Film, music, party

Last night we drove to Stratford to a film screening, part of the Stratford Music Festival. It was a film I’d worked on several years ago about Jane Bunnett and the making of the album Embracing Voices with a Cuban music group, Desandann. Desandann were going to be there at the screening and would be seeing the film for the first time. On the way there Elisa, the director, explained the film would be shown on the bare brick wall of a restaurant – a fairly excruciating scenario for any director, let alone one as brilliant with a camera as Elisa…but there it was.
first arrivalWhen we arrived, dinner was just beginning. Things felt a little quiet, a little formal, as if there was something missing – at first I couldn’t pinpoint what. Plates of food came and went – a bit rarified for the Cuban palette, a bit heavy on vegetables and pungent cheeses – but still it seemed there was something else not quite right in the scene… And then it hit me – a table of Cuban musicians and no alcohol! No, no, no – this was not an acceptable state of affairs.
We ordered several bottles for the table, and just then Jane and her life and music partner Larry Cramer burst into the room, a party in a box, and the evening really began.
beerThe film begins with Jane in a moment of despair and doubt about her life in music, a heartbreaking and surprising life passage for a woman of such talent. Just listen to her solo on this track –
Even without subtitles, the folks in Grupo Desandann got the gist of the story, how it was through the love of friends, her love of Cuban music, and her collaboration with them that she remembered herself, slowly got her mojo back, and they went on to make this beautiful album together.
projectionAfter the screening, emotional speeches were given, hugs and shoutouts were passed around, tears were shed, and then sitting there, suddenly, Desandann broke into song.
singing startsIt was so stirring, so moving to see them right there, the rich power of their voices emerging effortlessly, the hairs rose on my arms feeling their sound wash over us in waves, building to the crescendo –

singing full onThis week they’re in Toronto, at the CNE twice a day, and Wednesday night at Hugh’s Room with Jane and Larry. If you can, check them out. Just remember to stay away from the cronut burgers.

Focus / unfocus

egret fishingThe egret was fishing in his usual spot in the river – he can be found there most mornings. So I was taking photos of his strange egret-y shape, gangly and odd and awkward, he flying away further upriver whenever I got too close, moving us both further and further upstream, until I sensed something in the grasses behind me.
unfocus grassThere was a presence – or perhaps a flicker in the peripheral vision – of movement, of something, of someone.
And then I saw him – utterly still in an effort to remain invisible.
bunny in grassForgetting the egret now, eyes focused into the grass, I managed a couple of photos, but when I moved and looked again, I’d lost him.
Wandering deeper into the field, trying to track him down, I realized there were tiny flecks of blue everywhere in the tall grasses around me.
blue dragonflyThe entire field was filled with strips of blue, and now, forgetting the bunny after forgetting the egret, I focused on the dragonflies, many of them having their private moments in flight, hovering, or resting briefly on the stalks.
What an intruder I was to each of these critters, and yet, invasive human, I didn’t hesitate.
double dragonfly
Weekly Photo Challenge – Focus

Attitude of Gratitude

dewy spiderwebToday I was painting and printing some photos, and I kept thinking about how Symbol Reader had said she liked that shot of the seagull, and in fact, maybe I could imagine a series of blue summer postcards using the seagull, the sky, the beach, and maybe another series of orange summer postcards using the sand castles, the paddlers, the kids, and as these ideas, these possibilities opened and unspooled in my mind, I realized how much I’ve felt buoyed by all the kind words recently of so many of the people who stop by here – Symbol Reader and Dawn and John and Sofia and Fat Bottom Girl and Uzoma and Ashley and my new friend Emmy at unbuttoned or undone and my heart started to overflow with gratitude for all the support and kindness and generosity of all these people, I felt so very very blessed…
And on that note I should include one more shout out, as I’ve been participating in a Create Positive Change Program (it’s free!!) by the delightful Nicole at Cauldrons and Cupcakes – and more than anything it is about practicing gratitude.
And man, am I ever feeling grateful…
white on white feather 2Just one paragraph (or two)


20130806-201140.jpgShy, tentative marks on the page, trying to remember how to draw – oh I used to do this all the time, it was so easy decades ago…
It is a re-entry into pure eye to hand communication, all visceral observation, any analytical thinking subverted, diverted, short-circuited.

20130806-201214.jpgLast week in the city, at lunch a friend said she had started going to life drawing classes again after an absence of decades. It comes back, she assured me, Like a bicycle…

20130806-201300.jpgEncouraged by my sweet BFF Susan, asked so nicely by Uzoma, and determined to reconnect, experimenting with pencil, pastel, paint, messing around, trying anything to feel less afraid of the page, I begin drawing on photographs –

20130806-201343.jpgIt seems like a desecration at the same time as it is wholly satisfying – an ownership, a branding – a new area to explore while feeling somehowlike a tying up of loose ends…


Foreshadow of mortality

20130802-145327.jpgOut for a walk along the shore today I began to collect things. Little fragile things that appealed to me that I thought best to put in a baggie if they were to have any hope of making it home intact. When I got home hours later, the collecting already forgotten, I found the baggie with its assortment of tiny delicate objects.

20130802-145932.jpgThere was something about the plastic and the randomness of the items that made me think of the drawers of collections at a natural history museum – a jumbled assortment of various species of flora, crustacea, stone and insects.20130802-150001.jpgEach thing seemed to be in a state of deterioration, a point along the meridian of birth, life, and disintegration, suggesting its own mortality – a kind of foreshadowing of our own short time here. 20130802-150020.jpg


Weekly Photo Challenge – Foreshadow

Night Ride

night rideBiking home late from work, a route different from my usual as I’d stopped to pick up another drawing pad, some conté, a few more colours of paint, and launching off with bags dangling from the handlebars I saw a man I used to know.
Oh, it was a complicated story, an early education in some of the crueler ways of men, the contradictions a man can have, being not at all a good man and yet not quite evil – in other words, definite trouble.
But we are still friends, friends from a distance, so we embrace, each leaning towards the other with bikes balanced underneath, he holding the cell phone aloft momentarily, Dejame saludar, he says to the person on the other end.
To me he says, Call me, Write me, Let’s get together, and I grin and nod, knowing I never will, that I see him now as a symbolic figure in my world who appears out of the blue like a highly personalised superstition. Years ago I nicknamed him Eleggua – trickster, guardian of pathways. When he appears like this, mercurial, on a street corner, it strikes me like a message, an apparition, a reminder to look for crossroads, choices, pathways that may show up leading in different directions.
Pushing off into the evening, I wonder about his appearance, put on alert for what may lie ahead.
Rounding the corner on my bike from College heading up Manning, my attention is caught by a woman’s laugh.
She is a young woman – I see her pulling herself up from where she is leaning over with the force of the laugh at a small table outside Greg’s Ice Cream. And so…, she says, prompting the young man at the table with her to continue with his story, the story that has made her laugh so.
He has a baseball cap sitting smartly on his head, and something about the cap and his very upright eager posture suggests an earnestness, a sincerity, an openness, an undefiled quality.
And I feel their young courtship, such a pure feeling as I imagine it, because of the full-bodied way in which she let herself laugh in the summer night, giving herself over to his story, and because of the way he sits so fastidious and attentive to her. Coming from the chance meeting with the tricky, mercurial Eleggua, I allow their fresh, young, sweet spirits to wash over me in the night, and carry the feeling home with me, wondering what is next on the path.

Just one paragraph

Too many things to do today.
Too many projects half-started, semi-finished, due, overdue, pending, and promised.
Yesterday, rather than do any of things I should have been doing I read a book for most of the day – a flawed book, with many digressions, yet with vivid characters and a layering of culture and personality and psychology and even a tiny bit of suspense that I just read and read and read and thought yes, yes, this is what it is to read, to dive deep inside an author’s imagination.
And so all the things that should have been done yesterday are also added to today (including grocery shopping, but hey, crackers are okay too) and the pile grows higher, but rather than do all those most urgent things I begin a deep cleaning out of closets and boxes in the basement, looking for old negatives (they must be somewhere, they have to be here), photography I used to do decades ago before digital, searching partly because I’d promised a blogging buddy I’d try to write something for him and maybe if I could find that old photo of the chair it would work with the post, and partly because yesterday I’d come across that dream I’d written up a year or so ago when I was looking for the description of that other dream, and realized that both dreams had images of paints and drawings and charcoals and pastels and thought how interesting, how wonderful, the subconscious drive in this direction, the apparently irresistible movement towards drawing and painting, given the growing pile of play things on my bedroom floor…
paints and stuff…and for the 2 hours that I can’t find any sign of old photos or negatives I wonder also if I took any pictures of the drawings and paintings I used to do, but when I finally find the box, Oh, look, there’s a couple of old sketches at least –
old sketch 2old sketch 3and I think, gee, I used to be able to draw, so hopefully it’s kind of like riding a bicycle and the memory of How To is still somewhere there in my fingers, or tucked away in some room in my brain, or buried deep in some level of viscera.
And in a fit of gleeful determination to take on yet more and more, to open up the doors wider and wider to what might be possible or might possibly get done, I sign up, I commit to write one paragraph a day for 30 days.
Here on the blog.
Just one paragraph.
A day.

Inside / Outside – on Beauty


Recently there’s been that Dove commercial thing going around where a man draws women he can’t see based on how they describe themselves.  And there’s been some good commentaries on what feels weird about it – which is the way I felt watching it.  Although I’m a sap and cry at insurance commercials even as I seethe at their manipulative hypocrisy, and have to admit my eyes misted as I watched the Dove thingy, still there was something that felt simplified or false. I couldn’t quite figure out what or why.

Was trying to identify what it was while chatting with my new Montreal / virtual friend, Le Clown, who was curious what it feels like to be an aging female. Well maybe he didn’t put it quite like that, but anyway, I was describing the process of becoming invisible, how at first it felt sad to lose the feeling in the street of some semblance of attractiveness, and then how gradually it started to feel like a such a relief – space and time to think of other things besides the attentions of men. Space and time to move away from ego and into deeper places within oneself. Le Clown mentioned his (knockout) wife had had a similar experience with putting on weight.

There is this way in which, as a woman, you experience any inkling of beauty as it is reflected in the faces and comments of men (and women too sometimes) – it is not actually, as the Dove thingy implies, about one’s own internal voice, about what you see in the mirror, but more about how the outside world reacts to you.  It is that classic feminist understanding (via W.E.B. DuBois) of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others.

There was a moment in my life – a very challenging experience on my wedding day – when this whole issue became extremely acute.


We got married at the end of August, during hurricane season, and Gustav was approaching, shutting down most of the city.  I got my hair and makeup done at my husband-to-be’s aunt’s place in a barrio in Centro Havana. It was the kind of barrio where the streets are always crowded and noisy – full of complicated intense interactions at all hours, people shouting out to each other in windows and doorways, dogs prowling and growling, men holding bottles of rum loosely in their fists squatting on their stoops with little levity in their hearts.

Aunt Flora’s place was a couple of rooms in one of the disintegrating structures, and once the hair and makeup were done, we started to work our way down the crooked crumbling stairs to the street.  There was a little gaggle of women and kids and a few men gathered around, a cousin videotaping the whole thing, and everyone having different suggestions about the way I should hold my dress so it wouldn’t drag. Outside I figured there would be a few taxis arranged to drive us out to Playa where the wedding venue was, but when we got on the street there was one mini-bus for the 25 or 30 people emerging with me from the building, and a big red 1950’s Cadillac convertible with red leather interior, white trim, and big white ribbons and bows all over it it…for me to ride in… Holy SHIT !!!

into car

The idea was for me to ride alone in the back, sitting up above the back seat waving like the queen – hell on earth for someone so shy by nature.  Thanks to Gustav it was declared far too windy and too long a drive so I should just sit like a normal person in the back seat. The street was crowded with people, everyone had come out to see who was getting married, and as the car pulled away from the curb, the driver began the long honking of the horn, driving slowly up through the crowds on the street.

Within the first block a man’s voice yelled out, Pero es FEA!  (But she’s UGLY) and I flinched.  I was surprised, deeply hurt, wounded but also confused.  Why would someone say this?  Why would someone be so cruel?  All I could think was I must really be very very fea, heck I was something like 43 years old, not some gorgeous 18-year-old Cubana, maybe I really did look terrible somehow, I hadn’t even had time to look in the mirror after my makeup was done, maybe the hair was all wrong, maybe something was horrifyingly off.

In the next block, again, a man’s voice, Pero es fea!, and my heart sank with dread, it was too awful.  It was a moment of such enormous solitude – of having to face all of my doubt and fear about the relationship, of marrying a Cuban, younger than myself, surely I was delusional to think I was loveable – and the drive began to feel like a trial by fire of insult and humiliation, a peeling away to the raw center of fear and neuroses and insecurity.

In case you’re wondering, this is what I looked like that day –

in car

As we drove through the city I tried to focus on the beauty of the early evening, of the sensation of driving through Havana in the open air, and the driver would look at me with teasing sardonic eyes in the rear view mirror every time he started pulling on the horn again. At one intersection a car pulled up to us and rolled down their window, and I tensed up, readying myself for the next insult, but the men yelled out, What kind of crazy person gets married during a hurricane?  We all laughed and drove on.

We arrived at the venue out in Playa, and there was a scramble as my groom, Osmel, immersed deep in food issues in the kitchen, realized we were there and came to meet us. He came over to where I was emerging shakily from the car, leaned into me and said quietly but intently, You look so so beautiful, incredibly beautiful – which is not like him, he is not a flatterer, but my god was I grateful to hear it from him at that moment, whether or not it was true didn’t matter a stitch, I just needed to hear him say those words. Hearing this from him, my husband-to-be, was the only thing that mattered or was necessary in this moment.

in car w O

It wasn’t until later I told Osmel about the ride in the Cadillac, and asked him, WHY would someone say that?  He said it was a very classically Cuban thing to do:  If the man had said, Oh look how pretty she is, you would not have noticed him, but by insulting you, he got your attention.  It sounded a bit like that thing where a guy puts a woman down to make her feel insecure, make her feel insecure and want his approval – a “neg”.  (Sweet and wise as this interpretation was, I’m still not so sure it’s 100% the explanation – it may have been simply a deep and abiding hatred of foreigners.)  But he supported his argument with other examples, of how growing up as a boy interested in sports he was mocked and taunted for every failure and would go home determined to come back the next day stronger, better, faster, with more strategy.

There was a study some years ago on girls’ self-esteem – I think it was in Ms Magazine, Spring 2008 – where they found that black and latina girls had better core self-esteem than white girls.  Theory was that black and latina girls were taught in the home not to take in the negative feedback they might get in the world. They were shown at home how to shield themselves from racism, from the denigration they would surely encounter, to have a stronger inner core less prone to the fluctuating opinions of others.

And in a tough neighbourhood in Centro Havana, the girls who grew up there must have faced all kinds of unkind words, barbs designed precisely to shred their self-confidence, cruelty teaching them the need to rely on an inner strength. Teaching them to be tough. Teaching them to believe in themselves on the inside if they wanted to survive psychologically.  Perhaps it’s a part of why Cubanas decorate themselves with such glory.

Though I have to admit, as much as I love and admire the Cuban women I’ve gotten to know, as much as I adore their super-sexy ways in their tight skirts and high heels, I don’t envy them.

All these layers are, I think, why that Dove thing felt so superficial.  With no context, the women seem just neurotic and self-critical.

That said, as I wrote this piece, my (now estranged) husband happened to send me the link to Dove thingy with the comment:  I think it’s true, especially for you – you cannot see your beauty and you think that everybody sees the same as you.

He’s as sweet as ever.  And maybe, in fact, he does have a point.

Night visitor

garage doorHe came to me in a dream again – jealous, cruel.
In the dream I’d been snuggling happily in the arms of his best friend, feeling content and nurtured in the embrace of a simple, comforting uncomplicated love, a warm supportive, not-totally-fucked-up-and-dysfunctional-and-impossible love, when he appeared.
“I thought you were dead”, I told him, startled, not really feeling guilty enough – I’d been, momentarily, so peacefully happy.
He ignored me. Cold shoulder.  Off in a huff.
instamanAccording to many ancient belief systems, and to dream teachers like Robert Moss, when the dead appear in dreams, it’s probably not the thinly veiled symbolism of unfulfilled wishes or the projections of aspects of our own personality, but is in fact an actual visit from the dead.
Seen this way, my friend C’s visit was not surprising, I suppose, as it was the anniversary of his death and I’d meant to do something – go out to the bridge where he leapt, or at least do a smudge in the house, say a prayer – but it was a busy week and I didn’t get it together.
So he found a way to make sure he wasn’t forgotten – he just showed up.
Typical really – he always needed so much attention…
It’s been years now since C jumped to his death, and although the first year was devastating – a swamp of guilt and suffocating grief and the complicated mix of loss and relief – once that first year passed, it wasn’t so bad.  It was if I always knew he was gonna leave us early, someway, somehow.
Recently I’d been thinking about C as I was poking around on some of the excellent sites dedicated to blogging about mental illness, and I’m struck by how many of them are deeply engaged with discussing pharmaceuticals.  Of course it makes sense, and I have nothing against pharmaceuticals – in fact, in the 90’s when it seemed like half my friends were on Prozac and raving about it, I tried to convince the shrink I was seeing that really I should be on something.  She didn’t bite – never gave me any pills.  Complex PTSD is not a problem of organic origin, she argued, so there was no need to meet the problem with organic tampering.
But my friend, C, what was it he had?  Maybe paranoid schizophrenia?  Perhaps pharmaceuticals would have saved him.The Bistro
I remember a night, a bunch of us drinking beer down in the grimy Bistro 422 where C spent so much of his time “self-medicating” with booze and weed – I can’t remember how it came up, but there was that moment when he suddenly turned to me and Jeff and said, “Don’t ever ever ever let them give me electroshock therapy – Promise?  Promise?”, he said, shaking my leg under the table to make sure I heard him over the loud music, the drunken conversations pressing in all around us, the terror and mistrust of psychiatry desperate in his voice.
He’d majored in psychiatry in university, had an inkling of the things they might do to him if ever he were to cross the threshold into a psychiatric institution.
And aside from the paranoia, both justified and psychotically induced, as a Chipewyan, it was as if he had a sense of, had heard of or maybe read of shamanic ways of dealing with the crisis of psychosis, and was perhaps holding out a hope that he would find someone, stumble across the right person before it was too late….
But then it was too late.
The night before he jumped, he sent me an email –

Vicious Cycle (A Prayer)*

I am the circle
and I will embrace everything (within it) as my birthright.

I will be like the circle – an out-turning one, opening
myself to the universe.

I will never fear the circle or anything (within it).
I am the circle.

*(In response to threats)

church overcastThe obvious descent into unliveable paranoia breaks my heart to this day.
I still see him walking out to the bridge alone with these “threats” in his mind.
So one more time – a few weeks late – I send out a prayer for him.


PS – just happened upon this stunning video –


There was a man I got involved with briefly a few months after my marriage ended. It was an intense little affair – someone I’d known when we were teenagers.
Fooling around on my couch, kissing as though we were young people rushing yet tentative before the parents come home, I felt a safety in his hands, as though these hands that had known me in an early fragile stage of my life, that came from my city, my culture, my race – all the external trappings I rarely seem to choose – offered a refuge of familiarity and rest from wandering the world alone and penniless, forever entangled in hopelessly inappropriate relationships.handsThen, a few weeks in, I had a dream, a nightmare, of hands reaching up to pull me down into a kind of quicksand – hands coming up out of the earth to pull me under to my doom. Somehow in an omniscient voice or spirit of the dream, it had something to do with Money.
Dreams are often so hard to understand at the time they come – they can speak in cryptic symbolic language, or other times in urgent clear imagery, and untangling which is which is often only possible in hindsight. I didn’t know what to make of these hands pulling me down in the dream, from whence they came, who or what they represented.
Still, I try to listen to dreams, do my best to follow their mysterious, oblique guidance. And I remembered this one for future reference.
The affair with the man developed, and on an afternoon walk in a park, up a hill with a view, we stood at the top and he wrapped his arms around me from behind. For a moment there in his arms an image flashed in my mind of hills elsewhere, as if we would climb many hills and stand just so, looking out at many vistas together….
But things got weird. He would dangle his success in business – his Money – in front of me as though I were a dog and it was a bone. Would talk about wanting to take care of me, the creative girl, or how if I were with him I would be provided for so handsomely, with an allowance beyond whatever I thought I needed – an image offering such enormous relief after so many years of struggling, I was drawn in even though it felt off-kilter.
One time he even sent me a photo of a roll of bills –billsIt was odd, this constant reference to Money. Was it a blustery cover for some kind of insecurity, I wondered?
I am not a gold digger by nature – in fact, the opposite. The experience of money in my family taught me early to flee the path oriented to material success above all else and seek out instead a life of bohemia, creativity, authenticity. My mother came from people with money and they used it to manipulate and punish her in various cold and cruel ways, so the mythology around wealth in my mind was the classic “root of all evil”.
But eschewing money has pretty serious drawbacks. Duh. You can end up, like me, a broke single mom.
So as I’ve been trying to remedy my relationship with money, I’m finding a consistent theme within all of the literature and courses and financial therapies – they ask you to identify your underlying attitude to wealth. And if your basic beliefs are that people with money are cruel and controlling, that financial success means a shrivelled cold heart, well then it may be time to adjust those deep-seated attitudes, it may be time to believe that it’s possible to be successful without sacrificing all human warmth and integrity.alleyway heartSo.
Last night I dreamt I murdered my grandmother and buried her. A rather grisly dream that doesn’t seem at first blush to offer much in the way of either warmth or integrity, but when mulling it over this morning, remembering the controlling cruelty of my grandmother who died many years ago, I got interested in the idea of it speaking to an end of this twisted approach to finances, to burying the belief that money and evil are inevitably bound together. I got interested in the idea of being able to end an intergenerational dysfunction around money and finding a way to believe that some material comfort does not necessarily mean the end of creativity or authenticity.
Lofty goals, I suppose, but presumably the way forward. Changing a belief system is not a small task, but believing that success, even as a creative person, is not impossible, and believing that any material wealth is not totally irreconcilable with openness, kindness, playfulness, is…..perhaps simple-minded, but still, an idea worth pursuing.
Oh, and the man? The man with the hands?
Last time I saw him, when he placed his hands on me, I knew, I felt viscerally, that those hands did not actually offer me any safety or refuge or love at all, that any illusions of such were my own projections, that the dangling of money and care and provision in front of my nose was simply a manipulative ploy, that being strung along with various false promises was pulling me down into quicksand.
But, whatever. I am grateful for the lessons along the way.