Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Grateful for N

I've gone through several names during this temporary visit to Earth. My parents wanted to name me Adam, but then I was a girl. So my birth name was Nicola. Shortened to Nicky, then Niki.
Then I got another name, actually a whole new persona, an alter ego, and this name was Rivka, not even a name I've ever liked very much. But many, many people feel tender and warm about the Rivka person: she is a doula and birth attendant, and a friend, and a teacher/mentor.

Toni Morrison has the same problem:
"Toni Morrison was born Chloe Wofford, and still thinks of that as her real name. She picked up the nickname “Toni” in school (from her saint’s name, Anthony), and Morrison was the last name of her long-ago ex-husband. To this day, she deeply regrets leaving that now world-famous name on her first novel". NYMag
"Myself is kind of split. My name is Chloe. And the rest is… that other person. Who is able to feel, or pretends to feel, or maybe really feels, or at least reacts to celebrityhood. " (The Guardian Interview)

So, we're stuck with names we didn't ever really grow in to, and I am always grateful for Niki, who keeps me grounded and reminds me of who I really am.

Niki runs, and sails, and plans things for next week, and says she'll be there in five minutes. She drinks a wee bit too much, and swears a little too much, and she wants to live in many places for the rest of her life, and thinks Rivka is a bit of a weirdo, and a bit of a wuss.

I am so grateful I'm me, and her, and them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

M is for Mother

My mother died almost exactly two years ago. I miss her pretty much every day. We didn't have a peaceful relationship, far from it. But I knew I could call her anytime, if only to chat about plants.

My friend wrote a beautiful piece when I let her know that my midwifery certification had arrived just hours before my mother died:

I sit here now, in Bali, at dawn, in the quiet as birds awaken... and cry for your Mother's passing. This is HUGE... as the Human StarGate that opened to bring You Earth~side, has been destroyed. One door closes and another opens, and you become a CPM. My head is shaking in wonder. I believe that when a woman's own mother passes, she becomes the new Wise One, a role you are very prepared for. And... how perfect that your CPM popped through as that door was slowly opening to allow your mother to slip through to the other side.  
The doorway between our world and the next, is one and the same, it swings both ways, opening for Birth and opening for Death... 

And this is what I wrote: Tribute to my Mother.

I hope that people can have a last peek at the smallish whirlwind that was my mother.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Grateful for L


Woke with a memory of Lydia, when she was
just fourteen, with a loose-toothed smile and 
dirty blonde hair, looking at me like I could fix things.
She told me a poem in my dream, we were standing
by the water of the Thames, then we were older, and
the water was still green and grey, dirty. 
No one was dying yet. There were papers. It was urgent.

Trawling the street in front of
the police station, Emma’s photo in one hand and
your letter in the other,
waiting for tomorrow.”

And Sara keeps asking me about the seeds, those white,
pearly things in my dirty hands. Like teeth. Like a broken but
immensely valuable gold chain, tied in knots, the kind you can spend
hours shaking apart, and still never undo.

Oh, all right, the seeds, the smooth, time-heavy warmth and Oh! 
the promise in those seeds, the seeds:
promises of flowers, Lydia with her funny smile, and lovely Sara, and Giotto with his broad loving backs, and those round, white, eggy, fragile seeds.
And the love that no one can ever paint just right, so we make do with poems, and flowers, and dreams, and still life, and real life.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Grateful for K

I am grateful for Kampala. I was born there, and that fact taught me a lot about preconceptions, judgement, belonging, wandering, colonialism, love, subservience, race, heat, memory, and dogs.

Preconceptions are sometimes funny. When my son says his mother was born in Uganda, they look at him in a funny way, and the cartoon balloon springing from peoples' heads reads: "you don't look very dark".  Also, people have thought that my parents were missionaries. That's a laugh too, especially if you knew my parents!

Judgement is one of those things we all do. I have my prejudices, although I'm not going to air my dirty laundry here, I know that I am judged for many facets of my existence. Being born in Kampala gave me an early insight into people's prejudice and knee-jerk need to pigeonhole.

Belonging, ah! belonging! A thing I've never felt. I spent my first three years in a paradise that was, as most paradises are, a touch unreal. From there I was swept off to Calgary, the land of snow, cowboys and Dallas gas men. I felt like the only girl in the whole town with crooked teeth and frizzy hair, and a dad who thought "puck" was a swear word.

Colonialism, that bugbear of the 20th century. I have though long and deep for much of my life about how colonialism has transformed our world. Of course, every generation always thinks theirs is the first to experience big events. I know that colonialism is an ancient practice that springs from one human's need to dominate another.


Subservience. In Malawi, when I was a skinny traveller eating mangoes, an older woman called me "memsahib". That was sad, and struck me down.

Race. Another place we can hang our coats of distrust, hatred, otherness, prejudice.

Heat! I love feeling the air at 37 degrees, or blood temperature. I love feeling sweat on my face, I love the sun, I love a rainstorm at 4pm, I love never having to wear a jacket.

Memory: When I finally returned to Kampala when I was 23, twenty years after I had left, I emerged from the plane and smelled a smell that felt like home. Fruit, sweat, woodsmoke, an unidentifiable perfume that the tropics emit. I went to the market in the center of Kampala - that was after Idi Amin but before the Ruandan genocide and before Kampala grew into the huge city it is now. I remembered the market. Nothing else remains in my conscious memory.

Dogs: When my mother was pregnant with me, her neighbor had two German Shepherds that were trained to kill anyone who entered the grounds of his house unannounced (read black Africans looking for work or begging). One grabbed her arm with his large teeth and wouldn't let go. My lesson learned was that dogs are very loyal, obedient, and can be killers. Ditto people.

Wandering - the opposite of belonging. Cavafy speaks better than I do on this one:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I, the grace blocker

I've been stuck at the letter "i" since the 14th. This is three days I've been thinking about things I am grateful for that begin with "i". Ink, because I love books. Invisibility, because I love magic. Irises. 

So, today, I am grateful for "I". I am grateful that I am me, and that I am someone I can actually get along with. 

I'm grateful that I've always been me, from the time I first remember, right up to this very minute.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Grateful for Home

Home is where the heart is. Over the years, we have built a few homes here and there. I've had the pleasure of learning how to build, alongside my husband. I've knocked down stone walls, built them up, placed large chestnut beams, tiled floors, and watched him work wonders with plumbing, electricals and the less fun side of building, like drywall and plaster. I'm not so great at masonry but it just takes practice.

Home is also the smell of baked bread, laughter, the wood stove, everyone yelling at each other, music, babies crying, the silence when everyone is asleep except for a newborn and a suckling mother, the ringing of phones and excitement when a big family visit is planned.

We've had big fights at home. We've cried, been desperate, lost people, broken things, had bad things happen. But its still our home, and I am so grateful to have one.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

G for Grace

Yes, G is for grace, goodness, god, garrulousness and granola. But today I am grateful for Geese. Growing up in Canada is pretty special. Although I was born in the tropics, I spent my childhood in view of the Rockies, but as soon as I could leave Cowtown I did and travelled all across this large country, marvelling at its distances and bare bones beauty. One place that always took forever to get through was Ontario, with its lakes, forests, dirty towns, space station landscapes, and those big old birds.

When you see the geese in March you know that the season that smells like dog shit is upon us. Spring in most of Canada is a tortuous affair, where small flowers creep out of the snowy ground and blind you with their bright determination to be alive. The geese have increased in population recently, but they still fly south in the fall and north in the spring.

When I had a farm, we had a filthy pond where the geese lived. Family myths among the kids grew in that pond, daring rescues from near-drowning. When we would argue, which was often back then, the geese would take up the spirit of the screaming match and they would start to holler too. The kids tell me now they were afraid of the geese, but I never was. They knew I had the upper hand, in the form of a rope and a sharp knife. Mama kills.

Our geese on the farm were big and white, with bright orange feet and beaks, not like the dark and smaller Canada geese of our home.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Grateful for F for Friends

I am very grateful today for my friends. I've had friends my whole life, but I remember the very first moment I made a friend. It was when I was four, and Pam Rothenberg lived two houses over. She became my best friend for a few years.

Just to spread the love, I will include some friend pictures. My best friend is in quite a few of the images - we've been friends for over thirty years. If any friend reads this blog and you don't see your picture - come by and visit and we will do selfies. I love you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March Gratitude the Fifth Day

I am grateful for many things the begin with "e": elephants, eggs, eggplants, endings, energy, and so on. But today I am particularly grateful for Egypt.

In a metaphorical sense, Egypt was always the place of slavery that the chosen people escaped from. I feel very uncomfortable with the concept of "chosen people" so I don't really like to think that one through much. But I do like the idea of moving away from a place of slavery. And I love the story of the midwives who continued to accompany mothers through birth, and chose not to follow the law that required them to kill the male babies.

But in my own story, Egypt was a wonderful place. We landed up in Cairo after a rather disastrous "meet the family" episode in Israel. I realized that I might be forever entwined with a narcissist, but I didn't realize it consciously so I tried to be polite. Cairo was full, smoky, sweaty, smelly. It was lovely. It evoked everything. We were only there on our way south, but Sudan was proving difficult to go to, so we stayed in Egypt for six weeks while we waited for visas. We stayed in Cairo for a while, in an awful decrepit "guest house".  Poets, drug addicts and travellers hung out there, waiting for the next adventure.

We went to see the pyramids. Some women gave us fresh pita they'd cooked on the walls of their bread oven. Then we went into the Sahara. I remember at a truck stop, we sat on a bench and waited while the men prayed. The call to prayer was coming from a little transistor radio. A dog was chained to a tree. The sun was light blue.

We were dropped off at an intersection by a gravel pit. The truck left as the sun was setting. The old man who guarded the two huts gave my husband a big rock to put on the inside of our door, in case he tried to come in during the middle of the night after me.

We made some friends in Assiut, where we had to go because I had caught a terrible desert cold. We spent every day together, from early in the morning until very late at night.

I am grateful for the fact that I have those memories of travelling the world, together with my love, and that I can remember Egypt and the desert and the prayers and the minarets and the hash and the sun and the cold and the striped cucumbers and the sweet oranges.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Day Four Alphabet Gratitude

Today was a hard day to be grateful. I struggled with making sense of the fact that I have created a life where I cannot do what I am best at - midwifery. So, I have a kickass cafe, where parents and their children (and everyone else!) feel welcome and comfortable and eat the best food in town. And I teach. But it hurts when I am in a birthing room and I can't do my thing.

Today I am grateful for Dogs. This may sound too corny but let me explain: I have three scary stories to tell about dogs.
One: I was sitting pretty in my mother's womb, all excited about being born, with my head nicely flexed and pointing towards the ground, when suddenly my mother made a movement in the air as she was speaking to her ultra racist colonial neighbor (think Uganda in the 1950's), and the dog he was holding jumped at my mother's arm and wouldn't let go. Dog was killed, I flipped breech and refused to turn, my mother had a horrific scar on her arm until the day she died.
Two: Fast forward 18 months. I am playing with Skippy, my grandma's dog. Grandma throws a ball and Skippy and I run for it. Skippy wants it badly, so he bites my head. I have a large scar on my head to this day, where no hair can grow.
Three: Fourteen years later, I am in Calgary, walking from the bus stop after attending a rock concert. The windows of perception had been thoroughly cleansed and I was enjoying my walk across the baseball field. The moon was full, the snow was deep with a thick layer of ice. Life was good. Suddenly four large dogs appeared and circled me. I was terrified. I stood still and slowly started to spin around. I glared at them and without making a sound I willed them to go away. They did.

Six months after my mother died, my son really really wanted a dog (not connected realities for him). We went to the SPCA and got a puppy. See above. She has cured me of fear. She's always happy to see me. She never complains. She is honest, kind, and always ready for fun. She brings me her disgusting rag when I'm feeling sad. She never lies. She feels bad when she does something wrong. She is uninhibited.

Now I'm a dog person and these are random canines (and human) who are also part of our extended family.