Friday, February 28, 2014

Art Explained to a Child

The Ladybird Book line still exists, but in the traditional sense, the name refers to a line of British children’s books that were published from the 1940s through 1970s. The had a standardized format including a listing of key vocabulary words on each page.
Miriam Elia, a writer and artist, has released the book We Go to the Gallery. It's a satire on modern art that in the form of a fake Ladybird book:
“I thought it would be humorous to see Mummy, Peter and Jane going to a really nihilistic modern art exhibition”, she says. Among the works confronted by the trio on their cultural outing are pastiches of Emin, Creed and Koons, through which they learn about sex, death, nothingness “and all of the debilitating, middle-class self-hatred contained in the artworks.”

You can see more a few more pages at The Independent.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I went to the store and the smell of the air made me five years old. Smell is so evocative and the smell of the air reminded me of walking in a park near my first home. I can smell Spring coming; a good sign for the day.

Then I do as I always do. I do my marking and answer yesterdays emails because I am freshest in the morning. And I turn on my favourite radio station that plays only Broadway show tunes (and without any commercials). And Mandy Patinkin came on, singing Lily's Eyes from The Secret Garden—heaven and another good sign for the day.

And then, as I write to my friends David and Bryan…. my hands go to my face and my face contorts and I am instantly in deep grief andy crying hard. It is overwhelming in the truest sense of the word.

I think about her all the time. Her loss makes me hyper aware of life, luck and health but I don't cry. I feel intensely all the time, but I don't cry. And then, if I try to write or say any words of affection to anyone—cat, dog or person—I burst into tears. I am triggered by thoughts of love.

Love and loss. I am orphan and that is what being an orphan is, to me, that's what life is to me: torn between love and loss. I get that. And we move on. I get that too. But I am not in control of the speed or the route.

I understand, yet again, where cliché metaphors come from—like grief coming in "waves."

But its all good. I am listening to Nathan Lane and Faith Prince singing Adelaide's Lament from Guys and Dolls, the sun is shining and I am cooking for friends who are coming for dinner tomorrow night. The wave ebbs. It's all good.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Grace (Slick)

Down Down Downton

Lord Grantham heading up a B&E to recover a letter that could damage the Prince of Wales. Really? Ladies Mary and Edith doing the shake down of the apartment. Really? And Bates not only an excellent forger but also a superb pickpocket. Really? And that forced bit of codswallop between Barrow and Branson. Lord Grantham giving ear to a his valet over his son-in-law whom he later says he misses. Really?

Come on, Mr. Fellows. Your prestigious talent is compromised by the deadlines required by a recurring series don't you think? Wouldn't you be smarter to follow the lead of the Sherlock team and leave two years between seasons? You have far, far more characters and time periods to juggle than they do.

Don't get me wrong. I love the show, its costumes, sets and language. Even at its worst, it is far better than most televised dramas to my thinking and, of course, there are no commercials. But with Downton over for another season and Silk now into re-runs, I'll be reading more.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I'm So Sorry …

"Oh Chris, I am so sorry about Rita." That is always the opening line. The speakers are sincere but I know their jobs require that they be sincere to another family every day. Rita lived in a care home for veterans; there is a permanent parking space for hearses in the back.

So then we chat, and they usually touch me gently on the arm. And then, softly, they say, "Have you called anyone yet? We need to have the body out of here within two hours." Or, "Have you decided when you will be clearing out Rita's things from her room? We need to have it clean by noon tomorrow."

I realize that every bed is needed. I realize that Rita's death means some family is getting a welcome call telling them that a bed has opened up for the person they need housed. I realize so many things…. like that I cannot say "death" or "dead" or "cremated" or any other word like them out loud yet. They catch in my throat and strangle me.

Grief is like an earthquake; there are tremors and then there are tremors. Some are severe and there are many just like a real seismic event. But this was a big one. It swallowed a cherished part of my world. Now I have to execute her will and get it probated as my final act of service.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gone, like a kiss.

It's been rough few days but it is over. Dear Rita passed away at noon today. I am actually glad because yesterday was as hard to watch as it was for her to endure. She asked me to kiss her on the cheek and it was an honour. Other than that question, her last clear words were, 'I love you all."  And she passed whilst I was with two very close friends, and on a beautiful day. What a broad!  

Kiss Me

Yesterday (Tuesday) I went in again to see poor Rita. She is drowning to death, the poor, poor woman. She physically struggles for air; she frowns, arches her back and tilts her head back as if stretching her lungs to get air in, then she coughs this wet, gurgly cough and her arms and legs try to flail. She has a temperature so she pushes off her covers.

She saw me and knows I am hers. She can barely speak, there is not enough breath, but she asked me to kiss her on the cheek. I am glad she asked and I am glad she was awake so we had an exchange. She can't understand anything said to her, but when our eyes meet nothing else exists.

I struggle to be with her when she is awake because when she moves, she coughs, so I seek medical intervention. I want her drugged into sleep so she escapes the suffering of suffocation. And I worry about her when I am not there. Who is making sure she is asleep? She cannot pull her chain for help.

I did not cry so much this time, but oh, the intensity of my thoughts and feelings. I come home exhausted. Every incoming phone call scares me. Tonight, after my visit with her, I have to teach a class for three hours.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fade to Black

I got a lot done this morning, then I got the call. It was Sophia, Rita's nurse. The call ended with Sophia saying "She is dying. Rita is dying." And she wanted my permission not to hospitalize Rita—this, they asked of someone who cannot kill a dying fish, moves worms when digging and releases insects into the wild instead of killing them.

I couldn't say, "Okay." So I phoned Rita's daughter in Oklahoma and caught a cab over to Brock Fahrni, Rita's hospital. The Pastoral Care worker met me as did Sophia. Rita had, they said, refused hospitalization. And Michelle, the daughter, had authorized a shift to "Comfort Care."

Mel, the Pastoral Care worker, said that she had spoken to Rita this morning when she was stronger. Mel said when Rita roused, she said, "I love you all." What a way to go! Because of her release and Michelle's position, I signed the necessary papers and then I went to sit with Rita.

At one point, she opened her eyes and looked at me. I saw no sign of recognition in her eyes but a wee smile crossed her face and I felt blessed. Oh, how I will miss her.

And the day changed. The sunshine on my face felt like a balm; the birdsong sounded like a lament. Brock Fahrni, where she lives, is beside women'd hospital and as I was leaving a young couple were leaving with their newborn. Everything was so intense so I walked home looking down and not wanting eye contact with anyone.

One minute you are lonely and the next you can be deeply in love. One minute you can be so happy and the next, so sad. And Rita is a veteran; that makes her very special. I got her wartime record in England recognized here in Canada so that she could enjoy the full benefits of residence at Brock Fahrni, a residence specializing in care for veterans.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Irresistible Fun!

Not So High (See Previous Post)

Ethel asks Lady Cora, "Mama, can I ask you something?  You don't think I'm bad, do you?"

Cora: "You're a little sharp tonged every now and then, but bad, no."

Edith: "Sometimes I have bad feelings."

Cora: "We all have  bad feelings. It's acting on them that makes you bad."

What a timely concern because I am turning into a big "C" word. I am becoming a curmudgeon—but not the nice kind as in the movie, Up; instead, I am grumpy, bring life to the word's original meaning. I not only cannot suffer fools, I don't suffer many at all well. Have I changed, I wonder, or is this new awareness due to my increased exposure to the multitudes on the street, in busses and on the subway?

In South Africa, three times!, my first glimpse of someone led me to instant and extreme aversion to them and later, not only did I come to realize that these people were generous and kind individuals, they  all initiated acts of generosity to me! I am sure to rot in Hell.
On another note…

Yesterday morning I went to do some ironing whist watching THE OLYMPICS. YAY!! And soon after plugging in my new Rolls Royce iron, I smelled what I thought was cooking corn. Then I smelt a  burning smell and with every swipe of my iron I found black lint on my clothes. Then I realized the black flakes were coming from inside the iron…. wait for it….

Then I, resident on the seventh floor, realized the the entire global population of these teeny weeny ants were living in my iron. I was able to get a lot of them out by turning the iron upside down and shaking it, but I had to shoot steam through it for half an hour to get all the ants from inside the plumbing of the iron. Imagine!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


For the past two days I have wondered if I am bipolar, such is the level of my appreciation of life right now. I feel almost manic about the sunshine, my mobility and breathing and, in particular, the scents in the air. I see buds emerging in flower beds and they look like how I feel. I question a lifelong sense that winter is to be avoided because being out in it brings on a daily epiphany.

My euphoria is partly due to being retired but having purpose. I volunteer far more hours weekly to PAL Vancouver than I do for pay at Emily Carr University. And I can manage my life well because there is so much time left over.

Awareness of my bounty of good fortune makes me want to thank …. well who or what? So I think a lot about God who is not a presence in my life except as a need. I can't believe so I have no one to thank for this over-flowing love of life.

On March 26, 2008 I truly wanted to die. I don't remember why. Then was the low; now is the high. So, for the past two days I have wondered if we aren't all a little bipolar over enough time.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

DId I Kill Her?

Five friends came over for dinner last night. Dear friend, Bruce, asked me to make the dinner for four mutual friends as his "good-bye" dinner before leaving for Europe. Sue, one of the guests, was immediately unwelcome because she was coughing but what could I do?

Just after desert we noticed Sue had long been absent—and that's remarkable in a one-bedroom apartment. Maureen found her on the floor in my bathroom so we called 911. Sue, it turns out, has COPD and had developed pneumonia.

Note to friends: Guests in like condition are unwelcome. Nothing personal.

Today was Fish Day. Costin came for one of his bi-monthly visits. He makes me feel so Downton Abbey, having staff—Costin, my fish man.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pastille Pie

This is a dish I like to make that combines the flavours of Morocco with a classic French Canadian medium—the savoury tart; a form of Tourtiere. It's a lot of shredded chicken with bits of prunes, fried apricots, sweetened roasted almonds, cashews, raisins and a fair bit of egg. The spices include lots of turmeric, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon. It usually goes over well because it is unique.

I made it for my friend Bruce because he is going to Europe for three months.

And, of course, I made an apple tart for dessert. It's so easy now after having made so many.

I baked all day, listening and watching the Olympics. I always have such a good time watching the competitions and the interviews with the athletes.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Angle of Repose

Wow! I read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and am still not over it.

I took my degree in English literature. In fact, I took 2 extra courses a year while at college and became deeply immersed in it because it was easy and relatively fun. It wasn't absolute like the sciences. And the end result was  … are you familiar with the song "nothing" from A Chorus Line?

And I said… "Nothing,
I'm feeling nothing,"
And he says "Nothing
could get a guy transferred."

They all felt something
But I felt nothing
Except the feeling 
That this bullshit was absurd.

So after college until about ten years ago, I read non-fiction exclusively—a lot of it and I loved everything I read. I read everything by Oliver Sacks and Simon Winchester. I loved historical biographies like Stacey Schiff's Cleopatra

Then, a decade ago, I awoke as out of a fog. No more non-fiction for me. I can't remember many titles from the beginning of the resurrection of my poetic soul, but I do remember binging on P.D. James, having discovering her whilst travelling in India. What I do remember was Jamie O'Neil's At Swim, Two Boys. That novel affected me so much a friend asked me if I had been to Ireland because of the way I was speaking. 

After a book like that, it is hard to keep reading. I want every book to move me as At Swim, Two Boys did but it takes a while. And then came Adam Vergese's Cutting for Stone and the earth moved again. and with these two books, not only did my earth move, it never returns to the same place again.

Well, now I have (regretfully) finished Stegner's Angle of Repose. Oh my God, what a book. I still miss Susan Burling Ward and Lyman Ward, but they will live with me forever. And if anyone had suggested I read a book about the settling of the American West, I would have never given it a second's thought. No way. But this book got a grip on my soul right away—both the story and the writing is arresting. God bless writers like O'Neil, Vergese and Stegner. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm Back!

I am back in the world of the living. I re-joined yesterday but I had to go through my first vertical day coughing up dump trucks full of phlegm. Today feels almost normal. What an ordeal—so routine in one way but so dreadful in another. That was my fifth asthma attack requiring hospital intervention in two years. Now I know what to do and when to do it.

The last thing I did with joy before getting sick was to go to the Vancouver Aquarium with my best little buddy,  Hudson (aged nine). We had the best time after a Sunday night sleep over watching the Grammies and then, once I dropped him off with his mother last Monday afternoon, I went straight to the hospital for a cocktail of Azithromycine and Prednisone.

And boy, that Prednisone! It sure works but the side effects are unbelievable.

The Critic Speaks:  I actually liked the latest episode of Downton, much to my relief. My favourite moment involved, of course, Mary. I am so smitten with Michelle Dockery and Mary. Anyway, the scene that resonated for me was when she was in her boudoir and Anna, her maid, is asking for permission to go out for dinner with her man, Bates.

"I'll be back in time…(to assist you with retiring)," says Anna.

"Nonsense," says Mary, "you go and have a good time with Mr. Bates and don't worry about me. I'll be fine." She says something like that to Anna—in effect, saying that she can put herself to bed. But then she dips to allow Anna to put her necklace over her head." I loved the juxtaposition of her action and words. Wonderful!

I could barely follow Sherlock. Prednisone affects cognition. I was grateful for the "behind the scenes" interviews at the end that helped me understand what I had seen. And how absolutely lovely to discover that that was Benedict Cumberbatch's real parents playing the parents of Sherlock and Mycroft. 

 Hudson in a bubble tank at the Aquarium.

 I want a tank like this! But I love my fresh water tank.

Look at the blue spots on this ray.

 I could watch seahorses for hours. They move like angels.

 A spotted ray.


Sleeeping Otter.