17 February, 2013

Meaningful Coincidences

 They say there two types of people: Freudian or Jungian. I’m a Jungian type of gal. Ever since I heard his thoughts on “meaningful coincidences”, he had me hooked. My understanding of what Jung was saying is, “Hey, you there. The universe is aligning its stars and there is going to be a series of events you will find freakishly random, but that isn’t to say they aren’t of great importance. So pay close attention!”  As a teenager, I experienced such a series of freakish events. They propelled me kicking-and-screaming directly into a friendship with a ghostly nemesis called Nerida.

In 1970, when I was thirteen years old, I transferred from a large suburban public high school to a small private girls boarding school in the center of Montreal. The only reason I enrolled in the school was because I needed to live downtown, so I could attend ballet lessons for several hours every afternoon and on Saturdays. Boarding school seemed a pragmatic solution for overcoming commuting hassles. What I wasn’t prepared for was the strict Anglo-Saxon school regime they enforced. Hogwarts hadn’t been invented yet. I found school uniforms, houses, prefects, matrons, demerit points, detention, and bad school food difficult to adjust to.

The teachers and matrons quickly became exasperated by my rebellious behavior. They could not comprehend why I found their Anglo-Saxon ways so restrictive. Particularly because they had had a boarder the previous year from Newfoundland, who was also a dance student, and she’d caused them no difficulty whatsoever. Her name was Nerida. What a dear child. So sweet-natured. So obedient. Such lovely angelic curly hair. Did I know her?

Right then and there I decided I hated Nerida even though I had never met her. Not because she was obviously a wimp, but mainly for her lovely angelic curly hair.

Nerida’s perfect behavior was held against me at every twist and turn. Then another freakish event happened. I had to get braces and it was an excruciatingly painful procedure. Every month I would go and get my braces tightened. The orthodontist would hover above with his instruments of torture and sternly reprimand me for having not worn the elastic bands he prescribed.

As luck would have it, he had had a patient who was also a dance student and she ALWAYS wore her elastics. Did I know her? Her name was Nerida.

Fast-forward two years … I moved from Montreal to Cannes, France as a student of the Rosella Hightower’s International School of Dance. I was ecstatic having blissfully escaped the restrictions of the boarding school regime. What a carefree existence; the type a sixteen-year-old lives when completely free of parental care or adult supervision.

A few months after I moved to Cannes, I received a letter from my mother back in Montreal. She wrote about how she’d gone into the city for a dentist appointment and decided to stay in town and eat lunch before heading back to the suburbs. The maitre d' of the restaurant she chose approached her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind sharing her table with someone. She said yes, and a charming elder Torontonian businessman came and sat at her table.

“You won’t believe it. He’s originally from Newfoundland and one of his daughters is also studying dance in Cannes. Her name is Nerida. Have you met her?”

Sure enough, a few days later, Nerida came into the girls’ changing room and searched me out. Her father had written her about this Canadian girl who attended Trafalgar (the boarding school in Montreal) and was now in Cannes.

In bursts this bubbly, curly-haired girl and runs over to me and says, “Hi. Did you go to Trafalgar?” My response, “You must be fucking Nerida.”

After note: this all happened over forty years ago.  Nerida and I became best of friends and our friendship remains deep and loving and riddled with meaningful coincidences.

15 February, 2013

Along my walk today

The bracing wind churns
Up the grey ice water and
The winter debris either slaps
Back and forth, ineffectively,
On the beach front, or it bobs
Up and down just below the
Foaming surface. It all looks
So cold and dejected, rejected,
Depressed. My boot toe loosens
The corner of a torn luggage tag...
GUA to FRA... Guatemala to
Frankfurt on a grey spit of a beach
On the Alster lakefront. What a
Story it tells. My ears are closed
Muffled by my blue wool hat. 
My heart flips though in excitement.

14 February, 2013

Treating Yourself or Others To A Treat

I want to post this English Lesson I wrote for one of my training groups. Hope you enjoy it!
It’s Valentine’s Day. Some people like to give gifts to their loved ones on this occasion. Others not. Molly Wizenberg, the author of A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, wrote in her blog:
“I’m not a curmudgeon*, I swear. I’m not one of those bitter types who while away February by spitting on the displays of pink-and-red heart garlands in the grocery store. It’s just that Valentine’s Day doesn’t really excite me. It’s not like Thanksgiving or Christmas, those holidays that come with catchy tunes to hum under your breath, the holidays that invite all sorts of baking and splurging and beautiful, endless buffet tables. Valentine’s Day feels a little stilted, that’s all. Too often, it’s like an obstacle course or a big end-of-term exam, a test to prove how good you are, or how impossibly romantic you can be. I like my romance under less fraught circumstances. It just feels more romantic that way.”
*curmudgeon: grump, bellyacher, moaner
It is easy to understand why many Germans believe the whole Valentine’s Day hype is just a circus. Valentine’s Day is not a German tradition. 
I wanted to share with you a description of what Valentine’s Day used to be, way back in the Stone Ages, before commercial marketing went amok.
During my childhood in Canada, we used to make Valentine cards for our friends, siblings, and parents. The cards were made of coloured paper pasted with napkin doilies. On the inside of the cards, we wrote poems we composed ourselves. They went something like this:
Roses are red. / Violets are blue. / I am happy to be your friend. / I hope you are happy to be mine too.
Rose are red. / Violets are blue. / I like your freckles / and your curly hair too.
Roses are red. / Violets are blue / You are so pretty / and really nice too.
Okay. You get the idea. It was not great literature. But, the thing was, we all really enjoyed making and receiving the valentine cards. There weren’t any gifts of expensive flowers, Belgium chocolates, or romantic dinners at a chic restaurant. It was just giving the people you liked a small personal treat.
Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a treat, no matter how small and no matter how insignificant the occasion? And during my childhood, Valentine’s Day really was insignificant. It was a sunny blip in deadlining ECG curve of those long cold dark winter months.
Here are a few suggestions for how you can treat yourself or others on Valentine’s Day:
  •  Call your mom and wish her a Happy Valentine’s. You will get more gold stars for this than you will calling on Mother’s Day, since that is more or less a duty call.
  • Compose a poem and send it as an email to a friend living far away (feel free to use the samples mentioned above).
  • Anonymously place marzipan hearts on each of your officemates’ desks. Enjoy the secrecy of your generosity. (Don’t forget to put one on your desk too.)
  • Take your children out for an ice cream treat. It’s fun eating ice cream in the middle of winter.
Many people don’t give Valentine’s Day gifts because they do not; a) want to be pressured to buy something on this day and prefer to give when they spontaneously want to treat someone with a gift, b) want to be part of the commercial hype
Try and recall the last three times:
  •  you gave someone a gift spontaneously
  • someone gave you a gift without it being Christmas or your birthday
  • you treated yourself to something special
I don’t know if your memory is anything like my own is, but I remember best the gifts I received on special occasions. Maybe the special occasions act as thumbtacks to fix the gift to the person in my mind.

Sharing the Love

I saw the above video last year for the first time. Today, I watched it for a second time and liked it just as much, if not more.

A lot has happened in my life in the last 12 months and I just wanted to say thank-you to all my family and friends (and you online friends as well) for your support, generosity, kindness and... love.

11 February, 2013

You know you are tainted when...

You know you are tainted when this,

makes you more excited than the news that the Pope is stepping down in the next weeks.

09 February, 2013

Favourite Sites: Slew of Podcasts II

There is no place better to find stories and storytellers than in the Internet. There are countless podcasts out there to fill your life with good stories. I've have "gone through" many over the last 10-12 years and here are some of the podcasts that have stuck to my subscription list like Velcro and I listen to faithfully.

Eleanor Wachtel is a champion interviewer. She generously sets a stage for storytellers to tell their stories every week, in Writers And Company . Ms. Wachtel's questions writers about their work and their lives. Her interviews are well-prepared, probing, prodding, expansive journeys. The writers are give a large berth to explain and explore how their personal biographies or life experiences contextually influence their writing.

One of the interviews I have listened to countless times is titled the Irish Panel,

"This week, the magic of the Irish short story, then and now - with Roddy Doyle, Claire Keegan and Kevin Barry."

If you delight in lively banter and the discourse of master storytellers, this is a good place to start.

Michael Ondaatje interviews Eleanor Wachtel on the occasion of the show's 20 anniversary. It turns out that Eleanor Wachtel can give as good as she gets.

Next on the list of my Top 5 Favourites is, This American Life.

"The radio show and TV show follow the same format. There's a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It's mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There's lots more to the show, but it's sort of hard to describe. Probably the best way to understand the show is to start at our favorites page, though we do have longer guides to our radio show and our TV show. If you want to dive into the hundreds of episodes we've done over the years, there's an archive of all our old radio shows and listings for all our TV episodes, too."

This is the trailer to a fantatic show they did in NYC and live-streamed across the US, Canada, and Australia. Sure wish I had been there, but watching the video is also fun.

Last fall, my daughter and I met up with my mother (from Grenada), my sister (from Santa Cruz), in Toronto. Coincidentally, Ira Glass was giving a show on the future of radio during this time. My daughter and I not only got to attend this fabulous show, but we also got to meet Mr. Glass in person.

When we went to pick up our tickets at the box office, we followed a line of people into the theater, not knowing it was the back stage door. Once we were in the theater, we realised we had made a mistake and explained this to the next security guard we met. Somewhere in the explanation I said, "We are here to see Ira Glass...", and the security guard translated this to "meet Ira Glass". Subsequently, he escorted us into a closed bar area that turned out to be where all the CBC VIPs were taken to so they could chat with Mr. Glass before the show.

I did manage to gather the nerve and introduce my daughter and myself and thank him for producing such a wonderful show. The whole encounter was thrilling, awkward, and embarrassing all at the same time.

Here are three other podcasts telling great stories for you to explore as well:
Please leave the names of your favourites storytelling podcasts as a comment. So, there you go. Start listening.