Tag Archives: non fiction

Art Vs Dark

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Why is it when you fall out of a habit, it’s so damned hard to get back into it? I was shocked to see how long I let this blog lay fallow. But it’s a new year, and I’m determined to try to dust off this habit and write something useful—well that is to be determined by you—but after a year like 2016, let’s try and do this together. Meet here once in a while? Sure. If you’re willing, I’m willing.

I’ve been on a zero news diet for the past week and lo and behold I find myself spontaneously dancing to Spotify, whistling through hallways and making small joyous pirouettes across my floors. What is going on? What is this feeling? So unusual after months of clenched worry, tightened throat and disbelief at the daily news cycle that obliterated logic and ushered in a new era of post-truth. I realized that the constant streaming of bad news from all media channels was creating a kind of tension fog in my brain. Once cleared, I was able to feel and sense the world around me and voila! The immediate world was a beautiful place I had forgotten still existed.

Look, as a Canadian I won’t lie, the situation south of the border is unnerving. Disturbing. Nightmarish in fact. But what use are we if we’re addled with worry and crouched in a position of terrorized protection?

Having to not go to the day job certainly plays a part in this newfound joyous feeling as does sleeping lots and reading essays by Joan Didion in the middle of the day. Also, how do we forget the healing power of snacks? Triscuits and Baba Ganoush are an old time favourite set on my grandma’s china beside my lap as I thumb through the soft feathery pages of a novel. The wide openness of these days feels like a tide that is not relentless as it comes in but rather like a pool being filled for summer. Inside, I clap and dive in with the joy of having time to just swim to where I want to go and not to where someone tells me.

But with a year passing behind, there’s no denying that I’m getting older. Well, we all are I’m afraid. I know some of you with tighter skin and dazzlingly impervious triceps may not yet know this, but mortality is the polite person at our elevator waiting for the cue to close the doors. As the ice obstinately circles my apartment sidewalks and coats the street with defiance that it can, yes it can, bring us West Coast wusses to our proverbial knees, there is a blue sky above, food in my fridge and a warm radiator. My son has grown a thicker beard and is, like me, gearing up for January courses that will have us pulling our hair our by mid-term. But luckily we have marvelously thick hair so I know we’ll survive.

The point is, instead of going back to the daily news museum of horrors, I’m going to strengthen my outpost here on earth. I am going to shore up supplies like compassion and empathy. I’m going to stock the larder with patience, contemplation, and a tich of keep-my-mouth-shut. I will fortify my defenses with sweet, rational boundaries that are forgiving but infinitely healthy. I will let family in and welcome them with soup and honesty. They can come or go if they don’t find the recipe to their liking. At night I will imagine throwing fistfuls of star light to children dying from the darkness, in whatever form, by bomb, by slap, by word, by starvation, by humiliation. I will love the child I was given, and try to stop from telling, do more showing and be there if he falls off whatever log he’s using to cross the river.

I’m going to dance on my slippery floors in the face of annihilating headlines and ALL CAPS tweets from a deranged president. Because my defiant joy is better than my coiled, quiet fear.

Our creativity needs to stay sharp in 2017. I hope you will join me and create art against the dark.

Here’s to your healthy happy love-filled 2017. I will see you here more often, I promise.

*I will be using the hashtag #artvsdark to tag my writing, collaborations and artwork this year. Feel free to use this to strengthen our collective light in the world.

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Another kind of Father’s Day

Much of what I remember of my father is steeped in fear. His mythical reputation for losing his temper was handed down to me from my 10 older siblings through epic tales of survival to cautionary tales from my younger siblings on how to carefully navigate that temper.

I resented it. I wanted to be free of the yoke of his glowering persona. I longed to be free of the hard and terrible consequences that came with being a child in his world. So, I started up a small revolution in my heart against him. I knew I was the youngest, the smallest and female in a family of nine boys–with the only other female my sister who was the seeming apple in his eye–and because of this, knew there was little I could do other than to take a stand against the monster who seemed to dictate life in our home.

I couldn’t stop the blows that rained down on my brothers but when it was my turn, I was prepared. I was in trouble for coming late to dinner and it was time for my reckoning. I walked solemnly over to the drawer where the spatulas and serving spoons were kept, that were, up until that moment, loving symbols of my mom’s cooking, and pulled out one of the less dangerous looking utensils and walked over to him. This ritual was part of the torture: You had to pick the weapon you wanted to be hit with.

“Here.” I handed him the spatula, which was metal (for some reason my mom had no wooden spoons in the drawer that day, why Mom, why?) and he took it and began to slap my open palms with it. Hard and with fire behind it. I stood firm like a soldier and stared him straight in the eye without flinching. I was four. I was fierce. I would not be broken.

My dad never hit me again. But what was lost in that moment was never regained. He died only six years later when I was ten. I didn’t mourn him. I didn’t know him. I was glad the reign of fear was over.

Many years later now, I am able to look back with more compassion on my father who was, at the time of my childhood, dying. He was dying and it was a slow, awful death where his heart was slowly failing him, and he was slipping from life while at the same time trying to control it.

I started to peel back the violence from my memory and searched for moments when he was kind to me. It took some time. But I remembered he bought me a small lamp for the dark when I was 5 or 6 because I was so terrified at night I would creep down into my parents bedroom and crawl slowly up into my mom’s bed (in those days they had separate beds) stopping when I heard his gruff complaint at my presence to which my mom always answered, “It’s only Margaret, dear, go back to sleep.”

I remember another time I was dancing in our dining room to some music in my head and he snuck a photo of me. I was really shocked that he’d cared enough to capture the moment but also didn’t know how to act–it was too intimate for such a distant relationship. Or the time he let me keep the kitten I found in a box–begrudingly, with complaints of future fleas and cost, and a Pinteresque pause before yes–then his small gesture to bring the kitten to him as he peered in the box and petted his small head. I can see now he was there, albeit far away, trying to be a father to me, but I was running in the opposite direction and he never had the emotional or physical ability to run after me.

More recently, I found an old letter of his to his older brother in a pile of photos, from a year or so before his death. He acknowledges he’s dying and is clearly sorrowful; at the end of the letter he writes about me, saying “Most of all, I think about little Margaret. That Margaret is really something, full of beans and always surprising me.” That I was in his mind at all came as a complete surprise to me but the tone is even more surprising–one of delight, tinged with deep regret and sorrow, knowing he will never see his daughter grow up, and perhaps having never really been a father to her at all.

Now, a single parent for two decades, I have a much better understanding of what my father must have been feeling and the challenges he faced during that time and wish I could sit with him now and pour us a stiff drink. I think I’d see that he wasn’t a villain. I think I’d see that I’m full of his best qualities: Courage, leadership, tenacity, vision. In fact, I think we’d be close friends.

Here’s to you Frank, wherever you are, bottoms up. See you on the other side.

My dad in 1977, the year he died.

My dad in 1977, the year he died.

 

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Filed under Non-fiction