Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I feel like a recluse these days. I feel pensive with little joy. I have no desire to dance. Everything seems like an insurmountable chore but still there are small wonders.

I hired a tree company to cut down the laurels that were higher than our roof. It was necessary. Not only have the laurels cut out light, they have given squirrels a route into our attic space. The company did the work Friday in the teaming rain and though the men did an adequate job, they left a mess. I put a cheque in the mailbox, as per the owner's instructions, but included a letter speaking of pride in one's work. I noted that if my words "strike a chord", I'd like them to return and clean up. I expected the owner, money in hand, to laugh at my fancy words. Instead, he sent two of his workers, who worked for two hours and cleared the ground.

I had an email from my daughter who told me that she was not returning on the 15th of December. She would be home on the 14th.

I received an email from my mother who closed her note in capital letters. "HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY THAT I LOVE YOU."

My friend Kate wrote a novel in one month.

It's not raining.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

It's Sunday morning and I slept in so do not have much time this frosty morning. The weather gets colder and colder
and I'm liking it well enough except for the rain that dampens my spirit and makes it hard for me to work in the yard.
I'm taking a leaf from Helen Luke and doing a little gardening each day when the weather is dry. Our yard, as we were away for three months, has been taken over by prickly blackberry bushes - front and back disasterously. They're enormously long and impossible to touch so I use clippers and slowly cut them down and put the untouchable into garden bags as I go. I like this slow approach. I told Mike the other night that each represents a burden on my soul and as I clear them up, I become lighter and less prickly. (It's worth a try.)

Yesterday, I met with my plums and read and wrote a little more on Shitty. It is hard going at the moment. As it is a blend of fact and fiction, I find myself reliving scenes and emotions that I'd forgotten I'd had. Often I feel it's a huge waste of time but my plums reinforce me, telling me that they want more. Thank the heavens and the earth for these three friends/writers. I think we have something precious. We have all become better writers because of each other. I'm hoping that one night in the new year that we will do a public reading although I haven't mentioned this lately to the group.

I just received an email from my mother who says that my dad may have to have a knee replacement operation before Christmas and so they may not be here for the holidays. My dad has not been able to move well for months, can't drive, can't walk and he loves to walk so has been driving my mother mad. For both their sanity, I hope the operation is soon. He will be 83 on Christmas eve.

Christmas. I want it to be simple, lovely. My daughter returns to me, to us, on the 15th of December. I can hardly wait.

Friday, November 26, 2004

My computer has betrayed me and I am working on Rob's - he's at work and doesn't know - and since I'm tired of being serious and pensive, I thought I'd continue with my fairy tale.

The Dreaming Princess Part VI

Yes, within a year, Barbara married Prince Hairy and, as in all royal marriages, the first year was like a dream come true, a fairy tale. They both worked hard all day and happily returned to each others' arms each evening. Several years passed and then one night they found themselves in the kitchen with a stranger, who was demonstrating a new machine, called a "dishwasher", something so alien to their space that they became sore afraid of their materialistic urges and decided to leave all their possessions behind and move across the country.

They settled into a community nestled between mountains and ocean, worked hard during the daylight hours, and returned to each others' arms in the evening. All would have been rosy and their fairy tale life might have continued but the dishes kept piling up. The laundry too. Barbara started dreaming of dish washers, and clothing washers and dryers.

On the eve of her quarter-of-a-century birthday, Barbara realized she was not happy. She worked all day, slaved all night. She heard herself sounding like Pretencia with her list of complaints and this she couldn't bear so she told Hairy that she must leave their poor castle and go out into the world to seek a different future. Hairy was not happy losing his lovely princess but, being a kind soul, wished her well and bid her farewell.

Vivacia would have been upset if she had seen the small apartment that her daughter now occupied - hardly the size of her dressing room - but she would have rejoiced at Barbara's independent spirit. For the first time in her life, Barbara was alone and had time to think, to read poetry (often by Irish poets), and to walk in the forest. She had so much time that she decided to accept evening work in a dark cave, serving spirits to strangers but before too much time had passed, realized that the creatures inhabiting the underworld were bleak and ornery and it was no place for a princess.

She returned to her pumpkin-size apartment and started writing fairy tales and poetry although she was sore-ashamed of her efforts and told no one. On occasion, she would go to dance and concert halls and one musical evening she met a shining knight who spoke to her in French and invited her to dine with him. The evening was devine. Barbara found herself laughing as she had never laughed and fell a little in love with the knight (though he did not touch her heart as Hairy had.) Still he was good company with his love of fine food and wine, his laughter, and soft voice that had the same cadence as the Irish man who had enjoyed her mother in the royal gardens.

She spent many happy hours in his company until one evening, returning a book to his small sanctuary, Barbara found him, without his armour, abed with a beautiful young man. Not being Greek, she did not understand that it wasn't unusual for some to be charmed by both sexes, and so, then and there, she sadly bid her fair knight farewell and left to seek yet another future.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Gladys Gale Dancing School

Wenda asked me the other day why I never write about dance and I remembered an old piece of writing and dug it out:

Sometimes when I'm happy, I find myself doing a grand jete across the living room carpet or a soft shoe on the kitchen tile floor. Sometimes after a glass of wine, I can't contain myself and dance wherever I am. In my fifties I enjoy dancing in ways I never could in my teens.

"If it doesn't hurt, you are not doing it right." I heard this refrain countless times during my years as a dance and theatre major at university. I spent half my days at a wooden barre that ran the circumference of a huge gymnasium. Head held high, chest forward, bottom tucked under, I followed the classical exercises developed to force my body beyond its natural limits. Often, after several hours of fighting myself, I would sit in the change room and cry, feeling like a circus animal being trained to perform unnatural acts to amuse an audience. But I knew I wasn't. A caged animal doesn't have a choice. I was there willingly.

I'd wanted to be a dancer since I was eight years old. That summer an aunt of the Tilley kids next door came to visit. She was a ballet mistress with the New York City Ballet. Each morning, she organized, on the small plot of grass in front of their brick bungalow, dance lessons for her nieces and me. When she left, she told my mother that I should be sent to ballet school: I was a born dancer. My mother, a frantic young woman of twenty-eight, who was trying her best to raise four daughters, did not have the means to pay for classes.

I was inspired to dance again in my mid-teens when I fell in love with the choreographer of my high school play. His mother owned the town's only dancing academy. Although my mother was still frantic - in the meanwhile she'd had two more children - she didn't object because money was freer and the dance studio was within walking distance.

Within two years, I was competing against other dancers my age. As well as dance classes four times a week, I frequented dance spectacles to observe professionals in action. By the end of each performance, my muscles ached from tensing and releasing in unison with those on stage. This didn't happen however when I saw Martha Graham give one of her last performances. I forgot the mechanics of dance. I forgot the rest of the audience. Nothing registered except the presence of the grand matron of modern dance.

The curtain opened. Graham stood centre stage, her tall figure shrouded in brown cloth, like a mourner in Giotto's "Lamentation." As if painted by the master himself, she confronted the viewer. For two minutes, she did not move a muscle. Suddenly, her head dropped forward, one arm, out of the folds of fabric, shot upwards, and she began to dance. Every movement spoke of despair. Like a sorceress, she bewitched the audience.

I did not aspire to Graham's magic. I simply wanted to master technique and express myself through an art form I love. After two years of university, I knew that I had neither the attitude nor the body to perform professionally.

I left school and found myself in the advertising department of a major newspaper. Years passed. I married, moved across the country, produced three children, and continued my university education. As I had once expressed myself through dance, I now express myself through writing. Sometimes when I am happy, I can't contain myself and words dance onto paper. More often, I despair for I know that writing can never express what Martha Graham could with one simple thrust of her arm.

Gladys Gale Dancing School
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

I'm in the front row, first on the left. The long-haired fellow in the back row was my first love.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

My daughter, when I told her that I was having a hard time writing my blog, told me to bring my coffee to my house in the garden and simply write. So here I am.

The orders for the store are complete, or as close to complete as I can do at the moment. I feel such a weight off me. The spring season will be bright and colourful. With the American dollar lower than it's been for years, the prices will be more reasonable and hopefully people will love what I've chosen (with strong help from the saleswomen in the store) and will be able to afford an outfit or two. But retail is difficult. So many factors affect women's buying power and desire for beautiful clothing. Partners. The economy. The weather. Self-image. (One woman who was in yesterday said that her husband has agreed to buy her a new wardrobe if she loses twenty pounds. Still she is finding it difficult. I find it difficult to hear of such bribes.)

Last night I went to hear and see Marion Woodman and Robert Bly tell the Grimm's Brothers tale of "The Singing Soaring Lark." I was glad that I had read the tale beforehand as I found their telling a little disjointed but still I loved listening to these elders play off each other. I love Woodman's voice and how she brings a fairy tale into language and meaning that I can relate to. Bly, who I formerly was not that fond of, has grown on me and I find myself liking him more and more.

He read some of his recent poems following the Muslem "Ghazal" form that, I learned on the internet, consists of five to fifteen couplets. A refrain appears at the end of both lines of the first couplet and then at the end of the second line of the following couplets. In the concluding pair of lines, if the poet wishes, she/he brings her/his name into the verse.

For example, this is the first and last couplet of Hafez' Ghazal 490:

"Bitter is this patience and so fleeting is this life of mine.
How long will I experience this, how long will I remain.

Hafiz, why do you complain if it is Union you desire?
In season and out, griefs cup of blood you must drain."

I started writing this entry this morning but left to play in the garden and help the rubbish man remove all kinds of debris from our back and front garden. It's a beginning.

Today is my lazy day and I'm doing a lot of little things and nothing big. I feel that I deserve a break.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
Happy Birthday dear Maggie, formerly Donna. I remember you as a little girl, starting school. I remember you leaving home and moving into the first real house I had as a married woman. I remember your marriage and your babies. I remember you leaving home again.

I miss you.

In a book titled "Sisters", edited by Drusilla Modjeska, she writes, in the introduction, of the "complicated, uneven tide of lived feeling that passes between girls who share parents: rivalry and resentment, sensitivity to slights and differences, tears and tantrums, dreams and fantasies, and love as abiding as blood."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Daughter and Mother

Daughter and Mother
Daughter and Mother,
originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
"The Universe is worked and guided from within outwards.
As above so it is below, as in heaven so on earth;
and man - the microcosm and miniature copy of the macrocosm
- is the living witness to this Universal Law and to the mode of its action."
-Madame H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1888

Who is the mother? Who is the daughter? If I define "mother" as "educator", I'd say that, throughout our eighteen years together, Gill and I keep exchanging roles.

As I write this, another thought comes to mind - that of Adrienne Rich and her idea that truth is complex. I see that sometimes Gill and I are both mothers and, at other times, both daughters.

She sent me an email yesterday, after a discussion with two fellow journalist students the night before. Like me, Gill has no great love of reading about world events, especially politics, in the newspaper or on the internet. She wonders if it's all right to follow her natural bent. "Yes," was my response.

I have felt a lot of guilt over the years about not reading the newspaper that comes to our door each morning. I've tried but, in truth, it bores me. I would never have admitted this a few years ago. I felt stupid because I knew little of what was happening in the world and what I knew came from Rob. "Oh pathetic little housewife," played through my brain.

And then I discovered through writing, through living in France, through extraordinary friends, that I am not stupid, that my passion lies elsewhere, is more personal. I love reading about body and mind. I love fiction and poetry - usually written by women (but not always) - that speaks from the personal, that shows me another way of interpreting the world.

I probably sound like an idiot trying to discuss this topic but what the hell.

It takes all kinds to live in this world. And there is so much to learn. I can't take it all in. There are only so many hours in my day.

So the way I've come to accept my limitations is this. I have divided the people in the world into two types. (This is probably not original but I now own it.) Some look at the world - the macrocosm - and filter what affects them personally. They see from the outside to their inside.

I see the world as a microcosm - the personal - from my inside to the outside world at large. Sometimes or probably often I don't think about the world at all. I just trust that I'm part of it. I start from me and see how the outside world thwarts or encourages me. Others first look at the world and see how it thwarts or encourages them personally.

It's useless feeling deficient. I must listen to my own words. Rob said that the most interesting news stories are those told from a personal point of view. I learn about the world beyond myself through listening to Rob and those of my friends who are passionate about the news, who see the larger picture. I allow myself to sit quietly and not contribute. There is nothing wrong with preferring the oral tradition, there is nothing wrong with being ignorant.

I remember one night in France, a number of years ago, when four intellectuals, four PHDs, sat around discussing philosophers that I'd never heard of and feeling like an idiot. I envied their European educations, their knowledge, their quickness of thought. I introduced a light-hearted topic and one woman present laughed and called me a fool. I ran from the table. Later she told me that it was a compliment.

Since that time, I try not to judge myself or grade myself (Helen Luke's idea). I am not always successful.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
I've been thinking of myself as a little girl lately. Here I am, the one on the far left with my three sisters.

Friday, November 12, 2004

It's been a week since I've posted a blog. I have been consumed by store and self. I've been reading Helen Luke and thinking and cursing a lot. I haven't danced on a table since the beginning of October.

I find myself angry these days and when an Irish woman becomes angry, one best watch out. Since the intensive in England, I have been trying to integrate all that I heard and saw, experienced. I cling to quotes by such as Adrienne Rich and T.S. Eliot. Today - a lovely surprise - I received an email from my English room mate at the intensive. I am reminded of the openness and laughter we shared. The acceptance. It was such a sheltered enviroment where each woman was allowed to withdraw or be social. The only demands were internal ones.

Here, the outside world keeps throwing challenges my way.

I find myself writing deeper and deeper, pushing myself. I keep thinking of my friend Maria, who was with me in France fifteen years ago and how we would whine and complain and say "Life is hell and then you die." I don't know why I'm thinking this because I don't believe it.

Wednesday I met my plum group at the Grind and we wrote for over two hours straight amid interruptions from a loud table across from us and then a more pleasant interlude from the "animal man" who left his pet parrot outside and came in to play the piano. He reminded me of my mother who has a musical ear, unlike me, and plays superbly.

The idea of this mid-week meeting was to get together for support and write about what scares us, what we are afraid to write about. And it worked well. I filled pages and then went down to Jericho Beach where I wrote more. In the evening, I went to Marlene's and wrote again.

I love these "Jungian Circle of Women Writers" evenings at Marlene's. In my self-centred way of looking at the world, it's as if the texts Marlene chooses and discusses each evening, each session, are chosen to answer questions, to show me a way, to what I need to know at this minute in time. For instance, this week we discussed two chapters - "The Sense of Humor" and "The Cat Archetype."

Interesting that I discussed the cat as being more spirit than animal in my last blog and how this feline has represented in corporeal form, at different periods of time, the witch, fairy, spirit, and goddess.

Luke uses the cat to show how we can catch our shadow side or the mice and rats that feed on our souls. She explains so beautifully that when "we feel invaded by vague depressions or tensions... if we will then be very still and allow ourselves to be flooded by whatever emotional reaction is uppermost at that moment - whether of fear, resentment, desire, jealousy, love or hate - plunging right into it without the censorship of guilt or shame, we will very often find that... [w]e have set free our emotion (our cat) to be what it is and immediately we are able to see it in its true perspective, to relate it to all our other conscious values, and our energy will flow out into life again. It should be emphasized that such an experience must be given form - written or painted, exactly as it came to us-so it is contained, and we relate to it and are freed from its domination."

In other words, if I expose my shadow side, my so called negative emotion or reaction, without censorship, in my journal, I can see it clearly and it will stop eating at me, and best, being contained on the page, it will not play itself out unconsciously in my day to day life.

This astonishes me. It's so simple. Instead of trying to be fair and just, kind and understanding, I am given permission to go to the opposite extreme. I can tear all out of proportion so I can gain proportion. When I read over my writing of the day and night, I laughed at my extravagant emotion.

And miracle of miracles, Luke mentions laughter in the former chapter: "For very little consideration will show us clearly that the sense of humor is always born of a sense of proportion."

Friday, November 05, 2004

My daughter was worried about my misery and I told her not to worry, that misery makes me angry. Angry at myself more often than not. And this makes me louder more verbal. It also makes me more honest with myself. It gives me the energy to focus, to move, to do what has to be done.

I'm writing orders for the store for spring. It's time consuming and I can think of little else but I enjoy playing with line-sheets (small black and white outlines of styles), photographs, and colour charts, and deciding what will appear in the store month by month. I'm also putting together an album, a collage of styles and colours, adding to it page by page as I place an order; and find myself quite happy sitting on the floor, cutting and pasting.

I've pushed the American election to the background of my mind. What's there to do or say? Yesterday, I wished I lived in Europe. I do not like my neighbours. I am appalled that so many people considered gay marriage and abortion more deadly than a war where their youth are killing and being killed.

Last night at dinner, Rob, Brendan, and I sat around discussing religion. We were all surprised that formal religions - those that dictate what is moral and immoral to large groups of people, many of which involve religious services and physical structures - have such large followings. We spoke of the Ten Commandments but not one of us could name them so we looked them up on the internet. There are two versions, one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy but in both the sixth commandment is "Thou shall not kill." I can understand that some consider abortion killing. I do not understand war. I can not bear to hear of the atrocities committed.

This morning when I came out to my little house, a squirrel darted by me, I smelt a skunk and I knew Java the cat was lurking nearby. I'm really beginning to wonder about all the animals that are congregating around my private sancuary. I decided to look up what each symbolized.

The bear is a creature of healing, self-knowledge and patience. The skunk is a bringer of warning and a teacher of self-respect. The squirrel teaches trust and thrift. The raccoon "teaches us merriment, openness, cleansing, wiliness, tenacity and humour.” He is also a symbol of disguise. The cat is a deeply spiritual animal. "It is said that a cat is more spirit than animal. Historically, little distinction has been drawn as to the difference between witches, fairies, spirits, goddesses, and the feline, for at different periods in time the cat was believed to represent them all in corporeal form."

I can still smell the skunk outside.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

I haven't been writing because I'm just plain miserable. I don't know how to live in this fucking world. And I feel quilty feeling this way because I had such an extravagant summer and I have such extraordinary friends and family. Why, given all the riches in my life, so I feel ugly and incapable of doing anything?

I look around me. My house and garden is a disaster. At work, I'm weighed down by turmoil and insincerity. I look in the mirror and look away. I can't wear my fucking denture because when I eat it aches. I can't wear my good eye glasses because one glass keeps falling out. My hair hangs in my eyes - so much for my fancy Parisian haircut. Damn it all anyway, me, my self, and I; plus my house, my yard, my work are out of control.

I tell myself, one step at a time and so my days have been full of baby steps - a little writing, a story mailed, a store order placed, a small section of yard trimmed and cleared, a bathroom floor washed - and it's hardly noticeable. So I play a little - put on music and dance around the living room, design a flyer of my dream house, write a fairy tale, ruminate, and read. Nothing pleases me.

I'm reading three books at once. One is "Stravinksy's Lunch" by Drusilla Modjeska. The sub title is "Two women painters and the claims of life and art." It's brilliant. She's brilliant. (If I could only write like her... add jealousy to my list of complaints.) She discusses how life gets in the way of creating art - especially for women - specifically for Stella Bowen who lived in Paris in the twenties and thirties (or that's as far as I've read), who was the wife/mistress of Ford Madox Ford, who had his child, who catered to his artistic and physical needs, and found it difficult to cater to her own.

Stella Bowen asks "Why are people allowed - and women encouraged - to stake their lives, careers, economic position, and hopes of happiness on love?"

I know my misery will pass. The store orders will be placed. The house and yard will be put in order. I will write something I like. At present, I just have to continue taking those miserable little steps.