Sunday, December 26, 2010

Going too far

“Be bold, be bold and everywhere Be bold…”

I’m tempted to inscribe this over my office door, as it was written over a portal in The Faerie Queen. Many of my favourite sayings (and I’m a sucker for a pithy quote) have to do with treating fear like the pariah I wish it were:
“Fear, the thief of dreams” said a T-shirt on a young man at an airshow 15 years ago.
“Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house,” said John Cheever.
To abolish fear from my life is one of my great dreams – and I am making progress.
I’m less afraid of phoning strangers, which is very helpful in my career since I routinely have to call people I don’t know and convince them to tell me things that I can then write down and publish for all the world to see.
I have no trouble speaking to a group now.
Sometimes I can even expose my foibles publicly, as I’m doing here, and feel barely a twinge of anxiety. Of course, I also convince myself that nobody is going to read my ramblings…
My wish for all of us in the coming year is to banish fear – to give it the cold shoulder, shove it aside, or climb over it until it’s so far behind that it gives up.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go,” wrote TS Eliot.
Let’s see how far we can go during the next year, shall we?
I’m game if you are.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Holidays versus A Vacation

“I hope your Christmas plans and preps are proceeding apace,” I wrote to a friend recently, “and you can relax and enjoy the ‘holidays’ as if they really are a holiday.”

As you can tell from my snarky ‘holidays,’ I’m a little jaded about this festive time of year. The potential for exhaustion has me opting out of many of the normal – expected, in fact – activities.

I go to few parties and host even fewer. I bake just enough for the potlucks I do attend. I buy presents for one pre-teen, two teenagers, and an adult child…and only if I have a brilliant idea (I had two this year!) do I purchase gifts for any other grown-ups.

This is not because I’m cheap (although I am pretty frugal) or lazy (well…). It’s because all of the planning, shopping, cooking, decorating, wrapping, delivering, baking, shopping, cleaning and shopping pile on top of everyday life which for me, as for most of us, is quite full enough, thank you.

We still have to organize family schedules, put in the hours at the day job, pack lunches, cook dinners and launder clothes…and on top of all that we’re supposed to iron tablecloths, polish candlesticks, and make room in the freezer for twenty-two pounds of plucked turkey?

And for what? I’m not a capital-C Christian, so for me it’s not about the man himself, although I’m on board with a lot of his principles. But because this started out as a holy celebration, I’m miffed that it’s morphed into a shopping extravaganza. In fact, I bet if I were crazy enough to go to my local mall right now, I could probably find a 14-karat gold-plated statue of a calf…. But I digress.

To me, this festive season has lost its charm because it’s no longer a holiday in either the original sense or its more modern meaning of vaca…

Hold on a sec. Perhaps I’ve been looking at this the wrong way around.

A vacation is an emptying of normal life, leisure.

A holiday, on the other hand, is a celebration.

Cards and letters from friends far away; family around the dinner table, eating food planned, purchased and prepared with love; reminiscing about some awful camping trip or teasing Dad about his mis-spent youth; laughing.

I stand corrected; that sounds sacred enough for me, after all.

I wish you all a holiday season filled with whatever makes you happy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

He – or she – is back!

The owl – Spotted, Barred, or possibly (though I doubt it, Barb) Screech – is once again sitting in the oak tree outside my kitchen window.
I hope this becomes a habit – or should I say habitat?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The more things change…

I love other people’s conversations – they are one of the many reasons I’m grateful my friends are so interesting (and I mean that in the nicest possible way).
For example, when I arrived to visit my writing buddy Ken the other day, he was deep in discussion with a woman who introduced herself as Ann. I dragged over a chair and propped my chin on my hands to listen in.
“What was his name?” Ann mused. “Weismuller?”
My ears pricked up. I knew that name! He was Tarzan in the old black and white movies, right?
But Ken shook his head slightly and Ann agreed that she had it wrong and went on to talk about other people – composers and musicians apparently – with Germanic-sounding names that were way off my radar screen. Until they got to Mendelssohn.
“I recognize that one!” I’m afraid I said it aloud.
Ann beamed at me and began to talk about what a gentleman he was, even though his compositions made every musician in the ensemble work all the time.
“He added notes everywhere, just for the sheer beauty of them.” Her hands illustrated the point with little butterfly movements on a phantom sheet of paper in the air. “Very baroque.”
Felix Mendelssohn also helped rekindle the popularity of JS Bach’s music, which even I know is still deservedly going strong. Ann also pointed out that Bach had quite a sense of humour.
“He wrote a ‘coffee cantata’” she said, “that is hilarious and could well be put on today with the same sentiments. We humans have always loved our stimulants!”
With gratitude to Ann (who it turns out is a member of the Lafayette String Quartet) for the education (and the chuckle) and to Ken for introducing us, here’s a little of Francis Browne’s translation of the Kaffeekantate.

The narrator begins by hushing the audience so they can eavesdrop on a father who is trying to rein in his daughter’s excesses:

Dad: You bad child, you wild girl!
Oh! If only I could have my way and get rid of coffee!

Daughter: Father, don’t be so hard! If three times a day I can’t
drink my little cup of coffee,
then I would become so upset
that I would be like dried up piece of roast goat.

Dad threatens his daughter – no more walks or new clothes or ribbons for her bonnet – but the only thing that makes her budge on her addiction is sex. She’ll give up coffee, she promises, if he finds her a husband. (A word from a fellow addict: She’s lying.)

Now that I also know that Bach (and his two wives) had almost two dozen children, I wonder whether he wrote this musical (as my husband would call it) from personal experience and whether it was one of his daughters who was the caffeine junkie, or whether JS himself needed a steady stream of java to keep his energy level up.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On books

I was first smitten by the art of the book in the early 1980s when I viewed the Book of Kells at Dublin’s Trinity College. I bought a little booklet about illuminated manuscripts, and over the past 30 years have pored over the images of apostles, of creatures mythical and (maybe) real and sighed at the talent, skill and perseverance of the monks who turned written stories into works of art.

Gutenberg did a wonderful thing when he developed movable type; for one thing, it made books easier and less expensive to produce so more of us could hold, own and read them.

Over the centuries, though, the art of the book has been slid aside in the interests of getting more books to more people.

While I have done my share (and then some) of buying, borrowing and reading inexpensive tomes, I still love seeing beautiful things that I will never touch or own.

Last week, I was delighted to visit a display of rampant twenty-first century creativity at an exhibit supplied and curated by members of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.

There are volumes with the art incorporated into the goatskin binding. There’s embroidery, marbling, calligraphy and paint. Whimsical pop-ups, colourful cutouts and handmade paper. There are boxes and scrolls, leaves and accordion files.

I’m thrilled that people are still making beautiful, brilliant books that do much more than contain stories. They are stories.