100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

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Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture
Sinche, Sinche 
celiadermontblog.com

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned At Easter Brunch: the times they are a-changing

IBM SelectricAt Easter brunch, I learned that a 15 lb, 3-month-old baby is too heavy for these ancient arms. I learned that a grade 3-er doesn’t read cursive writing, except her name, which she can proudly sign. I learned that a 30 year-old is baffled by the expression “ham it up” and others, which astonished elders then trotted out to further bafflement. I learned that this same young man can solve a computer problem that I have struggled over for at least an hour in a split second. I relearned that even the grade 3-er spends half her time face down to her device – a tablet, as did those 20 and 30 with their smart phones.

I already knew that my 19-year-old grandson, who was having Easter brunch across the continent, had a problem telling time on a non-digital clock and my 28-year-old grandson prefers to print rather than write. Although he must have also more or less mastered his signature – to be a doctor. That can be blamed on the “hippie” school he went to in Los Angeles. I have heard about an 18-year-old who went to apply for his passport and couldn’t sign his name. There is an ad posted in my doctor’s office for private lessons in cursive writing. My sister, Georgia says that curriculum is so demanding these days that teachers can’t give much time to practice, although cursive is still taught in the school she knows best.

In the spirit of cultural exchange, I recalled to a 20-something, my progress from straight pen and ink well to fountain pen. She knew about fountain pens, but had never much considered there was a time before the ball point pen or biro as the Brits say. She had never heard about the dastardly male-child practice of dipping the braids of the girl in the desk in front into his inkwell. She obviously had never been chosen for the momentous task of filling the ink wells. She had missed the joys of ink splatters and blotting paper. I inevitably got marked down for messy writing. We were allowed fountain pens eventually and I got one when I graduated from grade 8. And lost it in early grade 9.

The computer whizz recalled that first they had to write their essays in cursive and then they were forbidden to. In fact, even I experienced the shift to typed-only essays in my night school courses, a major pain since I had deliberately not taken typing so that my father couldn’t make me quit school to work in an office. In addition, school secretaries no longer typed material for teachers – cost cutting started in the 70s. The typewriter with corrective ribbon -an IBM Selectric- came along to save me. I could barely lift it.  I learned to type one-handed, 3-fingered, quite fast, as I am doing now – while looking at the keys. My first Apple desk top computer in 1992 was a dream come true, of course no corrective ribbon, but “delete” and “undo” and “copy” and “paste”.

The conversation at brunch moved to the study of key board/ typing skills. Mostly, it doesn’t seem to be happening. It is assumed that one way or another kids have those skills once they get to high school. So much for QWERTY. The little finger may become vestigial.

The 50-year-olds watched cartoons from the thirties as children and learned old-fashioned expressions then or from Andy Rooney pictures. The 30-year-olds are more apt to have learned expressions from Rooney Mara, whose tattooed girl had computer chops they can admire.

My own colloquial history, alas, goes back to the 19th century. My grandparents were born at the end of it, and dragged their parents’ language from mid-century in to my early life in the late 30s. One internet citing traces “ham it up” to a mid 19th century touring theatre group in the U.S. led by a man named Ham, and given, I suppose, to exaggerated gestures and bombast. (The 19th century means 1800 to 1899, by the way.)

Sorry if that note is offensive, but yesterday I told someone that one of my grandsons is in California, the other in Massachusetts and she asked if they were far apart.

Earlier I remarked to a friend about the beautiful robin song we could hear and she said, “Is that a robin? I don’t know bird calls.”

What is the world …… etc?

It’s Earth Day. It wasn’t called that in 1949. It was called Arbour Day and we were herded outside with rakes and other implements of mutual destruction to clean up the school yard and we were jolly well expected to know the birds we heard there and the trees we raked under and the bushes and even the bloody weeds.

Okay. Times change. Catch up girl.

I dislike the way the French police their language. The number of French words in use – so quick research tells me is about 43,000. Samuel Johnson’s 2 volume English dictionary of 1755 had about the same number -of English words. Today’s Complete Oxford Dictionary, 20 volumes, has over 200,000 and some estimates put the number of English words even higher. The amazing thing about our language – you are reading this in it after all, so it’s ours- is its adaptability. We accommodate change and even embrace it. (I do still bristle at “grow our business”, having the old idea that you can grow carrots but not businesses.)

True, for over 30 years, I was in the business of holding the line on grammatical structure. I had that mandate, but I didn’t like it much. I saw that sentence fragments could be the best way for students to express an idea, for example. I red-penned errors that made a sentence incomprehensible, but I may have let down standards otherwise.

Talking to Georgia, I said wealth distribution is changing so that a small percentage of people -1%?- have most of it and I think there is a similar disparity between the percentage of people who read and those who don’t, between the intellectual and the non-idea people. Of course they are not at all the same group. In fact, apart from Conrad Black, the 1% and the readers seem exclusive of each other. (I know, really, me bad, as the kids now say. Dumbed down from my bad. Even dumbness can be dumbed down.)

I failed to transmit my knowledge and love of the King James Bible and the Anglican liturgy to my children. I made a stab at it by giving my bar mitsva-ed grandson the King James Bible and he used it as a literary resource. The younger one eats up marketing books. He believes strongly in the necessity of being cultured, but his definition differs from mine. He seems to mean “becoming fully human”.

Looking at my past, I see that apparently, I don’t want to set our culture in stone but I am uneasy with the rapid change I observe. I suspect that my uneasiness comes from the fact that I am cut off from what is replacing it, out of touch, a relic of a bygone age. Except at Easter brunch.

 

Easter Retrospective

I love Easter as a time of rebirth, a resurrection of life. When I was a child, there was always a new outfit, hand-sewn and often cut down and reworked from other garments, new white shoes and a new hat, usually white straw with flowers, chilly to wear when Easter was early as it was this year. To me, it was an unparalleled celebration of light, a miracle – like finding the horse radish root pushing green up out of the newly thawed soil.

In those days, I hadn’t heard about the Easter bunny. He didn’t come to the hills where my family farmed hardscrabble soil. But the hens had started laying eggs again by then and they were served in abundance on Easter Sunday breakfast. It wasn’t unheard of for a farmer like my father to polish off a dozen when he came in from milking and before we all set off for church.

Once we moved to town there were still new clothes at Easter and our growing family might even present itself at church, but that was a special occasion. I would have been the only family member who went for all the Sundays in Lent and right the way through, I would have been looking forward to the exuberance of Easter Sunday.

My love for the Anglican liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible were enough to keep my child self coming  back for more.

This past Easter Sunday, I revisited some of that poetry as I drove north to Barrie, Ontario for brunch. I fired up my iPhone and listened to the second part of Handel’s “Messiah”, beginning just before the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Handel took the passages from the Bible and set them to his stirring music. One of my favourite pieces is the soprano aira, “I know that my redeemer liveth”, (Job XIX, 25-26) which ends with “And tho’ worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God”. The remaining songs are taken from Psalms and the writings of the Apostle Paul, mostly the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians.

I have been lucky in my religious education. I listened to the beautiful King James Bible being read aloud in church and at my grandmother’s, daily in the latter case. I went to church religiously: I sang in the children’s choir. And the university I went to was affiliated with the Baptist Church still when I attended it. Not my church and at the time, I was not happy with the mandatory religious studies, but it gave me a ‘grown-up’ perspective on the New Testament, especially on Paul.

As I listened to “The Messiah” – and drove northward, I remembered reading Tim Harpur’s book The Pagan Christ at Easter in 2004 and I got to thinking about Paul’s letters to the early Christian church. The Apostle’s letters are actually the earliest writings in the New Testament and are “virtually” silent “on the whole subject of a historical Jesus of Nazareth” (Harpur, 166). Paul’s writing predates the earliest gospel, that of Mark, by about 20 years. First Corinthians probably dates from 55 A.D. “Paul was a mystic and he knew only the mystical ‘Christos’, Christ not ‘after the flesh’ but after the spirit. As he says, ‘The Lord is that spirit’.” (Harpur, 172) Paul does not talk about Jesus Christ as a personal saviour, in other words, he talks about redemption through the Christ within. It was the next generation of writers, working from an oral tradition, who wrote about a historical Jesus who died 70 years before.

Harpur, like other scholars before him, noted the similarity between the story of Jesus and the stories of other divine sons of God like the Egyptian, Horus.  He concluded, after much research and soul searching, that the Gospel stories were “true myths” but not meant to be taken literally. This was not an easy conclusion for him to come to. It had unsettled him badly at first, but ultimately, it lent depth to his faith. It meant that he as an individual was responsible for his own salvation, the Bible having shown the way. Jesus Christ had to be born in the cave of his own heart. The stone had to be rolled away from the tomb of his own deadness, the oblivion of being incarnated in flesh, so that the Christ within would be resurrected and true spiritual consciousness be attained.

By the time I read The Pagan Christ, I did not find the idea surprising. I had worked my way around to a similar position reading Buddhist and Taoist writing. It seems to me that all religions come around to that idea. The 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi, speaks of the ecstatic union with the Friend as a sort of drunken abandon. My Aunt Mae dwelt in great joy with her best buddy Jesus. You could hear her singing His praises as you walked up to her isolated, tiny house. I do not doubt that she saw heaven on earth.

At such festivals, I find myself reworking meaning, sorting out the literal from the metaphorical. But in the end, I do not doubt that “my redeemer liveth… and in my flesh shall I see God”.

Easter/Passover and Journal 108

Every Easter, my mother outfitted me in new clothes, a coat she had made, a new hat, new shoes. Not to do so, in spite of our poverty, would have been shameful. Eventually, this led to a good deal of work as the family expanded. The clothes were to be worn to church of course. Today she would have shuffled us off to Walmart no doubt, but the closest she could get to that bazaar of economic necessity was the catalogue. That’s where the hat and shoes came from.

For Easter breakfast, she would fry up a dozen eggs and my father would tackle the lot.  The hens had started laying again by then, whether Easter was early or late.

Quaint customs that indicate advanced age.

We moved away from that rural community and found ourselves more or less lost in a city. The rest of the family gave church up, but I kept on, partly because they didn’t. I sang in the children’s choir in a long black skirt and a brilliant white surplus that had to be washed and ironed far too often. On Good Friday, I went to the somber morning service and on Easter Sunday, I rejoiced at all three services, Matins at 8 a.m., Eucharist at 11 and Evensong at 7. I found the experience beautiful, calming and comforting. Little by little, I found myself thoroughly assimilating the traditions of the “high” Anglican church I attended.

At a certain point, I stopped attending church. It was shortly after my children were born and baptized. My husband had started tutoring on Sunday morning and could no longer do childcare.

Yet the habits of that background persisted: Good Friday inevitably lead me to self-examination and grief over my shortcomings, while Easter Sunday was filled with light and grace.

Time moved on. The family grew, broke in pieces, reformed, grew again.

Some years, I found myself at a table where we were asked,”How is this night different from all other nights? I listened to the Passover story, which was not entirely new to a Bible reader after all, but now I was seeing it from inside, so to speak. And eating different food.

One year, when I was on my own, I read Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ in which he documents the parallels between Christ and the pagan sun gods to urge us to regard the story in a more metaphorical way. Toward the end of the book, he mused that we will never be more dead than we are now. By that, he meant here in what we call life, we are so thoroughly emersed in the material world that we are deeply alienated from our spiritual selves.

This is a time when we instinctively ponder questions of death and resurrection if only because nature is modeling the latter. (Well, not the poor magnolias here in TO. They got carried away by early March warmth, burst into bud and then got frozen by a cold night. The fruit trees ,however, are setting a blooming example.)

I don’t consider myself an Anglican nor even a Christian at this point, much as I respect the tradition. Buddhism and Taoism also seem to have much to teach, as does Rumi, the great 13th century Sufi poet. But the Easter child lurks within and wants the holiday honored.

This year, oh my goodness, the odd bits of family we can still gather has chosen to gather on Friday. A party on Good Friday! What would Aunt Mae say? Actually, she’d probably say she wouldn’t mind a bit of that brandy and settle down to enjoy herself.

So this leaves me rattling around by myself on the big day. What to do? Last year, journal 108 tells me I went for a walk down through the park to the river and then cooked up a rack of lamb and asparagus. This year, I will take myself out in my best duds to my favorite restaurant for an early dinner.

And eat chocolate.