Why it’s important to me…
My upcoming play “Once Upon a Rocking Chair” is 90% fiction. The 10% of truth is inspired by my mom, aunts, and cousins. For years we had the annual tradition of going to the cottage together for a week: Girls’ Week. It started when my cousins and I were kids as a getaway for the moms (my mom and her two sisters). When my cousins and I were in our 20s we slowly infiltrated the tradition, starting by coming at the end for the weekend. Then our stay got longer and longer until we were all there. It continued for years. I think our last official Girls’ Week at the cottage was in 2008 or 2009, with three generations of Lamondins.
Although the play features six actors, there were more than six of us at Girls’ Week. The six characters are representations of all of us in many ways. I remember sitting on the porch during our Girls’ Weeks and noticing the strength of the women, their compassion, intelligence, humour, and value of family above all else. In the 20+ years of Girls’ Week there was never any conflict. We were lucky to have such a perfect week together each year.
This is a true story about our Girls’ Week tradition of Porch Bingo and how it came to be…
It was first published in From the Cottage Porch: An Anthology by Jessica Outram and Ewa Krynski in 2011. Then it was published The Country Connection Magazine, Summer/Autumn 2011.
Britt, Ontario: 1997. Britt Legion Bingo.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Nancy, mom, and I arrive early. We sit at a folding wood table in the Britt Legion. To attempt to filter the air, a ‘smog hog’ hangs in each corner from the ceiling, but the smoke still buries deep into my clothes, my hair, my skin. The scent lingers for days after I leave bingo. Dart boards and pictures of past Legion executives and veterans line the walls.
I count sixty-seven people at bingo tonight. Mom and I made a deal. If I win, she gets half my prize. If she wins, I get half her prize.
When I look into the faces and eyes of the people here, I see something familiar. I see pieces of mom, Uncle Bruce, Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, and my brother looking back at me. For years I’ve wondered about the resemblance. I’ve wondered if we are all related somehow. It isn’t until 2010 I learn about my Métis heritage and I finally understand my attraction to the beautiful people with the deep brown eyes.
Two minutes left before the game begins. Three people still need to buy bingo cards. Mom passes me her troll with the orange hair and tinfoil crown. Mom made it for Aunt Pat for Christmas last year as a joke to persuade her to join as at bingo. Aunt Pat said we should all share the bingo troll and it should live in mom’s bingo bag, and then she said she would be delighted to play bingo with us.
“Maybe tonight you’ll win,” mom says to me.
At the front of the room, the bingo caller, a man in his late thirties with black hair and dark sunglasses, switches on the bingo machine and turns the crank to spin the balls.
“Good evening and welcome to the Britt Legion Bingo,” he says. “There are 171 days until Christmas. Don’t forget to buy your raffle tickets for the baking table to support the Britt Community Centre. The 50/50 draw will be just before the jackpot game. But, first we need to pick our King and Queen.”
I poke mom in the arm. We hope Aunt Pat gets picked as the Queen. It’s her first time at the Britt Legion Bingo. Even though Aunt Pat lived here when Britt didn’t have electricity and she grew up being chased by Wally and Uncle Bruce with snakes, Aunt Pat lives in Toronto now. Mom, Aunt Estelle, Nancy, and I put her name in the bowl for Queen.
“Pat!” the caller announces.
A stocky girl with long black hair brings Aunt Pat the tinfoil crown. Aunt Pat must wear the crown for the entire game.
“Alright, Queen,” the caller says. “Pick your number.”
“If B-7 is called, you must stand up and declare ‘I am the Queen of the Britt Legion Bingo.’ Then one of the girls will bring you a loonie.”
The King of the Bingo picks O-66, clickety-click.
“Our first game: one line, any direction.”
Silence sweeps the room. The bingo balls tumble in the bowl of the machine. Tockatockatockatocka-tock! One pops out.
“I am the Queen of the Britt Legion Bingo!” Aunt Pat proclaims. She stands and waves her hand like Princess Diana.
“Giiiiiiiiiiiiivvvvvvvvvve the Queen her loonie,” the caller replies.
The bingo girl skips to our table. She smacks a loonie on Aunt Pat’s open hand and smiles.
The Britt Legion bingo ends. I didn’t win tonight. I had hoped to buy some new magazines and rent movies with my winnings. Mom nearly won. She needed O-75, the Grandpa of Bingo.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Nancy, mom, and I pile into the burgundy Impala. We drop off Nancy on the side of the road, in front of her cottage. Nancy’s cottage is Grandma Laura’s old house, the house where mom grew up.
Aunt Blanche was the first bingo Queen
Mom went to her first bingo with Aunt Blanche in Sudbury. Aunt Blanche could play twenty-four cards at a time. She played at the French Bingo at St. Jean de Brebeuf on Notre Dame Avenue in Sudbury. She used smooth silver markers that looked like nickels because no one had invented clear markers or flashy daubers yet.
Every time she won the jackpot she hid it. She donated it to the church or bought clothes for her nieces and nephews. She bought my mom a new winter coat and Uncle Bruce his first suit.
Bingo at the Magnetewan First Nations
Two summers later, the postmaster told dad that bingo had moved from the Britt Legion.
“Magnetewan First Nations built a new community center,” dad reported. “Bingo’s still on Thursday but you’ll have to go across the river.”
Mom and I picked up Nancy on the side of the Britt Road on Thursday night. We drove south on Highway 69. We turned at the Byng Inlet turn-off.
The Magnetewan Community Centre sparkled with newness. No cigarette smoke. The mosquitoes stayed outside. But there was no Queen of the Britt Legion Bingo, no Christmas countdown. Just serious bingo.
My cousins came to the Magnetewan bingo one summer. Sarah and Andrea were naturals. Lorel’s dramatic panic to keep up with the caller made me snort. But it was Chantell who called a false bingo.
We needed to get one line to win.
Someone called “Bingo!”
“Are there any other bingos?” the caller asks, “Are there any other bingos? Are there any other bingos? Bingo closed.”
Next we needed to get two lines. The caller said, “N33.”
Chantell shouted, “Bingo!”
Aunt Pat mouthed a slow motion “nooooooooo.” It was too late.
“We have a Bingo,” the caller said.
A young girl with hot pink Crocs skipped over to check Chantell’s card.
“No bingo! False alarm!” Aunt Pat called.
Chantell squished her eyes closed. She needed N33 to get one line. To win this game, she needed to get two lines.
“It’s a bad bingo,” the girl shouted.
Porch Bingo was our favourite
In 2005 Mom decided to set-up an annual summer bingo game on the porch at our cottage. We called it Porch Bingo.
Mom, the shyest one of the group, picked the role of Bingo Caller.
“B-4 not B-after,” mom calls. She wears a bejewelled tinfoil crown. She holds up a bingo ball.
Our laughter travels out the windows to Georgian Bay.
Auntie Ann, Lorel, Jaimy, Nat, Aunt Estelle, Sarah, Andrea, Aunt Pat, Chantell, and I compete for the jackpot. Yellow markers, bingo cards, party snacks, and wine glasses cover the tables on the porch.
“Forty!” we shout.
“I-17, Dancing Queen,” mom calls.
“Bingo!” Chantell squeals.
“Are you sure this time?” Andrea asks.
“Are there any other bingos?” Mom asks with a flat voice. “Are there any other bingos? Are there any other bingos? Bingo closed.”
Chantell reads out the numbers on her winning card.
“That’s a good bingo!” mom proclaims.
Chantell takes the tinfoil crown from mom and places it on her head. She selects a prize wrapped in green paper from the laundry basket and tears it open to find frog-shaped salt and pepper shakers with googly eyes. Aunt Estelle snaps a picture of Chantell beaming at her prize.
We clear our cards. Mom puts the balls back in the spinner. “Next game: postage stamp, any corner.”
“What’s that?” Jaimy asks. She just turned sixteen. It’s her first Porch Bingo.
“Four squares together in a corner, like a stamp on an envelope,” I reply.
It’s 2011. We play Porch Bingo whenever my aunts and cousins are in Britt. Mom and I go to bingo at the Magnetewan Community Centre a couple times a summer. We still split our winnings.
Now it’s 2017. I can’t remember the last time we played Porch Bingo. Years ago. Our mothers switched to Word Feud and Words with Friends, regularly passing the emoji crown whenever they were on a winning streak.
But I think for now Aunt Estelle gets to wear the crown for as long as she likes. We are heartbroken over her passing on April 23, 2017. She was such a beautiful, amazing woman in every way and will be deeply missed. It is such a gift to be able to capture what was so special for us about Girls’ Week in a play about women who love and support each other unconditionally.
For a week this summer I stayed in residence at Trent University, my alma mater.
It surprised me to realize that I hadn’t been back to Otonabee since the late nineties. When I signed up for an intensive theatre course (offered through Theatre Ontario at Trent), I knew I would feel nostalgic but I wasn’t prepared for this. Returning to my first home away from home was a transformational experience.
Twenty years. Where does the time go?
Such a cliché question to ask but it was one that followed me everywhere that week. It seems like only a few years have passed since my parents dropped me off in my dorm room, drove away, and left me on my own in a new school, in a residence where I knew no one. I remember that moment, the silence, the thwump of independence, the knowing that I could do this and was excited to do this all wrapped up into the uncertainty, the not knowing much at all.
So I started with one box, then another, slowly unpacking my room as the bustle of parents and students moved past my door. The next step was one hello, then another, slowly meeting the others living on my floor, in my “house,” on this campus, in the the town. One box. One hello. And then over twenty years later…I’m a grown up with a house and a job and big collection of friends and experiences. Tens of thousands of boxes and hellos later, I am no longer 19.
This story of independence began at Trent so this summer every time I see the Otonabee river passing under the iconic bridge, alongside the Bata Library I tear up. The corners of my eyes dampen before my brain processes what I see, my body responding before I can think. I am surprised that even the cement walls and brick-like floors and floor-to-ceiling columns in Otonabee open up windows of memories. The railings near the Wenjack Theatre, the wood walls along the Otonabee offices, the angled doorways of the seminar rooms, the way the sunlight spills onto the stairs all transport me to another time.
It feels like I am in two places at once, standing in the shoes of two selves.
I walk the halls on all my breaks taking in Trent University of 1994 and 2016. For a week I am both 19 and 41. So much has changed but so much is the same. It is a week of paradox.
I stay in Gzowski Residence this summer. It didn’t exist in the 90s. It was built near the path we used to take through the woods in the dark to The Commoner pub. My course is in the Otonabee Common room. Every day I walk by the Ironwood Gallery sign hanging there and remember how it was the first big event I had ever organized, remember working with artists, remember interacting with people as they visited the gallery, and then I remember the smokers. In the 90s students were allowed to smoke in the common room (except during Ironwood Gallery).
I remember other things too.
Here are five things that were different for students in residence in the mid-1990s:
- There was no Internet or email. Students could email using a new inter-university network but only to people within the university community. (We really only used it to email profs in the middle of the night for extensions on our essays).
- There were no cell phones. I got a part-time job on campus to pay for my own landline in residence.
- The library was not digitized. We searched for books by walking the stacks or by using the card catalogue (small cards in drawers with index features). My job in first year was at Bata Library. I barcoded books. After filling a cart with journals from the stacks, I brought books down to an office space, placed a barcode sticker in the back of the book, and then entered the information into the computer database. Then I reloaded the cart and returned the books to the stacks. Thirty hours of barcoding books a week. (Now even the content of the journals is all digitized).
- There were no food chains. I was surprised to see a Tim Horton’s in Otonabee.
- There were no buses on the Otonabee side of the river. All the city buses dropped off and picked up by Bata Library.
Then I visit my old residence room.
As I stand in my old residence room, the spirit of my younger self appears. She is so proud of how time has provided more confidence, more understanding, more clarity, and more joy. When I stood in this room for the first time in August 1994 I had no idea what the future held, what my story would become, or where my questions would lead. And now in August 2016 I can see that I’ve arrived. I own the story of my life. I am the keeper of the jar of questions.
I feel a lot like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz with twenty years of life swirling around, with me standing in the centre of the vortex. I see my family and travels around the world and opportunities to work and learn and create. I see my home and my school and my staff and my students. I see my friends and communities. I’ve done it. I made it. The search, the hunt, the scavenging for meaning is over for now. I am here and it is good. Big deep happy breaths from the belly that make my ears smile. This is unfiltered gratitude.
And the accomplishments, the stuff I’ve gathered or done–none of it really matters. The fact that my story went a different way than I had imagined doesn’t matter either. This moment standing in my old residence room goes beyond all that–it is about soul. The journey of my adult soul from 1994 until now…and it’s okay. It’s about what I’ve learned in twenty-two years. It’s about how I’ve rowed my boat down the river. I haven’t made a huge mess. I am a good person. I work hard. I help people. I exist.
There is a lot to celebrate. I know who I am. I know what’s important to me. I know how I can make a difference: one box at a time, one hello at a time…
Trent University gave me more than an education, it gave me independence and it gave me my family’s history back.
My first experience of independence at Trent University reinforced all the things that remain important to me today: nurturing relationships, participating in community, connecting with nature, and thinking, learning, writing, engaging not just for their own sake but for social justice, for a greater understanding of what it means to be human, of what it means to be among others to share a planet, a universe.
For the four years I was working on my BA at Trent I was asked the same question nearly every week. I could be walking on campus, crossing the street downtown Peterborough, dancing in a pub, sitting in a lecture, standing in line for lunch and someone would smile, reach out, and gently ask, “Where are you from? Who are your people?” They were always referring to my native ancestry. I would often answer only with what I knew: “Oshawa?”
In 2016 I know the answer. My people are Métis. It was a secret hidden for two generations. My family always said the same thing: we’re French. But that is not the story. My grandfather was the son of Métis father and a Métis mother. And their parents were Métis. And their parents. And their parents. Six generations of Métis, tracing back to the 1760s. When my grandfather married my grandmother, he was the first to marry a French Canadian woman in many generations. After ten years of extensive research I’ve learned so much about my people and their connection to Canada’s history. (And that is for another blog post). I wonder if I would have begun this work at all without the influence of my four years at Trent.
So in August 2016 I stay in the first place away from home that showed me my family story was worth knowing, a place that valued its history, a place that attracted people who could see things in me I didn’t know were there.
In August 2016 my story of becoming is realized. I’m invited by a documentary maker to the Peterborough Canoe Museum to tell the story of one of my ancestors, Ezekiel Solomon, in a documentary on 200 years of Jewish Canadian history that will be on the Discovery Channel in 2017. Ezekiel Solomon married Okimabinesikwe, my first Ojibway grandmother. The filming is booked for the same week I am at Trent taking a course. This feels bigger than serendipity.
In August 2016 my Métis Citizenship card arrives in the mail and I officially reclaim our story to share with the family.
Revisiting Trent University after 20 years was as much about revisiting me. It was a gift to stand in two places at once, to see two versions of myself at once, and to know two stories at once (the one I imagined and the one I lived).
Above all, it marked the birth of my independence. I feel so grateful for the moment. Thank-you, Trent!
To my friends who are now parents to young adults starting post-secondary school this week:
I don’t know how it feels to say goodbye to your children, leaving them on their own among the boxes in a new place. I can imagine it must be difficult and a big change for you both.
I know you’re also excited for your children and their new beginnings. You’ll probably all cry a bit over the next week. Change is hard, even good change. But I know your children will each unpack one box, then another. Next, your children will say one hello, then another. It will be okay.
In 20 years, your children may take a pause, look back, and realize they are different but the same. We all need to continue rowing our boats down the river, to continue using our strengths to keep moving, to continue taking in the scenery along the way.
We can celebrate now. Your children are good people, hard-working, helpful, considerate. Who your children are connected to, their family, is just as important as their independence…so celebrate that: the beautiful necessary paradox of connection to family and independence of self.
This was my big life lesson this summer.
A couple times a summer dad takes me out for a sunset cruise on Georgian Bay. Every year it looks different. I wonder if it is me that has changed so I see the water and land and sun setting differently or if the bay is changing (for example: time of day, water level, location, weather). Last year we went out by Gereaux Island Lighthouse. There is something about the architecture of a lighthouse isolated on an island with the grand sky and big water that calms me. (Do all people feel a connection to lighthouses?) So every time we go out into the bay I always look for the lighthouse.
This year it was just dad and I for the sunset cruise. We got into the boat and he said, “Where do you want to go?”
I didn’t have a preference other than “out there”–on the bay. I find the expansiveness of the bay healing. I’ve come to learn it’s my church. We don’t always need a building to feel connected to something bigger than us. I was thrilled for the chance to go out, it didn’t matter where.
So I sat back into my front seat in the pontoon boat. Dad drove out toward the bay. Soon we moved from the Magnetewan River to the open waters. Then dad turned out of the channel. The boat slowed down.
Since he retired dad has gone kayaking most mornings out in the bay. He often talks about the McNab Rocks. I had never been to them (as I am not so steady in a kayak and not ready for open water paddling).
What amazes me most about this trip is that I’ve passed the McNab rocks hundreds of time on our way out by the lighthouse. From afar it looks like a cluster of generic Georgian Bay rocks. But it isn’t until you’re among them that you can really appreciate the detail of the McNab rocks.
Dad turned off the motor and paddled the pontoon boat through the rocks. It was incredible. These are the photos I took on August 1, 2016. What a wonderful way to start a new month!
The pictures were all taken using my Nikon Coolpix S8200. Cropped/edited on my Mac using Photos’ simple tools.
PS: I don’t recommend paddling a pontoon boat through here. It was shallow and tough to navigate. Canoes, kayaks, and row boats are better choices.
I’ve spent time in Britt every summer for over 40 years. It always feels like a homecoming. On July 29, 2016 I had my first boat ride of the year (Which is shameful. Boat rides should begin far earlier in the season). Mom and dad took me out in the bay for swimming and a picnic, visiting many of our regular spots. We started on the north shore. We swam in Sand Bay and cruised by old picnic rocks, visiting all my favourite windblown trees. This landscape inspires reflection while it serves as a living definition of resiliency.
Being immersed in such a grand, expansive, open place reminds me of how big the world is and how small we are by comparison. Hours on the water, far out from the towns, surrounded by diverse islands and infinite skies and big water, I know that we humans are just part of the story. We need to continue to protect our Canadian wilderness and waters because I think it’s nature that grounds us as a nation, showing us who we are and where we fit. Nature can show us how to coexist, remind us of what is important, reveal to us what we need to do, instil in us a sense of belonging, return to us a feeling of joy, give to us a space for healing, bring to us a knowing of peace, release for us a year of stress, and provide for us an experience that goes beyond high-definition, beyond video game simulations, beyond escape rooms, beyond the noise of our every day to the quiet wisdom of earth’s every day, a planet that will far outlast us and our work here.
Dad drives a pontoon boat. Mom sits in the back, under the canopy in the shade. I always sit in the front in the sunshine, my legs stretched out. We don’t talk much in the boat. The scenery is too awesome. We all love to watch the islands go by peacefully. I had a lot of fun with my camera, a Nikon Coolpix S8200 I bought in 2011. One day I’ll save for a better camera with lenses and more chances to make creative choices, but for now I love my little red point and click device. I like to capture trees, rocks, clouds, and patterns in nature that interest me. My friend Tom was visiting this week (and he is an incredible photographer–check out his stuff by clicking here). He reminded me to think about what I’m shooting (is it a picture of the clouds or the water?) and to consider the rule of thirds. I started that process a little, but I think the art of seeing will be a lifelong learning journey for me. I’m not a photographer by any stretch, just a big fan of Georgian Bay trying to preserve what I love most about it in pictures.
My big challenge is taking pictures while the boat is moving. Dad knows so many stunning places to go but he just keeps moving so I have to quickly decide on a shot and grab it while we move on. So I take hundreds of photos. Then I upload them to my MacBook Air, choosing the ones I like, often surprised by what “got caught.” Using the simple editing tools in Photos I straighten some of the drunken horizons (it’s so hard to shoot a straight horizon line in a moving boat), crop to focus the shot better, and click the magic “enhance” wand. This time I tried the classic slide show feature in Photos and created a video.
Here is our day on Georgian Bay:
The contrast of the clear blue skies with the fluffy grey clouds was so interesting to watch as everything was always changing: the clouds shifting, the sunlight adjusting, the water changing colours.
I started a new tradition last year: a solo hike and picnic at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. Yesterday I returned to celebrate another year! It felt a lot like an anniversary. This year I didn’t think any deep thoughts. It was about enjoying the views, walking, breathing in the moment.
I like that it was a quiet trip and the fact that it was shows me how much has changed since last year. I wanted the conversation to shift to the woods and the lake–and my inner dialogue has! My marriage status or singleness is no longer the thing I think about most. I think about my friends and family and home and work and creative projects, feeling blessed to have such a full, happy life. The only thing missing is my health. I watched longingly as people cruised by on bicycles. I love bicycles–so my wish for next year’s trip is to be fit enough to ride a bicycle there.
Here are some pictures:
For many years I went away for a week each summer on a writing retreat with friends. Those were special days filled with writing, naps, and in-depth discussions about plot, character, and story. Each day we aimed to write twelve pages before lunch. At first it was hard. Sometimes I’d cheat and start writing a day or two early so I could keep up with the pace. By mid-week I was fully immersed in writing, in expression, in freefalling into a story and seeing where it lead. In the summertime I crave intense arts experiences.
It’s the middle of July and I’m still dreaming of school every night. The last four mornings I’ve sprung out of bed to escape a dream about being unprepared, about being disrespected, about being wrong. I still haven’t unpacked the complexities of the school year and released them. Last May and June were the most intense for me so far in my career. Is the work getting more difficult? Or am I getting more easily overwhelmed?
A week ago I made a list of everything I wanted to learn before the end of August. I want to enter the 2016/17 with solutions to all the unsolved problems from 2015/16. I want to show up on my first day of work a new person, a refreshed person, a smarter, more capable leader. It’s not that I made a big mess last year. It’s not that I was bad at my work. It’s more that I lost my innocence as a new principal. I saw the scope of responsibility of caring for staff, students, and parents in its entirety. I felt the desperation of those I was trying to support and my own desperation in trying one thing after another to help. School leadership is hard work.
At the writing retreats we often engaged in a type of writing called freefall. It’s a lot like it sounds, you figuratively lean into the page, and let the words appear as they must without criticism or censor. It feels like unleashing the wild animals within. It feels like bellowing from the top of a mountain. It feels like purging all the bits and pieces that are clogging up the path to inner peace.
I am freefalling now. I am using this blog as a way to reconnect with my voice, to reflect on the year, to move me into my artist-mind. Balance. When I think about balance I think about a couple I saw on America’s Got Talent who took their audition outside. The woman walked along a tightrope, high above the crowds, while her husband climbed onto her shoulders. She balanced them both on the thin wire as she walked across the area. When they were finished one of the judges commented about how precise they must need to be to ensure they don’t fall. Each step is made with intention. Carefully planned. I wonder if balance is about planning.
If I were to lean in to where my energy is right now I would end up back on Twitter reading about GAFEs or making notes on self-regulation or listening to the end of the latest Sir Ken Robinson book I downloaded. My energy is still at work. My mind is still all twisted around the issues there, seeking answers, reaching for ideas, knitting together possibilities. I could easily spend my whole summer ‘playing’ school. Working.
But I know that I need to cut school loose for a while. Let it drift into the background. When work is engaging it can be hard to detach. But I must. We all need to step away from the work. Writers know it creates clarity, shifts perspective, and changes realities. For example, we’ve all finished a draft feeling proud of its brilliance, only to return to it after a break to see gaps, areas for growth. Principals can learn from writers by putting school work in the bottom drawer for a little while.
I need some time to be a writer, a creator, a thinker. Some time to reclaim my voice and mind and compass. Some time to be free. Whenever I went on a writing retreat there was a profound sense of freedom. I gave myself permission to walk and dream and above all lean into solitude. And even now that’s where I’d like to end up at the end of this writing session…in a place of quiet and stillness and clarity and peace. I want to reclaim my voice and value whatever it has to say.
My list of summer activities is ambitious. There are so many things I want from this time. My time. It’s bigger than thinking of this time as a vacation. It’s a time of reconnection, reflection, rejuvenation, and redefinition.
I give myself permission to fully embrace my inner artist, to write a lot, and to check back in with work in a month from now…
It can all be too much. Too much information. Too much violence. Too much unrest. Too much I can’t do to help. The information age is blessed with greater access to knowledge, but there is a responsibility that comes from knowing. This is what adulthood is about: knowing more. But it is also about doing more, gaining experience. We can use our knowledge, take responsibility and grow, OR play in the sandbox, ignore the bell, and stay out for a recess just a little while longer.
Can I even be a soldier?
I wonder if we are in the middle of humanity’s coming of age story. I wonder if we were to consider our human history as if it were represented by Jacque’s seven ages of man in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, if we are now beginning our time as metaphorical soldiers:
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.
I wonder if we would be wise to pay closer attention, to take our relatively easy Canadian lives more seriously within the global context, and to dedicate ourselves more fervently to our families and to our communities. I wonder if we are too easily distracted by all the lovely things to do and to buy and to play and to watch that we are losing sight of our values, that we are letting someone else do our thinking for us. For when is there time to think and work if most our time is for play?
Most days I want to be like the monkey: seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing. I want to keep my eyes on the ground in front of me, watching only my next step (or my phone for notifications or my movies and shows or my favourite shops for a good sale). If I look up, I will see violence and war and oppression and poverty and pain–so much pain everywhere. So I let it go and paint my own Disney-esque version of life through upbeat and joy-filled Facebook status updates.
What are we really entitled to?
I pretend that the most pervasive news story is about Pokemon. I pretend that my biggest problem is being single and childless. I feel entitled to a smooth life, to a stable paycheque, to a group of friends who adore me, to a family who loves me, to a fairytale movement through my days as though I were a character in a movie–and for the most part, I get all of these things. But at what cost? What is the sacrifice?
We are sacrificing experience and the wisdom it brings.
Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m an optimist, a lot like the metaphor “sunshine in a jar.” I like to seek out light and goodness and joy and laughter. I want to live fully and experience all that I can–but I’m not naïve. I know that to fully live and experience everything, it will not be all sunshine.
So I know that when I don’t have the courage or the time or the energy or the drive to welcome the darkness I sometimes pretend it’s not there. I turn off the news. I walk away from pain. I stay home and pretend it’s all okay. Someone else will be the soldier. And it’s okay to do this sometimes, to take a break…but what if the break becomes the normal state of things? What if life’s pursuit becomes a quest for a big, leisurely, breezy, playful decades-long break? Do we really think we can reclaim our childhood innocence and freedom? Why is our North American culture pushing us on a quest for retirement before we’ve even arrived?
Some days it feels like I’m a character in a dystopian fiction, but most days I’m not. I’m seeking breaks. Pursuing my bliss. Finding joy in an afternoon nap. Planning weekends and holidays. Contemplating a new light fixture for the kitchen or researching shrub types for the front yard. While I’m floating smoothly through life, someone else is advocating for my rights and freedoms. Someone else is sacrificing their naps and weekends for others. Someone else is thinking about the things that are most important to us. Someone else is protecting my integrity.
So that’s really the question, isn’t it? Who is the soldier? Who are the people who can embrace the fullness of this metaphor? Who advocates for the fallen, comforts those in distress, rewrites the laws as we learn from experience? Who are the ones to question injustice, to actively participate in the story of our world?
The temptation of the information age is to become a member of the audience. To watch and cheer and cry and respond to the story playing out for us on our many, many screens. The temptation is to stay home, to surround ourselves with distractions, to pretend we are not part of the story.
So then I wonder who am I? Who do I want to be? Part of the audience or part of the action?
All of this thinking today was sparked by watching a collection of TED talks relating to theatre. One of the talks I watched was about the importance of live performing arts. The question: are performing arts becoming irrelevant? Ben Cameron explains how live arts might not be as important for people as consumers but they are more important than ever for people as participants. The performing arts have always given people a way to explain, express, explore, and question the hard stuff, the unexplainable, the complexity of being human.
In the wake of such troubling news around the world, we can use performing arts to participate in finding solutions, expressing grief, and becoming examples of change. Performance is action. The stage can help us make sense of things because it allows us to immerse ourselves in the problems, to see things from different perspectives, to simulate experience safely.
And then I think about all the learning I did years ago about Theatre of the Oppressed. Augusto Boal brilliantly changed the “spectator” to a “spect-actor.” To live is to take action. To learn is take action. Choose a verb, choose an action. We have so many choices. Hamlet shows us so clearly the cost of inaction, the sacrifice of “being” versus doing. I know I can do better at being a ‘spect-actor’ in this world, in doing more and being less. I want to begin my quest to find my inner soldier…in theatre the wall between the audience and the stage is invisible. I bet the walls in life can be fake too…
One of my favourite stories is Flight of the Hummingbird. We learn that even when the greatest danger presents itself it is enough to do what we can. How many of us are doing nothing?
Even if I turn it off, the news is still there. The fire still rages. It’s all still there. But in some ways it’s worse now because I know it’s there. It haunts. It weighs. It whispers for help. It asks for me to step outside and become part of the story.
The sunshine: I don’t need to turn away, to pretend I’m not involved, to sit in the audience. I can actively participate in my world. I can choose experience over Netflix. For any given problem of any size, here are three questions I can ask myself:
- In this moment, am I doing what I can?
- Is there something more I can do tomorrow?
- How’s my time and energy aligned with what’s most important to me?
Chris Hadfield presented great advice for problem-solving in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth that can be applied to any issue. He suggests to:
- Warn. Let people know about the problem.
- Gather. Get together a group who is committed to solving the problem.
- Work the problem. As a group seek to find solutions.
We have choices. We can take action. We can become soldiers. We can turn off the news and become part of the story, even in a small way like the hummingbird.
Hopefully I don’t get distracted along the way…
I miss you! It feels like it has been so long since I wrote a blog post. I’ve been too busy living life to the fullest at work and at home to blog. But I want it all: time to do all the things I love, including blogging.
Here are five reasons why blogging is great:
- A blog is a wonderful tool for reflecting on learning. Through the process of reflecting and writing I learn more.
- A blog is a dynamic tool for connecting. I meet so many interesting people through this blog. It’s excellent how many distant relatives I’ve met through the posts on Ezekiel Solomon and keen educators I’ve met through the posts about our learning as an astronaut program.
- A blog is a simple tool for creating. It allows me to work my expressive muscles, share ideas, contribute to my communities, and play with words and images. I feel so alive when I create.
- A blog is an organized tool for keeping track (like a portfolio). Occasionally I go back and read through my old blog posts. They are helpful reminders of what was important at various times. They remind me of learnings that may have slipped away in the business of the day. They reveal for me how much I’ve learned in the meantime as often my learning is much deeper now than when I wrote the post.
- A blog is an efficient tool to practice writing between larger projects. I’ve been blogging since 2007! Nearly ten years! It is a place to learn about what people are interested in through watching post clicks and reading comments. It is place to write simply for the sake of writing when I don’t have time for a larger project. Some of my blog posts have gone on to become other projects later too.
So, if I haven’t been blogging, what have I been up to?
- Walking. I am trying to walk more steps each day and have more active minutes each day. Yes–the Fitbit is ruling my life.
- Spending time with students. I’ve been trying to prioritize people at work. All the people: students, staff, parents, anyone who steps into the school. But by being present to supporting people during the day, it means my evenings are spent doing the mounds of paperwork that comes with a principal role. It has been really tough to maintain this.
- Cooking. There is so much processed, salty, fatty, sugary, bad-for-us food out there. Part of my mountain in 2016 is to improve my strength and agility. Good food is a necessity! So I’ve been cooking. Nothing fancy. Just simple, clean home-cooked meals.
- Theatre. I’m falling in love with theatre again. I’ve always loved theatre but when I started my Master’s in 2008 I had to pull back to make time for research and writing and courses. Then three years later when the Master’s ended I had a new job in a new town. Lots of change and transitions. But now I’ve arrived. I’m settled into a job I love in a town I love so there is time for pursuing passion. I loved being in the cast of The Secret Garden this winter. I’ve been attending as much theatre as I can. And the biggest news of all is that I will be returning to directing theatre in 2017!! Northumberland Players has added my play Once Upon a Rocking Chair to their upcoming 40th Season and I am thrilled.
- Tidying up. This winter I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and then watched many online videos with folding techniques. I went through nearly the whole house following the guidelines in the book purging anything that didn’t bring me joy. It was hours and hours of work but the results are AMAZING!! My drawers have maintained their perfect order for two months so far. My rooms have better flow. I don’t feel like I’m choking on “stuff.” It feels like my house is happy and in order.
- Counting my money. I’ve never really paid much attention to my money. I mean, who has the time, right? But this winter I went ‘old school’ and started writing out all my debits/credits in a notebook with a pencil rather than using a computer program or a spreadsheet. I’m actually doing the math myself! The result: I have more money now! The pencil wins!!
- Audiobooks. I used to be an audiobook junkie. Then I stopped for a couple years. Well–I’m baaaackkkk! Even my car radiates with learning–haha! I listen to audiobooks in the car as often as I can.
- Sleeping. The exhaustion from the late nights during the final week of rehearsals for The Secret Garden showed me how important sleep is to my ability to function. My Fitbit has helped me to track my sleep so I know how much I need to be smart and funny. The less sleep I have the more brain freezes and the less I laugh.
It’s all simple stuff. Life is good.