HOPE DIARY

I finished off my previous post with the word HOPE.

When I typed it, it felt like the only way to end a piece that was otherwise defeating. It isn’t in me to be bleak. I can’t bear pessimism for too long before I’m torn asunder, and I couldn’t bring myself to pass the despondency along to you.

But my God, in the week since the MARCH IN JANUARY, the news coming out of the United States has drenched us all with such vile and gut wrenching ugliness that the effect of reading it has been emetic.

It’s reconnecting me with my formal academic training. I am (or was) an historian by trade and the dark clouds emerging over the United States and spreading beyond its borders to parts of Europe are reminiscent of so many sinister periods in history that only the ignorant or the malevolent can ignore them.

This week, an unbridled Trump and his men did as much as they possibly could to shred the social fabric of their vast and beautiful nation in order to maintain the privilege and status of their small, coagulated, self-interested cabal.

The effect of this week on millions of people has been galvanizing.

How good it feels to know that it’s Trump’s executive orders targeting refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority nations that has just caused the pot to boil over in the country’s metropolises for the second time in one week.

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Watching the crowds, live online, at Dulles,  JFK, SFO and Logan airports yesterday chanting for hours and hours, selflessly and righteously in defense of the rights of ALL, got my pulse racing and overwhelmed me with an emotion that’s too complex to name.

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The day ended with a temporary victory as a federal judge granted the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a nationwide temporary injunction that will block the deportation of all people stranded in U.S. airports under President Trump’s new Muslim ban.

NO BAN, NO WALL, SANCTUARY FOR ALL!

 NO HATE, NO FEAR, IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE!

 NO BAN, NO WALL, NEW YORK CITY IS FOR ALL!

These were the chants in America’s big city airports—and the entreaties in countless hearts.

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As I watched my Facebook feeds, I imagined others, just like me, all over the internet, bursting with a desire to join those crowds, seeing a petite Elizabeth Warren’s face and hearing her clarion voice urging the echoing crowd: “Let’s make our voices heard all around this world”.

Elizabeth Warren at Logan airport, January 28th 2017
Elizabeth Warren at Logan airport, January 28th 2017

I know many of us were listening and watching, and checking in at regular intervals. I expect that many of my immigrant students were. I thought of my former student Nima—a lovely Iranian man who has settled in Montreal but has hopes of living in Boston someday soon—being made to see himself as something odious in the eyes of the Trump administration, and what that must feel like.

I was moved when a childhood friend of my sons—a boy who arrived in Montreal (Dorval) at the age of eight, speaking “only” Farsi, German and English, but who was fluent in French by the time he was thirteen, went on to med school at McGill and is now a practicing neonatologist in California—wrote this on his Facebook page yesterday:

I have always abstained to post political comments as I am aware that nothing I have to say will be influential. Those, including myself (maybe through denial), who were encouraged to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on what type of president he will be once elected in office, can now rest assured that all doubt has been removed. To live in a “democracy” and yet fear that my parents (Canadian citizens) may be denied entry into the US to visit me because they were born in Iran is frightening.

After having been spat at by the White House, he remains, in my opinion, far too polite, far too gracious for his own good. Still, if the measure of a man is in how he expresses himself in difficult times and what he contributes to society through his work, then the man in the White House doesn’t deserve to breathe the same air as this bright, young “immigrant”.

Volunteer lawyers at JFK preparing petitions for detainees, January 28th 2017
Volunteer lawyers at JFK preparing petitions for detainees, January 28th 2017

It means something more, that all of these expressions of resistance and human solidarity occurred the day after Holocaust Remembrance Day; that they happened on the Chinese lunar New Year.

The world has become as accessible as the closest internet connection. No borders can obviate the fact that on this improbable, beautiful blue planet, WE ARE ONE.

Learn this lesson quickly, Mr. Trump.

If a man is to shed the light of the sun upon other men,  he must first of all have it within himself. -Romain Rolland

Addendum, Monday January 30th:

 I awoke this morning to the news that a twenty-seven year old Québécois university student entered a mosque in Quebec City last evening and started shooting. Six people died and 8 were injured. In a searing piece published in The Guardian, Nesrine Malik speaks of Islamophobia having burst its dams.

I start this day fearful of the waves ahead.

MARCH IN JANUARY

PROTEST Marjorie Hawke (1894-1979)
PROTEST
Marjorie Hawke (1894-1979)

On this grey Sunday morning in Montreal, all I seem to be able to do is sit in front of my computer screen.

I was up early and had some lonesome time here; time to search online for feedback from yesterday’s Women’s March in Washington, those across the US and the world, and also here at home.

The images I’ve turned up are marvelous. Some snapped by friends (thank you Gail, thank you Alice, thank you Cindy) but most are by amateur and professional photographers I’ve never met.

The Women's March in Montreal, January 21st, 2017 Photo by Cindy Canavan
The Women’s March in Montreal, January 21st, 2017
Photo by Cindy Canavan

It feels good to look at all of the faces. Many white women, for sure, but more than that.

I didn’t go to the March in downtown Montreal. My feelings about the marches were strangely unenthusiastic. And now, looking at all of the faces and placards in the photos online, I feel a pang of sadness and discomfort which comes at least in part from a sense of guilt.

I should have been there.

Should I have been there? Why didn’t I go? Why should I have gone?

I have to say that I feel relieved that so many mobilized yesterday. It HAD to be that way. Any other result would, I think, have been a counter-productive, booming, echoing failure with awful repercussions.

I feel immensely grateful to everyone who marched somewhere yesterday. THANK YOU.

SHE SHALL BE CALLED WOMAN George Frederic Watts (19th c.)
SHE SHALL BE CALLED WOMAN
George Frederic Watts (19th c.)

There is, in part, a contradiction, an incoherence in my absence from yesterday’s March in Montreal. For the past six months especially, what’s been happening in the United States has ulcerated me.  It has stained every single day and dredged up such intense feelings of dismay, despair and discouragement that I’ve felt both fearful and impotent.

The community of writers online has been furiously, obsessively expressing its outrage and resistance to the reign of Donald Trump and his dark entourage. At first, I couldn’t get enough of it. I read and read and read and commented and searched out more. I mentally fist pumped when I viewed merciless, bullseye parody, read especially caustic and effective zingers, or else brilliant pieces of journalism that laid out the facts of the sickness that now occupies the White House.

But with each week that has passed, I’ve grown tired of this same ocean of words. I’ve become wordlogged. I’ve started to feel myself being dragged down. Lost.

I’ve been reading less and responding less to the sentinel voices. Time to see something else. To feel something else. To see beyond.

Yesterday should have been my opportunity to ACT.

To DO SOMETHING.

Mobilizing must feel good. So, why didn’t I?

There was a certain defeatism in my passivity yesterday, as I imagined the grim, contemptuous and dismissive attitude of Trump, his people and the wider circle of opportunists buzzing around him now. Blowflies.

A GLEAM OF HOPE Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre (1842-1897)
A GLEAM OF HOPE
Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre (1842-1897)

A feeling that the movement expressing itself yesterday, its message, its energy, its spirit, will soon be tainted, respun, labeled and diminished by the new President and all of his men.

I wasn’t sure what it would be like out on the streets of Montreal yesterday. I wasn’t sure what the crowd’s ultimate message would be. I wasn’t sure how idealistic, how innocent or how angry it would be. I couldn’t predict how many ways it could be misconstrued.

So I stayed home and kept an eye on Facebook.

There was lots of self-protection in my choice to do other things yesterday.

There were the voices of all of the people who have always been there to say It won’t make any difference to the things that I’ve advocated for and fought for in my life (they’ve often been right: this dismays me).

There was waiting and seeing.

Where are we headed, the vast WE who cannot accept what is? How will our course be plotted? By whom?

I don’t want the truth of our intentions usurped or hijacked.

And so, I hover. And wait. And read. And write. And converse. And live. And hope.

 

SUNRISE OF HOPE John Miller (1931-2002)
SUNRISE OF HOPE
John Miller (1931-2002)

 

 

 

 

 

MOXIE

There are people who seem to have been born old.

People to whom it isn’t possible to attach anything other than the qualities of adulthood and maturity; upon whom the traces of youthfulness seem to have had no hold. People who can be projected into middle and old age with almost no effort of the imagination.

Actor Simon Oakland
Actor Simon Oakland
Actress Mary Wickes
Actress Mary Wickes
Actress Eve Arden
Actress Eve Arden

Sometimes, when I’m watching movies with my son Christian, older movies especially, we’ll fall upon great character actors at the beginning of their careers, and after admiring their craft, I’ll find myself thinking and often exclaiming: My God, he’s probably only 25 in this, but he looks 45!

A lot of it has to do with the styles of the period (was forties fashion designed to rush everyone into middle age?), and sometimes, it’s about the face, shape, movement and especially voice of people from whom all traces of lightness, silliness, innocence and of becoming have been erased.

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There’s a bagger at the grocery store down the street that I feel very protective of. He’s been working there for several years but he can’t be more than twenty or so. He isn’t tall: maybe 5’6” or 7”. Some days, he wears glasses, but not always. He’s blond but his hairline is already receding dramatically and I expect he’ll have lost most of it before he’s forty. His body looks unloved: soft, with a belly already, and sloping shoulders that indicate humility, or the absence of self-confidence. The way his head leans forward exacerbates this. Not so much geeky as simply neglected. This is accentuated by the generic, shapeless clothes he wears. His face is gentle, mild and unassuming. You can barely hear him when he speaks.

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There’s intelligence in his eyes, a presence, and something else. Resignation? Retreat?

Every time I see him, I have the thought that high school must have been such a desert for him and I wonder what his life’s like and what his plans are. Has he found love? Will he? What are his ambitions? What are his parents like? What home life does he return to?

It’s so easy to imagine him at forty, fifty and even sixty. Even now, in his youth, he doesn’t look or act young. It makes me feel that his life path is inalterable.

objectivity-subjectivityOf course, and thankfully, not a single part of this is necessarily true.

It’s simply the way I see him and my vision is often faulty. It’s easily fooled by my subjectivity.

My mum is a case in point.

Up until recently, she just wasn’t aging. At least not to me. For the past thirty years, which have seen her live through the loss of her father, aunts, mother and husband (my dad: to cancer at 61); then seen her regroup, reinvent a life for herself and fall in love a second time, she was always my vital, energetic, indomitable, beautiful mother. Eternally so.

While I’ve been painfully aware of the signs of aging in my own body and on my face and hands, my mum remained in stasis: always keen, active, lithe and unsinkable; her vital energy not having diminished one bit, her wits about her and her face still unlined.

And then, about five years ago, storm clouds gathered again. She’s been hit, in succession, by aggressive breast cancer and the ensuing chemo and radiation; she fractured her hip in a freak accident a couple of years ago while traveling, had it mended with screws and then, just a week ago, finally had it replaced.

She’s had the sh*t kicked out of her.

It’s during these past five years that it occurred to me that my mum is, in fact, growing old along with the rest of us. It’s still hard for me to think of her this way. And yet, the evidence is mounting. The gruelling, punishing periods of sickness, surgery, injury and more surgeries provided me with a glimpse into her fragility and her vulnerability.

We’re most exposed when we’re dependent upon the care of others. When getting out of bed is something we can’t do unassisted. When we’re dressed in drab hospital gowns and bedridden. When our veins are being pumped full of poison. When there’s no point in offering a façade to others.

My mum is growing older. She’ll soon be 82, and still, if you saw her, your jaw would drop. In spite of everything she’s been through, she’s more beautiful than ever. And just as resilient.

My mum last year
My mum last year

The morning after her hip replacement, my son Simon and I went to visit her at the hospital. I’d had an anxious night, worried that hers had been tough, that walking on her own would be too much.

We arrived to the sight and sounds of my mother being wheeled out in her bed by her nurse, both of them laughing their heads off, headed to get a hip x-ray done. The nurse was saying: “You’re a superstar! You’ve done more in one night than most people do in a week!”.

That’s my mum. I know she’ll never grow old because I know her superpower. It’s moxie.

THE CALENDAR OF FOOLS

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Photo: Lisa Haney http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-night-to-bid-good-riddance-to-the-worst-year-ever-1482869972

Welcome, 2017.

As December moved along this year, similar messages and wishes kept appearing on Facebook. They can be summed up like this: Good Riddance 2016!

It’s a sentiment I understand. To anyone who doesn’t live in a cave or isn’t completely cut off from mainstream media, this year felt like one endless storm. At sea or on land, it makes no difference. We’ve still felt battered and unmoored.

Brexit, Trump, Putin, neo-fascism rebranded as “white nationalism” and the “alt-right”; climate change news that becomes more and more alarming as it’s downplayed by those who have a stake in doing so; the agony of the Syrians and Iraqis and their desperate calls for help. Black and indigenous lives which do not matter enough. And, more recently, strong media reactions to the deaths of so many writers, poets, actors, musicians and artists this year— the very best among us—the people of light whose art we’ve never needed more.

Welcome 2017, as long as you’re vastly different, is what we mean. Welcome, as long as things change for the better and we stop feeling like we’re stuck in a lesser Star Wars movie, living in the constant pall of a phantom menace.

It all resonates with me. It all feels legit. How good it would feel to peel back all of the darkness that covers us (or really, that as a species we have covered ourselves with). To press RESET. To figure out how to find our way through the desperately complex, interconnected and interdependent systems that paradoxically also separate us from one another so painfully.

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Reaching the end of the Advent calendar

This Christmas, my family received three 2017 wall calendars: one is for me, from the Reading Woman series, and the other’s a Shakespeare calendar for my son Christian. Both were gifts from my mum.  The third I received as part of a Kickstarter campaign that I funded a while ago. Looking at it brings me joy every day.

I don’t do very well with agendas (paper or smart phone) and pocket calendars. Time mostly slips through my fingers like a slick eel. But wall calendars help. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re fixed to something (though not a wall: my calendars are hanging on the side of the pantry and on a door). It may also be because they’re graphically more imposing; they’re bigger and even from a distance, I can really see time all sectioned off into squares and see the hand- scribbled entries we’ve made.

Every time I replace the old wall calendar with the new one, I feel a pang: there goes another year of my life. This small action causes me to pause. I sit and leaf through each month. My eyes rest first on the images that I’m unlikely to see again. But then, as I turn over the thick glossy pages, my eyes rest one last time on all of the annotations. What I see is the life of my family in all its banality and beauty, separated into tiny pockets of time.

img_4593All of the appointments to the doctor’s, for x-rays and physiotherapy and even an MRI that are the signposts of my husband’s year of recovery from back problems.

Annotations meant to remind me of the birthdays of everyone we love (but especially those who fly below Facebook’s radar).

All of the comings and goings: the arrival and departure dates of those among us who travelled or came to visit; my movements all over the island of Montreal where I was sent to evaluate prospective students. There’s my ever-changing work schedule too.

 

I can track the evolution of Christian’s career as an actor: the rehearsal and show dates of Macbeth; his call dates on a movie shoot; his scheduled days at the McGill Simulation Centre and his meetings with a new agent.

The impressions made by the lives of my sons and grandchildren are everywhere: concert dates, supper at The Keg and the pub, family gatherings, Penelope and Graeme’s birthdays, a visit to the Biodome and the movie premières that we always see together.

img_4592There’s also the hospital phone and room numbers of a beloved relative who endured frightening bypass surgery. The birthweight of baby Scarlett.

From car maintenance to meetings with our financial advisor, everything is there.

It wasn’t all work, and it wasn’t all bad. Some years seem cursed when you’re living through them. 2012 was like that for us, but it also marked the birth of miraculous Penelope. Experiencing that meant living through all of the rest.

Though so much of this year conspired to make us all paranoid and pessimistic, this Christmas season was one of the most sincerely kind and joyous I’ve experienced in years.

On my husband’s side of the family, almost thirty of us packed into my sister-in-law’s small bungalow and talked and played games and caught up with each other’s lives. On my side, three families came together at my son Jeremy’s and laughed and talked and were one.

Goodbye 2016. Hello 2017. I’m grateful to be alive.

Tomorrow is only found in the calendar of fools.

—Og Mandino

 

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