I’m on a clear-the-decks kick, which usually means that I start with the bookcases, get bogged down dipping again into the candidates for a purge, and…well, you know…. I keep trying, for example, to ditch Mordicai Richler Was Here (a collection of excerpts) but it keeps sneaking back to the coffee table, where I suppose I set it down when laughing hurts my stomach.
Beside Richler sits Dropped Threads — also a collection, edited by Carol Shields and June Callwood, this time of women’s reflections about the surprises that life dishes out. “Old Age’’ (Callwood’s contribution) is my favourite. Physical appearance gets barely more than a nod — “In my mind’s eye I look the way I did for most of my life, with a face and body neither so beautiful nor so ugly as to require upkeep;” which is exactly the way I feel, though she too made me laugh out loud: “One morning our granddaughter, age seven, was watching me dress. ‘Oh, I see,’ she said pensively. ‘When you’re old your nipples point down.”
Made you look.
Other than the obvious, Callwood is struck by how little we actually change: ”Those of us, notably me, born under the celestial sign of impetuosity are still reacting just a microsecond ahead of thought.” Sounds familiar. She claims, moreover, to have acquired in seven and a half decades only two pieces of wisdom (both of which I also agree with, by the way). The first is that you “can’t fix anyone.” No argument there. More importantly, she also realizes that “if…I interfere when something isn’t fair — even if I screw up the intervention, even if it doesn’t succeed”, she will feel less guilty “than if I decide injustice isn’t my business and pass by. This is described, by people who haven’t given it a try, as meddling. I prefer to think of it as character building.” What a delight June Callwood was — funny and wise; aren’t we lucky to have known her, if only at a distance.
I also miss Carol Shields, though her writing remains inspirational:
(I)n the calmer, cooler evenings…the phrase tempus fugit would return to me, beating at the back of my brain and reminding me that time was rushing by. I was spooked, frightened by what this meant. And then, quite suddenly, I realized it meant nothing. Tempus did not fugit. In a long and healthy life, which is what most of us have, there is plenty of time. (…) Shallow time and fallow time. There is time in which we are politically involved and other times when we are wilfully unengaged. We will have good years and bad years, and there will be time for both. Every moment will not be filled with accomplishment; we would explode is we tied ourselves to such a region. Time was not our enemy if we kept it on a loose string, allowing for rest, emptiness, reassessment, art and love, This was not a mountain we were climbing; it was closer to being a novel with a series of chapters.
I needed that reminder this week, if only because sorting “stuff, while motivated by a desire for a simpler future, always toggles me back into the memories of a crazy-busy past. This weekend in particular, everything reminds me of a dear friend -- a historian whose well-researched and fair-minded texts influenced a generation of Canadian History students. Ron, who has been part of my life for half a century, died on Friday. Rest in peace, old friend.
Ron habitually involved himself in the democratic process and I have been thinking a lot about that because it’s election season again. Like it or not, our votes constitute a choice of futures and the torch is in our hands. So here we all sit together in the eternal now, the only time we ever truly have, suspended between past and future while doing our best to keep the present on a loose string. Let’s practise thanksgiving every day without forgetting on October 19 that young people also deserve plenty of that commodity.
This watercolour is of my mother on her 80th birthday. I still miss that laugh.
September always hits the ground running, the highlight being our annual art-camp weekend at Geneva Park. Fun, WOW. Over-stimulation, DOUBLE PLUS UNGOOD. But if the title baffles you, I recommend you read the post of March 4, 2019 - “Earplugs as a Cultural Icon” (click on April 2019 under Archive in the right column)
Let’s assume that the vast majority of the 120 artists gathered there have short alleles and that we had been careful to assure that the previous week was quiet and restful, with lots of time to sleep, exercise, eat carefully…yada yada. And was mine? Well, NO actually. This year it had been particularly packed and stressful. I should know better than to do this but there you go.
To make things worse, I wasn’t going alone, but was packing for triplets. On Tuesday, I had realized to my horror that I hadn’t even done the rendering for two of the three portraits I hoped to finish over the weekend. I also needed to transform the drawings on canvas into value underpaintings, which then had to dry. And of course then there would follow three (x 2) transparent primary layers, each of which would also need to dry thoroughly. Yikes!! I could already feel my alleles shrinking. And I had to remember to pack all of the triplets’ essentials -- pigments, mediums, drop sheets, lights, shapers, brushes, brush cleaners, et cetera. Theoretically, I could borrow a missing item, but your kids and their mom are used to their own stuff.
By Friday morning, had the Sainted Judy not driven, I’m not sure I could have but she did and we found ourselves lakeside that afternoon. Phew. We unpacked, organized our gear and got ready for our traditional cocktail hour before supper. Amid the laughter, the junk food, and the toasts, it emerged that we were all in varying degrees overtired and jangled. I felt so much less alone that I made a mental note to have t-shirts printed up and distributed the week before next year’s art camp reading “SO SOON OLD; SO LATE SCHMART. THINK AHEAD!”
Which brings me to the issue of food. The back of the Tee could read ‘SO SOON FAT.” I doubt that I am the only artist who eats her own weight at art camp. There is food everywhere you look, and for someone who w/couldn’t eat until I hit puberty (you try eating when you’re not hungry), I am now someone for whom the butter calls my name. The only reason I don’t overeat normally is that it makes me feel horrible. Next year I must try to remember that and the fact that it consequently interrupts my sleep. What can I say? Short-allele-ers are fragile flowers.
Judging by the lack of conversation at breakfast, we all felt a bit ragged. And it was only Saturday morning of the major work day, a day begun and interrupted only by yet more overeating. Porridge, bacon and eggs, cinnamon buns, full-bore coffee, and fruit salad started my day. Feel free to shower me with abuse. I have to learn.
Fragile flowers also crave quiet time. This is not quite the same as concentration or even digestion. Every artist responds with a wry grin when someone says, “It must be so relaxing to paint.” Well, it’s not. Sure, painting has elements of deep meditation and complete absorption - "flow" - but they are intimately allied with intense problem-solving and even physical work. We create art because it’s too wonderful not to, not because it’s a way to kick back like couch potatoes.
If we had thought we were tired the night before, you should have seen us overeat again at supper, conversations polite but disintegrating into incoherence as we grimly chewed. Thankfully, the fruit of hard work was there as the walk-around that evening proved. Even in workshops where everyone painted the same scene, every richly-covered canvas was different, even viewed through the lens of the heartburn I so richly deserved. Good grief! What am I - ten?
When we packed up on Sunday morning, you will understand that I am relieved to have misplaced only one whole bag of gear — pigments, in particular, if you’ve seen it. Dream prophecy (or mine at least) proved unreliable, as it did not show up behind the kitchen door this morning. With any luck, it won’t have to drag its own way home like the dead son in “The Monkey’s Paw.” But even if the bag is irrevocably gone, the weekend was as always worth its annual assault on my nervous system. At present, I am endeavouring to apologize to my digestive system. But take heart, those of you who were also there and are similarly occupied. Like phoenixes, we artsy-fartsies will rise again, fluff up our short-boy alleles and live to make each other laugh another day. Thanks and love to all old friends and new for Geneva Park 2019.
The Finale of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy is beginning its fifth hour of repeating in my brain so I finally faced down the ear-worm and found it on Youtube. Might as well familiarize myself with the rest of the piece, although I seem to be wed to the last ten minutes. It has been one of those lovely solitary days, with time to think or even stop thinking and let my mind follow its own lead. Being alone for an extended period is the perfect incubator. About being Scottish, it turned out.
Blame Bruch. He might have not have been Scottish, but he captured the sense of that nation by doing something inventive. While as a young pianist I loved baroque “ornamentation,” and the “turn” in particular, it never occurred to me that a classical composer could use one to evoke swirling bagpipes played by kilted warriors marching into battle. although the Scottish Fantasy was composed in 1880, it foreshadows the Balkan Campaign of 1916, where the 10th Battalion of the Black Watch won the nickname “Ladies from hell” ("Die Damen aus der Hölle") as a back-handed tribute to their kilts, their pipes, and their fighting qualities. Whether or not you are a Scot, you want to be, when Bruch is finished with you.
As it happens, I AM a Scot! Or at least three-quarters of me, if you can overlook the century and a half we’ve been in Canada. But looking back, I realize that I have consistently demonstrated my weakness for things Scottish — Sean Connery, shortbread, Skye terriers, good woollens, warehouse sales, red squirrels, formal dances with dates in dress kilts, cool summers, Jamie Fraser, peaty scotch, my two boon companions and best of all, a Scottish brogue.
So I'm entitled to think about Sean Connery, all right? His looks are okay but it’s his voice that slays me. I have been trying, without success, to download it onto our GPS, who has earned the name “Dim Bulb” for evident reasons. Sean would be unable to guarantee any more than Dim Bulb that I "have arrived at (my) destination,” but this time I might not care. The only occasion when I literally had too much of him was when the only seats for Dr. No were in the front row and his chest was thirty feet across. So I closed my eyes and just listened, mercifully released from the sight of Ursula Andress’s monstrous cleavage.
If you too love Scottish burrs, there’s Scott MacKenzie, the famous flyfisher who does master-class videos about spey casting, the double-handed method of presenting the fly. Or Davie McPhail, who ties magnificent salmon flies on line. I treat them both as podcasts and can practically hear my blood pressure dropping. I still regret that I’ve lost the brogue that a year with my Scottish exchange teacher in Grade Two bestowed. Thank heavens for Outlander, although I do keep an eye as well as an ear on Jamie.
Finally, there is the "Heavenly Breed," though the fierceness of Skyes has also won them the respectful moniker “Land Sharks." I knew that Jewell and Theodore are direct descendants of an ancient breed, but recently discovered that cairns and Scotties branched off from Skye terriers only within the last century. Skyes cover all the bases - comic-looking ("designed by a committee") but elegant; tough-minded (aka STUBBORN) but snuggly; prone to bizarre phobias (Theodore turning to jelly around any one of the bikes in Jon's stable) yet brave ( confronting a large coyote); dim (see "brave") but exquisitely affectionate and loyal. Not to gild the lily but I like to think that Theodore’s thinking voice is appropriately burry like Sean's, Scott's and Davie's. Maintaining this fiction is made a heck of a lot more difficult when he cries like a girl after an hour’s separation. Still, one tries.
The weather this week is autumnally blue-sky cool so today I am pretending to be in the Highlands -- feeling the urge to break out the woollens and the shortbread, and to go to the back garden to locate a red squirrel with whom to exchange insults. All the while, I'm gratefully aware of doing this in Canada, where Boris Johnson is mercifully irrelevant. So, channelling Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" and Alex P. Keaton's hilarious "Today I am a woman," today I am a Scot -- albeit one who hasn't been home for a LONG time.