Saturday, April 02, 2011

i can't grow in shade

photo cred


indifference is grey, and so is a lie
winters near oceans no line marks the sky
grey is paris in the early fall
and the grace of god at the wailing wall

silver is grey, grey at it's best
the feeling of loss and needing to rest
symbols of forever made into a ring
when winter retreats and reinvents spring

concrete angels crouch over the dead
hope is retrieved in a thin silver thread
pain that is chronic is grey so are tears
liquid evidence of sadness and fears

tethered by hope the heave of a sigh
waiting and wishing for time to go by
grey is the colour of my grandmother's hair
i never knew her but i feel her there

inside my body when my spirit is lost
diamonds are grey but not worth the cost
the shades are up and still there's no light
grey is the difference between wrong
and right.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Memory of Scent

Each of us has our own aromatic memory.

The romantic French writer, Gustave Flaubert describes smelling his lover’s slippers, which he kept nearby in his desk drawer. While my olfactory memories of lover’s shoes are considerably less evocative, it is impossible to ignore the vast amounts of literature that is laden with scent; the memories it evokes are emotional ones, bringing us back in time. Our sense of smell is the most primitive of our senses and remains the most mysterious. Scent is closely linked to recognizance and remembrance, and we are able to store some 10,000 multifarious ones in our "scent memory."

I have my own recollections of sitting in a synagogue during a particularly long Bar Mitzvah service and discovering the poem, ‘The Song of Solomon’ in the Book of Psalms. It is a sensual love story crafted in the desert around perfumes and body scents; one can feel the parched landscape of the Middle East where this story is revealed,  “…the fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

This would make those Saturday services bearable, and it would get a bit warm at my end of the sanctuary. It supposes that the most persuasive evidence for the effects of aroma on us is key in our choice of potential mates, not unlike the bees beguiled into trying to mate with flowers, by a pheromone-charged scent. Nowhere is this more evident that in Michael Ondaatje’s stirring poem chronicling the unrequited love of a man, who is a cinnamon peeler in India,

     “You touched
       your belly to my hands
      in the dry air and said
      I am the cinnamon
      peeler’s wife. Smell me.”

My jaw dropped. Smell me indeed! Leading perfume expert Roja Dove states, ‘A photograph is cold, two dimensional, and in time will fade; a perfume brings back moments in our lives in vivid, glorious technicolor. Nothing but perfume is able to transport us in this way – a single drop of scent can take us from the mundane to a temporal world of fantasy and escapism.’

As women, we can all recall our own ‘coming-of-age’ perfume. Our first voyages into love, that sexy but oh-so-wrong boy we rolled under the covers with (who is still beneath our bed) brought back to life by a whiff of that perfume and a smile. Our choice of fragrance changes with that messy relationship we stayed in for way too long and finally, the one who captures our hearts and loves the way we smell. Or in my case, the olfactory accompaniment that reminds me of my strength and sensuality; although currently loverless, swaddled in the scent of my perfume with my daughter lying like a starfish in my bed.

Original Draft of a story commissioned by Thierry Mugler.
Photography: The immensely talented Chris Cramer

Becoming Carmen: A Journey of a Mezzo Soprano to the Metropolitan Opera

  Becoming Carmen

She was the heroine of the Grimm Brother’s ‘Red Riding Hood’. Clad in red, at the age of four, she sang the room silent. Her perfect pitch at this young age astonished her teachers and her mother. Eventually, she even astonished herself as she forged a career, which led her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. In 2009, in her native Poland, clad again in scarlet, she inhabited the role of a different heroine; the eponymous Carmen. This achievement was a testament not only to her talent, but also to her ability to face a multitude of wolves with courage and resolve.

Edyta Kulczak has the face of an angel and the heart of a lioness. Her childhood in Poland was framed by a mother’s support and the sound of her father singing from his pew at church. Edyta sang with a band in her church, a defiant act of a visibly political anti-communist during martial law; one of the bleakest periods in Poland’s history. She was a teenager when Solidarność heralded the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe; the walls would come tumbling down, and the story of Edyta’s ascent began.

Becoming an opera singer was not a life long dream or strategic plan. She thought seriously about auditions, but failed entrance exams for intermediate music school in Warsaw. Disappointed, she auditioned for a singing group where an eminent teacher took notice of her. It was the perfect storm. Together they journeyed through the mysteries of vocal style. This time, she would be accepted into vocal studies. While in Warsaw, Edyta was mentored by a prominent contralto who encouraged her unwaveringly and identified her as a mezzo-soprano.

In the true spirit of the self-driven and fiery Carmen, Edyta asked a gypsy fortuneteller about her future in singing. She stated emphatically that Edyta would be traveling the world. After successful throat surgery to remove a polyp, she arrived in Chicago to sing at a friend’s wedding and stayed. Edyta never imagined that she would eventually be preparing for her debut performance as Flora in La Traviata and simultaneously learning parts for Parsifal with Placido Domingo. It is too simple to assume she arrived for a wedding and ended up at the MET, as there is much more to her journey: ferocious competition, financial strain and rejection. Edyta is resilient and optimistic. She laughs when she was cited as the best-dressed woman at a concert:

     “Her concert dress inspired many women in the audience. Red,
       closely fitted, tulip-draped …”

There are still wolves in the forest. Hundreds of thousands of her fellow Polish citizens mourn the death of their president as glassified silica ash drift through the skies. But the heart of the woman in the red dress is not far from the Baltic Sea as she  prepares for her next aria.

Originally published in 'Womanity', a blog by French fashion icon Thierry Mugler.

portrait of a diary of a woman

i had forgotten how beautiful it was.

12 dècembre

george sand once said, i felt suffocated when i was married, and now my freedom frightens me more.

i had come home and written him a letter. what’s in my head. my fears, my anxieties, my hopes. there was a christmas when i wished him the bubonic plague. there was a time i would sit in the bath surrounded by candles and tea leaves, reading erotica while he was on the other side of the door.

i wished him a life of purple roses and oversized tubs in oversized rooms.

27 dècembre

i spend my first christmas alone. the boats in the harbour are lit up with carolers. i miss those blue blue dusks and wide open skies; white days that melt deliciously into each other. snow is falling still. silent.


i peel off layers of clothing, murmuring. wondering aloud how i am feeling today.

3 mars

i spend the week taking photographs. my sister has her second child. i am love with the baby. i visit the fortuneteller and have a particularly enlightening session with her. who would guess that 90.00 could afford such calm and absolution? i whitewash the walls and walk the seawall every day. we all decide to take a trip to the island. our entourage of eleven left in the pouring rain; we stood and sang our anthem crossing the waves, soaked through and spend the next two hours drying out at the pub. simon keeps imitating the man who stood near us, taking off his hat and trying in vain to rearrange his hair. stealing glances. later on the boys do cannonballs into the freezing water. the hat man gives them a baleful stare.

the rest of the days were full of wine and too many late nights, catching up on each other’s lives in the kitchen with just the light from the stove. later we draw straws for rooms and i sleep in the boathouse where i lift my head in the morning and can gaze at the ocean. i take the fishing rod and make my way to the dock. near the pacific, the air is crisp and salty and my mind is quiet. there is no one waiting for me and this coastal life might just be the thing. but i’m never completely free, i realize, casting, badly into the sea.

on the ocean
in the fall
the shadows stretch long
gold light
blur of umber and sienna your
chalk blue eyes
making a
seafarer of me
in my boat of solitude
i rest my oars

26 mai

the bolsheviks are running amok.

today i want a companion to fix me supper, hold my hand, wash my back and curl into me while the skies explode. today i miss having a lover. i want to run, but i don’t know which way to go.

i end up in the east end and pull the cord that is hanging three stories down outside the abandoned building. benjamin’s doorbell. he runs down and opens the door. he takes off my boots and washes my feet.

he has been collecting, and has created a massive chandelier from thousands of keys. watch this he says intently. a switch is flipped and it starts to gently, rhythmically shake. i smile.

it sounds like metal rain.

he drinks water from a plastic bottle. ‘glacial water’. likely tap water chilling under false pretenses he scoffs. the blinds make light zebras on the walls.

farthest kiss
fragile will
into morning
sweet standstill
breath defies
empires end
silence breaks

14 septembre

i have coffee every morning with anne. what a day it was, spent digging vegetables out of the soil with her. rows of purple concorde grapes and raspberries. the dinner party is sublime. a peculiar and eccentric array of people. they are here because we are parting for the winter. laughter peals out of the windows and the wax has melted onto the tables. anne reads us the song of solomon in her slip. i get up to take a photograph as stanley plays the piano. the morning after brings us to the bank, bedraggled and in need of sleep. jeremy is dancing in the queue, overtired and we laugh at everything.

later on, we pack up the last of our things. anne and i walk backwards up the hill, home, to see the orange purple pink blue black sky.

she drives a citroen
through rolling fields of artichokes
opens the window
to smell the sea
and stops at the crest of a hill.
a town of stone
built on the shore
where the monks gathered salt
and bowed their heads to get through
the impossibly small doors.
she is looking for the castle on the
twinkling sea
where she will bathe alone.

originally published in 'Womanity' a blog by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler, and subsequently through Grape Press, New York.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday, March 21, 2008

Honoring the Teacher's Heart

Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Here is the speech I recently wrote in preparation for our teacher’s negotiations for an increase in pay. The introductory passage is from Sam Intrator’s “The Courage to Teach; Honoring the Teacher’s Heart”.

     “I am the son of two recently retired public school teachers. Combined, they racked up sixty-five years of service. We once sat down and figured out that between them, they had taught more than sixty thousand classes and five thousand students. They were lifers, as were most of their friends.
     Though chalk may not course through my veins, teaching is in my blood. So when I came home one day and told my parents that I had just applied for teaching college, I didn’t anticipate their reaction.  
     ‘What? Why did you do that? You should look at other options.’ my father said, clearly dismayed at my decision.
     ‘You don’t know what you’re getting into,’ my mother said quite ominously.
      From the vantage point of a child, teaching had been good to my parents. We traveled every summer as a family, and returning as a teacher to the schools of my youth seemed a virtuous channel to direct my brimming-over-the-top idealism. Curious about my parents’ disappointment and chagrin but blithely undaunted, I quit my job as an editorial assistant in a plush Manhattan high rise and began subbing in New York City schools.
     Sixteen years later, I better understand their response. In fact, most teachers I know have told me something similar. ‘Maybe I would do this job again, but I hope my son or daughter does something different.’
     As my dad told me, ‘This job can wear you down. There’s a lot of gratuitous clucking about how we must value and support teachers. Then you get in there and it’s pretty lonely and tough. I hoped might find something easier-find something that has more prestige, status, and honor.’
If you ask, my dad will tell you about cherished moments. He’ll tell you about the days when he believed he left an enduring impact on the world. My dad will also tell you that there were days when he could barely heft the chalk to the board and described classes so demanding that they reduced his knees to quaking knick-knocks.
     If you ask, he’ll tell you about how even after teaching the Gettysburg Address 150 times, watching Lincoln’s words settle in young minds, would still bring a tear to his eye.
     If you ask, he’ll also tell you about how, midway through his more than three decades in the classroom, resentment and anger with the system left him in the doldrums and he could barely summon the strength to come back one September. 
     But most of all, he’ll tell you that the best teachers he knew-the colleagues in the trenches he most admired-had heart, soul, energy, and a special effervescence that allowed them to ‘reach kids.’ I’d pick him up at after school some days, and we’d pass one of his colleagues and he’d turn to me and nod: 

‘She’s good,’ he’d say. ‘She reaches kids’.”

     Once you’ve given thirty-plus years of your life to something as absorbing as teaching, you come to know it well. It is not recognized how hard teaching is on the spirit. We think it’s about little techniques and tricks, but techniques only take you so far. At the end of a particularly successful lesson, there are no adults, like in other jobs to witnesses it; to share in our accomplishments of that moment. At this school, we have teachers who care about kids, who care about what they teach, and who can connect with their students. On top of that, they have faith in the importance of their work. Keeping that faith over time is not easy.
I share these snippets of commentary - the thoughts and feelings on the "teacher’s heart," because they represent to us the backdrop for this round of negotiations. Teachers need technique, and they need subject matter expertise, but these matter little without the presence of heart and inspiration. The dictionary tells us that to do something "with heart" means to inspire with confidence, to embolden, to encourage, and to animate. To teach with heart means to be a genuine human presence in the lives of students.
      In other words, if schools are to be places that promote academic, social, and personal development for students, everything hinges on the presence of intelligent, passionate, caring teachers working day after day in our nation’s classrooms. Teachers have a colossal influence on what happens in our schools, because day after day, we are the ultimate decision makers and tone setters. We shape the world of the classroom by the activities we plan, the focus we attend to, and the relationships we nurture.
     If we want to attract and retain intelligent, passionate, caring teachers, we had better figure out what will sustain their vitality and faith in teaching. Education depends on what teachers do in their classrooms, and what teachers do in their classrooms is shaped by who they are, what they believe, and how vital and alive they are when they step before their students.
Sam Intrator continues:

  “We need our spirit, but we need to make a fair living. This society pays rainmakers-it pays the people who generate money. Teachers don’t generate money. You can’t forget this truth. It’s hard for teachers to feel valued and honored in this society, when your worth is often measured in what you’re paid. Paying teachers what they’re worth to society is a way to honor the teacher’s heart.”
As we embark as a first year teacher, we often are indifferent to the salary, to benefits and to pension considerations; but as we age, and are faced with college tuitions, mortgages or rent and childcare and a fair and reasonable standard of living after retirement, it serves as a mixed message about what we’re worth to the communities we serve. Honoring the teacher’s heart must mean more than flowers, cards, and cookies, no matter how well intentioned and well meaning. Honor implies being accorded respect and distinction. Honor means paying a teacher who has spent over twenty years serving the school community more than $650.00 a week.

It means equal pay for equal work
     Most of us are teaching double the workload of any other teachers. We are not comparable to the public system, or a private school whose teachers have classes smaller than twenty students and have twice the time to meet the required curriculum.
     It means that our outstanding early childhood department gets paid to reflect their excellence. It means that our retired teachers are able to pay their own medical insurance, not unable to afford health insurance packages. Honor ensures that retired teachers will earn more than $200.00 a month in pension, after dedicating over thirty years to the school. They will not be required to work as a substitute and they will not be forced to find additional work to live.
Even as we become caught up in questions of meaning, we are rightfully reminded that "paying teachers what they’re worth to society is a way to honor the teacher’s heart."
     The teachers of Talmud Torah have taught for reasons of ideals and virtue: we connect with children, we convey passion for our subjects, and hope to inspire a love for learning and goodness. Bill Ayers calls our teaching "world-changing work" and then goes on to say:
     “People are called to teaching because they love children and youth, or because they love being with them, watching them open up and grow and become more able, more competent, and more powerful in the world. They may love what happens to themselves when they are with children, the ways in which they become their best selves. Or they become teachers because they love the world or some piece of the world enough that they want to show that love to others. In either case, people teach as an act of construction and reconstruction and as a gift of oneself to others. We teach in the hope of making the world a better place.
     It is with these sentiments that we will ask for an increase in our pay. We will ask for a reasonable standard of living in a city whose costs are spiraling out of control. We ask for the board to recognize that the inflation rate is far surpassing our income advances. We will ask that your community will honor our retiring teachers with a reasonable standard of living after devoting their lives to teaching. 

We will ask you to honor the teacher’s heart.

American Women get the Vote

Key Political Event: Women granted the right to vote in the U.S.

Date: August 26, 1920

Why It’s Key: The creation and mobilization of various women’s groups often taking radical action culminated in securing women with the right to vote in the United States.

It was March 3, 1913, the day before his inauguration as United States President, and Woodrow Wilson’s train arrived in Washington, D.C. to silence. On Pennsylvania Avenue, an estimated half million people were watching a Woman Suffrage Parade, organized by suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, in an attempt to turn the nation’s attention to their cause: gaining the vote for American women through winning a federal suffrage amendment.

Up to eight thousand women marched in rows of three across, dressed in white, past hundreds of thousands of onlookers made up of both supporters and opponents of suffrage. Army troops would be called in to curb the violence which ensued when local police disregarded their obligation to ensure a peaceful march. The women were ridiculed, spat on and beaten. The public outcry against the police and their failure resulted in the firing of the police chief, but more importantly, generated even more support for the suffrage movement. In New York, several weeks later, another march drew 10,000 participants.
Paul’s forces, the ‘shock troops’ of the American suffrage crusade gained attention through massive demonstrations, hunger strikes, confrontations with the police, pickets and boycotts and many were jailed or committed. They would witness the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 26, 1920. The seeds of their cause were planted nearly seventy years before. The egalitarian spirit of thousands of women emerged quietly and steadfastly through the decades, championing the vote for women.

amnesty international founded

Key Event: Amnesty International Founded

Date: July 22, 1961

Why It’s Key: The emergence of a foundation would gain worldwide momentum, committed to the defense of human dignity against physical and mental torture and shining a “torch of hope” into the cell of prisoners of conscience.

Peter Benenson was moved to action when reading an article about two college students who were incarcerated for toasting to freedom in a Lisbon bar during the dictator Salazar’s regime. In 1961, British lawyer Benenson wrote the impassioned “Forgotten Prisoners” article, urging readers to launch a one year appeal with the goal of obtaining amnesty. It was met with overwhelming support and generated a maelstrom of stories outlining similar plights of citizens worldwide. This one year action rapidly transformed into an international movement, and Amnesty International was born. It continued to grow as a result of its unrelenting public awareness campaign and commitment to three irrevocable principles: the organization must be neutral, impartial and independent.

Aside from publicizing governmental wrongdoings, Amnesty International relies strongly on the global distribution of “adoption groups,” volunteers who take on a number of cases and orchestrate a barrage of letters to the offending government. An effective method of protest, it has also shown compassion and solicitude to the prisoner. Gradually its aim went beyond individual cases, and in 1972 a global campaign targeting banning of the use of torture was launched, followed by a vigorous campaign against the death penalty.

While fear, violence and acts of terrorism barricade our rights to an “external” peace, Amnesty International, recipient of the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize, upholds the principle that imprisonment because of thought, conscience, religion or faith obstructs our rights to a life of “internal” peace.

assassination of anwar sadat

Key Political Event: President Sadat Assassinated

Date: October 6, 1981

Why It’s Key: President Sadat was the first Arab leader to recognize the state of Israel

He saluted, placed a wreath and was watching the Egyptian Air Force overhead when grenades exploded. Armed Muslim extremists flew out of the back of a military truck in the procession, racing towards the rostrum where Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar el Sadat stood and opened fire with automatic machine guns. It was during a parade in Cairo commemorating the anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, October 6, 1981, and the recipient of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace was dead.

The assassination of President Sadat was met with mixed reaction. He had become somewhat of an Arab hero, leading Egypt and Syria into a war with Israel in an effort to reclaim a section of the Sinai Peninsula in 1973. While Israel was successful in counterattacking, Sadat was celebrated as the first Arab leader to actually reclaim territory from Israel. A pragmatist, Sadat then made the historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977 and negotiated the exodus of Israeli troops from the Peninsula; in exchange, Egypt would become the first Arab country to recognize Israel. U.S. President Jimmy Carter would mediate negotiations between Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, culminating in the signing of a peace treaty on March 26, 1979, the first between Israel and any Arab nation.

While Sadat’s popularity skyrocketed in the West, he faced isolation and boycotts from the Arab world because of the rapprochement with Israel. His funeral was attended by only one Arab head of state.

The Discovery of Botox

Key Discovery: Drs. Carruthers Discover the Cosmetic use for Botox
Date: 1987

Country: Canada 

“I haven’t frowned since 1987,” grins Canadian ophthalmologist Jean Carruthers, who, along with her husband dermatologist Alastair Carruthers is credited for the discovery and pioneering of Botox, currently the leading non-surgical cosmetic treatment in the United States.
Ironically, the botulinum toxin (root word from Latin botulus = sausage) or botox, was known for years as “Canadian bacon pathogen” as this bacterium, grew in mishandled meat products often caused fatal poisoning. The substance was originally developed in 1946 by Dr. Edward Schantz, a young army officer and was intended for use in biological warfare, as it is one of the most toxic natural substances on the planet.

Botox inhibits the transmission of neural signals to muscles and its potency and resulting paralysis is so deadly that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services once considered arming prostitutes with botulism capsules to poison high-ranking Japanese officers. Since the fifties various physicians have been using the paralyzing substance, successfully on patients for blocking neuromuscular transmissions but it was a happy accident that Dr. Carruthers discovered the cosmetic effect. 

After treating a patient suffering from a rare eye disorder known as blepharospasm, an ailment that causes excessive blinking of the eyes, “the patient requested ongoing treatment even though her symptoms were no longer present,” reported Dr.Jean Carruthers. The patient revealed that after the injections, the wrinkles between her brows had disappeared resulting in a tranquil, untroubled expression on her face. Dr. Carruthers’ husband, Alastair found the story intriguing and it was there, over ‘pillow talk’ that Botox has emerged as the rejuvenation therapy of choice for millions.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

rebate hell

Entry for the contest to win a Macbook from a local radio station, provides me with a venue for my wrath. I am to write about my computer nightmare story (PC only) but I can’t even get past the wrapping….

In order to spare you the 'War and Peace' of computer nightmare stories, I am going to relate a synopsis of my ongoing NIGHTMARE that I hope will warrant the coveted MacBook. (Barring that, I would settle for a date with MacDreamy...)

As an artist, art instructor and producer of our school's annual 'slide show' I went computer hunting a few years ago. Our school uses Macs, but, as a single parent on a pathetic teacher's salary, the MacBooks were out of my price range. In full denial of reality, I set out to have a myriad of under trained personnel, all with the names of 'Bob', and wearing matching brown and yellow shirts, convince me that a PC would do everything a Mac could do and more.

Even more enticing, says one of the 'Bobs', was an exciting mail in rebate, guaranteed to save me a ton of cash. I waded my way through the world of gigabytes, megabytes, pixel something or others, punctuated with anxious phone calls to my fifteen year old nephew, who knew more than the 'Bobs'.
I settle on a PC (henceforth referred to as '______' and go home to send in the UPC code on the back of the box. I call my best friend who shrieks, 'You should have bought a Mac; and READ THE FINE PRINT ON THE REBATE!!" She is the director of the Sarah McLaughlin Music School. They use Macs.

The fine print on the PC rebate form lets me know I have to cut out every single UPC code I can see on the boxes. 

"O.k., how hard could this be?" and set out to get my exact o knife. TWENTY EIGHT UPC codes were sporadically and deviously hidden throughout the boxes. Because the cartons were made with triple cardboard, it was the equivalent of carving through petrified wood. Four hours later, there is a mountain of little cardboard pieces. I am sweating. I am pissed. I refuse to quit. Armed with my twenty eight UPC codes, I read the instructions further. They sound something like this: “Thank you for purchasing your _____ personal computer. For your rebate, send ALL ORIGINAL UPC codes from the box to the following TWO separate addresses."

"As well, please photocopy the seven codes from the bottom of the box, and the two from the northeast side of the box and send them to a third address, including two originals from the south corner of the second box." There is no phone number. I hire someone to set up my computer, who dutifully tells me....."You should have bought a Mac".

Once on the computer,(six hours and a million dollars later) I search for a phone number to call the 'customer service representatives' of ______ p.c.'s. The regular phone web ensues, (another monologue of monolithic proportions of which I’ll spare you the details) and I finally get a person on the phone. (Keep in mind, I only have thirty days to complete this task, according to the box.)
I am now searching for the little airline vodka bottle I had stashed in my drawer as a reminder of my first trip backpacking around Europe in 1979.

The 'lady' tells me to put some in one envelope, and others in another envelope and send them to the same address. I decide, while this is the equivalent to plugging her ears and singing la la la la, I will follow her questionable directions. I buy two large envelopes, fill them with various pieces of cardboard, photocopies, copies of the warranty, and copies of the sales receipt and spent $25.00 sending them to California as the weight of the five inch cardboard was significant.

Three weeks later, and one day after the deadline, I receive a letter stating that I did not, in fact, put the right pieces in the right envelopes, and why they wish me mazel-tov on purchasing my PC, they cannot grant me my significant rebate. During this time, a colleague has purchased her MacBook, and shows me an  IMovie which she produced in an hour and a half. It's brilliant, and I am busy trying to buy a program that will allow me to integrate video with the photos I have taken for the school. I give up, and work on her MacBook at her house.

I call California. Work my way through the phone chain and eventually get another 'lady'. I feel a shrill one coming on. She says she has my two envelopes in front of her, and that I put some pieces of cardboard in the wrong one.

"Perhaps you could manually change them?" I ask. 

"I don't think so." she says. 

"Could I speak to your manager?" I ask.

She sniffs; I am subjected to a further twenty two minutes of infuriating Enya hold music and then am told by a voice "We are now closed. Goodbye." Promptly I am cut off.

Back to the PC. We (the $80.00 an hour computer guy and I) are attempting to install something one of the 'Bobs' told me was just as efficient as the coveted IMovie. It makes a movie, alright, but what is a transition? It doesn't know. Music timing? Nnnnnope. 

I have worked now on my colleague's MacBook and because it is hers, I am unable to take it back and forth to my home; so instead, I drive up and down the dreaded Kingsway Avenue. I swear and mutter under my breath as I delete porno spam on my e-mail, and as unidentified red 'x's come up with a bunch of adjectives that only Bill Gates would understand.

I wait for my paycheque to go up, or the prices to go down, or, for the morning I receive a call from the radio station and tell me that my maniacal days driving down Kingsway are over; that brown and yellow shirts are a thing of the past, and that this talented art instructor will not heard screaming, 'Die you !!#$@%%* piece of *&&#%@@%! in front of my impressionable daughter again.
The fate of the motorists on Kingsway is uncertain at best.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

the river is wide

my life is not what i had thought it might is also everything i thought it would be...

how i was, in a rowboat in the midst of the ocean in a storm with one oar. waiting, muscles trembling, rowing and pulling, only to go around in circles, sloshing water being tossed around head hurts back aches nose runs

back and forth

back and forth

back and forth

i find my rhythm. eventually the back and forth becomes rocking. the steady, predictable, comforting rhythm of my life. eventually the other oar appears, (and not because someone crawled into the boat to help me row, to ease the work, to calm the storm, to ford the waves).

finding the rhythm myself has resulted in the spiritual equivalent of the blue walls which lull me to sleep. her breath in the next room. the wood creaking with neighbour's footsteps above me. the endless joy and complete satisfaction that the faces of the students give me. the gifts of the mundane. the dark 1912 wooden wainscotting that envelopes me at night, the perfect plum in the refrigerator, the words from a friend i sat beside in grade four. the tree that turns red from the outermost branches. the brief glitter far out on the ocean when a small wave captures the sun. i go to sleep content. wake up. content.

and yet

a friend hands me his wallet and keys to put into my handbag, gentle hand on the small of me back i am remembering are you o.k.?

details become gestures of intimacy. taking me to the place where the oh resides. cracking open the door that has been shut tight to keep the light out. i watch him carry my daughter to the car, small arms curled around his neck, sleepy on his shoulder, checks her seatbelt and i think

i'm only resting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

run colette run

i received a note from last night, informing me that dean baziw was wondering how i was doing. that he had found his wife on the internet, is a successful real estate agent in calgary and had two step daughters in australia.

i have vague memories of high school. not because my consciousness was altered....i just wasn't that present. that evening, i am standing at the kitchen counter in the dark, eating poptarts, and swilling chocolate milk to wash down my 'bio-identical' estrogen, flipping through my high school yearbook, looking for dean baziw.

i found my own picture...not dean's and was giggling out loud at what i had written. favorite memories...going to washington with leslie....i smile....running from the school counsellour, mr. koipoilli......ambition....super mom......phys-ed....



i look over at the front door, where the brand new nike adidas something or other sit, unblemished, laces perfectly tied, the mr. clean sponge close by in case i should feel like running and might need to perform a quick touch up afterwards. i too will learn the questionable health benefits of feeling like my lungs are burning and i want to fall over afterwards.

but i'm not. i'm eating poptarts and estrogen tablets. happily. i am waiting for 24 to come on so i can watch torture scenes under the guise of entertainment and feel smug about being canadian. i am defrosting packages of ground round for dinner tomorrow, a sad and pathetic ground beef replacement that i disguise with taco seasoning because eric told me that ground beef will kill me. i'm listening to the sounds of pascale breathe.

and then, i remember.

why i wanted to be 'phys-ed'. i had spent most of the summers of my childhood and teenage years shrieking with laughter on a crystal blue lake in the interior of british columbia; the nights sleeping on the beach by a campfire under a mansion of stars, unattended by adults.... because life wasn't full of pedophiles or kidnappers.

at least they weren't at sandcastles resort.

august afternoons on boiling hot inner tubes, and mornings waterskiing with eric and his brothers. they were athletic types from washington that would make the drive north every summer with their families. they skiied around plastic 'boo-eys', their arm sweeping the surface of the water as they carved their ski around the plastic; pulling the boat back just slightly with each turn. they played football, and basketball and they ran.

eric was funny and i was funnier. i thought. i liked who i was when i was with him, we would catch up every year and later would go back and forth to visit each other. i would see his basketball photographs in the sumner newspaper and would hear of his team playing some final something or other in the superdome.

it seemed so NATURAL to be athletic. after one particularly riotous kelowna summer, i thought, shit man, i can waterski... eric showed me how. so what if i fell into the surface skimming weeds we called 'the paranoia'? eric would drop off as well. he'd yell at me that i better goddamn get up on one ski as the paranoia was curling around his legs and he wasn't very happy about it. i got up on one ski.

if i can ski, maybe i am athletic. i wanted to be PHYS-ED. i wanted to be carefree like eric. i thought if i were PHYS-ED, i wouldn't be worried about things. that i would feel like i were home. like i felt when i was in kelowna.

because in a school of 3000 students (just grades 10 through 12), i didn't know where home was. that fall i decided i would try out for the high school volleyball team. after running 'sprints' (badly) and realizing that the team was already chosen (they were the ones WAY ahead of me and not laughing like eric) i quit.

this summer, years and years after kelowna, we travelled to eric's house. he lives by the ocean, surrounded by fields of blueberries. he has found home. he still makes me laugh more than anyone and i wished we lived closer. he is the brother i wished i had. if i had been 'lettered' i could have married him.

as we sit in his back yard with our own families, he talks about running, and how he hated it at first and now how it brings him peace of mind. i believe him, just like i believed him that i could get out of the paranoia on one ski.

so the shoes are still here, three months later. and perhaps one day i will decide to seek out that little part of me that wanted to be 'phys-ed' when i was eighteen. i will join eric in running stories; how much i hate it but how good it makes me feel. but for now, everytime i see the face of some little person who wants to be an artist, i'll show them how to paint, and when one of them is teary because of algaebra, i'll show them how to get out of the paranoia.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

sally's dance

her fingers dance to the rhythm of the speaker
six needles flying
the long line of silky powder blue wool
converge into a delicate cone shape.

i wander around the wool shop
the spinner in the back room thumping
wooden floors creaking beneath my feet
a myriad of ochres, reds, violets, blues
the palette of whites and creams and chestnut make me hungry.

thick felted wool in fuschia and chartreuse
the melting softness of cashmere
orange scratchy mohair
that remind me of sweaters i wore
in grade six.

he brings out a felted kimono
purple with bright red poppies
his hands shaking and the shock of white hair
defying gravity

i wonder how his love affair
with texture and colour began.

i choose three big skeins
in whites and taupes
thin and streamlined and thick and soft
all in the same line

that night
in the fall
the leaves are red gold orange brown
and the park looked like it was on fire
i was curled up on my sofa
casting on
and casting off
and trying to make my fingers
like the couple i see next door
through the lace curtains
in their kitchen.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

you dance in my chest


you know, pascale,i cannot believe how lucky i am to have you as my daughter. you are brave, and funny and courageous and kind. i really think you are amazing.

hey thanks mommmy. i try.

you dance in my chest
where no one sees you.


winter collage (don't go back to sleep)

out beyond ideas of wrong doing
and right doing there is a field
i'll meet you there.

Friday, January 06, 2006

could you fetch the z file for me, colette?

working at a jewish day school, and being secular, is like witnessing the israeli government in action on a daily basis. one cannot decide how the people that are running the place got there, (usually a revolving door of administrators and board members), everyone talks through and over everybody else (especially evident at staff meetings) and it's generally way noisy, chaotic, but also lively and full of life. i have been employed here for almost twenty years, and aside from the daily aggravation of returning home with my ears ringing from the noise, the only thing that still amazes me is the staff meetings.

granted, they have improved significantly since the school seems to have moved from a conservative school of torah study to a community school, nevertheless, the same subjects debated over years drives me nuts.

our drama teacher, larry, a talented,devout gay catholic man, has given himself the job of drawing names to take the minutes of the meetings. we all dread this because it means we cannot mark math papers at the back of the library, or send cartoons back and forth to one another. we have to pay attention, as we will be asked to submit the minutes.

in the past five years, i have avoided being selected by bribing larry. i feed him chocolate, and send him dirty e-mail jokes. last wednesday, larry dramatically swished around the cookie tin and drew a name. it was not me, of course, but judith, a teacher from argentina. impossible she said, unless someone is willing to translate from spanish. i, for some sick reason, offered to do it for her. as i sat scribbling vague partial sentences,struggling to keep focused on the meeting and shoving kosher raspberry fig newtons into my mouth, i realized may be my only chance to make my mark with my secretarial the event i am ever fired for insubordination.

i present the foundation of my new career.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Respectfully submitted by secretary extraordinaire, Colette

Food : Better than average. Instead of those nasty little white and brown hockey pucks masquerading as Girl Guide cookies, we were treated to raspberry fig Newton type things (quite tasty) and juice boxes, as well as an array of tea, coffee, bottled water and other cookies that I personally didn’t indulge in but looked inviting. A thank you to Donna and Cathy for feeding us.

Time Management: Shockingly well done. Meeting was pronounced over at the stroke of 4:30. This phenomenon could be a result of several variables……

-plastic chairs are not comfortable and make people want to leave quickly.
-we all finally agree on something, thus not needing to beleaguer points over and over.
-the fact that there were about ten guys in suits circumnavigating the school (reportedly plain clothes police officers) made everyone want to get the hell out of there.

Regardless of the reason, here’s what went down.

1) Timetables and Prep Periods

The deal is that some people have a ton of prep and others have pathetically few. Cathy and Donna will work to ensure work loads are considered when adding or removing prep periods to provide the minimal amount agreed to after the collective agreement was ratified.

2) Open House

Cathy reported that the board is more than interested in having an open house. Fortunately, Cathy opted for a day event, and not a family-teacher-student camp retreat that would involve packing toothbrushes and seeing students on a Sunday morning over a pancake breakfast. Open discussion was encouraged to discuss possible dates for this event. Sally Piccinato optimistically suggested the 30th of June.

The month of April was generally agreed on, provided it doesn’t interfere with all of the ‘Yoms’ that tend to pile up, after all, an open house on Israel Independence Day may be a wee bit much. It was also pointed out that having a class of 25 with parents and grandparents in the room all day may be a bit crowded.

Another committee was struck, and Tamara, Faidra and Sharon have volunteered. If you wish to be a member of this committee and are not tied up with the graduation committee, young entrepreneurs committee, Strathcona, sports day, guest artist committee, literacy/school wide write committee, all the yom committees, pesach committee, tote committee, Purim committee, uniform committee, lunchroom reformation committee, Remembrance Day/Kristallnacht committee, Terry Fox run committee, industrial first aid committee, earthquake committee, yoman committee, Special Education committee, pro-d committee, collaborative planning committee, musical committee, Hannukkah committee, staffroom clean up committee, staff advisory committee, strategic planning committee, negotiating committee, vttta committee, shabbaton committee, choir, or parking committee, please consider volunteering.

3) Pink slips, er….I mean pink forms

Please submit pink absentee forms ahead of time if you are able to. Also, a list of substitute teachers will be typed out so each teacher may know who is available to sub. That said, a reminder was given that while teachers are free to request certain subs, not to book your own subs, but to please call Denise.

4) Another Open House

On January 11, 2006 there will be an early childhood open house that will take place in the morning. Loris will be displaying N4 artwork in the library showcase, and the rest of the bulletin boards need to be changed and done before this day.

5) Counselor

Jessica is off on maternity leave beginning this Friday. J Mention was made of the impact she has had here and the many students she was able to guide, thus taking the owe ness off of the staff and administration. In the meantime, she will not be replaced, but Donna and Cathy will be taking over any student issues/crisis/problems until Jessica returns.

Bon Courage, Jessica!! We will miss your calm and capable presence.

6) Bingo Night

On January 26, (Thursday) a Bingo night will be held to raise funds to purchase much needed televisions, vcr’s and dvd players to replace our antiquated ones. Funds raised will also be used to contribute to the cost of petrol for the school bus, and towards the cost of Strathcona.

Teachers were asked to collect the bingo items that will be coming in, and volunteers have been arranged to assemble the prizes.

Time: 6:30-9:00 p.m.

Bingo caller-outers- Fred and Rabbi

Back up bingo caller-outer- Larry

There was some talk about crowning the King and Queen of Bingo but it sounded so weird I didn’t write it down and now it’s 10:00 at night and I have forgotten. So sue me.

7) Uniform Committee

It’s baaaaaaaack! This never ending committee has a new round of members. They are, Ellen, Ahuva, Faidra and Lisa. Good luck.

8) E.S.L.

More students with E.S.L. requirements have registered at Talmud Torah. Cathy has applied for an emergency grant to the Federation to hire an E.S.L. resource instructor. Position will be posted internally as well.

9) Strategic Planning Goals

They are:

-student achievement and quality education
-mutual respect and collaboration
-spiritual development
-strong leadership
-school climate
-enlarging staffroom and adding a sundeck. O.k., that’s a lie.

Well, that’s about it folks. Judith sends her regrets for not rising to the occasion of secretary, but since there is no one to translate Spanish, she has promised me extra prep time and a cheese panini from Safeway in exchange for doing this.



Friday, December 30, 2005

christmas tree altered photograph

in 1966, every child in grade one received a tiny seedling in june. we called it our 'grade one tree'. dad planted both my sister's and mine. this is mine now, nearly forty years later. leslie's, on the other hand, is missing. i think my dad ran over it with the lawn mower. i tell her it is a concrete symbol of my greatness. my parents have always been like this tree. 




a few summers ago, a large fir tree in our back yard was growing so large it began to lean against the garage roof. my mom sawed a chunk out of the roof to accomodate the tree, rather than to cut it down. that is the metaphor of their greatness....


slept in. pascale is at her dad's. wonder how i got middle aged when i still feel like i am twenty one? o.k., i am much wiser, thank god, calmer, (occasionally) but MAAANNNN that went fast. spent hours on the phone last night with the best friends, annie baking a cake for me that followed indian food and sar and i, as always having our nightly hour conversation that spanned topics from good bras to the male psyche to this. how to blog. our daughters. the ex's. cool words.

what do i want for my birthday this year? besides the WAY cool motorcycle boots i bought yesterday at the Brown's sale??

-sex in my forties would be good.

-the news that my kidney matches my dad's and i can finally give him one. side benefit, i'd have enough recovery time to stop the treadmill of teaching full time and mothering full time. i could write. cut and paste. wahoo.

-botox for free. (what??!!) half my student's parents are botox suppliers. how about instead of the box of purdies at the end of the year, some botox and restylane gift certificates? how to make your teacher happy.

-to figure out how to create website for my art. i just don't get it.

-to avoid any restaurants such as the keg where those cheery waiters sing some silly song over my bonfire of a cake to a smattering of applause. shudder.

this is turning into a new year's resolution thing. as always. the upside of having a birthday on december 30. good re-evaluation time. take stock. it's all good.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

the uneven land

in the tenth century a moorish man
against the red hills of marrakesh
enters the garden
like a moon
bends down and takes her hand
kisses it slowly
never moving his eyes from hers
here on the ocean
in the fall
the shadows stretch long down the sidewalks
gold light
blur of umber and sienna your
chalk blue eyes
making a seafarer of me
in my boat of solitude
i rest my oars
and will know 

when you lift yourself from sitting
and take my hand to your mouth.