Saturday, August 29, 2009

I don’t know much about art but…

You might expect me to be fond of still lifes because I love irony and still lifes are, after all, pictures of dead things.

However, I don’t like them much. Sure the bouquets of flowers are beautiful, but I can do without the shotgunned hare or pheasant flopped on the table beside them. It’s all so…messy.

And while I can admire much about abstract paintings, what I really like are pictures that tell a story. Girl with a Pearl Earring. The Gleaners.  The Running of the Goats.

And I like landscapes. I guess it’s because, even without people, they let me imagine that there is a story. Or their beauty strums an emotional chord that makes me want to be in the middle of them, canoeing through a red and gold autumn in Algonquin Park or feeling the sun beat on the back of my neck as I stroll past a field of sunflowers in the south of France.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of art this year. My dad has had three shows, along with other members of the Victoria Sketch Club, and there’s a fourth coming up this fall. He, my sister, my husband and I went the Vancouver Art Gallery and got an eyeful of Vermeers and other Dutch Masters. Last weekend a former journalism student of mine, Penny Rogers, had photographs in an exhibition along with other artists working in glass, watercolour, and acrylics.

Then last night I watched a TV show about visual storytelling. The narrator, Dr. Nigel Spivey, explained that four thousand years ago Gilgamesh knew that his people wanted a hero so he had scribes write about him performing legendary feats. Then an Assyrian king took storytelling to the next level and inserted himself in almost every scene of the action as sculptors carved images of him stoically fighting lions and vanquishing enemies. The next big leap came from the ancient Greeks, who ensured that even marble characters displayed their emotions.

Dr. Spivey went on to say that the people who really pulled it all together, storytelling-wise, were the original Australians. For tens of thousands of years, long before the Greeks and even Gilgamesh, they’ve been painting characters that everyone in their society recognizes. (Can you say archetype?) Then, in a brilliant stroke that wasn’t replicated for millennia, they set their tales to music. With percussion and didgeridoo they created a context for the story, hooked the audience’s emotions, and to this day are still sweeping them along for the whole ride.

I’m not a visual storyteller like they are, although I do strive to spin words into images in my readers’ minds. However, if I could set this blog to music, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Alas, I’d have to go with Nancy White’s Procrastination Rag. Writing always makes me want to clean, too.  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mens sana in corpore sano


Sounds like some well-intentioned but cruel purgative therapy from the 1930s, doesn’t it?

Au contraire; according to my old Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary “evectics” means “acquiring good body vigor and habits.”

At last! A word that describes my lifestyle!

Since I bought that Taber’s in 1979, my first year of nursing school, I’ve acquired a lot of good habits. Or to be more accurate – and honest – I’ve lost some bad ones.

Back in those early university days I used to jog with my roommate. Well, I was “with” her like a piano tied to her leg, thanks to my pack-a-day tobacco habit. I moved on to swimming: now there’s a gentle total-body workout! My friend and I swam forty laps of the pool, chatting the whole time, and then we headed for the Student Union Building for a well-deserved cinnamon bun.

Since we were enthusiastic, ambitious young women, we had pressing questions for our professors; they assured us that studying does not, in fact, burn more calories than simply breathing. I, for one, didn’t want to believe them and fortified myself almost nightly with a bag of Doritos, alternating a handful of nacho-flavoured chips with a smoke.

Being so busy improving my body with exercise and enriching my mind with classes like Understanding Nutrition, I didn’t always have time to cook, but luckily the guys at the pizza place down the street recognized my voice on the phone. Before I finished saying, “I’d like a–“ they’d hollered “green pepper and mushroom” to the kitchen.

There were other guys, too, who didn’t supply fast food.

That has all changed.

In between not finishing my nursing studies and starting my science degree, I discovered cycling. I ride whenever and wherever I can – short jaunts in town, longer trips around British Columbia, and self-guided tours in other countries. I walk to my local gym several times a week and just as regularly do not push open the door of the doughnut shop on my way home. I resist the siren song of chips as often as I can, I smoked my last Craven A twenty years ago this month, and I am very happily down to one man (and I’m sure he’s equally happy to hear it).

So I guess in my case evectics really is a kind of purge after all, though not, I’m glad to report, in a high-colonic kind of way. 

Thank goodness I've never admitted to my chocolate jones.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who are you calling latex eggshell?

The sticky leaves cleaved to my socks as my shovel cleaved the cleaver stem from the root. After that, my chores were all downhill and my garden is as smart as paint.


English is a delightfully precise language. If the Angles, Saxons and Romans didn't have a word for something, the Normans or Germans did. If they fail us, we happily borrow from Hindi, Japanese and Salish.
So you'd think we could do better than the auto-reversible cleave. With that little gem right in the marriage service, it's no wonder the divorce rate is so high.
And then there's the charming smart as paint: Do I look fabulous or do I have the intellect of porch enamel? Or if I have to ask…uh-oh.
Perhaps I am going downhill. 
Or, as my father pointed out a few years ago, not:  

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tea leaves

My great-aunt Mary used to read tea cups when she had visitors. Bubbles on the tea meant money so we scooped them up and drank them. If the leaves at the bottom of an empty cup looked like a chair, a friend was coming to visit. If the leaves formed a bridge, you would soon be going on a trip. 

To me, August is like reading tea leaves. Life is in the future. In August I simply continue what I’ve already begun, or I wait: for rain to soak my garden, for time to refresh my brain before I start the next draft of my novel, for school to start in September.

But waiting isn’t easy. I want to move, progress, stride into the next episode, but for some reason I never do, in August. I can start projects in July and September but not August. I have begun trips in July and September, but never August.

I would love to change that, but I can’t think of a single thing that fits the bill, that will cool the jets of restlessness that shift me from chair to window, from library to gym, from office to trail. Why can’t I do what I do all the rest of the year and just get on with it?

Because it’s August, that’s why.

Do you have a hiatus month? What do you suppose hobbles us?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Daniel Craig and lavender: an opinion

I have officially hauled recycling to a whole new level.

Both my composters are full, so when I finished gardening on Thursday I took the weeds to the one at the municipal yard. As I heaved basketsful of dead grass and dandelions onto the room-size heap of greenery, I noticed a smell. No, a fragrance. I sniffed again. I looked down.

I was standing in front of hip-high piles of lavender.

I have always fondly imagined that when our town gardeners deadhead the lavender shrubs in our boulevards and parks, they take the clippings home and dry them, filling bowls with soothing potpourri and closets with bags of fragrant dried blossoms.

I was wrong.

It was all here on the communal compost pile, so freshly cut it hadn’t even begun to wilt.

The lavender was the third thing. You know how something piques your attention and then there are two more examples of it? Well, the chain began last weekend when I saw an article about books by Emily Cotler in the Huffington Post in which she said, “…I am not saying that popularity equates to good, quality reading. Sometimes the books that do well are not all that worthwhile.…” and I wondered what exactly did make a book – or anything else – worthwhile. I ran with the idea for a while but, just like when I jog at the gym, got exactly nowhere.

Then I had lunch with a bunch of writers.

“I loved the old Bond movies,” said one woman when we reached the cake-and-Nanaimo bar stage.

“I prefer the new ones,” I said, sipping my coffee.

“Waste of time.” She waved her fork dismissively. “None of those fabulous gadgets like the old ones had.”

“That’s what makes them better!” I cried, setting down my cup. “There’s an actual story.”  

“And that chase scene near the beginning of Casino Royale?” said someone else.

“Yes!” I jumped in, ready to extol its virtues: fast, twisty, breathtaking and a perfect illustration of the new Bond’s bulldozer personality. “Wasn’t it wonderful?”

She looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. “It was pointless,” she explained.

Others around the table agreed. They prefer the earlier 007 movies, complete with outrageous escapades, over-the-top spy tools and Bonds as slick as condoms.

Casino Royale, on the other hand, has a story arc. Bond is affected by events and every scene in the movie drives the change in him. To half a dozen of my friends, it isn’t worth watching again. To me, it is.

So on Friday evening I hit the video store, and my husband and I settled in the living room. As the rented DVD spun the fabulous red and black graphics and then the noir opening onto the screen, I happily slouched further into my favourite chair. When Daniel Craig’s gimlet gaze skewered the bad guy, I gasped and got a full-body hit of…lavender.

I have basketsful of the stuff drying in the next room.