It hasn’t been the pre-Christmas
season I’d imagined.
I’ve been ill with a cold which
morphed into sinusitis, complicated by adverse reactions to another
procedure’s prerequisite meds. But, it will end. I’ll get better. I’ll live.
I’ve done no baking this year as
I didn’t think anyone would want my green-gold seasonally coloured snot anywhere near their food. Prior to getting sick, I had made my own Christmas cards and written all the
inside notes. I added quotes to the cards and discovered some which spoke to my own
feeling-sorry-for-myself state of mind.
“Don’t spoil Christmas by anticipating how it will be.
Let it unfold as it does, and be grateful for whatever comes.”Tori Sorenson
So I am grateful for:
lots of rest
outside Christmas decorations done in early November
the invention of tissues
a tree finally decorated
daughters who helped with shopping
I look forward to feeling well again soon and being able to smell the fragrance of the fir tree, warmed by the fireplace.And, I remind myself of the words of Dr. Seuss. “Maybe Christmas, the
Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”
I’ll be grateful for whatever Christmas offers this year.
It’s New York at the Women’s Project Theatre, a full house.
The audience settles and reads the Elizabeth Bishop poems left as “A Poem for your
pocket” on each seat. Programs rustle, anticipation mounts, the house lights
brighten then dim, a cockroach scurries beneath a desk on the stage. We are
there to watch DearElizabeth,
a play written by Sarah Ruhl, originally published as Words in the Air
The play is based upon the thirty year correspondence and
friendship between the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Their
relationship is complicated.
Pulitzer-winner Bishop, who was lesbian, was left
financially stable enough to be able to travel as she wished, a love for travel
reflected in her work.Lowell, also a
Pulitzer recipient was twice divorced and his third marriage ended when he died
All the words in the play are taken from their letters and their
poetry, and force the audience or reader to look at their lives not as story, but
as lives lived.
Bishop’s and Lowell’s admiration for each other’s work is
immediate and their letters are full of compliments and professional
observations and suggestions. Their friendship is an ever-evolving affection,
with each seeing the other as that rare person who understands the need for a
balance of solitude and public image. There are oblique references to
infidelity, depression and alcoholism. (BWW Review, Michael Dale)
The play begins with the poets as adults, so no mention is
made of Elizabeth’s childhood in Great Village, Nova Scotia, her Canadian connection.
Dear Elizabeth unfolds as letters are read from two
wooden desks placed on opposite sides of the stage. The cast frequently changes.
The evening we attended, the actors were Ellen McLaughlin and Rinde Eckert,
with Polly Noonan as a kind of stage manager, stationed in an upstage corner.
Familiar with the work of each of these 20th century
poets, the play is a delight for me. As a poet, I value the profound effect of
friendship and knowledgeable critiques of one’s writing, as well as the
necessity of dealing with real life while writing.
I appreciate the kindness and generosity of my daughters in
taking me to see Dear Elizabeth, as I know their own tastes would have
led them to another sort of play. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and appreciated
the evidence of their recognition of me, as poet.
The cockroach provided a play within the play, scuttling
around Rinde’s shoes during the evening. When foot work became too active, it
took off for the safety of the travel props at the back of the stage.
Life intrudes into our stories without warning. Words is colour will take you to another site with additional information, if you click on them.
Sir Bedevere: 'Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of ... wood?'
Peasant 2: 'Build a bridge out of her.'
A Cautionary Tale of Travelling by Air
My plane is late leaving LaGuardia, an hour late, which will
cut into the time I have to make connections in Montreal. I need that time for
customs, picking up my suitcase, going through security, dropping off the
suitcase and then getting though the next security before boarding my final
flight. If I’m lucky, I’ll have time to eat.
Everywhere in the Montreal airport, there are signs saying,
“This process will take 10 to 15 minutes. Following that, you have a 5 to 12
minute walk to your gate.” This is supposed to be helpful. It isn’t reassuring when
I’ve lost an hour, sitting on the runway at LaGuardia.
I hustle through the Montreal airport, walking-running-sprinting,
paying attention to where I’m going so I don’t waste time getting lost. All is
well, though time is tight, until I reach the place where I hand over my
customs form and am about to return my luggage to Air Canada. I fumble handing
the form to the staff person. My hands are sweaty from hurrying.
He looks at me, sees an older, overweight, sweaty woman who
appears nervous.Automatically, he
points at an open door. Now, I have to go to a second level of security
screening. The officer decides I am trying to hide something.
Him: What are you declaring?
Me:(I think, holy
shit I’ll never make the plane now, but remain polite.) I bought two small
books and a DVD while in New York.
Him: You’re telling me that you were in New York for Black Friday
and all you spent was $60?
Me: Yes. I went to visit family, to spend time with
grandchildren.All I’m bringing back are
two books and a Monty Python DVD. (I
offer the additional information hoping it makes me look ordinary, boring and
Him: Are you saying that if I search your bag and your
purse, I won’t find undeclared items?
Me: That’s what I’m
saying. I have a cold, caught it from my
grandson and I’ve been running trying to make my connection. That’s why I look
Him: Yes,’ tis the season for giving. (No smile.) I want to search your bags.
Me: That’s OK with me.Can you help me lift the suitcase?
Him: You look anxious? Are you hiding anything? (He glares
Me: (Trying hard to remain calm and polite.) No I’m not
hiding anything. I visited my family and I didn’t want anything badly enough to
take the train, then the subway into New York to shop over the Thanksgiving
holiday. I am anxious as I don’t have much time to get to my next flight.
Him: You are shaking and your eyes are watery.
Me:Yes, I have a
cold, and yes, my nose and eyes are runny.
Him: I think you are hiding something.
Me: (I think every swear word I know.) I say: I am hiding
nothing but you are welcome to search. Perhaps you could help me lift this bag
to your counter.
Him: (Smirking.) You look suspicious because you dropped
your customs form and because you are sweating. (He stares and bends over the
counter to push his face closer to mine.) I can go through everything. What
will I find?
Me: (I stare back, feel bullied. I hope he catches my cold. He continues to stare at me silently. I blow my nose.)
Him: Have a good trip. You can go now.
Me: Thanks. (I think bad thoughts.)
I run-walk to return
my bag to Air Canada: this contentious bag containing two small books and a DVD
and my clothes.
It is 20 minutes until final boarding for my plane. I go
through the next security point (10 to 15 minutes) and then run to my gate
(faster than the seven minutes it says it takes). I make it, sweating, out of
breath, feeling miserable.
Because of delays, I eat nothing since breakfast except
airline pretzels and water. I feel sick and shiver uncontrollably in the
uncomfortable, cold and noisy Air Canada Dash 8 which flies from Montreal to
The air hostess is friendly, asks if I want water and free
pretzels. I say no. She asks if I enjoyed my trip.
The answer is yes, except for this last day of travel with
Air Canada, coming back through Montreal.
What have I learned?
Don’t sweat or look nervous when passing through security’s
scrutiny.(Yes, I know they have a job
to do and an important one, however this issue of being hauled over and given
the gears for merely sweating has happened before. I’m sorry but I’m a damp
kind of person.)
Don’t fly with a cold. Wow! That was a painful lesson and
one I won’t repeat.
Drive instead of flying whenever possible.
Learn to sprint without perspiring.
Why am I not complaining about my trip from Moncton to New
I flew that part of the trip with West Jet.
Perhaps, the Monty Python writers could make a movie moment
out of the idiocy of harassing older, out-of-shape women in airport security.
The photo and quote above are from Monty Python's The Holy Grail.
To bike or not to bike? That is the question. Gary has had motorcycles off and on, all his driving life. Fifty years of riding and now, after a shoulder injury, and a decision to downsize, the Harley sells to a new owner ... today. The decision was and continues to be extremely difficult.
There's nothing like driving by the fragrance of fields of clover in summer, the breeze, warm as a massage, feeling every nuance of the road. Nothing like the scent of moisture in the wind, the sudden downpour and sitting it out under a highway overpass or beneath a cluster of maples, just talking until the sun dries the road.
Selling the Harley is rough for each of us but particularly for Gary. Driving is Gary's favourite form of meditation. He forgets his worries and the to-do's, the bills and the challenges when he is on the bike. Gary went out for a ride yesterday. These pictures are of him getting the bike ready and leaving the driveway. He enjoyed the time by himself, one last trip.
But, it's time. "Not to bike" is the answer. It's been a good run.
“It gets to me; some days, it feels never-ending.”
Gary says this at least once a week, referring to all the
“to-dos”, and the repairs needed on the house. This rant is always followed by
a discussion with me (or with himself) about the merits of selling over owning
That’s a hard decision. And, is one with which we struggle. But, no matter if we stay or if we go, home
maintenance must be done. And this summer, it seems like more and more needs to
THE OFFENDING TREE
Gary has accomplished many repairs himself; he is a capable, efficient man. He needs to focus
on what he has completed, instead of cursing and listing all the chores which
Some of the maintenance has been too overwhelming for us to manage.
had our roof re-shingled in late June. Last week, we had an arborist come to remove an
enormous maple which had grown too close to the house, and was overhanging the
roof and the northwest corner of our home.
For a few hours, we were entertained by men in the tree with
chain saws and limbers and tree saws. What an efficient group they were! The
men took down the tree with patience and care, and no cussing.
But the work doesn’t end. We have frequent-flyer points at the
waste management site from weeks of shrub trimming, damage repair on
our hedges and smaller trees, and the subsequent trips to the dump.
There are still more small repair and paint duties waiting for us, outside and inside ... the work that needs to done
whether we stay or sell.
THE HOLE WHERE THE TREE ISN'T
Even selling and moving are challenges. The real estate
market is tricky, (a buyer’s market, we’re told) and we would need to sell our
house before offering on another or renting. So, in the meantime, we work at keeping
our house in the best shape possible.
I wonder how I will know, when it is time to sell our
home and move to another place, someplace smaller, easier to maintain.
Will it depend upon my health, my energy, my
finances, my desire to spend time doing things other than house chores and
upkeep? Will it depend upon how many other demands there are for my time, my
attention, and upon who else needs help in my family?
I am unsure.
Even though I, that is, we are unsure, we have begun
to plan and to discuss the possibilities. We have started to weigh pros and
cons of home ownership. To look at what selling means, what it takes away.
We do not consider ourselves elderly, but we are
aging. One or the other of us has faced health challenges in the past five
years: emergency surgery, long term illness, cancer, mobility problems …
problems serious enough to make us stop and take a hard look at our living
We have checked the costs of staying here against
the costs of renting or buying a much smaller home. With home ownership, we
build equity, but that is leveraged against the dollars needed for ongoing maintenance
and keeping the house in good repair.
We know we don’t want to deal with the petty
politics of condo associations, or of living in a neighbour's armpit that condos require, so that is an option we won’t consider.
We’ve looked at hiring some help with our enormous
yard and its upkeep. We’ve talked about the real estate market; it is not
conducive to selling and doing well with a house sale right now. Will that market
turn around soon? Can we wait?
How much does it cost to stay put? We’ve had to put
on a new roof, a necessity. It had to be done whether we stay or we go.
These questions feel like they contain nothing but
words about loss. And there will be losses: letting go of belongings, notions
of what a home should be, letting go of relationships with people, with pets. Some
losses will be difficult.
We do love where we live, and enjoy the privacy our
big yard and mature trees provide. We like our neighbourhood, appreciate the
variety of ages and lifestyles around us. We are attached to our home by
emotion and memories and dreams.
But, life and reality are all about change. There
will always be changes, and yes, some bring a deep sense of loss but there will
also be a sense of something new coming, perhaps something better, easier. A
For now, the conversation about how and when we will know it is time to let go continues.