Archive for October, 2007


October 29, 2007

Is whining good for the soul, or is it just a waste of psychic energy? When a particular whine is repeated, just as laundry and constant dishwashing is repeated, it becomes tedious for the whiner and the recipients of said communication.

At the risk of sounding whiny, I’m going to complain about the lack of construction noise this morning. Here I have been up, dressed and swilling coffee for the past hour, up at a crazy hour just to enjoy blessed quiet, and mentally gearing myself up for the resumption of expected beeping, banging, grinding, shaking from the road crews at 7 am. So, they’re not here yet. It’s Monday morning and these men and machines are shirking their duty. Are they sleeping in? Are they procrastinating, standing around their vehicles at the local gas station, their morning joe in paper cups gripped in their hands, dragging out the time when they have to submit themselves to another day of assault on their and other’s senses?

This doesn’t sound at all whine-worthy. Maybe I am losing my mind.

I will post intermittently in the month of November. However, my morning habit of catching up with my favourite bloggers will sustain me: through a maybe operation of my eye, any day now; planning an anniversary party for Renaissance Man and his wife, Glasgow Girl;  going on a brief romantic Armistice Day weekend holiday with Rumpole to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary; and submitting myself to the crazy NaNoWriMo, 50,000word draft writing of purple prose pulp fiction – The Completer Set.

Whine – “I must be completely nuts!”

I will post from time to time to bitch and whine (and celebrate) and refresh my crazy self with the bon mots from my favourite blogs.  Happy November!!!!!


October 26, 2007

This morning we woke to infernal grindings and bangings. Machinery howled outside, nearby. The house shook on its foundation. The floors trembled, the dishes in the sideboard set up a symphony of silvery tinkling. The General streaked by my feet in a panic and ran from room to room seeking shelter from the dangers posed by this unexplainable noise. Wrapping my fuzzy bathrobe around my girth, I staggered from window to window, seeking out the source for our rude awakening. Out on the street a long-armed mechanical monster sawed at the concrete roadway. It made repeated passes, howling in protest against resistance from the hardened surface.

Rumpole emerged from the bedroom. “What’s going on?” he croaked. “Coffee, I need coffee!” He made his way from room to room and to suss out where the noises were coming from. Meanwhile I set up the coffee-maker. As we were waiting for the coffee to drip through we leaned over the sink to look at all the bustle outside. Trucks beeped as they backed up to loaders. The concrete saw progressed toward the corner by increments followed by a machine that pounded the sliced pavement into rubble. Under us the floor shook. The General whizzed by our ankles as he made a mad dash for the safety of the bedroom .

Rumpole poured himself a cup. He looked rumpled and bleary eyed. “What’s the progress on the hedge?”he asked. “Are you sending Bob to get the little shrubs from Pickett’s today?” We discussed the uselessness of going through with the insurance claim. The deductible is an obscene amount. Being somewhat of an instant gratification kind of guy, Rumpole expressed that he prefers the hedge to return to instant normalcy, as if it had never been damaged. We debated the wisdom of this. I pointed it out to him that we were going to be in this house until we were carried out feet first, so we did have the time to let cedar seedlings take their time to grow. “What’s the rush?” I put to him. He capitulated to my reasonings. I can be persuasive, when motivated. Also stubborn in getting my own way.

As Rumpole left the house, he wondered aloud if it would take him a long time to get out of our driveway. I watched for a while as he approached the workmen near our lawn to ask for help in leaving. Then he sat for a long time in the car, waiting to be given the go. He is not a patient fellow, so I was very impressed with his calm demeanor while waiting. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so impressed. What choice did he have anyway?

After a longish idle in the driveway, he drove off, dodging heavy equipment. I sat at the kitchen table, nursed my cup and let my mind wander.

Today, By-Line Woman is one day post-op. She had her first shoulder-replacement yesterday. This is a repair to help ease her constant pain and inability to use her arm to do all manner of chores. She should be back home by this evening. Will her pain be managed well? It’s frustrating to realize that I cannot help her in practical ways. On the other hand, she does have a close and helpful family, and they will be doing everything to ease her healing time.

This evening Obsessive/Compulsive Shopaholic and her mate Prissy German Tourist are arriving to spent the weekend with us. OCS had an accident at work a couple of weeks ago. She fell into a three-foot hole in the floor of the copy room at the new building to which her nursing unit was moved. She cracked four ribs, sprained her ankle and was concussed. These days, she no longer has to use a walker to get about, and has stopped howling in pain. So, she is bored and needing entertainment. I guess this is best provided by visiting friends. Anyway, I am happy to see them both, to get caught up on their trials and tribulations of nudging their growing sons into adulthood. Maybe help the healing process by providing opportunity for laughter, kvetching,eating curry and watching a video together. I can bug PGT about getting his act together and sending his digital images to the LA gallery which wants to show his work. He needs encouragement, pats, maybe some strong language to convince him that he should risk exposure.

Bob plans to fill the gaps in the hedge tomorrow. I am waiting to hear from the retinologist on Monday to give me a date for the operation to put a new lens in my left eye.  This repair will much improve life for me. It promises me a return to  a semblance of independence.

This confluence of occasions for repair amazes me. Life is like that. 

An insurance claim…

October 22, 2007

Life in suburbia can be so surprising. Yesterday morning, when Kay from next door came over for a coffee break, as she came in the front door she said, “G, take a look at your hedge.” So, poking my head out the front door, I took a look. There was a gap in the hedge, five cedars worth. It looked like the gumline of an aging derelict. The downed cedars lay crushed inward on what passes for our lawn. I called Rumpole out to look.

“A hit and run, fly-by-night kind of thing, ” he announced, “it must have been some drunk”.

“Yeah,” I grumbled, ” whoever it was sure took the corner early, like 20 feet early.”

Kay says, wisely “you need to put some great massive boulders out there. That might save your cedars and give injury to sloppy drivers’ cars.” Sure, and look like we have landscaping a la Flintstones, I’m thinking. What we need is a suburban fortification? A neighbour a block away has a course of huge rocks lining the edge of his property. Every time I walked by with the dogs it would not have surprised me to see a TV shoot for the original Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Bones huddled fearful behind a boulder, requesting Scotty to beam them up to the Enterprise. It is that kind of cheesy effect that one might like not to emulate on a suburban plot. Rumpole likes the idea of rubble out front. But over my dead old body will this happen!

Once back inside, Rumpole leaves it up to me to problem-o-solve. As he maintains “I do Law, you do House.” I search out Bob’s phone number from the side of the fridge.  Bob does the yearly cut of our vigorous hedges, and has done so since Rumpole ended up in Emergency after tackling the hedge trimming with his brand new electric hedge-clippers a couple of years back. Bob is very efficient and not nearly so dramatic as Rumpole at carrying out this task.

As Kay and Rumpole sit and drink their libations, I phone Bob.

“Is it an insurance claim?” he asks. What, for a hedge, is he kidding? I’m thinking. He arranges to come over next day to quote on the replacement of the missing cedars.

I mention the possibility of an insurance claim to Rumpole and Kay. We sit around sipping coffee and scratching our heads. Hit and run hedge killing? Seems a bit far-fetched. We go on to discuss more interesting things.

Later in the evening Dry Sherry calls. She has now a permanent job at the big Gallery as an animateur. Happy with this posting. I pass on to her Martha’s compliments on how well she led a group of high school teachers through the latest exhibition on a workshop. DS is glad of positive feedback. We talk about how difficult it is for DS to continue to train her horse for dressage competitions, now that she is working full time. For some strange reason I bring up the downed cedars and just how irritated I am at this turn of events.

“You have an ICBC insurance claim”, she says. ” My father-in-law, just down the street from you regularly has to replace parts of his hedge. When drivers lose control of their cars over the bridge before his property in the wintertime, he has the same dilemma. Make your claim through ICBC.”

The penny dropped. After I ended the call with Dry Sherry, I mentioned the possibility to Rumpole in his den. We kind of gazed at each other, somewhat stupefied. We can do this? It seems so frivolous an action. We finally crunch numbers on the cost of replacing the cedars and determine since our insurance costs are so high we may as well make use of them somehow. Still, it seems somewhat an odd claim.

Today I phoned ICBC. It is not such a simple matter as talking directly to an insurance adjustor. You call, get put on hold to listen to Wayne Newton crooning “Feelings”, then some other elevator music for about a half an hour until “Thank you for continuing to hold. Our operator will be shortly with you” is announced, and you hold onto the phone with a death grip, waiting and waiting. When you “do house” and arrange for help for anything, you tend to do a lot of this holding for the next operator.

The Adjustor finally comes on line. “Have you callled the police?” he asks.

“The only living thing that died was a number of hedging cedars. Do the Police care about this?” I ask.

“Madam, we will determine whether you will need to call the police.” he replies. What? What? Do the police really have time for this, I’m thinking?

So the upshot is, later this week an adjustor will come out to take pictures of our downed cedars, make or not make a suggestion to have the police involved in a drive-by cedar downing. The whole thing is ridiculous. Surely there are better ways to spend one’s time than on something this frivolous. I mean it’s just a bloody hedge.

I am really having a hard time with this. In suburbia, one does what is required to keep up appearances, and has an insurance claim to be able to do so.  There are people who cannot afford medical insurance. I feel as if we exist in some weird dream world with skewed priorities that make no sense.

The Drip…

October 20, 2007

Where is my mother, just when we need her to be here with a dish-towel in hand, lurking behind painters, ready to pounce and wipe, whenever drips course down paintings in progress?

Scenario: On the patio, I have set up my easel, canvas, buckets of water, upturned plant pots to serve as places to rest   paint tubes, brushes, rags, the ubiquitous cup of cold coffee, my ashtray and other necessities for painting uninterrupted for a morning. Mother materializes, unannounced and unexpected, at the corner of the house near the garden gate.

“Hi!” she says, “what are you doing this morning? I just thought to drop by and visit you.” ( She lives three miles away, and has walked the distance without calling ahead!)

“Oh, I’m painting this morning. Gotta get this painting off to a good start. Grab a coffee and come sit,” I suggest, meanwhile trying to contain my irritation with this unwelcome interruption.

I mix a good quantity of fluid acrylic, start to lay in divisions , forms and tonal areas.  Mother comes out the patio door, and, heaving a showy sigh, arranges herself in a nearby rickety lawnchair, in the shade of the roof overhang. She watches in silence for a while, then goes back inside. I carry on laying in broad marks on the canvas, change my mind, wipe out and resume building the understructure. A workable design begins to emerge. Also does mother, back on the patio again, toting a dish-towel. With noisy ceremony she resumes her perch on the lawn chair and mutters, “oh dear”.

“What? What?” I ask, gritting my teeth.

“You are making such a mess of that painting,” she grouses. “look at all those drips!” She leaps us from her seat and advances with the dish-towel clenched in her hand. Elbows me aside. Begins to carefully wipe all areas on the canvas where drips are coursing down.

I am stunned into silence, then into a realization that the poor dear is merely trying to save me from that dreadful painterly cliche – drips. On the other hand, maybe she is merely keeping up her practice of tidying me and my messes. Whatever! I start to giggle and snort, not only because this is so funny a situation, but also to hide my mounting frustration.

So where was Mother, or her spirit, when the numerous painters in last night’s art opening were in the midst of their painterly labours creating cliche after painterly cliche. And not just of technique, full of drips and artful ‘fuzzification’, but also of flourishes of brush which hid their inability to draw believable forms. Then of course, one must also not mention the pot-boiler character of the images, the flabby landscapes, romantic strollers on the beach, and unremarkable still lifes of wine bottle, wine glass and flowers in a vase.

I guess, because so many drips were left frozen in spot alongside attempts at bravura brushwork, so that paintings looked as if done in a fit of painterly passion and urgency, these paintings would be elevated from “bad” Impressionist paintings to “contemporary” Impressionist ones. The original Impressionists must be rotating in their graves!

Martha and I attended this opening. Rumpole declined to accompany us tonight. There was a good crowd sipping wine, eating canapes, gawking and chatting. A good deal of reverence emanated from the crowd.  After all, the venue was the lounge of a golf course club-house, quite toney.

I crept around the perimeter of the show with my nose near the paintings. Martha schmoozed. The work of eight painters was on show, but damn me, with a couple of exceptions, most of the paintings might have been done by one person. It felt a bit like landing in an exhibition and sale of the kind of work made by a painting mill. One where one person painted skies, then passed off the canvas to the next guy for him/her to paint the trees, and so on.

I grabbed a brochure to see what was up. Of course, this was all from a studio of acolytes and hangers on of a Luminary of contemporary Impressionism. Yes, Luminary was capitalized. The brochure was full of bad grammar, hyperbole and reverent mention of the influence of Pino and Nikolai Fechin. The name of Monet, if not the spirit, was invoked. Ah, so!

When we got back to my house, Rumpole poured us a cup of coffee. “So, how was the show?”he asked innocently.

“It was very well attended” announced Martha.

‘Lots of artful drips” I added, “but they could sure have used Mother and the dish-towel to sop up some of the excesses.”

Dismantling, moving on, leaving…

October 17, 2007

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented and somewhat surprised that I was in my bed rather than out on the lawn surrounded by piles of my possessions. You see, there was a lingering image, much like a fading black and white photograph, of us standing proudly in front of a mountain of stuff stacked higgledy-piggledy. All of a sudden memory flashbacked to a photo with deckle edges, of Mother and Father, arm in arm, standing beside the family DKW. Father had rested his  possessive hand on the hood of the car. My dream photograph had that same quality – of pride of possession.

A good friend has been recently moving her worldly possessions from a house she shared with her mother into her newly bought home. Not only had she to move thirty years worth of art production, archived so carefully, but also to dismantle her Mother’s estate, disperse her goods among siblings, clear out the house and sell it off. Her Mother had died, leaving behind a lifetime of memories and accumulations. It has been a Protean physical and emotional labour for my friend to move on. And still her work continues.  Will she come out at the other end of this work a new butterfly out of its crysalis? I like to think so.

I think back on the difficult relationship I have had with stuff most of my life. This may be rooted, perhaps, in having to leave a life and all of its trappings behind at the age of ten. There a sudden truth was revealed – stuff is stuff, necessary but also an impediment, much of it superfluous and yet so much of how we position our worth in society depends on this collection. And at the end of a life, it is left behind to be dispersed. No more important really than the leaves we rake together into a pile at the end of Fall.

Maybe this attitude explains my penchant for giving things away if people indicate they are partial to them. I remember a student back in 1983 who expressed shock and surprise after I gave her a drawing of mine she was especially interested in. It was a drawing into which I had invested heart and soul in the doing and making of. This student was not one of my favourite ones. She was difficult, obstructive and unco-operative in class. Yet she had a special spark and curiosity, a lust for living. She constantly asked pointed questions. She asked the right questions about the drawing and thus it needed to go to her. She may or may not still have it. That is not important.  The drawing served its purpose for both of us, for me in the making and for her, in the contemplation of it.

I am sitting here, sipping the morning cup, thinking of how to divest myself of this mountain of stuff. I have to clear house, and move on to leave space for further experiences. The material weighs me down.

The Blackamoor in the bathroom…

October 11, 2007

As  a young child I was generally unafraid of the dark and of night. My older sister Ildiko and I shared a room, somewhat large, where we slept at night in a trundle bed that rolled out into separate sleeping pallets. During the day, this arrangement reverted to a day-bed. The grand piano hulked beside this. It made a perfect diving board from which to play swimming pool whenever our friends came to play. Naturally whenever we played swimming pool, Anyu was busy out in the kitchen or handwashing our laundry on the back balcony. Ildiko finally told on us. She always sought to separate herself from naughty activities in which I gleefully partook (and most likely instigated). She was the family’s good girl; my role was that of the bad girl. I didn’t mind this too much as it seemed Ildiko enjoyed  life a lot less.

Ildiko was an anxious, nervous young girl. At night, when I was hunkered down in my blankets drifting into sleep, she would hiss in the darkness. “Quick, look toward the piano, something is moving there!”

Annoyed, I sat up in bed and looked. It was dark, a faint light filtered in through the lace curtains and highlighted a chair draped in our clothes. “It’s just the chair, see? Now let me go to sleep ” I reassured her.

Ildiko was always fearful that something terrible would happen, some unforseen disaster or punishment for an imagined wrong-doing. She was especially in her frightened glory when we visited Nagyanyu and Dedike in Budapest. There was a Blackamoor Anyu called Dezso in the bathroom. This bathroom was closet sized, without windows to the outside. It had black and white tiles on the floor and intricate pressed white tiles on the walls. The light switch was on the outside beside the door-post.

Dezso hulked in the corner, black as sin. He was an ebony sculpture almost as tall as I was then. He wore a white turban of enamelled wood. His eyes were wide open and fierce. The whites of his eyes were inlaid ivory, as were the large teeth in his leering, grinning mouth. His muscled arms were raised at chest height, hands to elbows, and here the bath towels were draped. His massive powerfully-muscled chest rose from a plinth. (I now know what this kind of sculpture is called – a herm.) He looked like I imagined the genie rising from the bottle to look, legless, hovering with a glamorous, dangerous power.

Ildiko never wanted to go to the bathroom alone, and made me go with her to stand guard whenever she had to use the facilities. This was so tedious!

One day I decided to pull a prank on her.  I was bored. On one of her accompanied visits to the bathroom, I waited until she had her pants down and was squatting on the toilet, then quickly ducked out the door, flicked off the bathroom light and held the door closed with all my skinny weight. Ildiko asked me to turn the light back on. I stayed silent and didn’t respond. She pulled on the door to open it. I clung on for all I was worth. It stayed closed. She began to panic; she begged and pleaded for me to open the door. After a while, she began to sob in earnest and whispered in between sobs that Dezso was going to eat her alive, that she could feel him creeping up on her in the dark.

“I know you don’t care. You want me to die!” she accused, her voice becoming panicky.

I didn’t respond. Ildiko began to shriek and wail.

Anyu poked her head into the hall from the salon. “Gabi, what are you doing now? Why is your sister crying?”

“We’re only playing. ” I said, “and Ildiko is taking it far too seriously!”

Anyu plied my clinging hands from the door lever and liberated teary faced Ildiko. She came out of the bathroom sobbing and shaking. She rushed into Anyu’s reassuring embrace. In between sobs and gaspings for breath she suggested, “Punish Gabi. She needs to know what it is to be fearful for her life. Let Dezso eat her now!”

Anyu ordered me into the dark bathroom. I strolled in, full of bravado. Ildiko closed the door on me; complete darkness enveloped me, the bathtub, sink, toilet and Dezso. I sat down on the cool tiled floor and waited. Dezso made neither sound  nor movement. I crawled over to where I estimated he was standing and ran my hands over his form. He didn’t budge or waver, and his teeth and face felt smooth to the touch. He did not chomp my exploring fingers. Then I had the idea that I should pretend to be afraid, so I started faking sobs and cries and what Ildiko might think were appropriate terror sound from someone who was being eaten by monsters.

At first, she gloated from outside the door. “Now you know what it is to be so afraid!”

I redoubled the dramatics. “Help me, please! Oh, help!! Dezso is eating my hands!”

“Are you bleeding?” asked Ildiko.

“Yes, yes, the towels are getting soaked”, I moaned piteously, “Anyu will be so upset with me getting the towels bloody.”

The bathroom light came on suddenly. Ildiko rushed into the room to save me. As she realized there was no blood on the towels hanging from Dezso’s arms and spied me sitting on the toilet with my legs crossed and swinging, not a panicky tear in sight, she stopped in her tracks and looked at me with disgust.

“Oh, you are so awful! Such a faker!” she announced as she turned to leave the bathroom. “I want nothing more to do with you.”

I patted Dezso on the turban, and went off to do other things.

Dezso was a sculpture that Nagyanyu and Dedike took with them from the family’s estate in Esztergom, as one of the remaining treasures of their previously rich life. After Nagyanyu’s death in 1976, Dezso was removed by relatives. I often wonder what kind of scary play recent generations of children make with Dezso.  Maybe he is given a well lighted room to stand in these days, where he cannot scare young children.

My sculpture commission…

October 9, 2007

Last Fall, Rumpole and I attended a presentation on “Developing a Public Art Policy” organized by our municipal leaders. The presenter was a sculptor who has, for many years, developed and installed numerous Public Art projects. He treated the assembled audience to visuals covering a range of examples of Public Art, from Jonathan Borofsky’s “Hammering Man” installed in front of the Seattle Art Museum to projects installed in Scottsdale, Arizona, his own projects in Vancouver, North Vancouver and Victoria, however he left out showing images of some local installations that have met with controversy. Rumpole and I paid rapt attention during this presentation. In its aftermath we engaged in a number of lively discussions on the subject of Public Art.

“Remember, dear, how you tried your hand at making Public Art?” he mentioned with an uncharacteristic smirk on his  usually stern visage.

“Must you bring that up, now?” I grumbled. “Why must you torture me with stuff I have done that I ‘d rather forget?”

Of course, this exchange, brought up a memory which in hindsight is full of odd twists. I am sure that my sculpture teacher back in art school 42 years ago, would wince that his careful grooming of my sculptural abilities had led to my creation of such an embarrasing work. This is the story of my “OTL Beaver”.

Twenty-seven years ago, we had just moved up north. Rumpole began practising Law, I continued to teach high school art, and Renaissance Man entered the fifth grade at school. We lived in splendid isolation on acreage in the bush, in a log house.

One day near the end of October, the vice-principal of my school, a really good egg, a man who was much involved in the community, nabbed me in the copier room after classes. “I belong to the ‘Over the Line Softball League’. We play softball in the snow all winter, and raise money for charity.” he mentioned casually. “We need a mascot for our float for the Christmas Parade. Can you help us?”

This request was a real head scratcher. Did he mean for me to devise a project for one of my unruly Grade 9 classes.  It was bit too short notice to drop what we were doing in class and go tooth and nail trying to pull this off with kids I didn’t know very well. I said this to him.

“Well, do you think you can do this at home?  We will pay you. But it has to be ready by the first week of December.” he persisted. “We want to have a bang-up float this year.”

Ever a sucker for a challenge and given my silly tendency to want to help people using whatever limited skills allotted to me, I agreed to design a 3-D mascot for the OTL League. It had to be a beaver (that Great Canadian Symbol also coincidentally co-opted by the OTL guys), funny, eight feet tall, made of cheap materials, be able to last for at least a week and be marginally weather-proof. So in consultation with the commissioner of this “chef d’oeuvre” we decided on a large papier mache beaver. It was to have a goofy expression on its face,  exaggerated front incisors, oversize feet in sneakers and a large catcher’s mitt in it’s paw toting a huge snowball. I made a number of preliminary studies on paper and the vice-principal happily picked a design he found hilarious.

Now, in our bourgeois household, over a number of years of living with Rumpole, I had chipped away at his conservative notion that a living – room was for calm pursuits of life such as reading, conversation, watching the boob-tube and listening to music. Still, I had to gently break it to him that for the next month our living and dining room was to be a construction zone. (Just as “Rumpole of the Bailey” had “She Who Must Be Obeyed”, so did my dear Rumpole have me, Stepford Wife, to determine just what all could transpire in our domestic spaces.) He was less than thrilled, groaned, ran his hand over his bald head and grumbled a “Whatever…, but you are on your own, completely, in this endeavour.”

So, off I went like an independent gal and bought the requisite lumber, chicken wire and gallon of Rhoplex. These supplies gathered, I had the smarts to construct the needed heavy base and armature of “the Beaver” in our basement. Always curious and seeking to correct my construction methods and awkward wood-working technique, Rumpole visited the construction site and made pointed comments about my ineptitude, while I  sawed, hammered and uttered colourful epiteths.

“You’ll never get that sucker to stand correctly,” he goaded.

Eager to prove him wrong, I beavered away assembling the understructure. It managed to stay upright.  The next phase of cutting out the chicken-wire and buiding the final forms was quite a challenge, and this had to be done on-site in the dining room near the French  doors.  The French doors were the only opening large enough to take out this 8 foot monstosity!

As Rumpole lounged on the sofa in the adjoining living-room and Renaissance Man reluctantly applied himself to his grade 5 homework at the dining-room table, I sweated and cursed through cutting the roll of chicken-wire on the dining room floor. The beaver began to take shape.

“Why are its feet so large?” asked Renaissance Man.

“The better to stand up with, my dear,” I replied.

Rumpole delivered critical one-liners from the safety of the sofa. His sarcastic comments about Michelangelo not having to worry about comparisons of “the Beaver” to his “David” I duly tucked into my memory bank of Rumpole insults and criticisms.

A happy family is one that shares activities and labours. So, we spent some fun times ripping newspapers into long strips with which to weave a surface of papier mache onto the Beaver. Rumpole and RM announced that they were not willing to get their hands sticky and wet, they wanted no part of the messier aspects of the next construction phase.

So enjoying the process of organizing groups, I inveigled visiting friends and neighbours into helping with the mache application. They had little choice, as there was to be no tea, coffee and goodies presented to them as a neighbourly refreshment until they had applied a sufficient amount of Rhoplexed newspaper strips to the sculpture. I invited unsuspecting teacher cohorts to a dinner party, luring them with a potential Hungarian dining experience. Unknown to them, the chief entertainment for the evening was to be direct opportunity to partake of the sticky pleasures of papier mache construction.

One clever guy, as he immersed several stips into his bucket of Rhoplex, quipped “This is way more fun than a ‘key party’ “.

“Oh, shut up!” I retorted. “You need to build up the arm with a few more layers.”

In hardly any time at all, the Beaver took satisfactory, if ghostly grey, shape. I organized a “Paint the Beaver” Saturday night soiree. Rumpole’s law partner was thrilled for a chance to paint the final pattern on the Beaver’s  tail. His wife tackled the chore of painting the Beaver’s oversize running shoes. A teacher friend, Jack, put the finishing touches of a loopy expression on the Beaver’s mug. His wife, Jane, sat nearby with Rumpole.  They suggested needed further touch-ups. They were the “quality control” team. Naturally, this group effort needed alcoholic lubrication, and we polished off several bottles of good red wine before high-fiving and congratulating each other for a job well done. I rather doubt if Michelangelo’s sculpture assistants had more fun at their final party after completion of “the David”.

Heady with pride, I told my vice-principal at school the following Monday that the Beaver was finished and he and some friends could come by the coming weekend to take it to the warehouse where the float was being readied. That week, a major snowstorm hit our region. The snow kept piling up. Getting to and from from to our place in the bush took some tricky winter driving skills.

The Beaver movers arranged to come on Friday evening.  Our road was becoming impassable due to the heavy snowfall. I waited and waited for the pick-up truck to slip-slide up our road. And waited, as the snowfall evolved to white-out condition. Rumpole went out to snow-blow our long driveway, so the truck could drive close to the house without getting stuck. I shovelled off the back deck and stairs leading up to it to give the movers clear access to the French doors  for Beaver removal. And waited some more.

Just as I was about to give up waiting, ready to get my pajamas and housecoat on, RM who was on watch for the truck called out, “Here they come!” Out we all went to greet the movers.  Three strangers piled out of the truck, drunker than lords.

“We got lost on these back roads, got stuck several times. Where’s the beaver?” the inebriated driver yelled.

Rumpole led them around to the back of the house, to the French doors. I fretted as I went back inside to supervise the Beaver removal.  There was much discussion amongst us all on how best to lift my magnum opus without damaging it.  The drunken removal-team managed to get it out through the doors, unscathed, but one guy slipped on the stairs going off the deck and tore the Beaver’s tail. Choking back an unladylike string of oscenities, I anxiously followed these lurching, inept fellows to the truck. There, they hoisted the Beaver into the truck’s box and festooned it with windings of plypropylene rope to secure it for the long drive to the warehouse. They draped it with a tarp to keep the snow off, hopped into the cab and slid back down the driveway, yelling cheery, drunken thanks and goodbyes out the window as they went.

I feared for the Beaver.  Would it arrive in one piece, to be installed on its float? Oh, well, the matter was out of my hands, Thank God!

The following Saturday, Rumpole, RM and I were lined up with a crowd on the main drag of our town to watch the Christmas Parade. We satched Santa go by, waving for all he was worth, surrounded by miserable looking freezing elves. Miss Winter, perched resplendent and blue-lipped in her white fur-coat, tiara and woolen mitts, sailed by.

Renaissance Man spotted the float with the Beaver, the OTL float. “Look, Mom! There comes your Beaver!” he yelled with enthusiasm. People gathered around us tittered, snorted and looked around for the source of this unexpected levity.

With red face (not entirely due to the extreme cold) I watched as the Beaver and its crew materialized and advanced toward us in the thickly falling snow. As it slowly floated by our viewpoint, I spotted the tear in its tail.  A bunch of happy, winterized and baseball-glove-toting guys surrounded the Beaver and manically waved at the crowd. As we watched, the Beaver slowly disappeared into the distance.

Boy, was I ever glad to see the last of it!

As a good bourgeois family, we resumed our boring quotidian lives.  The dining room reverted back to its proper use. Life went on, and the Beaver tale has taken on iconic status as a “family story”.

“Only in Canada? A pity! Eh?”

Sleep – renewal, fixing the chinks…

October 6, 2007

Writing Practice on subject – Sleep, 15 minutes – prompt by

Child – How come during the day you keep your eyes on me all the time, but at night you leave me in here, alone?

My sister Margaret told me this today. When her daughter was 4 she asked this question one night as margaret was tucking her into bed. This is a logical question from a child. How do we learn to sleep alone, what are the feelings and thoughts that come to us when we are wordless and inarticulate infants and we are placed in a familiar crib in a dark room. Is it contact with a familiar we are afraid of being cut off from? what is alone ness in the dark to a young child? Is fear of the dark something we learn?

I have a friend who suffers from a sleep disorder. She cannnot sleep at night. Instead she goes about the house doing domestic chores to calm herself. She has been in therapy for many years; treated with antidepressants and medications for her bi-polar disorder. She places the reason for her difficulty to find sleep on the fact that she was a baker and shiftworker for twenty years. i have never asked her about how she feels about the night, the dark. Is that something a friend asks about. Would she find it an intrusion.

I can talk freely about my own fears of the dark, of being locked in a dark bathroom with an ebony sculpture as large as me, but this was in daylight hours. The nights held no such fears as i experienced in that bathroom.

I welcome the night. i feel safe and rarely have I felt threatened by the coming of night. Sleep and i are friends it is a renewal for growing over the gaps inflicted on me by daytime happenings. Things i may not be even aware of. But sleep heals the chinks. dreams, when remembered, bring awareness of a happening, a thought I didn’t realize was important to me from the day before, but masked in a series of images which hang like a mystery over me as i come to gradual awakeness. When insight flashes about what these dreams may reference, relaxation washes over me and i feel right. But if the dream’s meaning eludes me, i feel a disturbance and a lack of clarity.

This somewhat inchoate rambling is what I came up with this evening, in response to this prompt. Maybe the incoherence is due to the glass of wine I had before beginning to write. Well, one does not always write at ones best, most alert freshness. Mea Culpa. But I shall now review it and see what germs of potential ideas this diatribe contains.


October 4, 2007

This coming Thanksgiving weekend, Renaissance Man and his friend, Pete, are going surfing on the west coast of Vancouver Island, leaving behind wives, children and family, home and work obligations, to play in the water and sand. They don’t care whether the forecast is for sun or rain.  They just hope for good waves.

I have seen pictures of numbers of these young men of varied ages dragging and piling beach refuse into huge piles behind which to take refuge from the westerly winds punishing this shore. Their multicoloured surf-boards are erected like menhirs in Brittany, aligned, waiting for the perfect waves, the magic condition for their deployment. These worshippers of the surf are all garbed in severe black neoprene skin-suits, huddled, waiting behind their windbreak.

When he first announced his intention to go surfing in this inclement weather, my gut reaction was instant fear for his safety.  I greeted his announcement in frozen silence. Holding back from uttering a motherly caution, I wondered if this fear for my child, who is no longer a child, but a man with a family and good common sense, would ever cease in my lifetime. I marvelled at how even as a young child he was fascinated by contrasting elements; water acting on sand and gravel, piles of different things disarranged by an applied force acting on them.

At first, when he was about 16 months old, Renaissance Man was partial to outings to the sand-pit in the park across the street from our basement apartment. He didn’t particularly like the feel of sand after he had a faceful flung at him by another young child. Yet, he liked to slog through the sand on his sturdy little legs. He studied the marks behind him made by his feet as he laboured along making parallel v-shaped grooves behind him.

A year later, we were living up north where great snowfalls reigned in the wintertime. Bundled up like a spaceman in his winter gear, he waddled around in the snow, whenever he was not ensconced in his little sled with me pulling him like a plow horse. Whenever I had to dig out the car from drifts, he stayed near, patting the piles created by digging into a semblance of order with  his mittened hands.

Indoors, during the spring before he turned three, he played with his Christmas present, a yellow Tonka dump-truck. I bought a good supply of cube sugar which was his to play with, to load, dump and reload. He made piles of sugar cubes, built strange lines of several rows  meandering on the green indoor-outdoor carpet of the living room. He shrieked with frustration when he attempted to create discrete piles out of these white granular squares. They did not make tidy mounds. As they gradually lost sharp corners and edges, became rounded, they rolled down the incline of the pile in unpredictable ways.

One day we went to the central depot for our bulk provisions of flour, granular sugar, oat flakes, nuts, beans and wheat germ. He watched in earnest as I ladelled my allotted quantities of consumables into separate old cotton pillowcases. Once home with this bounty, he carefully observed transfer of these goods into large jars, cans and cartons. He ran his hands through each type of substance, feeling textures. I wondered what was going through his young mind as he did this.

A couple of days later, the results of his thought processes manifested itself, in a quite surprising way. In the middle of the night, truck-sound splutterings and roars filtered into my unconscious.  I lay in bed, disoriented, until the nature of the sounds registered on my sleepy brain.  It was Renaissance Man, playing and making noises in the kitchen. I stumbled out of the bedroom to find lights on in the kitchen. RM was crawling along, operating his yellow dump truck and spilling dark brown mounds onto the carpeted floor. He was one with his machine, providing the sound-effects of growling diesel engines. There were shallow ribbons of road-ways connecting these mounds. These had a hard glistening surface like fresh ashphalt. He had created the miniature world of a construction materials depot.

“Mom, look!” he gleefully waved muck-encrusted little hands at me.

I looked. There were separate mounds of coffee grounds, wheat germ, beans and oatmeal joined by roads composed of jam, peanut butter and brown sugar. These roads snaked around the whole kitchen floor. RM looked extremely proud of what he had made.

I grabbed him up and took him into the bathroom to clean him of sticky and gritty substances. Although he had used up food supplies so carefully laid in with what little money we had, I didn’t have the heart to chide him.

“You know, that is all stuff we eat that you used to make your construction yard,” I muttered, wiping crud from his hands. ” but we will have to clean all the roads up from the floor before they harden.”

“Can we sleep first?” he asked as he yawned.

“Yes, we’ll clean up in the morning,” I replied, carting him, now clean, to his bedroom.

Back in my own bed, I resolved to make him his own sand-box in the back-yard as soon as the spring melt ended.

Came Spring –  sunny, windy days, aspens broke into their tender green. The muddy ground dried and we cleared an area in the background of grass, and dug down to provide a pit to contain sand. We went off in the car to one of the local lakes which was our sandy swimmming hole in summertime. There we shovelled sand into garbage can, and buckets and took them home to deposit into our sand pit. We made several trips to get enough sand to make a decent play area. RM enjoyed having a part in creating his play space. He collected rocks and pebbles, and built up a supply of various sized gravel mountains that he carefully separated by size of unit components. He spent time in this outdoor play zone and built himself a complex world where he moved stuff about, constructing, dismantling and reconstructing as his imagination prompted. He collected twigs and sticks to augment his little world.

One dinner-time as we were feasting on broccoli, his little face lit up with a realization of discovery. Of a new idea.

“Mom, we are really eating trees right now,” he announced, brandishing a broccoli spear in his hand. “Can I have some fresh ones to plant in my city?”

“You are right, these do look like trees. But this is food, hard to come by. Maybe we can go and look for stuff in the yard that might make good trees,” I told him.

The following summer, we travelled to Vancouver to visit family and friends, go to the beach, hike in the woods and visit parks. A university friend had an installation showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Also being exhibited was an American Minimalist’s work, labelled “PILES”. Renaissance Man was my gallery companion to this exposition. I figured it was never too early to introduce him to gallery experiences, and model some appropriate gallery behaviours. His questions about new experiences he encountered were pointed, and his reactions fresh and surprising.

So, on a sunny afternoon, before hitting the sands of Second Beach to play and frolic in the sea and sand, we took a brief side-trip to see this exhibition. The main gallery held “PILES”. Grabbing Renaissance Man firmly by the hand, I hefted the heavy gallery door open. He swiftly squeezed through ahead of me, disengaged his hand from mine and simply stood there in silence taking in the various piles of gravel, gravel drawings in the floor.

“Oh, Wow!  Piles!” he chirped, took off at a run before I could grab him, made a bee-line for the nearest gravel mound and flung himself on top of it. He lay there, working his little hands in the gravel. He was grinning with pleasure. I grabbed him up, just as the irate gallery guard materialized from his station somewhere in the gallery.

“Madam, you have to have better control of your child.” he ordered in a stentorian voice. “Look, he has wrecked an exhibit!”

What did Renaissance Man care about the fact that the various piles were examples of the concept of “The angle of repose”? Or of possible methodology of placing precised edged drawings  composed of gravel lines on the gallery’s floor? He simply reacted, directly and honestly from his particular experience and appreciation of the materials thus displayed. To him, these piles of different quality of gravels represented a potential to manipulate and create with of an imagined end that he had in his own mind. These piles called to him with an irresistible and unheard siren call of “handle me, use me, make a world with me!!!”

With red face, I clung firmly to his hand and we walked around the exhibit, talking about where the piles of stuff came from, how they were brought into this place, and how possibly they had been created.

He expressed surprise that a grown man had made this display of stuff he himself was so familiar moving about.

“Dads really do this? They still play with gravel and sand?” he asked, mystified.

So, I wonder, will he, perhaps, remember his early play with earthen materials, as he plants his surf-board in the sand, shifts logs and beach debris to make a shelter from the winds, dig his toes into the sand and watch the water shift the shoreline as he waits for the perfect waves to form?

Meme: Writers’s stengths I hope to have…

October 1, 2007

The Individual Voice, at, a writer who I admire for her amazing intestinal fortitude and writerly clarity, tagged me with the task to write something about what are my writerly strengths. Now, I could make a fairly lengthy and probing list of my many weaknesses as writer, or make some comment or another that “the ability to hunt and peck on a keyboard does not one a writer make”.

D at  has modified this meme to a list of strengths he ascertains writers have and hopes to live up to in his own writing. I will further mutate the meme, and make a list of qualities I perceive in good writers, that I hope to sometime attain in my own. My list is not in order of importance, but how the thoughts occur to me.

1. Unflinching consideration and exploration of both positive and negative situations.  I suspect it is a writerly strength to react honestly to all kinds of circumstance and write about it, and through it in an exploratory way.  Much of what I have learned in life has been a result of how others have shared their perceptions and reactions, or have modelled different ways of thinking about things.

2. Incredibly acute ability to listen, to hear. Good writers seem to have really well-developed listening skills; they seem to be sound and idea sponges. They seem able to snatch out of the air the errant idea, the character of dialogue, the novelty of a perception.

3. Willingness to expose their frail underbelly to critiques of all-sorts. This may be because they act under a compulsion to state cases as they feel obliged.

4. Committment to labouring mightily at their craft. They seem willing to wrestle with their angels and demons and their written outcomes seldom give a hint of the depth and range of their struggle.

5. On guard against self-indulgence. This has got to be a really tough trait to develop in balance, as, sometimes self-indulgence is necessary to stretch as a writer, to try out and see where it is fitting to give in to, and where it is an excess.

So, that is some of the stuff I admire in other writers and think about when reading their words.

Further, would like to tag: Kay at

                                               Nita at to take a shot at writing to this meme.

I am curious to read what all who have been tagged have to write about this meme.  It is a way to further learn what to keep in mind while “typing”.  Thanks to all of you who have addressed this topic and so generously shared your considered thoughts.