Tag: friends

Auld Lang Sigh

photo via my Instagram

At this time last year, I was laid up on a sofa, tissues at the ready, sick with the flu. My mother had gone to a nearby friend’s for the New Year’s Eve countdown, with my assurance that was fine to leave me alone; I just needed rest and relaxation, and there was nothing further she could do past the jello-making and soup-heating and tea-freshening she’d been doing for twenty-four hours.

Wrapping herself in a thick, woolly, vintage Hudson’s Bay coat, a jaunty hat, and chunky knitted scarf, she sauntered down the snowy street around 8pm, returning just after midnight, eyes watering from the cold, but her face flushed with happiness.

“I had three glasses of wine!” she marveled.

It seems incredible, thinking back on that night, how physically strong she was, how capable I was, even with the flu, and how much 2015, as it rolled further and further along, took out of us both.

There’s a belief that hardships are sent to teach us something — about ourselves, about our attitudes; we endure them as a means of hardening our survival instincts and honing our notions of identity. It’s true, I’m grateful for the lessons each year has brought me, but no year has taught me more, on so many levels and in so many ways. No year has made me more cynical and yet more curious, more angry and yet more accepting, more honest and yet more aware of the drive to deceive and the great, frightening need some have to throw a theatrical, rosy cover across motive, intention, behaviour, and character. 2015: harsh, painful, important. I’m glad it’s over.

Realizing many of my local relationships aren’t as true as I thought has been a good thing, but it’s also been a painful lesson. I’m grateful to the good souls who call to check on me, who take time to visit or meet up despite poor weather and busy schedules, who don’t make excuses but make time. I’m equally grateful to the far-off people who send good wishes via social media, who follow my updates and share my work —they’re people who engage, interact, actively encourage and communicate; they take the initiative to stay in touch. They get it. Expressions of support and basic concern over the course of this horrendous year, many from quarters I hadn’t expected, were, and remain, very moving. It’s meaningful to know there are people out there listening and watching, who take the time and energy to stay in touch despite busy lives and schedules.

photo via my Instagram

Of course, nothing beats an in-person conversation. Taking the initiative to gently, lovingly pull me out of the cave of grief I frequently (and often unconsciously) retreat into is something I cherish, and to be perfectly frank, I wish it happened more often. In years past, I would always be the one planning, producing, pulling people together. I stopped doing that in 2015; illness and death left me too exhausted and grief-stricken. When the realization recently hit that the only holiday party I attended this year was the one I threw myself, I became both troubled and curious; should I work on being more popular? Should I find an outside job? Ought I to subscribe to the hegemony of coupledom? What about me needed to change? Then I realized, as I have so often throughout 2015, that some people — many people — are, in fact, self-involved assholes. There’s no getting around that harsh, if unfortunately true, fact.

Good moments from 2015 happened in direct relation with, or as a direct result of, my work. Teaching in the early part of this year was one of the best professional experiences of my life; being around students with an abundance of energy, curiosity, and so many incredible stories and passions was a life-enriching thing, and I am greatly looking forward to returning to it. Deeply satisfying writing and reporting opportunities blossomed with CBC, HyperallergicOpera News and Opera Canada magazines, as well as the Toronto Symphony. Likewise, many of the best conversations, connections, and concentrations happened in and around, or because of, music and art. Good people and great moments came into my life because of shared passions. Such happenings were like shooting stars: bright, magical, brief. That is, perhaps, all they were meant to be, but their memory is beautiful, a work of art, something I go to and stare at in mute wonder.

Wonder is what shimmers around my favorite cultural things from 2015. I generally dislike “Best of/Worst of” year-end lists — to use one of my mother’s old phrases, it’s no fun looking up a dead horse’s ass — but there are certain moments that stick out: the thick, heavy lines of Basquiat’s paintings, bass baritone Philip Addis’ expression as he leaned, Brando-like, against the set of Pyramus and Thisbe, Daphne Odjig’s bright, vital colors, the way soprano Kristin Szabo and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus looked at each other in Death and Desire, Carrol Anne Curry’s laugh. I don’t want to get too trite and say “art saved my life this year,” but, in many ways, working in and around culture, sometimes through very harsh conditions and circumstances, was the best kind of therapy. My mother worked for as long as she could; it gave her a sense of accomplishment, pride in a job well and thoroughly done. Work for her was, I realize, a necessary distraction through the horrible illnesses she faced in her fifteen years of her cancer. More than a distraction, work was a kind of beacon of security, even when the nature of the work wasn’t entirely secure; the nature of the work, and the feeling it gave her, were. I get that.

photo via my Instagram

And so, as 2016 dawns, I’m tempted to want for more: more art, more magic, more satisfying work. But as 2015 so succinctly taught me, you can’t plan for pain; you can only ride its high waves, and hope, when you get sucked under, you don’t swallow too much salt water. I didn’t emerge from that sea a tinfoil mermaid; I emerged battered, bruised, with an injured foot and a sore heart. I don’t feel strong as 2015 comes to a close; I feel different. I’m more suspicious of peoples’ motives, less tolerant of bullshit. I love my work, and the possibilities it affords. There are places I want to travel, people I want to meet, things I want to see. I wish for more sincerity. Such a desire isn’t on a timetable, unfolding precisely over the course of one year, but I suspect that it helps to stay curious, critical, controlled in reactions and devoid of drama.

2016: less assholes, more authenticity. It’s a start.

Think, Do, Talk


So many things can drive friends apart: time, maturity, distance. Sometimes people grow apart gradually; other times, they are driven apart, taking refuge in their respective intransigent poles. Either way, it’s always sad. Canadian playwright Michael Nathanson has dramatized this split with his 2007 play, Talk, currently running in Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The production is a thoughtful, insightful piece of theatre that is deceptive for its naturalistic style and chatty structure. Produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, the work is both confrontational (in that you’ll be forced to re-examine your own beliefs) and inspirational (in so far as you may want to call up long-lost friends). In Nathanson’s work, it’s not so much circumstance but politics that drives a wedge between two men who’ve been friends for 18 years. A simple -or not-so-simple, depending on your viewpoint –word used by Gordon’s new girlfriend causes a rift that leads to a wide, seemingly insurmountable chasm. The varying reactions of the pair to the word’s use proves to be the unraveling of the friendship. Was it inevitable? Was the political situation of the Middle East the sleeping leviathan lying between the pair, awaiting its summons in the form of a (never-seen) woman?

Nathanson doesn’t answer these questions, but he does give us clues. Talk, for all its talking, is not merely a tough examination of Mid-East politics; it’s a close exploration of the ebbs and tides of the relationship between two men, of ways hidden currents move and shift through time and experience. The playwright muses on what might’ve occurred had Josh, the Jewish character, chosen not to express his concerns when he was able to, at the pair’s initial reuniting following Gordon introducing his lady love. As we see in small, simple gestures, even if Josh had decided to hold his tongue, the friendship would still come apart, albeit in a more pernicious, painfully slow way.

Director Ted Dykstra inherently understands the heart that beats behind the angry, passionate political arguments; it’s a heart that the two men share, but which is destined to crack in two. With carefully considered blocking, a simple, elegant design and dramatic, clear lighting (both by Steve Lucas), the characters’ various feelings and reactions (expressed both inwardly and outwardly) are expressed as the two try to hammer out common ground while, on some level, knowingly smashing the continental coastlines of difference. Performers Kevin Bundy (as Gordon) and Michael Rubenfeld (as Josh) give genuinely passionate, moving performances as the two longtime buddies whose conflicts are both personal and political in nature.

Nathanson, who is also a producer with the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre Company, spoke about the writing of the play in the post-performance discussion I attended, and while he shied away from admitting the play is based on actual experience, he did say its events were inspired by the fall-out he and a friend had over an email that he’d been sent after 9/11. The incident forced him to consider what comes to be a major thematic motif of the play: “At what point, as a Jew, do I say, ‘You can’t do this’?” The choice that faces Josh -to speak or not to speak -is one that haunts the entire work, and it gives Talk a certain bittersweet flavor that’s similarly reflected in the choice to leave Gordon’s new girlfriend unseen. This technique renders the character (and her perceived influence over Gordon) all the more powerful, if equally mysterious; how much is Josh’s outrage political, and how much is pure jealousy? As Nathanson reminded us in the discussion, director Dykstra approached the work as a love story, which it unquestionably is: the deep vein of friendship that binds, however, also divides. It’s a line neither man seems willing to step across by the work’s end. You’ll leave thinking not only about the world politics that can -and do -divide people, but about personal politics that leave terrible scars.

Talk runs at the Jane Mallett Theatre / St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto through March 20th.

Making Time

Work work work work work work work.

That’s all I’ve really been up to the last little while. I’m fortunate that I adore what I do, though I’m still navigating the for-work/just-fun bleed-overs that inevitably occur when one loves the arts, and happens to report and write on them.

This past week, I read, with great interest, the increasing rarity of freelancers taking vacations, which was good timing, considering I’d been thinking the exact same thing for months now. The last time I took a real, honest-to-God, non-working vacation, was 2002. Yikes. While I love stay-cations -and lord knows they’re getting to be the norm now -I am hungering to go away. I love what I do, I love the people I get to interact with, but… I just want to turn off the mind (and the computer) for a while and re-connect with the stuff that inspired me to go into arts reporting in the first place.

Yesterday I rang up a friend. We’d talked about going to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Surrealism exhibit the last time we’d brunched, which was in… eeek, May.

“We said we should go when it was opening, “she mused, “and now it’s going to be ending!” Yes, ridiculous.

Sp we both agreed to make the time to get together and go art-ying.

Making time -for friends, for art, for life and for one’s self -is so vital these days.
It’s getting harder and harder to do, and yet it as the days and weeks rush by, it becomes more and more important.

I may not be able to up and take off for the month-long break I’m hankering after (but Eastern Europe, I hope to see you in the spring). So, in lieu of that, I’m hoping to make time -for friends, family, art, me -amidst the rush this week. Walking, workouts, lunch, coffee, painting, drawing, and, would you believe, writing -the kind I have been doing now and again, just for me. I want to make time for the things and the people I care about -now, more than ever, crappy summer weather be damned.

For now, back to work.

Oh yeah: featured painting is by favourite artist and mondo-personal inspiration Louis Le Brocquy. I plan on seeing his work in-person someday in the near future, and not merely spread across my laptop’s screen. Yes indeed… I’ll make the time.

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