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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Furusākuru (Full Circle)

More than 65 years ago, my mother embarked on quite an adventure when she boarded the Danish hospital ship Jutlandia for a year-long tour to Pusan, Korea during the Korean War. I've told a bit of my mother's story before and awhile back, I even found a YouTube video with footage from that tour of Korea. You can see it here if you are interested in knowing more.

Sometime during that year, the Jutlandia sailed to Japan, possibly to re-supply and to give the passengers, doctors, nurses and support staff a bit of a rest from the war itself.

Having immigrated from Denmark to Canada shortly after the war, my mother always told me that if she had flown from Vancouver to Japan, she would have travelled the circumference of the earth. She never had that chance. When she died in 1972, my father spread her ashes in the back yard at my suggestion. All I could think of at the time was that my mother loved the garden and the flowers. I obviously didn't give it much forethought, and when my father and stepmother moved out of the house years later, my Dad decided to save me some of the dirt from the back yard. He put it in an old antique creamer that my mother had bought years before, and I've kept it on a bookshelf for all these years since.

A few months ago, my youngest daughter decided she was going to take a trip to Japan to visit a friend who is teaching English there, and the thought hit me: why not send some of the dirt to Japan with her so my mother could finally make it there?

I made the suggestion and my daughter was immediately on board. The only thing we were worried about was how she was going to explain a bag of dirt to customs and security at the airport! So we devised a scheme.

We took some of the dirt from the creamer, and my daughter ground it down to a fine powder.

Then she added a little bit of water and made a tiny pancake that could fit into an eye shadow make up container.

When it dried, she dusted it with a little bit of glitter just to give it some panache!

I told her that when she got to Japan, she should wait until she found the perfect spot to spread it.

The other morning, I got a text message on my phone at about 5am. Knowing it would likely be from her, I got out of bed and went to the living room to read the message. It was a picture that I didn't quite understand at first because there was no accompanying text:

A snowy scene on what appeared to be the side of a mountain.

Then another pic came in:

It looked like some sort of stone monument from the same place. And then another picture came in and it all started to make sense:

This was the little make up container that we had put the dirt into.

The next thing I received was a video that my daughter took of herself crumbling up the dirt and sprinkling it into a little pond of water beneath the stone monument. And finally, she sent a picture of where she was:

This is Gifu Castle, about 40 or 50 miles north of Nagoya, where my daughter is staying during her visit. She sent other pictures of herself walking around the castle grounds in the snow. It was beautiful. It was perfect. I always told my daughter that she had inherited my mother's love for the beautiful, the glamorous, the lavish. It certainly didn't come from me! So I thought her choice of placing a little bit of her grandmother at the base of a castle was exactly the right place.

Let's face it, it's just a little bit of dirt from a garden that had my mother's ashes spread in it 45 years ago. I don't know if it was from the same area, or even if my father remembered exactly where he spread her ashes. But it doesn't matter. I think my mother would be absolutely delighted that her granddaughter would smuggle a tiny part of her memory to another country so that she could finally claim to have made it all the way around the earth.

Furusākuru. Full Circle.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ignore the Gift Guilters!

I have a guitar student for whom the madness begins sometime in September. She has to start ordering stock for her small retail business then, in preparation for Christmas. For her, as for many small businesses, Christmas is a make or break deal. I haven't seen her since November :-)

It seems that ever since I can remember, people have been railing about the "commercialisation" of Christmas. How awful it is that we focus so much on gifts, and not as much on being together. I've even gone off the rails a bit myself when seeing Christmas decorations in Costco in August. I mean, come on. Are people really thinking about the yuletide when the ocean tide is still calling? Maybe in Hawaii!

The fact is, however, that I don't see the harm in gift giving at all. If you choose not to, then by all means, keep it that way. But don't try and guilt trip the rest of us! I like giving presents and watching someone eyes light up at what I've given them. I like receiving something that I love, or something that makes me laugh.

And yes, I even like the commercials.

Writers and producers can be so creative, and know how to hit the soft spots. Sure, it's their job to sell a product or a service. But I can certainly appreciate a commercial that has been really well executed, especially the ones that tug at my heart strings. I'm not going to automatically turn into a zombie and mindlessly buy a product I don't want or need because of them. Are you?

Yes, we are a materialistic society. We have been since Coca Cola came up with the image for the Santa we all know and love today. That was in 1931, by the way, right around the beginning of the Great Depression, oddly enough.

We like things.  We enjoy giving things. It doesn't make us monsters.  Most consumers like myself also know that Christmas isn't just about things, but we often get blamed for over-indulging or spending too much. I think we need to come out of the shadows, we Gift Givers and fight the Guilt Givers. You'll see them show up in your Facebook news feed over the next while posting articles with titles like "Christmas Has Become Too Commercial" or "We've Lost The True Meaning of Christmas". As if the spirit of Christmas could actually be obliterated by the sound of cash registers. It can't really. But a lot of people think it can. The Guilt Givers have actually been trying to convince us of this for years. Still, I haven't seen any evidence that Christmas and the true meaning of it has died yet.

In fact, see a lot of great things at this time of year: people organising fundraisers, special meals, donating to charities and buying gifts for people they don't even know. At a fundraiser that I volunteer for every year, I see people donating clothes, toys and money with big smiles on their faces. I see people politely letting someone in ahead of them in lines, and then I see it happen again. Sure, there are frustrations when everyone and everything gets so busy. But there is a positive energy to this busy-ness.

So here's what you do if you meet a Gift Guilter who throws your materialism in your face. You ask them if they've ever received a Christmas gift that they'll never forget. Because I can almost guarantee you, they'll remember one. Even if they don't tell you.

Gift Givers unite!
And Merry Christmas :-)

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Light Gets In

I must have been just conscious enough to hear the ping on my iPad, which was on the night table beside my bed. I knew what it meant.


It was one of the news organisations I was subscribed to announcing the winner of the U.S. election. And I knew who that was, but I refused to check it out and confirm it. Who cares? I thought to myself. I rolled over and tried to sleep a little more. But I couldn't. The whole night had been a write off anyway.

Like many others, in the last few months I have been glued to every news organisation I could find an app for, with my TV on in my little office almost all day, and scanning Twitter constantly, hungry for news of any new scandal about him. I won't say his name because it makes my stomach churn. And every day, it seemed he found a new low.

I rolled over and reached for my iPad. Okay, I thought, I'm not going to read the results, I'm just going to log on to Facebook. There was still a tiny speck of hope in me that things had turned around and I wanted to hang on to that for just a little while longer. Then I came across a post from Dan Rather, who was attempting to calm the fears of his readers. I have been reading a lot of his posts in the previous weeks, and he has been a thoughtful, intelligent voice of reason for me, someone who can still my deepest anxieties. At the end of his post, he wrote the word "Courage". And I cried. I don't think I've ever, ever cried at the results of an election before. It surprised me.

Later on in the morning while I sat drinking coffee with my husband, he said "Remember, things aren't always as good as we imagine, or as bad as we imagine." And that's when it hit me. I have to find some kind of peace with what has happened, and especially with myself. So I've barely paid any attention to news of any kind in the days since.

I know what's going on. Pundits are yabbering on and on about what this means, what's going to happen, why the election went the way it did. After every commercial break, CNN is declaring "BREAKING NEWS!!" even though they'll be talking about the same thing they were 10 minutes before. Reporters will be following his every step, his every word as he gloatingly grabs his prize. And I don't want any of it.

I also have to still my own horrible thoughts, which come out of nowhere, even on a nice, quiet walk in the sunshine. The temptation is to imagine what will be a very different future, and how this could even have happened.  But the fact is that I am powerless, there is nothing I can do except to stop allowing myself to be swallowed up by fear. I'm still here. We're still here. There is good in world, good people with big hearts who do wonderful things.

Instead of imagining the Apocalypse, I will focus on the positive and work on being a better person. The world needs us all to become better people. That's the whole point of our existence, isn't it?

Instead of fearing the future, I will remember that human beings have always found our way past adversity, through the worst of circumstances created by mother nature, and our own nature.

Artists and poets always seem to find a way to reveal to us the truth and the beauty in ourselves. And so I leave you with a phrase from Leonard Cohen, who sadly passed away just yesterday.

There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate: What's the Big Fuss?

I never really was a big fan of Bob Dylan. I didn't much like his voice, and that distracted me from his real talent; his songwriting.

Then, in 1992, PBS carried a 30th anniversary special, a concert featuring other famous artists performing Dylan's songs. I have to say that hearing those songs delivered by people who could really sing, totally impressed me. It felt like I was hearing them for the first time.

I've seen him perform only once, back in the early 2000's in Vancouver. Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell also performed that night, and it was an amazing evening. What struck me most about Dylan was that he was actually singing. It turns out he'd been taking some vocal training in the previous few months before the tour, and for the first time in awhile, his real voice was ringing through. He even bantered a little bit with the audience, and was quite animated as he performed, and his backing band was fabulous. You can't beat all of that.

So was I surprised that he received the Nobel prize for Literature? Well, sure I was. I never imagined the Nobel Committee slipping outside the usual stuffy, leather bounds of the literary world, and considering a songwriter for a change. But of course, there are plenty of people out there who have their noses out of joint. Heaven forbid that a songwriter/poet be considered part of the literature scene! Poof! Poof! Pout! Pout!

I would challenge any of those literature snobs to try to write a lyric.

No, seriously.

I'm not talking about pop lyrics, they're not meant to be deep or meaningful in anyway whatsoever. But have you ever read lyrics by Dylan, or Joni Mitchell or even Leonard Cohen for that matter? Many arguments abound as to whether lyrics are poetry. In my opinion, most lyrics don't come anywhere near poetry. But the above three songwriters somehow managed to come very close. You can sit and read their lyrics and somehow become transported. That is true art.

A great lyricist has such a limited amount of space to say such profound things. Not only that, but they have to consider meter, rhyme, stressing syllables, stretching vowels, alliteration, all kinds of things that a plain old literary writer doesn't really need to pay that much attention to.

And on top of all of that, you have to be awesome. And I tend to use that word sparingly, because it's overused these days. But you truly have to be awesome. It is an art form that only a few are very, very good at.

One of the reasons the Nobel Committee chose Dylan was because of his “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” I'm happy to see the Nobel gates open to include songwriters in the literature category. Apparently, the Times They Are A-Changin'.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past 
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

- Bob Dylan, 1964