that doesn’t quite capture your imagination, perhaps the Royal Garden or the Magic Bird collection might?

aristocrat_kids4

As lovely as those photographs are, I have mixed feelings about children in the fashion and entertainment industry.  I loathe to think the unpretentious innocence that so captivates us, may be lost to our adult commercial pursuits. I dug long and hard through photo archives to find kids who didn’t look like they were modelling.  I think that says something about the effect of projecting our fantasies upon kids. Beauty and privilege, even in story book form, shape our expectations of our lives and ourselves.

That said, I’m still rather a sucker for fantasy.  I’ve spent much of February on imaginary journeys to Suffolk,  St. Petersburg, Paris & Latvia, filling my house with blush tinged silk roses from the craft store and making a paper mache princess cat via an enchanted online class with the lovely Laetitia of Merveilles Enpapier.  I suppose there are worse ways to spend February than in fantasy land.

And now comes March.  An old friend and I, both who waited out the winter months in a fog of confused neurochemistry, wrote a little verse we’d chant in unison to encourage ourselves through to Spring.

“January! February! March! March! March!”

Keep marching.  Only 22 days, 12 hours and 55 minutes until the official start of Spring!

 

 

pengies

 

Photo Credits: Baby animals: casajacaranda.tumblr.com, www.wewomen.com, pixdaus.com, Architecture: Luigi Nasi, Aiga Redmane for Aristocrat Kids, Penguins: this-is-wild.tumblr.com

 

Oh January,

…with your wan light and heavy skies.  I’m thinking of making some potato salad and grilled hot dogs today just to mock you.  I’m done with the broken eave outside my bedroom window spilling its contents onto the cold concrete below like a westernized version of Chinese water torture. And with trying to warm my soul on hearty root vegetables and chai tea.  My pink and black hooded leopard print rain coat, the one that seemed so cheerfully suited to west coast winters, now hits me like a visual assault. Where are my flip flops?  Where is the sun? Where are the robins? Whence cometh Spring?! Continue reading “Oh January,”

Saturday evening…

 “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.”  Susan Sontag

I quite agree.  Interestingly, Sontag called this in 1997, long before we were broadcasting our daily lives on social media.  But I really love a rainy night, hot tea and tall white tapers every now and then.  You can find the rest of Susan Sontag’s  compelling article on Aesthetic Consumerism and the Violence of Photography here.   But don’t let it stop you.

now

Farewell Professor Snape…

Saddened today again at the passing of Professor Severus Snape.  I only knew Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, he was my favourite Harry Potter character.  My kids grew up on Harry Potter books and movies.  Just a little lighter than Lord of the Rings, but equally transporting.  Our actors, musicians, artists, writers, tell us truths about the world and ultimately ourselves, softened or sometimes sharpened, via story.  Even as adults we treasure our storytellers.  I suspect this may be why we feel their loss so keenly.

We had a brief snowfall recently.  I watched the flakes outside my window, light ones drifting haphazardly toward the ground, almost dancing; others larger and heavier, less able to resist the pull of gravity.   The entire skyscape was spotted with snowflakes of different sizes, weights, designs, falling at different speeds.  Because I’m a little melancholy by nature,  I imagined each snowflake as a life.  As all of the lives of all of the people who have ever inhabited this planet, every century of people in history. I wanted to yell, “STOP!” and suspend the whole picture, freeze frame us all forever…

Farewell Professor Snape, Alan Rickman.  It’s been a sad week for British artists.

ALAN RICKMAN as Severus Snape in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”  PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION

 

Farewell Thin White Duke…

My heart seized a little this morning at the news of David Bowie’s passing.  It’s kind of silly how you can miss someone you’ve never known and haven’t even really thought of in a while. Suddenly every Bowie song of my adolescence was replaying in my head. I was there, floating in my tin can with Major Tom at the launch of Apollo 11.  I saw Mary Lou Parkinson and myself in her bedroom belting out “Rebel, Rebel you tore your dress!” before we even knew what a quaalude was.  My melancholic teenage heart resonated with “Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes!”  Strange fascination, fascinating me was right up my alley.  Old songs are bittersweet things, aren’t they?

I think there must be something deeper, more personally existential that we feel when a pop icon dies.  Some part of us dies also.  It’s a swift, unwelcome reminder of the transience of all human life. When I was about eighteen, I recall my dad in his green brocade recliner in our living room, quietly mourning the passing of a movie personality.  I didn’t get why he even cared.  I get it now.

I’m back studying art history this fall, taking a class on Gender, Art and Society.  It always amazes me how much I don’t know that I don’t know.  I hadn’t really even considered questions of gender upon art, besides the obvious historical lack of attention to female artists.  But gender in art is a big topic, one that Bowie was among the first to challenge. His flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust paved the way not only for performance art, but also for more wide-spread acceptance of sexual fluidity.

My kids don’t know who Bowie is or the impact he’s had on music, performance art and culture. He’s been called a genius and a visionary and perhaps rightly so.  We can thank him for glam rock, New Romanticismfor pioneering rock video, for marrying theater and popular music, for ushering in punk, for making androgyny acceptable.  I can’t help but think that music might look very different without his influence.

UK artist Helen Green paid creative homage to five decades of Bowie’s chameleon like transformations in her beautiful animated gif.  I always appreciate when art inspires art. It helps us all live on.

 

Hello 2016…

Woke this first day of January to the bright singing of birds outside my bedroom window. “How fitting for robins to ring in the New Year!” I mused, passing over the crest of consciousness.  Then realized the opening song of 2016 was actually the whistling of my nose.

It’s been a lovely holiday season this year.  On Christmas Eve, I watched my oldest daughter’s engagement proposal unfold in my living room.  He dropped to one knee declaring his love, asking for her hand.  “Yes! yes!’  she nodded silently as he slipped the ring onto her finger.  I sat there bawling, amazed and honored to be privy to this tender, hope filled moment.  The next day, my oldest son, who’s been teaching English in Korea for nearly two years, arrived home for Christmas. We’ve talked via Facetime every week since he left on his grand adventure but nothing compares to that first warm moment of spotting each other in person.  We returned from the airport to the best celebration ever;  all five kids home, a new fiancée and boyfriend at the table for dinner, hilarity, flying wrapping paper, inevitable bugging.  It was the stuff Christmas movies are made of, it still makes my nose whistle.

As usual, I’m opening the new year reflecting on the one past.  Twenty fifteen saw us through many things, both wonderful and terrifying.  I became a full-time student and went on an Art and Culture tour  with my university to Berlin.  The summer of 2015 was tumultuous with my oldest daughter’s health issue.  How fortunate that we were near a world class PE and Thrombosis centre when she became ill. One of my sons survived a potentially fatal tractor accident on the golf course greens he maintained.  My youngest daughter started her first full-time job, my oldest son renewed his teaching contract overseas, my youngest son is looking into studying abroad again.  The pendulum never stops swinging. As they say, the only thing constant is change.

I’m not big on marking the new year with resolutions or defining words and yet find myself thinking on a few anyways.  I think it was Charles Darwin who said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.”  Darwin of course, was referring to the evolution of species, but adaptability to change is equally important in our psychological lives.  Buddhists call this ability to roll with the punches acceptance or non attachment.  Call it what you want ~ I want it.  I’ve also been thinking about emotional buoyancy.  I thought I made up an awesome new term, but I just googled it and found this serendipitous quote:

quoteup2
Now that I’m in advanced middle-age [58 years old] I’ve discovered a certain buoyancy. Life weighs heavily upon one’s shoulders, but then you find that, with a certain kind of shrug, it will just lift off for a moment or two.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

I’ve always liked Leonard’s gritty forthrightness. So in spite of myself, here I am with two words for 2016 ~ adaptability and buoyancy. Maybe I’ll change them to something else next week, or forget them altogether, but for now, I guess they’re as good as any.

Happy 2016.  May your nose whistle and your spirit be buoyant.

 

 

Monday Evening…

So here it is, my last night in the city.  I’m sitting in the garden, a glass of sparkling rose in hand, peppered salmon and basmati rice waiting to be heated.  It’s been a lovely four-day retreat from everyday life; early morning coffees, a trip to Granville Island and the Steveston dock,  a tour through Shaughnessy to ogle mansions, lots of time to ponder, contemplate and dream.

And oh, amazing food ~ chocolate crusted cheesecake piled high with blueberries and whipped cream, Hagen Das ice cream bars,  crusty bread and Tillamook cheese, garlic prawns drenched in butter, spicy Mexican soup with cilantro, roasted corn and black beans… I’ve read for hours, polished my toes, watched four movies, a few historical documentaries and written to my heart’s content.  I am nothing if not satiated.

It’s easy to forget how important it is to make time every now and then to refresh. Sometimes just getting out the front door is the hardest part, those loose ends and unfinished tasks nipping at our ankles as we try to leave. Even though my family is well able to take care of themselves now, I still have to shake off mild pangs of guilt and separation as I go.  That mother thing runs deep.

But it was good to peer through the window of the Arts Club Production Centre at the theatre props; bicycles, hoses, globes, couches, rope ~ the tools of imagination!  Almost more exciting than seeing an actual production. Or to gaze at the lofted ceilings of Emily Carr University and contemplate the Mixtape (black holes, trauma and leather) exhibition ~ “What exactly does that black hole mean?” Just seeing the artful displays of fruit and pastry at the Granville Island Market gave something back to me that I didn’t even know was missing.

I’m thinking it might not be too indulgent to plan a regular monthly getaway. Ideally an overnight but at least a day. I’m going to take seriously Anne Lamott’s observation on ‘hydrating our lives’.   I’m heading back to the valley tomorrow with my city girl roots deeply watered.

And next month is only three days away.