"Spin" in aviation training: a "stall" or loss of lift, a subsequent nose-down spin, the specific actions required for recovery, and the feeling, after recovery, that you could tackle absolutely anything!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

"Play Me a Song, Tell Me the Answer, Peel Me a Grape."

I love people.  I am amazed at how complex we are and how much we can change through our victories and our struggles.  I could never live in the middle of nowhere.  I would miss out on the impact of, especially those that have managed to tune in to their gifts.

I've seen a lot of live music.  It thrills me every time (Okay, there was one concert, years ago; "Kenny G.".  The thought of that concert, and the horror of why I actually went, is unsettling.) Whether it's the sound of a full orchestra, or being close enough to see a jazz great (Hilario Duran) move his fingers up and down the keyboard, I admire the talent.  I admire people who can sing, compose, and conduct, and I admire the kids I know that are coming into their own with whatever instrument they are playing.   Music is a big part of my life and there is nothing I enjoy more than talking about it, or sharing the sound with someone who's interested.  I love those people.

And lately, I've found myself around people who are at the top of their game in the "smarts" department.  Through several different disciplines, I have met some very gracious people, so competent in helping others.  I have watched them answer questions and offer solutions with such competence and ease, that I am jealous.  I would love to have a brain that works like that; to have all of that information and sense.  I could watch them work for days; they listen and sift and then come up with an option or perspective that fits perfectly.  I love those people too.

And some of the conversations I have been having with friends have been wonderful.  It might be the stage I'm at in my life where I am able to slow down, listen, and help to nurture my side of the exchange in a much more sensitive way, and this seems to draw people out.  And as the conversations unfold, I find that our experiences aren't so different. This seems to be a time in our lives when our kids are grown, and our parents are older, when we begin to find ourselves. It can be difficult, but the great thing I'm finding is that we're all doing it. We're all in this together and I love that. I love my friends like crazy.

 I need to be around people.  I'm soaking up all that they have to give more than ever and I'm finding that my life is richer for it.  There is no question that the future is unfolding not quite as I had expected, but frankly that's not a bad thing.  I'm actually a little giddy at the sound of my feet hitting the ground and slowly getting up to speed.  Perhaps "intensity" is the word that I'm looking for.  It is the "intensity" of the gifts I get from the people around me that I feel and am grateful for.  'An interesting life, in all of it's complexity, and becoming more interesting every day.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Toad and the Butterfly.

We see a kitchen table.  At one end, there is a Monarch Butterfly seated on a stool.  He can't sit in a chair because he can't collapse his wings.  Only a moth can do that.  He hates moths (Fucking moths!) and, anyway, he's proud of his lovely orange and black Monarch wings.  He's perusing brochures about Mexico.  A Toad walks in and pours herself a cup of coffee:

"Mexico today, Lysander?"

"Yes Natasha.  I must leave you. I don't want to go, but I must."

Natasha takes her cup of coffee and hurls it against the wall.  She looks at him...as only a toad could.

"You are leaving me to a life of torment and pain, while you...you and those wings..."

"Natasha this isn't my decision.  Can't you see?  Can't you see that this was never going to work anyway?

Natasha lights a cigarette and crouches down with her head in her, uhm...webbed hand.

"Listen, darling," Lysander says, "you know I will always love you but, really, we werent' meant to be...the wind always takes me away when we're out trying to go for a walk.  It takes me half an hour to navigate my way back to you, depending on El Nino, or whatever weather front is coming in, and by the time I find you , I'm beat.  Darling, look at me...you're all tight-lipped.  I know you're mad."

Natasha draws on her cigarette...and then eats the whole thing.  (Toads can be really disgusting.)

"I know.  I knew this day was going to come." 

She gets up and walks over to him.  She coughs because of the cigarette and lets go a huge "ribbit." Her tongue shoots out and sticks to Lysander's face.  She tries to recoil the tongue but it is stuck fast.  Lysander stands up.  His wings open with a kind of panic, clearing the picture of "The Scream" off of the wall.  The brochures scatter on the floor.  Natasha blinks.  She blinks again.  Then she eats Lysander.

The moral of the story:  Smoking is a dangerous ribbit.

(...not every post is going to be a masterpiece!  Lighten up, would ya?)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

"Two Roads Diverged in the Garden Centre...and My Head Exploded."

Poets write about nature.  They have done so since the beginning.  Rare is the scribe who jots down a few lines about the deep feelings he is having as the mortar sets in a wall he is making:

"Grey, in all of your greyness. 
And suddenly, set, like my heart, in a block.
You tumble and crush my foot, 
With more greyness and your unrelenting hardness.
I shriek and curse and apply a salve.
To Emergency I trundle and curse my love for you."

'Not really moved by that. But love, and the surrounds are captivating.  A bird.   A fence.  The eyes of some beauty.  The sounds, the smells and the feelings triggered by such are, if we give ourselves the luxury of unplugging for a while, the same things that move us today as they did our predecessors.  One of the differences though, is access.  I dare you.  I absolutely dare you to walk through a really good garden centre ("John's" south of Uxbridge) and be able to settle on the allure of only one blossom.  Oh sure, it's easy to "think that (you) shall never see a poem lovely as a tree..."  That's one tree Joyce Kilmer is talking about.  But try facing thousands of plants, all within an acre.

The only saving grace, for a poet moved by blossoms or fragrance, is that plants don't all reach their zeniths at the same time.  If they did, you might walk into the middle of the garden centre and, in three seconds, you head would explode. Right now, the Vibernum is  saucing about with a fragrance that is worthy of bragging.  There are a few Rhododendron that are showing off some purple blooms that they've been working on for a while, and off in the "annuals" section, there is a certain Dhalia that is flaunting colours that don't seem real.  That Dhalia.  She is something:

"She sifts the air for what she needs,
And plys it, drawing from the roots,
The canvass; a dress of the greenest leaves.
Upon which she adds a blossom;
The kiss of a colour only your heart knew existed.
Your head knows better and doesn't believe, 
But your heart it feels, and sees the show.
It fills with Dhalia's beauty and wants to die,
For what is left when she is gone?
Nothing, except the missing of her."

But over in another section are some Lupins. Their blossoms are geometric teases; inverted cones of colour, and absolutely worthy of another poem, and of course the Tulips, the exotic Mandavillas, the Foxglove...sensory overload.  

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both and be one traveller,
Long I stood"...and packed my car with so many flowers that my head exploded.

Robert Frost might not roll in his grave, but to set him in the middle of such a display would, I'm sure, be a challenge.  Try it yourself. You might want to make a day of it, or maybe two. No cheating.  You must consider each plant, and some plants, like Dhalia, might consider you!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Page 695?

I am about to make a cheesecake.  I retrieve the tomb that hides within it, the recipe I desire.  And I gasp. There is a page missing. Page 695, from my "New York Times Cook Book" held, with grace and form, the recipe for the most perfectly balanced, impressive looking cheesecake ever.  And it's gone; ripped brutally, undoubtedly by some villain under cover of night, or at least poor lighting.  He couldn't have settled for page 697.  He missed that gem.  It has a recipe for "Christmas Cheesecake" on it.  It's a horrible recipe. 'Candied fruit in it.  It might as well have a half cup of velour track suit in it.  I don't understand candied fruit.  I am always surprised when someone uses it in anything.  I always assume that they do so only at gunpoint; a gun held by the same bastard that took my page.

I have promised to make a cheesecake so I endure.  I look to another cookbook and fine a similar recipe.  Similar, but not the same:

20 graham crackers, broken and ashamed.  I found these hanging around a bus station.
1/2 cup chilled, unsalted, unloved butter.  Whatever.
1/2 cup tedious brown sugar.

If I remember correctly, my page 695 recipe demanded, something like:

50 butterfly wings, used only slightly.
1 galaxy of constellation nectar.
1/2 an ocean of the tears from the gods, shed after laughing so hard at Zeus when he accidently tucks his skirt into his underwear.

Mix, whichever recipe you choose, in a food processor using the pulse setting.  Spread evenly over the bottom and two inches up the sides of a big spring-form pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for eight minutes. Throw under a bus.  Or, cool on the hint of evening. 

For the filling:

4 packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese...warmed in a boot.
1 3/4 cups sugar stolen in packets from diners.
3 tblspns fresh lemon juice, ...I got nuthin'.
1 tblspn real vanilla extract or the fake stuff  which is, I'm sure rubber sweat scrapped from somebody's tires on a hot day.
1/8 tsp salt taken from the steering wheel of the 5:05 from Union Station.
3 tblspns all purpose flour. Remember, it's "all purpose." 'Handy to know if you need something to, uhm, soothe a dolphin or calm 25 butterflies that have had their wings stolen.
5 large eggs, from intense, over-achieving chickens.

Or, if I remember correctly, page 695 listed:

The creamy froth from the waves of joy that pound, all day on the beaches of calm that you hear in yoga tapes.
A sweet selection of hummingbird jokes...told by hummingbirds.
The sour from the "Sweet Tarts" that you ate as a kid.  Include the pucker effect.  (You're salivating just thinking of that aren't you!)
Use vanilla, but don't extract it.  Get the volunteer stuff...let it come to you.
Not flour, but the sound of the wind as it moves through wheat standing in the field under the prairie sun.  Wind kissed by butterflies.
Salt from butterfly sweat; the same ones in the field, not the ones without wings.
Use  several great gobs of inspiration, funneled through imagination and desire.

Mix whichever ingredients you choose, pour into the crust, and bake in the oven until the surface starts to brown. Or, as on page 695, you are moved to compose a symphony.

Let this cool slowly. Depending on your choice, refrigerate in a cooler full of old beer cans. OR, a glade visited by elves and centaurs, of an evening.

And tomorrow, adorn your cheesecake with, oh, maybe "Dunkaroos."  Or, as I remember from page 695, use the procedure for luring the best chocolate in the world directly to the cheesecake using the static electricity generated by playing any Stevie Wonder record.  Melt it with the heat from Daniel Craig in that bathing suit in the "Bond" film, or something like Liz Taylor  in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and cool it with the cool that came from watching the world premiere of "Thriller" on TV.

So take your pick.  One of these recipes is really great.  The other is totally ridiculous.  Page thief be damned.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Makes Sense.

Someone said, and I wish I could remember who, that when you look ahead at the map of your life, you really have no idea where you're going to end up.  You may think you do, but there are so many choices and situations ahead that it is rare for anyone to be able to take a direct route to where they want to go.  Conversely, when you look back at where you have been, everything makes sense.  The trick is, to believe in this "sense," so when it feels like you're lost, you don't lose your perspective on the map you have in front of you. You need to believe that you'll get where you need to go.

Last night I was honoured to host Port Perry High School's "Spring Rhapsody."  This is a night of the most amazing music played by the most amazing kids lead by the most amazing teachers.  I have written of the school and the people before and I can't say enough about what a wonderful environment these teachers nurture.  But, for me, last night was a welcomed solid directional mark on a rather jittery compass rose.  I found myself, while in the midst of a bit of tumbling, searching, and sifting in my life, pleasantly surprised to be standing right where I needed to be.  I wasn't digging a ditch.  I wasn't selling cotton candy at a fair.  And I wasn't giving a speech at the U.N..  I was, instead, speaking the truth for an art form and an environment that touches my soul.  The opportunity to do so came, seemingly, out of nowhere and there could not have been a better time.

I'm not sure how it happened, but it did.  For me this was a reminder to believe in that "sense" and to not panic.  The evening was enormously helpful in helping to re-energize my perspective and to, perhaps, not be so afraid of the future. There is good in believing whatever it is you are wired to believe in.  And for all of life's struggle and question, I have to believe that when I look back, it will, indeed, all make sense.  I am grateful.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Carpenter Bees

Just when you think you know everything, you realize that you don't. I was out in the yard the other day and spied a couple bees attending to some early-opening flowers.  I drew closer to watch, and as I did, noticed that the buzzing sound coming from the pair, sounded funny.  It turns out that the bees, carpenters both, were using battery-powered 'DeWalt' Pollinators.  I was stunned.

Carpenter bees are not honey bees. They pollinate, but then they go out for lunch.  They don't live in big hives, but rather small nests, maybe a semi-detached; something in a nice area with services and parks.  They love wood.  They're Carpenters.  Makes sense. 

"So why the flowers?" I asked. 

 The bigger one yelled up over the sound of the DeWalt and told me that they were "picking up some extra cash for their band.  Since the honey bees aren't doing so well, they've been hiring other bees on contract to help with the load, and paying quite well."

I coughed.

"Me and Jed play trumpet and sax.  You know; Jazz, and we need some dough to hire a bass player and a drummer for an upcoming gig,"  he said.

 "Of course" I said, and nodded as if I wasn't phased.

 The smaller bee stopped working, holstered his DeWalt in his little carpenter  bee belt, reached down and drank from a 'Tiny Tim's' coffee cup. He looked up at me, as he changed his battery, and explained that, "For us, it used to be all about the wood.  Life was empty and predictable.  Then one day we were chewing into the tastiest wooden soffits on an older home, when we heard the sound of Miles Davis unravelling out this window.  We stopped chewing.  We were in awe."

Then the bigger bee stopped what he was doing, nodded, and said that, "Right after that, we heard Coltrane, riding the same velvet sweep out that window. A 1959 live recording of  Davis' 'So What.'  That changed us forever man.  That stuff rearranges your soul.  It plugs you in." 

 And with that, the two reached down and pulled out a tiny little trumpet, a tiny little sax, and belted out a few bars.   It was perfect.
They put their instruments away, nodded up at me, and went back to work.  I stood slowly, walked inside and took a cool drink of water.  Then I put 'So What' on the CD player.  I listened and it all started to make sense.  The bees are more plugged in than we are.  It's no surprise that this sound grabbed them the way it did, I thought.  With that, I finished my water, looked over, and noticed the dog tapping his foot to the music. I sat upright and stared.  And I am absolutely sure,  and will swear to this day, that he winked at me.

I would never lie.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Life is a Hat.

Life is a hat.  'Pretty simple really.  I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out but there it is.  I've had many hats before, as a child, a teen, as I recovered, along with the rest of mankind, from 'Disco,' and on up to the present.  But my recent purchase of a particularly fantastic Panama brought it all home to me.  

A hat, and it should be a really great one, represents a process in three stages: 

The first stage is the anticipation of wearing the hat.  This takes a bit of courage.  After all, you've decided to wear it up to the store when you go to pick up a few things. Wearing such a hat in the city where no one knows you is one thing, but to do so on your home turf, with everyone looking is different.  It's on your mind as you take care of the detritus of the day.

The second stage is the actual wearing of the hat.  You put it on and it fits so nicely.  It's as if it was made for you.  There is something about this hat; something magical.  It makes you feel so good.  You carry yourself differently.  And when you are in the store, and you hear the song "She Thinks my Tractor's Sexy" blaring in your ear, you aren't filled with the normal irritation and blind rage that such a ditty normally triggers in you.  Instead, you are calm and gracious, even though you can't find any macaroni.  Okay, your eye does twitch a little.  "What kind of a store doesn't have macaroni?  Are you kidding me?" But the hat.  The hat is so splendid that you quickly shake off your concern and grab a package of pasta shells instead.  You nod to yourself at how resourceful and together you are, you in your hat;  your significant hat.  You make your purchase and leave the store for home.

The third stage is the removal of the hat and the fond memories of your adventure under it.  You are sad to take it off, but you are impressed that your hair is not as flat as it gets while wearing other, lesser hats.  Such an adventure you had.  And with a deep sigh, you put the hat away.  You are glad to know that the hat is there for the next time, and you are determined to arrange so many "next times."

Those "next times" or events, are what it's all about.  If we never dared to wear a hat, our life would be tedious and unremarkable.   But when we do; when we step out with a difference and a little bit of courage, that is all the difference.  It gives us something to focus on and a vehicle for those three stages.  Hopefully the adventure  changes us somehow and helps us to move forward in our lives.  A hat can do that if you choose it carefully.  I know that it sounds simple.  And it really is, as long as you don't take it for granted.  Life is a hat; as simple or as complicated or as fantastic as you choose.