April 18, 2014

Art Projects

I never considered myself an artist. I had dabbled all my life in drawing and painting because, rather than an Easy Bake Oven and Barbie's Dream House, the children in my family were often given art supplies as gifts and my mother supplied an endless stack of drawing paper, even if it was just the backs of photocopied documents from her work. At school I favoured band and jazz choir over art class - somehow one had always to choose between the two - but by Grade 12 I had decided that I would make room in my schedule for art class. That class became an oasis for me and stands out as a memorable time full of colour and the meditative, expansive work of making art.

I did not go on to become a visual artist, but I did learn a great deal from my teacher, Ms. Konkin. She was a pretty, round-faced blonde woman with striking blue eyes. She was calm and honest about our work. I only remember being enthusiastically congratulated on one piece, which was a drawing of a glass of water with a spoon in it. I suppose I had captured the visual effect fairly well. I no longer have that drawing, but I do have a painting I did as my major project. I was studying dance at the time and was completely in love with that particular art form. I had a poster on my bedroom wall of a female dancer in a black dress leaning back and kicking one leg out. Her strong pose created a beautiful line. I decided to paint her balancing on the moon with a backdrop of a city scape, while kicking her foot into a blazing sun. The end result of the painting was certainly not technically brilliant. Against Ms. Konkin's advice I chose it from all my work to enter into a district student show down at the mall. The work was being judged by a famous local watercolour painter, Les Weisbrech. He didn't think very much of my painting, and when I looked at my painting through his eyes its faults glared painfully at me. Some time later I brought my painting home and showed it to my mom. She happened to love it, which took me by surprise, so I gave it to her. It hung in her bedroom for at least twenty years. She gave it to me and it now hangs in my bedroom. For all its faults I love it now. It seems to contain all the wonderful naive optimism that youth holds about the future. I truly thought the world was my oyster back then, and I was ready to take it on like my 'Stepping Out' dancer. Now, she reminds me of the beauty of innocence and to embrace life.

As part of our study that year in Art 12 we worked with clay. I particularly enjoyed working with the delicate porcelain clay, making pieces of jewelery and a teacup, if I remember correctly. We learned to throw pottery on the wheel and to my surprise all the skills I had learned making bowls with our old family friend Carol when I was little had vanished. One assignment was to make a free form sculpture with clay. We could not use the wheel, but we could use as much or as little clay as we liked. As I played with the lump of clay in front of me and listened to Ms. Konkin's guiding words about the options before us, a figure seemed to speak to me out of the clay in my hands. I had worked hard in high school to defy labels. If one day I spiked my hair and wore a man's suit and tie, the next day I wore a trendy Benetton rugby shirt and jeans, but by Grade 12 I had given up the fight. I was starting to mature and to relax into myself. If people wanted to label me I no longer cared so much. I took one lump of clay and formed it into a cross about eight inches tall and four inches across. I took another lump of clay and formed it into the figure of Jesus with his arms extended and his head falling slightly to one side. I placed him on the cross and added a crown of thorns and tiny nail heads in his hands and feet. Ms. Konkin came around to check on our progress. I believe she was stumped when she arrived at my place at the secular high school table, and out of the corner of my eye I saw one of her eyebrows rise. But, to her credit she said nothing critical at all about my choice of subject, and I offered no explanation. All our pieces were fired in the kiln and mine survived the oven despite its delicacy. I carefully wrapped it in paper and put it on the top shelf of my locker.

A few weeks later It was the end of the school year and I was cleaning out my locker. Somehow the clay crucifix fell to the floor and broke into six pieces. I gathered them up and was looking at them sadly when my friend Rachel with whom I had gone to school since we were in Grade One at St. Joseph's offered to fix it if she could keep it. I said yes. Years later I went to visit her, and there was my little mended sculpture hanging on her kitchen wall. "I love it," she said.

Yesterday I found out from a friend that Ms. Konkin who had also been my Home Economics teacher in, I think, Grades 10 and 11 is retiring. My friend posted the news on Facebook and as I read through the thread of comments my year with Luba Konkin as my art teacher came flooding back. Like so many rooms where the arts are taught in schools, Ms. Konkin had provided a space where creative and often sensitive souls could relax and feel appreciated and encouraged to do what came naturally to them. Teachers around the world who do the same are worth their weight in gold.

April 9, 2014

Humility, the Underrated Virtue

I was talking recently with an artist at the reception for his show of folk art at our local public art gallery. I commented on the fact that one of the themes he was exploring with his art was The Seven Deadly Sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride), and their antidotes, The Seven Heavenly Virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, humility) - other virtues exist, like faith, hope and charity, but he had not included them in this particular set of works. One painting listed the virtues in various shades of pink. Another listed the sins only in black and white. Some of his works featured all fourteen sins and virtues in a jumble of blocks of colour painted on handmade wooden benches. Several of these benches were distributed around the room and he invited me, as he and his wife themselves had done, to sit down on one of them while we chatted. He told me he found the subject of the sins and virtues of great interest and he hoped with his art to encourage people to talk about them more. I took that as a cue to do so because a thought occurred to me recently that the virtue of humility is greatly underrated in our world today. I told the artist that I believe many of the societal problems we suffer could be prevented if we only came at things with a bit more personal humility. And because I love a good philosophical discussion.

I gave the artist an example of what I thought having humility meant: say we find ourselves in conflict with someone, perhaps a spouse or family member. Our first reaction may be to find fault with them. Having true humility would cause us to look into ourselves first, to ask ourselves, what might I have done to cause this conflict? Or at least to contribute to it. The effect of humility in this situation would be an automatic decrease in the level of blame we might put on the other person and a desire to resolve the conflict in as peaceful manner as possible. If we are the first to apologize, we can also be a good example to the other person, causing them to try to resolve any future conflicts peacefully, too. We don't have to be doormats, we just have to desire peaceful, functional relationships with those we spend the most time with and realize our role is often to give them the benefit of the doubt. Which means being humble and not always having to be right.

One definition of humility I found was this: a modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance. Humility is a tough concept for many of us. We in the western nations are taught to be individualistic and to be on a constant and relentless quest for personal material comfort and security. We sometimes push our own agenda in order to elevate ourselves above the next person, because we see our needs and wants as more important than theirs.

In my husband's position at a 300-plus room hotel, hearing a wide range of complaints is part of his job. However, the stories he sometimes comes home with are astounding. People are often so quick to lash out, to blame, to scream at the staff if they are unsatisfied. They are sure that their needs are the most important thing in the universe at that moment and that everyone within a 200 meter radius needs to hear about it. Perhaps they were ignored as children and have an inner conviction that volume, anger and bullying is the way to get attention, or perhaps they learned as children to scream and yell until they got what they wanted because that tactic wore their parents down, and it has continued to work in their adult lives. And yet other people, when they have a grievance, share it with the staff in a way that is polite and respectful and not at the very top of their voice. Perhaps when they were children they were taught to ask for the things they wanted, but learned to accept the occasional disappointment as part of life. 'You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need,' may even have been sung to them from time to time. Humility is acknowledging the respect due to one human being from another. Humanity is in essence ironic. Although we are all lowly beings on this planet, we mere specks in the universe also have great power and responsibility to try and make things better for each other, or else life is endlessly cruel and competitive. Unfortunately, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' is often forgotten in the service industry because the idea of having people at our service seems to give us a heightened sense of our own importance, however fleeting, and thus, the one rendering the service a lower status in our estimation. Else, why would we feel free to scream at them for making a mistake on our bill or bringing us the wrong sandwich?

Humility also naturally increases empathy. When I see someone begging for food on a city street or scoping out the ditches and public garbage containers for bottles and cans to bring to the recycling depot in order to get a little money for their needs I try to imagine how many degrees of separation actually exist between them and myself. The line between their standard of living and mine is fragile and I am perfectly aware of that. I have inner resources to draw upon if I ever found myself alone and cut off from the present comfortable income I am priviledged to live on, but life holds no guarantees for any of us. Everything we cherish could be taken away from us at any moment and the idea of that helps to keep me humble, and it helps me to look upon the homeless and the needy with empathy because with a little stretch of the imagination I can put myself in their shoes. I know how hard it would be to maintain some sense of dignity. The same goes for my fellow humans living in poverty and/or under oppression around the globe. The awareness of my great fortune in being Canadian humbles me enough to want to do what I can for those who rely on the generosity of others in order to put their children in school and food on their table, as well as making sure I am paying attention to what is going on in my own backyard to make life fair and equitable for all citizens.

Since talking with the artist while sitting on his benches decorated with the sins and virtues, I have had much to ponder, so I suppose his aim worked with me at least. I know I have some stuff to work on, but the great thing about virtues like humility is that they are achievable. Practise makes perfect. We just have to start small and take gradual steps toward being more human. Humility and human start with the same three letters, which is no accident. The Latin root word 'hum' means in English, 'ground'. The way I see it is this: if we approach life from the humble ground up we will realize we are all deserving of love and basic human respect from each other no matter what our status or gifts may be. If we act on this realization not only will our immediate circle benefit, but the ripples of our seemingly small actions will move out beyond us and into the world, and our collective actions will achieve great things.

March 31, 2014

A Spring Poem that Isn't, and Some that Are

I will not attempt to write a poem about spring
I fear it would not amount to anything

Bluebells, lambs and other new creatures
and subjects which a spring poem usually features

Would certainly grow weary being under my pen
Their glory not enhanced by being written of again

Although the urge rises up in my heart
"The sunlight on verdant green buds..." I won't start

Not writing such a poem is my gift to you
So, like me, read some good ones and feel spring anew!

Daffodils by Mark Slaughter

I fell in love - 
Taken by the innocence of 
Child-face daffodils: 

Their perky April fanfares - 
Clarion calls from yellow-ochre brass bands - 
Presaging, rejoicing, calling us: 

"Here we are! Here we are!'

Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring - 
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. - Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Today by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

And we can even listen to Philip Larkin read his poem, The Trees.

There are plenty more spring poems to be found. Some more good ones are here. Enjoy! The first three photos I found on Google Images, but the last one is of a tree in my garden last spring.

March 22, 2014

When the Silver Lining Fades

I tend to subscribe to the idea that Every Cloud has a Silver Lining. I just find it pays to be positive in general. I am not always such a Pollyanna type. I have my dark hours of self-doubt and of disgust with the world, but overall, as I heard someone say in a documentary about the uncertain future of the planet I agree that 'Pessimism is not a strategy." (Not that I am a strategic person. I tend to float along taking opportunities as they present themselves - or not - and going with my instincts.) When unfortunate circumstances arise, I tend to find the upside fairly quickly, as long as the circumstance does not last too, too long.

Take the last couple of weeks of my life as an example. First, my husband caught a cold. I had it three days later, and much worse than he did. It was just a cold, I told myself. I could still read, eat well, sip hot lemon and honey. It wasn't bad at all, really. I got better for two days and my eldest daughter caught the cold. I roasted a chicken, made soup, cleaned a little and caught up on the laundry, glad to be feeling better enough to look after her. Then, my husband came home with a tale of a guest at his hotel who had spent the day vomiting. He was concerned about catching her flu. That night, he came down with stomach flu and I was relieved I could help him out in the middle of the night when his symptoms were at their worst and he fainted in the upstairs hallway. I am not sure if it was the guest's flu or just part two of whatever we had started with, but two days later, I came down with it. I spent three days in and out of bed. I would think I was getting better, only to be up half the night with stomach cramps and spend the next sleeping to recover. Still, I was grateful that my daughter was feeling better and could help with meals, and that my husband had recovered so quickly from his flu and could look after everything else. The silver linings were still within view.

One evening, my eldest daughter, by then well recovered from her cold, asked me how I was feeling."It's only a matter of time," I said.

"Until what?" she asked me, eyebrows furrowed, daring me to be pessimistic about my prognosis.

"Until I feel better."

"Oh," she said, brightening a little as if to say, "That's the mother I approve of." She despises other people's drama, just as I did at her age.

On the ninth day of my on-and-off illness, my husband came home early from work. He came to see me in our bedroom. I admitted to him I was completely miserable and frustrated, and burst into tears. After commiserating with me he went upstairs to see our youngest daughter who had, so far, escaped any version of the flu and was just home from school. I lay in my bed, comfortable, and somewhat relieved after my tiny nervous breakdown, but I still felt plenty sorry for myself. My cache of silver linings was all used up, I thought. I would just have to wait until this misery passed.

A few minutes later my husband returned to our room and poked his head around the door. "There's an email for you," he said.

"I'll read it later," I said, waving the idea of dealing with emails away with a limp hand and reclosing my eyes.

"It's from a movie magazine in Australia. They want to buy some of your photos. The ones you took of the set of Wayward Pines."

I opened my eyes and looked at him. A smile crept into the corners of my mouth. "Really?" No one had ever offered to pay me for any of my creative product before.

"I thought you'd like to know," he said flashing me a little grin and heading back upstairs. Sometimes it is unnerving to be known so well.

I had slept most of the day and suddenly, I felt hungry. I had been subsisting for the past several days on bread and cheese, crackers, apples and yogurt. I asked for a bowl of my homemade granola mixed with yogurt. I ate it all and began to feel slightly stronger. My youngest came down to visit me and I asked if she would like to watch some TV with me in my room. She went upstairs to get a DVD and returned to announce that her dad suggested we all watch it upstairs. I decided it would not kill me to get up and join my family in the living room. I made myself comfortable in my usual chair with a blanket and we watched an episode of the comedic classic Jeeves and Wooster. I would read that email from Australia later. For now, it was enough to know it was there waiting for me. Just when I thought the silver linings had deserted me, one had shown up gleaming and, even if it came to nothing, was giving me hope for the moment.

My husband made a light supper. I ate it and felt stronger still. The next day I read that email from Australia. It even seemed legitimate.

March 7, 2014

The Taxi Driver

I had taken the bus from the East Vancouver basement suite that I shared with my sister Clare and her husband to Simon Fraser University where I was to meet up with my girlhood friend Tanja. The bus ride had involved a couple of transfers and a bit of waiting at bus stops. In the waning daylight the trip had been alright, but I was not anxious to repeat it in reverse, in the dark, alone. I had supper with Tanja and her boyfriend at one of the campus places and we lingered, talking for several hours. When it was time for me to return home I decided to spend some of my precious student fund on a taxi, believing it to be the safer option for me at that hour of the night.

The taxi arrived and I said goodbye to my friend. I climbed into the back and gave my direction. The taxi driver was the chatty sort and he immediately began to talk. I soon realized that what he said did not make a lot of sense. He was asking me about how school was going in St. Catherine's. I told him, no, I was in my first term at UBC, and sat back to enjoy my door to door ride home. He kept on about St. Catherine's, which was a town in Ontario, over half way across the country. After trying to correct him once more, I realized my efforts were futile. He kept asking me about people and places I did not know in the least. I began to feel uneasy, wondering if my chauffeur was quite right in the head.

My taxi driver drove a bit erratically, turning down alleyways and cutting across blocks. He told me he was going to stop at a convenience store for a Coke. Did I want one? I told him in no uncertain terms, and perhaps with just a tinge of hysteria, that he was not going to stop and get a Coke, that he was to take me straight home. I was genuinely frightened by then. I wondered if I was going to get home. I wondered if he really meant to stop at a convenience store or was it an attempt to stop the car in some out of the way place where I would be raped and chopped up into pieces, stuffed in a duffle bag and dropped in a dumpster in some sketchy back alley where I would be found by some poor person searching for discarded food, my murder reported the next day on the front page of The Province. (My gift of imagination did not serve me well just then.)

My heart in my throat, I sat forward, gripping the vinyl trim on the edge of the back seat while my driver chatted cheerfully and nonsensically. He took me on a labyrinthian journey, none of which I recognized. Just when I was thinking about opening the car door and flinging myself out onto the pavement like they do in the movies, he turned onto our block and pulled up in front of our house. The trip that had seemed endless had taken, in actual fact, a fairly short time. His route, while unrecognizable to me - I had only lived in Vancouver a couple of months and was geographically challenged at the best of times -  had been a short cut accomplished by someone who knew the city like the back of his hand. With shaking legs I got out of the car. "How much do I owe you?" I said as calmly as possible. He quoted me a fair price, less than I had anticipated in fact, and I paid him.

My sister was home when I entered the house whitefaced and completely unstrung. I felt half relief and half guilt for misjudging my driver. I am sure now that he was a decent person, although I wondered if he had been high on some substance. Or maybe his state of mind was a mixture of working a double shift on very little sleep and good memories of a youth spent in St. Catherine's. I could only speculate. In any case, I felt lucky to be alive and extremely glad to be home with my sister. Clare gave me something to drink to help bring the colour back into my face and calm my frazzled nerves. My boyfriend (now husband) drove over from Kitsilano on the west side of the city to comfort me. I am not sure I ever quite fully recovered from my fright. I refused to go anywhere at night alone for the rest of the year.

While I was having a good experience at UBC and enjoying living with Clare and her husband my adventure with the taxi driver did little to ingratiate me with the city of Vancouver as a potential home in the future. I lived there on and off for the next three years, developing a love/hate relationship with the city. The love was for its beauty and variety, although I now know that I sought out places that reminded me of home: water, lakes and mountains. The hate (perhaps a slight exaggeration) was for the fact that I never seemed to fit in there. Too sensitive and inexperienced to let the sad scenes of my neighbourhood fall off me like rainwater off a duck's back, I was haunted in particular by the mute woman who accosted me every time I walked down the street, begging me for money while she shoved the scars on her wrists and throat in my face. Her plight, so dramatically contrasted by the ease and comfort I perceived in the wealthier neighbourhoods of the city, filled me with a sense of helplessness. I knew that my coins could do little to make her life better.

My boyfriend and I got married a year and a half after the taxi driver incident. At the end of my third year in Vancouver, my husband finished his practicum and was offered a job in the East Kootenays. I was ecstatic. The only thing I seemed to miss after we moved was the Greek fish market on Commercial drive. I could buy two plump, fresh fillets of sole for a song and bake them up beautifully with a sauce of dill and yogurt.

February 25, 2014

The Power Outage

When I awoke for the first time this morning the red, glowing numbers on the digital clock read 4:48. I reluctantly got out from under the down duvet and tiptoed to the bathroom so as not to wake my warm and light-sleeping husband. Back in my feather nest I settled down to sleep once more. I woke up again, a muted morning light in the room causing me to lift my head to check the time, concerned I had overslept. This time the clock was blank. The power was out. My husband, awake by then, acknowledged the power outage and we snuggled down under the duvet to let the fact sink in.

When I was a child a power outage at my parents' house only meant one inconvenience: no electricity to power the lights, television or kitchen stove. The gas furnace still worked and our water, provided by the city where we lived, still ran hot and cold. During power outages my family sat together in our living room, talking comfortably by candlelight, enjoying the novelty.

Where I live now, in a small, rural town in the eastern Fraser Valley my well water requires an electric pump to fill the pipes and thus, the kettle. The gas furnace requires an electric ingnition to send the heat through our two story B.C. box of a house. We have one gas fireplace with the pilot light left on all winter in case of a power outage. We rarely use the fireplace because it is in the downstairs family room next to our bedroom. The family room used to be used more often and much of the space was taken up by a ping-pong table. With the boys gone most of the year now, the ping-pong table sits in the garage as the girls rarely use it. They do use the piano which is in the room along with my husband's cycling trainer, weights and medicine ball. Other than the addition of a dart board on the wall, the family room is fairly bare now.

Needing to find out the time, I rose and put on some warm clothes. I climbed the stairs, listening to the wind howling outside. The upstairs was full of early morning light; the day promising sunshine, at least, after two solid days of blowing snow. I turned on the battery powered radio - another safety feature in our house along with an easily found flashlight and a case of bottled water - and waited for some news of the whys and wherefores of our power outage. I found out that the elementary school near our house was closed for the day due to the outage, but that was it. The high school my daughters attend was open. So, ours was the only area of the town affected. I woke the girls who complained about their school being open. I asked them if they would rather stay at home in a cold house with no power or go to school where it was warm and the computers worked. They chose the latter.

My kind husband set up his Primus stove in the garage and heated water so we could all start the day with a hot drink. Then, he gathered his razor and some other toiletries, put his suit in a garment bag and left for work where he could have a shower. The girls, their hot beverages encased in thermal mugs went off to school bundled up against the windchill.

I, left at home to cope in a cold house, changed into even warmer clothing. I ate my cold granola and yogurt and willed the power to return so I could get to work on the computer. I put away the dishes and tidied the kitchen as best I could. By 9 a.m. I was cold again, all traces of the warmth of the mug of instant espresso gone. I put on my crocheted hat and the Pashmina shawl that my eldest had bought for me on a hot sunny day at a market in Venice. I went downstairs to sit by the fireplace. I pulled the chair out of my bedroom, sat down with a blanket across my lap and put my feet on the tiles of the fireplace hearth. I proceeded to read a few pages of my fat historical novel. The gas fireplace was a pathetic match for the frigid room and the wind howling down the chimney; the fireplace had once been a real one for burning actual logs cut from trees, not formed in a mold from some kind of flame-proof ceramic material.

I could have put on another sweater and pulled the down duvet off my bed to wrap around my entire body like a caterpillar's coccoon. I would have been perfectly cozy if somewhat immobilized. While I considered the duvet, my mind began to wander off the page of Rutherfurd's London to a cafe downtown where there would be heat, light and real, hot coffee.

Bundled in my heavy coat I walked down the road from my house. The BC Hydro crew was working at the end of the first block, cutting the limbs off a tall, scraggly cedar that, having finally succumed to the night's relentless wind, had fallen on the power lines, causing the outage. I made my way around the trucks and estimated the power to be back on by noon.

Larry, the owner of the Oasis cafe welcomed me. He, probably noticing my unwashed hat-hair, asked if my power was out. "It's good for us," he said cheerfully. The place was busy and I recognized some neighbours. Ordering an Americano and a blueberry scone I sat down at a table by a window to enjoy looking out at the cold, bright morning from my perch in the warm cafe. After reading through the Life and Arts section of the Globe and Mail left on the table by a previous reader, and finishing my scone, I took out my notebook and pen and began to write.

February 19, 2014

L.M. Montgomery - a First Love in Literature

In my early years as a dedicated reader of novels, when it came to authors, I tended toward serial monogomy. Noel Streatfield, the author of Ballet Shoes, The Painted Garden, White Boots, and several others was my first real love as a reader, but when the time came for me to move on from her delightful books for children I was at a bit of a loss.

Every time I would talk about needing something to read my family would suggest Anne of Green Gables. "You'll love it," my sisters insisted, and because they insisted I resisted. I finally gave in when I was fifteen - my sisters had all moved out by then - and tentatively began the book that would change my life. I was not prepared to enjoy it, but by the first chapter I was hooked and would remain an Anne fan for life. And not just an Anne fan, but a fan of the writing of her creator Lucy Maud Montgomery. I would spend the next several years scouring second hand book stores for copies of her many books, building up my collection which I read over and over until Jane Austen became my new obsession in my mid-twenties. I credit L.M. Montgomery for helping me greatly through my teen years, for giving me another world to inhabit in my imagination, adding much light to the very real world I lived in every day.

I did not identify with the character of Anne as much as with the general tone, humour and background wisdom of the books themselves. Anne, with her red-haired temper, her heedless ways and her enormous scholarly discipline was not a mirror image of myself, but I did admire her goodness, her loyalty and her literary gifts. I was encouraged by her strength of character and desired to emulate at least some of what she represented. The first few times I read the books I read them for the plot alone. L.M. Montgomery is known for her descriptive passages of the land she loved so well, but I will admit I skipped over many of them to find out what happened next to the people in the books. A good book has that quality, even when you read it for the second or third time and know what ultimately happens, you still want to have the satisfaction of finding out, again, exactly how it happens. By the time I was in my early twenties I still read the books once a year, but by then I was revelling in the descriptions which painted such a beautiful picture of the land, sea and sky of Prince Edward Island and other Maritime provinces. The Blue Castle is set in Muskoka, Ontario and I still read it every few years for its pictures painted so masterfully in words by the author who had moved to Ontario after her marriage.

My mother often said that she liked Montgomery's Emily books even better than the sunny Anne ones. She felt the Emily books were deeper and more reflective of the author's own life as a burgeoning writer. I read the three Emily books immediately after I had read the eight Anne novels, and I could see what my mother meant. I imagined that a lot of authors identified with them, especially those who had known they were writers from a young age. The road to authorship is not easy for the character of Emily; the literary colours in the novels are in various shades of light and darkness, intimating the depth of emotion lived in real life by Montgomery. The happy ending is there, but it is hard won.

When I get into something, I really get into it, so when L.M. Montgomery's journals were published I read them. Her selected journals filled five large volumes and I expected them to reflect the light and happy endings of her novels. What I discovered was that Montgomery's life was a complex blend of light and dark, of longing for the freedom of an intuitive and highly spiritual artist while 'keeping up appearances' in Canadian WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) society of the early part of the twentieth century. I read them during a particularly hard time in my own young life, which perhaps was not fair to either myself or to Montgomery whom I admired so much. Her journals sent me spiralling downwards into a blue funk. I was disappointed in her for some of her choices in life and in love (as disappointed as I was in myself at that time for some of my own choices), and I had a hard time reconciling the author of my favourite books with the author of journals which suggested so much personal disappointment and emotional trauma.

I think, after giving it another twenty-odd years, I might read the journals again. I will probably read them with a more open mind and with much more compassion and empathy this time. In 2008 Montgomery's family came out with an admission that Lucy Maud suffered from depression and had, in the end, taken her own life. Her family revealed the truth in hopes that it would help to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness in our society. And while that news about her death made me sad beyond words, I have a bookshelf full of proof that inside Lucy Maud Montgomery's often troubled heart and mind was also a mystical land of humour, insight, love, and joy of the greatest kind which she shared with her readers through her writing, a refuge for her and for all of those who feel deeply and attempt to live sensitively on this earth.

A mature L.M. Montgomery

For those of you who read the end of my previous post I have an update: My dad was able to go home from the hospital yesterday. Such good news for him and for all my family! Many thanks for your kind wishes and prayers.