December 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
Coming home today when pulling into fulford harbour, you see a white capped Reginald hill, you’ve grown up with this harbour, with this ferry, how many trips back and forth did it carry you on over all the years of your youth?
Pulling into the dock, two swans glide over the water of the inlet and you watch them, wings spread, angelic, bow then land on a ripple in unison. Year in and year out, every season, they too are witness to the continuous story of home.
Your car is stuck in the snow today and so you take the public bus where you meet an old friend. In your mind flashes a memory of the piggy-back ride he gave you when you were 13 years old, playing in the yard at night, his parent’s party rauckous inside their tiny wooden cabin, aglow under the shadow of cedar trees and freshly sprung maples, a leering moon, translucent night, the last month of grade eight, cool, crisp, and clean darkness. Dew on the grass and your bare feet. Memories flash rapidly in and out of your mind as you speak to him, but you wouldn’t mention them now, on a public bus in the snow, or perhaps ever again.
Instead, you talk about your lack of employment, his property and failed marriage, the mortgage. Childhood flashes like a dream when you blink, as far away and as close as that night you spent together and all the others that you don’t remember. Where does your past end and his begin in a history shared so deep?
At Dukes Road, your gumbboots crunch onto fresh snow. This moment is so pristine, you think, realising that’s a word you have come to define as yet untouched by an LCD screen. You are stunned, humbled. Birds dart inches from your chest across this snowed-in narrow country road; it blends into the forest unifying the landscape. The snowfall drapes a stark white curtain behind a life you’ve too long missed out. You walk past hoof tracks where a deer has turned a concentric path and continued into the brush. The road is narrow and the trees are overhung, heavy with the weight of the snow. You notice the silence. What exactly has been hushed, you wonder, and where does silence go when the snow melts?
Walking home you feel something you haven’t felt in eons, and realise there are two of you these days, the one who came before, and the one who comes after. A journey back to nature is a long road, a relearning of a language you used to speak, though sometimes, it appears in a moment of grace when the snow falls.
When you arrive home, you notice there are tiny fragile bird tracks on your snowy doorstep and see how close life has been to you all this time. You want to stay outside forever, here, where the story of home is being told by a woodpecker high in the cedar trees and maples.
You notice that you’re not scared anymore of what’s outside – the cougar sighting last summer or getting lost in the forest is not nearly as frightening now as what is inside.
Of all the strategies to find a moment of sanity, none has been granted as easily as this: a sudden heap of heavy white. A moment trudged through a path without argument. Today, you don’t even call it a homecoming; you call it coming back to life.
March 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
I lay in the darkness listening to rain, thinking about a big wave that’s said to be travelling all the way from Japan to the shores around here. Suddenly, Japan doesn’t seem so far away, no longer just a point of reference on a map, but something alive and real across the ocean, something essential, like a heartbeat.
It’s my last week here in this little cabin. I lay in the darkness, a half-moon is covered by an overcast night sky, but a few minutes after I turn off the lights, lying in the total blackness, a glow illuminates the windows and skylight.
I am not alone. I know, for example, that in this moment, right now, there is a little brown bunny who lives under the cabin. I saw her yesterday, soft and swift, darting through the woodpile and into the darkness of the crawlspace. There’s a family of sparrows huddled into the rafters above my bed, I hear them coming home to nest at dusk, then, many hours later, I hear their ruffling feathers at dawn, taking flight into the light of the morning. A spider spins her winter web in a cozy corner of the cedar siding. I hear a heron who lives on this beach call out in the darkness, in the middle of the night, loud and prehistoric, from wherever she is nesting.
We’re in the darkness. We’re listening to the waves. And tonight, I take none of it for granted. Somehow, by some miracle beyond our understanding, we share this life.
We share this lifetime.
Each with our own knowledge and habits and preferences, we share this little cabin. We listen, in the darkness to these waves, and by an almost imperceptible glow of a hiding half-moon, we listen to the rain.
Suddenly, I feel as close to the bunny snuggled under the cabin as I’ve felt to anything. We share this sweet and gentle darkness, each with our own concerns. Each alone, but in the strangest way, together. We share a solitude without loneliness. We’ve acknowledged each other before on the driveway. Like indifferent acquaintances brushing shoulders in the grocery store isles, we’ve barely said hello. But tonight, for some reason, we’re very close. I think about her innocent desire just to survive and be happy here, to find some warmth and shelter, under this cabin. Her simple and noble wishes to stay safe and clean and to be organised, to find food that tastes good and water that is cold and fresh. Little bunny, we not only share a cabin and a lifetime, we share these common impulses.
It seems that every year for the past two years, around this time in March, I’m sent some kind of miraculous gift. Last year, I found a goddess statue buried in the mud at the beach. This year, I saw a perfect rainbow stretched right across the bay. We’ve called this Rainbow beach for years, and now I know why. Perhaps a sign the hardest months of winter are over. Perhaps a simple reminder that life is precious.
“I know that there are moments when you question who you are and that doubts seem overwhelming until you wish upon a star. You’ve forgotten why you’ve come, that there was an ancient call. You’ve covered up the memories that you’re here to nurture all. So I’m here as a reminder to help light the way, to reignite the truth within and this is what I say: You’re a lady, you’re a princess, you’re a goddess, you’re a queen, you’re the feminine expression of that which can’t be seen. You’re the answer to the question, How must love be revealed? You’re the vision of a world that is begging to be healed. You’re the beauty you’re the grace, you’re the lover, you’re the light. You’re the form of wholeness manifest revealing day and night. You’re the answer to the question: How must love be revealed? You’re the vision of a world that is begging to be healed. And I know that there are times when you want to lead the way, to peace in your surroundings otherwise you cannot stay. You’re remembering there’s a promise to make a difference in this life. The inner you is screaming it is time to release strife. So I’m here as a reminder to help light the way, to reignite the truth within and this is what I say: You’re a mother, you’re a daughter, you’re a wife, you’re a team, you’re the feminine expression of that which can’t be seen. You’re the answer to the question, How must love be revealed? You’re the vision of a world that is begging to be healed. You’re the leader, you’re the guide, you’re the healer, you’re the way, you’re the form of wholeness manifest, turning night into day. You’re the answer to the question How must love be revealed? You’re the vision of a world that is begging to be healed. So take the time to listen to the spirit that you are and open to the vision that you are a shining star. You must remember why you’ve come. Awaken that ancient call, open to the memory that you’re here to nurture all. Open to the memory that you’re here to nurture all. Remember who you are. Remember who you are”
February 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
I walked to town this morning, and found a page of Narcissus and Goldmund on the side of the road: “You are not a scholar, you are not a monk — scholars and monks can have a coarser grain. You think you’re not learned or logical or pious enough for me. On the contrary, you are not enough yourself.”
This finding was a timely one, as there has been so much reflection on the nature of the self these days. One thing that has incidentally sparked some interest on the island lately is the destruction of two old buildings in the village, which will be replaced by a much larger modern two-story complex that will house a clothing store. A few people gathered to protest the other day, and there have been lots of grumpy letters to the editor in our local weekly paper. The architect of the new project was quoted in one of the articles as saying, “after all this is a capitalist society,” meaning that even Salt Spring Island can’t and shouldn’t be exempt from what the wider world calls healthy evolution.
When you grow up in a small town, on a tiny island, the landscape takes on a lot of meaning. Living here, moving away, and returning periodically has been a continual process of letting go, and, as letting go often is, has been mostly painful. We get attached to buildings and landscapes: a special tree, the shape of a park, the bends of the harbour, the narrowness of a road. Even the human-made constructs become imbued with a familiarity and integrity that’s akin to nature itself. These are the places that hold our memories and bring our lives continuity.
As the landscape beings to change slowly over the years, and just like the cells of the body, is often completely regenerated as the decades pass, we may wake up one day and realise we are not in the same place we thought we were. It is through our encounters with our landscape that we remember who we are; sadly, all too often these days, we only remember what we have lost.
I think about the artists and dreamers who moved here decades ago, because it was remote and cheap to live, and because, I think, there is always a small percentage of the human population that is sensitive, reclusive, and needs the safety and protection of a beautiful place like this.
I remember a favorite saying of Leonard Cohen’s: “Being a poet is not a choice, it is a verdict.” I’ve started to think of Saltspring as the place where poets live out their life sentence, banished from what is, after all, “a capitalist society.”
The reality is that a changing landscape is also often reflective of a changing demographic. The buildings we live, work, and shop in are expressions of who we are, but we, in turn, are expressions of them. When our architecture becomes increasingly generic, what happens to the lives lived in and through those spaces? How do these rooms, walls, and constructs not only change the expressions of our lives, but also our memories and meanings of them?
I have a gut feeling that even in a capitalist society, people still long to be able to come home.
January 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
“We are so many selves. It’s not just the long-ago child within us who needs tenderness and inclusion, but the person we were last year, wanted to be yesterday, tried to become in one job or in one winter, in one love affair or in one house where even now, we can close our eyes and smell the rooms.” -Gloria Steinem
Being back on the Island and seeing old friends is helping me remember years gone by.
I have been thinking a little about the circumstances of my move to Montreal, way back in August 2000.
After living in Victoria for a few years a good friend of mine Katrina and I decided to make the big move east together. We had a huge garage sale in Victoria and sold most of our belongings before saying goodbye to boyfriends, roommates, and our families, and boarding an Air Canada flight on a one-way ticket.
We arrived mid august and started our hunt for an apartment, wandering all over the Plateau in the heavy and humid late-summer heat. We finally settled on a cheap ($625/month) three-bedroom top-floor walk-up way out in the east end of Sherbrooke Street, a run-down mostly francophone area on the very far outskirts of the Plateau Montreal. Our apartment was bohemian and romantic. It had an antique claw-foot tub, high ceilings, french doors, stained glass windows and skylights in most of the rooms, one directly over the bath. Though it was very run down, it was slathered in thick shiny white paint which gave a fresh and beautiful glow to the spacious rooms –perfect for aspiring artists. We felt like we had won the lottery when we stepped inside, and handed our new Hungarian landlord the first month’s rent in cash. My dad co-signed the lease for us that day. And our new home was born.
The first night we spent there in our empty Montreal five-and-a-half, we barely slept a wink because of the jarring noises of the traffic barrelling down the busy 4-lane Sherbrooke Street, the trucks might as well have been driving right through our living room. The heat was like nothing I had ever felt growing up in the breezy sea air of Canada’s west coast. Sweat dripped from our foreheads and stuck to our backs while the trucks and busses rattled the walls and our dusty turn-of-the-century window panes. The apartment was stark and empty, save a few bags full of clothes, photos and belongings we’d taken on the plane with us.
The next day, Katrina and I spotted some abandoned mattresses in the back alley behind our apartment (Yes!) and excitedly claimed them as our beds, hauling them up to the third floor, around the narrow bends of the dark stairwell — didn’t have to sleep on the floors anymore after that. Our bohemian, warm, Montreal, summer life evolved. School began, and then the weather turned to fall. It was a time of incredible growth, busyness and change, and an overwhelming sense of possibility.
About three weeks after school started, I got a phone message from a casual friend I knew who lived in Victoria. I knew right away there had been some kind of emergency.
The news I got that day was that my good friend’s seven-year-old son had died suddenly in Victoria the day before. This little boy had been a part of my extended family since his birth. The news completely devastated me, as it did everyone who knew this boy and his family- very dear friends of mine.
I remember waking up early in the morning, crawling into the antique clawfoot bath, looking out the skylight window at the sky and clouds and crying in disbelief.
It’s one thing to leave a place you love, with the idea of returning one day to a world that is unchanged; it’s another thing to realise that you will never see again someone who you love very deeply. The excitement and joy of setting up shop in Montreal co-existed with this parallel sense of tragedy and confusion. Sometimes we have to hold it all together by holding an almost scared space inside for both aspects of our circumstances, the losses and the possibilities.
This last year, I have decided to travel by train rather than fly, back and forth between the two ends of the country. I have been flying around for years, a practice that I find, for some reason, really emphasizes the distance and disparate nature of living outstretched across a huge country. I love to just sit on the train looking out the window at the countryside as it passes by. I love knowing that these two places that I have always seen as disjunctive have an actual continuity, that they are linked by a real, living landscape. This is integration: Joining two worlds into one whole life, where memories, not just landscapes, have a continuity and an integration also.
As one friend of mine who just stopped by the library today while I was writing this told me, “It’s very difficult to have two lovers. I’ve done it before and my life was a mess!”
What he meant was that when we live between two places, we might as well be juggling two lovers. In some senses, the lack of commitment makes things safer and easier. It’s so easy just to hover on the surface with the knowledge that when the going gets tough there is always somewhere else to go. And what happens if we just stay?
What if we didn’t only celebrate eating locally, but living and loving locally also? One thing I know for sure is that this is a beautiful place to eat, live and love, at least that’s what these Swans swimming in the Fulford Harbour told me earlier this week:
I have been reading the amazing writings of Buddhist Psychotherapist David Richo, who has some great insights on grief work and integration. I love this quote: “In this moment of serene compassion, I lay to rest any complaint, blame or regret. I say yes unconditionally to all the conditions under which I live. I appreciate them as providing just the lessons I need to learn. I feel affection for myself and for all those who walked the path with me. I allow myself to go on as of now, without fear or clinging to the past or to any of its seductions or distractions. I line up all that has happened and simply say ‘Oh, that happened. Now what?’ […] May I and all those I have known become enlightened because of all that we went through together.”
January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
I realised this morning that for most of my life up until now I have based my happiness on external circumstances. Isn’t this how happiness is defined for most people in the world? We are born and raised on a treadmill trying to secure an external world that will bring us to joy, fulfilment, pride, money – the essences of what we call success. When things go well, the result is a short-lived elation — until something goes wrong. When we finally succeed, having accomplished it all, there is still an uneasiness that lurks in the background: A nervous laugh, a sense of not deserving, a fear about the future, or maybe a stinginess that holds on to money just a little too tightly. Even when we’ve got it all, we have a hard time trusting that it will last. And then, when something goes wrong (news flash! Eventually, something always goes “wrong”), we’re spiralled back down to disappointment, burn-out or depression.
With this kind of mentality, the world becomes your very own personal bully who has put you on the treadmill running after love, approval, security and safety.
As a friend recently pointed out to me, we live at a time in history where the individual has been hijacked by a deeply-rooted fear and shame. This is the origin of all addictions. You’ll do just about anything not to confront those inner demons of unworthiness and fear of failure. People will lie, cheat, and sell their integrity to not to have to feel, grieve, or heal from the belief that we are not good enough. This is addiction and a compulsive disorder. You don’t need cigarettes, coffee (my personal favourite), or heroine to live out an addiction. Just jump on the treadmill and try to make your world perfect all the time. “You lose, but only always,” says one of my favourite teachers, Byron Katie.
The human ego oscillates between two polarities: “I’m not good enough,” and “I am entitled.” These two sides of the same illusion can be blamed for why the world is in the state that we find it in today. I am convinced that environmental desecration is but an outward manifestation of the modern human predicament. There is a dysfunctional belief that we can only be worthy, whole, safe and contented when our outer world has satisfied all of our desires — or worse yet, someone else’s desires! Eckhart Tolle calls this “madness.”
Did you even stop to think about what you actually want? What if there were another paradigm?
These days, living in my little cabin, I notice how hard nature can be. It’s cold and it’s dirty. There are insects around, some I’ve never seen before, and most I’d never care to meet again. There is wind and snow, pipes that freeze, a fire that needs to be constantly tended too. I wake up in the morning cold and miserable. And yet, as hard as it is, nature doesn’t tell you that you have to be perfect. Nature celebrates a truly incomprehensible diversity. Have you ever noticed that nature actually celebrates incompetence? Often times we even call it “beautiful.”
Take a look at this truly useless piece of art I stumbled upon at the beach:
Did you notice that you’ve never once been judged by nature? That you have always been perfect and immeasurable in its eyes? “No less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here,” says the poem Desiderata.
January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
“It’s not over until love happens.” Byron Katie.
The kindling needs to be chopped, the fire needs to be stoked. There’s no electric heat in here, and there’s a constant need to tend the fire, this little cabin’s only source of warmth.
There is something about the presence of a wood-burning stove to put the rest of life on hold.
These days I struggle with thoughts about justice, about how whatever was done wrong must be made right. I struggle with how to make my amends where they are due, with how to move with an open heart when before it was closed, with how to repair a heart that has been broken, and with how to open it when it remains as stuck as an oyster shell in the sand. I move towards forgiveness in this New Year, full of promise. I have the sense of a humanity moving towards a higher consciousness, and I see the proof all around me.
It’s easy (and often logical) to put the blame of our struggles on the shoulders of someone from our past. We want people to be accountable to us, we want our credit where it is due, we long to be affirmed through the actions of others that we matter. Some people wait their whole lives for restitution. Some people carve out a moment of every day imagining what their lives could have been had so-and-so never wronged them, never ignored their pain, never lied, never…
I say (if only a reminder to myself), in this incredible year, in this incredible life, we give up the need that people of our past understand, apologize, make it up to us, make it right, or give back what feels to be rightfully ours. It is, of course, always important to ask. Sometimes it comes through; at other times we can assume, most likely, it will never happen. What if we saw these people, not as wrong-doers, but as forces of nature, like a strong wind (or hurricane, depending on your circumstances), a flood, a bold of lightning, or a dog that bites? Some people are our very own natural disasters! (Lucky us!) Sometimes, let’s admit, we are that earthquake that others fear. Can you be a tidal pool when you are a tsunami? No one can.
Maybe these “forces of nature” are only messengers, asking us to become more accountable to ourselves, to love and respect ourselves more, and most of all, to know ourselves more deeply. Ancient Greek philosophers equated the very definition of loving someone with knowing someone. Knowledge and love were inseparable. Perhaps unconditional love and self knowledge are equally interdependent.
What compelled us to share that bottle of wine with a thunder storm? Are you still getting drunk with a hurricane? Forgiveness can only happen when our boundaries have been securely restored. Forgiveness happens from a place of safety and distance and repair. The next time you see those clouds on the horizon, don’t invite them in for tea. Forgive the storm when you’re no longer in it, don’t stand in the rain getting pummelled.
What if we stopped waiting for other people to make us whole? I say, in this year 2011, we shift the locus of power from the outside back inside, back into our own hearts. From this place we can open to a friendly universe and a natural justice that holds us beyond that which we can ever calculate. We open up to an abundance that is our birthright: What we are made for; what we are made of.
The tide rises and falls each day and there is nothing we can do about it. The weather moves from rain to snow to sun, and it’s all for us, we are a part of it, we are included. We’re on the guest list forever. Can you feel this moment? It’s the only restitution there ever is. The support of your back on the chair, your feet on the wood floor. It’s the generosity of a gentle, giving world that never gives up on us. How could we (and by we I mean I :)) have ever seen it otherwise? Are you humbled by the realisation of how much you are loved, in every second of every day, by the knowing that it has always been this way and always will be, and there is nothing –just like the tide- that you can ever do about it.
I return to my cabin from a few days in the city. Everything is exactly as I’ve left it, waiting for it knows-not-what – humble presence, simple and kind. My belongings — tea cups, pillows, tables, couches and bedding — like the sun and the moon and the sea are so unshakably loyal, faithful and trustworthy. They waited as the fire burned to embers and then ashes; waited as the heat slowly moved out through the cracks in the doors and windows, out through the un-insulated pan abode walls. They stuck around when freezing winds chilled the cabin completely. In their absence of judgement, they didn’t care or even notice. They are here until they’re not, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s only when I step through the door, and into this frosty cedar-smelling little house that my things seem to know they have a purpose beyond their inherent stillness and humility. They were waiting for me to come home — home to love.
* I want to thank and acknowledge Yaakov Rosenthal for the inspiration for many of the ideas in this post. http://www.yaakovrosenthal.com/
November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
It’s 6:15pm on a cold dreary and dark West-coast evening. I’m sitting at the Pacific Rails train depot in Vancouver waiting to board the train that will carry me across the country over the next four days.
My mom just dropped me off in her new white Westfalia camper van. The day after she got it, I asked her if she’d like to take it for a drive down through the Fulford valley in the South end of our Island to the picturesque Fulford harbour. I made a thermos of hot black tea with milk and off we went.
Forty-five minutes later we were pulling up to the sea-side road that hugs the shoreline. There were two young men fishing for salmon in the still harbour waters. BC salmon have come back to spawn in droves this year. There are more salmon in the waters than recorded since the turn of the 20th century. From where we were parked, we watched the small ferry, the Skeena Queen, rounding it’s peaceful way through the bay to dock on the other side of the harbour. Sometimes, though not on this particular afternoon, a family of white majestic swans come to feed in the blue harbour.
We opened wide the camper van doors, swivelled around the front seat and set up a little table. We watched the two fishermen in the water, wading in deep, casting their lines methodically then pulling them back. Thick salmon threw themselves into the air every once in a while, creating sharp ripples in the tide.
Sitting in the van like that the world outside became a stage.
Suddenly, a heavy salmon snagged one of the lines. One of the young fishermen tugged hard on the line with a wide smile. Slowly, he reeled the fish towards the shore. The fish was thrashing in the water, and it seemed to take forever to bring her to shore. “He’s playing him,” my mom said, watching the fisherman pulling on the line, gently reeling her forward. “It’s kind of sad, isn’t it.” I noticed a painful thought cut through the beauty: “How cruel this peaceful salmon trying to spawn in the nearby stream, so close to her goal, now has to be ripped out of the water by a hook in the mouth. What a drag.” I felt my heart sink a little, but tried to talk myself out of it. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I told myself. “He’ll have a fresh salmon on the barbecue this evening!” I thought back to some of the fun times I had spent fishing for trout with my cousins at Blackburn lake and snagging cod in the Cranberry Inlet when we were kids.
The fisherman brought the salmon to shore. My mom and I clapped and hollered from inside the van. It was a sight to be seen, the way he lifted the twisting slippery fish out of the water, held it in childlike amazement in the air for us to admire. His fishing partner took a photo and there was laughter all around.
And then, a few moments later, something unexpected happened. The fisherman quietly waded back into the bay with the big fish in his arms. He held the still salmon just under the surface of the water. “He’s putting her back?” I asked my mom. The fish floated to the top of the water and I was sure she had died. But then, after a few seconds, she began to sway her tail back and forth. Then she kicked fiercely, and off she went, into the deep, back towards the stream.
Today, driving into Vancouver with mom, sitting in the passenger seat of her shiny new van, I kept the memory of what we had watched from the same seats the day before. Because we were still in the van, our perfect afternoon, the beautiful harbour and the fisherman’s unexpected mercy, felt closer to me than the big-city lights and traffic we were now driving through on this rainy day. And I suddenly realised that travelling in a van is kind of like being in the world, but not of the world. Kind of like a spiritual goal in action.
June 3, 2010 § 2 Comments
I continue to ponder the Revolution from Within, that marvelous concept first coined in a book about self esteem by the pre-eminent feminist Gloria Steinem in the early ’90s.
This is a photo of my grandmother, taken a few days after her birth, in 1916.
When I look at this picture, I see a perfect and precious baby, whose life holds infinite potential. My just-birthed granny didn’t yet know, of course, that she had been born into a world where women didn’t have the right to vote; her mother had never cast a ballot, and wouldn’t have the right to for another four years. My granny, like all the little girls of her generation, was born into a world of limitations, through which she would have to navigate carefully to find happiness, safety and fulfilment. She wouldn’t have the right to an education, but would become a self-taught intellectual anyway, emboldening herself with her innate charm, wit and sharp mind. But her duty, like the duty of almost all women of her time, would be to live alongside and support her husband and children, a job she carried out meticulously her entire adult life. I’m sure it was hard for women of her generation to ask themselves what they wanted for their own lives, that kind of questioning lived outside the realm of the possible. I am sure though, that many women dared to dream in their secret lives, those dreams must have been fabulous and colourful visions, most we will never get know about.
Sometimes these days, at 93 years old, my granny wonders about the point of it all. In light of what women of her generation were told, that they would be evaluated and loved on the basis of what they gave to others, it seems only natural that she would question her right to life, in the face of the helplessness of old age. What she probably wasn’t told was that she was precious and worthy of love just because she exists, or that she had special gifts and talents the world needs. Here are a few of them:
As a child, I only ever saw my grandmother cry once. I remember her standing at the kitchen counter looking out her window to the ocean and an overcast sky, quiet tears running down her soft cheeks in the unlit room. She was crying because a neighbour had used a chain saw to cut down a special tree on her property, without her permission. I have no doubt her tears were for the beauty of the tree she loved, but also for the powerlessness she felt in her inability to defend and protect what was hers.
Growing up with my grandmother, she took great care for the animals in her life, anthropomorphizing them totally. Her seagull “Sam” dutifully waited for his daily feeding on her porch every day of my childhood. In fact, he’s still there, 30 years later, and my granny still feeds him. Every seagull who visits her for a feeding is named “Sam” and she loves them each with gentle and stoic fairness. At 93, she adores the eagles that come to nest in the spring on the fir trees surrounding her house; she loves the ocean and its inhabitants, the gentle heron who fish in the tides; and the busy hummingbirds she watches every day from the window by her bed.
This compassion, understanding and respect for animals and nature is where she has found connection to life, and something she passed down to everyone in her family. She has seen the massive destruction of the earth, which has taken place before her eyes for 93 years. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t inherited some of that sense of powerlessness too (despite all my relative freedoms and education), which has led to feelings of grief and then, when the grief has become unbearable, I have had to at times carry on with my life in denial, avoiding the pain of what is happening to our planet, consoling myself that all will be well.
Today I am in particular referring to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but the tears could just as easily be for any one of the environmental crises we are today faced with; and I am crying tears from a place that is both far away from me and deep inside. Living in the world these days often means grieving the loss of perfection, beauty, and possibility that was our birthright.
I grieve for the unconsciousness of the human condition of which we are all a part, hoping and praying that one day soon power might come to those whose only desire in the world is to love and protect it.
April 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
When my grandfather returned home to the West Coast of Canada from five years abroad during World War II he wrote in one of his most moving columns: “So began that most emotional of all the pleasures of travel – the homecoming – snaking through canyons touched with sunrise to the beckoning tidewater shore.
“Five years is a long time to have been away,” he wrote, “I felt a stranger in an alien land. […] You come back to a world where everyone who was near or dear to you has aged five years. Aged, you might say in one single instalment without the grace of gradual time payments.” Overseas, he’d learned to speak two new languages and had lived in three of the greatest cities of the world; but, he wrote wistfully, “when we had our first glimpse of salt water at Port Moody […] I never regretted for a moment that we were riding on a one-way ticket.”
In my life, there have rarely been one-way tickets. I grew up on Salt Spring Island and though 12 years have passed since I called that Island “home” I know that a part of me never left. It’s still my point of reference; it’s where I’m “from”. I’ve spent the last 10 years building a life for myself in Montreal, where I’ve grown up, put down roots, become familiar with every dusty corner and grassy green nook of this city. A one-way ticket? I wonder what that would feel like.
Montreal has been an ever changing adventure, and sometimes, though only fleetingly, it’s felt like “home”. Back on the West Coast, there are the memories of what a home once was, and there is my family, who I wish I could see more often than once or twice a year. But how can I call it home when half of my roots – my life – is in Montreal? Displacement is the modern predicament. The question is how to integrate a 5000 km divide.
Today in Montreal the leaves of sidewalk shrubs are unfurling a cosmic green unleashed from the beyond. It is Spring again. “Start again, I heard them say, don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be,” Leonard Cohen’s Anthem chimes in my thoughts. The question is where to unfurl fresh leaves in a new season.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sometimes felt lonely in this city over the years. It’s a place that challenges and pushes, and then occasionally offers so much goodness it overwhelms. I have lived in total abundance and gratitude here. But I remember once getting the flu with no one to take care of me, dragging myself teary-eyed and feverish to the depaneur for a carton of orange juice. Can these challenges exist in a place called home?
Montreal is an expanding nebula of potential and opportunity for an artist, and sometimes I’ve held onto that energy just long enough to call it my own. At other times, it’s felt like a potential out of reach, ever fleeting and dodging, tempting and sometimes betraying.
There are friends here I wonder how I would live without. There is a familiarity here that is my identity. And there is a potential here that is just so tempting and alive, something I still want to be a part of.
In the hero’s journey of archetypal mythology there is always a homecoming. A modern day parable is the student who goes off to university and returns home an educated adult. For me, the return just hasn’t happened yet. I know that all I can hope for now, having been gone 10 years, is an integration of two different worlds. And that’s the dilemma: wherever I put down roots means saying goodbye to some tangible parts of my past. Maybe it is true, as Thomas Wolfe claimed: “You can’t go home again.” But Maya Angelou has written that home is a place you can never leave, no matter where you are. So then the only question remaining is where to go from here.
Writing has helped me a lot over the last six months. Words have always been there for me to make sense of turbulent times. Once in the thick of post production, my notebook overflowing with “to do” lists, story outlines, phone numbers, budgets and time codes, I made space for the past and present in a poem:
A croissant in the morning
It’s snowing outside.
The moon hides behind snow
Waiting for a clear blue night
I let myself relax
like snow falls to snow,
good memories here.
A trampoline and raspberries
Now I’m under the cherry tree
I’m held in this warm cafe
What if every day was this?
March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
Something pretty amazing happened at the beach the other day! I was walking along Baker’s beach, a really sunny stretch of rocky shore that we call “the far shore” here on the Island. It’s a beach where my mom and her sisters grew up swimming, diving and clamming in the summers, just across the bay from my grandmother’s house. It was low tide and I decided to walk toward the canal down along the low-tide line. My feet were sinking into the wet, muddy sandy low-tide beach. I was stepping over barnacled rocks and dodging clams, when suddenly I came across this sculpture half buried in the muddy sand. It felt quite mystical to see this goddess-like carved stone figure suddenly revealed on the beach rising from the rocks and shells. When I saw it, I was stunned. It was a beautiful day at the beach, the late afternoon sun was warming the waters and a large, peaceful heron was silently fishing in the estuary where booth canal meets the sea. I reached down quickly, accepting this precious gift. A gift from the sea. What did it mean?
On a different note, this week I heard of the sad passing of Marcel Simard, a documentary filmmaker and producer who established a really impressive career through his company Production Virages in Montreal, which he founded back in 1985. It deeply saddens me that this “director, script writer, producer, husband, father and grandfather” took his own life, deciding to leave this world, which he must have been experiencing through unbearable pain over the last while. I didn’t know Mr. Simard, but I have been working in the documentary film industry in Montreal, as an “emerging” filmmaker for the past five years. I can say from my own few experiences that filmmaking, and the documentary genre in particular, is an extremely tough business to survive in emotionally and financially. It is difficult by its very nature. Filmmakers usually start out with a dream to connect a human story of deep importance to a larger audience. Often the story emerges from a place of insight and compassion, a desire to shed light, reveal, get inside an issue, and to – in some way, be it large or small- make a positive change in our world. The human qualities of sensitivity and compassion that are necessary to make a good film sometimes do not go hand in hand with the kind of character it takes to weather financial stresses, complicated team collaboration and the ethical responsibilities we take on when a living film subject offers up their lives to us. And yet this complicated set of responsibilities are all imperative to bring a film to completion. In addition to the struggles built into the journey, there is the added financial consideration of trying to scrape enough funding together to get the story made, and then -if we succeed in developing a successful company – we take on the responsibilities we have towards our staff and overhead costs.
Montreal’s “The hour” – a weekly entertainment newspaper describes a state of “growing cultural poverty, exposing how linchpin independent production companies like Simard’s Virage – which champion subjects and issues (gasp) over profitability – are in the process of disappearing.” Was Mr. Simard a victim of this growing “cultural poverty” and the changing nature of cultural funding across Canada? What this means is that even well-established and talented filmmakers are not safe in their careers. Mr. Simard was 64 years old when he committed suicide, he should have been planning his retirement and looking back on all his accomplishments, while mentoring a new wave of talented filmmakers. Instead, he was declaring bankruptcy. “…he’d put all his money from the sale of his house (on Champagneur street) into his production company last year, and a few days before he ended his life, had managed through painstaking labour and misery to reimburse – out of honour and solidarity – all the individual (DOPs, filmmakers, PR folks, etc) creditors,” wrote his friend Marquise Lepage in The Hour.
Hearing Mr. Simard’s story has validated some of the hard feelings I struggled with throughout the three-year process of making of my own film Taxi Casablanca. That impending sense of risk felt like it was part and parcel of the filmmaking process…
To be continued….