Saturday, January 27, 2007

Imagine Java Surrounded by White

Java in white bathroom

For the past three days I've been painting the small bathroom and hallway of the main floor of our house. I thought I wanted colour. As I mentioned in my last post, I had a number of books and paint chips but the pictures of bathrooms I liked best were white. Boring, I thought at first. I want colour in my life... but, finally, I realized that colour in my life doesn't mean that I have to have it in this small room. I love the lightness, the look of white from floor to celing to door. Pristine.

And all the while I was painting I was thinking about the imagination and passion.

It all began pre-painting. I walked to the paint store - a good long walk - and this isn't like me. I am not good at exercising though I know I should be because I feel better for it. But the only way I can get myself moving is to have an ulterior motive, usually a destination. So I walked and better still, the sun was shining; but forty-five minutes later when I found myself outside the paint store, I realized I was ravenous. I checked my purse and I had money but no book. I can't eat alone without a book. So I went to Indigo. I didn't want a novel as I have one on the go so I checked the non-fiction section and found Naomi Wolf's "The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom from my Father on How to Live, Love, and See." I had liked Wolf's "Promiscuities" so I picked up the book and checked the back cover and Erica Jong - whose writing I admire - praised it: "This book is a hard-earned gift. It is also the most transformative of Naomi Wolf's books." I bought it not knowing what to expect.

From the first two sentences, Wolf captured me: "Leonard Wolf, my father, is a wild old visionary poet. He believes that the heart's creative wisdom has a more important message than anything else, and that our task in life is to realize that message." I felt as I did when I first discovered, in my teens, Simone de Beauvoir: this is the book I need to read at this moment in my life. I have felt so cloudy, poor, jobless, dull even.

When I took breaks from my painting, I read. By the time I finished the second chapter, in which Wolf speaks of her unusual childhood and how she and her brother were allowed, encouraged even, to play using their imaginations, I was excited. I was well into the third chapter, when I suddenly felt an inexplicable desire to write out my thoughts. I looked around for my journal but it must have been outside in my little house and I wanted to write then and there. I checked the back of Wolf's book and yes, the last few pages are blank and so I grabbed a pen and wrote. (I hesitated at first but this particular book practically begged me to be inventive.)

"The idea that I can do anything I want - even the "most strange" in Rilke's words - comes to mind as I sit reading Wolf's book. I love when life surprises me, when something serendipitous happens... like buying this book. Wolf's words fit in with other works I have been reading by Schiwy and Luke. All stress the importance of the imagination. I feel as if I have been given permission to use mine, to think my own thoughts, believe in myself, and not worry about the good opinion of others. I feel for the first time in a long time, a surge of excitement.

In chapter three, Wolf writes that her father "truly believes that creative vision can emerge only when you are willing to challenge and, if you have to - no matter how scary this may be - to reject every outside expectation about how you should behave." And she goes on to tell of Leonard's belief that life should be full of surprises and (best of all, in my mind) that one should be surprised by self: "Whenever you are saying or doing something that is too familiar to you, that does not let you surprise yourself, you should rethink your situation."

As she writes about her father's life - what brought him to his wisdom - she tells her own story, how during her university days she dismissed Leonard's poetry and philosophy, how somewhere en route she had stopped listening, stopped learning. "I realized that there was something in me that was no longer growing the way it was meant to." She felt herself lacking as a teacher. Now, in her forties, her father in his eighties, she asks him to teach her, as he once taught his students from a heart-centered perspective.

There is so much in this book it's difficult to capture all. Running along side her father and her histories and his lectures is the story of a derelict old house that she bought in Boston Corners. As she restores the building and grounds, she works on a treehouse for her daughter.


to be continued...

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Many many years ago, Penelope - the friend I've known the longest, who now lives in the Yukon - and I would go to hear Ron Nigrini sing. We both have memories of "At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz/ You're literally waltzing on air/ At the Brand New Tennessee Waltz/ There's no telling who will be there". We were first year York University students and didn't have a lot of spare cash but somehow we found the money to follow Nigrini around for a bit. We both loved his voice and (me, at least) his long lanky body and boyish face.

Last night, Penelope and I asked our daughters to take our place at a concert Nigrini was playing at in a club in Toronto - a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot. I received a brief email from Gill saying that she had a wonderful evening and that Ron is still "a charmer."


This past week has been a pleasure. I've been nesting and playing - editing for others, reading others' work, catching up on my correspondence, creating some surprises, repairing a hole in the bathroom wall and trying to decide what colour to paint the room. (This may seem small but it's a lot of work. I've been taping paint chips to the wall, after visiting two paint stores, and have even went to the library for books on colour theory.)

I meant to come to my next blog with some sort of revelation regarding this new year but I have yet to sift through all the thoughts roaming my brain. Clarity would be a useful goal. And I'm still holding onto the Adrienne Rich quote that Marlene introduced me to, three or four years ago:

"But there comes a time - perhaps this is one of them - when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die: when we have to pull back from incantations, rhythms we've moved to thoughtlessly, and disenthrall ourselves, bestow ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static crowding the wires...."

Instead of stumbling or introducing a hodge-podge of ideas here, I think I'll think some more.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


2006 Summarized

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


What a strange entrance to the new year. I have been alone most often since its beginning - even on New Year's Eve though Anita and Bruce did drop in on their way to a party that I'd been invited to but could not bear to go to because Mother had died the day before and I felt too sober and somber to listen to the clinging of glasses and voices reuniting and laughing. They hugged me and left a beautiful turquoise shawl. Later that night, Helen dropped in and we sat and talked - I have no idea about what - and only noticed the old year passing by nearby boat horns and fireworks.

Every day, I have taked to Rob who, with his sister, was planning his mother's funeral and clearing her space. Sometimes, though not often, he forgot that she was gone. Sometimes they had to put aside their own grief to comfort others who had loved her.

A few days before the memorial service, I lost myself, felt I was in the wrong place, felt that I should be with the man I had lived with for so long, felt a sorry excuse for a partner. If for no other reason, I should be there to hold and comfort him though, as I write this, I wonder if I would have been any help. Is there anyone who can ease the loss of one's mother? Isn't grief intensely personal? Doesn't each of us have to live with it within ourselves? Still, my psyche showed no mercy and only when I spoke to a friend and Rob was I able to find some peace.

I also found solace in cleaning the house, our house, my house (a Jungian metaphor for self). It was as if I could get the house in order, I could unclutter myself.

The friend who looked after our house when Rob and I were away in France and Greece said that she kept looking around our rooms trying to figure out what was different about them, why she liked our space so much, and she came to the conclusion that everything in the house was useful: there was no extraneous stuff. I liked her explanation though think that a few subtractions and additions are necessary. For example, we need reading lights in the living room.

It is snowing outside. So beautiful. My mother will call me a liar. I told her yesterday morning that spring is on its way. By the afternoon, the wind was howling, a number of people, including my friend Helen, lost their electricity, and the Lions Gate Bridge was closed for several hours. For some reason, I like that not all is in our control, that nature can sabotage our easy living.

And I keep drifting back to the thought that I haven't summarized the past year and have thought nothing of this new year. I have made no resolutions, thought of no words to live by when the going gets tough. My thoughts have been consumed by Mother. Rob said that during the memorial service a train passed by and blew its whistle over and over as if acknowledging Mother's life and bidding her farewell. And it seemed appropriate because all her life, Zillah lived near the railway track.

Rob is now in Toronto visiting Michael and Mackenzie and Gillian. He returns tomorrow. Mackenzie once told me that her grandmother reads my blog and keeps them up to date (as much as I tell) about my life. Thank you, Lois.

Wednesday's Snow

Snow in front