Category Archives: PROSE & POETRY

INVISIBILITY

POSTED: March 1, 2021

Sometimes I enter writing and poetry contests. And occasionally I even submit to various literary journals and other publications when there is a call for submissions.  It is an important thing to do, given my relationship with the publishing industry. I submit, which gives me something to do, and they reject, which gives them something to do.

Occasionally one of those publishing tricksters will actually accept my work, which puts the whole nature of the relationship in peril and makes me question the otherwise perfect harmony of the symbiosis.

So recently I saw a call for submission from a literary journal I like very much, and one that has not broken the perfect relationship of submission / rejection. It was on the topic of Invisibility, something I have some familiarity with, being largely unpublished.

The submissions could be in a variety of forms – essay, poetry, prose.

Some ideas on the topic were swirling around in my head one evening when I headed off to bed to be comforted by The Collected Prose of Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop of course is the Pulitzer prize winning Canadian/American poet. Her prose is not as well known but much of it is based on her own life so reading it is really a window into who she was, and where she came from. But I am rambling again.

While brushing my teeth some elements of a poem started to gel, and I scribbled them down on a pad I keep handy for just such occurrences.

A busy Covid schedule kept me from returning to the task for a few days but I then sat down at my cluttered desk to come back to it, and appropriately enough – the little piece of paper with the scribbled poem was invisible. And this is another aspect of invisibility I have familiarity with. Something that is there but not seen.

Like everyone on the planet, I have characteristics. I have a colour, I have an age, some gender characteristics and I present in a certain way, at times revealing my heritage, character, and perspective, and at times not. When I am with others who share many of my visible characteristics I blend in or disappear as we all look the same to at least some.

When I am with others who don’t have some of those visible characteristics – I am seen. Sometimes in a good way, often not.

I was having a drink with a friend about a year ago, when we could still do that, and he was telling me about a role he had played about a year earlier in a very popular Bollywood film. He is a part-time actor, part-time barista, and full-time gadabout, and was living in Mumbai at the time. He showed me on his phone the credit he had in the film: “OLDER OVERWEIGHT WHITE MAN AT BAR #7”.  Yes, that certainly is something for the resume!

As I age, I have come to respect the thoughts of my aging friends (particularly female friends) who have long talked about their invisibility. Once you are over a certain age you seemingly disappear to the general public, and certainly as a creature with any sexual content. It is the reason eyeglass companies and hair colouring salons stay in business. It is a way for people over a certain age to say to the public – “Hey you, look over here, I have red glasses, matching red shoes and blue streaked hair and I am not what you are pre-supposing about me – I am an individual, with thoughts and ideas and a character. And yes, maybe I am even a bit attractive.”

And what of that poem. Well, that’s the thing about invisibility – if you can look beyond what you see, sometimes you find some amazing things. In my case I found that little sheet of paper on my desk, right where I left it.  Here is the poem.

 

 

SEEN, BUT INVISIBLE

Just about a perfect specimen.

Tall, well proportioned,

Relaxed but confident.

 

The look was complete.

The shoes, the shorts, the open shirt.

The youth.

 

Our eyes connected

And as we moved

Closer to the door

 

My expectations ran ahead

And my plans were with them

For a future ahead.  To relive the past.

 

“Let me get that for you ma’am”

The door was opened,

And the dream was closed.

 

 

Django

As always, I am good with people reproducing my work, but please attribute it to me.

BETTER WITH TIME: A REVISIT

POSTED:  FEBRUARY 1

As you know from previous posts, I am quite taken with the things to be learned from others and I am always astonished with the nuggets of knowledge or insights that seem to fall out of some people.

Lately I have been observing the ages of the people I admire.  Some of the athletes, musicians, artists, writers and advocates that as kids we would call our heroes were usually older than us by at least ten years, but in recent years I have replaced many of those heroes with many who are much younger than I am. A few anomalies exist of course as at times I am impressed with the ideas from people much older than me. People like Malcolm. He is old enough to be my dad, and I can soak up a lot just being around a person like that.

It is also true that sometimes when around these people others are not as noticed yet may also have amazing thoughts and ideas. So when Malcolm’s partner Martha was strolling by En Plein Air one day I was pleased to get to spend some time with her over a coffee. It is always a bit stressed and weird these days maintaining a couple of meters, especially on a boat, but the interaction, in whatever form we can get it, is even more cherished in these times.  I think she was out for a bit of change of scenery. Malcolm is quite a thinker but a bit intense and living with him and his various ponderings, prognostications, and pontification’s I would think would  could be a bit of a challenge.

She had dropped by when I was writing the post Better With Time and she asked me what I was up to and I let her read it. Most people I have day to day contact with don’t read my posts, or don’t admit to it, as its kind of close to home – like having a personal relationship with your doctor, therapist or parole officer. Other than those I am close to I don’t even reference this website as my writing is not for everyone.

She read it, told me she enjoyed it and we went on to have a good conversation about lots of other things. That was about two months ago.

Today she strolled by for a coffee and with some specific thoughts in mind. She had been reflecting on that Better With Time piece and wanted to share some observations on the notion of “Better with Time”, but not with the same ideas but very different ones. She was thinking specifically about her relationship with Malcolm in all its various phases and all the changes they have been through and how their relationship has grown and become better over their time together. They had met in academia and she had been a graduate student and he was her prof. so the phases of that relationship with this older man have taken a variety of forms.

It was a rambling chat and one that totally engrossed me as she was very candid in her thoughts.

She described her time with Malcolm to me in its various phases of the relationship: Life as a student, life as a muse, life as a partner, and most recently, life as a parent.  The challenge of being the younger, less experienced one, and often in the shadow, to being an equal and then with the aging process being the one to make the key decisions and hard choices. I expect this is a common evolution in relationships of people of significantly different ages. That crazy imbalance on some fronts that with the passage of the years and the experiences shifts the balance beam.

Her description of the evolution of their intimacy was quite detailed as well, not in a graphic way but as a poignant description of two younger people satiating the needs as a physical pairing,  who age together and the relationship both physically and emotionally evolving in a similar way. [ I am hoping that descriptor was cryptic enough for underage readers to not understand]

When she left, I scribbled down a short poem (almost a haiku, but without enough attention to the syllable count) on the topic of that intimacy intertwined with their relationship and got her thumbs up  before posting hit here.

 

Better With Time

Began as boxing

And the relationship too

Became Ballet.

 

 

Django

ON BECOMING AN ORPHAN

POSTED: June 21, 2020

I am by many accounts an old guy. I am sixty-six, which certainly puts me in the last third of the race at best, and more realistically in the last quarter or less. This is also the age of a lot of friends of mine. To younger people we are viewed as old, and certainly not seen as kids, but many of us are still children to our even older parents.

Before Covid 19 the passing of a friend’s parents was an unfortunate but regular occurrence. But today, as we age further, and with this pandemic, the rapid pace of our parents passing has moved into another dimension. What is also disturbing of course is that we often can not say goodbye, or be with them at the end of the program for all the practical medical reasons during this pandemic, so the closure has to be found in other ways.

Today is June 21, Fathers Day 2020. I had not planned on this piece really being about Fathers Day but a few weeks ago two friends lost their fathers. Both men were ninety-two. One lived in a long-term care facility for dementia and the other lived at home. One died of Covid-19 the other from natural causes.

In both cases these fathers were very good providers financially and very poor providers emotionally. Not abusive, but just not the supportive parent we all need. In one case the father was not very good at coping with a gay son at a time before it was fashionable to be gay, and when having a gay son, was something of a challenge to a parents own sexuality, and the upbringing they had provided. In the other case I think the fellow may have started out with good intentions but with not great models of how to parent and his own insecurities felt he had to compete with his children, instead of support and nurture them.

I was somewhat surprised at how much their passing affected these two friends of mine. One has not interacted with her father for decades and while the other had reconciled with his father in recent years, they were still not close. So my sense of it is that they both had fathers, but neither of them had a dad, and the mourning they were experiencing was not only the final closure of the relationship but mourning that the dad they had hoped for, never showed up.

About ten years ago, a buddy’s dad passed and then his mum too, and I wrote the poem below. The passing of the second one had an even bigger impact on him, not because he was closer to his mom, in fact I think he took more of his characteristics and sense of self from his dad, but just that there was now no one walking ahead of him holding the light at the cottage in the dark. The light had been passed to him.  It doesn’t matter how old you are…. its never nice being passed the light.

 

ON BECOMING AN ORPHAN

Today I became an orphan,

In my fifties,

Confident and strong.

Weakened by this death.

 

At a time when inappropriate,

To appropriate,

It feels right to me,

To feel I am an “orphan”.

 

The loss of the other parent,

Is not a second loss,

But the loss

Of the whole.

 

Their passing is not

Just the passing of the torch,

Or the passing of the past,

But the passing of the future.

 

To move from somewhere

On the continuum to the

End point of the line.

Disturbing, relentless, time.

 

————————————————————

 

 

My next post will be a happy, frivolous one – I promise.

As always feel free to copy any of my posts or poetry but just credit me please.

Django

POETRY, AGING & WHY CONTESTS MATTER

POSTED: APRIL 25, 2020

When I sat down to write this piece it was because I received an email telling me I was a finalist in a poetry competition. I was thrilled. I was also just enjoying the idea that something else might be going on in the world than the Coronavirus. There are little green shoots starting to come up in places where its spring, and people falling in love and poetry contests. If only for a bit of the day its good to get your mind into part of the world that is not virus related or the associated end of the world financially.

So contests – I think they are great. They are a way for an amateur or recreational poet or painter or woodworker or quilter or dwarf rabbit breeder to find out what the world thinks of their work. Yes, our friends and family might tell us they like that crochet piece we did of Elvis riding a unicorn, but when someone who has been deemed to be a judge of a real contest provides some feedback on our work well that’s where we really can learn. Its also what gives us the confidence to continue on with the pursuit.

Many years ago Janice was chosen to be one of two visual artists representing Ontario at the Royal Bank Of Canada’s National Painting Competition.  It was a big deal. She did not win the top prize, but being chosen to be a finalist, the comments of the judges on her work, and the exposure in shows at some of the most significant public art museums and galleries across Canada was amazing for her confidence in moving further with her work and continuing to let her own voice come out. It is probably one of the things that inspired her, many years later to establish a poetry award at the University of Toronto.

The contest I was contacted about was not the only one I have entered. I enter a number of contests a year. Perhaps only about one-tenth of the contests Jim enters but many have entry fees so he can, and some don’t, so I can. This contest was with the Palm Beach Poetry Festival which happens near the end of January each year. The contest is for an ekphrastic poem (poetry about a piece of art) based on one of several pieces of art shown at the Cornell Art Museum in Palm Beach.  Jim had been told about it by a friend of theirs in Key West – Flower Conroy. Now Flower is a poet who Janice and Jim hang with while in KW and take a poetry workshop with each year and is by all accounts a pretty neat creature. Some of her poetry is a bit beyond me but I like it.  www.flowerconroy.com

Jim sent me the details as he knew that one of the pieces of art I would like. It is called Adhesif and I will get to that in a minute. The artist is Caroline Dechamby a Dutch painter who lives in southern France.   Her work is based on using a historic artist’s style as a starting point or muse for a current piece.

Her homage pieces to Basquiat, Van Gogh and  Rothko are shown below.

   

Now the young woman in the art is Dechamby herself when she was younger. She is now a more mature age and while some of these pieces were painted some time ago others are recent and it seems she loves to depict herself at a certain age. Many of us think of ourselves this way. We aren’t delusional and know what our actual age is but many of our ideas and our sense of self really gelled at a certain point. I have had many a conversation over many glasses of wine on this very topic when I ask a person not how old they are but how old their psyche is. For me, it’s my late 30’s. By that point in my life I had a good sense of who I was, and a really good fix on who I was not. For some people it is the age they were when their life story turned – beat cancer, a new marriage, leaving a bad career, came out of prison. For others, it is just that point when everything came together and they started feeling comfortable with themselves.

It’s also interesting how some of us don’t age other people as well. They may age but we still see them as we once did when we met them. I have a high school friend who when in something like grade seven had a crush on Jane Goodall. Well, what’s not to like there when your in grade seven: an attractive scientist and monkeys!  I was speaking to him a couple of years ago and he referenced a current documentary piece on her and I had to ask – “still hot?  And his response “as ever”.

So this is the background to my poem. I hope you like it. The art piece Adhesif is shown first so you have the reference for what the poem is about.

 

 

MODERN MASQUE FOR MONDRIAN

Piet indeed,

No piety here.

 

Her soft edges layered

On hard edge technique.

 

Abstraction of abstraction

So representational.

 

The artist with the art,

in the art, the fiction complete.

 

The photographic reflection,

One dimension, two dimension,

Three dimension, four.

 

Primary colours

Primal desires.

 

 

Comments by  Judge Stephan Gibson.

“This spare, brief, thirteen-line poem delightfully engages the artwork—and the reader’s ear, with its slant rhyme use used to slant meaning in relating its sly view of Dechamby’s equally sly piece. Right from its opening, “Piet indeed,/No piety here,” (lines 1-2), the slyness and engagement with the artwork happens—and continues, “Her soft edges layered/On hard edge technique” (ll. 3-4)—the abstract objectification of art and the model immediately coming into view, “Abstraction of abstraction/So representational//The artist with the art,/in the art, the fiction complete,” leading the reader to what the eye feels and not only sees, the epiphany, “Primary colours/Primal desires” (ll. 12-13).

Wonderful.”

 

 

So that’s it. To see the other poets pieces check out: https://www.palmbeachpoetryfestival.org/news/art-couture-winners/

Django

P.S. as always I don’t have a problem with anyone reproducing my poetry or prose but please attribute it to me.

A RIFF ON ADRIAN

Posted: February 11, 2020

Well, this is a peculiar little piece. Jim has a lot of friends, a stack of acquaintances but only a few close buddies. As time goes on as a married couple people tend to get together with other couples. As a single guy, I see it all the time. A single person is sort of not as much in the picture. But Jims (and Janice’s) buddy Adrian is an exception. They have a long time friendship with him and have seen him through various phases in his life – as a music student at university, as a musician/ composer taking his identity from whoever he was backing up, and through various romantic relationships. Janice and Jim have been in partnership with him in music ventures and in various personal pursuits.

I find it interesting that good friends don’t have to see each other constantly to have a strong relationship. Jim’s relationship with his buddy Jim H.  in Ottawa is like that. Big gaps in seeing each other and then they get together and it’s like they live down the street from each other. The same goes for his buddy and old business partner John. It took me longer to rebuild my relationship with Jim. I had been out of the picture for a long time and never really made any effort to be on the scene, but it is good to back.

So back from my ramble to the topic at hand. Adrian floats in and out of their lives, popping up at Christmas to bake with Janice or in Key West for some sun or in London with Jim when delivering art for Janice.

Janice & Adrian get baked

So that’s the background on Adrian. On September 15th, I get this long email that Jim has sent out late at night after an art show that Janice was in. It was a fun show put together by AWOL Collective the group that Janice has shown with, in Miami, New York, and Toronto. It was on the fourth floor of an apartment building – guerilla gallery sort of thing – very Brooklyn.

A number of friends like Andre and Lee had shown up and it was a pretty good opening.

In Adrian’s busy schedule he showed up with the amazing Liz (Liz Lockrey – see Adrian’s website in Links we love).

So after the show, a few glasses of wine and some food were consumed and it’s pretty clear to me that Jim opened a bottle or two when they made it home.

Now I don’t know why Jim sat down to the computer later that night but he felt compelled to write down the poem below.

A RIFF ON ADRIAN

Licks at his fingertips

Dough in his freezer

Luna on his shoulder

Mama Bear in his heart.

 

Licks at his fingertips

Ostinatos to the schooled,

Played with conviction,

Has them all fooled.

 

Licks at his fingertips

Dough in his freezer

Luna on his shoulder

Mama Bear in his heart.

 

Dough in his freezer

For cookies and pies,

Dough in the future,

From royalties & royalty.

 

Licks at his fingertips

Dough in his freezer

Luna on his shoulder

Mama Bear in his heart.

 

Luna on his shoulder,

Friends and family too.

Living vicariously,

Without the miles of the road.

 

Licks at his fingertips

Dough in his freezer

Luna on his shoulder

Mama Bear in his heart.

 

Mama bear in his heart,

At rest, but never resting,

Guiding him always

Passed, but always present.

 

 

 

Nice poem lad. I like it. So why did I post it today and not when Jim scrawled it down? Well, today is Adrian’s birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADRIAN! I look forward to hanging with you one day in the future.

 

P.S. as always, feel free to share the poem but please credit it to me.

PHONES RING

Posted Nov 2, 2019

A woman I have known for some time confided in me recently. She was burdened by a lot of things. She is about my age which means that she has aging parents, at least one child with issues, and is dealing with the aging process herself and her husbands aging as well.

She is not really a person who gets down much but over time that’s not as true a statement as it once was. She was pretty down when we chatted.  I hope our conversation helped. I think she really just needed to dump it all out.

This website I do is, for the most part, a pretty upbeat thing I think and while we all have reason to get down at times I try not to go there much. But my friend reads what I post here and I just wanted to share how deep she was down that day to say that some days it logical to feel down. She was, and remains, carrying a pretty heavy stress load and some of her friends and family need to understand that.

Anyway, here is the poem I wrote after chatting with her that day. Its not a happy poem and if your having a bad day, well, perhaps you should wait for my next post, but if your just cruising along perhaps reading it will bring into clear focus that the scratch on you new BMW really isn’t that big a deal, or not getting that promotion is not as important as the real issues in life.

 

PHONES RING

Phones ring.

They ring all the time.

At home, at work, in the car.

Sometimes I answer, most often I don’t.

 

News of my fathers death,

A confirmation after decades

Of estrangement.

 

Phones ring.

They ring all the time.

At home, at work, in the car.

Sometimes I answer, most often I don’t.

 

My son has died.

Finally succumbed to his demons.

My failure, but not mine alone.

 

Phones ring.

They ring all the time.

At home, at work, in the car.

Sometimes I answer, most often I don’t.

 

It will be a big stroke one day,

My husband of forty years.

He carries instructions for passersby.

I carry the weight of waiting.

 

Phones ring.

They ring all the time.

At home, at work, in the car.

Sometimes I answer, most often I don’t.

 

More tests, more results.

My doctor is inconclusive.

I don’t think it’s the cancer that kills you,

But fearing it’s return.

 

Phones ring.

They ring all the time.

At home, at work, in the car.

Sometimes I answer, most often I don’t.

 

——————————————————————————————————————–

A couple of final thoughts from Django:

I know that was not a fun poem to read. My goal was to capture how far down she was that day.

But after sharing how she felt that day and me sharing the poem with her she seems to be feeling a bit better able to cope. If you see her, give her a hug.

THE STATUARY

Posted: Sept 25, 2019

I was never very political but several friends in high school were a bit over the top that way. Jim was one of them. In grade thirteen (yes that is not a typo, Ontario, Canada had a grade 13 until the late 1990s) the best descriptor I heard of how to get directions to Jim’s political position was to:

“Start on Karl Marx Avenue and then as soon as possible take a sharp left”.

He has mellowed a lot since then but at the time he had a lot of admiration for the policies of Pierre Trudeau who at the time was moving Canada away from the American capitalist dominated democracy model to the more democratic socialism model of most of Europe and Scandinavia.

In recent times while he recognizes the problems of many “new” Canadians wanting Canada to just be a free place but largely a variation on the American model, he still laments the loss of a strong left but has had great hopes for Justin Trudeau. So it is with this background that I got a terrified call from him last week, quite stressed about Justin Trudeau in an image in blackface.

For many of us, the deepest scars of Canada are the way we treated Asian Canadians during the second war, turning away Jews who were fleeing Europe during the war and our awful treatment of our indigenous and Inuit peoples from the first arrival of Europeans until not that long ago. It does not end there but these acts are “our Holocaust” and for some of us, who would like the country to move to more openness, equality, and tolerance there is a powerful movement the other way. So a lot of that hope for our slow but continuing evolution to a more equitable society we pinned on Justin Trudeau.

My buddy was pretty down when we skyped (yes I have a laptop now, a used DELL that Janice gave me after Jim had it upgraded and refurbished), and in our long chat I reminded him of the piece he wrote several years ago inspired by a story that happened in Vancouver B.C. about twenty years ago about bullying and intolerance. The story here is a real stretch of that original event but one that was a logical flow from the original story, especially now with so much bullying in the schools, and some of it racially driven. A lot of Jim’s writing is not up to a publisher’s standard but some pieces, like this one I like.  I have reproduced it here.

 

                                                                              THE STATUARY

“I hate Vancouver” she shrieked as she ran through the front hall to her room.

It had been another draining day. The bullying of his daughter had not stopped, and seemingly nothing could be done. As a single parent, he had moved to West Vancouver in the hope that he and his daughter would fit into a racially mixed environment. A lot of colleagues had told him “if you can’t fit in on the North Shore- maybe it’s you”.  Aruj had taken these words initially as his motivation to make a better life for himself and his only child, but it now felt like an ominous threat.

His wife had left and gone ‘home’ a year and a half earlier because she couldn’t adjust. His secret hope was that when everything settled down and they had carved out a nice life that she would come back. Maybe just for a visit at first, but then permanently. Each Sunday they had a phone conversation. 

He sat in the kitchen and made a tea. Amrapali was still in her room sobbing. The only comfort he could find was that they were working on the problem together. Neither one ever mentioned ‘The girl in Victoria’ who had died at the hands of bullies several years earlier. Or the one in Seattle who had recently taken her own life.  “We will deal with this while it is a small problem” was the way he had come to express it to her, thinking it would offer hope and thinking that by calling it a small problem, he could somehow diminish the real magnitude of this burden.  Every week he saw her spark for life reduced. Her flame was going out. He would have to solve this.

Even the house felt threatening. It was larger than they needed and with them both out all day, it did not feel lived in, or comfortable. They had not much more than a nodding acquaintance with the neighbours as everyone seemed busy with their own lives. The house purchase had worked out financially and when they bought it he thought the swimming pool would be a nice aspect, but they hardly used it, and it was a lot of work to keep it clean. But it was nice to look at and fun when business friends came over or on some hot summer days.

He poured the tea and took one to her. She was working intently on her homework now. As he scanned the room he expected it looked like every teenage girls’ room of her age. The remnants of a child’s life, from not very long ago, mixed with a teenager’s passions and punctuated with some shocking components, at least from his standpoint.

“In a bit, I will start your favourite dinner Amrapali” he said quietly. “Amy,” she said without looking up.

Setting his tea on the centre of a coaster he pulled out a pad with his strategy for dealing with the problem. As an accountant, he found it easier to set it all out on paper, both to organize it and as a technique to test what had been inaccurate assumptions or missed variables.

The list, nor the ones he had drawn up before, didn’t really help. The school administration was involved, the teachers knew, the police had come to the school and given a talk.

The real problem was a handful of girls and their parents. The girls tormenting his daughter were all privileged and their mothers controlled the Parents Association.  Many of the parents of kids at the school were too busy to be involved in the Parent Association very often. They would support whatever activity had been planned, were very supportive of their kids, but with limited time and often two careers the turn out for the Parents Association was usually this group of ‘trophy wives’ several other moms and one or two fathers, depending on the issues planned for the meeting. He was embarrassed he had written TROPHY WIVES in capitals and crossed it out but wrote and circled twice: Parent Association.

As an independent school, the input of this group in both the evolution and administration of the school was considerable, linked to their family’s involvement and ongoing financial support often over generations, and items would only be put on the agenda if this controlling group felt it was appropriate.  He had never felt so humiliated and isolated as his treatment at the meeting the previous week when he had raised the bullying issue again.  The Chairwoman told him they were not concerned with the topic, that it seemed to have been dealt with already and seemed to be isolated to just a few incidents. They would not be putting this on the meeting agenda and the meeting would be focused on planning the next fundraiser.  He pressed the point, and the chair decided to have a vote on whether this topic should be discussed or not – eleven to three against it being on the agenda.

As he packed up to leave the meeting he demanded they record the discussion and vote results in the minutes of the meeting. Her response had echoed through his mind for days- “The minutes of our meeting reflect the conclusions we draw, and decisions we make, not the distractions along the way”.

His daughter’s bullying, and by extension, his daughter, and himself had been reduced to a ‘distraction’.  His only solace was that as he left the meeting he said to the principal, loud enough for everyone to hear “when you are at home in your own safe bed tonight you should reflect on what you heard at this meeting and evaluate what your beliefs are and whether you have a responsibility to every student at this school”.  He heard one person clap as he left the room.

In the privacy of his car after the meeting, he cried. What was he into?

This self-absorbed group of women who spent all their time together working out, going to spas, planning vacations, and shopping had lost all sense of humanity. They were all educated, aware of current issues, yet oblivious to what they were doing with this school and to people’s lives.  His upbringing and beliefs made him sorry for them, but he felt disappointed in himself that he was beginning to feel so much anger and frustration with them as well.

In the days following that meeting, the bullying girls escalated their taunts now making comments to his daughter about him and his ineffectiveness at the meeting. He had made things worse, not better.

He poured another cup of tea and made dinner, linguini with jumbo shrimp and garlic toast with a hint of mint and curry.

She was feeling better now, and they watched one of her favourite shows on TV while they ate. It wasn’t a practice he liked, but with everything else that was going on and her mother gone, it was a way to introduce some fun and special things into her horrible day.

After dinner, he did some office work. As he walked by the security system he noticed a blinking light on the machine indicating it was time to reset the recording. The system turned on whenever it detected movement in the back garden. The insurance broker had suggested it for liability reasons with a pool. Other than when a tree branch fell into the pool the only time the system turned on was when the raccoons would get into their neighbour’s garbage and come into their backyard to wash their food in the pool before eating it. Initially, he had been upset when this occurred as it meant his neighbours continued their sloppy garbage practices, but he and his daughter had enjoyed watching the antics of the raccoons on the tape and he was pleased to see they had another installment to watch tonight.

He put the USB key from the security system in the player in the family room and called her to join him. As he was getting the system set up he looked at the pool to see if the raccoons had left a mess, but it looked fine. “Did you clean up anything by the pool today?” he called.

She said she hadn’t.

The recording began to run, and the timer said it was from Saturday night.  As they started to see shadows moving out of the range of the pool lights he began reflecting on what had happened Saturday wondering if it might have been kids or some real intruders. It had been a very hot but dry night. A woman appeared in the light. She was naked, dropped her pool robe on a chair and slid into the water. Before he could say anything to his daughter three more appeared, all naked, dropping their pool robes and all quietly sliding into the pool. Their voices were low, but it was obvious they were talking about the pool and the last one they were in and the next one they would go to next door. They were moving down the street going for a swim in each pool. After a while, they seemed to forget about the motion-sensitive lights that had come on and were jumping in the pool and laughing. The recording looked like a wild sex party. When they came out of the pool they started drying off in the warm night air and despite moving slowly to not reactivate the motion-sensitive lights the lights from the house lit them up well.

“Look at them Amrapali  – they are all so pasty white, like statues by Michelangelo”.

“I think they are more like statues by Vince the Trainer, Dad” was her fast reply.

“Do you recognize the voices?” His daughter asked. He had not, but just as she asked it became clear. These were four of the parents of the problem girls and four of the problem women in the Parent Association including the Chair.

They looked at each other and started to laugh.

After they regained their composure, he wondered out loud, what they should do with this recording. “We will post it on the internet of course,” his daughter said without hesitation. “They humiliated you, their daughters and others are tormenting me, this is sweet justice.” Her last two words she repeated slowly “Swweeeeet Juuussssssticce.”

“But if we do, we will be no better than them. We will have become the bullies” he countered.

“They came into our yard illegally; doesn’t that count for something dad?”

Over desert, the two were into a raging debate over the question of how to deal with this change in the balance of power. Her spark was back, and in turn, his. This problem would have to be managed of course, but she was happy, and they debated on for some time before bed. They agreed to sleep on it and figure it out the next day.

He was up very early and surprised to see his daughter was as well.

Breakfast was the best it had been for a long time. His daughter headed off to school early and was happy.

“We will figure it out tonight!  Have a good day Amrapali” he called to her as she headed out past the Arbutus trees on their front lawn.

“Tonight” she called back and turned back “I will” and then “Amy”.

She probably didn’t hear her dad as she walked down the sidewalk “Amy”.

 

She was at school early and said hi to a couple of classmates.  At her first class, Amy got out her books, opened her laptop, and smiled.

A little sunset, a little dawn.

P.S. As always, don’t be afraid to reproduce this piece but please attribute it to this website.

Django

FATHERS DAY

Posted: June 16, 2019

For any of you who have been paying attention, I am not a father. And my dad and granddads are all passed.

So what I am writing about today is Jim – well not Jim exactly but his dad.

Jim’s dad was a bit of a classic of his era. He did woodworking and built their cottage and could fix the car and the only thing he could cook was on a barbeque. You know – that kind of dad. He was a dependable sort of guy who people could rely on to do be supportive when needed and speak his mind when that was needed. He was a lithographer by trade and ran a bunch of printing plants across Canada for the Queens Printer in Canada (the Federal Government printing office).

He was not a young guy when Jim was born ( I think he was about 35 or older) and perhaps because of that or his own upbringing that saw him leave home at sixteen, or having a first child (Jim’s sister) nine years earlier who was more conventional, he and Jims mom did not quite know what to make of Jim. This was a wild monkey, to say the least, and neither of Jim’s parents had any idea how to manage him.

The good news is that they all survived Jims years in public school (if you have not read my first post you might want to now as it explains some of Jim’s behavior in public school) and against all odds his years in high school as well.  Today ADHD and a variety of other mental health descriptors would be applied but at the time the kindest label was the one I used earlier – wild monkey.

Jim had a life-changing event when we were traveling in Europe in 1973 with our other buddy Jim (another Jim, yah that’s the only name they gave out in 1954) which really made him straighten out, or at least be more focused. He scooted back to Canada at the end of the summer after high school, slid into University and there was no looking back. All his energy was now channeled into something. He would work all night as a security guard then go to school in the day and catch a bit of sleep in the evening. That’s how he lived through first year and went from a failing student in high school to a straight-A student who was in the top of his class for most of his courses in first-year university.

It was quite a scary transformation and one that his parents had given up on seeing happen.

The really good news is that his parents went on to live into their eighties and from that time in 1973 until they passed Jim had a really good relationship with them but has always been haunted by how bad a kid he had been until then.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, its because today, Fathers Day, while his kids, Jade and Jason were preparing him an amazing meal, Jim sat down at the computer and banged out this poem about his dad and just sent it to me. It could use some edits and Jim is not the strongest poet but damn it’s pretty straight up.

 

A SHORT POEM ON FATHERS DAY

I don’t know all the things

I learned from my dad.

But when doing some carpentry

Was reminded of his approach to objects.

 

Things exist for a reason

And until they have fulfilled

That reason to exist

Are somewhat incomplete.

 

When a nail would be bent,

We would find a hard surface to hold it on

And pound it with a hammer until straight.

The nail could now fulfill its destiny.

 

Toothpicks needed

To find a mouth,

And both ends used,

To be complete.

 

A transit ticket

Lies waiting

To be dropped

In its box.

 

A bottle of rye should not

Be left half consumed

Biding its time

To complete its task.

 

I was a bit of a mess then,

Much more than incomplete,

But he didn’t

Give up on me.

 

You can’t analyze a tall man,

In a short poem.

Suffice it to say,

He straightened bent nails.

 

 

 

P.S. from Django:                                                                                                                                                                        Because I was hustling to get this posted I have not tracked down a picture of Jims Dad or Jim with his kids but I will post those images here when I get them. Also as always, feel free to reproduce the poem but please attribute it to this website.

 

MOTHERS DAY 2018

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2018

So what is special about mothers day- you have to ask? We may not all have had fathers but we all have had mothers. They are the ones who traditionally made the family a unit, and in bad families were the ones who held it together.

The notion of “Mothers Day” I have always found a bit strange, however. There should be an acknowledgment of these wonderful creatures but it almost cheapens it to make it just one day.

I am not going to go on about my mom. She was a good mom and I loved her and I regret that for too many years I was just thinking about my own life, not coming home to visit. I think about this a fair bit, but I can’t change it, I can only remember her and my dad and try to learn from my experience of not being a better kid.

What I am going to do is tell you about a poem Jim wrote. He is not the best poet as you know but I particularly like this one. It’s about his Nana. Like me, he had a great relationship with his paternal grandmother. Her real name was Hannah but Nana is what he called her. During those years in high school when most of us were somewhat alienated from our parents and vice/versa the relationship we had with an aunt or uncle, grandparent or even an older cousin is what got some of us through. They can bring a perspective that may not be the same as ours but might be somewhat different than our parents – and they bring it with love and no expectations.

So during his late years in elementary school and through high school, Jim and his dad would drive up the Ottawa valley from their home in Ottawa one evening a week to a little village where his Nanas house was. This hadn’t been her lifetime house or even a place she had lived in for a substantial time. It was a house that she had bought in later life just to get back to living in a smaller community, having a garden and being out with nature. It would be followed by the reality of having to move into an apartment in Ottawa closer to Jim’s parents but for about a decade, she enjoyed her small-town life in her little place, where she could walk to the village shops for groceries, or the post office or to get her hair done.

So on Tuesday nights from May until September Jim and his dad would drive there. Jim’s dad would usually work on repairs of some kind, while Jim would cut the grass, and do some weeding in the garden. They would all then have dinner together and before it was too late in the evening (as Jim would have to go to school the next day to fail Math, Science or French) Jim and his dad would drive back to Ottawa.  Sometimes he would complain about it as he would miss something that a bunch of us were doing, or a TV show he wanted to see but for the most part he looked forward to his Tuesday nights both for seeing his Nana and for having some time with his dad that was not focused on how badly he was doing in school or what mischief he had gotten into that week.

This is his poem and as I said above I do like this one as it reminds me of times with my grandmother. Jim has really been opening up over the last few years and I think he is better for it.

 

NANA’S TUESDAY NIGHT

Every Tuesday night,

My dad and I would drive

To the country to see my Nana.

 

I would cut the grass,

Dad would repair something

Or weed the garden.

 

Nana would make us dinner

Of fresh vegetables and meat,

Roast potatoes and pie.

 

I never liked

Beets, green beans or brussels sprouts,

Except at my Nanas.

 

My Nana is gone, my dad is gone,

But as often as I can

I eat beets, Green beans, and brussels sprouts.

 

So that’s the poem. He is getting better at this poetry business I think.  I don’t yet have a picture of Jim with his Nana but I am trying to track one down.  I do have her recipe for apple pie and a picture of Janice and the first pie she made for Jim when they were living at their first apartment in Kingston. Janice had finished her program in fashion design and was working as a fashion designer at that point and Jim was doing graduate work in Urban Planning and Development.

 

 

NANAS CLASSIC APPLE PIE RECIPE

Jim’s Nana seemed to like to work with really big pie plates – about 30cm so almost one foot. For some of us, that is just one big unwieldy pie, especially if you are working in a small space like the galley of an old boat like mine so I have scaled the recipe he gave me down to a 23 cm size (9 inches) pie.  Even when I am making a pie for a larger group I prefer to make two smaller ones and then do one as a bit of a variation in look or taste or to make one as a pie and a few tarts as well.

Ingredient list: Pastry – 2 pieces as its double crust for the 9-inch pie if you are buying pastry.

Of course nothing duplicates a pastry you make yourself. If you have not done so before this adds quite a bit to the exercise so for the first time I would just buy the dough. Once you are comfortable with making pies move on to making the pastry yourself. Most recipes for dough don’t really tell the story  of the tricks or rules to make a good pie crust but one that I really like is https://www.canadianliving.com/food/food-tips/article/pie-crust-101

 

Pie Filling

Peeled & sliced apples 5 cups            (1.25L)

Sugar *                             3/4  cup       (175 ml)

Flour                                 1 tbsp           (15 ml)

Cinnamon                        1/2 tsp          ( 2 ml)

Lemon Juice                    1 tbsp           (15 ml)

Butter (unsalted)           1 tbsp           (15 ml) cut cold butter into little pieces to distribute

Egg                                    1 egg                      for eggwash

*  Now I have tried to make this faithfully to the original recipe but Jim tells me that pretty regularly his Nana would claim to be low in sugar and would “substitute” with some rum or with a fruit liqueur or with maple syrup. His recollection, however, is that there actually was no substitution just “supplement” of these items at times. I have experimented with each of the products and found that up to a half tablespoon of rum or up to a full tablespoon of maple syrup or liqueur such as  Grand Marnier can add some sweetness and depth to the flavour.

 

To make the pie:

1. Preheat the oven to 220C (425f)

2. Line the pie plate with the lower pastry piece

3. mix the cut apple slices, flour and sugar*, lemon juice and cinnamon then gently pour the mixture onto the                   pastry

4. put the little butter pieces around the top of the mixture

5. drizzle the rum/ liqueur etc. around the mixture if substituting/ supplementing

6. cover with the top crust, then seal and pinch (flute) the edges

7. You need to put in a few slits for the steam to be released. Jim would chatter on about how his Nana would not just cut little slits for the pie to release steam but instead would do a little shape – a few slits to look like a conifer tree or a little rabbit or acorn.

8. a little brushing of an egg wash and a bit of a sugar sprinkle and its ready for the oven for 30 minutes then watch it for the next five to ten minutes after that to take the crust to the way you like it.

 

While some weeks Jims Nana would do cookies or cake, most weeks it would be a pie dessert and Jim, who has a whole mouthful of sweet teeth would tell me about the one that week – Wild Blueberry Pie, Maple Syrup Pie, Buttertart Pie, Fresh Rasberry Pie ….

Come to think of it, on the vegetable front today he does eat a lot of brussels sprouts, and green beans and even more beets than the average person.

And I would be remiss to not wish Janice a happy mothers day. She got cheated out of experiencing her mother during her adult years as her mom passed when Janice was in her early twenties.  I think she is making up for that missing experience by being so good a mom to Jade and Jason.

 

 

 

 

WHAT WOULD MARGARET ATWOOD DO?

Posted: January 20, 2018

Well, there is a catchy title. And not a bad measure to live by in these strange times.

This account  I have worked on for a bit of time but have decided to post it today based on the one year anniversary of Inauguration of Donald Trump. While it has always been the case, I think that today especially we need good role models in the world, not homophobic, racist liars who cheat on their taxes and burn business partners and contractors. Donald Trump was not respected in the real estate investment industry because of his unethical behavior.

When he was elected over a year ago most critics thought that once in office there would be one of two outcomes: he would be impeached, or that he would otherwise rise to the occasion and perform in a way that the office he holds deserves.  Well to date he is still in office and by most accounts has become less statesmanlike. The groups he gave indications during the campaign he did not respect- the LGBTQ community, Americans of any colour other than white, the poor, and anyone who ever voted Democrat, were now fair game for his intolerance.   Members of those groups who as loyal Republicans voted for him and thought he might change after the election (perhaps with some encouragement from other elected Republicans) are now seeing their voting error turn into a horror.

Leopards don’t change their spots. While this has been a horrendous year with him in office, with good civil servants running for the door and taking early retirement and positions being filled with opportunists  I am afraid this is only the beginning of his reign of terror and that he will continue to divide the country and diminish its role in the world even more.

The American people have made peculiar choices at times. When George W. Bush was elected the first time, it was just a fluke but to elect him the second time knowing what he was like and having seen the way he handled things in his first term is baffling for most of us as outside observers. I recall when Ronald Regan was elected and Jane Fonda was asked what she thought of “an actor in the Whitehouse” and her response was that the significance was not that he was an actor, but “so bad an actor” on all levels. Sometimes the American people get it right – Barack Obama as a recent example, but Trump? Yikes!

So back to the topic at hand. I have met Margaret Atwood a few times and can definitively report that it was more of a thrill for me than for her.

On her writing I am a picky fan, loving some, liking most and some, well not so much. On her role as an activist, dissident and staunch supporter of good causes however I am immensely proud of her and other than one letter of support for a University of British Columbia professor who did not deserve it has had an impeccable record of calling it right and fighting the good fight.

In Canada, she is of course viewed as a national treasure.

The piece below is fictional I have to say for legal reasons but based rather faithfully on a true event. A few details have been altered to make it fictional and to keep me out of jail. I have spent a few nights in jail cells and they are not recommended for anyone, but especially for anyone with an older back. The food is also not recommended. They also have a nasty tendency to leave the lights on all night, and not to provide pillows.

It is a story about the challenge of celebrity and persona, an issue to be grappled with by any person in the public eye, and the associated responsibility not only for the person involved but even for those who might somehow represent them.

 

WHAT WOULD MARGARET ATWOOD DO?

It was October 2014 and the event was not a regular one on the New York arts calendar.  The celebration of The Books to Film Centers move to their new facility was both an acknowledgment of the work that everyone had put in, the financial support of the donors to date and a final push to fill the last gap in the funds needed.

And then it happened, The Donald arrived with his posse. The room all seemed to inhale simultaneously at the arrival and if the facial expressions could be frozen in time it would be a snapshot of shock and awe.

While she had no particular role at the event one small woman in her seventies with a crown of curly grey hair was pensive. “What would Margaret Atwood do?” she thought to herself. She was often taken for the writer, particularly in Canada or at literary events. Originally Peggy was amused by the attention and instead of embarrassing the person doing the asking she would simply smile, shake a hand, and on rare occasions sign a book. She had never been seen with Margaret Atwood, and it was a good thing as they didn’t look all that much alike in her opinion. If anyone had seen them together she felt it would be obvious that she was younger, better looking and a bit “hot” in a seniors way. She had thought often of doing her hair differently or dressing differently than she and Margaret Atwood typically dressed but had not made the change for some reason.

Most of the time she found the attention positive or amusing but often, being interpreted as the celebrated author and advocate for various causes, had its burdens. She would be letting Margaret Atwood and her public down to not act in character in some difficult situations.

“What would Margaret Atwood do?” she thought again to herself as he began walking her way.  Yes, it was going to be another encounter with this ass. The last time she had run into this arrogant bully all he could say was ” I seen a movie made from one of your books”.  What an insightful, and grammatically innovative comment she had thought at the time and had conjured up her best impression of what she thought Margaret Atwood would say “Well I hope you are the better for it”.

So here he was again, pushing his way toward another experience with a writing legend whose work he had not read, but felt compelled to speak to – one legend to another. What would Margaret Atwood do?  Peggy smiled as she thought of some of the possibilities in this evening where many had put on skits acting out famous scenes from books and film in support of the cause. The images that ran through her head included pretending to pick her nose while he spoke to her, crouching down as if on a toilet as he approached, and pretending to snort cocaine.  These all made her smile, which he noticed and brought out a smile on him as he loomed closer.

No, none of these things she would do, as clearly, they were not things that Margaret Atwood would do. With only moments to go and as his hand began to move upward to shake hands, Peggy turned around to put her back to him and was immediately joined by her friend to the right and and then her friend to the left and others as they closed in to make a circle, tightly packed shoulder-to-shoulder and one started telling a story so they could all be engrossed in the moment and stay an inwardly focused and very tight group. Seconds later other groups started doing the same as The Donald hunted the room. From above it would have looked like synchronized snubbing.   He turned a little rouge, put his chin up and reflected for a moment while massaging the front of his neck, then pivoted, and after conversing with part of his entourage briefly and he was off to another event.

Peggy had averted another disaster, and after some polite chats with the host and a few others headed off herself, with both her and Margaret Atwood’s reputations intact.

 

 

 

A note to readers: I don’t have a problem with this or any other piece of mine you read here being reproduced, but please attribute it to me.   Thanks. Django