Friday, October 29, 2010

The Birth House: Review

Although it's been a while since I read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, I expected when I picked up Ami McKay's The Birth House that the latter would remind me of the former. And in many ways it did - both books explore psycho-sexual-reproductive aspects of women's bodies. Both create spaces in which women's bodies and relationships are developed. And both focus on strong young girls who transform inside the stories into powerful young women after their debuts into these spaces. One could stretch a little and suggest that the two books also share being deeply tied to a particular time and place - The Red Tent being in Old Testament Canaan and The Birth House being in an isolate Nova Scotia village circa 1920, but those times and places are so far apart it's hardly worth comparing.

View on Amazon
Stylistically, the books couldn't be further apart. As I said, it's been a while since I read The Red Tent yet I remember the vivid, even gory, scenes of menstruation, birth, rape, murder. It's surprisingly violent for a 'women's book' (that's really a whole other discussion). On the other hand, while The Birth House does not shy away from the dark edges of life, it does so with what I can only somewhat shame-facedly describe as a 'feminine' energy. Lightness. The power of the women in The Birth House is also the power of community and friendship.

Dora Rare, the heroine of The Birth House,  - like Dina before her - is the only daughter in a string of brothers. In Dora's case, surviving the rough and tumble world of being raised with boys has made her wily. She uses cunning and sometimes even a paradoxically innocent guile to survive the men who rise up against her. She has the flexibility and strength of bamboo as she adjusts to the vagaries of life. She inspiring yet grounded in the author's great research.

I loved reading The Birth House. I love that it ends happily and without bowing to convention. It was the kind of book that felt like a friend. And couldn't we all use more of that?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

TI♥T: Autumn

There is something honest and unexpected in Autumn's vibrancy. In a season of decay, the flush of death on the leaves brings out their best. The rattling sighs of wind in the now dry branches seem so much more real than the timid tittering whispers of Spring.

I expect each year to be sad when Summer ends. Where I grew up, Autumn largely meant frost on the yellowed grass, a brief week or two of slendid golden Aspens, heralding the oncoming grey that would only be relieved by Winter.

Winter. Brilliant, white and pristine, until the snowmobiles, snow tires, and 4x4s dug up the underlying grime. With fresh snow there was a purity I enjoyed. The magical lace of frost on the windows. Glass covered ponds. Trees made mystical by hoar frost.

Autumn had little of that beauty. And so, the orange, red, yellow warm prism that greeted me this morning as I walked to UVic still occured as a surprised even though this is my ninth island Autumn. And even though I know those colours are really just the beauty of decay.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Toast

There is an infinitessimal moment that precedes all greatness - the second the pen marks the page, or the paint brush spots colour on the canvas, or the singer breathes in before filling the room with song, or the hammer strikes in the starter's gun. It is a magic-filled moment that turns a pure possiblity - a clear space - into a unique creation.

The moment is just a beginning. One colour splotch does not a masterpiece make. But every eventual masterpiece depends on that transformational moment and that primary action. And that action, once taken, cannot be undone and almost invariably calls for more similar actions.

Here's to the moment of conception. The beginning. The spark that starts the fire. And here's to taking the steps that follow that first magical action.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Failure to Thrive

I lost a baby girl. To everyone else she was just a possibility they were waiting to meet, but to me she was already going to a junior high dance, graduating college, walking down the aisle, asking me questions about her own baby. I wasn't really that far along in my pregnancy - far enough to have told everyone and to be picking names. Far enough that they could tell me afterwards that she was a girl. And far enough to have dreamed her into our lives.

I think about her often at this time of year. She'd be 19 this month. But, almost as soon as she was gone BB2 was on his way. Born just 6 months after she was expected. And as loved and celebrated and perfect as any baby could have been. It's hard to mourn her when I have him. When I asked the doctors what I'd done wrong - why I'd lost her - he said I didn't do anything. That 9 times out of 10 there is no reason. That moving house and dental surgery and anything else I could second guess were irrelevant. And that mostly they chalk these losses up to 'failure to thrive.'

It's an interesting term. I was thinking this morning about relationships (shocking, I know), and how apt a term 'failure to thrive' is in that arena as well. In fact, there are a lot of similarities. Mostly, people have no trouble getting to the 3 month mark, and that's a milestone as well for pregnancies. It's a point at which, often, things become public. And it's a point at which you start to look forward - to dream and plan and anticipate. And as often as not, there is nothing to blame for relationships not continuing past that mark. They develop to a certain point, and then 'fail to thrive.' You can put work in. Monitor the situation. Run tests. But if it's not meant to be, there's no changing that. You can point fingers at one another, or tell your friends what a callous cad he is, or what a psycho she is. But it won't change anything. 

It's a funny thing, losing a baby. We don't talk about it. Even at the time her father said 'It's not like she was a real baby.' And in some ways that's true. I can't imagine what it's like to lose a baby you've held. My friend Tori can - and shares about it brilliantly - and it's not the same.

It makes me wonder though. If I hadn't had two beautiful healthy boys. If there had been other babies lost, I would have done something about it. I'd have found out why. And if I'm going to make the comparison - all I've had in relationships have been 'failure to thrive' of varying length, so shouldn't that be something I look into?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

TI♥T 2: Being Wowed

I've mentioned before my beautiful diva friend Maureen - I've been a fan since I first heard her sing when we were teenagers. Maureen transforms on the stage into something ... magical. She and the music are more together than either could ever be alone. Like I said, I'm a fan. And tonight at the CD Release concert for her new 'Blues in the Night' album of jazz standards, she knocked my stilletto mary-janes off.

This love letter is for her.

Congratulations, my friend. What a night. It was amazing to see you up there on that stage. After 2 years of struggle, your train is leaving the station. Watching you on that stage, with your kids and Darryl all beaming at you & 100 people moved to joy & sorrow & passion & glee left me breathless. Only you could make a 900 seat concert hall with soaring ceilings feel as intimate as a boudoir and as safe as a mother's arms. What a moment to get to share in.

I don't know if I've ever seen you with such complementary accompaniment. Karel is absolutely stunning in his own right, and together you created this unbelievable symbiosis that I don't even have words for. 

And then it was over ... 

Or not. A standing ovation and an encore. And watching you sing "Hallelujah" was like seeing that moment that you've done it - your CD is done, and your dreams have been born full-size and already walking. And in seeing you live that moment I remembered that I too can carry a dream until it's time for that dream to fill a room with magic and music and love.

Thanks, Diva - your heart and drive and talent astound me. And I REALLY need to learn to wear water-proof mascara to your shows :) .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

TI♥T: Miss Lady & being a Lady

It is not yet Thursday where I live. Just a province or two away it is Thursday, but not here. And yet, I've known since 5pm this evening what I wanted to write for Things I Love Thursday, and to whom this post would be dedicated. And now, I wait. Do I write this, save it as a draft, and hope it sounds good enough to post in the morning? Do I post it now with apologies for jumping the Thursday gun? Do I not label it a Things I Love Thursday post and come up with something else tomorrow? Is there a way to save this and have it publish at midnight so that it is both accurately a Things I Love Thursday post and fresh and timely?

We shall see when it's done, I guess.

One of the main reasons I continue writing the Things I Love Thursday posts is because my dear darling beloved friend Miss Lady urges me to. She anticipated them. She reads them. She prods me in texts/emails/facebook posts to write them. She never comments directly on them, but she knows when I miss them, and I know she knows. Miss Lady is not someone I ever want to let down, so I try to remember. I have reminders that go off every Thursday at inopportune times. Often I still forget - or, more accurately, remember at the wrong time.

I love Miss Lady. She is an amazing, generous, inspiring, fun, beautiful woman. Having her in my life is a blessing that I might not fully be able to communicate. That's okay, because she knows. She's stunning and silly and gentle and simply wonderful. And, her birthday is tomorrow (or today, depending on your time zone) - it's Thursday this year. So of course Things I Love Thursday is for Miss Lady this week.

But there's more ... I wrote a little something inside Miss Lady's birthday present (which was just a pretty little journal). What I really wanted to give her was the inscription, but an inscription needs something to go inside. And now I'd like to share that inscription with you (this is really just a rough 'I wrote that 5 hours ago and will try to remember' approximation, but I hope it translates):
I truly deeply believe that inside every woman is a deep, unquenchable desire to create. It is what has us give birth to, nurture, raise and release into the world our children. We express it when we garden. It is in every meal we cook and every home we create. It is inherent in our dreams, whether or not we ever pursue them. Creating is our access to both discovering and expressing ourselves.

Creating gives us room to play and experiment. Every time we put paint to canvas, or voice to song, or pen to paper we are connecting to the most intimate and authentic part of what it means to be a woman, and we are reinforcing that desire while we satisfy it. 
I think it went on, but you get the gist. Writing that made me think. Clearly the original idea as it flowed out in Miss Lady's journal had more 'flow' to it, being a thought rather than an attempt at remembering. But it's really sparked something for me. I don't consider myself particularly skillful at any creative endeavours aside from writing, and yet I constantly try - to sew, to sing, to paint, to photograph, to cook. That urge to create is always there, and whenever I do create, I am satisfied in the process, if not in the product.

I'm not suggesting that men don't have their own creative spark - clearly they do. I just think that in the expression of the female creative drive, we give life to a part of ourselves that is otherwise carefully controlled and subjugated to 'real life.' I now believe (and probably always have) that to maintain who we are as women we have to have room to express our creative spark, and to do so regularly.

In the midst of celebrating Miss Lady, I came to a personal realisation that really resonates for me. I guess that's just one more way in which my amazing friend makes a difference for me. She really is a blessing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

TI♥T: People :)

Another week, another belated Things I Love Thursday post. In some ways I want to say I'm justified in being late this week since I was 'recovering' yesterday from a medical procedure. Only, really I spent the whole day on my couch and typing a simple blog post would have been well within doctor's orders to take it easy. The bigger excuse is also the topic of this post - while I was recovering I was flooded with love and care and some pretty amazing people and was so enjoying being with them that I didn't even think about blogging until I was in bed.

The closer I got to yesterday, the more I felt alone in the world. I have a big loving extended family, and a large and committed circle of friends but for some reason in this case all I could see was that I am not in a loving, committed relationship and so I am adrift on a sea of nothingness.

It's insane, really.

My parents got up at 6:30 am yesterday and drove 2 hours (through the worst spot of Victoria's morning rush hour) so that mom could go with me to the hospital. Then they bought me lunch, saw me snug back in my house and turned around and drove home again. They were on the road longer than they were here. I came home to a sweet, acknowledging email from BB1, had a lovely check-in phone call with The Catch, and then spent the afternoon on the couch with BB2 watching a silly movie and eating popcorn & chocolate. In the evening my friends took over, one bearing more chocolate and the most healing hands ever to offer a shoulder massage, and the other prompting us to head out for a low-key Thai dinner.

And, strung throughout all that, more Facebook  messages, Tweets, texts voice messages and phone calls from people sending me love.

Miss Lady recently gave me this sticker, which she'd picked up at Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco (and which lives by my entry door so it's the first & last thing I see when I'm coming and going). And boy, she couldn't have been more right. :)

Thank you all. I love you to.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The bogey man in my mind

I read a quote today that felt like a punch in the gut:
"Fear is for those who don't get out much."
I was surprised by my visceral reaction. I used to think I was fearless. And somewhat invincible. And pretty much unstoppable. And I definitely no longer feel like that. Yes, there have been challenges I never imagined of late, but it doesn't feel like the fear is about that - not really.

I thought about it a bit - what am I afraid of? Why does this fear seem so much more powerful than I know myself to be? I can taste it sometimes - it tastes like bile and blood and vapour. I can just about see it out of the corner of my eye. I hear it sigh under the worn tires of my car. Mock me from the empty side of my bed.

What scares me most is not the real & present threats to life and limb and safety. What scares me most is never not being alone. What scares me is my sons forgetting about me. What scares me is being knocked down one more time than I can get up. What scares me is people disappearing when I need them. Some of them are old fears. Some of them are new. None of them are real.

My adventuring heart still beats strong. My painted toes still crave the unbeaten path. My long legs still yearn for new spaces to stroll, climb up, slide down and swim through. If fear wants to come along, it should pack a bag & update its passport - I might have to go alone, but I'm still going places.

Friday, October 1, 2010


It's a beautiful sunny autumn day in Victoria, and I even have the day off work. And all I have attention for is how disappointed I am to be here and that there's nothing to look forward to but more of the same.

I'm supposed to be in Vancouver. With Shiney Shan. I've been looking forward to it for more than a month. Most people think that I was going to give her support and love and encouragement while she supports her mom at the cancer treatment centre. And that was definitely true.

But I was also going to get all the support, love and encouragement a 38-year best friend can give with just a smile. I was going to tell Shiney all the things I haven't wanted to tell her in a phone call or email. I was going to cry and let go and say how unfair things are right now. And I was going to let her do the same.

But I'm here. With so much I want to avoid that even changing the tire on my car feels insurmountable, even though three people have offered help.

I don't know how to explain to them - those people who offered help - that I just need someone else to be in charge for today. Somebody else has to know the answer this time, even to something as simple as changing the tire.
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