Archives for the month of: April, 2012

If you’ve been reading from the beginning of this blog, you’ll remember that I’m selling my house, and that my recent escapade with bolting tenants left me shy of furniture to stage it properly.

It only made sense, therefore, to seek out a few appropriate pieces to augment my current supply, and to do this, I browsed my favourite furniture store, The Side of the Road.

Oh, sorry … did I capitalize that?  I sometimes do, because it makes it feel more quaint and charming.  Kind of like when I call Value Village, Boutique VeeVee.  But what I am in fact referring to is … the side … of … the road.

This store has enormous appeal since it satisfies one of the enduring obsessions of my life:  keeping stuff out of landfill.  I don’t know exactly what that says about me but … there you are.

So imagine my joy when, walking on Long Point with my faithful hound Maserati, I found a wide, low dresser with many drawers, translating to lots of storage, which would fit perfectly in the living room below a picture window.  It was at the very side of the road, the incontrovertible signal that, “This stuff is free for the taking!”

Excitedly, I raced home, hooked the trailer up to the car, and returned to the scene of this unexpected opportunity. Yes!  It was still there, and with it, an accompanying beveled mirror of substantial size, in perfect condition.  With the strength of a longshoreman, I hoisted both into my trailer and was off.  I don’t need the mirror at the moment, but when I eventually downsize further, I’ll want to find a new home for this jewel of a dresser, and the mirror might be needed.  Also, a perfect 3’X4′ mirror just shouldn’t go into landfill — that would be sickening — so on the way to the house, I dropped it at the church for safekeeping.

Once home, I ascertained that the dresser was a bit too tall for the window sill, so speedily cut three inches off each leg with a handsaw.  The top was quite scratched, but not beyond  redemption.  In the end, I decided to paint it a light creamy yellow, which I did in short order.

The painting completed, I surveyed my new dresser.  It looked … very serene.  Too serene.  Never one to miss out on the opportunity for a creative endeavour, I grabbed some old paint and, calling forth my inner Jackson Pollock, went to town on that dresser top.

First, I watered down some rust coloured paint, and with a cloth, dabbed a cloudy wash of colour over the base coat.  After it dried, I seized some dark green, and applying small amounts of paint to an old brush, began pouncing the colour onto the surface in a highly abstract manner.  Next came just a bit of white, then a more pronounced version of the rust.  At last, my creation was finished, and I stood back, gazing at it with satisfaction.

Now, the wonderful thing about this kind of re-purposing adventure is that you literally can’t go wrong.  Did you overdo it on one of the colours?  Dampen a rag and grab some paper towels, then wet and blot to your heart’s content.  Still not satisfied with the result?  Start all over with your base coat and it’s a whole new canvas.  Frustrated, hot under the collar because it just doesn’t live up to your Debbie Travis expectations?  Drop the whole kit and caboodle back at the side of the road where you found it, and you’re none the poorer.

But usually, you end up with something one-of-a-kind and interesting and uniquely your own creation, and you’re that much the richer for the journey taken.

The motivational writers of our day often speak to the abundance that is available in life:  that you can manifest anything you want, including palatial homes, luxury automobiles and vacation properties in sun-drenched locales.  For me, abundance is much simpler than this.  It’s the chance to live as sustainably as possible, and, in an attempt to leave a shallow footprint, to reclaim what others discard, thus helping both myself and the earth in the process.

This isn’t necessarily new age dogma:  my grandfather, an early farmer in Grey-Bruce County, believed that waste was the greatest sacrilege against God.  I often think of him when I’m in the midst of a major re-purpose.

And never forget, anyone can throw money at a problem,  But it takes a really creative and imaginative mind to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

I live in an abundance of my own making, one which stretches me and fulfills me and pleases me.

I invite you to join me there.

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I was driving home from Simcoe today,when I beheld a sight that brought joy to my heart and saliva to my taste buds:  the asparagus farm where I buy my annual spears of green perfection had put out their sign.  They were open:  asparagus was to be had, and immediately!

I’m sure there are people who don’t experience the orgasmic delight I feel when I chomp into that first delectable shaft of asparagus each and every spring, but I certainly wouldn’t care to know them.

After greeting the farm wife like an old friend, I purchased two 2-lb bags of ‘gras and left clutching them tightly in my arms, with all the proud entitlement of  a princess royal.

Asparagus!  And early this year.  O, the joy of it.

And in the midst of all this joy, I recalled something I wrote to a fellow gourmand regarding the absolute perfection of eating local.

Each year, I said, I stake out that local farm, waiting less than patiently for that sign to go up; every spring, I anxiously anticipate that first taste of the green stuff.  When it arrives, I’m ecstatic, and I revel in asparagus at every meal for weeks.  I savour it raw (yum!).  I wrap fat spears in prosciutto and roast them on the grill.  I steam the tender stalks and slather them with butter before dangling them above my yawning maw, and more or less devouring them whole.  I make asparagus soup, asparagus stir fry, asparagus frittata and quiche.  I pickle ‘gras for the rest of the summer, and even pressure-can asparagus soup to delight me during those cold, winter months.

In short, I consume asparagus until it is practically coming out of my ears.

And just when I think I never, EVER want to see another bloody piece of asparagus again in my entire LIFE … asparagus season is over!  Only the happy memory remains, to be replaced in six months by a renewed anticipation.

And that, my friends, is the perfection of eating local.  You get to enjoy something three times:  in anticipation, in actuality and in culinary memory.

Nature is one smart lady, and I am the beneficiary of her botanical wisdom.

And while I would never tell you what to do, let me just say, if you’re as smart as Mother Nature, you’ll keep your eyes peeled in your local area, and take home a few of these succulent spears some day soon.

So go ahead — put your head back, open your mouth wide, and lower that luscious line of green into your happy mouth.  After all, it’s a Miss Manners faux pas you get to enjoy in all its perfection just once a year.

The greatest talent a person can have, it seems to me, is the capacity to have faith in the goodness of life.  It is a gift I have often been lacking in my life, but which I’m now endeavouring to cultivate.

Let me explain, albeit in a somewhat circuitous manner.

In retrospect, I feel that I’ve spent the first half of my life in a trio of inter-connected studies:  to unravel the meaning of life; to fully comprehend humanity in its dichotomous tendency toward  good and evil; but most of all, to fully know and understand myself.  In Jung’s words, I have striven to own my own shadow, and my work in theatre has been an important tool in this exploration.

It only feels right and appropriate, therefore, after the introspection of my first half century, that the second portion of my allotted time on this planet gather together any understanding I’ve gained and employ it in the service of things outside of myself, whether that be mother Gaia, my fellow human beings, or the animals who share this planet with us.

And there have been certain signposts directing me onto this path.

This past New Year’s Eve, a dear friend and I decided to exchange the usual over-consumption of food and spirits for a meditation workshop, opting to enter 2012 with a clear head, a clean body and peaceful thoughts.  At this event, for the first time in my life, I took part in an activity which might be described as ‘psychic’:  a session conducted by a young woman who offers what she calls Soul Intuitive Readings.  I should tell you in advance that I am highly skeptical of this sort of thing:  I believe it’s possible that rare individuals may possess perceptions the rest of humanity does not, but I also acknowledge that there are many con men and women who seek to prey on the gullible.  This young woman , it seemed to me, fell into the former category, and, as she fixed her attention onto a point in space, I was astounded to hear her describe aspects of my life in a way which resonated fully with me.

Then, she let the spiritual bomb drop.

The next part of your life, she said, will be predominantly as a healer.

Now, this statement can be interpreted in a number of ways.  I often sense that my work as an acting teacher has a healing quality to it, both for myself and for my students.  In terms of my own life, I feel I become the best possible version of myself when I teach, since in order to do it well, you must be fully committed, and as kind, determined and ego-less as is humanly possible.  And while it is never the direction or intention of the classes, I have seen how the work of freeing oneself as an actor; of scaling the walls of fear associated with a character’s particular journey; of pushing through and past emotional blocks encountered within the work; has a ripple effect into one’s own life as well.

The characterization of healer also sounded echoes from my past.  During a collective voice class at Equity Showcase some twenty years ago, I became friends with a young woman from Northern Ontario who belonged to the Objibwe tribe.  We were taking part in an exercise in which the fifteen or so students walked about the room, encountering one another with a gaze which greeted in a free neutrality, seeking neither to give or receive.  I found that these exercises tended to become a bit stale and precious after a while, so, at this point, when I encountered my friend, I would offer the slightest of interactions:  a quirked eyebrow; a slight widening of the eyes; resulting in her spontaneously emitting a smile or a soft giggle.  At the end of one such exercise, she grabbed me by the arm, then waggling a light-hearted finger in my face, she said, “YOU are so Bear Clan!”

“Bear Clan, ” I asked, “what’s that?”

Letting her head fall on one shoulder, she assessed me with a warm, accepting gaze.  After a slight pause, she replied:  “It’s a very healing clan.”

Being a healer doesn’t imply power or uniqueness, since I believe we all have the capacity and the opportunity to heal, or to destroy, every day of our lives.  Sometimes it might mean as little as a warm smile to a stranger on the street who looks as if the world is grinding them down.  I believe it means simply to be of service.

At this point, I’m not yet sure what direction my future vocation as healer might take.  I certainly have strong views on the dangers of agri-business and pharma-business; I’m passionate about the need for the humane treatment of all living things (raccoons and rats being a major exception); I’m eager to live a simpler, more self-sustaining lifestyle, particularly if this helps counteract the injuries to which we submit this beautiful planet every day.

I’ve decided to wait with as much patience as I can muster, believing that a path will reveal itself to me, particularly if I keep working away  at things the best I can.  I’ve come to understand that service to others, while it may seem selfless, has a wonderfully selfish aspect as well:  it makes you feel so good, so connected to life and to the rest of humanity.

So now, I will simply have faith in the goodness of life, and remember the words of Julian of Norwich, who sagely said that “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

I am sitting in my living room, and with these words, I am speaking to you, who may be many miles distant from me.  The rain is falling heavily in the little orchard outside my window, which hasn’t deterred the birds from continuing in their joyful serenade.

I am having faith in the goodness of life, and I am happy.

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It often surprises me how little it takes to make me happy.

On April 1st, after my tenants made their ill-timed, not to mention illegal, departure, I moved back into my home in that small lakeside village, and began to stage it for sale.  At this moment, I’m sitting in the family room which overlooks the back yard, and I am feeling profoundly content.

This view is one which, in all weather, brings a sense of peace and joy into my life.  There’s a little backyard orchard there … five apple trees, a plum, a crab-apple, a cherry … and they are beginning to blossom with the heady abandon that only nature can fully inhabit.  The air bears the faint perfume of their efforts, and the birds have returned, bringing with them a heavenly symphony of chirps, tweets, chortles and ecstatic cries.  I have the windows open despite the morning chill to enjoy their efforts.

How could this fail to bring joy to one’s heart?

But there are other experiences that have brought me pause and made me consider the nature of human happiness.

When I moved to the church five months ago, I paid a considerable sum to several burly men to transport my furniture and other moveables the short distance between the two properties.  I was damned if I was going to encounter that enormous outlay of cash again just to return to where I’d started, so since the first of the month, I’ve been moving slowly, a bit at a time.  Because of this, I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress, supplemented by an assortment of quilts and comforters in an attempt to achieve something akin to moderate softness.  It hasn’t been awful, but neither has it been particularly comfortable.  It’s been like camping within one’s own home.

On Wednesday, I was able to secure the necessary labour to move my bed back to its former place, and that night, I sank into its pillow-topped softness with a joy near to bliss.  Oh, the perfection of a good bed, of smooth sheets that caress one’s body tenderly.  I have never had a problem wearing second hand clothing, I actually prefer previously owned furniture, but nothing on this earth will ever make me scrimp on the quality of my bed linens!

In times past, I have pulled the covers up around me at night, then nestled into my pillow with the luxurious belief that I was the luckiest woman in the world.  And Wednesday night, as well as every night since, my heart has echoed that sentiment.

A natural view, a soft bed, a good picture or two on the walls … this is all I need to transport me into contentment.  Add a cup of java brewed from a dark roasted, organic bean and I’m in heaven.  Add fulfilling work and I’m literally on Cloud 9.

In this time of transition, I remind myself that there’s nothing to fear.  As long as I have these few simple things, happiness will be within my grasp.  I have only to allow it into my heart.

Despite the convoluted nature of my personality, the intricate knots maintaining a stranglehold on my emotional baggage, I am at heart a simple woman.  And happy to be so.

And what about you?  What do you need to be happy?

“To err, is human,” the sages tell us.  “To forgive, divine.”

I concur wholeheartedly with the first half of that statement, but it’s the second for which I’m most grateful.  I cling to the belief that the force which has an eye even on the fall of the sparrow is not the vengeful Jehovah of the Old Testament, issuing hard and fast edicts, and hurtling lightning bolts or plagues of boils and beetles at those who fail to live up to them.  I prefer my higher power a bit warm and fuzzy; more apt to understand and forgive than to judge and punish.

That being said, the human race is mortal, not divine, and so forgiveness provides me with an ongoing challenge.

Forgiveness of one’s self and one’s actions is sometimes the hardest to achieve.  I’m remembering a one-time friend with a tendency to expect near perfection in herself and others.  On holiday together, we browsed our way through a large estate in Cornwall, but on the way back to the car, my friend seemed to be traveling at that high velocity necessitated by participation in “The Great Race” when large cash prizes are at stake.  When I asked whether it was absolutely necessary for us to hit Mach 1 before reaching the car park, she tersely asserted, “Yes!  I’m cold, I forgot my jacket.”  She went on:  “And I had the perfect jacket to wear today, but I forgot to bring it.”  Then in an act of acute self-flagellation, she derided herself with a venom seldom heard outside of Shakespearean drama or Greek tragedy:  “Stupid!  STUPID!”

I learned a great deal about my friend that day … about how hard she was on herself.  I had often felt she was somewhat harsh in her judgment of me, my goals and my actions, but after hearing her castigate herself so bitterly for a simple memory gaffe, I understood that anything she thought or said about me was mild compared to what she thought or said about herself.

Personally, I once took a different route to arrive at the same destination.  During therapy, which I began after my marriage went south, I would regale my counsellor with hilarious stories of incidents from my life which illustrated with bitter irony what a crappy human being I must be, since those in my inner circle treated me so poorly.  These tales took the form of little playlets:  one woman shows, complete with different voices for the various characters and an elaborate use of body language and gesture.

“Don’t,” my therapist said on one occasion when the narrative was particularly humourous.  “Don’t make fun of yourself.”

“What d’ya mean?” I demanded.  “Everyone loves my stories!”

“It doesn’t matter,” she replied quietly.  “You’re only perpetuating your negative feelings by re-playing them  like this.”  She stopped for a moment, then, gazing at me intently, she gave me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten:  “Don’t make your pain into comedy.”

Well, I thought, there goes my career doing stand-up!  But I sensed intuitively that she was right.  Picking at scabs is just that, no matter how wittily it’s done.  Instead, I began to see those members of my inner circle, not just as my satellites, put here on earth to nurture and support me, but as individuals with their own lives, challenges, joys and tragedies.  I began to see them as people, and it made all the difference in the world.  Forgiveness, in a strange way, was no longer necessary.  I came to realize that we all do our best, often in circumstances that our childhood dreams find less than ideal.  When someone does their best for you, how can it possibly require forgiveness?

Oh, yes, all fine and good for the people we love, but how about the great unwashed?  Do they also require such compassionate understanding?

This question was brought into focus for me during a recent incident involving the tenants I welcomed into the home I had lovingly renovated over a decade, and lived in happily during that time frame. I had vacated in order to be free to accept teaching assignments whenever and wherever they arose, and turned over the key to this lucky couple with a sense that I was bestowing upon them the most beauteous of gifts.

The husband … we’ll call him Tom … was in poor health when I met him.  A leg wound had left him with an infection which wouldn’t heal, and he toured the house during their initial visit on crutches and carrying a continuous antibiotic feed on a belt.   A short, wiry man with dank locks of greying hair, he had a pugilistic air despite his physical condition.  Picture Popeye the Sailor Man from the Saturday morning television cartoon of yore … much easier if you’re my age or older!  Now imagine our hero having given up spinach and taken to drink, generally increasing his seediness quotient by a factor of ten in the process:  Tom to the letter.

From the beginning of their tenancy, I was besieged with complaints from Tom involving minor problems with what is truthfully a beautiful and comfortable century home:  the lower hinge on the screen door at the side was slightly sprung, so that the door didn’t close perfectly; the snow on the roof was melting too quickly, obviously indicating insufficient insulation in the attic.  But his seminal complaint was that the heat from the high efficiency furnace didn’t reach the second floor with the same force it did the first, and this just wasn’t “normal!”

Responsible landlord that I am, I instantly sprang into action.  I had the furnace serviced, the filter in the air cleaner replaced.  I even had the ducts cleaned, and felt some slight satisfaction when the gentleman performing this service answered Tom’s queries with a confirmation that a variation in heating/cooling between levels IS normal for a house of this age.  The suggestion that small heaters on the second floor would solve the problem was met with stony silence.

My efforts to appease Tom were, unfortunately, all in vain. I received a phone call from him in late February telling me that he and his wife were going to leave the house on April 1st, as his leg was poor, he might end up losing it, and would then require extensive rehabilitation in a city ninety minutes away.  Usually a compassionate soul, my reaction of empathy was lessened due to what I perceived as a lack of credibility; it just seemed too coincidental.

“You’ve signed a lease,” I reminded him. “A legal and binding contract.  And unfortunately my financial situation doesn’t allow me to let you out of our agreement on a month’s notice.  I’ll be forced to take you to court.”  This made little impression on my pugnacious tenant.  He informed me that they were going to move out on April 1st, lease or no lease, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

I pondered the situation.  When they had first approached me about renting the house, Tom’s wife has told me they were looking for a place they could live for three to five years, perhaps even more.  On the basis of the lease, which ran another eight months, I’d made certain financial arrangements which would prove ticklish without that rental revenue.  I could try to find another rentor, but at this point, my heart wasn’t in it.  Perhaps I should just sell the house.  Alas, I’d taken their desire to find a long-term home as an opportunity to downsize:  I no longer owned enough furniture to stage the house properly for sale.

From my point of view, it was a mess.

Nonetheless, had Tom come to me, explained his situation, which was most likely that he had simply taken an irrevocable dislike to the house, and offered to meet me half way with the funds owing on the remainder of the lease, I might well have let him out of his lease with no penalty, despite the fact that it would have harmed my finances considerably.  But his complete lack of respect for my needs, or the legality of our relationship, quite frankly pissed me off.

As their moving day approached, my suspicions regarding his credibility were proven justified.  Several days before the end of March, I drove by the house to see a U-Haul the size of a commercial moving van parked in the driveway, half-loaded.  I rapped on the front door for an explanation.  Were they leaving two days early without so much as a how-d’ya-do?  “Oh, no,” explained Tom.  “I’m not moving furniture today.  It’s just the boxes and small stuff.”  My curiousity aroused, I parked around the corner and instituted a clandestine surveillance operation.  From this vantage point, I observed Tom, a man who feared his future involved life as a uni-ped, carrying large boxes and smaller pieces of furniture out of the house, placing them on the truck bed, then clambering up the four feet or so into the interior to move them to a secure position.  He was jumping up into the body of the truck, if not with the nimbleness of a mountain goat, then with an agility unusual in a person facing amputation.

The crowning event to this frustrating relationship was a call I received from the power company which supplies my little town, confirming that electrical service to the house would start being charged to my dime contiguous with the closing of the tenants’ account … on March 31st.  The day before they were actually leaving.

Now, I have to say that this burnt my toast because, in order to make things easier for their move into the house scant months before, I had allowed them full access five days early free of charge, and I’d paid all utilities during that time to boot!  Now they wanted me to cover them for their last night and day in the house as well?

Nefarious but fully legal schemes raced through my vengeful grey matter.  How about I just let the power service lapse?  Then they’d spend their last night with no heat, their last morning with no coffee!  Ha haaaa, that would show them!

I discussed the matter with sensible friends.  “Let ‘em freeze!” was their advice, delivered in a tone which left no room for argument.  I was all set for ‘payback’ with a capital P.

And that, ladies and germs, is when a life lesson sashayed into the room, made an elaborate curtsey in front of me and proceeded to kick me in the teeth.

“Is that the kind of person you want to be?” it asked.  “In ten years, you’ll have forgotten all about how Tom treated you.  But if you do this nasty thing, you’ll remember it the rest of your life.  It will define you as a small-minded, vindictive human being.”

“Is that who you choose to be?”

Hmmmmm.

“Is there another option behind Door Number Three?” I queried testily.

Sighing with resignation, I reminded myself that I had little control over how people treated me, but a great deal regarding how I responded in turn.  I embraced the wisdom of the life lesson, and called the power company to ensure that the heat and hydro stayed on for Tom’s final night and morning.

And then the life lesson turned sneaky.  It didn’t confront me directly, it wheedled and coerced.  Was it actually worth the aggravation to take these tenants to court?  Did I really want to harbour the negative energy of this incident for the next several years?  After all, it was only money … a sizeable amount of money, but only money nonetheless.  It wasn’t health or happiness or a friend’s life that was at stake.  Better, I decided under the subconscious manipulation of this wise universe, to move forward in joy and optimism, and to let this anger go.

Sigh.  I hate it when that happens.  Strange as it may seem, there’s a perverse pleasure in holding on to a grudge.  It gives you something to percolate on while waiting for your morning coffee to drip.

But … it’s not good, it’s not healthy, and it’s small.  I had let it go.

Now, I have to confess that for a while, I became as sneaky as the universe in the manner of my letting go.  “That’s fine,” I snarled in the direction of my departing tenants.  “You’ll get what’s coming to you.  What goes around comes around, and Karma’s a bitch!”

Of course, this had all the logic of the Buddhist priest turned Mafiosa.  Karma isn’t a tool of vengeance for the passive-aggressive, and I was definitely NOT letting go, I was just turning to Big Brother Universe to do my dirty work for me.

Sigh and double sigh.  Alright, alright!

I’m letting go.  I’m sending out positive thoughts that the universe will offer a lesson to my tenants regarding fairness, but only as much as they need.  A gentle lesson.  A lesson with no intention other than their spiritual evolution.

In fact, I’m wishing them the kind of lesson I ask for myself.

And here it is.

Universe, God, Jehovah … be kind to all of us here on Planet Earth.  Give us our lessons just as Mary Poppins did, with a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.  And if that doesn’t work, then and only then, smack us in the head.

I promise I will try to learn.