She is in her seventies, dying on our hospice unit of some form of malignancy. She calls out frequently, and is what some may call a ‘difficult patient’. Frightened by the journey thrust upon her, she reaches out for any living, breathing, emoting creature willing to spend the minutes, or hours needed for her to discover and excavate the treasures of her life. She is estranged from her family- and oh how it cuts to the very depth of her soul. The isolation is terrible. Silent tears trickle down her cheek as with one hand she reaches out to grab onto my arm, and with the other hand she waves me away dismissively. Not wanting to ‘be a bother’. Of course I only see this half of the equation. She could have relatives that love her deeply- perhaps she is lost in the prison of her own heart. The only…
I am privileged to know and be taught by a truly great vocal artist and coach. She has launched many singers onto the international stage, having a keen ear for talent and a piercing ability to tease it out. Not that I am planning to be her next project- I just love to sing and am humbled that she would take me on as a student. With an honesty as bracing as a February windstorm, she is able to uncover the heart of any performance issue, and is not afraid of ‘hands on’ approaches. She has more pizzazz in her little pinky than I will ever have. But she has attended my recitals, given me brutally honest feedback, and when she says “well done kid”, it is high praise indeed. Here’s to Selena. A Diva and a rare gem in the world of classical singing and opera. Not only is she a teacher, but a friend. I am hoping that she will continue to inspire for many more lessons to come.
December is probably the most difficult month of the year for me, and for many others. For several reasons. The one uppermost in my mind is negotiating the complicated dance of challenging family dynamics. Holidays are supposed to be a time where families can come together and celebrate, rejoicing in the abundance of love and shared memory that make such seasonal festivals worthwhile. It is not about the presents. It’s about the company, the songs, the special foods, and the reaching out to others less fortunate. Watching movies like “It’s a wonderful life”, “A Christmas Story”; reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, and Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”. It’s about lighting the Chanukah candles, eating latkes, and preparing “my Jewish mother’s plum pudding”. When my husband and I were first married, we decided to start our own December traditions. Having grown up in a home that was not overly abundant in family bonds of affection, I chose to start enlarging our table to include people who would be otherwise alone over the season. I did not want our own children to grow up feeling as isolated. I wanted them to know what it was to reach out. Perhaps I went about it in a clumsy fashion, but the intention was there nonetheless. We sang carols and went to extended care facilities and hospitals, wassailing our way up and down the streets. More often than not, we came home feeling richer than when we started out. The simple act of reaching out and loving without expectation left an indelible stamp upon our hearts.
We still hold to the same traditions. Our own sons are adults with families of their own. Life has not turned out the way I had hoped- I do not have the joy of family gatherings at festival times of year. Not by my own choice. But I will continue to reach out to those who are wounded at this time. It is our joy, and our shared sorrow that bind us together. And I am reminded that family is not always made up of individuals sharing the same DNA. So off we go to spend the feast day with treasured friends. I rejoice, exulting in the words of Tiny Tim- “God bless us, everyone”.
I have been meeting with a writer’s group for a few months now. We sit in a circle, sipping herbal tea and sometimes gnoshing on delectable snacks while the fledgling (and already seasoned) authors-to-be read aloud from their most recent works. It is a treat to the ears, and a privilege to become privy to the inner workings of some of these very fine minds. I have been reading from a rapidly written memoir that I punched off during the month of November 3 years ago. It was National Novel Writing Month- dubbed “NaNoWriMo”. I scrabbled together over 53,000 words of memory, put my pen down on November 30th, and have done nothing in the way of editing since. Now comes the painful process of reading through, deciding what to pitch and what to add, and how to bring this story to some sort of resolution. If indeed there is resolution. So far I have read to a somewhat rapt audience- a fact that humbles me to the core. How could my life be so interesting to others? I am told that it is the way that I write. Descriptions that bring my world into three dimensions. The story itself is rather unhappy in parts, but hopefully it does get better by the time the reader turns that final page.
I have to thank NaNoWriMo for daring me to do this. And for the wonderful colleagues who have sat patiently while I appeared soul-naked before them. Memoir-writing is kind of like peeling your clothes off in front of a mixed audience. The feeling of insecurity in the sharing is paralyzing at best, and traumatizing enough to make one leap in front of thundering Mac-truck at worse. So here I am, choosing to ignore that paralysis and soldier forward. We’ll see what happens next.
Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?
I have many memories of moments where I fervently wished that the earth would open up and swallow me whole. Perhaps one of the strongest memories I have is when I scrubbed for my first surgery as an OR nurse. My hands were shaking during the entire procedure. I was under the watchful eye of my OR instructor- a fact that only added to my terror. I was so afraid of making any mistake- would I remember the names of the instruments? The correct order? Would I say something totally stupid? Surgeons were known for their intolerance. If any doctor suffered from the “God-complex”, it was likely that their specialty was abdominal/thoracic surgery! Much of my nervousness was a direct result of deep insecurity. I grew up with feelings of utter inadequacy- the echos of “useless, useless” swirling about in my waking thoughts. Any rebuke or disapproving glance from teachers or authority figures would send me into internal paroxysms of fear. I suppose that it doesn’t take much to wound an already ravaged soul. The first medication error that I ever made almost destroyed me. I was convinced that I was the most incompetent human being walking the face of the earth- a sorry excuse for a medical professional. It wasn’t until my doctor sat me down and told that she made mistakes every day- but she tried not to hurt anyone (the first Hippocratic rule: do no harm). After that I began to relax a little bit. One of my colleagues once remarked “have you got a belly button?”- a gentle reminder to treat my humanity with kindness. I don’t go looking for opportunities to disappoint, fall short, screw up, or otherwise face-plant. Those opportunities have a way of stalking me. But I am learning to pick myself up each time, learn from the experiences and move on. I can’t be responsible for what others think of me- that is beyond my control and rather none of my business. But I am responsible for trying.
I am trying to access my inner bravery. So far, all that I have discovered is a miserable quivering mass of anxious terror. I am told that fear is an emotion common to the human condition. So how do some people find it so easy to fling aside the icy tentacles that wrap themselves so tenaciously around the heart, gut, liver, and lungs? Why can some sprout wings and fly, while others (myself included) would rather curl up in a ball and disappear? I stand accused of cowardice. I accuse myself. I have always feared being a disappointment, and now the thing that I greatly feared has come upon me. And I want nothing more than to pack up, flee the continent, reinvent myself, and start again. The old patterns of groveling, appeasement, and succumbing to the strong disapproval of others overwhelm me. I am laid low with self-loathing. And with a heart bruised and hemorrhaging, I am trying to find one shred of hope within. So far, all is darkness. All is unknown. The future is one huge question mark. But courage is not the denial of fear- rather the moving through it. And perhaps in the crucible of this trial, courage will be forged. There is no certainty. There is no final page that I can look to- no ending that may make the passage of the intervening pages any easier. When all is said and done, how I feel and what this does to me personally is irrelevant. Only the truth matters.
My first official blog. Not unlike my first day at school where I knew nothing…and coasted on the waves of “write an essay describing what you did on your summer vacation”. Wasn’t it supposed to feel different? I wasn’t expecting to be confronted with a lack of inspiration. Perhaps it is because it is difficult for me to listen to the Brandenburg concerto #3 in G-major and type at the same time. I am becoming one with the radio- thanks to Danielle Charbeneau and CBC Radio Two. Now the sweet strains of a Telemann fantasia for flute, played by an ambitious bassoonist compete with the hiss of an imperfectly tuned station, dancing across the desk, weaving around my ears and forcing me to forget elementary words. Can you see pictures when the music is playing? Can you see colors and smell the richness of chicken stew and cobbler? Or does…
I am furious. Someone came into our house, selectively bashed my laptop, and left. Didn’t take anything else (as far as we could see). Didn’t wreck any other piece of furniture or appliance. Just had a vendetta for my ASUS. I could scream. Cry. Eat nails….or in this case, gnaw hopelessly on a dead computer screen. I am hopelessly lost and pathetic without it. Usually I am pretty good about backing up data, but there were a few files that I had yet to back up, and so far the news is not good for retrieving data from the deceased. I went out immediately and bought a replacement- same brand. The new computer is gravely disappointing. Windows 8.1 is making me suicidal. I can’t get to the ASUS applications- it won’t let me adjust my webcam. The list goes on. I feel like I am 3 years old, having the major meltdowns that I was never allowed to have as a child. I want to climb onto some cosmic maternal lap and bawl my eyes out.
I love my bees. Can’t get enough of watching them. Gentle, hardworking, and single minded in their purpose- they teach me that no task is insignificant. A community that values the contributions of every member, knowing that the well being of the community as a whole depends on the integrity and stability of it’s most vulnerable members, is a community that will thrive in the bleakest of situations. And I say this as one well aware of the precarious situation facing honeybees worldwide. I cherish my bees. I don’t know if they can feel my love, or if they really care, but my garden is cultivated with them in mind. I plant things that will support their health and well being. I respect them for their generosity in sharing their precious honey. I treat them when they are ill, using methods that are friendly to the environment. And I grieve when they languish and succumb to onslaughts from their predators. These tiny creatures are like family. It’s too bad they didn’t all have names, but I have to draw the line somewhere!