The Queen suggests…

The first few hours of the year 2020 are dressed with finely sifted snow. No hollering or screeching of tires, just the old trees rumbling peacefully in Gage Park. Some fireworks to the northwest begin at 11:55 and continue for fifteen minutes. I sense a breathing out in the world, like a photographer does, after taking a shot that requires patience and utter stillness.

2010 to 2019. Quite a decade.

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Houses. Ten years ago I lived in a house I’d spent five years building with my husband. Three years later I walked away from both – a good move. I will forever miss the trees there, and the walls I built with my parents but to stay would have been unthinkable.

I lived in four beloved places in that decade after I left the house with the trees. Released two of them, built a tiny, sacred one that will anchor my soul for lifetimes to come. It’s a seven-generation kind of place. Has a heartbeat.

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Cars. Chelsey the Tercel, Sam the 20-year-old red Impreza. Katie the silver Fit, and now Indigo Thomas, just cleaned inside and out by my family, in time for Christmas. All cars loved, two of them grieved like old friends when they passed on – Sam developed a hole in his gas tank, but for two weeks after I kept driving him anyway. The unbelievable cost in gas was necessary in my process of letting him go.

Music… a decade of cello – teaching, playing, cajoling, gigging, laughing, snorting & cursing (happily) at tricky bits. No regrets there, but I did eventually injure my bow arm and now must pay attention and play differently. My old friend  – (now ninety) with whom I bonded when I was sixteen – came back into my life. He sits across from me now like a strong anchor in stormy seas. Not an instrument, really. More like my grandfather whale.

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A great deal of learning and discovery about the capacity and stretch of my own minds (heart, brain and gut). Their limitations, too. Funny how doing a Masters in Community Music extends my awareness and insight into so many things that I’d once thought were not related to either community or music. Like writing. Painting. Or just …art, in the world. For and about people of all species, for and about provocative relations with the world.

Family. Our home was packed up, distributed and sold; my dad passed too after a slow battle with dementia, having mostly made his peace with humility by the time he chose to go. I read in his chair now, my book is lit by his lamp. I hear him every time the train passes my house. Ten months before the decade’s end I moved into a place five minutes by foot from the house where he lived between his ages of nine and twenty-five. Up the street from the stadium where the Tiger Cats won every home game last season. In a way that makes sense to me, I know they did this for Dad.

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Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, my parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards, institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights. A house of many many great gatherings.

I live two minutes by foot from Gage Park, whose trees were no doubt climbed by my dad in the late ‘Thirties, and twenty-two minutes by indigo blue car from the park where Ontario’s reintroduced Trumpeter Swans spend the winter.

I moved myself here to make art in whatever form it comes, in collaboration with past, present and future. To make a meaningful third anchor for myself in this Treaty 3 land (1792) of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Attiwonderonk and the Anishinabek nation., this city of immigrant workers, artists and broken old industrial buildings, where 125 years ago the wives of the cotton, then steel industry magnates made certain there was an art gallery of note, and began collecting good work.

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These broken old industrial places are connected to our shame, that as a city we prospered early on the labour of African slaves stolen from their villages, as we deforested then paved over the astonishing beauty of 10,000 years of traditional Haudosaunee territory. The rows of immigrant worker houses are connected to the fires raging in Australia, the melting ice caps in Antarctica. the steam and fire still belching from the steel mill to the tar sands in Alberta and to all those who continue to insist that money is the most important thing.

Now the artists are here, to tell the story of where we’ve come from, and where we are going.

Here in the beginning of a new decade, our payment for unchecked colonial, industrial and now neo-liberal greed comes due. We all arrive, willy nilly, at the place where we question our entitlements. Each of us is called to be accountable to ourselves, and then to all others – including other-than-human others.

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Rage is good as a fire-starter, but it can’t be sustained; it burns itself out, leaves a dry husk behind. I much prefer curiosity as fuel for creativity. It is sustainable, can participate in a full spectrum of observation and emotion, can offer up epiphany and insight, understanding and compassion, but it cannot live in a place of fear.

It’s my sense that we need to find our way to courage, to muster enough curiosity to balance the fear. That this, not anger, is a good way forward.

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At age ninety-three, Her Majesty The Queen of England maintains her dignity and decorum, even as she carries the inherited sceptre and shame of British colonialism. She suggests that we take this next decade one well-considered step at a time.

…small steps, taken in faith and in hope, can overcome long held differences and deep seated divisions

internal inquiry into a considered response

There’s no other way to heal, I think.

I’ve read this many times.  It is lodged in my blood now, where it often sings me awake at night, sometimes until dawn.  It is in my belly too, still mostly undigestible.

The difficulty lies in the difference between what my heart reads and what my head understands.  Or maybe that’s where the difficulty lies. I’m not sure yet.

We learn battle-readiness, to defend our tender new-budded truths.  We are misinterpreted; this can break our hearts.  We misconstrue, often to preserve the rightness of blame, the righteousness of feeling hard done by; this will initially comfort and inevitably constrict.  In the end the effect is the same:  diminishment and poverty. 

I can’t name all of the possible alternative choices, but they are known by their effect: gratitude, openness, expansion.  Love.

Oh, the bluster and the poverty of me!  As though what sparks my interest should dominate all else, till there’s no breath left in the room, and the small simple beautiful thoughts creep away to hide their perfect nakedness.  Lest they get burned by the mocking loud, the snorting judgement, the braying, betraying complaining whine.

I don’t regret this bluster- it has been an important tool for survival these many years.  I do amend it now that I’m out of survival mode:  more heed paid to the exquisitely naked, small simple thoughts.  The tiny observances, the two-way conversations held safely in trust.  All the time in the world to listen well, with love.

It is one of those nights – my blood sings me awake at 3am and now dawn sits pregnant in the east.  Sheets and sheets of luxurious rain cool street and soil after weeks of heat too strong for the season.  I am grateful for the known comfort of this natural balance, counterpoint to my tender-sore conundrum. 

What to do?  I ask the morning, as she emerges. 

In response, the rich rain sings of gravity, release, surrender.  

Family. We are family.  I have no good answer to this difficulty, for how can I be who I am not, even if who I am offends so?

So. Let the rain and the tears fall where they may, in gravity, release, and peaceful surrender.  May the good answers come over time like waves on the shore, with no urgency. Small and simple, held safely in trust.

Value

What an intense beginning to October it has been.  It feels like I’ve been birth canal-ed – squeezed into a ‘passage through’ from that September of structural change (schedule, mental, energetic) into this October of ‘Now, GROW’.  This is the first morning of stillness after a massive storm of People and Events and I find myself looking around in wonder, like a newborn.

bridge on the way to my weekly class at Laurier
Bridge on the way to my weekly class at Laurier.  Like a birth canal, save that I come back through it every week at midnight.  Always an odd sensation.

I played back-to-back gigs in three completely different genres from Friday until Sunday at 2pm – the fallout from those rehearsals is over there…

Oh yes, and Friday was also my birthday. Why the roses...
Oh yes, and Friday was also my birthday. Why the roses…

I threw my old loveseat in a dumpster on Saturday too – the old pullout that didn’t pull out was my bed for the year after my marriage ended in 2013 and despite its’ size and brokenness, the ragged sides ravaged by cats and the seat pillows I never did finish reupholstering, I loved it dearly.  We pushed it over the edge and it opened one last time to say goodbye.  I whispered thank you for holding me before we drove away.  The tears that came then (and now, I’ll admit) are proof of my exhaustion.  Change.  Sigh.

Plaid. High back, which makes me feel short. Longer by two feet. hmmm.
Plaid. High back, which makes me feel short. Longer by two feet.

This new old couch has good pedigree (people very very dear to me have sat and slept here) and I have high hopes for it’s eventual ‘rightness’ in this space, though it still feels awkward. The studio cats have shunned it, so far.

I suspect it will grow in usefulness as I settle in to the habit of reading books, annotating books, blogging about books and commenting on the blogs of classmates.  This is how doing a Masters in Community Music translates into daily life. Ha – even as I write I know that’s not even the half of it.  This masters pervades all levels of now – how can it not, when books entitled Music and Mind in Daily Life (Clarke/Dibbin/Pitts, 2010) are on the week’s menu?  Every class from 7 until 10 pm) we talk about what is meaningful and authentic. How this changes when music becomes a commercialized product.  What does it feel like, to share musical space, to tell true musical stories that resonate and mix across personal and political cultures.  How music is so naturally inclusive, yet so easily distorted by projections of class, identity and politics.  How Music changes things, always.

Books like food. Masters is like eating and eating when you know you are already full. An exercise in stamina...
Books like food. Masters is like eating and eating when you know you are already full. An exercise in stamina…

I have not found ‘normal’ yet.  In the openness of this morning I look at my weeks and think, something has got to go.  There’s not enough room, currently, for the things I need to do, for the books I need to read.

And yet this is a stage in any valuable long-term project that I recognize, and relish – a good exercise in using emotional intelligence to understand what’s going to be supportive, gain me greater clarity, sharper focus.

And what is not.

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I’ve added things.  Cello lessons every other week (we are changing my right thumb position, working on my bowing, and fine-tuning my ears).  New cello students.  A string ensemble gathering every other week.  Learning lead vocals on two songs – one gaelic, one by Robbie Burns, for a mini-tour in Toronto in 2 weeks.  A drawing class for people who think they can’t in November, functional art making, and visual art making for a Studio Tour in December (this is how I will PAY for the masters – I have commissions and buyers, but so far no time to do the work).  Christmas mini-tour with my favourite musical collaborators.  Regular family visits.  Good, slow time with my dear and significant other.  Time spent listening and laughing with old and new friends.

It’s a lot, yes.  Doable if I practise smart self-care.  If I can find and work from a new lightness of being.

There is is.  I know what I need to let go of.  All the old heavy I carry that’s not mine.  Stories that are long over but still stuck in a run-on sentence.  Time to close those old books, and burn them.

Ah, that crazy beautiful bridge.
crazy beautiful bridge.