Friday, May 11, 2007

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring


It has been quite a while since I had time to sit and think. The rites of spring seem to include end-of-semester and exam-time stress, weekend work, administration, and typical institutional SNAFUs. Soon. Courses will all be over soon.

My rhodos are in full glory, plus the late tulips, and the dandelions are dug. Dogwood blossoms like mini-moons light the new green of the wildwood. Picking annuals for the hanging baskets and deck pots was fun; I planted them in spite of the anxiety about frost. Today I was driving home through a blizzard of pink; strong winds had ripped the petals from the plum trees and were blowing them in curls and swirls along the grey pavement and into drifts along the curb. The slinking curves tracing the breath of the wind are like flakes gliding down iced roads in the coldest of prairie winters, their white on silver equally as beautiful in a yin and yang sort of way.

A bundle of books for review arrived; I finished three; my favourite so far is The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks by Robert Bringhurst who points out, in one of the lectures, that the word “human” has the same root as “humus”, meaning “of the earth”. I like the idea that “humans” are “earthlings” and “humanities” are “earth studies”. I’m rewarding myself with a week to read the bookclub book—Ian McEwan’s Saturday. Loving it. A Ulysses/Mrs. Dalloway third person stream of consciousness. One day in the life of a London neurologist named Henry Perowne--an intelligent, articulate, “a-motional” scientist, a biological determinist, whose every speech and action is driven by intention. Who is connected to the world through television news, driving, and shopping, and to his wife, his poet daughter, his mother in the home, colleagues, patients, the men who crashed into his Mercedes, the squash partner he attempts to dominate, his blues-playing son. It is a luxurious read, topped with the luxury of reading outside on the warm deck. The yard still smells heavenly green.

In the interim between blogs, since Imas was news, there was another mass shooting on a campus and more discussion of how to protect the innocents and a little bit about how to help the mentally ill. Angry disaffected men shot the Kennedys, Dr. King, Malcolm X, John Lennon, students from a Texas university tower, at Montreal’s Ecole Polytech, at Columbine high school, at Dawson College, at Virginia Tech. Not to mention the massacres in New Zealand, and the kindergarten children in Scotland. And those who bombed the Air India flight and the Oklahoma federal building. And trashed the WTC towers. It is as if these guys know the rules to some perverted game. Celebrities score high; for ordinary victims, you have to rack up the hits to grab media attention, to make the news. Why? What does it mean? How can we prevent it? What has to change?

The best thing I heard in my inter-blog days was an interview on CBC radio with the psychotherapist Barbara Coloroso. She is an expert on bullying [The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander] and has just written a book on genocide, Extraordinary Evil; she makes connections. She says it is a mistake to view bullying as a “conflict” and to call in the participants as if they are equals for a conflict resolution, with the mediator trying to maintain objectivity. I’ve seen this with television therapists dumping on a partner struggling to free her/himself from the domination and disrespect of a bullying spouse, and not getting a fair hearing from the “objective” doctors. Giving each side equal respect and benefit of the doubt condones the bullying and re-victimizes the victim for attempting to stand up for and defend him/herself. Everyone knows that bullies seek out those they perceive as weaker, those who have no backup; often, bullies push their targets to react just to get them into trouble. Even calling the police and threatening charges can be part of the bully’s repertoire. Is building a bomb or picking up a gun the same pathology? All show lack of empathy, lack of respect, cruelty, yet there seems to be some difference in the displaced anger.

It makes me think too about the rules of hockey, the players who overreact to a bully, the relationship between bullying and enforcing, and between enforcing and the bench—the expectations of coaches and managers, of owners and of fans wanting to win the Cup. How to be a winner and how to be a man. Checking. Shooting. Aggression. Violence. Inflicting pain on others in order to achieve your goals. It’s the way the game is played. Yet it seems a pretty safe bet that none of the disaffected shooters ever played hockey. This could be a clue.

I’m still reading Saturday on the deck. Set in February, 2003, post-9/11, Henry’s flights of memory and diagnosis and analysis are triggered by sensory experiences sparking something chemical within his brain. And in his world, that’s how everything happens. Chemical and physical signals trigger all actions, including violence. When a professor tried to teach his daughter that “insanity is a social construct”, Henry took her to a locked psych ward and cured her with evidence to the contrary. To a biological determinist neurologist, madness is chemical and physical, not something that will disappear if we start to think differently about maladaptive behaviours. I feel myself not wanting to finish the book, wanting to stay in Henry’s world as long as possible. It is somehow comforting to know that there are men like him in the world. Oh, right. This is fiction.

The wind which had been blowing the pink drifts came up stronger than ever and I went inside to avoid flying trees and branches. I slid open the window, the better to hear it with, and to invite in the scent of rain on wet moss and earth. And the phone rang with news of the arrival of a baby on one of the young branches of our family tree, a girl with a beautiful green name, Jade. I wrapped the gift I had already bought on spec, a pink cardigan with a pink flower, and tucked in a card saying “welcome to this world”.

Collage Workshop

Collage Workshop

The Collage Workshop two Saturdays ago was wonderful. Organized by the art gallery for Arts and Culture Week, twelve of us sat at a big table cutting and pasting for seven hours straight. This is an art form I love, making something out of nothing, recycling, appropriating the beautiful images from magazines and using them for something other. And there were twelve totally different results. It’s the creative process that interests me. Why do this? Because it’s fun and challenging. What to do with the end project when it’s made? Well, in this case, they are framed and hung in the gallery for a while, and then ready to hang at home. So the collage will have a decorative element, and must be appropriate for public display. No problem. But what to do? What image? What colours? What will it look like? What will it say?

We looked at examples in the gallery’s Collage Exhibit, which included some three-dimensional sculptures. The facilitator suggested that we could pick a favourite photograph and “transcribe” it into a different medium; we could make a montage of words or images; we could do something inspired by the special papers or the clippings we find. I checked the list of ideas I had before the workshop and decided to go with the Breakthrough engraving. I don’t know the artist’s name but I think it’s an engraving from the Renaissance, of a man on his knees crawling away from the civilized fields and the one tree and bursting through the circle of the globe into a light-filled heaven. I call it Breakthrough but it’s probably meant to be a “pilgrim’s progress” genuflecting, prostrating oneself into heaven.

I know I respond especially to colour; I found myself collecting clippings of gold, sand, white, and blue. An abandoned cheese tray was the template for the circles. My collection of bride images yielded only one suitable clipping. I found a beautiful bare tree in shades of midnight blue. When I tried to explain what I had done to some at the table, I realized that in my “restorying” of this image, a female figure is moving in the opposite direction, up from a white seashell beach through music into an earthworld of darkness and pain and beauty. I cannot say that evolution was my intended theme; it was just that I couldn’t find a figure facing the other direction. That might be biological determinism, as our magazines are all laid out to open on the right. Whatever the reason, in my collage, earthlings emerge. Such is the creative process.

I check my dictionary. Collage: a kind of surrealist art in which bits of flat objects, newspapers, cloth, pressed flowers, etc., are pasted together in incongruous relationship for their symbolic or suggestive effect. Montage: the art or process of making a composite picture by bringing together into a single composition a number of different pictures or parts of pictures and arranging these, as by superimposing one on another, so that they form a blended whole while remaining distinct. Why didn’t I look these up sooner? The title of my montage is ReStorying.

The dictionary also reminds me that my favourite medium is words.