Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leaving this house....

Today is the last bit of day I spend in this little house that has been so good to me.

I've wandered the echoing rooms and said goodbye to each one. Memories come flooding in. Each of my daughters has lived here, my granddaughter lived here. A love of my life shared the space for a while. My father, RIP, was the guest of honour at a dinner party here, my annual women's brunch was held fourteen times here, many who attended have passed on.

My daughter thanked me yesterday for doing this packing up. You see most children are left to empty out the family nest when the parent dies. I and my siblings had to do it for my father. Scrape over the pieces and all the emotions attached to them and squabble over the blue kitchen jug. She or her sister will never have to do this. It is done.

Everything I own is in storage or given away. The junkman came yesterday and the saddest thing he did was smash the old piano into smithereens and carry it away. No one wanted it. These days few have the space and if they have the desire to play they buy an electronic keyboard.

It feels amazingly light, this feeling I have. Not drenched in sadness, only a light mist of nostalgia.

Last night I celebrated the newly empty garage and parked my car in it for the first time. The space had always been filled with the detritus of my children or my own.

This morning I noticed the buds of the climbing dog-rose from Ireland had burst into bloom and the whole garden was scented as my grandmother's had been in East Cork. A validation of what feels like a new lease on life.

I type this on an old bridge table and a collapsible tin chair in an empty back room with my keystrokes resounding off the empty walls. I wanted to take a picture of the roses for posting here but realized that my camera is in the locker in preparation for the summer trek to Newfoundland.

It is a good farewell, this closing of the door on my Toronto life for now.

I shake the dust off my soul along with my feet and look ahead to finishing the book of short stories, completing a writing assignment on the Jews of Newfoundland, writing the memoir of my mother and converting the barn into a studio/small theatre.

Life over sixty is a gift to be treasured even when we say goodbye. It is never too late to for reinventing ourselves!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Helpful Rules of Life OR I wish we could all live this way.

My favourite always being, the Three Rules for World Peace:

1. Everyone Eats.
2. Nobody Hits.
3. There is no third rule.

And I pass these on as being thought provoking and helpful:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, and wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Over-prepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?"

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

35. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read some good books. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don't ask, you don't get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

I practised 49 today, in spite of myself. Kept yielding in the car. Felt good when other drivers acknowledge, some don't. And some yielded to me. And it is a less stressful way of driving. But I have to work at that, being impatient by nature. Yield.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Powerful Pull of Newfoundland: Part One.


When Sun-rays crown the pine-clad hills,
And Summer spreads her hand,
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land.

When spreads thy cloak of shimm'ring white,
At Winter's stern command,
Thro' shortened day and starlit night,
We love thee, frozen land,
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, frozen land.

When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand,
Thro' sprindrift swirl and tempest roar,
We love thee, wind-swept land,
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, wind-swept land.

As loved our fathers, so we love,
Where once they stood we stand,
Their prayer we raise to heav'n above,
God guard thee, Newfoundland,
God guard thee, God guard thee,
God guard thee, Newfoundland.

--Sir Cavendish Boyle.

The anthem of Newfoundland - how many times is the word 'love' mentioned? Every time I hear this song I want to fall to my knees and weep. For the beauty of it that touched my soul so profoundly the first time my boat pulled into the harbour. A shock of recognition. Like a piece of Ireland had broken off and floated over to the other side of the Atlantic.

And every time I arrive, many times now, the tears spring to my eyes, that sense of 'home' seizes me by the soul and shakes me up until I am shivering with delight and awe. My people, the tribal connection of the wandering Irish, but it is more than that. It is the softness of the bay in front of the house there, the colours whippling and waning from turquoise to denim to grey flannel to cloudy white to azure blue. The frolicking sea lions, the soaring eagles in the trees, the fat lynx that patrols the acres, the gathering of so many sightseers when work is being done on the house, commenting, celebrating. True community. It is the man with the bag of weekly vegetables grown on his farm, the neighbour with the fresh fish, the delight of friends and family who keep the door opening and closing all summer and who crowd the deck with their writing and painting,collecting shells and stones and twigs and feathers, the humming and low murmuring voices spiked with peals of laughter.

It is the long sunset walks on the beach with the dog and the sandpiper who loves to divebomb her. It is the music. It is the others there who share this huge secret with me. We have found this magical place, like no other on earth, this place called Newfoundland, which split our hearts wide open, and enfolded us forever in her bosom.

Soon I will be there. Soon.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Surreal Conversation

The one with the ex-husband. That’s the thing when you share children though, there is never too much ex about it. They are always there, this former co-parent. The evidence of our one-time passion being now a grandchild we both adore.

He’s picking up stuff out of my garage for our adult daughter. I’ve just finishing taking a call from my best friend in Dublin, the one who was bridesmaid at our wedding. The one who is my friend for nearly sixty years. The one who was with me on the night he fell in love with me.

‘Helen says hi,’ I say.

‘Next time you talk to her say I said hi back’.

‘How are you,’ I say.

I don’t see him too often, just around our daughter's and granddaughter’s events and his wife is invariably with him. Like now. She is always friendly but a little wary of me. He has obviously shared the blow by blows of the latter acrimonious half of our marriage with her. Many years ago now. The water so far under the bridge it is unmuddied again.

He launches into his latest doctor/hospital/drugs/potential operations saga. I plaster on some polite attention to my face flickering a side-glance of gratitude to his wife. I had forgotten his family legacy of obsessive hypochondria. He will never finish, he will want a cup of tea and tell me more.

We are down to this, I speculate. Every time I see him. I know enough not to wind him up when I ask him how he is, but I forget. Now I have ignited his compulsive need to tell me his medical troubles and never ask one question of me. Never speak of our other estranged daughter in Ireland who has detached like a free-floating balloon from us. Who loved him more than she loved me. How his heart must be breaking more than mine. This child that carried a tool belt just like his and followed him around like a shadow. That took him to her kindergarten for ‘show and tell’ and announced proudly, ‘this is my daddy’.

He talks on and on of maybe they will have to break his breastbone to get this peculiar growth off his thyroid and my mind drifts off to our brave emigration on one of the last liners out of Ireland. How he never tired of my guitar playing or my singing. How I never tired of his story telling to put me to sleep when I was lonely for my family. How he never tired of holding me or stroking my back. How he dried my hair like a mother just about every morning of our marriage. How I went to every single one of his rugby games when he was a huge strapping footballer. How he went to every single stage show I was in, no matter how small the part.

How we wept together over the first pregnancy that ended in a horrible miscarriage. How we stared for hours, through our tears, at a picture of an unborn foetus and named our unborn child.

How sometimes, after a night out, we didn’t want to go home and deal with baby sitters and domestic matters and would pull over to the side of the road and make love like teenagers.

And I finally say, gently: ‘I hate to cut this short, but I have work to do.’

And I smile at him and tell him good luck with his surgery and I thank his wife. And mean it.

And I carefully roll my memories up the wood steps and back into my office.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Simplified Life

I once knew a man who kept reducing the stuff in his life until he was living in just one room and he said he had never been happier. I think of him often today. He lived on fish he caught in a nearby stream and from money for cashed in beer cans picked up from the side of the road.

I've made enormous inroads myself in this twenty-year project of simplifying my life. I've worked my way from a veritable marital mansion to a three bedroom townhouse to the Toronto bungalow (now sold effective May 31) that I live in today - on one floor and I rent out the other.

I am listmaking and starting on the packing and I am very surprised at how little I do have now. Lots to sell/donate/give away. Not much to store and the no attachment thing is hitting me delightfully. By contrast,I am surrounded by neighbours who are getting on in years and still clinging to the detritus and clutter of forty or fifty years of family life.

I have decluttered a few times now and everytime I do it I feel the effects internally. A huge load has been lifted. I paint my rooms in wild colours - it took me years to get the nerve to debeige and dewhite and depastel and my priority room is the kitchen/dining room where I meet with clients or entertain a full table when the inclination strikes me. I have as yet no place to move to in Toronto, I am blocked at every turn in finding a small apartment to rent in the downtown area I would like. I pay attention to this message. It is not meant to be. I have offers from family and friends of accommodation. I am curious as to what this "homeless" feeling is. Even though I do have my home in Newfoundland to go to in late Spring/early summer. But no home soon in Toronto where the bulk of my business is. I sense change in the air.

My decor is a vast collection of old and new movies, CDs and piles of books. I've reduced the higgledy-piggledy art gallery that used to clutter my walls. Laid a lot out on the sidewalk for others to pick up and enjoy. I find one picture on one wall sufficient now. I look at it more closely, study it. One from an artist in West Cork delights me particularly, full of the fall colours that entranced me in that part of the world. I did not pay attention to this before, it was distracted by others. Clutter to the eye. I have learned to take my time now in the AGO (the Art Gallery of Ontario) and just visit one painting at a time for a few hours and leave.

My house in Newfoundland is similarly simple. Decorated with books and bags and bags of lovely wools and knitting needles. A place for the soul. All sheets are old cotton picked up at Goodwill. Old embroidered pillowcases. Old soft towels. White muslin and old lace at the windows. Long table with benches in the diningroom and it can seat 12 comfortably.

My decor are family, friends and books.

(Picture is of the house in Newfoundland, thriving and stretching under a fresh coat of paint.)