Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Birthday Altar

Birthday Altar
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

Yesterday, late morning, I sat across from another Beauty (given Gill's definition), who treated me to a breakfast feast and timely gifts and I felt my eyes water. I wiped the tears quickly, embarrassed though they were real (using Saint Teresa's criteria.)

After I went to the dentist and then had my nails painted lime - my ode to frivolity.

I then sat in an outdoor cafe, sipped rich Italian coffee and read one of my gifts - a book on dance (though I didn't even think to climb on the table.)

I paid a quick visit to the store and was surprised to look up and see a plum - how strange to see someone from one life enter another.

Home then to more suprises - an extraordinary bouquet of wild flowers from my love and lover - shown in the photo, more books and wine, perfumed body cream and candle, telephone calls and emails.

Later still, I wined and dined with my family - luxuriously - at Cafe de Paris. When we returned
home, Emily and I put our tap shoes on and danced.

I swat away thoughts that I do not deserve such abundance, such love.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Birthday Woman

Birthday Woman
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

It's my birthday and I've been out in my little house, opening gifts, reading emails and books, for three hours. I love this day. I love my family and friends. I am feeling lazy and loved. And even the rain outside can't dampen my spirit.

And this is only the morning!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sometimes I could shoot Marion Woodman. Her writing always stirs things up in my psyche. And the writings of Teresa of Avila and Carl Jung don't help either. Sometimes I think I'm melodramatic but this could be a complex or my ego trying to undo me. (I'm surprised that I'm becoming so conversant with Jungian terms.)

Last night at Marlene's I wrote to the quote: "Again and again we have to ask ourselves: What was my feeling in that situation - not my emotions, my feeling? What am I willing to put energy into? What is no longer of value to me?" And I ended up in tears thinking of my marriage. Without going into detail, I think Rob and I have stopped communicating feelings, have lost a precious intimacy, and it's breaking my heart, making me feel like a little girl who wants attention and doesn't know how to get it. Woodman would probably say that this is my "abandoned child." I have felt this way for some time and have withdrawn from him, thinking that I expect something that is not in him to give, thinking that I should be able to live my life on my own steam. But obviously my intellect does not rule.

I spoke to Rob about these feelings this morning and he suggested that my feeling of alienation could in fact be alienating him. And my little girl came out and said in a pained voice "so it is my fault." Ah, my poor ego didn't like this information and then I remembered a story I read yesterday in "Spiritual Pilgrims."

There was a professor who was giving a new class on a subject he loved. When asked how it was going, he happily said that it was going well. The interviewer then told him that his students didn't feel that way. A large number said that they were finding the course confusing. At first, the professor felt hurt. "In a moment of insight he realized that he was feeling crucified by the situation, but that in reality he was crucifying the self, the larger life seeking expression in his students and his work with them. He realized that his ego's illusions had to go. And with that the ego "was freed from having to worship itself."

This feels like an epiphany. My ego doesn't have to win, isn't always right. It is just a part of me, not all of me. This discovery allows me to step back and look more objectively at where I am coming from and examine the question of my relationship in terms of Woodman's questions "What am I willing to put energy into? What is no longer of value to me?"

I wrote a story once that questions the holy state of matrimony. In it, I wrote: "I will not let others dictate what I can or can't write. I will not let others edit my life. Carolyn Heilbrun says that a woman's usual fate in literature is marriage or death, the end. I can't live such fiction or write it. What do I do to my children if I leave them thinking that everything was always rosy in their parents' marriage? What happens when they discover that their own marriages aren't fairy tales? Do I really do them a favour by keeping my big mouth shut?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It comes to me that I am a self-centred individual and even though Marlene's words ring in my ear - where else can you be centred but in self - it worries me. This is my inheritance from generations of Irish and Scottish women who, as my father said about his mother, would rather go without food than see their children go out in public poorly dressed. Although I have fought against such surface values - even may appear, to some, to have surmounted them, they still stir within me - faint voices telling me that I am a failure because I don't look after hearth and family well.

Intellectually I see, even proclaim, that I am only one of four capable adults in my household. I no longer need to scrub floors and cook meals for all. The duties should be/could be shared. So I ignore the faint voices, knowing that I do not want on my gravestone "She kept a clean house."

There is another voice, a voice that is growing in volume, that says "You have a voice. Do you want to become another statistic?" Tillie Olsen in "Silences" wrote that eleven out of twelve women writers are suppressed before they find their voice. But how much worse it is to know that the only one suppressing me is me, my own self-doubt and laziness.

I have been sleeping strange hours lately, going to bed at a decent hour and then waking at twelve or one, and working for several hours - reading, researching Saint Teresa and how her inner journey to God, her Beloved, parallels Jung's theories on a person's journey to self. I am excited about writing a drama yet fearful that my lack of experience could hinder me. On the other hand, it could give me an advantage - whatever I do will be original.

I want perfection first draft and yet I am able to laugh at myself, knowing this impossible. And it doesn't stop me from working, from dreaming up ways to tell Teresa's story in a way that will entertain, be meaty without boring. My friend who asked me to write this drama gave me an advance the other day of three hundred dollars - it was not suggested or requested - as a symbol, she said. She doesn't want me to think that I am spending countless hours for nothing. In June, she will apply for a grant to pay both of us a decent wage, and to promote and stage this project. Her gesture made me realize that this could actually come to pass. I feel a tinge of excitement, a shiver of possibility (is that corny?). I find myself taking myself more seriously - though as one dear friend said - you were taking yourself seriously even before the exchange.

This project has also forced me to cut out all in my life that isn't essential. I still have several books to work my way through before I get down to the rough (very rough) first draft. And I have to hand something in before the end of the month. My head is spinning.

I sent Gill an email yesterday: "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." (Blaise Pascal.) I am teaching myself discipline.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I've been a little delinquent about this blog because I haven't been breathing, haven't been taking the time for what matters, and my days are so full, so full.

Today, for instance, I went to the doctor - annual check-up - and then a break - in which I searched high and low for a book I need - and then on to the dentist, and then on to an appointment with a Indian gentleman regarding shawls for the store. Helen went with me. Mohammed is originally from Kashmir and insists on serving us saffron tea when we arrive. His bed in his suite in a tiny hotel in the West End is covered with beautiful silk, wool, and pashmina shawls. He stands tall, very dapper in a dark shirt, blue tie, brown trousers. He bows when we enter, bows when we exit. I feel like royalty and tell him that we are a small store, that we can't order a lot. And he smiles and says that our store is exquisite, that he wants his product there. He will bend over backwards to please us. The prices are good, too good, and I tell him that I am loyal to our other suppliers, and he says he understands but he will send emails of his latest products, he will cater to us as if we were family... and I don't know how to respond.

Helen says that Indians are like that - loyal yet business-like. She convinces me that we will be treated like family. And yet, in the pit of my stomach I feel disloyal to our suppliers who are kind enough, yet their prices are much higher. And being a buyer means I must do the best I can for the store.

Afterwards, Helen and I meet her son Alexie who is beautiful, a young very Greek-looking young man of 16, or is he 17? Several weeks ago, he told his mother he is gay. Helen is worried a little for safety reasons, and tells me that what she thought for years is difficult to absorb when told it is fact. I love Helen like a sister. She is open, spontaneous, intelligent, magical. Alexie is lucky to have such a mother. (What a strange thing to say. What century are we in?)

The three of us went to a strange little restaurant on Robson Street called Guu that is pronounced "good." It was lovely. Japanese tapas is how I'd describe it. Little dishes of this and that, chicken and tofu, noodle and potato, calamari and steak. A young man came out - we were sitting outside, no seats in, Japanese, scarf tied round his head, hippie style, and told us that in Japan at this time of year, when the trees are blossoming, he and his friends would go out onto the streets, into the parks, drink themselves silly, and celebrate the blossoms and spring.

This reminds me of a nun I'm researching, Saint Theresa de Avila. She believed in celebrating, with joy and gratitude, everything great and small. She made up songs for every occasion whether it was bad or good. She even made up one about the lice that had infested the nuns' hair-shirts. She was a mad woman who thought one must be a little crazy to live life to its fullest. She loved poetry, music, and dancing. When criticized, she said "We need everything that helps to make life bearable." She believed that we must live sensuously: see as much as we can see, touch as much as we can touch, taste as much as we can taste. She urged others to cultivate the senses for the sake of a more integrated inner life.

I am going a little mad studying her. I have developed a rash on my back. I am anxious. I am obsessed. I have to write some sort of rough draft on her life before the end of the month.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I was sent a prayer yesterday from a young friend in Northern Ireland. I thought it was by Saint Teresa of Avila but a friend informed me that it is by Saint Terese of Liseaux. This Terese was known as "The Little Flower of Jesus" and lived only twenty-four years. "She was not a mystic like Theresa of Avila but she had a way of overcoming her difficulties in such a way that ordinary every day obstacles became opportunities for creating loving relationships even when the temptation was to scream!"

I have not gone religious but the research I'm doing to write a drama (that I have no idea if I am capable or not, never having written anything for the stage) is curious. On Monday, in my mystics class, the instructor compared the stages of creativity to the stages of religious growth: incubation, preparation, illumination, manifestation. They are one and same thing, he insisted. There is another curious parallel that intrigues me. A man, Welch, has written a book called "Spiritual Pilgrims" that compares Carl Jung's ideas with those of Saint Teresa d'Avila who was known for her wisdom and named a Doctor of the Church in 1970 - the first woman to earn this title.

So amid research, work at the store, and family, and the beginning of organizing the French workshop for this summer, I am busy. One step at a time, I tell myself.

I was feeling overwhelmed this morning. My stomach churned. I am consciously breathing. But is it any wonder?

On Sunday night, my plums and I read on the radio. We were excited and scared but, from a number of friends, we have heard that our "Storytelling Hour" was well received. It feels like we have moved a step forward - we put our work out. We were heard.

Mike called us from Regina. Money is going faster than he reckoned. He wanted to know if we knew anyone, anywhere in Winnipeg he and Mackenzie could crash. I called Walter as he is from Winnipeg and a large family. No luck. (I would never have done this for myself but for my children...) At first, Rob and I were critical of Mike. He should have worked longer, left later, been better prepared, and then several thoughts drifted through my mind - one inspired by Ingrid Rose, the host of the radio show. (I liked her immediately.) She said that she had woken that morning with what felt like an epiphany: she did not have to judge. So I thought that we should not judge Michael for not being as prepared as we were. He has his own way. The second thought was that we should give him a little money for food and lodging out of love, for our sake - he said they would sleep in a bus station - so we could sleep (both Rob and I slept little the night he called) and would know that he is safe until he reaches Ontario and my family. So we did.

Gill called and falteringly asked if we would mind if she took a year off and went to Paris and worked as an au pair. She feels no enthusiasm for her studies. She wants to live in Paris, sort out her thoughts, and then return to school. Both Rob and I thought it a good idea. She is young (turned 18 in October) and has been more than responsible this year. And she is right (if you read her blog): we, in this family, encourage living dreams. She was relieved. I could hear it in her voice. She became excited. Rob said that perhaps she is feeling the burden of our hopes - thus her nervousness. She knows that we had university funds for all our children and wanted them to have this advantage (or what we consider is an advantage.) Mike attended college one year. Brendan has said that so far he doubts its usefulness. Okay, I admit, I did want one academic in the family but I recognize this as my dream. I do not want my children to live my dreams. I want them to live their own.

In a conversational voice, I questioned my expectations of self in my journal this morning. I had thought after the BodySoul workshop and intensive this summer, I would be clearer, more together, but I am still cluttered old scattered old me. Last night, I attended the second meeting (for me, I missed one as I was in Toronto) of Marlene's "Jungian Circle of Women Writers". We're studying Woodman's "The Pregnant Virgin" and Marlene outlined the chapter called "Taking it Like a Man" that is so full of ideas that appeal to me, that I want to think through, but there is too much. Is this why my stomach is churning?

Okay, I tell myself, this is not a race. Work with one or two ideas. I open the book and read about a woman who has devoted her life to scholarship or business and has lost faith in the values that come from the heart. This passage especially hits home: "When she attempts to speak from that place she contacts her abandoned soul. Fearful of appearing 'childish and stupid' she feels her face going red, clutches at her neck to try to get the words out; breathlessly she plummets on, hoping she won't be stopped, hoping she won't lose her vocabulary and collapse in confusion." This has happened to me too many times. Trust yourself, I tell my self.

It is so difficult for me to trust myself. Last night, for instance, I wrote to the quote: what does it mean to be "nothing more nor less than who [I am.]" ? I didn't read aloud because I felt that what I had written was "childish and stupid." Now I feel thick. Oh Yvonne, if ever there was a fool you are her.

When I reread this morning what I had written, I see more clearly. It is muddled. It is self conscious. But this is how I feel in a group situation. Never good enough. I am envious of the clarity of others. And sometimes I feel silenced by the pain of other stories. Some of these women have so much to bear, have suffered so much. I am reminded of another line from this chapter, in which Woodman is speaking of relationships but I see it as larger, referring to all of life... "they will not sacrifice the complex and accept the 'boredom' of being human. They are forsaking their own souls and their own creativity...." That's me too.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Friday night I met with my plum group and we discussed our writing. Each of us read several stories and then put together a program for Co-op Radio (102.7 FM) that is to be aired live this evening at 9 p.m.

I was only going to tell a few friends about this public engagement so I wouldn't become too nervous worrying about who was listening. But as I sat in my house in the garden today, butterflies dancing in my belly, I thought myself ridiculous. Why the hell am I writing, sending out stories, hoping for publication, wanting to be heard, if I limit my audience? And I'm always bragging about what fine writers my fellow plums are - they should be heard too.

Wenda and Shirley are reading three short stories each. Vaughan and I are reading one long piece. Our styles and subjects vary greatly but we work well together. I believe I am a better writer because of our group. One rather amusing aside about the plums - each of us doubts our own work and there have been times when one by one, we have wondered why the others still allow a novice to be part of the group.

Rob will laugh when he sees this blog. I swore him to secrecy about the radio show. And, I must admit, receiving an email from Sarah Cheevers, whose music we include, telling all her fans to listen this evening, pushed me to tell. I also want to be as brave as Shirley who advertised this event on her blog Wednesday.

So if you read this in time, you can listen in on the radio or online.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Michael's Birthday

Michael's Birthday
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

Mike and Mackenzie leave today, March 3rd, in their 82 Volvo stationwagon, for a trip across Canada, finally to settle in Montreal. Today is also Mike's 23rd birthday - the same age as I was when Rob and I packed our belongings into a Toyota Corolla and ended west. I remember how excited we were, how free we felt.

Like Mike, we had been working for several years and were in a rut. Life had ceased to be fun, exciting, inspiring. So, in hopes of a more stimulating future, we threw two good jobs to the wind and set out not knowing what we would find. As we drew close to Vancouver, I had my first panic attack. Were we out of our minds? Would we survive?

I appear to be recalling my past a lot lately after a trip to Toronto and now, thinking of Mike's adventure.

I worry a little about Mike and his love as they plan to sleep in the car some nights. I shiver wondering if they will freeze, if the car will behave (it's the same age as Mike.) Just be safe, I pray. May your dreams come true, I add.

Dreaming about wonderful things happening is good for the soul; but putting effort into realizing them has to be even better.

I always smile when I think of Mike. He is an artist, a musician, a thinker, a jester. He has an enormous heart. He looks at the world through different eyes. I remember attending a study seminar with him at the high school. The lecturer showed a trick picture and asked who sees - I can't remember - let's say a rabbit. Nearly all the hands shot up, mine included. He then asked who sees... a duck, and Mike's hand went up. He was one of few.

In my house in the garden I have a poem on the wall that Mike wrote when he was nine or ten. He ends with: "I hope that I am loved/ I am special." I remember feeling sad when he gave it to me, thinking how could he doubt that he is loved.

Mike is a charmer. When ever I speak to his friends or work mates, they tell me of his intelligence, his industry, his kindnesses. "Everyone loves Mike."

I also know that Mike keeps a lot inside of himself (now who does that remind me of?) And so I hope, as he sets out on his adventure that he is light, that he is given a time of grace to enjoy and laugh. But most of all, I want him to be safe.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The last two days, home after Toronto, I feel more peaceful than I have for a long time. I am thinking more clearly about work and writing - where I want to put my energy, where I don't. I know Gill is safe - the residence is impossible to enter without photo identification and Gill's signature. She is well sheltered and fed. I visited her work, met her boss, who I liked very much. Is it any wonder? She adores Gill, feels she is lucky to have her.

I have been thinking about my daughter since I left, that last hour in her place, when I could barely stand the thought of leaving her, holding in the tears. She was arranging her bulletin board, in her own world. I did not belong there but felt honoured that she had invited me - "honoured" sounds so formal, old-fashioned - but I think it's the right word - I have heard and read a great deal about mothers and daughters and the relationship isn't often an easy one. I am lucky. Still I was surprised by the surge of emotion.

She offered to walk me to the subway but I preferred to leave her there, safe and warm.

Today, I searched for a love poem for her, one without sentiment. I found this one by Sharon Olds:

"Those first weeks, I don't know if I knew
how to love our daughter. Her face looked crushed,
crumpled with worry...
I didn't blame her,
she'd been born to my mother's daughter. I would kneel
and gaze at her, and pity her.
All day I nursed her, all night I walked her,
and napped, and nursed, and walked her. And then,
one day, she looked at me, as if
she knew me. She lay along my forearm, fed, and
gazed at me as if remembering me,
as if she had known me, and liked me, and was getting
her memory back. When she smiled at me,
delicate rictus like a birth-pain coming,
I fell in love, I became human."