A very strange thing happened at my house few mornings ago. It was the day of a friend’s birthday and when I woke up, I grabbed my phone to search for a photo to send her. It always takes me a moment or two to truly bring myself into the day. I often start out with a feeling of disorientation. which has only increased during the Covid pandemic.
Sometimes I have a case of the whirlies, but most often, I find myself struggling to remember where I am. It’s not like I’m used to waking up in unfamiliar places. But lately, there’s a feeling of surprise at my surroundings. Eventually, I’m oriented and awake enough to remember where I am. There is no alcohol involved in this situation. It’s just business as usual for me.
I struggled with the covers, finally sat up and found my pajamas at the foot of the bed. Once I reached a certain age, I discovered that they’d become evening and morning wear. The night was best left to wide open windows and light covers.
Anyway, after I put my pajamas on and did the kind of morning things everyone does upon waking, I started searching through my phone for the picture for my friend. To my horror, I discovered an extremely inappropriate video that was only thirty seconds long, but very revealing. The woman in it never showed her face, but she wasn’t shy about letting the world have a ‘look see’ at everything else. As the rather poor camera work showed a pair of legs, arms, and everything in between, I was too busy gasping to wonder how this piece of pornography ended up on my phone. Who was this plump, headless woman? Why would she think I’d be interested in seeing her choppy video?
Happily, my morning brain fog cleared and I realized that the woman in the video was me. When I grabbed my phone, I’d inadvertently started filming my awkward and nude exit from the bed. I’m at my clumsiest in the morning and tend to fumble around like an African water buffalo stuck in the mud. But what a relief! It was only me. There was no creepy person sending me inappropriate pornography. I myself had made the porno, and no one would ever know a thing about it. I deleted it and thought no more about it. And then I wrote this blog. So there’s that.
I’ve already written my blog post for Christmas in 2020. But I forgot to mention a few things. For example.
If you live alone, or have a tolerant partner, you might consider spending part of your day at the Hop. Not the IHop, home of pancakes and carb lovers everywhere. The old fashioned Hop, where you take your shoes off and boogie.
The benefits are many. No critics to weigh in on your dance moves so no need to restrain yourself. Just put on your favourite Christmas dance music. But nothing slow or thoughtful. The last thing you need at the very end of 2020 is too much introspection. Don’t live in your head. (Full disclosure: My whole life is in my head. But I’m trying.)
When my play list is ready, I dance. I prefer a combination of moves inspired by the sixties. The Pony, the Swim, the Twist, the Monkey, and a few Zumba elements that occasionally threaten the stability of my Christmas tree. It doesn’t matter, really. All that counts is the celebratory feeling that accompanies any crazy movements of your choosing. And if you can’t do Christmas all day long, you can still Charlie Brown it with hits from your past. Or your children’s past. One of my favourites is an old CD I unearthed called Summer of 2009!!
This is how you hold your weight gain at what I call the ‘Manageable Covid 10’while keeping your spirits up. In fact, the very best time to dance is when you’re feeling low, and you need your eye to ignore the100 proof bottle of hooch gifted by a distant relative of your husband’s. You resist by walking over to the mirror, or waking your slumbering partner, and with a fierce look of determination, say, ‘Not me. Not this time, Covid 19. I will not surrender to the lure of lying down and watching another Hallmark Christmas movie. I will dance!’
Are there downsides to the Hop? Full disclosure, yes. A few of them. But you can prevent the one I call Blue Christmas (referring to the air, not your spirits) by moving your furniture just a bit out of your way, thus preventing toe stubbing and actual falls. Also, close the curtains at night time. Otherwise you’ll experience a drive by where cars are parking outside your house even though you live on a busy street. The upside is that you’ve been someone’s entertainment, and the story they get to tell over Christmas dinner. ‘I saw the craziest thing!’ etc.
All in all, I encourage you to join me in celebrating the fact that you’re alive. If you’re using a walker or crutches, you can still take part with a few spins and a lot of hip wiggling. However you do it, I promise you this. It will help you push away all thought of a nasty virus currently curtailing your seasonal celebration. And on a Christmas note, it will bring a lot of Joy to your World.
For my parents and grandparents, there’ve been some tough Christmases. Two world wars with food rationing meant mystery meat and no sugar for pies. All those boys leaving the country. Many not returning. There was much anxiety over the future. How would things turn out? Would we still be us, or would future generations be required to heil Hitler? Happily, my generation has been spared that anxiety. Covid is the first real challenge we Boomers have faced. Yes, there was polio back in the fifties, but that was our parent’s problem. The sense of unreality that’s come with this virus is mostly due to our fantastic luck. We got to cruise through life worrying about ordinary things. Mortgages. Parenting. Will our favourite team make it to the finals? It’s understandable that there’d be resentment over the arrival of a world wide pandemic. When the news first broke, I remember thinking, it’s just a flu! What’s all the fuss about? It didn’t take long for the news to sink in that smugness does not confer immunity. And sadly, there are still many who think their grade eleven biology class and some online information means they know more than scientists and health professionals about the need for masks and a vaccine. Don’t bother! they tell us. It’s all a hoax! Okay, good to know. Thank God we have you on Facebook, educating the masses. On the one hand, I’ve never felt so grateful. Because I’ve realized that the most important thing in my life is other people. And yet, other people can drive me crazy. And don’t we all feel a little resentful that the rules apply to us? “Yes, please lock down those people over there. They’re shopping, and visiting. And partying! But I’m not, so please let me see my family at Christmas. Allow ME to break the rules, because I’ve been so very good. In spite of my sadness that I am not exempt from the rules, I’m grateful. We haven’t run out of toilet paper or food or electricity. I’ve certainly got time to read and watch television. I’ve been zooming a lot. I’d never even heard of zoom before the pandemic. I have coffee with friends on Whatsapp and Facetime. I own snowshoes. And use them. So, there are good things in my life. And yet, perhaps some of us nourish a tiny kernel of bitterness, believing this: 1. Someone ate a wet bat and then coughed in a crowded restaurant. 2.This is a scheme by foreign agents to take down the world. 3. Donald Trump is to blame. (Well, isn’t he? Doesn’t it feel good to blame everything on him? I mean, he’s just so awful.) 4. We should have shut down our borders and isolated much sooner. 5. We shouldn’t have shut down. Save the economy! Let the weak die! Really, the opinions alone are enough to sink our spirits. But we don’t let them, because we can’t afford to. We need to keep our spirits up and soldier on. This is a war, dammit. Not wearing a mask and following isolation rules is like living in London during the blitz and not putting up blackout curtains. You’re basically saying to the enemy, ‘Come over here! I’ve got a live one for you!’ Most of us hoped we’d be done with this thing by the fall. All the Covid bugs around the world would high five each other on an excellent job and head off for a well deserved rest. That ain’t happening. So we will eat our Christmas dinners in twos and threes, or groups of five for those lucky people with children still living at home. We’ll buy tiny turkeys and remember to touch base with others by every means possible. We’ll sing carols along with people online. We’ll give ourselves permission to feel sad that everything isn’t perfect. And remind ourselves that it never is, really. We just miss the main ingredient of Christmas, which is other people. We’ll continue to wake up in the morning, push away the thought that it will be the same as every other day, and rejoice that this will hopefully be our last Christmas in the time of Covid. We’ll remember what Charles Dickens said in ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” It’s us in this bipolar vortex. And when it comes to an end, there’ll be dancing in the streets. At least, there will be in Flin Flon, Manitoba, because that’s just the way we roll. Merry Christmas, everyone. During this bipolar vortex of whirling emotions and longing, we’re going to have the best, worst, happiest, saddest, most unusual day ever. And 2020? It’s already in the rear view mirror. Here’s a little something to celebrate with. (4) Fifth Harmony – All I Want for Christmas Is You (Official Video) – YouTube
I was thinking about Mr. Bean the other day while pouring myself a glass of water. I’d taken the carafe from the fridge and was filling up a glass when suddenly, it overflowed all over the kitchen floor. I also make a mess watering my house plants. And at those moments I always think, just stop it. Because, I don’t like the Mr. Bean side of myself. The one that can occasionally miss her mouth while taking a sip. But the uncoordinated of the world often misjudge the size of the glass, or the situation.
Like Mr. Bean, there are moments when no foot is too big for my mouth. I travel through life with the same goofy, good humor, but also with the tendency to say the wrong thing from time to time. Like Lady Catherine de Bourg from Pride and Prejudice, I can raise thoughtlessness to a whole new level.
But there is something that saves me from my role as the crass, uncoordinated being bouncing off the walls in my own house. And that’s spending time outside. I believe this is true for everyone, especially those struggling with Mr. Bean syndrome. ie: Feeling like a loser.
When I’m kayaking in the summer, or skiing, walking or snowshoeing in the winter, I feel very differently. It’s not that I’m particularly good at those things. But being outdoors is like receiving a back pat from God in the self esteem department. Even on the occasion when I’ve turned too quickly while lifting my kayak, thus bashing a dent into my car, I still feel okay. Because overall, I’ve had a successful outing. I didn’t drown, fall in, or even worse, stay home. I went, I saw, I paddled. It’s the same in the winter. However slowly you move, as long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other and taking in the view, you’re one hell of a success story. That feeling goes a long way toward thwarting the ‘turkey on the head’ feeling of being Mr. Bean.
There are those of you who go through life smoothly. You are the Cary Grants of the world…suave, coordinated, well spoken. Then there’s the rest of us. The ones who fear that dementia in old age is the fallout from all the times we banged our heads on something. You know you’re being Mr. Bean when you haul too many things at once up the stairs or in from the car, and all that’s missing is a banana peel to slip on. You try to hammer a nail in the wall but miss, creating a dent. Which you cover with a picture, of course. As you go through life, you tend to say things to yourself like, ‘Slowly, now. Careful. And the ever popular, ‘Don’t die.’
So, go on. Get outside. Show the world the real you, the ‘Not quite athletic but knows how to appreciate the great outdoors’ person. I’ll meet you there at the corner of ‘There’s ice under the snow and I wore the wrong boots.’ We can have a chat while we brush ourselves off.
My relationship with the subject of math has always been strained. Like every kid of my generation, I memorized the times table, learned long division and had no trouble with the basics. But once I got to high school, things changed. In the tenth grade I actually did okay due to an excellent teacher. But after that year’s glow of self worth and the short flirtation with a slide rule had worn off, our relationship went downhill.
As I was arranging the Christmas lights on the pillars outside my house, I was reminded of all those math feelings, and also of my dad. I remember him pulling out the box of lights, his face filled with the belief that this year would be different. But sometime over the past year the strings of lights had once again decided to mess with him by tangling themselves together.
‘What the…?’ I remember his shoulders slumping as he realized that sorting them out would take a whole evening. So here’s a heavenly coin, dad. Buy yourself a beer, and get one for Clarence, too. Decorating the outside of the house is not all that much fun, and I’m sorry I didn’t sound more appreciative at the time.
Anyway, back to me. As I swung around the first pillar, one foot on the top rung of the ladder and my De Walt drill in hand, a surge of vertigo washed over me. This has become my new normal, so planting my feet, I grimly screwed a hole into the wood overhead and then twisted in a hook. My problem? I’d recently come into contact with a math germ, ie: Christmas lights and electricity, and was having a hell of a time figuring things out.
All four strands had gone up a few days before, but only two pillars would light. For people like me who live in a world of faith, God, and occasionally a fairy or two, this was not good news. Was it the cords I’d used? Could one of the many strings I’d joined together be broken? (Full disclosure: I forgot to check them before winding them around the posts.) The strings had been braided through with fake greenery. Working with them can be a challenge. Especially when I’m up high, and the world is swinging crazily around in spite of my not actually being high. If you know what I mean.
I brought out a portable radio and plugged it into the cord ends along the way. Aha! One had only a single in-thingy that worked. The one on the other side didn’t. (For the official name for in-thingy, please consult google. Or anyone who knows about plugs. Or who hasn’t lost words over time. But that’s another story.)
Sadly, I have recently discovered that electricity is not my friend. When I was installing two small chandeliers in my bedroom ceiling, my brother, who was at work and probably hiding in a closet, was talking me through it. I felt like the latest hire on a bomb squad. In the end, it worked. But after that, my bathroom lights would flicker on and off at random times. I’ve changed the bulbs twice. We’ll see.
So, getting the lights around the outside of my house to actually work was very important to me. I’m basically like every two year old you’ve ever met. ‘Do it myself!’ That’s the toddler’s motto I cling to these days. I don’t know why. Seriously. I have very helpful friends and family members, but I like to experiment with things that might kill me.
As I was testing the cords, figuring out where I could plug in what (eight cords were now involved, snaking along the wood facing of my overhang and tucked into the now installed hooks) I realized that I really wished magic was a thing. I wanted to be Hermione Granger and just wave my wand and mutter a few words like ‘Stringem upem.’ No wonder they enter Hogwarts at age 11. You don’t have to worry about things like math when you have a magic wand.
Fortunately, a few verses of ‘How Great Thou Art,’ seemed to do the trick. I don’t know if God saw it as a bribe (it was not, it’s my go to theme song for panicked moments) but in the end, everything worked out. Will I remember how I did this next year? No. I will not. Otherwise, I would have remembered doing them last year. This is not the kind of thing that sticks in my brain.
So if you drive by, please appreciate my hard work, math efforts, and ability to stay on the ladder while surfing a wave of vertigo. And I will appreciate your work, too. We Christmas lighting people have to stick together.
I was busy rebuking my toaster yesterday when I had a revelation. It had burned my single piece of gluten free bread, an item expensive enough to make me swaddle it in butter and honey and eat it anyway. Our friends may recognize us for who we are, our family even more so. But nobody knows us as well as our household goods. This includes walls, floor and ceilings, but most of my vitriol seems to be aimed at my appliances.
I try to be the kind of person who thanks them for their service as recommended in that Japanese book about not holding onto crap. But I’m more like an ungrateful girlfriend. I fall into abusive verbal behavior very easily. And for my poor vacuum, there’s not a court in the land that will hold me to account. ‘You clean my floors well,’ I say to my Dyson. ‘But why does your cord insist on getting caught in the furniture feet? Why do you always make me walk across the room to bend over and untangle it?? Why, Mr. Dyson? Isn’t that your job? Things seemed to be going so well when I first bought you. But lately your attitude sucks.”
Next, I give my drill a serious lecture. ‘Why won’t you hold onto the bit? My job is to hold you. Yours is to grip the bit and let me get this screw into this board!’ As I holler, I can sense all the tools in the house shivering in their poorly organized cases. The walls hear everything. And I am not a silent whiner. Even before my husband became a landed resident in heaven, I was very vocal about the shortcomings of our possessions.
And yet, I consider myself a grateful person. I am continually giving thanks, aloud, for things like my comfortable bed, warm home, family and friends. Anyone overhearing me would be inclined to think that my character is above reproach. Sadly, as my mangled can opener will tell you, this is not true.
I’m confessing publicly to appliance abuse as the first step in my self made program I’ve taken to calling ‘Inanimate Objects Anonymous.’ Before you get any ideas about joining, let me tell you up front that this is a one person group. I’m all I can handle right now. I kneel apologetically before my kitchen stove (something I’ve picked up from all those Korean Dramas on Netflix) and tell it I’m sorry for swearing at it last night. I must have programmed the oven incorrectly. (See how I’m owning up to my mistakes? This program is working!)
And then I notice the pot of soup I left simmering on a back element. Most of the broth is gone and the mushrooms and vegetables are sticking to the bottom. An almost burned smell is rising through the kitchen, along with my temper. “That damned pot,” I mutter, trying to be quiet so the stove won’t hear me. Is this a step backwards? Perhaps. I might have to give back the coin I gave myself for one whole day of nice behavior.
It’s Covid 19’s fault. Okay? There were white and black birds singing on the lake this summer that were less loony than I’ve become over the last six months. Besides going for a walk, I try to do one thing per day that gets me out of the house. Mail a letter. Buy groceries. Drop off some books for a friend. Little make-work jobs meant to shorten the day. But there are mornings when I wonder if I should even bother washing my face. Because, who cares? I’m wearing a mask everywhere I go. I could have spinach stuck between every tooth and no one would know.
I feel better getting this off my shoulders. And I’m sure I’m not the only one with a bit of a temper problem. Maybe other people don’t take their frustrations out on their household appliances, but I think it’s better than yelling at the postal worker for not giving me mail two whole days in a row.
Last night I heard strange whisperings and rustlings coming from the basement. Since my deceased husband Clarence and I have a pact that he will check in now and again, but without being creepy, I knew it wasn’t him. And I realized that if I’m not careful, the neighbors could come in search of me one day and find me at the bottom of the stairs, the vacuum posed innocently at the top, and a pot in my hand with a strange dent in it. Okay, time for another meeting. I really need to earn back that coin.
I was clearing out a cupboard in the basement when I came across a zippered case full of cd’s from my daughter’s high school years. I tossed it onto the passenger seat of my car and started going through them. The first was the Boy’s to Men song of the above title. And I thought, aw, that’s so sweet. How woke of them! It’s like they looked ahead and saw how things were going to change in the world. Well behaved men would ask permission before making a romantic move. Though I should really credit Babyface, aka Kenneth Brian Edmonds for the foreshadowing–he’s the songwriter. But still. The boys did a lovely job. I assume they’re all men now.
It got me thinking. Things are changing pretty quickly, and I’m having trouble keeping up with the movements of the day. And the language of the day. (I can picture my sister Linda reading this and jumping to her feet. ‘No! Don’t go there! We’ve talked about this! (We have, indeed.)
It’s true that I often suffer from hoof in mouth disease, and why should my writing be any different? But one thought led to the next and suddenly I was immersed in the bewildering world of political correctness. Don’t get me wrong, people. I don’t want to find myself bombarded by posts from incels high fiving me because someone is finally validating their belief that women owe them sex. Because, you know, women are alive. And they owe them this. Nuh uh. (Although, I do feel sad for people who can’t find love. But that’s a whole other story.)
I’m talking about the rush of the world as it speeds toward a more compassionate way of being. The way that boys are now being raised to be considerate, to ask for permission before kissing a girl, and to view women as deserving of the same jobs, the same pay, the same respect. This was not always true when I was little. As I said in the first paragraph, this also applies to sex. The whole song is pretty racy, and I don’t want to break any copyright laws, so go check out the lyrics. Okay. They’re not THAT racy. But I’m the woman who took many decades to realize that so many songs of my generation were actually about sex and that’s what all the background moaning meant. Who knew?
Anyway, back to the point I was originally going for. Some of us are afraid of making mistakes in this kinder, gentler world we’re all aiming for. We don’t want to call people of other colours and races by the wrong names, we don’t want to mislabel others of various sexual persuasions. I worry that we (meaning I) will turn away from a conversation simply because I’m afraid I will say something wrong. Perhaps those of us who err on the doofus side should wear signs like those carried by cars with new drivers. Something like, I have a kind heart. Forgive me if I hurt you. Tell me what I did wrong and I’ll do better next time.
Okay. That’s a bit long for a sign. But you get my meaning.
There are also people offended by those who practice cultural appropriation by doing some of the following: Wearing blackface. (Justin!) Copying someone from another race, like how people dressed up as Beyonce before the word got out that it wasn’t nice. Guys dressing up like Dave Gunn (from Flin Flon) for Halloween. Does Dave mind? Weigh in here if you do, Dave. We need to know.
There are those in hot water for writing about someone else’s cultural/racial experience. Like author Jeanine Cummins. Her book, American Dirt, is about a Mexican woman and her son escaping to the US because their lives are in danger. I don’t want to give too much away, except to say that it’s a terrific read. Some Hispanic readers were upset because they didn’t see this as her story to tell. As an author, I can’t buy into that argument. If we only start telling our own stories, the world will be a very boring place. Think of Communist China under chairman Mao, where everyone dressed the same and ratted on their parents if they weren’t walking the party line. It feels dire, that kind of censorship. I might feel differently if the book was terrible, but the writing is stellar, and the story a real page turner. It doesn’t mean that someone else can’t their own version of what it’s like to ride the Beast across Mexico. But why should the world not get to read this book? I’m backing Stephen King on this one.
I’m happy that the world is moving in the right direction. I especially hope for a really big change on Tuesday, the day of the American election. There’s nothing like the leader of the country next door bragging about how he doesn’t ask have to women for permission, he just moves in and grabs them by the you know what. Does that set the world back about 75 years? More? Sigh. Here’s a good guideline to follow. If he does it, it’s probably best not to copy him.
In the meantime, I love you all, dear readers. Forgive me when I hurt you or disappoint you. I’m trying to outgrow my cluelessness, but it’s taking me a while. And finally, I’ll respond again to the title of this blog post by saying this: I’m old fashioned! Go ahead and kiss the girl! Okay, I’m being heavily influenced by the Little Mermaid here. Wait…is that bad, now? Sheesh.
I have fallen down a rabbit hole so deep, I may end up on the other side of the world. It was a friend who suggested the trip, and now there’s no going back. It’s not a garden variety descent into obsession, either. In fact, I’ve never done anything like this before. What’s driving this deep dive? Korean Dramas on Netflix.
They have taken over my television experience. I find myself checking in throughout the day. What’s Kang Joon up to now? Has he stopped brooding and allowed himself to fall in love with the girl who literally fell from the sky? At first I worried they’d be just like Hallmark romance movies, or even worse, the Christmas ones. Thin plots, fake problems, too much decorating. But no. These people are beset by all kinds of serious situations and heartbreak. For example.
The first one I watched was ‘Crashing Down on You,’ about a rich South Korean girl who accidentally paraglides into North Korea. Enter one handsome soldier and his cadre of funny sweet sidekicks and the drama builds from there. These shows are almost Austen-like in the making. It takes a while for anyone to even hug. And when they do, it’s always accidental. She stumbles and he catches her around the waist. The music swells (with the help of a dreamy Korean pop song) and they gaze into each other’s eyes. I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to nail the chemistry every time. After 16 episodes they may have kissed only once or twice.
Their success is guaranteed by one thing: yearning. It’s the star crossed lovers gazing longingly but never able to seal the deal, trope. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Bella and Edward, Laurie and Jo. They’ve tapped into our teenage selves and shown us that for some people, it works out. Because let’s face it. Most teenagers yearn for the impossible, and we all carry those hopeful 16 year old idiot beings within us. Yes, we do, so stop denying it.
Another aha moment: I find people of other ethnicities more attractive than white folks. It’s like opening a coloring book and instead of seeing bare spaces, the pages are filled with rich hues and physiques that do not seem inspired by the MacDonald restaurant. (Though a MacDonald’s lover by the name of Clarence still holds my heart tightly in his deceased but heavenly fist.)
Another surprise: Like characters on the run in any of my novels, these people love to eat. Like, all the time. They must be paying homage to the basic human need for sharing meals. And Koreans eat differently than we do. They tend to slurp their noodles loudly and put far too much food in their mouths. This is to show how much they’re enjoying the meal though it’s usually the female characters doing this. It demonstrates that they’re just regular girls not out to impress anyone.
One of the characters is always rich, (not necessarily the guy) and one is of modest means. In this way, the wealthy character can gift the poorer one with a new wardrobe so we can all enjoy their Cinderella experience. So the love interest is both the prince/princess and the fairy godmother. It’s extremely satisfying.
If you’re interested, try Crashing Down on You first. Then step into a more gothic take on love and family life with ‘It’s Okay Not to be Okay.’ I really loved that one and cried all the way through the last episode. I won’t share any more titles because I’m not willing to admit how far down the rabbit hole I’ve traveled. In terms of distance, I may already be in Korea. And if you decide to join me there, let’s get together for some noodles.
Musically, I’m all over the place. There aren’t many limits to what I like, though once upon a time, I couldn’t handle loud music at all. As the years passed and heavy metal came into being, I realized that I really didn’t mind ACDC, or Metallica. It’s the volume that’s an issue. My older sister feels the same. Once when I was playing my Led Zeppelin II album, she came screeching into our room. “Have we died and gone to hell?” (When stressed, we all tend to quote my mother.) For some reason, Led Zeppelin gets a pass from me. I think it’s because Robert Plant’s voice is so agile and almost feminine at times.
Linda and I are not alone in our response to loudness. Some years back I went to a movie with my five sisters. The moment the music swelled and the violins/whatever the hells/ were screaming, I looked around. Every single one of us had our fingers stuffed in our ears. We’re all a bit like Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man movie. If the sound gets too loud, we have a tendency to slap ourselves about the head. Or slap those responsible. So in spite of all the talented screamers out there, this disability prevents me from appreciating them.
I like rap music, but during the rapping part, I’m always secretly wondering if the artist can sing. It feels like cheating if they can’t. The notion that rhythmically chanting poetry is an easy thing to do is obviously wrong. I can recite a poem or two…maybe even write one. But I truly don’t know how these artists squeeze all the words together, convey a message and still make me want to dance. And yet in spite of my growing appreciation, I feel comforted when the rapping stops and the crooning starts. “Ah, okay. They deserve to be famous, because they have a really nice voice.” Silly, I know. And probably an age thing.
I’ve always loved gospel, which is different from the usual ‘hymn sing’ type music you hear in your average mainstream protestant church. Because we’re not allowed to sing during Covid, my minister has been playing taped music. This last Sunday, he took a real chance and played a gospel version of a hymn we’ve sung many times. It got off to a good start and then quickly went off the rails. It was fine until one of the singers started screeching, ‘Can I get a witness!’ about thirty times in a row. First, let me set the stage. No. In the United Church of Canada, you cannot get a witness. Not the kind that will jump to their feet and shout, Amen, sisters and brothers! Preach it!’ We do say Amen, though. After someone has prayed, or maybe after a hymn we really enjoyed, you can hear some muttered Amens. To give Steve credit, he’s really trying to mix it up and have some fun, because we’re all just sitting there, not able to pray out loud or sing, or even stand. I myself plan on trying out a gospel song when I do a service in a few weeks. However, thanks to Steve, lesson learned. I will not ask for any witnesses. Especially ones with loud, high voices.
I grew up listening to two kinds of jazz. The stinky kind (Stan Kenton, Miles Davis) which had my mother repeating the phrase about dying and going to hell. Then there was the other kind… a light, loungy jazz like my sisters sing. Dad played big band music, with guys like Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. I also love any kind of World War II era songs, like White Cliffs of Dover or I’ll Be Seeing You. (Billie Holiday!) It’s good they don’t play these in grocery stores anymore. I’d be found in the produce section weeping into the bananas. It gets me, that music.
Everyone loves pop. I know there are many of you out there climbing up on your high horses and saying, ‘No way! I’m too good for that crap!’ No you’re not. We know you secretly listen to Lady Gaga or Shawn Mendes. But don’t worry. It can be our secret. I remember lying to a friend about liking Donny Osmond, because it wasn’t cool to admit it back then. But I loved his voice, and wished only that he had better material.
I learned to like classical music in university when I shared our dormitory bathroom with a music major, Shari. She scoffed at my small Strauss collection, who I considered the pop star equivalent of his day, and introduced me to Prokofiev and Debussy and some others that I can’t remember. When I joined our community choir, I fell in love with Mozart and Beethoven and all the guys who wrote really great requiems or symphonic pieces.
And then there’s Country Music, which wasn’t allowed in our house when I was growing up. I think this was the greatest barrier between Clarence’s parents and mine when they first met. My mother liked Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte. His mom loved Loretta Lynn and Hank Snow. I remember the first time we all gathered in his parent’s rec room and had a drink while listening to Vic’s favourites, ‘The Moms and Dads.’ My parents looked shell shocked when we got home, muttering to themselves and asking me if I was really sure about this guy.
I learned to enjoy some country music, even Tammy Wynette, famous for the D.I.V.O.R.C.E song. Although, who did those parents think they were fooling? You can spell things out all you want, but you can be sure little J.O.E knew about it already. Country music is like a Hallmark movie that’s been twisted a bit. It seems pleasant and melodic, but the siding keeps falling off all the houses in town. That’s Country.
My all time favourite music, besides the gold standards like the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel, is emo. Give a whiny guy or girl a guitar and set them loose. There is not a sad, slow song that I won’t listen to on repeat, unless I’m with one of my sisters. ‘Shut it!’ is their usual response. Anyway.
My least favourite music is really about the performer. I should not throw anyone under the bus, because God knows, my voice would not soothe anyone’s soul. But there is something about the artist, Daniel O’Donnell. Every song he sings sounds the same. Irish lullaby’s, hymns, dramatic songs like ‘The Impossible Dream.’ They’re all very…pleasant. If you’ve ever watched one of his concerts on PBS, you’ll notice that his audience is white haired and elderly. (And now it seems like I’m throwing seniors under the bus. I’m not! I know that many of you are at home right now listening to your Black Sabbath albums!) Daniel O’Donnell fans definitely offer a different kind of witness. “Wasn’t that lovely, dear?”
Thank goodness there’s something out there for everybody. If only politics was so easy to navigate. Come November, we’ll finally know the results of the US election. We all get to be witnesses for that momentous event, and even if we can take the tension of the next six weeks, we’ll all feel the fall out, whoever we’re cheering for. If things continue on the way they have for the last four years, I’ll probably find myself in the mood for something like this.
Well, not really. More like I met it out on the lake, shortly after dropping my butt into my kayak. That’s how you do it…you put in a leg and then drop your bottom. It doesn’t matter what your other leg does, because you’re already secure. Anyway, I was paddling merrily along the shore, staring at the rocks and belting out the Christian standard, ‘How Great Though Art.” For those who love to sing, there is no better place during Covid than being alone on the water. First came the hymn…I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder…and then I met the loon.
Immediately, the lake, rocks and forest around me were transformed into a smoky lounge. Think Rick’s Café in Casablanca. Grabbing a barstool, I silently wondered if the loon came here often, but since I’m writer, I try to avoid such clichés. “Did you come here alone?” I said, knowing they like to travel in pairs.
“Did you?” it replied with a languid but lonely look.
Pointing to the spot where I’d scattered my husband’s ashes a month before, I took a second look at the bird. It seemed melancholy, and gave a forlorn wail as proof. “Did you get left behind?” I asked. It nodded. “Yeah?” I said. “Me too. You’ll be okay.” We chatted about the lake, how empty it seemed and how all the beavers had disappeared. I’d gotten used to the steady sound of their slapping tails. It seemed eerily quiet without them.
“Beavers are just so bitchy,’ the loon said in a low voice. “Always in a bad mood. Like, no one else is allowed to swim around? I raised my glass, saluting its bitter sarcasm.
“Here’s to those who love us, and bugger all the rest.” We toasted and sipped. I must mention that while we were deeply engaged in this conversation, the lounge was growing darker and more intimate. As we leaned our elbows on the counter, I tilted my fedora…(okay, Clarence’s Tilly hat) and said, ‘Of all the gin joints in all the world…”
“You had to walk into mine,’ the loon finished with a heavy sigh, just before we heard a booming sound. We looked up. Dark clouds crowded the sky, and in the distance, thunder rolled across the heavens. Oh, the irony. I’d just been singing, “I hear the rolling thunder,” before I met the loon. Sadly, its meaning had not registered.
Quickly the loon flew upward and the lounge disappeared, leaving me to desperately paddle back to my car. As lightning teased the sky, I asked myself this. Would my rubber soled Keene’s ground me? Was my paddle just a lightning rod in disguise?
There are different kinds of prayer. Singing is one type; a celebration of being alive and able to breathe freely. Ordinarily when paddling, I sing a lot, gazing at the fallen trees, (compliments of the beavers) lying beneath the waves like ship wrecks and the gray boulders resting on the bottom like sleeping dinosaurs. As I paddled swiftly, the loon disappeared from sight and I practiced the desperate person’s prayer. (Many of us know it.) ‘Please don’t let me die here. My kids will kill me.’
Life holds all kinds of lessons for us. Like, remembering to put a foot in your kayak before dropping your bum. Like understanding that time spent with Mother Nature is like applying lip balm to a chapped soul. And then there’s this. If you meet a loon in a bar, don’t be seduced by its pretty feathers or lonely wails. Just doff your Fedora, wish it well, and leave. But feel free to call over your shoulder like I did before paddling away. “Loony, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
A tremulous answer came from somewhere far above me. I took it as a yes.