Google+ Followers

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Great Leveler

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. - Jorge Luis Borges

Two weeks ago I was with my friends up near Parksville at our annual spa getaway.  As we were getting out of the car at the entrance to the resort, I spotted a dead bird lying on the side of the parking lot.  For a moment, the two of us who spotted it paused, and expressed that moment of "aw".  It was freshly killed, although by what means I couldn't determine, and if I had reached down to touch it, it would probably have still been warm.  Instead, I turned away and walked into the resort with my friends, more or less forgetting about it.

One of my favourite Buddhist articles, and one I turn to and re-read every now and then, is called "Time and Impermanence in Middle Way Buddhism and Modern Physics" . It's an interesting, if somewhat mind boggling examination of the irreversible process of time and decay from both a physics and a Buddhist perspective, and ultimately it is a gentle reminder of the great leveler:  death.  Since the event of my mother's passing when I wasn't quite 15, I have been alternately curious and terrified of the idea of death.  In the western world, we tend to hide dead bodies, or when they are displayed, as in an open casket funeral, the bodies are dressed and made up in order to preserve something of the person that used to reside in them.  In other words, we try to make them look as if they might be sleeping, but not dead. We don't like to think of death and we do everything to avoid it, both emotionally and physically.

At the age of 15 I had no frame of reference to make sense of my mother's death;  it seemed only a cruel, dark and frightening event that I immediately began the process of trying to forget.  I have since experienced the passing of many people, some were close to me and others were simply acquaintances, and each time it happens, I am brought to that same emotional quagmire where there are no answers to any of the big questions.  It seems for many of us that the emptiness that comes with the death of a loved one always carries with it the same list of questions.  Why did that person die and where did they go, if anywhere?  Human beings are wired to wonder.  Some of us have our spiritual beliefs to fall back on when these life events throw us for a loop, and they give us comfort to some degree.  But even with all of those spiritual explanations to the mysteries of life, I'd venture to guess that the original questions still exist for many people, even if only at the back of their minds.  My mother's death sent me on that inevitable spiritual quest and eventually I found my peace with it.  I'm grateful my children haven't had to experience the same thing at such a young age.

But last year when we had to euthanize our cat, my daughters faced the end of a life for the first time.  Up to that point, they'd never gone through the loss of anyone dear to them, so this was as close as they'd been;  a sobering event and one that brought about the usual list of questions.  My daughters are both young adults, so they weren't exactly asking me "Mommy, why?", but I know they were both grappling with what it all meant.  I watched them grieve in a way they never had before, and became acutely aware of my own inability to take their pain away.

We buried Picard the cat in our back yard in a place where he used to love to lie in the summertime.  And for many days after we buried him, I wondered about what was happening to his body...perhaps a morbid line of thinking and disturbing to some degree, but it was also a strange kind of curiosity.  For a time I wondered to myself if maybe it would have been better to have him cremated; maybe to avoid the discomfort of having to imagine him decaying there.  But the decision to bury him had been made long before, and so he remained in the ground, a garden stone with his name on it marking his place.

The other day when I was cleaning the kitchen, I turned on the radio, and as I worked I listened to a CBC show called The Bottom Line with David Suzuki.  I'd never heard of it before, but my curiosity was piqued when I realized that this episode (Episode 8) was about the interconnectedness of our bodies and the earth around us.  They went into some detail about what happens to a dead body if it is left to the ravages of the outdoors, whether buried or not, over time.  As gross as it was, it was also quite fascinating, and it reminded me of that article I mentioned above.  But what was most interesting to me was the idea that the earth provides us with food and water and air in order to facilitate our lives, and when we die our bodies become the same for the creatures around us, whether we are buried or cremated.  You'll have to listen to it to get the real picture, and I warn you, some of it is a bit grotesque.  But I especially liked Suzuki's story of his father writing his own obituary and what he said in it, which was a kind of thread of thought that went through the whole episode.  Now you'll have to listen for yourself :-), and in fact you can hear a podcast of that episode if you go to the link above.

One life changing experience for me took place in February of 2000, when a friend of mine passed away from colon cancer.  I was not there at the end of her life, but I did visit her body at the invitation of her family at her wake.  I had not been present when my mother passed away either, nor had I ever seen a dead body before, so this was definitely a new experience for me and I was pretty hesitant at first to enter her room.  It was kept cold by an open window, probably to slow down the decomposing process (sorry to be so graphic!), and she lay on a bed which was decorated with flowers and hearts because it was near Valentine's Day.  I reluctantly sat down on a chair by her, and eventually decided I should say something to her, but it felt kind of strange talking to myself.  Which is really what I sensed I was doing.  After a respectable amount of time, I got up and left the room.  Days later it hit me that seeing her like that was very much like seeing a dead creature on the ground;  just an empty shell of something that used to be, about to disappear back into the earth.

That event changed a lot of things for me;  it gave me some of the answers that I had been seeking since my mother's passing and set me on another course of self discovery.  Those two events, my mother's and my friend's passing, became like bookends to my spiritual journey, not that I feel my journey has ended, but I do feel more comfortable with the way I view it now.  To me life and death are a perpetual, critical cycle, filled with many smaller cycles, each in balance, each requiring the end of another one before, so that it can begin. I'd forgotten all about the dead bird until we were checking out of the resort at the end of our weekend.  The bird's body was still there, but in those two days it had already become more or less skeletal, decomposing quite rapidly that short period of time;  going back to the earth that gave birth to it, giving its body back so that other creatures could be, for a short time, given life and allowed to thrive.

IJ

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shades of Grey

IJ in Maui on the lanai with a beer...
Winter on the wetcoast can be a grey and dreary affair, but for me this last month has been anything but dreary.  At the end of January I spent a marvelous 9 days in Maui with my husband, and only last weekend I was back at the spa with my fabulous friends on our annual getaway.  What a spoiled brat I am!

To top the whole month off, I have finally managed to finish recording my last CD...one that has taken me over 10 years to complete.  I've been pondering the question of why it has taken me so long;  the last CD I released was in 2000, and I actually released two of them very close together.   "Catnip" and "undressed" came when I was at the top of my game, having a very prolific period of writing, recording and performing.  But at this point, I haven't written a song for several years, I have stopped performing completely, and finishing this latest project has been such a long and arduous process.  What gives?

My only conclusion is that I was hijacked by personal events and menopause.  When I first got married and started having children the same thing happened.  Life got in the way of that self-centredness that is needed to write and/or record.  You can't be so terribly self-involved when you're raising kids.  But as they got a little older I was able to, for little bits of time, run upstairs and finish my first recording, Foolishly Fantasizing.  And in my 40's I was a lot freer to do those kinds of things, so writing and recording and performing became more of a focus.  But menopause brought that all to an abrupt halt.

Okay, I guess it wasn't really abrupt; it probably snuck up on me gradually and then became very apparent in my late 40's and into my 50's.  The inability to concentrate, the moodiness (which, you would think, would somehow drive some kind of creativity, but it didn't), the depressing physical symptoms, all came together in the form of a 'writus interruptous' and my usual creative flow was gone.  And other personal challenges with my family didn't help either.

So it was with great shock that I sat down two weeks ago and realized that I had actually finished the recording of "Shades of Grey".  And yesterday I came very close to finishing the mastering stage.  For those of you who don't know anything about recording, the mastering process in recording is like the final polish on a sculpture or the framing of a painting;  it essentially balances and equalizes all of the recorded songs so that they work together as a collection on a CD.

Now I'm very aware that in the 10 years since my last release, the music world has changed considerably.  It isn't as much about collections of songs in a CD these days;  now it's about "singles" the way it was back in the 50's and 60's.  You can simply put one song at a time out there in the universe and possibly see some sales from it on its own, but for me this is a collection of songs that all belong together.  The subjects of the songs range from longing and lust and letting go, to recognizing the reality of relationships, to getting older.  I've always been attracted to writing about what I consider the "grey areas" of life, so the CD title is a play on the word grey which is also the colour of a few strands of my hair these days!

And in a way, there is something very final and finished about it.  I said to my husband a year ago that I just wanted to get it done.  And if I never write again, at least I will feel that I've finished something rather than just letting it all just hang there.  So I am finally reaching that point.  Once the CD is done and the cover, which is being designed by myself and my daughter, is finished, I'll announce it here.  You'll be able to sample bits of it and I'll likely do another blog entry just about the songs themselves.  So stay tuned.

Now that I think of it, maybe the events of the last last few years will give me a new crop of songs!  You just never know...

IJ