Every once in a while somebody– and that somebody is often me– pines for a Good News Chanel to counter all the regular news which happens to be bad news.
What makes bad news more newsworthy than good news? What is worth more?
I know some of you will say to me “Hey, you in your privileged little world. You who think you are unaffected by all the suffering everywhere when really so much of that suffering happens so that you can go on shop shop shopping and cappuccinoing and watching your shows. You want to block out all of that misery and turn the happy music up.”
Well, no, that isn’t what I’m suggesting. I actually believe it is unfair to showcase merely the bad news when there, too, is joy, beauty and good stories everywhere. It isn’t honest to paint a culture or a people or an individual as all one thing. That type of representation others others, and perpetuates stereotypes and pushes the extremes of what we feel safe in calling ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ when really it is just different than what we are used to.
Even if this is just for me (Winter is coming, I’m going to need this) I want to spend a little time with the bits of beauty and kind-heartedness that is everywhere. I thought we could collect stories and photos of generous act of caring for each other and hold onto them for a few minutes a day.
Here you are again, now saying, “Hey, there are tonnes of people already documenting this. This is nothing new. Look at this link here.” Well, I know that. Nothing is ever new, just new arrangements and forms. But everyone should be able to be a part of a process themselves, not just of a product. There is room for all of this and that.
So, if you, too, want to see little of these bits of beauty, and feel some softness in your heart, or you want to spend some time looking for these acts of THE BIG HEARTS yourself, share what you find with me from far and wide– from the expected to the completely unexpected. Email me and I’ll upload. Maybe we can even make a little website if we gather enough BIG HEART stories.
Wouldn’t it be neat if you and I started doing these types of BIG HEARTed actions, too?
The toilet always sets the tone. Smell– the first sense to emerge, even in utero– is our most dominant and most neglected receptor (except when the smell is impossible to ignore, then it reigns supreme). The hermitage loo wafted cedar and fresh air, slug and earth. Toilet paper rolled tight inside a Tupperwear; shovel and bucket of cedar chips smother the waste. Basic needs met, and beyond: a moon-shaped sunbeam glowed white on the back wall. Even a view, if one dared to leave the door open, which I did.
These three days would be simple. I’m here for the bountiful nothing. The bountiful nothing of all that grows and languishes all around and in me, too. Apples reddening on the boughs; field flowers drying to a grey. Spider webs assembled and disassembled. Just things changing form.
I would write, walk, sleep, write, walk, sleep with just me. I came here to get away from you.
I foraged for dandelions and wild edibles, ate an apple from the orchard floor, drank a jar of Chantalle’s juiced greens from a tin cup with a simple message.
I loved my alone time. For about a half-day.
You were everywhere– you, who came before me, now dead and alive (your private notes of hope and fear you left in the drawer of the writing desk (I read them one hundred times, resisted correcting your spelling errors), your pamphlets on ecology and spirituality and all your dreams as stewards of this land from decades before, your chocolate you left on the ledge above the camp stove, with an expiring date circled (you care about me) and the chair you placed at the perfect spot for the morning sun.)
You, just beyond the wildness of here: you, filling your cart with bananas and deli meat; you, parking your cart outside the washroom while you pee; you, scolding your child as you shop at the Walmart over there in that wildness across this field. You are here, too, sharing this same sunrise.
I walk while my body sleeps. Some die, others fly. Lucky ones make love.
The mind and body do their natural divide. The body mind. My spell check separates those two words as I type, though the philosophy that interests me most invites me to experience the bodymind as one. I do wake up exhausted after those active dreams. Maybe the body is doing the work inert?
I have two re-occurring walking dreams; both involve wild body exploration in an urban setting. Re-occuring dreams are extra surreal since they involve a subconscious memory of a subconscious memory. (I am not on acid.)
I’ll tell you one here that takes place in a city I call, when awake, Vancouver. The place has no name for itself when asleep. (As in all dreams, things are recognizable yet totally strange. Change, the only constant. “You were my mother and then, all of a sudden, Ronald MacDonald.”)
I am always North-bound floating my way upwards from a mash of other dreams when I arrive here where ocean comes up hard against the land. There’s that steep cliff-edge trail I know I have to climb. Climb and climb, circling the evermore activity below: the livers living their lives on boats, on land, at beer, in detox. I have travelled the path ahead so many times, I’m impatient. I skip some and force the narrow turns moving through other dreaming nobodies without care (see-through nobodies, as if players in an online video game, their invisible operators at distant keyboards dreaming their dreams). Yes, there’s the old cave where a cloud lives, the little rest station and the half-rabbit, the witch who chases me with a Bic lighter, but I will eventually make it to the sandy valleyland flooded with a blue lake. See that small beach there? My brother will be appearing soon to picnic, which I know every time I pass, yet I have never awaited his arrival. I have to get to the narrow spit that must be walked barefoot in sand so hot it hurts and pleasures, so deep that I am fatigued and fuzzy and staggering when I at last fall into the sand joined by a sudden marsh of cattails and chirps, room enough alone for my face-down sprawled-out body, naked now, ecstatic.
That is the drive that gets me here. I am the last existing human in a last beautiful place. A dream place, a hazy eternal forever place, a terrifyingly lonely place that I covet and fear. It feels terribly close to Truth. Something so familiar but so fantastical. I have never been here in real life, right? Yet I know it. Nothing comes from nothing.
Is it the end of life, afterlife? In waking time, I believe it is. I wonder if I will keep visiting the North Vancouver Spit until I am once and for all comfortable there, once I’ve finally created the significance of what I think my life is meant to have, once I’ve come to terms with me, and you and all of the things in wake time.
Without this comfort, the company I keep turns cold. I feel finished, trapped in a terrible freedom. I don’t want to be this free. The panic pounds as I try to get out of my dream, to burst open my eyes to return to wake time. I am stoned and desperate to get sober, to wear off the now-unwelcome high, but the sun, the heavy haze weighing on my body, the heavens have me in a sleeper hold. The water is rising, kissing my toes, wetting my mouth. Brain is gone and heart is open and flying away.
When I wake, I have to pee. Is that all it was? The body’s poetic memo to the mind?
Hello to you others who will also be Dead (Yes, this is a threat).
(Me at Pereto Morino Glacier, Argentina. Fake smile.)
All of us have made one of these lists at one time or another, or intended to. Yours may be called Life Goals or Bucket List but those titles are not desperate enough for me. Especially Bucket List. That sounds like a namby-pamby playing in a sandbox. Or, god forbid, advice from a Life Coach at 90$/hour.
Me, I need to have an apocalyptic prognostic of imminent Hellfire, Doom, and Destruction to get me moving. An I Will Peel Off your Skin, (wait, that might feel good, like a snake shedding, or a day at the spa) an I Will Pluck Out Your Eyes and an I Will Hammer a Nail Up Your Nostil (though for some, this is a side show), an I Will Stick a Gerbil up your Anus (up for debate-pleasure of pain?) threat to get me motivated. Luckily, I can conjure up these relatively easily. And inspire them in others.
Last week I happened upon a noon-hour call-in show on Procrastination. I was expecting the Wine Guy call-in, so Man, was this depressing! There were three categories of callers: those paralyzed with despair; those numb in resignation; and those madcap in desperation. All lives unlived. Addictions, family banishment, suicides, each with procrastination at the root. Before this radio show, I had viewed procrastination as a more mild infirmity, like chewing your fingers nails. Now I know procrastination to be very dangerous. Very dangerous. It must be faced Head On lest a life of regret and resentment is most certain. (See how I am selfishly making this apocalyptic here, but it is true! I heard it on the radio from an Expert.)
The radio Expert said procrastination is a gene. (Is this true? Do they really know this or is it like with all brain sciences, nobody knows ‘for sure’ but let’s experiment with lethal psychotropics to see what happens. ) Supposedly, both procrastination and impulsivity stem from the same gene. I think this is great. At least something is getting done! Even if it is coming at ya like Mike Tyson.
So with all of this in mind, I am going to create a Before I’m Dead list before your very eyes and hope that it sparks my impulsivity. My Life Coach (ok, it’s just me in a life coach costume. The pay is good) told me to make my goals public. This puts the pressure on by declaring my dreams to the world. Nothing like universal shame. (Or, at least the 3 of us who read this blog- Hi Mom and Dad)
You might be surprised by my goals, for however calamitous the catalysts are, this list is quite ordinary, perhaps undignified. I do believe good living resides in the smallest things. There’s no bungee jumping or Everest climbing or dolphin-swimming. (These are for photo ops: see below). There is no promise of happiness in an external goal, right?
This will, of course, be a forever work-in-progress. I’ll start with just a few and try to make them real for me, not a list of what I think might impress you (especially you, Mom and Dad-though you seem easily impressed). I’m trying to write them quickly here, without too much planning.
If you want, check back to this blog to see what I’ve added (or crossed off!) and PLEASE add a few of yours in the comments. Then, if there are any good ones, I can steal them for my own and claim copyright.
BEFORE I’M DEAD list
Play in a sandbox as an adult with as much joy and unrestrained abandonment as a child (see namby-pamby above). Same goes for a wading pool and pretty well everything else where I’m self-conscious being ‘me’
Sleep solid through the night and wake up rested and eager to start the day- if only once
Create something– even just one tiny thing– that is beautiful that causes someone to remark: “That changed me.”
Take a 10-day walk moving as slowly as I can
Talk with as many strangers as is possible in one lifetime
Tell the truth (or at least the one I am experiencing) and nothing but the truth for one full day and be ok with the consequences
Have access to a cabin in the woods on a river, location top secret
Choose to care for this body before it is too late
Write every day
Come to terms with time and its passing (ok, this one is lofty)
Let people go (another lofty one)
Get rid of f*cking junk everywhere around me and keep only things I need and I love
Really listen to people instead of planning what I’m going to say next that might be funny or smart
(Be forewarned: this is a dirty post. Some discerning readers may even call it shitty.)
Here we are, you and me, together – all of us, really, even those you and I don’t like – travelling along our little trail. For the sake of sounding insightful (and at great risk of sounding corny), I’m going to say that at the beginning of the trail is a cave and at the end is a cave. Both dark and mysterious places. There are some who claim to be Cavers, to know that darkness, but I’d say we all know the same: nothing. We all start and end at the same place.
Our trail is not linear. Sometimes we find it on a map. It is marked, it is well-trodden. Other times, we can’t see any markings. We tear up the darn map, or others kindly/not-so-kindly tear it up for us. For our own good, for their own good. No matter, it is torn up. Ho ho! Sometimes we off-road, forge new trails.
Today, I am plain lost (of Mind), looking for Meaning. I know, there are those who say you are never lost, you just don’t recognize the trail, Dodo! I am uncertain of what to believe. That’s why I appear to Not Be Moving at times. Some say you will have a more satisfying life if you go about convincing yourself that everything has a purpose, moreso, a Meaning, even the ugly, especially The Ugly.
On this early Spring day, on this urban river trail at the base of an exclusive golf course, there is only shit, dog shit clambering out of the melting snow. The Great Melt when the snow that once blanketed the dirty world in white, making it clean and fresh and Pure, now reveals itself as merely a thin veneer over months of dog shit, candy rappers, used condoms. Within 20 minutes of the trailhead, I found over 40 piles of poop, two of which I stepped in. How rude! How inhumane of dog-owners! Hang them! Wrap the shit in newspaper, place it on their porches, set it on fire and ring the doorbell!
My sign says: “Dog owners. Get your shit together. Unwalkable…”
The trail markings here have words: Beware of flying golf balls, a diversion designed to trick hapless walkers to look up when the real stinking danger is below.
This is the Cutten Trail, land that once belonged to Arthur Cutten who made a fortune betting on wheat in the Thirties, a fortune never uncovered, a fortuned rumoured to be buried here in this dirt and dog shit. (Hence, the occasional sighting of those middle-aged Metal Detector Men who have strayed from their beachside habitat.)
Along all trails lie both mierda et flores. (I’m showing off my cosmopolitanism here with these Spanish words because that is how trail walking was explained to me by a girl, a Pelegrina as we called each other, who I met on the Camino trail in Spain twelve years ago. She walked this ridiculously long, madly famous path (as many have since Medieval times) searching for Answers of Great Concern. Would she continue walking with her fireman husband, or would she leave him for the shoe salesman in Valencia? I was asking the same question about my partner back in Canada, but the decision was more difficult as I had No Shoe Salesman. (And I was mostly the problem). There was that hunky buck-toothed Brazilian pilgrim on Day 8 who waved me back on the trail from whence I have strayed- surely a Sign, this was The One, my life-changer. But he was of a different mind, resulting in embarrassment and sangria.)
Mierda et Flores. Flowers and shit.
Here are a few flowers I recall over my years of walking the Cutton Trail: The Spoon Tree, The Message in the Bottle and The (butterfly-stomach) Hand Holding.
Number One: The Spoon Tree. Some wood nymph hung a dozen mismatched Grandma silver spoons on the branches of a tree. They called to walkers by clinking in the wind. Old spoons of Real Silver, eventually pinched, one at a time until there was none, likely pinched by students for their dorm rooms at the University on the hill. (Students: forever the scapegoat.)
Number Two: The Message in the Bootle. Another time, I followed a rogue trail down to the marshy riverside where tucked beneath the exposed root of a Willow tree was a Jam Jar. In it was a lined piece of paper torn from a notebook with These Words: You are loved. I wanted to take this love letter with me to make it mine, Mine Alone, a Special Message for Special Me, but there are a thousand special mes for whom this message is also written, so it must be left where it was found.
Number Three: The (butterfly stomach) Hand Holding. Long long ago, in another me, a Barefooted Boy slipped his hand into mine on a morning hang-over walk. It was so exciting I nearly threw up. Nothing came of it, it was never spoken about, he found another Special Me, yet the feeling is still alive in me today. Is it for the boy?
One good thing is, if you look for it, there is always worse shit. Once, on a Night Walk, I found a pair of men’s underwear, extra-large, full of human shit just off the trails’ edge. A drunken accident? Illness-induced, a desperate act of a hiker, a homeless man, a student heading to an exam who literally shit his pants?
Or was it another love letter for Special Me, in disguise? (See above, the Ugly has it’s meaning, too. One man’s trash, etc… ) Is this a reminder of our shared humanity: we are all Vulnerable? You, me and the stranger, too.
Merdes et Flores. Don’t flowers grow in shit?
Everything in everything. They are the same. The joy in the suffering, the suffering in the joy. Can’t you see the pretty colours in these pictures? When you don’t look too closely? Or when you look really closely?
My bed mate sleeps with two pillows. One under his head and one over his face. His reasoning? To block out the light (I read in bed. I cover the lamp with a T-shirt for consideration) and to dampen the sound (That’d be my voice. I like to talk in bed).
Since it seems to be our only time alone (we have two nosy children) I forge ahead with my chatter, no matter. He must hear me. Since when did feathers create a sound barrier?
I’m considerate enough to jab him from time to time, at the very least to avert snoring. It’s no good on a storyteller’s self-esteem.
Last night I was going over the bit about quiting my whole life again. Won’t launch into all of that here, suffice to say, I happened to not be enjoying The Life. I’d be going on for maybe 20 minutes about all the asshole bosses and the terrible state of The Business and the sell-out advertorial world, the chemical additives in food, the offence of the children’s menu, the poverty conditions Out There, the miserable lives of women around the globe, the Secret Suicide Rate and how old and fat I am and how he has developed a halitosis problem and his Ear Hair is getting out of control and how the children are ruined for life, what is going on with that limp my dad has and how this neighbourhood is all wrong for us, nobody likes us, The Planet is doomed and our parents will Die soon, when I figured I’d better check in on him. He hadn’t stirred in some time.
Poke. I had woken him.
“I’m listening. Yeah, yeah.”
“Repeat everything I said then.”
“He got away. That guy in the oxygen mask. The first one on the scene.”
From: Ajay Heble
Date: Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 8:28 PM Subject: job with ICASP?
To: Dawn Matheson
ICASP | MUSAGETES IMPROVISER-IN-RESIDENCE PROJECT
I hope this note finds you well. I’m writing to see whether you might be interested in considering taking on some short term work with ICASP. We’re looking to hire some- one to do some creative (video and other) documentation of our Improviser in Residence initiative (this year, as you may know, our Improviser in Residence is Jane Bunnett). you’re interested and available, perhaps we can arrange a time to meet to discuss.
This is an article I wrote some time ago about the amazing Guelphite, Rita Porter (Coady), who died last year at 104. She was one of the heroes at the front lines during The Depression: a homemaker. This was a time when life literally spun on a dime, when the battle cry was “use it up, wear it out, make do,” and the strategy for war, the handwritten recipe book.
Rita ran a houseful of orphans (her siblings) on Toronto Street in the Ward. Living in the self-help generation of today, this no-complaints piece stands out for me.
Recipes and photos included (thanks to the Guelph Mercury)
My boy and I are lying in bed talking about life. This is such a treasured time for me. He’s growing up so fast, which, right now, feels like growing away. He needs me less, which, yeah, yeah, is a good thing, I know, but not easy for a mom.
Roots and wings, baby, roots and wings: the two essentials in parenting for all species. The wing time is quickly upon us. Teaching the wings part can be hard going for flightless species.
My boy is nine tonight, ten in a few weeks. Some parts of me are becoming gross to him, like my tangled hair. Don’t I brush it? Why am I not wearing my bra? No kisses, mom! And my breath smells. “It never did when I was little.”
I find this stuff cute. It’s not what really bothers me. Though I did gargle before I crawled in for cuddles. (I’ll admit that it is not endearing when I pick at his face and clean out his ears while he’s reading.)
Below is an old blog post from a site for a larger project called One Mile Square. It tells the story of my contributions to a a community art project run by the Musagetes Foundation. I was an artist commissioned to create a local project. I chose to work with Cheryl Turner, a great Guelph woman whom I met at Action Read Literacy where she was learning reading skills.
Cheryl lives with a health condition that affects her day-to-day life in the community and in her own body. Her mom has the same condition.
Together, we decided to explore what makes Cheryl’s day-to-day livable. What does she depend upon for happiness?
Turned out squirrels were a big factor.
We created a video together. Then we created an event to share the video.
Since many of Cheryl’s contacts were through Action Read, we included the gang there in a live ‘bedtime slumber party’ where her colleagues read bedtime stories to children in the community in a public place (we picked the Via Train Station so we could have lots of traffic coming through and new people to engage). We decided to have everyone bring sleeping bags and lie on the floor so they could watch projections of the book pages above on the ceiling as the stories were read to them by adult learners.
Then we screened our video!
See below for the long version of this story originally shared in a blog post on Musagetes home page!
SLUMBER PARTY at the TRAIN STATION / September 1, 2011
The Bookshelf Open Writing Room (Mondays 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.)
It’s been a year since I’ve written anything, save a sloppy email, a saucy Facebook update. Nothing worth nothing. I’d had a writing practice once. I’ve romanticized it now, I know. I’m aching for it. Truly aching to write about something I care about. Maybe something you care about. But I never find the time to compose a thing. No matter the desire, it’s too easy for me to let myself down
A few months back, I dropped hours at my job to make space for writing. It was time I needed. A cut in pay to drive up the stakes. Not high enough. It was summer. There were fires to build, children to hose, lawn to lay on.
It’s come to the point where thinking about writing feels like the chest pangs, the stomach flutters you get in the presence of a crush. Something so desirable and so unattainable. Crushed hope.
The stakes need to be higher. That’s where you come in. I need your peer pressure.
Starting this writing room at the Bookshelf is strictly selfish. If I host three hours on a Monday morning where I make you sit and write and shush you if you start chatting, I better be writing, too.
While other kids are at goalie camp, karate camp, and saultos gymnastics camp, our kids are engaged in factory labour.
Production takes place in the gravel section of our backyard where worker Auguste digs down deep with her fingers for dirt to be dunked into a glass vase full of water. She squeezes and forms the balls of mud to be inspected by Trygve, factory boss.
Trygve’s job is to sit in the red chair atop the fantastic new grassy knoll (a pile of dirt that sprouted which we now so love– best feature in the yard by accident). From his throne he orders the production of mud balls. Once approved (Auguste’s handprint squeezed into each one) worker Auguste marches them one by one to the secret laboratory (behind a bare bush in plain view) where they dry out for 22 hours, according to orders. Many hours of production has formed quite a pile.
Graham, (who we call Gray Ham) our gentle, sophisticated 50-something always-single business friend who occasionally drops off bread to our home, popped over to deliver some of his garden share. He is the first mud ball customer. Worker Auguste ‘disappeared’ into the secret laboratory to select his perfect dry mud ball while boss Trygve counted the ‘looney’. “Yup, its a dollar all right.”
Gray Ham was instructed to whip it at the side of our house with all his force. Shazam! The mud ball shattered, exploded!, And left a black circle on the stucco which is still there. Gray Ham said it was very satisfying and well worth the money. One of the more invigorating activities he has engaged in.
In all this, I neglected to mention that worker Auguste wears a uniform: a shiny silver space suit, homemade from tinfoil.
Auguste and I take baths together. Kind of our thing. She likes them hot; my other can only take luke warm which I find unpleasant: sitting in murky wetness.
Auguste’s latest greatest excitement is the hair growing on her legs. She explains it, I’m growing up so the hair is coming in. At three, this is a great source of pride. One leg is bumpy, maybe a rash. I’m concerned. No mommy, (silly mommy doesn’t know a thing.) that’s the hair coming in.
Auguste’s other pleasure is washing my back with the sponge. Getting it really really clean. This is my bath pleasure, to be taken care of by a three-year-old. To be nurtured by my child.
When I’m out in the world looking for work, watching the men repair the train track, seeing the young women heading into the meth lab in the morning with their coffees, I can feel my clean back.