Betwixt And Between

Well, my imaginary friend, I am betwixt and between. Here, but not here, there in spirit but not there; my heart both full of the letting go and the setting forth. This month of Oak, as it was known by the ancient Celts, was believed to be a portal month, the bridge between the dark half and the light half of the year. And so the feelings would seem to fit naturally into the half-forgotten, but still-echoing-rhythm of seasons as they unfolded for my ancestors.

leap-of-faith

I am preparing for a journey, and there are practical and prosaic things to be done in this preparation. But as always, the inner journey is the most interesting to me, and this fine focus of concentration seems terribly important, for I go in quest of a new life, a very different life. Naturally, I suppose, I hope it shall be a better life, but this very idea seems confusing and convoluted – better than what? My life to this point has been precisely what I made it, what I chose and brought into fruition. Whether I am blessed or cursed, I cannot tell, but I cannot stay in any place for too long – although let me clear, by ‘place’ I mean more like ‘state of being’.

So whether blessed or cursed shall be set aside for the moment; in any event, I appear to be different than many of my fellow humans, who seem to like to stay in the same place and work at the same things and see the same people and who, in a million ways, large and small, comfort themselves with routines and rituals and pleasures of sameness. Their longings for new scenery or cultures or cuisines can be contained by yearly travel to some exotic location, it seems. I am aware, most assuredly, that my fellow humans do change, though I find these changes in mind and in being are rarely talked about so much as the latest restaurant, or last vacation, or newest acquisition…My sense of bewilderment, of finding myself distinctly not in the right pond, is catalyst enough.

I am keenly aware, my imaginary friend, that I leave you with – well, questions. What is this all about? What exactly does she want? Part of what I would like to do is to set the stage, so to speak, for writing about my journey over the course of the next months and years. Another part of what I would hope to convey is that the questions are the beginning of the journey – the imaginary starting point, if you will. Maybe most importantly, that the quest for the ‘new’, the ‘different’, the ‘better’ ought be a lifelong quest, for is it this that defines the best human qualities, I think.

Blessed, or cursed?

The Menu

A menu in a cafe or restaurant both facilitates and constrains our choices. Constrains, because there are a finite number of items – though as chefs are keenly aware, a good menu will make choosing one item rather difficult. Even given a wide array of dishes, chefs also understand that choices are often made on the basis of what seems familiar; or at the very least, what is within the cultural norms of cuisine in a given place. Developing and writing a menu is an interesting and complex exercise, and I wonder, my imaginary friend, how many people think of how their dining choices are formed by chefs and cooks? We are more accustomed to believing it is ourselves that choose, even in spite of the limitations of choice by what is on the menu.

I have spent much of my time these past few weeks pondering the mystery of why people should be content to live life as if it were limited, rather than a vast smorgasbord, and the menu analogy immediately comes to mind. One may accept a rudely-slapped-together peanut butter sandwich (on white bread!) given circumstances or necessity, but does one then accept that is dinner, now and forevermore? The more interesting question is how such came to be on the menu…This by way of introducing you to the menu I am writing – it’s a work in progress.

 

Life Cafe Menu

Fresh and crispy greens with a froth of courtesy and attention, garnished with spiced tidbits.

Soup to nourish: a gentle wake up to the taste, or a larger serving of comfort. Served with rustic bread baked in house, and a genuine smile.

Appetizer platter with particular attention to a variety of tastes, textures and styles, and a plenitude of sauces, dips, and salsas to surprise and delight.

Handmade pasta with a sensuous sauce, shavings of affection and regard, and a frisson of piquant.

Lively picatta, pan fried with the richness of experience, seasoned simply and presented with love.

Roast of life essence, all the trimmings, in measure to satisfy, and a feast of joy.

Luscious curd in a flaky shell for contrast, decorated with sparkle and wit.

Delicious pie of friendship: homey, satisfying, essential, and deeply moving. A la mode?

Nuances of meringue with delicacy and sensitivity, and candied moments of the new and exotic.

 

 

Oh! Well, I confess this is fun, and I did warn you it is a work in progress. I would be delighted to choose any of the items on this menu, which is hardly surprising as I wrote it for myself. Really, when I see Roast of Bore on a menu I run for the exit…And now my imaginary friend asks, what exactly is the point? Just this, I suppose, that we ought all write our own menus (borrowing from the professionals as seems fitting), and change them often, and opt for the buffet at times…because life, and love, and adventure are all out there beyond the Roast Bore Diner.

 

Art of Naomi TeWinkel

Art of Naomi TeWinkel

Find more of this delightful art work to inspire your menu  here.

What Dreams May Come? Originally posted November, 2011

I have unabashedly borrowed my title from the movie of that name; the film had some delightful scenes of the afterlife, imagined. My favourite was the scene of walking through a mountain meadow, as paint splooshed up from the flowers – but here, you can take that journey yourself, briefly.

Our hero finds himself in heaven, and his guide informs him that his world is anything he can imagine. Which is true, really, in some basic way in our own world, is it not?

 I find myself wondering about dreams that die, or are forgotten or laid aside, dreams that can’t be resurrected, dreams that just refuse to come true. For there seems to be essentially two kinds of people in my life: those that have realized their dreams, but now think they are a sham, and those that have come to realize that perhaps they did not dream largely enough. I expect there are more variations on the theme, though maybe my imagination is not up to the task. Here are those who have married and had children (or not), built homes and careers and friends and lifestyles and accoutrement, and now appear to be bored and tired of it all and unwilling to build new dreams. These people say that this is a function of getting older and wiser: you know, you just can’t have it all. Never the less, there is something weary and dispiriting and soul-destroying in that message.

 The most interesting people seem to recognize when it is time to let a dream go and to dream a new one, but not at all in the practical sense of giving in, dreaming smaller, or limiting the imagination – just the opposite. That perhaps their original dreams simply weren’t big enough, or grand enough, or imaginative enough, that their dreams didn’t, and don’t measure up to the kind of person they were and are. There is an old saying: Be careful what you wish for. What you wish and dream may come to define you in ways you cannot foretell, I believe, whether or not they come to be.

 Me, I have lived with a dream that has been present for as long as I can remember, and I have been ruminating on giving it up. In one sense I am very fortunate; none of my dreams have been very conventional, that is, what my friends and peers and population cohort have been dreaming, so I have always had to explain my dreams to others. Why I dream of this, and not that…I have never dreamed of having children, for example, and I do not have them; that particular choice used to engender intense questioning and accusations of selfishness. I suspect that this scrutiny led me to very sure of my dreams: I had examined them, after all.

 Everyone has had dreams that did not come to fulfillment, of course, although for me it is harder to acknowledge that most of my dreams did come true…and so, here I am, not done dreaming, but neither satisfied. I must further illuminate this: I hope and believe it is the true human condition to never be satisfied, although this has nothing to do with material things and everything to do with things of the heart and spirit. And also, I do not berate myself or have many regrets, only one sincere regret of a hurtful thing I did that I would erase, if I could. No, it is not about failure, it is about choosing the dreams that will define me for the next few decades, and so, I think, one closely held dream has to go, for I am becoming sure that I would not like the way it might define me.

 I am not up to the task, I fear, but let me limn a new outline of what dreams may come for me. I should like to walk through painted landscapes of beauty. I should like to have had some part in creating that beauty, with hands and heart and eyes and pen. I should like to cook delightful meals for friends and family, and make new friends, many new friends. I should like to inspire others to dream of their true calling, and how that might invigorate both work and play and even the ordinary, prosaic tasks of the day. (It could also invigorate politics, banking, and neighbourhoods, but that is a subject for another day.)

I should like to imagine the world the way I wish it to be.

 It is no small task, my imaginary friend, I know. For the constant drone of the unhappy and deadened spirits in the background take both largeness and loudness to overcome, and they must be overcome, lest we slip into a world of their making, horror of horrors. For their world is outlined by such words and phrases as practical, common sense, not possible, not sensible, idle dreamers. Not idle, we dreamers. We are busy making the world.

The Substance of Words

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A vast array of words and images and sounds flow to us and around us, indeed, saturate us with their possibilities, but we cling to the superficial for reasons unfathomable. The great mysteries and wonders of life: the building of a home, the crafting of a living, the making of love, the finding of joy – these are reduced to the banal. As if the purchase of a sofa will have to stand in for the idea that home is the centre of life, the place that nurtures us and nourishes us to take our place in the world with confidence and quiet certitude of own worth. That a paycheque should take the place of a slow mastery of craft or trade or vocation, of years spent in the immensely satisfying pursuit of knowledge or technique or art. That celebrities become the models for desire; love does require a willingness to enter in to the spirit of discovery over and over again, while desire requires only a new object for itself. That entertainment is the way we persuade ourselves we are happy, rather than finding joy in the day’s, or season’s simple pleasures…

We are mostly all in the same boat, we humans – life is a mystery to be experienced. There is no prescription, no playbook, no golden road to follow…but we do not talk about these things. We do not talk about these things in significant communal or cultural ways; indeed, we do not much make a habit of talking about these things as individuals, except perhaps in the most intimate of conversations with carefully-chosen others. And this seems to me to be a matter of great sorrow and distress.

There are those who would have us believe that there is a rule book, and perhaps that is why we have come to accept words over substance…or why some of us have, at any rate. As for me, my imaginary friend, I want the meal that follows the menu, and I want the substance of what the words convey. We must have some notion of what home, work, love mean to us as individuals, and to have meaningful conversations about this as individuals. Without the conversations, we feel ourselves playing outside the rules – we mark ourselves as unhappy because we have not followed the rules. Truth is, western culture is deeply unhappy…and if the rule book once existed, it has become obsolete. It is clearly so pervasive as to be far beyond the individual…and yet, the paradox is that we can perhaps only resolve this by the individual conversations we create and participate in.

As always, your conversation is welcome here.

Make It Happen

Is it just me, my imaginary friend, or do others weary of the rhetoric surrounding International Women’s Day? “Make it happen” is one slogan I encountered, along with “Empowering Women – Empowering humanity”. I am quite sure that millions of words have been written in support of the idea that women’s equality is oh so close…More women in business. In government. In the highest positions of power. Opportunity for education and training. Equal pay. Freedom from fear of violence. More attention to women in sport. Yes, yes, we need merely fix these things (ahem, there are a few more items) – and half the world’s population will be equal to the other half.

If I sound a little cynical, friend, I remember International Women’s Year; yes, an entire year devoted to raising awareness of such gross inequalities as the lower rate of pay for women, stunning domestic abuse and sexual violence statistics, the lack of equal opportunity in an array of professions. That year was 1975, and these basic inequalities are still with us …even in the most progressive countries. And in many ‘developing’ nations, the lives of women are nasty and brutish. Four decades on, and oh so little progress is an anguish for half the world.

Of all the images of the day, this one stands out for me – this picture of Kubra Khademi armouring herself against unwanted touching, in a truly magnificent piece of performance art. Magnificent or not, I’ve read that Kubra Khademi has now gone into hiding, for fear of her life.

The-Armor-Performance-by-Kubra-Khademi

The banality of slogans in the face of such reaction is outrageous, frankly.

Kubra’s performance of wearing body armour is uniquely personal to her and her story. But it is also much larger than that, for it is the metaphor that half the world’s population understands in the most intimate way, for women carry out the act of armouring every day. It may be as physical as wearing a burqa, or as routine as applying make up to conform to some cultural notion of beauty. Perhaps slipping a gun or a can of mace into a purse for ‘protection’. Maybe it is the girl desperately trying not to provoke the rage of a father and his bruising blows. The women walking quickly and purposefully down dark streets – because you must have a good reason for being out after dark, or appear to have one. It is, of course, of all these things, and far too many more to recite, but mostly, it is the daily armouring against simply being ‘woman’ and not ‘man’.

There are obvious differences between men and women, and then there is the accumulated cultural conditioning, the stereotypes that resist being laid to rest, the persistent notion of otherness. (Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Apologies to John Gray.) “Other’ is a forceful cultural construct, and it seems women are other. Well anyway, dear men, we’d like nothing better than to take off that armour, to immerse ourselves in that delicious sense of freedom that comes from knowing yourself, being yourself, and having that self valued for its uniqueness. And I say, dear men – I really do love you – because let us be clear, you are the gender that holds almost all of the positions of power, whether in government, or business, or many other spheres. Kindly stop blathering slogans at us and make it happen, would you?

I think Gloria Steinem’s words say it best:

The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

Mark that very important phrase, “human rights”, for it is the crux of the matter. We are all human, first and last, and we must find the humanity that insists that half the world’s population must not be compelled to armour themselves. Happy International Women’s Day.

The Greys

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Taken this past week on a nearby hiking trail, this photo rather summarizes my life at the moment, which seems rather grey. Not so much the grey of sadness, although there is a tinge of that, but more the grey of sameness. This is a bit of a paradox, really, as I’ve been forced out of my usual routines into some different activities while recovering from surgery – ah, but perhaps merely doing different things is not much of a change.

I weary of the script assigned to me, I think, and I am indebted to a friend for this choice of phrase. We are, of course, supposed to write our own life scripts, but I think this is probably somewhat rare. We make choices about many things, but we also play roles that many of us are not conscious of choosing. The roles are archetypal but also resonant of our own particular culture and its stereotypes…I suppose this is only problematic if we do not fit these stereotypes. In reality likely none of us do, though some seem content to fit themselves into the type.

I am planning a major move in upcoming months, so change and movement are in the air for me. The deeper I get into this process, however, the more I discover that it is my script, rather than the stage, that is more determinant of what I shall make of the production. I believe I shall focus on writing this script for myself this time around, and choosing the role I should like to play. I suspect there are several parts I may be suited for – and that can be incorporated too.

I fear, my imaginary friend, that writing one’s own script may be difficult, but who knows? So far I have only embellished the roles I have been given, as opposed to creating my own. If there is some sadness at leaving behind the fond and the familiar, there is also exhilaration in the creation, day by day, of a new way of being. This is all too new yet – but, well, here it is, day one. As always, I would like you to come on the journey with me.

The Healer’s Art

The surgeon strode confidently into the operating room…

This is how my surgeon suggests I begin my blog post, when I tell him – during surgery! – that I shall write of my experience. Truthfully, though, it is his warmth and ability to comfort that most impresses me, which seems to me the very model qualities of a healer. And this is what I shall write about – oh, do rest assured I shall spare you the details of cutting and suturing.

I am at VGH/UBC eye care surgical clinic to have a lower lid elevation, a procedure performed with local anaesthetic, and sedatives, if requested. The surgery is required because of what is called thyroid orbitopathy, an autoimmune disease of inflammation and enlargement of the muscles and tissues surrounding the eye. The disease is associated with hyperthyroidism, although some people, like myself, have no abnormalities of the thyroid.  Its cause remains unclear, but it can be disfiguring, and severe cases may compress the optic nerve, leading to sight loss. Even in its relatively mild manifestation, the eyes are uncomfortable, and retraction of the lids causes a stare which has many psychological effects in interactions with others. There is no cure for the disease, though various remedies to help with symptoms. So I’ve skipped over this bit about as quickly as I can, the point of which is to say this is oculoplastic surgery, certainly not cosmetic.

I am here for the second time at the clinic, having some years previously undergone a mullerectomy, a procedure to lower the upper eyelids. It was a good experience, but it was really my experiences after the surgery that were so very enlightening. Almost immediately I noticed a profound difference in the way other people related to me; people were more relaxed. The stare associated with the disease is at best interpreted as intensity, and at worst, as anger – and the (relatively) small changes in the appearance of my eyes apparently alleviated these impressions. Family and close friends have familiarity on their side in interpreting mood and speech, but body language is a large component of communication, and the eyes a large component of body language. The subtle and intricate play of these muscles is indeed, how we invite others into our hearts and minds, and perhaps truly are the windows of the soul.

I am here, then, because I have seen the transformation that can be effected, aside from the fact that I am in discomfort. And I am here because this is a place of healers, and the healing art. Everyone, from receptionist to nurses to doctors , introduces themselves, and speaks with a care for privacy and with evident compassion. It is clean, and quiet – though soft music plays in the operating room. The anaesthesiologist explains that the effect of the sedative is similar to two glasses of red wine, and I heartily endorse this. The surgeon explains – fortunately, with not too much detail – each various step he takes in the procedure. I tell him his voice is very soothing. The surgeon also guides and converses with another surgeon who is there to learn the art and technique – for this is a teaching clinic. I confess this is somewhat disconcerting, though her gentle touch on my arm is welcome. Everyone moves about in a sure, quiet way, and at the point where I am somewhat convinced I am going to scream – not in pain, for there is none, but my muscles are being pulled about a bit – the surgeon tells me he is finishing up. When the surgery is finished, a nurse helps me out of the operating room chair and into the recovery room, stopping along the way to show me my new eyes. Squeamishly, I avert my eyes – I am such a girl – as I catch sight of a drop of blood.

And so, my imaginary friend asks, what is the point of this foray into the intensely personal, this disquisition on what many of us would rather not hear about, thank you very much? Just this, my friend: it is a marvelous and wonderful privilege to be in the company of health care professionals who clearly enjoy what they do, who work to provide patient-centred care, and who strive to become better at what they do. Obviously, no one wants to have surgery, and this is assuredly not enjoyable, but to enter into this place is to enter into the presence of healers, and that is a gift. It is a gift because this place is much different than other places I have had surgery, although this is a subjective view. That is precisely the point: the patient’s subjective view has much to do with the process of healing. And it is a gift, because in a world that often values the tawdry and superficial, here is a statement that perhaps real and enduring values shall prevail. It is also a political statement, in a deep and profound way.

Health care does not need more surgeons who stride confidently into the operating room, but rather, I believe that health care needs more people who go quietly and compassionately about their work with great love. My warmest thanks to Dr. Peter Dolman, and each and every one of the staff at VGH/UBC surgical daycare, my thanks and much love.  You have shown me, and many others, what the healer’s art should be. How fortunate I am, and I mend very well.

February

February 1st has been celebrated as a seasonal holiday by a variety of cultures, most familiarly in the northern hemisphere as the harbinger of spring. The trees begin to bud, while deep underground the first stirrings of plant growth come to life, even under cover of snow. That most loved and useful flower, the violet, is the flower of February, its delicate beauty a charming evocation of both tenderness and hardiness. It is a month of quickening, of becoming alive to possibilities. The energies of winter slowly disperse and we prepare ourselves for the burgeoning time ahead.

I prepare myself for change, not knowing what the future holds, yet anchored in the seasonal changes all around me in a sure and certain way. It occurs to me that older cultures rooted in the time and tide of nature and her seasons must have experienced much less anxiety than we, simply because of this intimate knowing of what the seasons hold, if not the intimate details of one’s own unfolding. Quickening is surely a most apt word for the life not yet born, yet preparing itself to be born.

violets

The violet, again, symbol of constancy and faithfulness and willingness to take a chance at happiness – ah, frail flower, you are worthy of a meditation. Unfolding, becoming alive to the possibilities, feeling the yet faint pulse of seeds planted long ago, trusting that the seasons will bring forth their treasures and beauties in the fullness of time…I find that February is a lovely place to be. I hope it is so for you also, my imaginary friend.

Love Letter to a Cowboy

Why do I love you? You, the very particular you, cowboy?  Ah, you are funny. You are kind. You ask questions about what you don’t understand, which shows a depth of intelligence many do not possess. You have a quiet confidence – oh, I am not sure if that is the right word – a sureness, maybe, of yourself and what you can do that is so very marvelous. You pick up on emotional nuances – I would say you are sensitive, though I wonder if you will like that word. Your voice is beautiful, and makes me shiver. Your honeyed sweetness washes over me and I desire you, always.

Love between men and women in this western culture is suffused with ideas of romance that prove hard to dispel. “I love you” means “I want to marry you.” Or, “I want you to provide for me.” Maybe, “You will take care of all my emotional needs.” Sometimes it merely means “I do not want to be alone.” Romantic love is supposed to be gifts and surprises, roses on Valentine’s Day; diamonds, sexy lingerie, and flowers for no reason…oh, I could go on and on. If happily ever after is the goal, no wonder so many romantic relationships fail: the weight of cultural shoulds and expectations smothering the wild joy that arises in being held by love. That love becomes mere role playing to a set of gender-specific, culturally-mediated behaviours…

Well, anyway, my imaginary friend asks, why is this important? Because my love is very personal, yes? Yes, my love is personal to me, but my love, your love, his love, her love, all loves, really, are one. It is the essence of love, I believe, to make oneself vulnerable. The vulnerability of sharing one’s deepest regret and shame, as well as one’s greatest elation, the most prosaic aspects of our daily lives. To be exquisitely vulnerable: to say what one wants and needs, knowing that one might not get it. To be open: not closed off, fearful, or bound by rules of romance. This is when we become most human, most ourselves…and both life and love become sweeter beyond measure.

I do not know what the future holds, though I say this: let’s do that wild joy thing and see what happens. Flowers are optional.
XOXOXO

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