31 December 2009

When the year starts to gather her things and puts on her coat and scarf, readying herself to leave us, most of us can’t help but get introspective. 

I’ve been enjoying reading my favourite bloggers’ thoughts about this year and other years and my facebook page is covered with wishes and blessings from family and friends around the globe.  Some look ahead; some look behind.  Some of us make resolutions; some of us eschew them.  Some of us look upon the old year with pleasure and fondness; others are snapping at her: “don’t slam the door on your way out!” 

Whatever we do, I can say with all certainty – this time is not for regrets.  Send them packing with the old year.  Write them down and ceremoniously burn them.   Close your eyes and watch them fly off in a red balloon. 

Now is the time to open up to dreams.  And the only way to approach any dream is to start walking toward it, one step at a time. 

I’m looking forward to walking with you in 2010. 

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

~Alfred, Lord Tennyson  



25 December 2009

Last night I was sitting at home, ready for Christmas, waiting for Carly to collect me and my bags of food and parcels.  I was to spend Christmas Eve, my favourite Christmas “moment,” with my girls and Ryan eating artichoke risotto and sipping wine and watching a favourite movie. 

It’s my favourite night because there is, every year, unfailingly, a sense of peace that comes over me.  I think it’s partly to do with the winter solstice, and partly to do with a collective dreaming and hope. 

So I’m sitting there listening to songs on my computer on random playback and Bruce Springsteen comes on singing We Shall Overcome in The Seeger Sessions.  I think it fits the moment.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.  May you experience peace and hope today.

The room in which Cathy and I are staying in Montreal is on the 32nd floor, and has two windows abutting one another in the corner looking north toward Mont Royal and and west.  The corner windows are lovely, giving the effect of a panorama.  Looking over the lights of the city, I’m reminded of one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite songwriters, Victoria Williams.  She finds magic in the ordinary; wonder in the moment.  She’s got muliple sclerosis and there’ll be a day when she won’t be able to make her art or her living, but she’s unfailingly positive and insightful and humorous and true to her vision.  True to the words of this song. 

“What kind of song would you give if you had a song to give?  What kind of life would you live if you had a life to live?  Would you want to make something good that you could look on, give you lots of pleasure?  Yeah, you would.

What about this thing that you gave, what if it weren’t quite perfect?  What if there was something bad about it?  Would you love it just the same?  Would you still care about it?”

books project diversion 1

19 November 2009


Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,

And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul,

even while the hands hew the stone or tend to the loom?

Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


the project of the books

17 November 2009

My bookshelves are a shameful mess.  Shameful.  So shameful I’m posting pictures of them so you can be ashamed of me too. 

Since leaving our house and home in Windsor five and a half years ago, I’ve vastly reduced the number of my possessions.  In moving from a two and a half storey house to a two bedroom flat, there must be substantial weeding.  Okay, purging is a better word.  I’ve even pared down the number of books – keeping only my favourites, literature I’ve collected since my English Lit student days and other collectibles including some old books picked up at markets and yard sales. 

I’ve a number of books on my shelves I haven’t read yet.  I like the idea of having an available library for choosing from.  On the other hand, what am I waiting for?  Some grand emergency when I’m stuck indoors for weeks on end and nothing to do but read what’s on hand?  But I’m a library goer.  And books get loaned to me and given to me and I get stuck on one theme or author or another and thus some of the books are waiting to be read. 

So back to the issue of the shameful bookshelves.  They’re shameful because I love my books.  Among the few possessions I’ve retained, some of these books are among the beloved and certainly this is no way to treat any beloved thing.  Bookshelves should be a source of pride.  Back in Windsor I would periodically take the books down and dust them and rearrange them.  A bookshelf is something unique to its owner – after all, no two bookshelves are ever alike.  They’re a great source of conversation with guests.  In fact last time my girls came over for dinner items plucked from the bookshelf beside the dining room table inspired hours of talk, and I sent them home with a couple.

The shameful bookshelves are representative of a larger issue I’m afraid.  It’s something about me not setting my feet down in any one place since moving away from Windsor.  Everywhere has been temporary.  I’ve found a neighbourhood I’m willing to commit to, but my current flat is temporary just like the others.  It’s a nice enough apartment, but I could never make it mine.  My landlord lives downstairs and takes pride in his home.  HIS home.  I am a visitor here.  I can’t paint the walls and I don’t feel welcome to hammer nails in to hang my pictures.  My next place will be somewhere in which I can create home – thus my pokey progress in finding it.  And, well, the rent is cheap here.

But that’s neither here nor there – I could be here months yet, and my bookshelves are shameful. 

The past few days I’ve been home sick with a sore throat and minor “feeling ickyness.”  Not that sick, but with all the flu talk and surrounding panic, I’m doing the responsible thing and staying home and working on the things I can, and drinking lots of tea and medicated hot lemon.  But I’m also taking the opportunity to putter around and begin to set right the “not putting my feet down” wrongs.  Yesterday it was my closets and my clothes.  Today it’s the books. 

So like Rob organizing his records in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, I’m piling books organized by theme this time:  literature and novels, reference books, writing and creativity books, biographies and memoir, spirituality and so forth.

I’m looking forward to getting close and personal again with these few hundred things that have inspired the imaginations of me, my family and friends and who knows how many strangers.

something to say

10 November 2009

I remember sitting in the ground floor office where I worked in Detroit years ago and watching a man outside who was walking around with a large book; it looked like a holy book of some kind.  The man was desperately trying to get peoples’ attention about something that had to do with the book which lay open in his hands.  If he approached a car, windows were rolled up.  If he approached people, they crossed over to the other side of the street and hurried away.  And I don’t blame any of them, I’m sure I would have done the same thing.  Mentally ill street people are strange to us, often scary, and most of us aren’t equipped to know how to deal with them. 

But what struck me then, and continues to strike me now, is the tragedy that this fella had something to say, of seemingly great importance to him, and no one to say it to.  I just couldn’t imagine how that would feel.  I’ve said it before in this spot, but I think one of the most tragic things about street people and the homeless is that we make them invisible.  

Now I walk by as many homeless people begging as everyone else.  But sometimes I’ve found that just looking at them and acknowledging them is enough.  Well, it’s not enough – I’m sure money would be much more useful for whatever it is that sustains them one more day, but you do find gratitude when you look them in the eye and say “sorry buddy, no change in my pocket today” or “god bless you too” or laugh wryly at a jokester. 

Street people are hard to look at.  They’re usually dirty and sometimes roughed up and often mentally ill.  But at one point they belonged to someone, at some point in their lives someone cared for them.  At some point, they weren’t invisible.

I used to follow a blog semi-regularly, one of those humorous life blogs.  One day the writer posted a picture of a mentally ill street person that had ensconced himself outside her hair salon as she was getting her hair done one day.  And the fella was pretending that he was admiring his hairstyle and appearance in an imaginary mirror on a tree.  Maybe our guy was taking the mickey out of all of the salon ladies inside, but the hilarity that ensued among the readers of the blog was not with him – it was at him.  His strangeness and ragged appearance were put up for great enjoyment and merriment on the light-hearted blog.  I politely called them on it – I said: “I’m all about humour.  But I don’t see what is funny about ridiculing a mentally ill person.  What if that were you, and you were vulnerable – say you fell down in front of a large window and everyone inside thought it was marvellously funny and joked at your expense even if you were permanently injured?”  And I got a very kind reply from the writer who said she understood my point, but the merriment at the crazy guy’s expense continued on for a few days and my comment was clearly forgotten.

Those that have read me for awhile know that those people who live their lives on the outer edges of a society have always moved me.  Sometimes they’re trying with all their might to break through, like the man with the holy book in Detroit or the lady who used to sit in my English classes in university; sometimes they don’t seem to need to at all, like the man on the blue bicycle.  But more often than not, they have something to say. 

I thought of that again when I found this project: Signs, a collection of homeless peoples’ cardboard signs – a way of communicating used by that community for a long time.  These signs are a way to get a thing said in a one foot square piece of cardboard.  The project includes photographs of people which are striking, honest and yes, sometimes hard to look at.  For a few moments as you look at the pictures, these people are not invisible.

Thanks to John Foster and his marvellous blog, Accidental Mysteries for posting the Signs project.  I visit his blog daily, and it’s always worthwhile.

Last night I was watching Philip Bloom films, first on Vimeo and then on his wonderful website and blog where he is responsive and open and helpful to others seeking to make pictures and tell stories of their own. 

I am inspired by all of his work, but this one seems to share a view of a city’s people and moments I strive to capture in words.