February and Fire

February always seems to be a bad month for fires.  Here in Sault Ste. Marie we have had several serious fires in the last two weeks.  My mind returns to February 1972, when an arsonist set ablaze the hall of my Toronto apartment building.  This short poem is an attempt to catch the feeling of that night:  the deep cold, lights flashing against the darkness, the sense of unreality.  I like the fact that the poem seems to reflect more than its surface meaning.


I’m standing in the darkness

Of February cold

and throwing stones

against your window.

I can’t seem to rouse you.

Please give me your attention!

Can’t you see

my house is burning down?



Cleaning House

I believe we all come to a time in our lives when we look around, try to see where we have come from, and where we are going.   Have we accomplished what we wanted to?  Would that hopeful child that we once were be satisfied?  Often we want to simplify our lives, to downsize to a smaller place, pare down our possessions.  We are searching for a way to interpret what we feel, even though we don’t quite understand it.

I am feeling this way now.  Many of you know that I have had periods of extreme anxiety and depression throughout most of my life.  I am beginning to learn that it is very human to be anxious or to be depressed.  It is part of the cycle of our lives, and when it becomes extreme I sometimes have to go into hospital to get myself “sorted out”.

Now, looking at the accumulation of my life, this is what I am going to discard.  The first thing to go will be shame.  I will no longer feel ashamed for emotions that are only too human.  I am not going to be ashamed that there are times when I can’t manage,  when I need to ask for extra help.  Next on the discard pile will be regret – whatever I did, I did, whatever I didn’t get done, I didn’t.  That is where life took me, and it hasn’t been such a bad journey, after all.  That critical woman who lives inside me has been given her marching papers, I’m afraid.  Her suitcase is packed and waiting at the door.  All that extra baggage that she brought along with her has been taken to the dump – it won’t be recycled, as I don’t wish it upon anyone else in any form.  All those stacks of other people’s opinions, just like piles of old newspapers, can go into the trash.  If I want to paint my room lavender, I will.  If I want to play Candy Crush at four in the morning, I will.

I am satisfied that I have all that I need to live well.  I don’t need more “stuff” to make my life better.

You are probably full of questions about all of this, but I might not have time to answer them – after all, I am busy cleaning house.

Some Thoughts On The Nature Of The Divine

For as long as humans have been capable of thought, we have tried to explain ourselves in relation to both our interior and exterior worlds, and to translate into meaning our idea of a god.  When I was about four I asked my mother “Who made God?” She could very well have replied “I made God.”, for my childhood God was the one that my mother created for me.  From that beginning I have progressed until now I too could say “I made God.” For each one of us creates God for ourselves.  And as I get older I realize more and more how little I know, and how little, as a human, I am able to understand.  I am sure we move in a constant direction towards “unknowing”, leaving a vast space within us waiting to be filled.  Because of our limitations we are all feeling our way through the darkness, holding our hands in front of us for protection against the unknown.

“We spend so much time searching for God, when really we should be searching for that tiny particle of ourselves that is within God.”

The Music of the Spheres – Part 2

Here is the second part of my reflections

on the nature of music, and the part that it plays in my own life.

I have thought quite a bit about what it is that makes music able to calm us, to stir us up, to cheer us.  All of us seem to respond to at least one type of music – some people enjoy classical music.  Some prefer a country song, others are rooted in the folk music of the sixties.  Certain songs rouse our emotions, call up a particular memory.  We use music to worship, to celebrate, and to mourn.

I was often unhappy as a young person.  When particularly distressed I used to listen to one particular piece, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major (opus 61). As soon as I heard the beginning notes I felt calmed and comforted.  The last movement, with its positive notes, would lift my spirits and I would begin to feel joy.

What is it that happens when we listen to music?  I believe that music stimulates brain patterns.  The progression of notes echoes in the pathways of our brains – the music leads us up or down, but we are always waiting for that final note, that resolution.  Even when the music moves unexpectedly, when notes are deliberately discordant, we still wait for that perfect completeness.

Lately I have seen another aspect of music – music as meditation.  When listening to music we are concentrating on the notes; our head space is not jumbled with thoughts and emotions all competing for our attention.  When we are stressed or upset, music provides us with a neutral space, almost a safe house on the path of our journey.  Our bodies need to rest when we are exhausted and drained, and our minds need to rest as well.




The Music of the Spheres

“This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears,
all Nature sings and round me rings
the music of the spheres.”

Even when I was a child, music was very important in my life.  Some of my earliest memories are of my father’s songs – “You Are My Sunshine”, Lili Marlene”, “In’t Groene Daal” – these still bring back memories when I hear them.  I always looked for ways to make music of my own.  Once, I assembled a collection of empty jam and pickle jars, filled them to different levels with water, and played the notes with a spoon.  I made up my own songs, but had no way to write them down.  It was only later that I learned music theory and harmony.  We had no piano at home, so at first I took singing lessons.  Then, when I began high school I began to use my allowance to pay for piano lessons with Sister Margaret.  My parents bought me a used piano, an oak Grinnell Bros. upright grand.    I also sang in our church choir.  We were all very young – our director was only twelve, and so was our organist.  I loved the Latin hymns and Gregorian chant.  For three summers I was able to attend a Schola Cantorum, St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir School.  Here I learned not only the newest church music, but elaborate motets by Palestrina.  I learned how to write down and direct Gregorian chant – I even had a few lessons on the pipe organ, where I found that it was very challenging to play notes with my feet!

When I started university I kept up my piano lessons.  Finding a place to practice was always a problem, so when I was at the University of Windsor I made a copy of the key to the Music House.  My first boyfriend, Bryan, was a good pianist, and he would play Chopin as I turned the pages for him.  Of course we were found out, and this got us into a lot of trouble.  After I transferred to the University of Toronto I had a very good teacher at the Conservatory, but eventually practicing became too difficult, and I had to give up my lessons.

I also joined the University of Toronto Chorus, under Lloyd Bradshaw.  During my second year with this choir we were scheduled to perform Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with the Toronto Symphony under Seiji Ozawa.  We had to audition for this performance, and I was very disappointed when my friend Jane was picked but I was not.  Then I realized that the names had not been written down, so I calmly showed up at the next practice, and nothing was said.  That performance was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.  It seems obvious that I was prepared to become a criminal if music was involved.

In the second part of this post, which is to follow at a later date,  I will talk more about the nature of music.

Both Sides Now

Often I suspect that I may be leading a double life.  Just as a person’s Facebook page does not always tell us much truth about them, often the outward appearance of a life does not accurately reflect the reality within.  At other times a life might seem more genuine when seen outside the falseness of “everyday”.  Is the world spiraling outwards, away and away from me?  Am I the kernel at the center?  Or am I the outer shell of existence, where everything I know is turning inwards, drawing down and down into itself?  We might be specks of dust floating in the air of the universe, we drift, and hit against each other now and then.  We are so transitory, and at the same time so eternal.  We are like the seeds within a flower – each one of us contains the essence of “flowerness”.  We are like the tiny treasures hidden by a child – each curious item holds a wonder that we might never guess.

Putting The Pieces Together

Now that we are well into October I have reached a different stage in my grieving process.  Just as the year is coming to a close, my mother’s life has come to a close.  What strikes me more than anything is the finality, the completeness, of death.  I realize now that once done, nothing can be added to a life.  So I ask myself – is a life whole in itself, or is it like a single piece of a thousand piece puzzle?  I have always seen life’s meaning in its potential, but where can I find the meaning when possibilities are done?  What is the essence of my mother’s life now?  Does it lie in the narrative, the story that has become part of our memories?  Does it find new life in her descendants, in its continuation in ourselves?  Just as the movement of butterflies’ wings, did the small events of one life cause endless ripples in the pond of the universe?  Does a life have its meaning in the sum of emotions, positive and negative?  Was my mother’s life sad, joyful?  Definitely there was some deep sadness – she lost a fiancee, and later a child.  I don’t know as much about my mother’s moments of joy, I can only guess.  I know that she found great happiness in nature.  She loved her home on the Third Line, surrounded by trees.  Here she worked in her garden.  Here she could cross-country ski in the winters, hike with her grandchildren in other seasons.  I am sure all of these things gave her much joy.  I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.  But I am certain that each of our lives has a special place in the whole jig-saw puzzle of existence.