WORDS FOR JANUARY AND FEBRUARY

I. INNER RESOLVE

« I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it. » ― Maya Angelou

« If you wanna fly you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. » ― Toni Morrison

« And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”  » ― Mary Oliver

II. WINTER

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

FIRST SNOW  by Arthur Sze

A rabbit has stopped on the gravel driveway;

imbibing the silence,you stare at spruce needles:

there’s no sound of a leaf blower

no sign of a black bear;

a few weeks ago, a buck scraped his rack

against an aspen trunk;

a carpenter scribed a plank along a curved stone wall.

You only spot the rabbit’s ears and tail:

When it moves, you locate it against the speckled gravel;

but when it stops it blends in again;

the world of being is like this gravel;

you think you own a car, a house,

this blue zigzagged shirt, but you just borrow

these things.

Yesterday, you constructed an aqueduct of dreams

and stood at Gibraltar,

but you possess nothing.

Snow melts into a pool of clear water;

and, in this stillness,

starlight behind daylight wherever you gaze.

III. MIGRATIONS

The more one is able to leave one’s cultural home, the more easily is one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and generosity necessary for true vision. The more easily, too, does one assess oneself and alien cultures with the same combination of intimacy and distance.”
Edward Said, Orientalism

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« It’s not like your personality changes when you speak a different language.
It’s more like you’re just putting on a different pair of glasses through which to see the world each time. » —Alex Rawlings, polyglot

« If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave. »
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« […] Certainly when I’m traveling, especially to the major cities of the world, the typical person I meet today will be, let’s say, a half-Korean, half-German young woman living in Paris. And as soon as she meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young guy from Edinburgh, she recognizes him as kin. She realizes that she probably has much more in common with him than with anybody entirely of Korea or entirely of Germany.So they become friends. They fall in love. They move to New York City. (Laughter) Or Edinburgh. And the little girl who arises out of their union will of course be not Korean or German or French or Thai or Scotch or Canadian or even American, but a wonderful and constantly evolving mix of all those places. And potentially, everything about the way that young woman dreams about the world, writes about the world, thinks about the world, could be something different, because it comes out of this almost unprecedentedblend of cultures. Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going. »
An excerpt from Pico Iyer’s TED Talk
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A poem by John, a grade school student in London, Ontario (Canada), and winner of The Meaning of Home contest, which  invited Grade 4, 5 and 6 students from across Canada to submit a written essay about what home means :

THE MEANING OF HOME

Home is a place, like no other place can compare.
It gives a wonderful feeling that everybody should share.
It is the place where you find lots of new things to discover
It’s the place where all your injuries recover.
When you look at it you smile so bright.
So you think to yourself, what a beautiful sight.

You learn even more things there that you never knew.
You learn what is false, and what is true.
You learn to walk, crawl and run at home.
You will find lots of new places to roam.
Think about the times you share with family.
All the moments you spend, smiling with glee.

The memories you make there will never fade.
There is almost never a time there when you are afraid.
When I see someone without the warm feeling that I feel,
I think to myself that, this can’t be real.
But there’s a sad truth that’s looming around.
It’s been here for days, waiting to be found.

That sad truth is one that I hate to say.
There are people around who have no place to stay.
They don’t feel the same warmth and love as we do.
They don’t have the life we’re used to.
But we can bring them the help they need.
I know we can, and we will succeed.

We have let it rest for much too long.
Let’s give them a place where they feel they belong.
We can all make a difference today.
And we can fix the world the right way. 

IV. FROM SHAKESPEARE’S MACBETH

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.

—Malcolm’s comment on the execution of the Thane of Cawdor, whose title was then given to Macbeth.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
Macbeth

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”Malcolm, from Macbeth

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Malcolm (right) speaking to Macduff, after he has learned of the slaughter of his family.

REHEARSAL

I’m past the midway point of my life (at least I hope the fraction isn’t much bigger than that), and it still happens to me.

I’ll arrive home, get out of my car, head to the door, pull out my keys and, just as I’m sliding the right one into the lock, I’ll feel like I’m nine years old again, and that I’m playing house. I’ll remember how that felt, and how many times I repeated those gestures in play with my mother’s old purses and bits of junk that I collected: old lipstick tubes, random keys that had lost their use and discarded change purses, that created a simulacrum of the trove my mother had stashed in her own hand bag (minus the kleenex!).

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I’ll recall how the adult world seemed like a giant set piece. And in spite of the fact that I’ve been an adult woman for decades, there’s still a part of me that feels that it’s unreal and extraordinary that this is really my life, and not make-believe.

It can happen when I’m driving and I think: Wow! You’re really doing this!, or when I’m cooking and feel, briefly, like I’m aping TV cooks; like I’m playing.

It happened, of course, when I travelled to France and to London, England:  brief moments of stepping outside of myself and observing where I was and how close to fictional it all felt.

The term imposter syndrome comes to mind, but that isn’t right, because I don’t feel any sense of embarrassment or inadequacy. What I feel is closer to genuine delight and astonishment.

Showtime! With my grandson Graeme.
Showtime! With my grandson Graeme.

How do I do this? How do I simultaneously straddle the past and the present without feeling unnerved? What is this all about? It isn’t déjà vu. That’s more confusing. Déjà vu comes with a kind of a psychic whoosh, and a sense that the flow of time has been disturbed in a way that’s slightly jarring and puzzling, like a music track that skips.

I suspect—I hope—that I’m not alone in experiencing these moments.

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Princess Penelope. Who else?

I like when they happen. They usually make me smile (at least inwardly). I realize that I’m still that same girl—or at least, that she is still in me. Which feels impossible, because most of the time, I’m rather under the impression that I’m no longer even the person I was at 30, let alone 20 or 10…

This is some kind of paradox, I guess. That I can know that I am changing all the time and that I can never retrieve or return to what was and who I was even a few months ago, while at the same time knowing that I am still that child I remember.

 

Quantum theorists might have all kinds of ideas about this «phenomenon». Philosophers, metaphysicians or psychologists might approach it from the perspective of the nature of the self, or of consciousness or perhaps even of the soul.

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I was struck by the notion of play, as in play-acting.

Watching my son Christian go through the process of preparing for a production of Macbeth at a small downtown theatre, where he is presently performing, has got me thinking.

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Scenes from Macbeth, a Raise the Stakes Theatre production. Here: King Duncan and Lady Macbeth
Malcolm and Duncan, from Macbeth.
Malcolm (Christian) and Duncan, from Macbeth.
Macbeth and Macduff
Macbeth and Macduff

In spite of being a passionate reader and writer, as well as a devoted cinephile and lover of music and the visual arts, I’m steadily coming round to the idea that the greatest of all arts is drama.

The stage.

And not simply because of the glorious, vital, engaging, in-real-time feat of the end result, but much more because of the process of getting there.

Since December, I’ve watched the director and players at Raise the Stakes Theatre produce Macbeth from scratch (well, from the bare bones of Shakespeare’s words—a pretty great starting place).

 

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The planning, the audition process, the casting, the first meetings of cast and director, the first read-throughs, the acquisition of the text by the players, the rehearsals held in spaces rented all over the city, more rehearsals and more rehearsals, moving into the theatre space, the sets, the props, the costume fittings, tech rehearsals, dress rehearsal…opening night. And, blessedly, multiple performances after that, to fine-tune it; to make it better and better. To come as close as possible to an almost perfect work of art.

 

So many of these steps are repeated again and again and again, some from one dramatic production to the next, some within the same play. Over and over, the actors work. Rehearsing lines that are the same, but are expressed slightly differently each time; felt slightly differently each time; creating new moments and new ground within the familiarity of a process repeating itself.

The traces of each rehearsal superimposing themselves on the previous ones.

And we call them players.

How much of what they learn from their craft do they carry into their private lives? How different is this from what we all transpose from our past to our present, or from our private to public lives?

 

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I love to think that each moment that I live is simply a rehearsal for what will come next. And so on.

It feels right to think of life this way.