Monday, 29 April 2013

Retracing and remembering

Frost 5

It will be six months tomorrow since I returned from my year on the road: a time of mostly really crap weather here in Calgary. When I left Montréal last Hallowe'en, it was on the heels of the wind and warmth of the remnants of Hurricane Sandy, and I came back to dull grey ice fog and snow. So tired of this....

And since I couldn't get all that excited about taking pictures of it snowing yet again in Calgary today, some of these pictures may well look familiar, because I've resurrected them from a few years ago. And that's why there is a picture of a bright flower too.

The reason I've selected these shots is because they are from the neighbourhood I used to live in after I finished graduate school and left exhubby #2. I've not spent much time back there since we packed up and moved back, in 2010, to near where I grew up, and especially since I've been back on my own, as there have always been too many memories of much happier times.


But there has also been a couple of good reasons to go back: one of them is Wreck City, a large-scale, ambitious artist-run project that three friends had pieces in. And, to be honest, at some level, I knew I would have to deal with those emotions sooner or later anyway.

So it has been with more than a little trepidation that I've been in the 'hood much more often, and, especially, walking through portions of it with someone again. Emotions -- good and scary -- have been dredged up: things that I wish I could simply deal with, rationalize, and move on.

Two of my recent social adventures have touched on this fact to a greater and lesser degree. At the higher end was my interview with Canadian writer Susan Musgrave, the first in my series of interviews exploring the creative process for CJSW (air date TBA).

What this means

In a spirited and wide-ranging talk, we explored the hows and whys of process, but also touched on the mechanics of the doing, which is vital in Zen Buddhist practice. Susan reminded me of two things I've reflected on since: the importance, as well as the necessity, of being in the moment, and letting the grief process take its own course.

At the lesser end, oddly enough, almost the exact same words were spoken three days later, at an evening panel discussion at The University of Calgary, with the Hon. Ken Dryden as raconteur (he's much more comfortable with speaking in public than when I interviewed him in 2000 for my Masters Design Project: I guess being on the campaign trail and in Parliament will do that).

Afternoon delight

In the second of the three panel discussions, the doctors talked about evaluating concussions, and assessing when -- or if -- the athlete was ready to go, to use that sports cliché back in the game. The consensus was that mostly the athlete was the least likely person to be able to evaluate that with any accuracy, that it varied widely between individuals, and that the best rule-of-thumb they could give was twice as long without symptoms as with.

If one considers the concussion that grief delivers on the heart and the mind, then I hope my bench-sitting days end sooner rather than later. I'll know, when I'm ready to make homemade pizza again.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

O Spring, Where Art Thou?

Spring is late #3

I know this is Calgary, and I know it's April, but I, and most of my fellow Calgarians, are sick and fed up with winter.

Last Saturday, we had a rousing snowstorm -- I made it home on the last bus, which was quite the adventure -- that lasted through Sunday, and wouldn't you know it, it started flaking again off and on all day yesterday, and produced another skiff overnight.

Spring is late #1

While the pictures in today's blog are from last week's dump, they are pretty emblematic of what we've had this spring: I can't recall one since I moved back from Virginia where it's been so dreary.

Spring is late #5

On the other hand, this Time-Release Rainfall is most definitely welcome by the farmers, even if it does mess around with the ranchers keeping newborn calves safe, warm, and dry.

Spring is late #5

It's been a busy week here, although there's not much to show it for visually: unusually for me, the week filled up with a myriad of social engagements, a great radio interview I'll be editing to air on CJSW, another volunteer stint for One Yellow Rabbit to usher for "Songs from Nightingale Alley (highly recommended, but only two more shows remaining in the limited fundraising run), and a lot of research/reading for upcoming projects.

Spring is late #4

If you've friended me on Facebook, you'll know that I like to post occasional status updates of music videos in the evening: whether it's something old, like my passion for early 1980s dance music (aka disco), or new tunes I've heard while showfilling or listening to BBC Radio 2, one of the best things about returning to the land of the living has been the rebirth of my passion for music. Here's one song I've really been taken with recently....

Friday, 12 April 2013

Dreamland Wonderland

Deck detrius

Still have the curious feeling of John Cage's 4'33" looping through my mind instead of all the cacophony of grief, and that's freed up a lot of mental space. Part of it is being, for the first time in two-plus years, used to generate dreams that I'm now able to remember in the morning, and that's also contributing to more real rest in the sense of sleeping through the night. What an incredible change in my energy level this has made!

On top of that, I've also started real new work: right now, I'm pursuing a book idea that someone planted in my brain a few years ago, pulling together some of the necessary ingredients (i.e., words and pictures): it's proving to be an exciting process for reasons that will be revealed later.

Form 1

I'm also working on two collaborative projects: one is with Line Dufour, a Toronto fibre artist, who is creating a series of large wall hangings with pieces submitted from around the world. Here is one of the two pieces I've completed so far, and I'm working on several others. (This one in real life is about 4 inches, or 10 cm, across.)

Pantone Postcard Project

The other is with Emily Martin, who produces wonderful artist books: she distributed 100 Pantone chip postcards for artists to "alter" and return. I like the roughness and hand-wrought quality of this piece, as I've worked on it through the last couple of weeks of my own transition.


Next week sees the return of a solidly booked-up calendar, with meetings, interviews, proposals, and a host of other crazy things happening -- including, sadly, more snow, I suspect.

So wonderfully, and refreshingly, back to my former life, although it's still a wee bit scary, but in a very good way that makes me want to dance and sing a lot. Thus in that vein, What is this? This is a rock song!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Sound of Silence

The Edge of the Great Beyond

It isn't often that I go back and revisit pictures I took, but the photos in this posting are from the shoot we did January 1 that became the basis of One Place, Six Perspectives, now in its last three weeks up at Pages Books on Kensington. I ended up shooting a lot of things that really weren't exactly West LRT-related (unless you have a predilection for parkades), and have wanted to go back and explore more, but haven't really found the time. But I want to return to explore it eventually....

And still in the moment of introspection/retrospection, I've been revisiting my blog entries from the last two years to see "how I'm doing" and find it achingly awkward to read pieces where I thought I was doing better -- and I guess compared to where I was starting from, I was -- but realizing now that I was just barely putting one foot in front of the other, and sometimes, barely that.

Construction old and new

The good part, if I can say that with a straight face and without quotes, is that the path back is still one with exponential growth ahead, but when one starts from less than zero, any glimmer of less horrific is an improvement of sorts. When I was reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking at the beginning of September last year, this paragraph struck close to my heart.

Real sky, fake forest

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing." A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself with be the anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.

For people who need to be told where to go

In the last two years, that relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself filled my brain with a confused, off-key, 140-decibel orchestra and choir until last Thursday, when the sonic wall was breached by a primal shriek generated from within. Whether it was triggered from an offhand remark by someone, or just the sheer necessity that it was time to be done with (and, frankly, not only am I not sure, but I don't care), it is not unlike what my friend who recently had back surgery has also discovered. Once the initial post-operative agony begins to recede, there is the realization that much of the original, painful hullabaloo has stilled.

It's quite disconcerting, in the sense that your mind becomes so inured to it that when it doesn't drown out your thoughts, it is almost creepy.

But that's not a complaint.

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