The Secret Pleasure of Living Life Outside the Numbers

Last month I had a birthday. I tried not to let my natural inclination to expect something magical to happen nudge me beforehand or signal me with little whimsical Carol Burnett ear pulls. I really beat it down this year then realized I was a little sad I had.

The fact is, I’ve never played blasé convincingly in my entire life.

Unlike me, my mother really didn’t seem to expect anything to happen on her birthday then seemed genuinely tickled that a single person remembered. She wasn’t afflicted with performer level vanity like I am. I remember I used to stand in the bathroom with her as she was getting ready to go out and I’d ask her, “How old are you?” She would brush me off saying, “Oh, a woman doesn’t tell after a certain age my dear.”

“But what is the age, that age you stopped saying your birthday age, when was that?”

She’d smile and look at my face staring at her in the mirror and I’d know she was onto me.

I would try to sneak it in when she least suspected–even as we kneeled in church to pray–and see if she would break. “Shhhhhh,” she’d scold me and I would cross my arms, angry at her stubborn refusal to share this part of her self with me. Surely I was trustworthy? Surely I, above all people, was someone she could reveal herself to? I tried over and over only to be met with her philosophical refrain.

“A woman doesn’t…” she’d start.

“Forget it. I don’t even care!” I’d yell, storming upstairs, my heels hard on each step so she’d hear it in the kitchen below.

Here’s the thing: I found myself saying it on my birthday this year. Just exactly as my mother did. I don’t know why I decided it was the time I would turn the world away from my door, banish them forever from prying a number from me but I did.

“A woman doesn’t tell after a certain age.” My co-worker looked at me like I should be wearing a wig and holding a long cigarette. I realized my mom’s era had seeped into me and was now inhabiting my body like the ghost of Norma Desmond.

I don’t care. I’m going with it. I’ve no time for numbers. The point is living  life, not the passing of it.

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Mrs. Everett Goes To Tasmania

Dearest readers you probably forgot about me by now. I nearly did. That writing self, the one who makes it a practice to blog every week, where did she go? Mired in ordinary work I’m afraid. I’ve come to realize writing for someone else all day really takes the wind out of my creative sails by the weekend. I did carve out some precious time for my own work, however, and in a flurry of words, I managed to crank out the longest segment of my Mrs. Everett story since it began. It’s her voyage to Australia and Tasmania and it’s really about four chapters but given it is a transmedia story, I’ll just give you a little section of prose intro here. You’ll find the rest of it unfolding on my biz site at http://www.whatisyourstory.ca soon. Notice I don’t commit to a date.

To catch you up, Mrs. Everett has been in Italy on the Amalfi coast having a romance with a gentleman named Lodano. Of course it didn’t work out and she felt for the first time in two decades, a bit of a broken heart. Not a real broken heart (because we know those can be fatal), just a little hairline fracture but nonetheless it hurts her deeply and in this chapter we are joining her as she sets off for the wide-open spaces of Australia to heal her heart. At the end of this chapter we’ll see Mrs. Everett reuniting with Mr. Everett’s younger sister, Mara, which doesn’t go so well at first. But that’s a whole other story to unfold down the road.

****

She let out a sigh of relief as the plane door was finally shut with a deliberate clunk of the metal latch. It was the most comforting sound she could imagine hearing at that moment and she happily leafed through a safety pamphlet in Italian, feeling her shoulders ease and drop. She hoped the seat beside her stayed empty. She wasn’t in the mood to make anyone else cheerful. God knew she wasn’t.

How foolish she’d been! She stuffed the pamphlet roughly into the seat back ahead of her and stared out the window. They had begun to roll down the runway and the plane heaved and creaked as she leaned forward, hoping she could somehow help speed it up and get as far away from Italy as possible.

Lodano.

His name rolled around in her mind like dice in an endless game. It made her think of ice cubes and she looked up for a stewardess. A red seat belt sign frowned down at her. No drink to ease her nerves yet.

Lodano.

How she loved to say his name, hesitantly, joyously, sensuously, whispery. She felt ashamed at how much she’d said it. Like an addict, she had binged on his attention, watching his eyes watching her lips as she’d cooed to him, a long-lost femininity fluttering up into her face, her eyes, along her skin, and flooding her mind.

Until she woke up in their hotel room early one morning and looked out the window to find  him exploring the back of a sundress on a young, curvy Italian woman.

She’d believed her days of being cuckolded were over. Still, there was a certain sense of whimsy to it all that she’d not felt since she’d been in high school. She knew Edward would say she was an easy target, a cliché, but she’d really been deeply infatuated with Lodano. Or was it Italy? No matter,  she was on her way to Australia and she was determined to have an adventure. She was circling around the idea of visiting Mara, Edward’s sister, but first she needed to hole up and knit back the hole she’d torn in her newly acquired confidence.

***

It unsettled her. This feeling of apathy. What was wrong with her? She’d loved every Four Seasons she’d ever stayed in. But she realized Italy had changed her forever and no amount of amenity or luxurious food, bedding or service would be enough to shift the weight, to unburden her from the sense that the time had come for her to really and truly let what she’d set in motion happen, unfold and become.

The front desk was agitated. There was a lineup and luxury hotels don’t like lineups. They moved in precision with clipped, hushed tones as she leaned on one leg then another, watching for a every inch she could move forward. She was normally an acquiescent tourist but now she was a traveler and she wanted out of Sydney.

“Yes, that’s correct, today. I realize it’s several days short of when I’d reserved for but something has come up.” She had nothing else to add. She stared flatly at the woman who paused, with a brief nod that conveyed her slight annoyance and offered a polite  ‘certainly, ma’am, by all means we are pleased you enjoyed your stay with us’. Well, she hadn’t enjoyed her stay but it wasn’t the hotel’s fault.

At the lounge the night before she’d met a BMW instrument mechanic who had purposefully spent most of his life on the road so he could avoid his marriage. He was matter-of-fact about it and they had an immediate commonality of travelers with no true ‘home’. They’d shared a dinner of appetizers in the bar and he’d described his travels in Tasmania in such tangible, colourful stories she knew that she would have to go there next. It sounded like a place where she could escape everything. It sounded like a place where she might also find what she’d been looking for since she’d started her journey.

***

On the ferry to Tasmania there was a rack of cards advertising places to stay. She couldn’t understand what they were. They were pictures of homes with people’s faces on the front of the brochures holding dogs and proffering baskets of food seemingly on their own front porch. Did they rent their living rooms? She turned one over after another. They were B & B’s. Bed and breakfast. Breakfast in bed? In someone’s actual bed? Not a hotel bed. It was an odd idea.

She wandered to the deck and considered how she might sleep in someone’s basement. The prices did not seem a lot lower than some of the hotels she’d stayed at so what was the selling point? She imagined soem kindly husband supporting his wife’s small business, walking by in his boxers int he middle of the night, giving her a small wave and she brushed her teeth.

No, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.

Stop it. You came here to do try new things. To remember how you used to live in the world. How your body felt without props, artifice or Edward. Why travel to the ends of the earth if not to end something? If not to find what you have lost?

She looked out over the cheerful expanse of blue ocean meeting blue sky and for the first time since she’d been a teenager realized she was truly free.

***

She stood at the edge of the property and looked up towards the house. She had the urge to call the taxi back. She felt like she was trespassing. There didn’t seem to be anyone home anyway. She turned to call the car back when a burst of energy piled out of the front door including two dogs, a man and a short, wiry woman with an unruly mop of silver curls that bounced as she bounded past her husband and met her with a hug. Prue broke into surprised laughter as her upright stance was  caught off guard and she stumbled in the woman’s embrace. The woman introduced herself as Ann and the man behind her as her husband, Ellis. He offered his hand and it was warm though roughly calloused.  Ann expertly guided her towards the shade of the deck.

“Are you parched? It’s hotter than usual out here the past few weeks and if you’re not used to it, can affect the noggin’, right?” The woman spoke quickly, sharp and precise like her movements as she scooped Prue’s bag from her shoulder and crossed the porch into the house, opening the door wide open for Prue.

“No, I’ve learned since traveling so much this year to always have a bottle of water by my side, thanks ever so much.”

Prue suddenly felt too formal and self-conscious, like she’d just barged into a family of perfect strangers (which she had) but her hosts instantly sensed it and offered her a tour of the house. It had large wood beams on the ceiling and artwork on every inch of the walls, with colourful  stained glass hanging in the windows that flooded the room with beautiful light. It felt like a home. She’d forgotten what that felt like and she her eyes blurred with the sudden prick of tears. Ann took no notice and kept up a steady stream of monologue as she led Prue to her guest room which was a kind of semi-detached space off the back of the house with its own small deck that looked out over a yard brimming with Ann’s artwork in all shapes and sizes of sculpture, paint, glass work, and pottery. The room was utterly silent save the soft chirping of birds she’d never heard nor seen before, some with flashes of green feathers as they moved between branches at the edge of the garden. The small bed butted up against a half-wall made of white slatted wood and huge windows surrounding it. Small wooden shelves lined one side filled with books and brightly painted pottery. An old-fashioned coverlet with bright embroidered flowers covered the bed. Prue instantly wanted to lie in it and listen to the birds.

“Allight then, you have a lie down and we’ll set about fixing a lovely dinner for you when you are good and ready for company. If you want to that is! We’re not fussy here and don’t want anyone telling us when and where we need to be–ever!” Ann said this with a kind of fervor that made Prue smile. She liked the rules of the house already.

“Thank you Ann, I think I will lie down for a bit,” Prue said, a yawn escaping before she could cover her mouth.

Ann made a noise of approval and whisked off, her salt-and-pepper curls dancing after her as she leapt up the two stairs to the door the separated them from the main house. The smell of the ocean drifted through the screens on the window and she was glad she’d chosen Coles Bay to begin her Tasmania adventure. It was remote, beautiful, and unpretentious. And so far, very poor cell reception which suited her just fine.

Prue had not felt so sleepy since London when she’d visited the hammam. As she closed her eyes she made a mental note to herself that this was the best check-in of her life.

***

Tassie Jan 14 049

© Margaret Doyle 2014
Photo credit Laurine Croasdale

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The curious nature of memory and power

If you were online this weekend, most likely you will have run into headlines about the open letter to Woody Allen written by his daughter, Dylan. It’s a tough letter. A raw string of letters vibrating with fury and grief. It is without doubt, the most damning charges laid yet at the feet of the famed director.

What to think? I’ve looked up to, nay, revered, Woody’s masterful direction and writing, blocking and lighting, awkward pauses and long shots, characters and heroines but most of all his sense of life: the absurdity, the uncertainty, the heartbreak and the tumbling irrational ways of love. When I was a young director, I studied his movies and played scenes from them over and over. I went so far as to try to re-create romantic scenes (cooking lobsters with a boyfriend a la Annie Hall) and watched with stupefied wonder at the breadth of his content creation year after year, an unrelenting bar of excellence many would look up to and try to emulate.

Yet in 1992 my vision of him as artist-god was damaged by the accusations of child abuse during the intensely acrimonious separation between Woody and Mia Farrow. And yet, no charges were successfully laid and the marriage of Soon-Yi, Mia’s adopted daughter (not Woody’s despite some uninformed reporters) seemed to affirm that Woody had indeed committed no crime except the strange  and somewhat unsettling fact of falling in love with what was in many people’s minds, an extended family member.

I was myself lulled back into the spell of his work and would quietly push away that nagging accusation of abuse as I sat down to devour each and every one of his movies since the early nineties.

But tonight I am deeply disturbed by this content. The textual details, the bare openness of her revelations, the anger–they all seem to be ringing from a true bell, not a cracked one.

I find I am quite unable to go back into the illusion while there is a deep suspicion that there was a serious boundary crossed with his daughter. It is not easy to look at the allegations without the soft distance (and protection) of a kind of cultish cinematic admiration. Indeed, Woody is no less a brilliant writer and director to me but I cannot help but feel he is much less a man.

Child abuse is brought into adulthood by both the child and the abuser yet the power nearly always remains with the abuser. As a child, you are burdened with the heavy secret the adult lays upon your shoulders. As an adult, your version of the secret remains told through a child lens and therefore is easily sloughed off as ‘imagination’ or ‘here say’.

I wonder when we will take child abuse as seriously as we do smoking or cancer? Because as far as I can see, we are no better at recognizing it in our midst or supporting those that come forward than we have been at any time in the past.

Read Dylan’s letter and let me know what you think. For a balanced view of it, perhaps read this article in the Daily Beast that refutes much of the allegations and misrepresented facts that have sprung up in the case. Do you think it is ‘real’? Do you think she just wrote a letter to the New York Times for her own fame? Her own amusement? I wonder. We can’t know what happened for sure, but there is much smoke and a dark and hidden fire in this story.

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Digital transience and the importance of purging our fear

January has undone me and not in a good way. It was like a guest that shows up to find you just stepped out of the shower. I wasn’t ready. It took me along in a sea of to-do’s not listening to my early morning groans from beneath the covers. I’ve valiantly fought my way back into the normal flow of day-to-day but made a silent oath to myself to see more theatre, music, and hear poets and storytellers–live and in person in 2014.

Aristotle said that purging an audience of pity and fear is in essence a critical duty of the theatre to keep a society civil. What he meant was, purge the big emotions in the theatre and they’re less likely to be re-enacted out in the streets.  I agree with him but add that it is not only a functional purpose but a spiritual one. Not in the sense of religion but in the sense of one’s soul, nourishment of one’s own silent place, contemplative moment, solace. In a world of digital transience, it is important we don’t lose touch with literature, theatre and music performed in real-time in front of us. Sometimes these things are more work to attend. We might have to put on our coats and buy tickets, pay for parking and find a seat and pay attention–wait for it–without checking our iPhones for several hours.

We have to listen.

I saw a lovely production on Saturday of Chekhov’s The Seagull put on by the UBC Theatre and throughout the performance I was struck at the words and the timelessness of the messages subtly woven into the play. Great artists tap into universal truths that never really go away. In a world moving as fast as it is, listening to a piano concerto or seeing a play sharpens our senses, ignites our imaginations and demands we stop our own inner daily chatter and open ourselves up to the artists’ story world. Therein we are changed.

This is a unique experience I think specific to the performing arts. Cherish your performing arts in your community;  I truly believe they are even more important now then when Aristotle lived.

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List it

Last year I made a list of things I wanted to do in 2013. Funny how few of them have any relevance now. I think there’s value in setting forth intentions, however, so in no particular order, I’ll take a crack at a list for 2014:

1. Take one long deep breath before I react.

2. Let go of self-consciousness, playing small to accommodate, minimization of self.

3. Methodically increase my skills that will better match up the stories I tell to the stories I imagine.

4. Take a train to Montreal.

5. Honour the early hour, ignore the discomfort, and take the body to the gym.

6. Unplug and run away–into story, into the forest, into friendship–one day per week.

7. Attend a meaningful storytelling conference or commune–doesn’t matter–where I can really dweeb out with my fellow story hounds.

8. Attend to shoring up healthy boundaries.

9. Finish. The. Damn. Novel.

10. Let go of sugar and carbs that are fair-weather friends at best.

I think I’ll stop at 10. Seems kind of manageable but knowing me, I’ll likely add to it until it topples over like a Jenga game but for now, it seems orderly and so, I commence my intentions for the new year. Please share yours too, maybe we can keep each other on track?

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Disregard Ups and Downs and Get On With Writing

I am feeling very fortunate that I have the rest of the week to write. Whatever I want. With no one lurking in the shadows with a particular agenda, criticism, or secret need for my words. They will be entirely mine to do with them as I please! Hooray! It sounds bucolic but it will be a lot of work as you can well see I’ve not been writing much as of late. Having a day job really puts a crimp in one’s writing but that is the age-old conundrum of any writer. I have a friend who is writing a novel and subsists on packaged noodles and a part-time job that doesn’t nearly pay enough to live even close to the poverty line. But he is a dedicated writer and finish his novel he will. I can’t say the same for myself. But while my son still lives with me, I’m obligated to put a good shelter over our heads and write when and where I can.

Recently, I picked up the journals of Virginia Woolf for inspiration and was once again struck by the similarity in her challenges as I myself have in 2013 as a woman trying to carve out a writing life. One quote struck me in particular, as it nailed what I think writers often feel–that sense of total isolation that is all the more acute if the writer isn’t published far and wide. Or, at all.

 “Unpraised, I find it hard to start writing in the morning; but the dejection lasts only 30 minutes, and once I start I forget all about it. One should aim, seriously, at disregarding ups and downs; a compliment here, a silence there;…the central fact remains stable, which is the fact of my own pleasure in the art.”

As a writer, you inevitably ask yourself, what is the point? Often several times a week, or, if it is a particularly bad writing day, every few seconds. But then you are drawn into your stories and characters and realize that feeling is like no other and that the ‘pleasure in the art’ is the entire point.

So, in other words, best to just get on with it.

To that end, I am more than halfway through, at long last, a volume of poetry I will be giving directly to readers (yes, that’s you!). I have no patience anymore to run around begging publishers to read me, read me, read me so taking Amanda Palmer’s model, I’ll simply give it away and see if I get donations. What do you think of that idea? I think it is rather 2014 and I think Virginia would support it entirely. The title of the collection is called ‘Love Poems. Kind of’. Because I can’t honestly–truthfully–offer a collection of love poems and not include the denouement of those love stories. Also, I think it is a little humorous to offer this for February as a kind of tongue-in-cheek nod to all those over-the-top romantic gestures dramatized in media that are solely aimed at selling products. So, hopefully dear reader you will download it and have a good read with some heart-shaped chocolates by yours side and a wry smile or two as well.

In the meantime, I’m putting my writing boots on and escaping to forage deep in the landscape of my imagination until I have to face reality on Jan. 6th. To all of you who’ve read my words, shared your thoughts, and patiently put up with my random blogging schedule and content, I thank you and wish you– from my heart to yours–a lovely, blessed new year.

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A little photo walk of Vancouver in December…

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These pictures were taken along the beach at Locarno then at Granville Island–a gem of a market I still love to visit after decades. I just got my new camera so haven’t added any filters or edits to these but have also just got a new computer and will be thoroughly enjoying fooling around with Photoshop this Christmas for hours on end!

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