Untitled…

March 31, 2014

She sits , becalmed,

at first roll call.

One of expectant

recruits moored on hard stools.

 

“Ah, you have a dancer’s name!”

pronounces the teacher.

Her blood courses,

repeats,

“we’ll see…we’ll see”

steady laps on the shores

of possibility.

“There are many ways to dance.

Your purpose is to find the right

one for you.”

The teacher pauses

hands gently grasped,

sweeps beacon eyes

over a pulsing, breathing

eager flotilla -

first year dance students.

This koan, a bright beam to

summon while

the shoals of self-doubt

threaten a dancer’s purpose.

 

Her parents want

her to forget her need

to flow, surge, strain

to unite like water to shore,

bone, muscle and brain.

Yes, her Dad once said

in a fit of sarcasm

she could waltz about waiting

on tables, slinging hash, or

do a stately gavotte with a mop.

Mom weighed in with

the worst option.

“What if you end up a stripper?”

Memories like these need

bailing out like so much

nasty bilge water.

 

Isn’t a maiden voyage

meant to be a journey of

adventure, mishap, and surprise?

And, maybe disappointment?

Fussy, ingrate elderly…

March 16, 2014

Oh Joy! Some odd combination of words appear on my blog search terms.  “Fussy, ingrate elderly” can be plugged into Google and one is directed to my blog. This is downright weird, because I don’t like to think of myself as either fussy or ungrateful. Elderly yes, that designation is impossible to not accept. The evidence does not allow this.  The hair is shot through with white, the skin shows elephantine creasing and sagging, the voice emits wash-board harmonies, the cervical vertebrae squeak and scrape with bad horror-show door sound effects and the diminishing eyesight  helps me view the world, as if through a badly fogged wind-shield.

But fussy? Nah! Or, Maybe? Systematic in behaviour, perhaps.  We old people tend to be more careful in how we manoeuvre through the world. Step off a curb carefully – check. Always leave glasses within arm’s reach – check. Make sure dentures are in before going out – check. Look repeatedly in all directions before daring to cross a street – check. Read labels over carefully in the grocery store – check. In restaurants, read over menu  with an eye out for food easy to chew, not cause excessive flatulence or constipation – check. This cautiousness only demonstrates we are not in a terrific hurry, unlike younger folk.  There is a lot of tooth-gnashing and eye-rolling exasperation from witnesses who have not yet reached our advanced state of decrepitude. Think about this; what is there to be gained in rushing about? Oh, yes – a hum-dinger memorial service, and then, the Grave.

On the other hand, this extreme caution may have some elements of fussy  about it.  I mean, just because aged, one does not simply have diminished likes and dislikes, nor are these necessarily magnified. The only time we will cease to be not particular is when we no longer draw conscious breath. This condition is not age-related, but rather  universal with everyone equally afflicted. Why lob pot-shots at only the elderly.  We have not invented gluten intolerance, dislike of beans and broccoli, irritating loud sounds and long line-ups.

And what is this business about having to be grateful, constantly. Old people are just so thrilled to open their eyes one more morning, see the daylight, hear ambient sounds, be able to move about unassisted, have occasion to laugh, complain, assent, celebrate, regret, admire, touch and be touched. Permit us to be grateful and to be ingrates when occasions require, to be moody and be demanding if need be. After all the weather is, just is, in all its variability, as is being human.

Post-Apocalypse cooking…

March 6, 2014

Yesterday friend Bev and I traipsed downtown – she with her cane, and me with my rolling shopping cart – to partake of a celebratory lunch on occasion of her 76th birthday. Bev’s choice of restaurant was the newly opened Mongolian Grill at a local Mall. In our little municipality, currently in the throes of debating whether or not it might declare city status, there is a surfeit of Chinese, Sushi, Pizza and Burger restaurants, so dining out can be predictably boring, and less interesting than slinging the pots and pans at home concocting some unexpected meals. Thus the lure of novelty caused us some anticipation and promised a lift on an otherwise grey and dreary, overcast March day.

The restaurant was a typical mall frontage hole-in-the-wall, with bold signage outside and prosaic diner arrangement inside; a long counter holding a variety of food-stuffs to be selected from separated the food prep and eating areas. Not particularly redolent of a Mongolian experience, I thought, rather fancifully. The cooking arrangement fascinated me. It was a large round griddle, around which the “chef” ambled, stirring and turning over separate mounds of raw ingredients. It reminded me of sanitized indoor camp-fire cooking, free of the pesky odours of dried dung or wood fire, free of the bits of ash and cinders which inevitably land on food during outdoor cooking. So rather doubting that fermented mare’s milk might be on offer as drink of choice, I settled for a cup of hot water, and Bev, for a cup of tea.

The food portions seemed appropriate to the theme of Mongolian vittles, of what might be available to travellers on the Mongolian steppes – shaved meats, bits of a variety of vegetables, small clump of gluey rice.  Just the sort of stuff that the weary Mongol hordes might expect to prepare and eat whenever they rested in camp after their raids on far-flung villages, where, perhaps they were able to capture a stray sheep or goat, or a chicken or two, which had to be apportioned to feed a largish group. Of course, at the end of winter, they may not have had fresh cilantro, green onions or chile peppers with which to spice their daily rations. But here in North America, we can be pretend Mongol diners without fear of lacking any ingredients with which to tempt our palate. And, as an older women, we were grateful at not having to gather fuel, start and keep going a fire, kill, gut and clean a ptarmigan or goat, glean about the prairie for available green stuff to augment the meal. A fantasy, such as this is lovely to sustain, even briefly.

After lunch, Bev and I said our goodbyes, and I dragged my cart off to the supermarket to fill it with provisions. Standing among the array of vegetables displayed I had a flash of fancy that all of this bounty is illusory. What if those vegetable bins were suddenly empty? What could I glean on the way home with which to sustain myself? And if I were able to find the errant day-lily bulb in one of the municipal plantings, dig it up and proudly take home, how would I be able to process it via cooking if there was no fuel for my magical electric range? Would I resort to using a metal garbage can lid for a griddle, fuelled by twigs from my neighbour’s ornamental shrubs?

Of course, where I live, in a ten-story apartment block, neighbours are obsessed with pigeon populations roosting on the balconies. There is much neighbourly palaver and problem solving around the question of how to make the balconies unattractive to the pigeons.

Maybe there is another way to consider these birds. They are a post apocalyptic source of protein. The ingenuity people expend in trying to rid themselves of this nuisance, might well be turned to innovations on how to catch and cook them in the urban jungle.

I rather think this has been a good, if unexpected outcome of my Mongolian Grill feast with Bev.

No Mars trip for me, thank you…

January 14, 2014

Ah1 The lure of the exotic, the different.  Canadians want to travel to Mars, already. But why Mars?  Just because it is there? Why not the adventure down the nearby block, or alley, or path? There is enough strangeness, exoticism, difference close by. Why, the other day, as I was dragging my groceries home, my left elbow cramping, I stopped on the sidewalk and looked up, just because. The tree girdled by sidewalk concrete rose in its spiky wintery brushiness. Dark green-black speckled bark glistened with rain. A winter bleak sky as is only possible on the West coast of BC. A sleek crow busily fastened twigs into a rough area which on closer consideration appeared to be a rudimentary nest. It was joined by its mate, landing with economy and proffering another twig. The crows deliberated upon the placement of this fragment, seemed to be engaged in a telepathic discussion. The twig was added to the bristling mass, and they moved around in tandem inspecting. What a new and strange treat for me. A promise of spring continuity, of maybe a nestling soon to be observed.  Perhaps an occasion of observing flight lessons, of the cajoling that all parents implement in motivating their young. An opportunity to hear the sounds of crowish language, encouraging, prompting, cautioning.

Daily, I am reminded of the ubiquity of the uncanny, the novel, the never-before-experienced… and of joy in the present place.

New Year…

January 2, 2014

Di – di – daw, Dee Daw,

called the chickadee today.

A fine beginning.

The last occurrence…

December 30, 2013

Firsts are always to be celebrated.  Why is this so? The first time tasting an orange. Do you remember when this was for you? I do. It was in Genoa in 1956, at a dock market.  My anyu bought an orange which smelled of an improbable perfume. The skin was pebbly with pores, and smelled… unlike any other smell before encountered. Once opened, it tasted acid and sweet – a lovely taste to accompany a delicious scent. Fingers were sticky and tasty for a long time afterward. The scent lingered and I still remember it every time I open an orange.

This morning I selected an orange from my fruit bowl and looked it over carefully. It is a beautiful fruit, in season, perfect in its orangeness, its colour brightening an otherwise dreary winter morning. I scored it four times with my black paring knife, one which I obtained at little cost from a local hardware store, and which does daily yeoman service. I opened the skin in sections with my squared fingernails. The oil in the skin as it stretched spritzed onto my hands and made them both sticky and oily, releasing that smell of citrus which brings back old memories. After all, it was precisely on this day, fifty-seven years ago in Genoa I had experienced my first orange. How odd, how strange and fortuitous that the last occurrence mirrored the first. I sat on my couch and savoured each segment of today’s orange. Time collapsed, it ceased to have linear quality, as so often erroneously I consider it. This is very comforting. 

Ageing…

November 23, 2013

Brown eyes faded now,

The seen world obscured with age.

My green memories…

 

GM, November 2013

A November thought…

November 23, 2013

Leaves rest on pavement.

After a rainfall

Rusted leaf ghosts remain.

GM, November 2013

Seniors moving…

March 1, 2013

Two elderly acquaintences who live in my apartment building are moving to new places. The reasons for the move are finances and livability of their current digs. The apartments where we all live were initially affordable on seniors’ pensions, however our landlord has availed himself of the right to raise rents yearly, while not effecting necessary repairs to the building’s envelope, so leaky ceilings and mold growth in the units have been a chronic problem. As well, when appliances fail, repairs are not effected in timely fashion, or if the instruments can limp along working in some manner repairs are deemed superfluous.

The unit in which I have settled during the past two years and four months is leaking from the roof in three places (I am on the floor directly below the roof). Lately I have noted some dodgy types moving into the building – there is a lot of movement in and out. Drug deals outside our lobby have tended to become common; hookers regularly proposition visitors parking alongside the building. During the past year I have been reluctant to foray outside after dark, as I cannot drive due to vision problems and walking becomes problematic in the dark. I cannot discern clearly the nature of persons encountered on a dark street. Even though I have a hefty, gaudy painted wooden cane which I call my cudgel, I feel unsafe going anywhere at night. I realize this is why seniors tend to travel in packs; there is safety, of a sort, in numbers. But alas, no more Tango lessons for me!

One elderly friend moved today. I went over with a neighbour to her new apartment, subsidized, hence affordable, to help her stow her numerous belongings and create room for her to move about in. Her equally elderly Wheaton terrier, anxious and feeling displaced, dashed about underfoot as we unpacked boxes and moved furniture about to maximally utilize a dishearteningly scant space. This lady’s tiny new kitchen could not accommodate her necessities for cooking and eating well. Apparently senior persons are to exist primarily on either dog-food, canned food or toast and tea ( mind you there was no room whatsoever for a toaster even!) Well, seniors these days tend to be quite independent and high functioning, as is my friend at 75 years of age. However, notions about seniority tend to peg us at a monastic and dependent level. Naturally this varies from person to person, but longer life-expectancies seem to be a norm, and the prevalence of nuclear family units ensures that there are numerous older women outliving their mates, and these women cling fiercely to their independence, either out of necessity or because of their children leading busy and involved lives.

Anyone who has had to aid an elderly parent move from a long-inhabited family home knows how difficult it is for the one moving to let go of objects and equipment of either useful or sentimental value. My friend Bev( the 75 year old woman) had to move to an apartment which is 300 square feet smaller. She was unable to part with much, hence her new place is packed to the rafters and now she must go through the tough part of sorting through her stuff and making decisions as to what discard. Thus this move represents both a loss and gain for her. She seems up to the task, although she is anxious, uncomfortable, exhausted ad feeling completely dislocated.

The other elderly friend, Elaine, is in process of packing up her goods here. She is to vacate her apartment by the end of March. She is 78 years old and has little help from her son’s family in this move, beyond their removing the possession and transporting them to the new apartment. Obtaining packing boxes, packing and unpacking them is her lot for the next 30 days. She is disabled, has to use a walker, and these chores are exhausting for her. I have managed to have younger friends of mine bring about 10 cartons for her; my son will bring her empty boxes from our 75 year-old friend this coming Saturday (who is now pressured to empty boxes from her own move). Then when Elaine has finished her move at the end of March, she will pass all the empty boxes to me for filling. My move is to be at the end of April.

Meanwhile, I am divesting myself of appliances, utensils, books, clothes and other un-needed items, so that I can have a simpler move, and at the end of that a more pared down environment. It is challenging to tackle change; in truth change is a constant in life, and one must fully embrace it.
I like the challenge of reconfiguring my life for changing circumstances. I have the option of living well within my means, a bit leaner perhaps but with a degree of grace and comfort.

Having said all of the above, moving house as an older person is stressful, as at any other time of life. C’est la vie!

Legacy

January 16, 2013

A friend, someone for whom I have felt affection and whose bumping up against my life has left me with indelible marks, has chosen to end his life in early February, 2012. It has been so long since he left this vale to take up residence in one room of my memory house. He is there, along with other close friends who have died.

Some days, whenever my phone rings, I think of him calling on the spur of a moment to share an errant thought, happening or recent accomplishment. “Hey, G” he would announce, “get this!” But it never is he calling, nor will he ever again.

Often I amuse myself, recalling how, 16 years ago, when we were auditing a Contemporary Painting Course at a local University we would engage in a mad scramble to carry our piles of materials and equipment into the studio so we might be able to take possession of a choice piece of studio real estate. Because he had OCD tendencies, and really knew how to pack up stuff for easy and organized ferrying back and forth  I learned a lot to be less haphazard and more organized in my packing up for studio time. I cringe to think of he had disparaged, publicly to a studio full of young painters, my piggish painterly practices. Of course he did this in an amazingly witty fashion, so that rather than glower at him I would break out in fits of laughter.

I don’t think I will ever be able to sit through a Peter Greenaway movie without imagining him sitting nearby and saying, “Wait, lets replay this… and this…look… look!!!”

He left behind his wife and two grown boys.  They are devastated.

His older son went to Burning Man last summer where he created a shrine of his Father’s digital artwork, printed out and strung up like Buddhist prayer banners. These he burned.

Both sons have access to his files of visual work and writing. He did produce two books on Blurb.com, as well as hundreds of paintings and drawings.  He was a man of remarkable sensibility and aesthetic sense. I miss him.

Rest in Peace, Thomas Ziorjen, my friend.


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