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All posts for the month January, 2012

Rape, Sordid Sex and Self Actualization

Published January 23, 2012 by megdedwards

I was reading The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, the second book I have bought on my kindle, last night before falling into delicious sleep.  My interest in the book was twigged by an interview with the author on CBC Radio.

The novel is told by a 12 year old girl in the 1800’s in New York City.  The young girl named Moth is poor, homeless and vulnerable to everybody, but she is an attractive protagonist because she is a tough little survivor. Apparently the author’s great great grandmother was a doctor in New York and this set off Mckay’s interest in the period.

Extensive research has been done by the author to give the real details of the time.  All though we see the world through the eyes of Moth, the other voice we hear from is Dr. Sadie, one of the first female physicians, who travels from bedsit to boarding house (or brothel) to back rooms of burlesques. She tries to protect Moth from contacting syphilis; a deadly disease at the time that some men believed would be cured by having sex with a virgin.

I have always enjoyed books with bleak environments and strong characters, I read Mare Claire Blais when I was 13 as if her books were a Nancy Drew series. Last night I was drawn into the story.

Usually I read until I am passing out and I can’t tell what I am reading. The Kindle has confused that process a little because as I become closer and closer to an unconscious being my mind goes into auto pilot and my fingers and hands want to turn the page. Instead I have to train my mind to push a button and if I find my mind is confused by this I know I should be sleeping.

I miss the tactile quality of a book although I did appreciate the immediate satisfaction of wanting to read a book and it turning up in my hand a few seconds later.  With an actual book though, when I pause with my reading, I contemplate the cover, or read about the author, or look at illustrations. With the little black book like thing called a kindle, you just put it down.

The narrative of Mckay’s novel is interwoven with bits of literature from the time period:  posters, newspaper articles, lists, advice.  This might be appealing in a book in the hand, but the electronic version just offers you separate texts that seem to pop up in a jarring manner.  The different type or font used for the separate texts just makes it harder to read and it doesn’t have the same effect.

But nonetheless, into the book I went. And just as I was going to sleep, after reading about a young girl being raped in the streets of New York City, my mind woke up. I thought about rape and losing your virginity and my mind went back to my first time, which if I describe it as it happens will sound as sordid and sad as a rape in the street.

Except it wasn’t rape at all, and I don’t think that my experience of losing my virginity was terribly unusual, just completely, and somewhat hilariously, unpleasant. It was the seventies in Victoria B.C.  Girls flicked back their hair like Farrah Fawcett and wore huge bell bottoms. I was living with my Dad, and sort of going a little wild. He said all I had to do was keep up my grades in school, that was our deal.

Anyway, I went off with a pack of young people into the dark night, up a highway and through the woods to a cabin the woods. Sigh. And we drank beer and vodka and then later I went upstairs, or up a ladder, to a loft with some guy.

I was extremely drunk, and I took a lot of risks that night. About the loss of virginity I only remember that I really had to pee.  I faintly remember the desperate thrusting of some fellow.  Afterwards I may have peed on some idiots’ clothes, thankfully not mine.  Even in that state of inebriation I have a faint memory of thinking, ‘Ha!’ I went along with the ritual willingly, but drunkenly.

As I lay in my bed last night the non-eventful evening came back to me, in little flashes of memory. We walked back through the woods and decided that a good short cut would be to cross the highway on an unfinished pedway with no fencing or barriers of any kind. As we filed on to the unfinished cement bridge, I thought ‘shit’; I could die if I fall off this on to the highway. So I remember taking all of my mental energy, of which there was very little, cutting out the raucous noises coming from the other teenagers, and walking firmly and steadily across the highway on the cement pathway.

I remember a nice boy, not the one I had slept with I noted, helping me get up when I had decided to take a nap in the middle of the road further along our travels.  Somehow, I got home to our idyllic cottage on the side of the sea. It had a little sign over the garden entrance that said “Dieu Donne”. I must have crashed in and gone to bed, with the blood between legs the only sign that I was no longer a virgin. My Dad must have thought, “Oh good, she is home”.

Living in beautiful BC after being brought up in Toronto was odd. All the teenagers were a few years behind in style and schooling. Because I was ahead in my schooling, and separated from my wild and beautiful sisters, I had a chance to be a wild girl myself. The teenagers in suburban Victoria did not appreciate the physical beauty of their surroundings, regularly cursing and throwing their garbage directly into the sea.

I remember feeling the dichotomy very strongly between my mostly angry foolish comrades, and the peaceful beauty of the town.  Big city girl that I was, I found the sea and the mountains majestic and fantastic, and realized that my school mates could not see it because they had become accustomed to it.

So I lay in bed with the cold wind swirling outside the window and thought about sex and self-actualization. And I thought about the many people who I know who were sexually abused when they were little, and how their experience is different from mine.  How much does it change a person to have that decision taken from them?  Being over powered, assaulted and attacked, or being tricked into giving away their inner power.

Although my experience was sordid and unremarkable, at least I was not raped.  I remembered another sleazy party where a man started shoving me towards the bedroom and onto a bed. I gave him a hard knee to the balls and got up and left the room. I don’t remember being scared, I didn’t leave the party; I was just saying ‘no’.

I have a very strong sense of self worth.  So does the little girl in The Virgin Cure.  I wonder how late I will stay up tonight reading, and then thinking, my Kindle slipping from my fingers as I fall into sleep.

Confessions of a Humble Belly Dancer

Published January 18, 2012 by megdedwards

I started belly dancing about 12 years ago. And no, I did not slowly work my way up the ranks to head belly dancer and start my own belly dancing school.

I don’t have a series of a velvet outfits and a business card with my dancer’s name on it, Megara’s School of Dance.  But a lot of my friends who started the art of belly dancing that long ago do actually have dancer’s names now.

I am not sure why I cannot bring myself to move to that apparently inevitable next step. But it says a lot about me.

Let’s go over the information you have about me  if you have been reading this blog: I was shy as a kid, I didn’t know I was in any way good looking for quite some time, maybe still don’t know that deep down. And I never, ever, wanted to be a princess. I never looked at myself in the mirror and smiled coyly, or wafted about like a princess.

Knowing these essential facts about me, you and I both would be surprised at see how good a dancer I am now in my late forties.  I have learnt how to move really gracefully, I can move like a queen and whip that scarf around like a real dancer. I can move my shoulders in a delightful wiggle and do nice little dance steps with my body pulled up in a lovely dancer’s posture.

The really great thing about belly dancing is that it is quite difficult, and your mind will have to focus on the actual mechanics, leaving no place for embarrassed inhibition. It is hard work to isolate a hip movement or move only your rib cage, and it takes a lot of practice.

I feel like I am pretty good now, and I have heard that once or twice from a generous friend of mine. But most prima donna belly dancers are stingy with the compliments. That has been a bit hard for me as I admit that I need positive feedback to continue tackling a difficult challenge. I am one of those people that sort of withers up under constant criticism. So I have had a bit of a battle keeping at belly dancing.

But I am drawn back because I love to dance, and I love the music. And my back and torso love the exercise. I am not saying that I have abs of any form.   As far as I am concerned you can only get abs by doing exercises that are not natural to women.  I tried this out last year with a  misguided  ‘8 minute abs’ video (‘you can’t hurt yourself doing these exercises’, says the man, and I answer, “ yes, you can’)  I think I gave myself a hernia in my poor stretched stomach, but I have never hurt myself belly dancing.

I still love to dance and I still love belly dancing, in my own way. But I have stopped classes. For the most part that is because in order to have belly dancing classes in Baie Verte I have to rent the hall, call all the gals, collect the cash, run the class and pay for the hall no matter how many people come.

As you can imagine this makes the whole decision as to whether I want a weekly dance class a little burdensome. I don’t get to go down to the Y and just sign up and then just do my best. I have to run the dam class and I can tell you being a dance teacher was never a private fantasy of mine.

I have tried to write positive articles on body image and belly dancing before but they turned out a bit formulaic. I even had a neat metaphor comparing the colored belts of Tae Kwon Do with the self-anointed jingly belts that belly dancers buy themselves. I liked to make the case that belly dancers have no master and promote themselves by buying increasingly jingly and colorful belts until they buy themselves entire outfits.

But something was missing in my writing about belly dancing, and that was the honesty that I take to the personal blog.  I was not being entirely truthful about how I felt about belly dancing and it just made the piece flat. That is what I love about this blog. I ain’t selling it and I don’t care if anyone is buying it, so I speak my mind.

I confess I am a belly dancer who is at the stage where she should be teaching, but does not want to teach. Like the martial artist that moves away and starts his own school, I should be renting my own space, selling my wares and sharing the art and experience of belly dancing to newcomers. I know I can teach a beginners class in belly dancing no problem, but I seem to be lacking the hunger to do so.

I stopped running my weekly class about a year ago and my body is not thanking me. It is a great work out and dancing makes me happy.  I keep thinking I will start again but I am not enthusiastic about the class. What I really wanted was a collaborative work out class in which no one is really in charge. I ran it like that for quite some time with a friend and I thought we did really well.

Neither of us had the desire to be the leader so we split up the exercises and had a free form class in which we followed some routine and just made it up as we went. Some women did not like that no one was officially in charge.  But there was a core group of about six who managed quite well – we danced, we got our heart beats up, we laughed and talked, we stretched.

As I describe the class I am tempted to start again but our hall is becoming expensive and we only have a few women right now who could come. One hard core dancer took a break from belly dancing and threw out her knee in an ill advised attempt to get abs in a Tae Kwon Do. Never aim for abs.

I had one really fabulous class which I taught myself of which I am still proud.  We did our yoga stretches to lovely music, we did more and more dance moves until our hearts were beating fast, we practiced an old dance and we practiced improvisation.

We have one song in which the gals form a circle and do dance moves on the outside ring while one or two gals go in the middle and dance a sole for a short amount of time. We take turns, and no one really watches the gal in the middle that closely because they are thinking of their moves on the outside, so it feels safe in the circle.

I had my old pal from Halifax visiting, a friend that goes back to high school, and she is a dance student from way back so she leapt into the class with  enthusiasm.  We have danced together many times, often shoving the men out of the way so we could have fun dancing.

When we went into the middle of the circle we worked together and traded moves back and forth and looked at each other as we danced. That is the way I want to belly dance, with women, and in a causal noncompetitive mode.

What I find disappointing about belly dancing is the singular quality: one girl dances on the stage and everyone cheers for the princess of the moment.  But I want it to be collaborative and communicative.  To me, this is the way belly dancing should be. It is about the joy of dancing.

I am sure that women dance for and with each other more happily than for an audience, or at least most of us do. At its best belly dancing is a conversation with the body, and the best performers connect with the audience in that way.

It is a craft, and it is entertaining. But for most of us it is an exercise class that throws women together with movement and laughter.  By the end of that class we did something that I believe in my heart is the true origins of belly dancing; we danced together, a group of gals dancing with each other.

 

Baby Photos for blogger ‘saveeverystep’…

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Here is a page or two from my baby book for Helen Spicer at

http://saveeverystep.wordpress.com/author/saveeverystep/

Illness onto death, or let’s just not talk about it.

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Portrait of Phyllis Anderson by Meg Edwards

We happily live in a bubble of health until we are struck down.  It is very hard to live in a constant state of appreciation for your present health without getting maudlin or morbid.

It is probably best not to think about it at all. The people who live best do seem to have a way of pushing death and illness away from their thoughts.

I was sitting at the hairdressers the other day enjoying my splurge. My hairdresser has a way of not only making me look fantastic but feel great too.

And I have been watching; she does this for everyone who walks in the door. She is a miracle worker. I can truly understand why hair stylists don’t get into social media because when they are off work they must long for a less social life.

But my luxury buzz, a cup of green tea and the new Elle magazine handed to me by the delightful Susan as the die sinks into my poor head, was being brought down by the general conversation.

The women were bringing their stories to the chair, and quite a few of them were nasty stories; for example, a friend of someone who had a pain in the elbow that turned out to be cancer and was dead in a few months, another story of a child who went from having pneumonia to palliative care in a few weeks.

With two children on antibiotics at the moment I had a horrible chill when I heard that. The woman telling the story said it made her focus on the happiness of her family.  I understand this reaction but it does not resonate with me. First of all, the point of the epiphany is that shit can happen at any moment. How am I supposed to relax thinking about that!

Illness and death was chilling my innocent giggles over Tabatha Southey and Guy Saddy’s always amusing columns in Elle. People get a little heavy in the cold months.  My theory about life is that I will face each challenge life hands me as bravely as possible, but I will take no unnecessary risks. (I am a Rabbit in Chinese astrology.)

Not for me the bungee jumping that plunges me into an African river. But, if I actually must leap into a river in order to save a child, I will.

A lot of the time I think that I will be brave when the call comes for me to leave this life.  But as I sat in the chair with die sinking into my hair, I realized that I can’t really know. I am pretty sure I will freak out and mourn pretty intensely.  I have a lot of things I want to do and the way I am going, it is going to take me a few more decades to achieve all my dreams – like learn how to dance Samba, finish some dusty stories, play a ukulele in a band, return to India, and maybe even foster children.

I remember thinking about aging when I was young, and picturing a life that was not far off to what I have now.  I thought my husband might be bald, but he isn’t!

But my vision had this very rosy light hearted emotional halo around it that cannot be carried into aging.  I felt light and strong and as if anything was possible, when I was in my twenties and now I carry more weight, figuratively and actually.

I do my best to stay young. I have studied the best role models around me.  I had a good neighbor and friend, Phyllis Anderson (nee Goodwin) who was 100 years old when she finally agreed to move to a home.  Up until that time she crept about her house, put her bed in the study, got meal on wheels and managed just fine.

When I visited her in her house, delivering her mail or bringing her soup she didn’t really like, she was always up for a visit.  She would pull herself out of her armchair where she had passed out while reading the paper or knitting, and make her way to the kitchen. With her back bent over and her hands gnarled with arthritis she would fill the kettle and get ready for a good gab.

I never heard her complain. She once told me, in passing, that she had breast cancer in her sixties and lost one breast. She kept everything in perspective for me. I realized in astonishment that she had spent my entire life being an older woman and widow; the last 40 years of her life made up my entire life.

She had been a nurse in Montreal in the twenties. She had gone to all night parties; she had married late, in her forties, and her husband had not lived much longer. Much of her midlife disappeared into one short line about delivering meals, taking in borders, and being on the Church committee. I have a few of her old journals, she kept them all, and they mostly talk about the weather and what she had achieved that day.

“A fine day, got the laundry on the line. Planted some daffodils and cut lawn. Alice came over for tea”.

Her memories remain in my mind. One time she was being pulled on a sled by her brother and a dog, and the dog took off with her behind it.  When she was about 10 years old she made up her mind to have her long hair cut by the blacksmith into a bob and shocked her family. She got measles one year and lost a year at school and was very annoyed that her friends got ahead of her in their studies.

She went to Fredericton to study in Normal School and became the school teacher at the local one room school house and walked or rode a horse to that school.  Later, she went off to Montreal to study to become a nurse, being called back at one point because her Mom was dying. When her Dad’s second wife became ill later she had to give up on living in her own new house with her husband (the house I live in now) and go live with her parents to care for them.

You can see why I stopped in for coffee at the end of the day. She had a collection of anecdotes that mostly focused on her life as a child and how it always stormed on her father’s birthday in March. And a few stories from Montreal when she lived the high life. I heard the stories over and over, relishing some in particular. When she worked the night shift in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital the nurses would sometimes take their break on a balcony of the hospital. They would pull out a chair and a big blanket, and then just sit and look over the city lights and hear the hum of the city.

She loved company and she seemed to love life. She loved to see my children and would pull out any old cookie she had to feed them.  A visit from a man, whether he was an antique collector, a nephew or my husband to help her with her taxes, always brought out her best and most lively personality.

I have many strong memories of her. Some of my new neighbours implied that I would not have liked her when she was younger as she had a strong Conservative and critical nature. Maybe we would not have got along, I don’t know. But when we met we were friends.  We enjoyed each other’s company.

And to be quite frank, I had more in common with Phyllis than I did with many of the other neighbours who had never left this hamlet. She was an educated and traveled gal.

From a selfish point of view, I liked her because she liked me.  She knew when I was lonely and she knew when I was sad. We would talk and have coffee in the late afternoon, and after a full day of childcare and no friends, I would leave feeling more like myself.

I did cry when she died, and only for myself.  I loved having her there. When she went to the hospital with a sore hip I went to visit her with the kids almost every day. It was a cold bleak spring and I would stop at the Tim Horton’s to get her a small hot chocolate in a ‘roll up the rim’ cup and a buttered bagel.

She lit up when she saw us, and there was nothing more hilarious than her determined strong fingers working that rim. It took about 10 minutes but she would roll the rim! I saw her pleasure in the buttered bagel and the deep chocolate taste.  I have never seen anyone enjoy an afternoon snack more.   I think  it  reminded her of her days as a nurse when she would take the trolley around in the afternoon and offer the patients  tea or hot chocolate and biscuits.

She did not mourn that those days were gone; she did not live in the past. But she did think that the casual outfits of the nurses were very odd. In her day she wore a pristine white dress with starched hat and sleeves. She had one repeated story where she found herself on the back elevator with a bundle of used diapers. An important personage had been invited to use the staff elevator in order to avoid attention and be able to visit his wife. She was mortified because she had folded back her starched sleeves before entering the elevator in order to avoid mussing them with the diapers. So she was puzzled by the present day nurses’ wrinkly pajama style uniforms and the casual look of doctors as well.

When she moved to the local old age home she still fought off the wheel chair. At 101 she had liver cancer and it was, of course, untreatable. I visited her there with my kids and often found her completely absorbed in a game of bowling or bingo. She had a competitive nature and liked to win.  She had been a strong and athletic woman.

The last time I saw her she was lying down, and basically quietly dying.  She tried to sit up and eat a bit of cake, and she dawdled her finger back and forth trying to catch the attention of my baby Maud.  She was still in the present moment. Then she fell asleep. The next time I went to see her they sent the nurse to tell me she had died. Her room was bare. They auctioned everything out of her house.

The house sat empty for a while, and god I wish I had just bought it (I did not have the money but maybe I could have raised it) because the next thing I knew Anglophones from Montreal moved in and cut all the trees down and molested my daughter. I am not kidding about that, it is all true, although presumably the molestation was more important than the tree devastation, but it is just funnier to me to say it that way.

I am laughing because I have a dark sense of humour.  Phyllis would have laughed too, because she knew that what didn’t actually kill you, was just food for conversation.

So, let’s have a tea, and talk about that, have a bit of a gossip, and let’s not talk about illness and dying.

Artists are Drawn to Baie Verte

Published January 8, 2012 by megdedwards

At a lively dinner party last night my neighbor insisted that I write about how artists are drawn to Baie Verte because of its beauty.  I nodded my head, and sated with our delicious and happy dinner party, I said, ‘I’ll do it’.

When I organize a party at our local Baie Verte Hall, the back windows glowing in a stunning sunset over the marsh, I can easily collect about thirty artists who support themselves with their art and are acknowledged in the ‘outside’ art world.

There are artists living around every corner. We even have a yearly event called Art Across the Marsh in which the artists invite people to visit their homes and studios and see how they live.

But these days the small hamlet of Baie Verte is in quite an uproar about a recent article that described our area as desolate and depressing. When I say uproar, I mean that everyone is talking, which means that I heard from one or two people that someone ought to write a letter.

The neighbours have been talking about an article published in the Telegraph Journal by Mike Landry, about a friend of ours, artist Anna Torma.  Up until a day ago there was a direct link to the article but on-line news is no  longer free so this link may take you to the Telegraph Journal subscription page.

Landry takes pains to begin his article, a complimentary and extensive interview with Hungarian born artist Anna Torma, with a long description of his dreary drive to Baie Verte.  His aim was obviously to contrast Anna’s lively and colorful work with the bleak surroundings of rural New Brunswick.

An evocative beginning for his article, truly, but the description of the roads he traveled said more about him than Anna. This was a man who really does not like the rural landscape.

His description immediately put me in my mind of my mother’s reaction when we bought our old house. She used the same word as him, desolate. And I think she went on to say it was devoid of life. She saw a flat grey horizon, possibly reminding her of her childhood in Saskatoon, where we saw a fabulous coast teeming with life.

“On any grey winter’s day,” begins Landry, “heading north on Route 16 from AuLac to Port Elgin is a desolate drive”.   He continues to describe in detail his sunny winter drive through our delightful and picturesque part of the Maritimes. In his view the snowy hills and dales and the sun bleached barns decorated in icicles are depressing.  I can’t help but think, in comparison to what? Long straight streets, shiny new high rises?

My opinion is that the writer, a man with a recognizably Acadian last name, escaped his rural background to live the young person’s dream in a big city, only to be transplanted back into the land that he once so happily escaped. His promotion, or otherwise, has left him with a fairly good job in Saint John, but bitter and envious of people who are ‘really’ living in Ontario.

Although it may have been his intention to draw attention to the vibrant art of Anna Torma through the juxtaposition with the lonely bleak landscape, he let us see into his heart. He misses the big city and his big dreams.

The older residents of Baie Verte, who have lived here all their lives, were offended by his description. But all the others, the ones like me from ‘away’, are keeping mum.  We are content that our busy, ambitious friends from back home are not drawn to our quiet corner.  We don’t want to advertise our little piece of paradise.

But still I feel that I must defend the honor of my born and bred Maritimer neighbours so I will tell you that not all the artists and writers here are transplanted Upper Canadian ‘hippy’, or the more recent term, ‘hipster’ drop outs.

One of my favorite artists is my neighbor, Noreen Spence, the one who suggested that I write in defense of our beautiful marshland.  Noreen is a retired nurse in her eighties who walks every day and is busy bringing up her 18 year old granddaughter. She would not call herself an artist but her walls show the evidence of someone who examines, explores, and then feels the need to express.

In her reading room she has some humbly framed but beautifully captured water color paintings of the bay in its fall splendor of burnt orange and bright blue. And in the kitchen there is a fabulous rug hook hanging on the wall that is an impressionistic masterpiece of the bay.

With carefully chosen wool she has recreated the view I see from my window, but she did not follow a kit or a pattern; she just dug in and did the hard work of an honest artist, who tries to translate the beauty she sees into something from her own hand.

The bay outside my window draws me out every day. Sometimes I drop what I am doing, grab my camera and try to capture the beauty of our particular landscape.  When my youngest child is picked up by the school bus I wander up the road, and then down an old railway path that leads me into the woods. The walk takes almost an hour but I don’t notice the time passing as I examine the tiny footsteps in the snow that show the busy social life of wild animals.

I look forward to every season, even the winter one that we are in right now.  We can expect huge storms that bury us in deep drifts, frozen pipes, lots of nights around the woodstove, daily trips to the bird feeders, and the bay, in its arctic beauty offering up its daily feast for the eyes. The eagle swoops, the crows wait in the tree outside my window for peanuts and a small red fox whips across the white blue tundra of the frozen sea and out to the island to look for some dinner.

Far from desolate, the view outside of my window is alive and draws you into the natural world. When it has been a long cold winter I feed the birds and little animals every crumb of our compost. The fact that we are not living in a mass of humanity makes us more humane, and the fact that we have to depend on each other for help occasionally makes us live a less isolated life than in a city.

Artists do seem to be drawn to the area; it is a good place to think and create. But that Anna Torma, internationally acclaimed artist that she is, is also known for her parties.  In the summer she makes goulash in a pot on an open fire and we all drink wine and sit on blankets under the weeping trees just as she did in her homeland.

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