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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bearing Witness: The Diary of Anne Frank








My most difficult job this season as a live theatre audio describer has been The Diary Of Anne Frank. It's not that the production is visually complex, but the subject matter is a very dark demon to face. I was dreading it the first time around, but my very wise boyfriend Jeremy Gauthier pointed out: "The worst thing we can do in the face of evil is ignore it. The best of the human spirit, something of which we can and should always be proud, is found in witnessing. Subject evil to fierce, relentless scrutiny. Oblige it to be brazen or craven, but never let it slip by unremarked. Your work this evening is part of that continuum of witnessing. Take heart. Find joy in the good."

It is a remarkable production, and I wept during my descriptive performance. That is okay. That is authentic.

So as I head out to perform this amazing duty once again, here is an interview I did earlier in the year with Sara Farb, who plays Anne Frank at the Stratford Festival.


Sara Farb as Anne Frank



Q: What does it mean to you to be cast in this important role?

A: It’s a milestone for an actor of Jewish heritage. We have many survivors in our own family. In fact, I’ll be doing a Forum event with my grandmother, who herself was a young girl in a concentration camp. The wartime experiences with the Nazis were openly talked about as I grew up, so Anne Frank is part of my genetic fibre.

Q: So you were already very familiar with the book and the play?

A: I came to Anne’s diary early at elementary school: alongside the Torah, it was one of the main important texts for me growing up. This familiarity will be invaluable in doing the part.

As for the play, I’ve auditioned for the role in the past, and I saw a wonderful production at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto when I was very young. I admired the careful attention to details. Very finely drawn characters, like the portrayal of Mr. Dussel and his distaste for the cat – it had a great impact on me. I’m glad that a lot of more recent productions have been updated and are much more true to the diary itself, not watered down and sanitized. That sort of thing is a disservice to the legacy Anne left behind.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about working on the play? What are the biggest challenges for you?

A: It’s more of a joy than a daunting challenge. I’m aware of the extreme weight of history, but it is not foreign territory to me, so I feel confident that I can do it justice. I have two solid years in the Festival acting company behind me [Ms Farb is a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatory and has played the Shakespearean roles of Jessica and Cordelia] and that has certainly boosted my confidence. And there’s such a strong support network here – so many friends and mentors to count on.

I’m excited to work with the director, Jillian Keiley. She has an amazing brain and such a creative approach! It’s great to be a part of a production that will “dust it off” and transcend the usual expectations of what the play should look like. It will not be at all precious or twee.

Q: Do you feel that this story is still important to audiences of today?

A: We need this play here and now. We seem to endlessly cycle through a continuum of man’s ultimate cruelty and inhumanity to his fellow man. We’re fast approaching a time when the last survivors of the Holocaust will die off – so many now in their 80s and 90s – and it will be too late to make their struggles known first-hand. We need to be able to connect actual faces and individuals to these stories – make them real and meaningful.

It is a story of ordinary, flawed people, not saints and milksops. Thrown together, any bunch of different personalities will clash, even under better circumstances. Spend enough time with them, and even those you love the most will become your enemies, like Anne and her mom. Even icons of the perseverance of the human spirit can be selfish.

As a writer myself, I’ve found that specificity counts when telling a story: the more personal it is, the better understood by a wider audience. It gives us something to relate to – a universal understanding.

Please come and see this Stratford Festival production, if you are able: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29426&prodid=57763


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Meet Maria from the Stratford Festival's 'The Sound of Music'









Continuing with some of my retrospective articles from the Stratford Festival's SceneNotes e-magazine, I thought it might be fun to share this 'Meeting Maria' interview with the lovely and oh-so-talented Stephanie Rothenberg. We had a chance to chat back in the winter before rehearsals began. Since it opened, the production of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has earned rave reviews-- and well deserved, too! Stephanie is a shining star, as you can see and hear in the video above.

(I will be giving another live audio described performance of The Sound of Music again this week, so the show is at the front of my mind!)


Q: Since this will be your Stratford Festival debut, can you tell our readers a bit about your background?

A: I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee – though my parents both hail from the East Coast (Dad’s from New York and Mom’s from Pennsylvania) – and at the tender age of eight, I hit a fork in the road: should I continue with swimming lessons or theatre? I chose theatre and I’ve never looked back!

Being in the music mecca of Nashville, it seemed everyone’s basement contained a recording studio. I learned a lot about singing and started doing recordings with one of the city’s biggest kids’ music producers, working for companies like Disney and MTI. I was in a production of Grease at eight, and went “professional” with a dinner theatre production of Annie at eleven, then starred in The Diary of Anne Frank with Tennessee Repertory at fourteen.

Q: How did you get your big start as a leading lady on Broadway?

A: After high school, I applied to study Drama at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York. I left there in 2011 and went straight to the Broadway production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as an understudy.

The big moment came when I suddenly had to go on as Rosemary opposite Daniel Radcliffe – yes, Harry Potter himself! I only had a few hours to prepare for a sold-out performance. My dad managed to get a ticket, and it meant the world to me having him in the audience (along with notable patrons like Nathan Lane). Daniel was amazing and supportive, and he told me, “You’re not meant to just be understudying – you need to be doing this!”

I went on to take over the role of Rosemary opposite Nick Jonas, and no doubt once again made every teenage girl out there extremely jealous. It was the cherry on top of a really great cake. I had so many fantastic experiences doing that one show!

Q: What are you most looking forward to about being in Stratford next season?
 
A: It’s such a beautiful place! Growing up in Nashville, I was always surrounded by parks and outdoorsy spaces, and Stratford reminds me so much of that. I can’t wait to explore the town and dig into the local foodie scene, farmers’ markets and great restaurants – I love food and cooking.

Most of all, I am so honoured and thrilled to be on the Festival stage working with [director] Donna Feore and the amazing company. I saw Crazy for You this past season, and I was completely blown away by the energy and the palpable enjoyment between the cast and the audience. I can’t wait!

Q: Lastly, what are a few of your favourite things? Name five!

A: My choices are all so incredibly girly, but here we go!

One: In the winter, there’s nothing better than a luxurious bubble bath. And I mean a proper bath, with Mozart playing in the background, candles and a glass of wine while I lie back with a Travel and Leisure magazine. I love travel. In fact, I am visiting Austria over the holidays – it will be wonderful to get a first-hand look at the actual setting of The Sound of Music.

Two: I adore swimming and water, especially swimming in the ocean. I get a kick out of exploring gyms in New York – especially ones with rooftop pools.

Three: Cooking. I enjoy making meals for a crowd and throwing themed dinner parties. I just held a Mexican fiesta themed party with a bunch of friends, and it was great fun.

Four: Date night. I adore going out for a good ol’ fashioned dinner and a movie night with my guy. We go someplace fun for some food, like a neighbourhood Chinese joint, and then stroll through the Village to a great local movie house that screens old films, like Hitchcock classics.

Five: High tea. I love pulling out all of the stops and having a great formal spread with scones and cream with my best girlfriends.

The Sound of Music is on now -- and has been extended until November 1st! http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29321&prodid=57752




Monday, July 27, 2015

Director John Caird's Labour of Love





Director John Caird



Hello, my darlings. The summer continues apace! And so does my series of my recent Stratford Festival SceneNotes interviews with some of the amazing talented theatre people who pass through my town every season.

Today's special guest... British theatre director extraordinaire, John Caird. Mr. Caird is just putting the final touches on his production of Love's Labour's Lost, and he had a chat with me in between rehearsals a few weeks ago. [He also bought and read Base Spirits, which was very kind of him when he's so busy! He enjoyed it-- found it very scary indeed. He'll pass it onto his son, also a director-- who has actually staged A Yorkshire Tragedy, the dramatic source and inspiration for my novel.)

Without further ado...

In a long and illustrious career studded with Tony and Olivier Awards, Alberta-born director John Caird is perhaps best known for the international smash hit musical, Les Misérables. I caught up with him during a break in rehearsals for Love's Labour's Lost.


Q: Despite having directed Shakespeare productions in the United Kingdom and all around the world, this is your Stratford Festival debut, is it not?

John Caird: Indeed it is! My coming here to direct Love’s Labour’s Lost this season is the culmination of a decades-long conversation with the Festival. I’ve always wanted to work here; the timing just never seemed to be right for me before now. I was too ensconced in my work with the RSC, the National Theatre and the West End, and my family life kept me in London. You could say that the Festival and I have enjoyed an ongoing mutual flirtation. It’s great to finally be here at long last.

Q: As a resident director with the Royal Shakespeare Company from the 1970s to the ’90s and beyond, you certainly have an excellent grounding in Shakespeare’s works. But you also have a full and varied background directing new plays, musical theatre and opera. Are there a lot of differences between directing Shakespeare and an opera?

JC: Opera is a very different world altogether. In regular theatre, the director is the artistic authority and textual storyteller – although in the case of developing a new play for production, the playwright is in charge of the storytelling process. In opera, the conductor is the ultimate artistic authority. Opera as performed today is not theatre in any true sense of the word but rather a dramatic branch of classical music. The criteria for excellence are all defined by the quality of the music and the performances of the singers and musicians. As a director, it is not as intellectually engaging as the process of theatre production, and the actual repertoire is quite small. I enjoy it in a very different way.

When I’m directing Shakespeare, most of the actors are generally coming to their roles for the first time. In opera, the performers will often have sung their parts multiple times in other productions – as many as a dozen times or more.

Audiences for opera tend to be dedicated classical music types. They are not necessarily lovers of theatre; in fact, there is surprisingly little crossover between the patrons of opera and theatre. Opera is also horrifically pricey to stage – it is said there is only one thing more expensive than opera, and that’s war! Opera is highly dependent on affluent sponsors and patrons, whereas theatre – Shakespearean theatre in particular – is largely supported by its extremely loyal and enthusiastic audiences.

Q: Les Misérables really opened up the world stage for your theatre career. What is it like to direct Shakespeare in a different language?

JC: I’ve been very lucky with Les Misérables and the opportunities it’s given me. Thirty years later, and it’s still going strong. Who knew? Before Les Miz, I was used to my productions being tossed in the bin after a six-week run!

Since 2009, as the principal guest director at Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre of Stockholm, I’ve directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Romeo and Juliet in Swedish. I have developed great relationships with a team of translators and dramaturges and actors as we refine the text in workshop and rehearsal. I supervise the translation process. The challenge is that English has a huge vocabulary compared to Swedish; there are over 650,000 words in English because the language was fed by so many other source languages, and Shakespeare really loved to experiment and play with a whole new vocabulary all his own.

I’m also really enjoying working on Shakespeare in Japan. Earlier this year in Tokyo, I directed Twelfth Night – or Juni Ya – in Japanese. I love working in other languages and cultures. It makes the old, familiar texts completely fresh, and the audiences aren’t jaded: these stories are much newer to them, whereas in the West we can sometimes suffer from cultural fatigue.

Q: How are you finding your first Stratford experience so far? What can audiences expect from your staging of Love’s Labour’s Lost?

JC: I have been extremely lucky with the entire cast. Every single company member is highly talented and motivated. These are actors who really know and understand the language and how to use the verse. Even at the RSC, new young actors have to be taught how to do all of that. Training is key: I think your Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre gives the Festival a unique advantage in honing the next generation of Shakespearean performers.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is a very “young” play – very youth-orientated, so having so many recent Conservatory students in the cast is wonderful. As a group, they have a lovely relaxation born of familiarity with one another and they are all extremely lively! No one seems to bring much ego to the party. I like that. Stratford as a whole seems extraordinarily calm and restful. I’m enjoying the “college campus” sort of feel the place has.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is also a very delicate play. The plot doesn’t add up to much, so you can’t load too much modern reference onto it without the danger of the whole thing snapping. The characters all delight in language-play that is rooted very much in its original era, so one would have to be very careful if one wanted to update it. Modernization of Shakespearean production is fine, but it has to have a solid reason or it doesn’t work. This play feels just right in its own time.

Love's Labour's Lost starts previews on July 30, and opens at the Stratford Festival on August 14. For more information on the production and to get your tickets, visit: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29391&prodid=57754 or call the Box Office at 1.800.567.1600.







Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Words, Words, Words: Meet Stratford Festival's Hamlet







Oops! I've been too busy to blog again! But at least I've been happy-busy!

It's summer here in Stratford, and that means the Stratford Festival is in full-swing... which means I am busy with audio-description for a few of the productions, as well as writing articles about some of our wonderful performers and artists for the e-newsletter, SceneNotes.

As I am off to see Hamlet again tonight, here is a reprint of an interview I did with star Jonathan Goad for our January edition just before rehearsals began. Enjoy-- and come see the show!

Note: I will be audio-describing this production live for the blind and visually impaired on July 26 and again on September 5. If you know anyone who would enjoy this added accessibility, please let them know.


Q: You have a lot of experience playing leads, and are certainly no stranger to Shakespeare. Are there any previous roles in particular that you feel will help you play Hamlet?

A: You could say that all of Shakespeare’s major roles help to inform an actor’s portrayal of Hamlet. I’ve played the title role in Pericles, and though he’s a very different sort of prince in many ways, both are swept away by the magnitude of their outside circumstances. Playing that sort of lead character is a perfect background, because it makes me familiar with being at the very centre of the vortex of a play. But the successful portrayal of any part is always a team effort – and we have a great team!

A play that might give me the best grounding is Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark, which I did with The Company Theatre in Toronto a few years back. Our director, Jason Byrne, said to me, “This play is a bit of a Hamlet” – referring to the overwhelming scale of the dilemma in the drama and the paradigm shift in the main character. It has a lot of obvious parallels.

Q: Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s best-known role, filled with some of his most famous quotes. Did this daunt you at all when you were cast?

A: As with any great leading part, there is a great responsibility to be the glue of the play, so you absolutely have to bring your “A” game to every single second of every performance and be 100% on every night. You need to find the truth in every moment to reach your full potential, and to fully reach the audience.

The real challenge in doing such a famous play is to ensure that the viewer will truly care. You want it to be relevant to them, here and now. Hamlet’s character is so multi-dimensional – on a huge intellectual, emotional and physical scale. It’s his philosophical revealing of his inner self – his vulnerability – that draws us in and takes us into a sort of universal experience to which everyone can relate. An actor wants to bring a Hamlet to the stage that will connect with the audience on an authentic human level.

The big speech, “To be, or not to be,” is only one of his six incredible soliloquies. It’s a pause for breath in the middle of the action, and he never refers to himself: it’s a speech about a collective humanity. The entire play is open to so many questions that take on a life of their own. Is he really mad? Suicidal? Does he really love Ophelia? It’s a journey worth continually investigating from production to production – and from performance to performance.

At the end of the day, what will really grab the audience is the fact that Hamlet is still a remarkable revenge tragedy: a great yarn full of high stakes, high tension and knock-it-out-of-the-park moments.

Q: Hamlet is famous for his melancholy. To end on a positive note, name five things that make you happy.

A: One: First and foremost, my wonderful family.

Two: Anything with a board! I love skateboarding, long-boarding, snowboarding – and I hope to get in a week of pre-Hamlet surfing this winter.

Three: Community. By that I mean the remarkable community of the theatre and everyone who makes a show happen – and also the community formed between performers and their audiences.

Four: I love to learn. I have been doing more and more teaching, and in doing so I always am learning new things myself.

Five: Young people: they possess such boundless excitement, enthusiasm and potential.

http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29231&prodid=57749




Sunday, April 19, 2015

Back from the Dead

Dear followers, it's been too long. But I'm not dead, and am now resurfacing from a very nasty stretch of personal turmoil... here's proof that I am still among the living:

After the annual Stratford Swan Parade on April 12, 2015.


Thanks for reading this. I wouldn't blame you for totally giving up on me-- I nearly did myself. I am horrified to see that my last blog post was back in July!!! I don't really want to go over every detail and revisit all of my interim anguish at this point in time, but in a nutshell? My 2014 sucked the hind teat of a particularly sadistic hellhound bitch.

The Reader's Digest  condensed version of events: I was finding my footing in a full-time job after working at home for years. I found myself at the end of a long-term relationship. My elderly parents were both struggling with dementia and other ailments, and my family was in agonies over how best to help them. My own health was up and down. And just as my three brothers and I had our hands forced by circumstances that saw our dear Mom put into long term care, my eldest brother Chris was diagnosed with leukaemia-- and was suddenly in a coma at death's door.

I think that's where I left you hanging. I am sorry.

This has been a shitty time, and I needed to retreat and deal with the succession of blows. My writing all but stopped. Somehow I was hanging in at work, and trying to do what I could for the family from a helpless distance. My days consisted of rising from a fitful sleep, putting in a full day at the Stratford Festival offices, rushing home to make and field phone calls and emails with relatives, the Alzheimer's Society and health care workers, then fixing and eating a solitary dinner before falling into bed as a ragged shadow of myself at the end of the night. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Relentlessly.

Chris

Chris showing evident pride and affection for his cadets.


Chris rallied briefly, surprising us all by emerging from the coma with the disease at bay and his mind sharp and strong. He always was a determined fighter, but his body was weakened by this tough battle. Shortly after we'd moved Dad into the same care facility as Mom, Chris died in early December. He was the golden child of the family, and had lived the best of lives-- and we celebrated that as we said goodbye: remembering his love of his wife and his dogs; his adoration of books, music, history and golf; his career with the RCMP; his law studies; his obsession with flight (he could fly a plane before he could drive a car!) and his recent dedication to leadership with the Air Cadets. A remarkable group of young cadets stood as his Honour Guards, and faultlessly folded and presented the flag to his widow, Louise. It was a difficult farewell, but a noble one-- as befit the man.

As we were all still stumbling around in shock, the next blow came when my father died ten days later. Ours was a difficult relationship, but the loss of a parent is an event of mythological proportion in anyone's life. It is the end of an era. I can at least be glad that I had managed to set aside a lifetime of anger and hurt, and tried my best to just help him toward the end of his life. I feel I succeeded in reaching a kind of reparation.

Dad displaying his own father's WWI service medals and badges.


And at the very end of the year from Hell, I finished with my full-time job-- the position having been eliminated due to internal shuffling and reordering. It wasn't that I'd done anything wrong, they assured me. That's just the way my luck went in the bloody awful year of 2014.

Understandably, I was in a damned dark mood these past few months. But I am back.

I have been writing. Submitting short stories to anthology calls and competitions. Zeroing in on the end of the long-awaited first draft of book one of my Dead Drunk series, In The Bag, and being slammed with ideas for other new writing... including another novel that seemed to drop all at once into my lap from out of the ether. I am part of a new and vibrant women's writing group here in Stratford. I'm even doing some acting again after 15 years... a tiny part in a staged reading of a dramatic adaptation of Deborah Ellis's pivotal novel, The Breadwinnerhttp://www.springworksfestival.ca/#!the-breadwinner/c1vv3. Today, I went to a splendid writing workshop with Canadian horror master, Andew Pyper, and a reading from his new book, The Damned. I have a lot of inspiration and spark to get back at it.

I feel ready to take life on again. I've had quite enough of death.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stasis and Grief

Hello again. If anyone out there still gives a rat's ass about what I have to say.

It has been a while, hasn't it?

When I first began blogging, I took the advice of more seasoned writers to heart: don't blog just for the sake of filling empty space-- just blog when you have something worthwhile to tell us. And I always swore not to make it too personal. That would be unprofessional, right?

But letting months of silence go by is even more unprofessional.

I did a good job of posting regularly for a good long while-- a few times a month, or even just once or twice-- but last year, I hit a point of stasis in my writing-- a tantalizing 15k from the end of the draft--  and I felt like I had nothing much to say. I didn't want to write whiny blog posts about losing my mojo. I concentrated on trying to sort out the rather more pressing concern of getting a grip on my work situation. I had next-to-none, you see. Not a good place to be, and a place I've been too often in my life. Wears one down. Kills the creative spark-- which is ironic because God knows you have time on your hands! But all I cared about was how to eat, pay bills and not lose my home.

Rumble...

[Pay attention to that rumble in the background.. it will mean more soon.]

I did finally get a full-time job. And not just any boring old job in a soul-eating company. I am happy to get up everyday and not simply go to work or the office, but to the theatre: the Stratford Festival.

My arthritis kicked in so badly for my first three months of probation that I despaired of getting through each week. I'd fall to bed exhausted by mid-evening (so much for the theory of working on my book on evenings and weekends). Why the fuck? It's not like I was shovelling coal all day, or working someplace I hated. But RA doesn't care about that sort of thing when it gets a solid grip and wants to let you know who's in charge.

Rumble.

That rumble's getting a bit louder, isn't it? That's because by this time the nightly phone calls with my mother were becoming increasingly more bizarre and worrisome-- had been for over a year at this point, really, though I was in denial at first. But NO. She and Dad were both FINE. They didn't want home support or people interfering. "Don't worry about me, dear."

The beginning of this year saw me able to turn the tables on the RA: my boss agreed that I can work from home on Wednesdays and give myself a break in the office routine. The specialist I'd waited 18 months to see gave me some new drugs that really helped pull me back from the cliff edge, and I started working with some additional healing therapies... meditation, EFT.

"Maybe I can get back to that manuscript at last," I thought. "I have more energy again."

Rumble.

What's that? Mom's falling apart had reached the point of no return. A mind is an amazing universe unto itself, and when it starts having gaping holes where once there was solid matter, and deludes itself with bizarre imagined realities and forgotten faces/names/connections... well, there comes a point when those of us hovering around are forced to watch hopelessly as your beloved best friend, mentor, stalwart life-long champion and Mom is chipped away at from inside her skull until she lands up in a hospital ward-for-the-forgotten. Straight from a doctor's office after a mental assessment which left her enraged, and straight into an ambulance-- right past my baffled old father and worried relatives in the waiting room. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Not even a chance to go home first for a few things.

Six nightmarish weeks followed of her convinced she was at work at "the college" and staying in the dorms (all while surrounded by poor souls in far worse condition-- screaming in their beds for help or slumped over in wheelchairs, unresponsive.) My three brothers and I-- for whatever complex reasons in our wildly disparate and rather polarized lives-- did, and did not do, everything in our powers to ease the way.

In my case? I live at a distance and don't drive, and public train and bus service is shit-to-non-existent from my town. I'm also on contract with no vacation or extended benefits, and every penny of my single income counts (if Canada still had pennies to count, that is)... so I cannot just up and be there in person. And what good would it do? I can't fix the holes in her mind. I have done all I can on the phone helping direct health care and making agonizing decisions-- and it really came down mostly to me, my brother Mike and his wife: them up front in the trenches and me doing what I can from behind the lines.

My father is home alone, more quietly, straight-forwardly suffering a more "gentle" dementia and a host of physical problems-- so many potentially fatal ailments, and suffered for so long that I honestly don't know why he's alive. And he hates life. He's the most negative person I've ever known. I spent much of my life trying to win his attention (he had two defaults while I was growing up: full-on screaming abuse or utter silent apathy). I got to a point where I'd hurl the abuse back. I hated his guts. I left for university at 18 and couldn't wait to get out from under his roof. My brothers being so much older, they had long since flown the coop.

So Mom got left alone with him.

For all the darkness he engendered, she was the light. She taught me to read and love books. She taught me that books are worlds and you can escape into them. God knows she needed the escape, and she always had a stack going from the library. That was our favourite trip together: the library.

Though our relationship had to take on a more distant form, we have been the closest of the family all these years. Now she's temporarily in private long term care-- a pretty, gentle prison with decent food and little outings. Dad will be moved under the same roof once she is in the... I hate to use the word, but final home that she'll live in (she's on a crisis list for a regional care facility). I call almost every day and she's always packing to get home to her Mom's. Or she is at her Mom's, or at the college, and wondering when Dad is coming to pick her up after work. She claims she's seen all of us as younger versions of ourselves, laughing and joy-riding in her car (the one we were forced to take away last year). She's in Barrie, Midland, Brockville, Mallorytown and Athens all at once... and nowhere all the time. She's working at the college. She thinks I am me and--within the span of a sentence-- that I am her sister Shirley, long dead.

I have spoken more with my father in the past couple of months than I have all my life put together. Almost daily. He is quiet and passive in his dotage. I listen to him and answer the same question 17 times in a row. It's what you do.

Rumble... RUMBLE... SMASH!!!!

A few days ago, I found out my eldest brother Chris-- my godfather, former RCMP officer, strong-and-silent type fellow bookworm and history lover-- has leukemia. He's been ailing for a long time-- and was rushed to ER the day after he and his wife had moved into their retirement dream home. I thank all the friends who have offered healing prayers and positive energy, but he is likely too weak to fight with too many underlying complications. An emergency trip over the weekend to Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital was made, courtesy of a generous dear friend with a vehicle and a great deal of care for my wellbeing. A million monitors and drip bags and tubes. Utter stillness and stasis. The big tough Mountie unresponsive, battered and bruised from repeated internal attacks of brain bleeds and multiple seizures. His wife of 38 years is shell-shocked but holding up under the hellish circumstances. Gowned and gloved and numb, I talked to him about a few things-- remembering us standing together on the walls of York, summertime hours spent inside reading silently in the same room, shared hours in movie theatres, how we spent a year at Trent together (it was my first year, and he was back on leave for one year to finish the degree he'd been studying for part-time around his considerable RCMP duties-- he went on to law school after that. He was meant to have a second career, but his health wasn't good enough over the past few years). I told him I loved him. That he was one of my heroes. That I wish to God our family had possessed better communication skills over the lost years. And I told him that if he had to go now, that if it was too much, that it's okay.

He's 62.

It's likely a matter of a few days now. And both of my other brothers have both been to see him too, and have had their say. We all did this at different times and never crossed paths-- in typical Barrett clan style-- but we all did it.

 Rumble.

And the question now is how to tell our parents that their oldest boy is dying and that they can't go say goodbye? Tell me how we go about doing that, Universe?

So you'll forgive the long silence.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Remembrance


My maternal grandfather 'Mac' in 1917. Survived.
I posted the following thoughts on my personal Facebook wall yesterday, and had a lot of comments. A number of people asked to share it, so I thought I'd share it here on my blog...


My paternal grandfather Fred. Survived, but wounded at Vimy Ridge.

I find it sad that some people choose to view wearing a poppy as somehow 'pro-war'. I think it's quite the opposite, isn't it? I wear mine to commemorate sacrifice, to reflect on the evil waste and futility of war-- ALL war, not just the 'big two'. I have never been a fan of violence and mass bloodshed. I abhor the dictators past and present who force humanity to its knees and murder them in their millions, and press soldiers into doing their dirty work. I despair that those on the side of good are forced to kill. Whatever reasons a soldier has to take up arms-- whether by choice, duty or bullying-- they are part of this horrid cycle that never seems to break.

Uncle Bill in WWII- sole survivor of a Lancaster crash.


Remembrance matters to me. A lot. We are not honouring the act of war: we are honouring the memory of countless lost people. I empathize with those who are disgusted by the cynical politicians who make a holy show of it all, and use it as an opportunity to divide us further and whip up jingoism for future use against The Enemy (whoever they happen to be this time). I hate the way every country's politicians seem to use the 'good optics' and pretend they care about soldiers one day a year... all while they turn their backs on vets and their families who need support precisely *because* of the sacrifices they make for the sake of their countries. I share their righteous disgust, but I will not turn it into a shunning of Remembrance.

My great uncle. Killed in action, 1915.

'Remember'. Interpret that how you will: only remember. For two minutes.

We must keep our hearts in it-- our wounded, broken hearts-- for the sake of humanity. If we can recall the waste and apply the lessons (that's the tricky part-- we never seem to learn, do we?) then we are better for it as a whole.

A tall order, I know. But I will never miss the date of Remembrance so long as I can stand and bow my head. For two minutes. For the sake of humanity and all of its bloody sacrifice.