Saturday, 31 August 2019

when we die where do we go?

I have recently discovered a photograph of my dear friend Jean, carefully tucked away so I wouldn't lose it.  In it, she is standing in the water with her youngest daughter, waving to the person taking the picture.

Soon after this glorious picture was taken, Jean's life on this earth, on this dimension, ended.

I still talk to her and deeply mourn her absence.

Looking at plants she gave me, I remember the times we worked together in our gardens. When it's blackberry season I remember the many times that she & Brian gathered berries along her driveway in the Cowichan Valley. From Jean I know that if I crumple a piece of parchment paper under water I can  then fit it snuggly into a pan with sides.  I learned the best way to slice an avocado.

Jean knit me special multi-coloured gloves with the fingers of wool  just reaching the middle joint, so that I could take photographs with them on.

Thousands of hours spent with Jean helped me understand what love and friendship means. What it did not do was prepare me for loss.

So where is Jean now?

I know it sounds foolish, but it's as if she is waiting, a little to the side somewhere, close but not close enough to touch.














Does it help to read Paul R. Fleischman's thoughts that " Nothing is solid, permanent, and immutable. Every ‘thing’ is really an ‘event.’ Even a stone is a form of river, and a mountain is only a slow wave. The Buddha said, sabbe sankhâra anicca — the entire universe is fluid.”

The fluidity of life and death and life.

In "The Japanese Lover" by Isabel Allende, Alma, an elderly resident at a senior retirement community is asked by Lenny if she is afraid of dying. Alma responds “A little. I imagine that after death there’s no contact with this world, no suffering, personality, or memory; it’s as though this Alma Belasco had neve existed. Something may transcend it: the spirit, the essence of our being. But I confess I am afraid of giving up this body…..”

When he is asked the same question by Alma, Lenny responds "“No, I suppose that what comes after death is the same as before birth."

Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain
into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end
in the folding of the wings over the
nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be
gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a
moment, and say your last words in
silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way

Rabindranath Tagore
(1861 - 1941)



Louise Cordana writes "All who have been touched by beauty are touched by sorrow at its passing. "





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Sunday, 4 August 2019

joy


joy is an art

Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.
—André Gide




I have just returned from a morning walk, down to Willows beach continuing to Cattle Point and looping back along the Camas Trail. 

A cool shower and fresh clothes have revived me.



To the left of the boat launching ramp at Cattle Point, I saw a gay red and white umbrella sheltering three men from the sun. They were seated on folding chairs and each sported a wide-brimmed straw hat. For a moment one man turned to speak to his friend and I saw that he was smoking a cigar.  Keeping my gaze on the old codgers, I saw that each man had a cigar, and the fragrant smell followed me as I moved away.

A joyous gathering.

As I looped back, I saw a young couple heading for the beach at Willows. They held take-out coffees and the young woman carried the familiar pink box of a neighbourhood bakery.

Closer to home, walking down one of Oak Bay's many lanes, I smiled as I saw three small bikes, lying on their sides in a fenced back yard. They seemed to be dropped just as their young riders must have leapt off to begin another adventure. Or maybe it had been bedtime the night before, and they had been called indoors. Three siblings, perhaps. 

The joy of connections.

The joy of endless summer. 



As I continued along the lane, I saw a sturdy rack that held three colourful kayaks, a garden that overflowed with colour and white blossoms gathering on the ground from a huge tree that I hope survives at least as long as I do.  

Small things, maybe. And maybe not.

If I hadn't walked this morning, I would have missed these treasured sights.

I would also have missed the sounds that the geese made as they scrounged in the seaweed for food and the birds calling out to one another. I wonder again why walkers and runners "plug themselves in" along such a heavenly area.

Early last evening I spent more than an hour gathering seeds in our back garden. At first I collected the tiny black ones from my self-seeding annual poppies.  I call them Pennington-Poppies as these flowers originated from a home I rented with my two young daughters about 40 years ago in the Cowichan Valley, my first stop on Vancouver Island.




Cutting the seed pods from browning plants, I stood them stem upwards in an empty yogurt container.













There was silence, except for the muted sound of my steps and the tapping of the poppy heads gathering in my container.




Clearly the joy I experienced might not be everyone's! Just as people differ from one another, so too what we enjoy and consider joyous differs as well.

For me, joy is an opening. A feeling of expansion. Of being in the present. 

Joy is noticing the beauty surrounding us and the goodness sometimes hidden deep inside people.

André Gide writes that joy is a moral obligation, and never more so than now as there have been two mass shootings in the United States in a span of just 24 hours. 

Never more than now as men and women experience homelessness in part because there is not enough low-cost housing, and when children are kept in cages, separated from their families.

We must counter the fear and hate by embracing love and joy, doing what we can in our own communities to give balance to our lives and to the lives of our adopted neighbours.  


Theopedia describes joy as "a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope."

Once we have discovered this, embracing joy becomes a necessity.

And, for each one of us, it is also an obligation.




painting of Sidney Crosby by Greg Robertson

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

smile

I am only on page 50 of Atul Gawande's 2014 book "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" and I have already concluded that  I need to own this book, not continuously renew it from the library.

Gawande writes that "the story of aging is the story of our parts."


                                                                                                                                                             He begins by going through the parts of the human body and describing how they change from early in our lives to middle age through to our elder years.  Teeth, hands, blood vessels and the heart

He describes that while the heart muscle thickens, making it necessary to generate more pressure, muscle elsewhere thins. By age eighty, one has lost "between a quarter and a half of one's muscle weight."





 The marathon runner in her nineties is a very dramatic exception!


While the elderly population is growing rapidly, the number of practicing geriatricians has fallen.

So, imagine my delight when I saw an office on Blanshard Street with the large letters "Elder  Chiropractic".  I thought that it was such a great idea to specifically treat seniors, realizing that our bodies have changed significantly over the years.

Then I saw that a sandwich board had been placed by the door. The sign said Dr. James K. Elder.

I started to laugh!




    Agatha Christie                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
                           









                                               an image from Story People

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Havana

This has been a difficult blog entry to write. The most difficult EVER!

My usual process is to sit down at the computer in the early morning, when I feel that I need to write. I don't know where my words and sentences will lead me; I just begin.

I read the first few sentences out loud to feel how they sound and then carry on, reading my emerging blog entry aloud from time to time.

Well, first of all, I began this entry last evening.   One strike against me.

Second of all, I had something I felt I needed to say. Two strikes.

And the third strike was that I intended to insert some political thoughts into the posting.

And, changing the fundamental rules of baseball, allowing a fourth strike,  I can't seem to transfer many of my photographs from my laptop to the desktop where I write my blog.



So, Ive trashed the entire post and I'm starting again. Or, rather, I will be starting again tomorrow morning!

And I will use just the photographs that I am able to transfer.

Body image issues, especially in Habana, drew my attention nearly every day of this, my 3rd trip to Cuba.  The popular clothing for women, except for the most elderly, is tights worn usually with a closely- fitted top. Wide hips, big asses and rounded stomachs are not camouflaged.

There seems to be an acceptance- no, rather a pride- in a woman's physical being. A sensual energy that I have not experienced for many decades.

There was an image I had wanted to print after my first visit, nearly a year ago.  The photograph was of a middle-aged woman, standing in front of the farmacia, wearing turquoise blue tights.  I was dissuaded from printing it as several friends thought it inappropriate to show such a heavy-set woman, thinking I had chosen it for that very reason.

Well, I had, but not for the reason my critics thought.

Here was a woman, on her cell phone, comfortable in her body.


Clearly, I hadn't learned a thing. On my first morning back in Victoria, I stepped on the scale.


While my physical self-image was still difficult for me to embrace, with Willie and Rafeala, my hosts at their casa particular, I felt total acceptance of my essential being, who I am, fully.  I often said things that made us laugh. First me and Willie and then Rafaela joining in when the words were translated into Spanish. The laughter from deep inside, spilling over.

The lightness of being that we experience when there is trust and caring.

I didn't consider that I might be too talkative, too loud or too bossy; things I sometimes feel at home in Victoria. The fearful "am I good enough?" was totally absent.

In Habana, I was me, completely. I was met by my hosts, who were entirely present to themselves, and who told me that they not only accepted who I was, but that they embraced me fully.

I was family, in a culture where family is treasured above all.




This April, I was witness to another layer of Cuba. The layer lying beneath the vibrancy, humour and openness of the people.  Alongside  the music and the dancing colours, I saw a life that was difficult.

While I saw children in their school uniforms and Cubans receiving medical treatment at no cost, I also saw food shortages and government restrictions.

                         people lining up to buy chicken at a shopping centre

For me as a visitor, this tiny glimpse into daily life was only one small piece, a first sentence in a very long story.



I know that my heart is full and that I will be going back to Cuba.












                                               *************************

Signed by President Díaz-Canel in April and published in Cuba’s Official Gazette in July, Decree 349 is expected to come into force in December 2018.
Under the decree, all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. Individuals or businesses that hire artists without the authorization can be sanctioned, and artists that work without prior approval can have their materials confiscated or be substantially fined. Under the new decree, the authorities also have the power to immediately suspend a performance and to propose the cancelation of the authorization granted to carry out the artistic activity. Such decisions can only be appealed before the same Ministry of Culture (Article 10); the decree does not provide an effective remedy to appeal such a decision before an independent body, including through the courts.]

This has not come into effect at this time because of pressure from groups and artists outside Cuba.
                                  
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Wednesday, 3 April 2019

with every step

"If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.“
— Joseph Campbell


Having an exhibition of my artwork feels rather like pinning myself to the gallery wall, with a sign on my chest proclaiming "HERE I AM" all in caps.



I remember the joke about the Jewish mother at the dinner table when someone had refused a second helping, lamenting "You don't love my food, you don't love me!"  

In the gallery or studio it settles somewhere around "You don't love my photographs, you don't consider me an artist."  A good artist, of course. But it's even more precise: even though viewers may tell me that they really like my work, my battered ego whispers hoarsely, "then why haven't they bought anything?" 

Having been a practising artist for more than 40 years, I am well aware that artmaking is usually filled with many varieties of uncertainty.  

In their book Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland explain that "The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle, but distinct.  Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it."






They continue, noting that "It's not unusual to receive one without the other. Norman Rockwell's work was enormously well-liked during his lifetime, but received little critical respect."

That's why I treasure a comment sent to me recently by email. "I think you’re the real deal, a real artist, Jackie." To be of value to me, it had to be written by a person I respect. It was.  Tra la!

I've just had the phrase that I used earlier in this post enter more clearly into my awareness...."a practising artist."  Because really, that's what it's about. Practising. Practising. Practising. If I were to stop practising, that would mean I've quit.

It's not as if I could lay down my camera for six months and then expect wondrous photographs when again I pick it up. 

A form of practice is looking at the photographs others take- discovering what she/he  saw: how it was captured, the placement in the frame, the light. This is absolutely not about trying to copy their way of shooting or their subject matter. This is about noticing.

A few weeks ago, I sorted through photographs that I had taken 4 years ago.  I was not enamored with the work, though I was impressed that I was still working and playing at it and noticed too that I was finding my own voice. That I was taking steps on my own path.




As they explain in Art & Fear, artists did their early work on cave walls, drawing what they saw and hunted. And later, "The whole population counted as audience when artists' work encompassed everything from icons for the Church to utensils for the home." The distance between life and art was small.

Now it's wide open.

Returning to Havana in about three weeks is keeping my focus centered. It's a valuable anchor and allows me to find and explore another layer,  to travel deeper into the life and beauty I discover there.

"Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself."
    Art & Fear

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Sunday, 17 February 2019

history & memory


How little I know about my deceased parents, Millie Wolkove and Louis Harry Ritchie.  How few questions I asked and how unimportant it all seemed then.



And now there is a hole in my heart and they are no longer able to help fill that emptiness.



                       My mother's parents: grandparents I never met






I knew my mother was an only child and that when she was very young her father's tailoring business allowed them a few luxuries.  I have a photograph of her mother, Esther, in a stylish-looking coat with a lush fur collar, as my mother, impeccably dressed, looked directly at the camera.

When Esther died, leaving her eighteen-year-old daughter motherless, Millie seemed to have acquired only the most basic of homemaking skills.

I know from my mother that she attended MacDonald College in Montreal and graduated a year later with a teacher's diplomas.  I have a photograph of her very large graduating class, all women and all dressed in white.

Her degree proved to be useless, however, as Jews were excluded from teaching careers.  How did "they" know she was Jewish? Did they ask her?

(Years after she told me this, I remembered again why we holidayed in Hollywood, Florida rather than the more popular Miami Beach. Many of the nicer Miami resorts restricted Jewish guests.  And I learned why a group of wealthy Jewish golfers opened Elmridge Golf Course outside of Montreal, as they had been similarly excluded from golfing at other private golf courses.)

It fascinates me that these particular stories have stayed with me, that even in my teens I balked at discrimination and exclusion.

I know almost nothing about my mum's life as a young adult.


From photographs I know she was very beautiful.  Beautiful with many boyfriends.

I know that from this group of adoring young men she chose to marry my dad.


About my dad, Lou, I know even less.  His family was very poor and I remember him telling me that he and his brothers stole apples from orchards so to lessen their hunger.
He worked at a Department store in sporting goods for a while and then as a traveling salesman.  I don't remember asking what he sold.  I do know that this work experience made him the very best packer-of-suitcases, a skill I learned from him!

When he started a rainwear business called Sports Togs Ltd., he changed his name from Richstone to Ritchie, discarding the Jewish-sounding name that his brothers still kept.

I remember him saying that he was "a card-carrying Communist" for a time in his youth and that there must have been a painful period when workers at his rainwear
factory wanted to form a union, forcing him see how his ideals were crumbling.

In conjunction with membership at the expensive golf course, my parents' friends changed from a more diverse group of people to a narrower grouping.  Looking back, I see how my mum must have missed their former friends and disliked this new milieu.

I remember lessons of the cha cha and other dances taking place at our house. The dining table was pushed aside and I peeked in to look at my parents and their friends moving to the music.  I thought they looked pretty ridiculous "at their age" (maybe in their 40s).

I remember the narrow range of my mother's experiences: even though she might have become an excellent artist had my dad not discouraged her, she stopped painting classes.  She completed the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday, yet she didn't have another outlet for her quick mind and intelligence.

My thoughts and words have led me far from my blog's original intent.


With this writing, a great sadness has settled on me. A sadness for not seeing my parents as people whose lives were filled with thoughts, actions, stories of joy and regret.  I went away to college at barely seventeen years old and married immediately upon graduation.  Living in Vancouver and then in Duncan kept me removed from my birth family. Phone calls never allowed for intimacy: we had learned our roles well.

And has anything changed with my grown daughters?  Do they see a more intimate  portrait of me than I did of my parents?






My fear is that this awakening to one's parents' lives is as remote as ever.









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