Saturday, January 16, 2010

A small collection of work...

...steadily growing.

For those of you who've wondered where I've gone, you can find an hyperlinked index of my writing and art for This Great Society here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This Great Society

Have launched an online creative journal, by peers for peers, with A LOT of help from my friends.

Check it out (click image above), browse around, get in touch if you're interested in contributing! We welcome anything creative that we can upload.

This Great Society publishes monthly. September's is in progress and we're looking for folks who want to contribute to October's. Fire me a line if you're considering it, and I'll send you more info.



Sunday, June 7, 2009

To the Women of my "Vida"

I was on the treadmill at my women-only gym, noticing with relief that the TV wasn’t turned to another real estate show. Instead, a calypso beat filled my headphones as soon as I plugged them in, rhythmically pattering alongside my feet on the track.

On the screen was a film documenting the story of a Cuban choreographer and her all-female company staging an original production -- a fusion of flamenco, contemporary ballet and Afro-Cuban influences (somewhat predictably named “Vida!”). The women were writing, practicing, recording – and taking their creation on the road to Toronto.

As I ran in place, flanked by other women running in place, staring at screens, I became absorbed in the story of the dance. It wasn’t terribly original, but it was undeniably moving. An older woman looks back on her life story, her loves, her struggles and triumphs, moving towards the final moment when she turns to her grand-daughter and bestows on her an amulet of sorts, which the choreographer called, “the gift of life.”

There were twenty-five women and girls in the company, and many of the shots scanned across a stage filled with all of them: shoes slamming into the wood, heads held up proudly, hips and skirts moving in time to a wave of music. Twenty-five strong, beautiful faces staring out at the Toronto audience with fire in their eyes as they stepped and stomped and swayed in unison, pausing only now and then to allow a single woman to let loose a firestorm of solo passion.

I ran without noticing my feet hitting the treadmill, wishing the interviews would hurry up so I could get back to the darkened stage.

In the final scene, a little girl crouches at the center of a lonely beam of light, holding a staff much bigger than she is. Slowly, with determination, she brings it down with both hands onto the boards: once, twice, a third time...calling.

You can hear the dancers before you see them, the lines of women tapping a strong, measured flamenco from the shadows like an emerging heartbeat. They surround her slowly, each holding a staff in front, each holding herself erect – back straight, shoulders thrown back.

As the group of women dance, moving their staffs with the drums – up into the air, behind them, low to the ground and in front of them again – the character of the grandmother beckons to the girl, places her stick in her hands, and slowly, patiently, shows her the steps. To the side. No, like this.

I was choking up at the gym. I can safely say this never happens to me, and it led me to wonder how the women around me would react if they saw tears dropping onto the treadmill, rolling down the “number of calories burned” display.

As I watched the young dancer mimic the older one, shifting her much smaller feet in time with the music, I began putting other faces on the women falling into rank with her. My own mother, my five sisters, my close female friends now spread around the world, my wise mentors, and my own two grandmothers. The list rolled and rolled with the sound of the dancers’ footsteps.

“Like this, you see...”
This is how you knead bread, stage a play, ride a bike.

“Like this, watch...”
This is how you be a friend, try again, mend a broken heart.

“Like this, follow...”
This is how you learn to learn, begin to write, take a risk.

“Like this, let me...”
This is how you accept wisdom, lean on another, create a life.

Step forward, back up, twirl, tilt, shuffle, thunderous collective stomp as the company comes to a stop, staffs raised...stand.

Like this.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dance with Necessity

Butter and flour and milk and broth. White sauce the old-fashioned way. Chicken over egg noodles just like we used to make it on the farm if you don't count the jar of gourmet fire-roasted red peppers, and the dash of poultry seasoning I learned how to chop and mix and dry myself. Chop and mix, stir and taste. Sipping a honey lager that glows golden on the counter. Boards of Canada on the stereo, night deepening outside as Vancouver joggers flish-flash past, as lights go on over the bridge, creating the shimmering view from the side streets.

There is comfort in this: chop and mix, stir and taste. Simmer and cover. Wipe and sweep and adjust the burner. I find myself smoothing the over-worked, inflammed passageways of my mind as I chop and mix, stir and taste. Like the shuddering subsiding of sobs into peace, the unanswered questions, the grating doubts, the baggage of the day and the week and the years, subsides in the kitchen's warm light.

Afterwards, there will be the pool of lamp's light and the pages to write in. The questions will emerge again from the evening's shadows, but less threatening than in the noonday glare, tamed by the affirmation of life that is this: chop and mix, stir and taste.

For unto the day is the evil sufficient. For this moment we need to nourish. For at this time we re-affirm that this matters, the nuance of two dashes of pepper or three, the flick of the whisk, the curl of white milk into the savory golden pan. This matters and is beautiful, as does and as is everyone around the table, whether a dozen familiar faces, or my own blurry reflection in the darkened window pane. Feed and be fed. Love and be loved. Move to the necessities of life with no grudge, but with grace. Allow the routine to heal you, the bathing of time -- often so annoying in its demands. The repetition, the turn and turn again, becomes a dance of acceptance. A waltz with necessity, but with gratefulness.

Chop and mix, stir and taste. For this thy bounty, we thank you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Little Gidding

Reading T.S. Eliot for the first time in a long time tonight,and newly impressed by his thought & prowess.

The opening from "Little Gidding" struck me as particularly meaningful and familiar, these frozen March days. Days like these I find myself pondering the uncomfortable (or sometimes too-comfortable) suspension between inertia (hibernation?) and growth (or "generation" as Eliot calls it later in the same poem). When this tension holds me between the two poles, I feel my own familiar life become strange territory in the witching hours of frozen, golden afternoons. As Eliot does, I ask "where is the summer?" I suppose it's the sun, plying the soul's sap with light.

"Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic,
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but Pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the springtime
But not in time’s covenant..."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

‘O Sole Mio

I’m what you might call a romantic, and since moving from a small northern town into Vancouver, I like discovering anything about the place than can be remotely romanticized: “Oooh, look at that beautiful graffiti!” My roommate, on the other hand, is one of those no-nonsense, small-town, northern girls – what you might call a pragmatic. So when she began complaining about a guy who sings up and down Tenth Avenue, my ears perked up.

“I mean my God he’s so annoying!” she exclaimed one day, taking her runners off.

“Who? Who is?” I asked desperately.

“The guy who always sings at the top of his lungs in Italian. You’ve heard him.”

“No, no I haven’t,” I replied, practically frantic at having missed so rare a specimen.

“Well you will,” she predicted darkly, walking off to her room, “I mean, how much attention do people need to draw to themselves?”

I could have answered that one, but her disdain for the singer only made me want to hear him more. And she was right, I did. His deep, resonant voice filled the air one summer night as I was lying on my bed reading a book. I stared out into the dark, transfixed, wishing I knew what the song was. From then on, I heard him all the time. He sang in the rain, he sang in the sun, and he definitely sang by twilight – which seemed to be his favourite hour.

I tried to cajole my roommate into liking him. “Maybe he’s from – you know – the old country or something,” I suggested. “Like, maybe they walked around the streets of the little town singing and drinking espresso and red wine.”

“Well that’s ok in his village or whatever, but in Vancouver, people drink their espresso quietly!”

I didn’t mind so much. I wanted to see him, this phantom.

And then one unexpected evening, balancing too many bags of groceries from my limbs in a most un-romantic way, I spotted him – a small elderly gentleman, chest out, literally vibrating with the notes. He tipped his hat and kept going, leaving the milk and eggs and me in a wake of music.

It was one of those rare moments when the city rewards you for believing in it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Park bench diatribes and roman candles

“Last time I saw Jesus, I was drinking Bloody Mary’s in the South.”
- Over the Rhine

I’ve been taking the headphones of my ipod off more often, recently. It’s amazing what you hear, and strangely enough, what you see, when you aren’t plugged into that song that is plunging you into some internal reverie.

As in tonight, the man with the shopping cart sitting on the bench outside the library, yelling out for anyone who would listen, that he’s “antI-election, antI-RE-election, antI-Republicans-in-MEXICO!!” I have no idea what that meant, but as he paused to pay me a fairly classy compliment amid his diatribe, I concluded it was rather charming anyways.

Or the older gent who gave me a half-bow outside the theatre and said he liked the armful of white flowers I was hurrying through the night air of South Granville.

Or the young guy with a sherpa hat and massive beard and tunic and electric blue sneakers rambling past me across UBC’s grounds singing “I’m bound for the promised land” at the very top of his rather quavery lungs.

Time would fail me to tell of the slim mother and young daughter arms slung around each other as they peered in shop windows, the silver-haired man with the fedora who sings operas in perfect pitch and in stereo sound as he strolls down our street, the girl in the coffee shop who smiled at everything slightly manically, the young pan-handler who thanks me for refusing him every time I pass the liquor store.

Now, I know there’s a danger of treating people as a collector does – as odd curiosities that one can put on one’s shelf and admire from a distance. And stereotype. But I think that really looking, really listening, couldn’t but do me a world of good, and seems to do a number to stereotypes in the process.

There’s something in these moments when a flame of humanity jumps out at you – something unexpected. Not surprisingly, it’s often the ones who seem in need or at very least – vulnerable. I am coming to agree with Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'”

I say commonplace things all the time, but I agree with the sentiment. And I think in those who are perhaps a little more on the edge, a little less dogmatic in their days and actions, I see a bit of holiness walking the earth, mixed in with all those other uglier elements of human nature. Incarnation is, after all, a messy thing.