packing-boxes

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore …


Ach and oy vey! This house move is cramping my style, big time. Haven’t been able to get out to a lot of events, because time’s a ticking, and there’s only so many hours in a day. I’d like to say I’ve become more selective in my outing choices. But the truth is, moving and packing is a bitch. There just isn’t any time to gallivant around.

But let me tell you about two recent events I did manage to squeeze in. Both were wonders in their own ways.

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

molly johnson jazz.jpgA few weeks ago, I was having lunch with friends in the Market, when Molly Johnson came bopping along. Molly may be a Canadian icon – a singer, songwriter, broadcaster and philanthropist  – but that day she was a woman on a mission, distributing posters and postcards to the local shops, in aid of her latest project – the first annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival. It was the first I’d heard of it. When I asked how I could help, she asked if my friend Barbette and I would volunteer to handle door duties at some of the gigs.

Could I?  Well – time is tight – so, one gig was all I could commit to. And what a gig! The first act of the night at The Boat was an up and coming sax player. Alison Young. She and her quartet performed a strong, solid set. Loved it! She’s got a record coming out soon. .. and you should buy it.

A quick pause for the cause .. ran into Eric Alper hanging at the venue next door … and then we were on to the second set.

I’ve always considered The Shuffle Demons one of Toronto’s seminal acts, combining jazz and street wisdom in a playful, theatrical fashion.  And hot damn! Really good players.

So  I was thrilled to do door for the guys. Richard Underhill is, amongst other things, a past mayoral candidate. He’s a smart dude, a good dude, always on the ball. And a hell of a band leader.

As we took in the dough at the door … and it was very well attended, so we were kept very busy … I heard Richard say to his wife, “Just try to video our entry.”

I warned Barbette … we were in for some FUN!

And sure enough, The Shuffle Demons made an impeccable entrance, coming up The  Boat’s stairs in full regalia, tootling their tootlers, dancing with jin jinglers tied on to  their heels  They blew their hoo hoovers, they blanged their tar tinglers …  you get the drift.

It was just the start. Two hours later, I was exhausted! I had sung along, screamed along, danced along!

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I had a very good time.

Bohemian Embassy Redux

(all Bohemian Embassy artist pics are courtesy of Sue Peters, with thanks!.)

Friday past – An evening of memories, poetry, and wonderful song!

Way before I hit the Big Smoke, an actor/writer/poet named Don Cullen had staked out a turf he called the Bohemian Embassy.  You may also remember him from his 20 years as a regular on Wayne and Shuster.

His Bohemian Embassy was a place where musicians, artists, poets, and those with a theatrical bent, could come to test their fledgling wings. The Embassy moved around a bit, first appearing on St Nicholas Street, from 1960 through 1966, and then reappearing at Harbourfront, from 1974 to 1976.

Couldn’t happen today. We’re too busy converting our history into condos.

But back then, oh, it could. And it did happen.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-don-cullenDon Cullen was the Pied Piper of Possibilities, of that first break,  when the world was wide open to the new. New music, new sounds … whatever could be dreamed up, this was a place where it could be showcased.

The memories flowed from the speakers .. of the days when a young Margaret Atwood could read her first scribblings to a rapt audience; where Milton Acorn and Al Purdy found a place to showcase their poems;  where Lorne Michaels practiced his directing; where players as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot and Klaas von Graft could hone their craft, while Bob Dylan, famously, was denied a spot on the roster.

Several luminaries were unable to join the gathering, held at the Toronto Library Yorkville branch, including John Robert Columbo, Sylvia Tyson, and Ms Atwood herself (though she did send a beautiful floral bouquet, with a sweet note, signed “Peggy.”)

But those who came, and entertained us, included our hostess Linda Goldman (who also helped fund the reunion,) Mr. Cullen himself, Chick Roberts (The Sinners/The Dirty Shames,) Klaas von Graft and Beverlie Robertson (The Chanteclaires,) Judith Orban, Joanne Crabtree, Owen McBride, Sharon Hampson (Sharon, Lois and Bram,) Keith McKie (Kensington Market,) Riverboat performer Dede Higgins, poet and author Robert Priest, musician and satirist Nancy White, and Terry Jones and David Woodhead of Perth County Conspiracy, accompanied by Nancy Solway, and Bob Cohen.

And each one showed that the faith, and the talent that Don Cullen had seen in them, so many years before, had not been misplaced.

There was that old Yorkville hippie spirit in the room, as performer after performer trotted out their memories, talents, and affection for Cullen and the venue he created. Nancy White’s rendition of her song, “Popular Don Cullen,” had the audience joining in wholeheartedly, as did so many of the other performers’ classic Canadiana and folk offerings.

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Keith McKie’s songs were  ethereal and timeless.

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Perth County Conspiracy’s mini set was simply beautiful – the harmonies were sublime.

 

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And poet Robert Priest did not disappoint, as he read the first poem he’d written and debuted at the Embassy, and concluded with a new poem on social injustice that had the audience howling with laughter. Priest’s writing is sublime, and his reach wide. As a songwriter, he co-wrote (with Nancy Simmonds) the international hit, “Song Instead of a Kiss” for Alannah Myles.

I went to this event expecting a nostalgia fest, centered on a time before my own. Instead, I was enthralled, touched, invigorated, and thoroughly entertained by each of those who came to give of their time and their hearts to the “Popular Don Cullen.”

And now … back to packing up my world … if you need me, you’ll have to dig me out from under the hoard …

 

Rosemary Solway, Bob Cohen,Yorkville , Nancy White, Keith McKie, Perth County Conspiracy, Robert Priest , Nancy Simmonds, Alannah Myles.

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Epiphany – Life Changes


We sold our house a month and a half ago … got a good price, and a long lead time, so we’re pretty happy about that. My husband is retiring in December, and I won’t be that far behind him. And this is a fairly large property, that feels too big for he and I to care for. Well, we probably could. We just don’t care to.

Big changes in life are like earthquakes; all that was simmering below the surface is suddenly revealed in the upheaval.

The last six weeks have been traumatic. At first, the relief of selling, along with the funds that will follow, made me giddy with excitement. And then, after the thrill wore off, ugly reality set in. I’ve been a home owner for almost thirty years, and a hoarder for at least the last ten. Faced with the need to evaluate what I value, and what is valuable – two very different things – it was time to finally decide the direction my life will take for the next chapter.

I sank into a paralysis of indecision, tortured by what I would be giving up … my large back yard, and gardens; this beautiful street; the lake at the bottom of the hill. The house, I realized, had never really mattered, but being an owner of a house did. If I decided I wanted to put up shelves, paint a wall, even put a nail in a cupboard to hold my measuring spoons, those were MY decisions, and the consequences mine to answer for.

Renting will be very different. I will have to ask ‘permission’ to do so many things, including keeping a pet. I understand that. Owning property is a big deal. Making sure that property retains value is a big deal. I can’t expect to freely treat a rental unit as I would a home in which I have a financial stake.

However, losing that autonomy is also a big deal. In many ways it feels like a surrender, like going home to the parents after making a stab at liberation. I’m an independent cuss, so that doesn’t feel very good at all.

It also smacks of the other end of life, of the surrendering of independence in pursuit of once more being taken care of by others.

So I am simultaneously feeling like a young bird, leaving the nest, and an old dog, hoping its owners will still appreciate and comfort it as it ages.

 

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But What If You Live?


 

baby-boomer-stats-chart-jpgFor boomers, aging is a bit like puberty; we don’t know what’s next, and we’re both eagerly anticipative and terrified of what’s to come. Often simultaneously.

Thing is … part of us always knew we were gonna age, if we were lucky. But that old ‘hope I die before I get old ‘kicks in every time we try to picture what ‘old’ looks like.

If we’ve failed to plan – financially, emotionally, spiritually – for how we’ll live out our Golden Years, we’ve done ourselves an enormous disservice. But hang on … if we got the lucky genetic ticket, we may have decades to live those years!

happy retirement book.jpgSo when the idea of retiring comes along, whether because we’re closing in on 60 or because other factors, like failing health, or a kick out the door from long time employment, play a part, it can be a bit of a shock. It doesn’t matter whether your retirement is because you want to, or have to .. it’s gonna be a ride.

What does 65 look like? What about retirement?  How do these new facets of life feel? Do I have one foot on a banana peel and the other on a bar of soap?

20-retirement-decisionsWill I be happy and relaxed, comfortable, with plenty of time to pursue my hobbies, living the good life, traveling for pleasure, or to visit family and friends? Or will I be scrambling to make ends meet, worried I’ll outlive my money? Some will never feel secure, no matter how much money they have, while others struggle with very little in their pocketbooks, but are rich in friendship and emotional support.

One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to cultivate friendships with a diverse group of like-minded people. No matter how many friends you had at the age of 50, I can guarantee that number will have dropped considerably by the time you’re 70. But it’s not the quantity of friends you’ve got, it’s the quality. We always have to keep in mind that the excellence of our own lives is improved or damaged by the people we are surrounded by . Toxic people will suck your energy dry, and leave you unsettled and defeated. People who see possibilities, and have hopes and dreams of their own, carry you along on their energy.

older-friendshipsAs my friend Barbette Kensington says, “Aging is about how bright your light glows…. keep up the energy level; the more you do the more you can do. Watch your friends and environment; don’t let anybody or anything break your stride…“

But how do you fill the hours that used to be spent, not only at work, but getting ready for work, and winding down from work? Although we spend the majority of our working lives believing that we’re an important cog in the machine, the truth is, the hole we leave behind is quickly filled.  When you step off the moving sidewalk of life, even for a few moments, it’s still moving on, just without you. And it can be mystifying to try and get back on, and scary when you don’t know what you missed while you were off the treadmill.

When I popped my head out of the gopher hole of several years of clinical depression, I was stunned at how subtly but irrevocably the world had changed while I was oblivious.  It was frightening, and all I wanted to do was to crawl back into that black hole.  Expect to feel that way at times. it’s a fast paced world we live in, and some days are harder to cope with than others.

insults of aging. jpg.jpgPlanning for a decent retirement from full time work goes way beyond financial, by the way. Even those retirees I know, that have salted away a good nest egg, have much more to deal with than just money. There may be downsizing involved, which in itself is horrifically conscious altering. There may be health issues, relationship issues, or, just to complicate matters, the health issues of those you’re in a relationship with.

Whether it’s your own physical problems, or those of a loved one, our ability to enjoy life may be hampered, and make even the most mundane things difficult.

For many, having a secondary income  may be necessary to supplement pensions. The base income of most Canadians without a company pension is around $1400.00 a month. If you live in a big city, that’s just not gonna cover much more than your rent. Finding paid consulting work in your field, with the accompanying benefit of staying on top of what’s new in that playing field, may be just the ticket. But even if that’s off the table, finding a part time job of any kind, and no matter how humble, can help bridge the gap. Just having a schedule … somewhere you have to be, and where people rely on your being there, can help maintain mental and emotional health.

babyboomerVolunteering may never have been something you’d thought of as ‘work,’ but it is, and it can be a lot of fun, as well as a benefit to your community. Sharing your knowledge of what you’ve learned in your field can be another way to not only keep your mind ticking over, but of giving those just starting in your turf a leg up.

My desire to be an ‘eternal student’ may be in my future, thanks to special grants and waivers given to seniors, and Ontario’s recent change to the Ontario Student Grant, which will provide free tuition for Ontario students with a family income of less than $50K a year, and increase access to interest-free and low-cost loans   (read all about it at https://www.ontario.ca/page/new-ontario-student-grant)

The bottom line is – so many of us worry about getting old – but so few of us think about what we’ll do if we live. Our choice then becomes the quality of that life.

I’ve seen some who have weathered much in their lives, and are stronger for having fought and won their battles. Those are the live wires that may flirt with retiring, but somehow can’t get the hang of it. Those are the people wringing out every bit of life for as long as they can. They are the people you see on the street, and want to know, because they glow with purpose. If they are forced into retiring, it’s not long before they’ll announce that they are ‘unretiring.’  Running out the clock just doesn’t work for them .. they’re not leaving this good earth and all it has to give until they’re damn well ready to do so.

flirting-with-deathWhile I see others, who have ‘retired’  by retreating from life, and  waiting for death, sinking deeper and deeper into the anaesthesia of pills and booze, ‘self-medicating’ the pain of their losses, kept housebound, fearful of their surroundings, and interested only in their own aches and pains, and needs and emotions. Addicted to quasi-medical shows that sensationalize the dangers of everyday life, and media that fattens its ratings by appealing to their fears of a world that feels increasingly more dangerous, they wrap themselves in cotton wool, unable to trust anyone, spiralling down into a paralyzing world hell bent on picking their corpses clean before they’ve even been buried.

It’s a lifestyle choice.

There’s always more to learn, and you owe it to yourself to do so. Dr. Christiane Northrup is spreading the message that as you get older, you do not have to conform to the cultural baggage of what that means.

“Age is just a number, and agelessness means not buying into the idea that a number determines everything from your state of health to your attractiveness to your value,” she writes in the introduction to her new book, “Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being.”

Dr. Mario Martinez, a neuropsychologist, wrote in his book “The Mind Body Code” that getting older is inevitable. It just means moving through space. Aging, on the other hand, is optional. What we’ve come to associate with the word “aging” in our culture is an inevitable decline and deterioration. time travel trams.jpgWhat I’m talking about is reframing the experience of moving through time, so that as we do grow older we can step out of these age-based associations that can keep us in a cage. “

Me and Doctor Who, moving through time … I like that …     

When we fear the future, we are running FROM life – when we anticipate what might be, we are running TOWARDS it, with our eyes and minds and hearts and arms wide open, ready to accept all that a lifetime has to offer.

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Life’s Lottery


Every living creature was entered into a lottery, the minute sperm and egg combined to create them.

We didn’t know it was a lottery, we didn’t know we had a ‘ticket’ – but it was, we did, and here we are, with our winning ticket in our hands.

The problem is … the prizes are not necessarily what we might have chosen or hoped to win. Some of us became animals, others, humans. Some of us were born in comfort, while others opened their newborn eyes in a war torn land.

Some were born, and perished in the same moment. Some were born with physical or mental defects that they and their families would have to deal with. There were many skin colours we could have received; some got the colours that worked well for them, within their society. Some were born with skin colours that did not guarantee a secure life.

Some received wonderful gifts – beauty, intelligence, skills that would serve them well. Others, often through no fault of their own, were born with the potential to succeed, but in surroundings that would prevent that success ever happening.

Some were born to parents who wanted them, parents that could nurture their growth. Sadly .. many more were deprived that privilege.

Some lottery wins are more prized than others. We didn’t pick our tickets; we didn’t even know we were entered. But we are, nonetheless, playing our tickets, for better or for worse.

We tell ourselves, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’

But we don’t all enter the game with the same protective equipment, or the same innate skills or abilities.

Is it fair to blame those players who still try to play – but who can’t compete through circumstances they ‘won’ in the lottery of conception?

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An Attitude of Gratitude


I am not a religious woman. I see some that take great comfort in their faiths, and I am happy that it makes them happy. To gather together with others of like views and beliefs, to share song and nourishment, is the essence of community.

I also see some who insist that everyone must follow the same faiths and paths that they have chosen, even if it must be enforced by law or violence.  That is an abuse of the same spirit that causes people to want to come together in joy and a common pursuit. A forced faith, brought about by societal or legal pressure, is not a true faith, and is quickly discarded when the pressure to comply is lifted.

taking-for-grantedMy faith, if that is what it is, lies in gratitude. I’m thankful for so much around me, most of which is unearned except by having been born the person I am, in the society I live within. There is nothing remarkable about me. Some parts of my life have been very difficult, but, at other times, life has been very good. The me that lived through all the parts of my life is always grateful, whether it is for a little or a lot, of whatever I’ve got.

In a consumer society, all of the world’s riches are still never enough. We are constantly bombarded with urgings to buy more and more physical goods. This one is new and therefore better! This one is improved!  Buy this makeup/clothing/car and you’ll be prettier/sexier/more acceptable/maybe even loved! And for heaven’s sakes – discard what once was exactly what you thought you needed to achieve happiness. Make room for more stuff that you’ll faintly resent moments after purchase. Because  …

happy-people-are-thankfulStuff doesn’t create happiness.  Happiness cannot be bought. The feelings of comfort, joy, and community rise from not just an acceptance of who and what you are, but from thankfulness for the people you’ve chosen to surround yourself with, who accept you for who and what you are, wherever you are, whatever the conditions.

We are easily distracted. Something shiny will always come along that entices us to look at what we have, and find it wanting. There is no joy or happiness in envy or greed. The need to acquire hides our truest desire – to truly see what we have,  with loving and compassionate eyes, and be thankful, no matter the circumstances.

 

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Baby Steps are Still Steps


“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1803-1882, Essayist

Maybe – maybe not. I know that I need to get my butt into high gear, in order to meet the deadlines set by selling my house, and thus needing to relinquish the hoard.

I know it makes people around me happy when they see that I’ve actually accomplished stuff by the end of the day, when they can see boxes or bags tagged with instructions for what’s going where and when.

But the boxes and bags are symbols. They contain physical ‘stuff,’ and thus must be moved from one location to another. Stuff, eventually and inevitably, has no real value.

It is the people in the house who must prepare, mentally and emotionally, when a house is no longer a home.

Uncertainty and fear of the unknown roils the stomach, causes panic, and provokes knee jerk reactions to what would be a simple bit of movement or thought on another day, in another time.

Action needs a plan that encompasses many needs and wants. Action is a rational response to a situation. Reaction based on fear is rarely as productive as plotting the many steps involved in a large undertaking.

It may feel like the taking of action propels us forward into what we must next do – and in some instances, that action clears away obstacles that impede a forward movement. But many such actions also wipe away possibilities, and the inescapable realities of how others may be affected by the taking of actions.

Reaction is forced action. It mocks all needs except the primal, and demands response, retribution, visible forward propulsion, often based on no more than extreme emotion.

Theory – planning – outlining the steps. These are the blueprints of action. Action that follows theory is good action.

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Inaction and Consequences


There are risks and costs to action…But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.          John F. Kennedy – 1917-1963, 35th U.S. President

Somewhere along the line – was it in the disco 70s? The ‘Me” decade of the 80’s? The Naughty 90’s? The despair of the Noughties?

Somewhere in there, we lost our way.rox-1964-5th-grade-lacademie-assomption

In the 1950s, we were all shook up, and in the sixties, we tuned in, turned on, and changed the world. We believed in ourselves and that our actions had global impact. And we were right.

But all that action was exhausting.  We couldn’t keep it up, and we were busy patting ourselves on the back for being so hip and cool and groovy. We had used our flower power to launch a civil rights movement, and to stop an unjust war! The U.S. landed a man on the moon! Now we dance!

civil rights 60s protest.jpgRetribution for the changes we had wrought came swiftly. Those who hate change targeted those who encouraged change. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy – all assassinated for daring to dream of a better world.

Racism and ignorance tore the bright and shiny dreams of peace and equality of the sixties into shreds, and now, it threatens to do so again. The way forward is not paved with bullets and brutality. The raised voice and fist of dictatorship enslaves;  it does not elevate a people or a culture, it tramples them into the ground.

Our years of ‘comfortable inaction’ have birthed some of the worst, most self-indulgent, and reprehensible political representatives of all time. Around the world, and at every level of government, the choices are dismal, with little to discern one corrupt, manipulative and greedy candidate from another.

Before you point the finger – know that you did this to yourselves. Know that wanting our own well-being at any cost, opting for indulgences as we decimated the middle class, slotting anyone who didn’t look or act like us into the reject pile of life … all of these ‘inactions,’  in the name of comfort, created the monsters we now see before us.

walle_interactionThe years of focusing on what made us happy; on choosing the cheap over the well-made (and in that group, I include the ‘heroes’ we pedestaled;) the crude and ugly brutality of racism and bigotry whipped up by leaders who chose fear of others as their platforms; the laziness of passionate if largely uninformed opinion over fact and reason; the years of “too long: didn’t read”  – all of those   combined – have given us the governments we deserve.

govt-we-deserveWe lost belief in ourselves, and demanded less of our leaders. We lost sight of the fact that every action we take has global impact. We refused responsibility. We chose comfort for ourselves over the welfare of the planet.

The actions we could have, and should have, taken in controlling our voracious greed for wealth and power, never happened.

And now we are reaping the long range risks of comfortable inaction.