She was an energetic child, running ahead of her parents everywhere they went. She was full of laughter and joy and her long golden hair flew behind her as she ran. She was a child of the sun.
They tried, one summer, to put her on one of those leashes for children. It was at Klondike Days in Edmonton. After the third passer-by asked what was wrong and could that child not walk (she had lain on the ground, flat on her back, and refused to move, in the middle of the fairway), her parents removed the leash, handed it back to the rental office, and asked for their money back. They made it clear to the child that she was not to run so far ahead that she could not see her parents’ eyes. So the child ran backwards through the fairway. After that, her father carried her. Her favourite was when he pushed her up onto his broad, strong shoulders so she rode above the surging crowd. She could reach the sun. She was the colour yellow.
She was the child who loved everything she found. There was never a middle ground for her. Once her heart had begun to open, it opened all the way. She loved the dandelions that littered the lawn, their little fuzzy heads tickling her lips. She loved the scratchiness of her grandfather’s unshaven jaw. She loved to hammer nails into boards in the driveway. She loved the kittens born to a stray in the garage. She loved the dead animal she found in the bushes, and the little white worms that wriggled inside it. She loved the snakes and the frogs in the garden, the cooing of pigeons, and the way gophers wagged their tails. She loved the endless peacock-blue sky, she loved the wind that took away her breath, she loved the stones that made ripples in puddles. She loved the people into whose arms she wriggled each night, and the stories they whispered in her ear before she was sent off to bed.
As for the things she didn’t love, she was very clear about that too. She hated when people were mean. She hated stones in her shoes. She hated that the old fart who lived across the alley told all the kids to call him “old Bonehead”, and she thought he was being mean to himself and so she decided she would never call him “old Bonehead”, and that made him angry and he threw onions at her. She hated weeds in the lake that brushed against her calves. She hated liver. She hated that so many people were too busy. She hated the colour pink. She was a child of hyperbole.
She was friendly. She was never shy to meet new people, even though sometimes she didn’t like being around a lot of them. She always preferred being just a little way away. She liked her distance, but wasn’t afraid to get close. She didn’t so much unfurl as explode, throwing her arms wide, as wide as her smile. She was full of just as many shadows as she was full of light, though, and sometimes was afraid of the dark, afraid of thunder.
It wasn’t the dark itself that frightened her, but the stillness it brought with it. The dampened sounds, the whispered voices. The movement she could only see out of the corner of her eye, there by the edge of the dresser. The ghostly images that swam, reflected in a looking-glass or a window, half-seen then lost on second glance. It was the loneliness that darkness brought that scared her the most. She didn’t so much mind being alone, but dreaded the feeling of being left behind, being left out, being forgotten. If the lights went out, would the world forget her?
She comforted herself with words. Long after the lights had gone out, words tumbled from her tongue. Like soldiers marching across uneven terrain, they came one by one. Words she’d heard but didn’t know: chrysanthemum, pneumonia, adjunct, fallow, carburator. She tried these words out in tiny whispers while the house grew still around her.
Words enveloped her, comforted her. She dreamed if she ran fast enough and said the right word, she could jump and become airborne. When she rode in the bed of the truck on bumpy gravel roads, she could stand up and hold tight to the rear window of the cab. The wind that smashed against her face would steal her words, and that’s when she most liked to shout the words she was most curious about – when only the wind could take them. She was a logodaedalian.
She was never afraid of death. It was all part of a cycle, and cycles made sense. Even when death came for her grandparents, she was not afraid. Sad, yes, but never afraid. Death was not a dark place. It was simply unknown. A blank page. Unnamed. Something unnamed was something to be explored. Something to be learned about. Something new.
The sadness death left in its wake, though, weighed heavily on her. She could not bear to see others’ tears and suffering; she felt her own heart breaking every time. Sometimes it was unbearable, and the heaviness of sadness would send her from the room. This was when the darkness became comfortable for her. Where the sun could not reach her, she could be perfectly blue.
I was in Calgary recently. You remember this from such classics as “I lost the King in Yellow” and “damn, that was a good Manhattan, even without the cherries”. Well. Maybe not that last bit. That may have been a *private* experience.
At any rate, while being chauffered to the aeroport for my return jaunt, my hosts pointed out a really cool THING sitting on the overpass just before the turnoff. “What do you think of THAT?” the Fenris Wolf asked.
“I think that’s really cool!” I said. Because it was really cool. It’s a giant blue hoop just kind of…hanging out…on the overpass. “What’s it do?”
“It doesn’t *do* anything. It’s the latest piece of public art that’s causing a huge uproar.”
“What’s the uproar about? Isn’t it bad enough that Calgary doesn’t have even a single public art gallery? Now people also don’t want there to be any public art at all?”
“Well,” the Fenris Wolf said, “it cost something like $450,000 to build.”
“COOL!” I half-shouted (sorry about that, Fenris Wolf. I get excited. Even in cars. Like a puppy). “Good for the artist.”
It turns out that the city of Calgary has an interesting (although not by any means unique) public art policy that stipulates that for municipal projects, a percentage of the total project cost must be allocated to public art. I did not know about these sorts of policies (I never really thought about that before, to be honest with you. I just kind of went along assuming that all public art was pretty much reviled by 70% of the population for being a waste of money, and that everyone in Canada who values public art had to fight tooth and nail to get any of it installed anywhere, ever. I was wrong. I like being wrong sometimes). ANYWAY. So there was a municipal project in Calgary, and the city commissioned a group of German artists (called inges idee and consisting of Hans Hemmert, Axel Lieber, Thomas A. Schmidt and Georg Zey) to create a piece of public art, and their winning project was “Travelling Light”, which is a giant blue hoop.
This topic was featured on the radio this morning as well, with some interesting arguments and discussions. Like, I suspect, most public art installations, there are people who don’t like the piece. There are people who don’t “get” the piece (I’m not sure if “getting” it is the point, but I’m’a talk about that in a minute). There are people who are incensed that more than $450,000 was paid for a giant blue hoop (which, if you read up on it, is quite an interesting piece of engineering. It’s not just a big blue hula hoop stuck on the side of the road with sticky tack and chewing gum). There are people who love the sculpture. This is normal. The whole thing has sparked a debate in Calgary’s city council and they’re talking about reworking the city’s public art policy.
I don’t really want to spend a whole lot of time on what Calgary should or shouldn’t do (get yourselves a public gallery. Really, Calgary, that’s shameful. The only major north american city without a public gallery!? Phoo.) with their public art policy. But I do want to talk about a couple of things related to public art.
1) “I don’t think we should use public dollars to pay for X”. This is a statement with which I fundamentally disagree, but I also realise folks who think this way cannot be disavowed of their opinion about the importance of public funding for the arts (in precisely the same way that I can not be disavowed of my opinon that it is a NECESSITY to allocate public money for art and culture). It’s a debate I’ve had many times over (even on this blog) and so I’m not sure it’s even necessary to open that discussion again. I also want to be clear here that I include amateur sports in “culture”. Because they are an integral and important part of our quality of life.
2) “My six-/three-year old could do that.” Now this *is* an interesting argument. One of the reasons your six or three or two or nine year old could do that art is because before we train the ingenuitiy and creative genius and passion out of our children, they are pure vessels of wonder. This sounds *very* hippy-dippy, and I don’t mind that. The point I’m making here is that our children see things in ways that we have forgotten too look, and that is one of the reasons that art – ALL art – is so important. You might not be able to tell that the scribble in the centre of the page is supposed to be a goose, but your kid can. And your kid can tell you a whole story about that goose. And probably has a song to make up about it and an accompanying dance move. Do you know what this is?
This is a child’s brain firing on all cylinders. This is the very crux of learning, of growth, the very spark of intelligence. We learn through expression, through communication, through observation. What that kid with the goose-scribble has just done is observe her environment, interpret her environment, and reproduce what she experienced in an effort to communicate it to others. THIS IS A HUGE DEAL.
So when you’re saying that a piece of art is “so simplistic that a child could do it”, you are paying an enormous compliment to the artist. What you’re saying is that the artist has been able to recapture what most of us lose in about grade 1: the ability to see something, wonder about it, and interpret it. And to be able to create something that is wholly new or different. Sometimes this is representational, and we can “tell what something is supposed to be”. We are trained to think of representational art as “good art”, because it’s easy to grok, at first glance, that that sculpture is a dude with no arms or that that painting is a woman not quite smiling. And we get that those things make us ask questions about the artist and about the piece and generally make us think. But when we’re faced with something more abstract, those things become more challenging.
I’ll tell you, I was the first person to bitch about the Canadian government spending close to $2 million for Voice of Fire. I didn’t know the history of the piece, the artist’s intent, and I’d never seen it. I’d only ever seen pictures of it in the media. When I stood in front of that painting, I was completely overwhelmed. I mean, it’s MASSIVE. And it *did* something to me. I could go on and on about how it felt like I was falling into it, or about how I couldn’t tear my eyes away, or about how I could have very easily just spent my entire day at the National Gallery just looking at that painting. But I won’t, because personal experiences don’t amount to a hill of beans. What I will say is that as Canadians, we should be proud that our National Gallery contains billions and billions of dollars’ worth of artworks from all over the world. Voices communicating something, in a moment in time, that do, in some way, change the way we look at the world. Pieces that do make us question, or that do make us feel something. Some of them are beautiful. Some of them are ugly and horrible. Some of them are weird. But that pretty much describes all the people of the world, and that is an important thing.
3) “I don’t get it.” Not all art is there to be “got”. When you look at something and you immediately “get” it, you understand it without trying, you’re not thinking about it. You see a stop sign, you stop, you kind of half-assedly look around for oncoming traffic, and then you go. This is a basic activation of your lizard hindbrain and you’re pretty much just being a trained monkey. A sculpture of a bear that’s installed in a forest probably won’t make you think too much about it. You’ll be all, “oh hey. That’s a sculpture of a bear in the forest. That totally makes sense. Huh. It even looks like a bear and it’s actually in a forest. That’s great art!” But if you see a sculputre of a 40-foot-tall blue bear staring in to an office building, your brain starts firing off in all directions.
Smarty Pants could tell you a whole bunch about what this means, and the little tiny area in your brain, just above your ear, that basically gets tasered into action whenever you encounter something you’re not expecting. The short version of this is that you start asking questions. And when you start asking questions, you start thinking about things. And when you start thinking about things, your whole body goes into action. This, I think, is what the majority of artists out there are trying to do. They’re trying to get you to think about something, to feel something (even if that feeling is revulsion).
Not all art is pretty or palatable, or even likeable. And art is supposed to not only be a reflection of life, but it’s also supposed to get us to challenge what we think we know. It tries to get us to talk about things. To think about things. To get out of our lizard hind-brains and out of the trained monkey suit and into a different place. At least, that’s my take on it. So if you don’t “get” it right away, that’s okay. That’s GOOD! Maybe you’ll never get it (“melting watches? What the hell is with the melting watches? That’s not art; that’s just a bunch of nonsense.”). Maybe you will. Maybe you don’t like to think about things (that makes me sad) or question things (sadder) or feel things (still sad). Maybe you’re cool with the whole trained monkey schtick, and if you’re happy with that, then I guess that’s okay too. I guess.
There are many, many reasons why public art is important. Far smarter people than I have even done SCIENCE about public art. The fact that there is debate about it is a *good* thing. We argue about the things we are most passionate about. Ask yourself why a piece of public art bothers you so much. Ask yourself why you’re so upset about the amount of money being spent on it and whether you’d still be upset if the government spent the same amount of money on a concert, or a sports event, or a business convention. You might just not like the idea of governments spending public money on anything – that’s a very different discussion than whether or not public art is valuable.
See, the thing is, when I chose to become a parent, I did not think in terms of “sacrifice”. I did not think in terms of “giving things up”. It wasn’t about not being able to go out partying with my bee eff effs. It wasn’t about not eating hot food. It wasn’t about giving up my personal space and time.
It was about welcoming a brand new soul to a fucked-up, wonderful, terrifying, joy-filled world. It was about getting to help build a whole new person. It was about seeing everyone I had ever loved reflected in wide, questioning, innocent eyes.
It was a decision to learn from my mistakes, to know I would make many, many more. It was a decision to create something bigger than myself, someone more important than myself. It was about learning what true need was, and learning how to be comfortable filling that need with love and patience and absolute fear. It was about learning how to identify and to accept my myriad weaknesses and to begin to learn how to find strength.
I did not choose to become a parent because I wanted someone to fill all of those voids in my life left *by* my life. I didn’t think children would “fix my life” (rather; I knew they would bring different challenges). I certainly wasn’t doing what was expected of me.
Having children has been the scariest thing I have ever chosen to do. It is the grandest adventure, and on every adventure you encounter mishaps and hardships and insurmountable problems. Usually, I am the insurmountable problem. I had to be willing to accept that there was someone who would love me because of who I am, and who would, at the same time, resent me and sometimes hate me for those same things.
I resent the claim that parents do a thankless job ceaselessly for no pay. Parents are paid with laughter and with tears. With hugs and fights and birthdays and slamming doors and most of all with years. We are paid with time. Every moment you get to share with a child is a gift. Even if you don’t like kids (not every gift is the one we want).
The most important thing I learned when I chose to become a parent is how much I valued the people who had a hand in raising me, even though sometimes they messed up. I have learned and continue to learn so much about who I am and who I am meant to be. I have not had to sacrifice; rather I have had to earn every moment
This is something that’s been bothering me for a while. It goes hand-in-hand with the fact that we don’t value art and culture. I mean, as a society. And this isn’t about throwing public money at the arts, so I’m just going to head that whole ridiculous argument off at the pass.
What bothers me is when I hear someone (usually someone who is not in favour of public funding of arts and culture) say : “Art for the sake of art…”, a statement that is usually followed up by something like : “is fine, but why should I have to pay some fop out of my own tax dollars to make ugly paintings that I don’t like?”
I’m going to completely disregard everything that’s wrong in that question except for one part. The part about “art for the sake of art”. I’m going to break that down a little.
The theory here is that artists create because they are driven to create. And, by and large, this is true. Our lives are not livable if we’re not engaging in the things that give our lives meaning. And this is true for everyone on the planet, whether you’re a pipe fitter, a farmer, a dancer, a writer…whatever ‘er’ you are, you find meaning in doing something. For artists, that ‘something’ is applying our creative skills and imagination to produce something that evokes emotion in others (and it’s not always a lovey-dovey “oh, isn’t that LOVELY” emotion we’re going for, either). We want to create something that others appreciate.
There is an unwritten, often unmentioned social contract that takes place when you do what you think is something selfless. We like to think that we are altruistic. That is, unselfish; showing concern for others. And by and large, I think we are. We can always do more, of course. There are some things we do that we think are nice, kind things, but we sometimes don’t understand the subtle subtext that goes along with it. The unspoken contract into which we have entered.
It may seem like a small thing. It may seem inconsequential. But to some folks, these things are huge. Immense. Insurmountable. Anxiety-inducing.
At our house in Happy Hollow, we have more or less an “open door” policy. And by that we mean that if we have welcomed you into our house and invited you back, that we want you to understand that you are welcome. That when we say “you are always welcome” or “our door is always open to you”, we really really mean that. A fellow I am Quite Fond Of once told me that he neglected to visit because I hadn’t invited him. Because he hadn’t been invited. Because he is the sort of person who needs to hear “Please, Friend, come to our house. We would like to spend time with you.” And for him, he feels *unwelcome* unless the invitation is made. Unless that social contract is opened to him and for him. Over the years, I think we have come to an understanding that when we’re available, we do want to spend time with him and enjoy his company. He is not the only person who becomes Anxious at the idea of inviting himself over. But that is only one side of the social contract.
The other side, of course, is us. We have a growing family, with commitments that press upon our time and availability for socialisation. We welcome our friends into our home and we all have the understanding that our children are, by definition, a part of our social circle. We interact with their friends and they interact with our friends. This is healthy. This fosters good, strong relationships. And we make decisions about committing ourselves to social events outside our home based on whether or not we have time to do so, based on whether or not our children are also invited, and based on whether or not the whole thing would be comfortable for everyone involved. We have had to turn down weddings, celebrations, funerals, games, and trips because we weren’t willing to ditch the kids with a sitter for the weekend…because…and let me be perfectly clear, here…I really enjoy my kids’ company. I enjoy His Nibs’ company. Given my druthers, I druther spend time with them than with just about anyone else in the world. Which is good, I guess, because we’re all stuck with each other.
My point here is that the other side of the social contract is the expectation that I will extend a renewed gesture of invitation for each of our friends, for each social encounter we may host at Chez Relaxo. And just as my friend becomes Anxious at the prospect of visiting someone without an explicit invitation to do so, I become Anxious at the idea of having to extend that invitation every time. Because what if I forget someone? What if I get the time wrong? What if I don’t know what to answer when he asks “what should I bring”? What if I think I’ve invited him three times? What if I actually HAVE invited him three times? Is he going to think I’m pushy? Is he going to think I’m insisting he come? Is he going to think I will be affronted if he declines my invitation?
So the social contract becomes one of an ever-downward-spiralling nexus of anxiety and worry. It seems to be perfectly acceptable (socially) for us to say “I do not intrude on your hospitality; I will not come to you without an invitation to do so”, but somehow it’s not perfectly acceptable (socially) for us to say “I do not wish to intrude on your other commitments; please understand that we would like you to spend time with us”.
More troublesome, however, is the social contract into which we enter when we want to ‘do something’ or to give something to one another. Gift-giving is, for me, usually a spur-of-the-moment thing. A gift may be a trinket or gewgaw I’ve discovered – it may be purchased or it may be found. It’s something I’ve come across which makes me think of you, and then the contract becomes one of strengthening our bond. I want to give this to you because it makes me think of you. Perhaps it is something I have treasured. Perhaps it is something I think you might appreciate. But – and here’s the rub – I expect nothing in return.
In other words, if I choose to wash the dishes at your house, or if I bring over a stack of books as gifts, I am not weighing the measure of my charity against the measure of your charity. I do not ‘keep track’. I do not feel beholden to present you with a gift simply because you have done so for me. And, on this angle, I am utterly terrible at wedding gifts. Christmas gifts. Birthday gifts. Hallmark(tm) Day gifts. All of it, I suck at, and for not upholding this end of our social contract, I apologise. I don’t feel that because you have presented me with something I am then beholden to present you with something. And I CERTAINLY don’t feel that if I have presented something to you, you are then beholden to come up with something to give to me.
This is the part of the social contract that, quite honestly, flummoxes me. I am always quite surprised…quite pleasantly surprised…when someone sees fit to give me a gift. Often because it is shiny, or makes noise, or is a rock found on a vacation in a spot that made you think of me. I understand there are social conventions – norms or mores or what-have-you that I just don’t think about when it comes to gift-giving. I’m also terrible at things like Christmas cards and I still haven’t sent out thank you cards from our wedding (it’s not going to happen. I am a terrible person and it’s just not going to happen. I have them designed and personalised and ready to go, but Ann Landers says that if you’ve waited seven years after your wedding to send out thank you cards, you really ought to just accept that you are a terrible person, most likely possessed by the devil, and that your cruelty and insensitivity probably also means you are related directly to Josef Stalin. Seriously. I’m positive I read that in one of her columns).
So the short version of this whole big long diatribe is that I am completely broken when it comes to upholding social contracts. And I’m sorry about the thank-you cards. I really did appreciate your coming to the wedding
The manager of our restaurant is close personal friends with Joe Paopao, the Throwin’ Samoan. He used to come home at lunch bruised and battered from running patterns for him in the street. Our manager drawls his vowels, and flattens them, like the peaks of things threaten him. He lives on the west coast, where the mountains are worn down by time and rain and broken dreams, and the view just up the street goes out and out and out all the way to Hawaii. Is it any wonder he’s afraid of sharp, front-formed vowels?
The Nipper is the age I was the first time I set foot in the Pacific Ocean. I walked hand in hand with my grandmother, both of us skin and bone, dry burlap over wooden coat hangers – me from whooping cough (also, pertussis), she from lung cancer. She would be dead five too-short years later, and I would be wondering who would lead me staunchly into the rest of my life. I would curl inward like a dry leaf, my heart a bolus, my throat constricting so tightly my breath seared it through and through.
But tonight, our boys, bursting toward salt water, smiles bigger than the sunset – tonight our boys remind me that although I have lost, the nature of love, mysterious and deeply terrifying, is to love all the more. Because tomorrow, Nama will be the same as she was the day she died. She will be the same as she is in every memory I have. But tomorrow, our boys are new people again, beginning the journey to becoming young men.
Even though they sometimes still need to hold my hand.
You always remembered :
One time, in passing, I told you
“Irises are my favourite flower”.
Every year on my birthday,
an Iris from your garden.
One year, a drawing of an eyeball.
“Here’s your birthday iris,” you’d written.
Sometimes – often – I hardly understood
what you were talking about.
You gave my meagre musical talent
far more credit
than anyone ought to have.
As a housewarming gift, you
visited, and brought an ice bucket
and a purple onion flower, and a clipping
from a green and purple vine from your house.
The bucket from the antiques mall you raved about
had penguins on it
and reminded you of me.
You said the onion flower would take root
if I planted it, but I murdered it.
The vine floundered.
Goddamn it, I’m going to miss you, David.
I could have done more for you
I should have done more for you
I would have done more for you.
The thing that the Mayans didn’t realize about this whole end of the world thing tomorrow is that today is my and His Nibs’ seven-year anniversary (N.B. We’ve been together for more like 12 years). So I decree that it is impossible for the world to end without my getting the chance to wear my anniversary gift *and* to show it off.
No, I won’t tell you what it is. But I will say that it’s awesome. And exactly what I wanted.
I am very, very happy to be married. Especially to His Nibs.
I’m not going to lie to you. His Nibs and I fight. Sometimes we don’t like each other very much. From time to time, we can’t even stand to be around one another. But here’s the thing about His Nibs: I know he always…ALWAYS has my back. Always.
You know that I’m a pretty stubborn, independent person. I’m not easy to get along with much of the time. There aren’t very many times when I ask for help.
A friend of mine – a good friend of mine – has an anxiety disorder. Possibly more than one. To be clear, possibly more than one friend has an anxiety disorder and at least one friend has possibly more than one anxiety disorder. There is even a possibility that more than one friend has more than one anxiety disorder. I have had minor anxiety from time to time, but nothing debilitating. Nothing that I couldn’t just kind of walk away from, and realise that what I was experiencing was not rational.
But when I had a major anxiety attack, I was alone. In a hotel. And I quite literally thought I was dying. His Nibs came back to the room, and took one look at me and knew something was Very Wrong. He sat on the bed with me and held my hand and listened to me rattle on about how fucking weird all the things were that were going on with my body. He was patient and calm, and I knew he was concerned about me.
I got over that panic attack, and a week later had another, much more minor one. His Nibs took the morning off work, time he couldn’t afford, to make sure I was okay. It was so good just to have him sit beside me and listen to me panic.
You hear so often that people say “I married my best friend”, and it’s all sappy and stupid and we don’t really believe it when we hear it. Personally, I think it *is* a load of crap. His Nibs certainly didn’t start out as my best friend. And now, he’s not my best friend. I have lots of best friends. They are people I am comfortable with (and you know who you are. I love you!); people I don’t have secrets from. They’re people who will help if they can, and who love me too. They are brilliant men and women with wicked intellects and good hearts. We share a sense of humour, we share stories, and we share history. There have been many close friends in my life who’ve helped shape who I am, and there will be more to help shape my life to come. And I love every one of you.
His Nibs is more than a best friend. He’s more than a lover. He is the one person on the *entire planet*…probably in the entire universe, who can hold me. His idiosyncrasies complement my idiosyncrasies. He is patient and thoughtful where I am impulsive. He is sanguine where I am volatile. He likes vacuuming.
Here’s part of your Anniversary gift, my love. I, um, apologise that it sucks. I am NOT good at sonnets. I’ve been working on this for a ridiculous amount of time, and sadly, I don’t think it’s going to get any better.
I love your face, becoming so weathered
by laughter etched and by small worries marked,
Your eyes that slowly grow creased still spark;
these lines our lives together will measure.
You are the rock to which I am tethered;
would I desire your lineaments unmarked?
Erasing stories told by time’s full arc?
Let us instead from Cronos draw censure.
We’ll gauge time’s lapse with passion, wrinkles, tears
and smiles; small battles lost, large battles won;
I love you most when words all lay undone.
All scattered and tousled, thoroughly clear.
I close my eyes, see you in summer sun,
Each line, each wrinkle in memory seared