I’ve been neglecting my writing group lately. I’m in the “does this book really need to be written” stage of writing my book and so I haven’t written a word in months. Last night I went to the Waterloo launch of my friend Tanis MacDonald’s new book, Mobile (published by the wonderful Book*hug), and I checked in to see if we were all still meeting in the same place, same time. “We are,” she said meaningfully, “and we’ve missed you.”
So I went today. I went, and although I did not write my book, I spent two hours doing a module of #My Blog School and crafting a blog about things I love, things that all seemed to happen on one day this week. I thought that was a good angle to take, sort of like Ian McEwan’s Saturday. Sort of. It had links, it had photos, it had a damn video. And then I lost it. I’d like to blame WordPress, but honestly I think I did it to myself. At one point I switched over to my phone, and later, after having finished the blog on my laptop, somehow saved the phone draft, which was only the first quarter of the post.
So you’ve got this post instead. This post that doesn’t say much of anything except that I poured my heart and soul into that other post and I can’t bear to try and recreate it. I was in a pissy mood when I arrived at the studio, but there’s nothing like sweating through trying to hold eagle pose with a bit of extra internal rotation in your top leg to take you out of your head. And that’s just one of the reasons that yoga is one of the things I love.
Friday morning dawned bright and sunny as we set off on our adventure. We were a few minutes late getting started, so we knew we would have to make good time if we were going to make the ferry at Tobermory. Alas, it was the Friday of the Canada Day weeken, and many others (towing campers, and boats, and trailers) were going the same way. We arrived at the ferry 50 minutes before departure time, and they had given our time ticket away. In the waiting line we went. Thankfully we squeaked on, drove into the jaws of adventure, and parked ourselves on the deck to enjoy the view.
Driving up Manitoulin Island was a dream. Beautiful pastoral fields and the water off to the side. We pulled in at 10 Mile Lookout to have a look in the trading post and take some pictures. Gorgeous view, and inside the trading post, set aside from the usual kitsch, was a room full of stunning Aboriginal art. We were taken by the paintings of James Jacko and it was difficult to leave them hanging on the walls and not spend our savings. But leave them we did, and moved on up the island.
The rest of day 1 was fairly uneventful. We drove through many more miles of gorgeous scenery and updated friends on Facebook along the way. Instructions arrived for pictures of lakes and rocks and trees, so we complied. We arrived at the hotel in Sault Ste Marie and tucked ourselves in for the night. Pfft, we thought. We can totally do this.
Day 2 was the leg between the Soo and Thunder Bay. Folks at home offered promises of stunning scenery and warned of roads that went on forever. Signs for moose appeared and despite dire warnings not to hit one, we really wanted to see one as party of our journey. Both Sally and I have spent time in Algonquin Park and seen moose of all shapes and sizes, but who gets tired of seeing wildlife. The signs promised moose and deer, and we were going to hold them to it.
This day certainly lived up to its promise of gorgeous views. Mile after mile of the two of us saying, “Oh! Pretty!” as we rounded each bend. Whoever wasn’t driving was tasked with looking for wildlife and taking snaps of the vista. It was pretty much an idyllic day. Gorgeous weather, beautiful skies, good tunes in the car (thank you, Sirius!), and uninterrupted time with my sister.
This week’s exercise from #MyBlogSchool talked about stepping out of our comfort zone and so I thought I’d write about my weekend singing with the Community Music group at Fires of Justice. Not that singing is out of my comfort zone — far from it. But showing up for an open rehearsal when I wasn’t guaranteed to know anyone else there – that was.
I am naturally drawn to the idea of community music because I find so much of my community through music. My oldest friends are from my high school orchestra days; my newest from the strong blues community here in town. In between, of course, I find community in other ways, through families of people with Down syndrome, or through fellow publishing professionals or people I’ve connected to through books and reading. Community music says that anyone can make music. No sight reading skills needed, no formal training. Open your mouth and sing or grab a drum and beat. Shake an egg and stomp your feet. Look, you’re a community musician. Great examples of this kind of approach can be found at in The Buddy Choir and in Choir on the Run, both connected to the great people at Our Studio.
Interesting, then, that the majority of the people I sang with on the weekend were Laurier music students, most of them skilled in the areas you don’t have to be to participate. Others came from Inshallah, the choir I sing with, from the choir of the church that hosted, and from the greater community (although I’d wager those numbers were few). The group was welcoming, and no questions were asked about skill levels. Sing in the group you’re comfortable with; read if you can, and listen and learn by ear if you can’t. Sing harmony if you hear one and melody at any time. We were fortunate to be backing up Abraham Jam, a group of three musicians who each identify from a different faith tradition and work the ideas of diversity, harmony and peace into their songs and performance. We sang IN community, and on Sunday night FOR community, asking only a free will offering for the ongoing social justice work of Sing Fires of Justice.
How was I out of my element? As a singer I’ve traditionally felt under-trained in comparison to my instrumental instruction. Years of violin, recorder, piano and trombone instruction left me feeling that this kind of instruction was necessary to be considered an expert or a professional. I’ve sung in choirs since I was a child, but I’ve never taken a vocal lesson. David LaMotte, one third of Abraham Jam, welcomed us all as professionals, using the term as “that which you profess”; ie, I am a singer. The word amateur, often used as a slur, actually comes from “that which you love.” He encouraged us to think less in terms of tying the word “professional” to the idea of making money and more toward the idea of what we are doing as an integral part of ourselves. I was an amateur amid many who make music as study or as their livelihood. I felt it in the beginning, but I put my game face on and found that I was up to the task and that I had skills I could share with others.
That might be the lesson, actually. You can feel under qualified about the THING you want to do, but life is rarely about one thing at a time. You will find that you have something to offer the experience just as it has something to offer you.
I thought I would blog more while I was out here but as it turns out babies are a going concern!
This has been my view for the last week, and I love it! Living two provinces away from my grandson is hard, and I know there will be tears (from me) when I leave tomorrow.
The last time I was here he was brand new and in the NICU, which was stressful for all, especially my son and daughter-in-law, who made numerous trips daily into the city to be with him.
Six months later he’s hale and hearty, and our visit has been filled with lazy days and lots of snuggles. We’ve visited the cabin, seen the first autumn snowfall, swum in the healing waters of Manitou springs with the Watrous family, and just hung out on the couch laughing and bonding over episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Daxton feels like a miracle to me, like he’s the only baby in the world. I’ll be super sad to leave him, but I’m cheered by the possibilities of technology. He’s old enough now to recognize my voice and face, and I see many long-distance chats in our future.
For today, however, you can find us snuggling up for one last day.
I saw The Peanut Butter Falcon on Sunday afternoon at the Princess Cinemas in Waterloo, our wonderful independent. I’ve been both excited and terrified to see it, as most often I hate fictional depictions of people with Down syndrome in movies and books—they’re so often either blessed angels or other harmful stereotypes. My daughter told me about the movie after she’d seen the trailer, and I watched that a few times along with an extended interview with the cast, including Zack Gottsagen, the actor with Down syndrome, who plays Zak in the movie alongside Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson. The interactions between the actors in the interview impressed me enough to sway me toward the whole movie. They, and the interviewer, gave Gottsagen time and space to answer questions in his own way and didn’t interrupt, only occasionally gently helping him out when he got stuck.
As a parent to an adult son with Down syndrome, some of the conditions portrayed in the movie were familiar to me, despite shocked gasps from the audience. To its credit, the staff at the senior’s home where Zak has to live because he has no family (or a family who abandoned him, we gather) is portrayed as caring, as I’m sure most of them are. But, “I am not old,” says Zak in the movie, and he is right. This housing “solution” happens far too often, and highlights the need for more options for people with disabilities. He tries to escape numerous times and subsequently gets labeled a “flight risk,” leading to ramifications later on. His goal is to find the Salt Water Redneck and enroll in his wrestling school, which is featured on a videotape he watches obsessively.
The best part of this film is the relationship between Zak and Tyler, Shia LeBeouf’s character. Tyler is no angel—he’s rough and ready for trouble, and he has no time for coddling. It’s a bit of a leap to imagine that he would allow Zak to tag along on his road trip, but the narrative of two guys on the lam works well. The mother in me both cringed and cheered as Tyler challenged Zak mentally and physically beyond anything we imagine him to have experienced. Most of all, over the course of this movie we see Zak go from a resigned, sad young man, to one who gleefully jumps off a crane into the water. And one who refuses to go back when Eleanor, his caretaker, finally catches up with him.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that we’re not exactly sure how it ends, because the movie leaves us guessing. I’d like to think that Zak found a life outside the senior’s home, but the realist in me knows that we don’t have enough options that allow people with disabilities to have agency in deciding their futures. Maybe movies like this contribute to understanding what has to change.
Just a quick note to say I’ve joined up for Blog School and will take my first lesson this afternoon. The wonderful Kerry Clare is offering this course and I’m excited to get writing again. Although I’m mostly doing this course to help me keep my work blog fresh and interesting I know it will help me in my creative writing as well. First blog then book. That’s the plan!
It’s time to tell you all how grateful I am, so here we go. To my family I give thanks for loving me unconditionally and providing support in so many ways. I am the luckiest daughter, sister, mother in the world. To the friends who’ve known me since high school, I’m so grateful that you’re still in my life. Impossible to put anything over on you guys, and that’s good for keeping the ego in check. I’ve made some wonderful friends in publishing whose dedication to that world and whose sense of fun sustain me on long work days. A special shout out to my university press colleagues across the country. I love you all, I really do. To my friends in the Down syndrome community, I couldn’t imagine another community I’d rather be a part of. Our shared joys and challenges have made us so close. For friends close enough to drop in for tea and for those at the other end of my computer I am grateful. Thank you for sharing your life with me.
I’m also thankful for my job at the university, which pays me a decent wage and waives fees for my children’s education. And thankful for my union for negotiating those and other benefits for me. Thankful for friends who mentored me in my early years in publishing and taught me skills I can use to freelance, ensuring that I can continue to meet not just the needs of my family but some of our wants as well. To those who value my work and encourage others to hire me, I am grateful.
Funny things, birthdays in the age of social media. It seems a day to stay offline and be with the people who are real in one’s daily life, yet one’s virtual profile is exploding with good wishes. So today I’m trying to do a bit of both. I’ve noticed in the last few months that people are taking a gratitude pledge, posting things for which they are thankful. It seems a bit of an exercise, a challenge from one person to another, and it’s made me curious about how difficult it is for people to acknowledge what is good in their lives.
I made the mental switch a while back to appreciate what I had more than lament what I didn’t. It sounds a bit sanctimonious when I write it down, but it’s made a big difference in how I approach each day. It’s as simple as knowing I am loved by my family and close friends. I’m grateful, of course, for witty, sparkling interchange with friends I mostly interact with online. And I’m always thrilled when I get to see those people IRL at annual conferences or when travelling otherwise. But with a few exceptions they’re generally not the ones I call if I want to have a howl about something sad or unjust. And that’s important to remember when trying to live in the present.
My pledge going forward into this new year is to continue to remember what’s important and what’s not, to acknowledge the good in everyday life, to nurture the relationships that sustain me, and to let go the ones that don’t. I’m grateful for everyone who took the time today to wish me a happy day. It does mean something, even if we’ve never met. I look forward to doing the same for you.
I JUST THIS MINUTE signed up for a community about creativity and productivity, so this post serves as my resolve to work on my creative writing in a more intentional way. There. I’ve said it publicly. Good night, all.