Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I loved two men

There are strange, strange things that happen, things so inexplicable you can only understand them after years have gone by. The camera zooms away, or zooms upward, so that more and more of the picture is revealed.

I loved two men. Loved – that’s the wrong word. It wasn’t a sexual thing, I swear, because both men were known to be gay. They were also arrogant, fiercely intelligent, and possessed of a certain social and media-related power. They were tin gods, in other words, and how I could have remained so attached to them, for so long, I will never know.

Maybe I was flattered when they allowed me to sit at the edge of their bright circle of influence. Maybe. I certainly courted their attention, and got bits of it, crumbs. When I was about to walk away in rage or dismay, I’d be tossed another crumb.

Where do I start? The parallels between these two just came to me tonight. It seems incredible I never saw it before.

For one thing, they’re both dead. They both died of sudden, violent, catastrophic strokes, literally dropping in their tracks. They were not young, but neither were they terribly old. Before they died, they both said and did things to me which now make me gasp at the level of casual cruelty.

Paul was my teacher, so many years ago now it seems like another lifetime, another universe. It was back in 1991. He taught anthropology at a community college in a small town, a strange thing, because I was to find out later he had two Masters degrees and a PhD. If he was so brilliant, as he seemed to think he was, why was he stuck in this backwater?

The Anthropology of Religion wasn’t about religion at all. It was mostly about Haitian voodoo and the power of certain plants to paralyze and zombify – for the great zombie tradition comes from Haiti, where death can be created at will, then revoked with a snap of the fingers.

I was enthralled. In the classroom, this man was charisma personified. He just seemed to know so much. When I saw Paul do mediumship at a spiritualist church, I was enraptured. I had never known anyone like this, a veritable sorceror, and he was actually allowing me to sit at the same table and talk about the same subjects. More or less.

How I stayed friends with Paul through the years is simple – I put in virtually 100% of the energy. Had I let it drop, the whole thing would have fallen apart. Why was I so desperate? I don’t understand it, looking back, except that I wanted some of his zombie power. I already had power of my own, but I didn’t see that then. Whenever it threatened to show itself, Paul would summarily clap it down.

Meanwhile, another friendship – this one really not a friendship at all, but a correspondence, for I never actually met the man. Call him Lloyd, because that was his name, so we might as well use it. He had been drama critic at the local paper for a thousand years or so, then music critic, more or less staying in the same job for all of his working life. Not turning left, not turning right.

As a critic, he could deal blows and thrust his sword with a nearly-indifferent cruelty that was sometimes breathtaking. It was enormously entertaining for people to watch Lloyd eviscerate other people – a blood sport. When they themselves were the subject, their enthusiasm withered somewhat.

One day, wanting to entice him or at least attract his attention, I sent Lloyd a column I had written in my local paper – what was it about? Elizabeth Taylor’s visit to Eaton’s, I think – and to my surprise, I got a very nice handwritten reply, quoting some lines from my column and saying he was going to steal them: “I only steal from the best.”

After that initial contact, it wasn’t as if we passed notes in school or sat around the campfire roasting weenies. As I said, it wasn’t a normal friendship. We never had coffee, never even talked on the phone. But the correspondence went back and forth for more than fifteen years. Mostly forth, for if I hadn’t kept it going it would have immediately died. I don’t know why I let myself in for such treatment, but I did.

In both cases, the connection waxed and waned, but there were bright moments. Occasionally Paul the medium acknowledged that I maybe-just-maybe had had some valid psychic experiences of my own (but more often than not he dismissed them as “dangerous” or “just a fantasy”). Lloyd sent me Christmas cards – yes, he really did, handwritten, cheery things that you would never know came from someone most people perceived as a heartless Scrooge.

I will cut to the chase, because this could become book-length. There was a breaking point in each case. I had lost touch with Lloyd after he finally retired from his only job, tried to leave a message on a blog he was keeping, and heard nothing. Then suddenly – and this was unlikely, because he hated technology – there he was on Facebook! Stupidly, I messaged him and said, “I hope this gets to you.”

What I got back was, “This was a mistake. I’m not on Facefuck, so you can go fuck yourself. I hope this gets to you.”

I spent considerable time spinning around in confusion, telling myself maybe it wasn’t really him (it was), and then – one day – receiving a kind of vindication when a friend of mine – OK, a psychiatrist – said, “It’s well-known that this man is the most sarcastic, vindictive, narcissistic, selfish, ruthless, heartless. . . “ – and on and on. OH! I thought I was the only one, and here this man’s patients – apparently more than one – had been seared as well. In fact, maybe that’s what sent them to the psychiatrist.

I can’t remember ever being that angry, but I had a plan. Paul had taught me all about it, in The Anthropology of Religion. I wasn’t trying to do harm – of course not. My plan was to show Lloyd  the error of his ways, to hold up a mirror or a magnifying glass, and to make him feel even a degree of the pain that he had caused other people. I had no idea if I was applying the principles correctly, so I winged it, using Haitian music, a great deal of jewelry and beads and crosses, candles, incense, dance, and written statements of intent. Silly, really, but  I just had to do something - he had just told me to go fuck myself! I thought he was my friend, or my "something" at least. When I made the doll it seemed extreme, but what is a doll but a toy, an effigy, a likeness? This wasn’t him. The person I was trying to reach was probably unreachable.

So what happened? Exactly nothing. So that was that. I filed it under "useless attempts to get someone's attention". 

Fast-forward several years, and the news came (in the paper he used to write for) that he had suddenly died, and his life was gone. The saddest thing was realizing that his colleagues (most of them dragged out of retirement for comment) had to awkwardly scrape together nice things to say about him. I didn’t react well and posted something pretty harsh on my blog, which I took down when I realized it was hurting people who had cared about him.

But suddenly, now that he was gone, he was this bon vivant, this sparkling wit, this Oscar Wilde of the Lower Mainland, and far from hating and fearing him, performers had lined up to receive his vicious barbs as a sort of badge of honour. Right. Others said he had wasted himself and should have written for the New Yorker or some other publication that mattered. The saddest thing of all was when someone said that after working with him for 25 years, no one knew a single thing about him – where he was from, if he had a family or an education or any working experience prior to his decades at the Sun. Outside the office or the concert hall, he was a cipher.

My anger fizzled out in pity. My mojo seemed ridiculous, which I suppose it was. I had not affected the outcome of this strange, sad story. But stranger still was what happened years later, and that’s the thing that makes the hair on my scalp prickle. Paul’s death was so similar, it was downright eerie.

Paul too was celebrated in his tiny circle, but his wit was known to be cutting. He seemed to love busting people down to size. Like Lloyd, he had his limited little fiefdom, and stomped away from the spiritualist church he had founded when the other members didn’t want to do things his way.

He lived far away by then, and we had an on-off correspondence, but when I excitedly began to write to him about some information I had received about George Gershwin, at first he seemed supportive and almost enthusiastic. I sent him several documents about how friends and family members had actually “seen” him after his death – a dire and restless death, the kind that sometimes leaves behind that unhappy camper known as a ghost.

I wanted to know more about it, and surely Paul was perfect to ask about ghosts. Mr. Medium himself!  But then I sent something that wasn’t an attachment, but included in the body of the email. His response told me that he hadn’t read any of the other stuff at all.

He told me that, “speaking as a psychotherapist” (which he wasn’t), I should “approach such manifestations with extreme caution. They may either be mere fantasies to restore a sense of personal power and worth, or out-and-out delusions born of your psychologically fragile state of “


I don’t know what it is about me and assholes, me and men like that. I didn’t marry one, at all, and I don’t think there are any left in my life – for Paul just dropped in his tracks, like Lloyd, in a stroke.

But not before my mojo. For after all, Paul taught me about mojo, and how to create it. I was very specific. I wrote out my wishes, and specifically stated that I meant no physical harm to either Paul or his partner (also named Paul). But it was full-on, and I made a doll in his likeness, with his face on it. It was part of the ritual.

But I never expected anything to come of it. It was mostly a catharsis for myself.  It felt eerie when I heard he had died like that, with a lightning-stroke like Lloyd whose little empire crumbled straight down like a tower being demolished. I did not feel good, I was not glad. It felt even worse to find out that his devoted spouse of 25 years had been left completely in the lurch. He wasn’t just left with no money. He was left with a yawning abyss of debt, something like $200,000.00, which he had known nothing about. The spiritualist church had decided to put the past aside and try to help “young Paul” (for he was much younger than the other Paul, and somewhat intellectually challenged, certainly no threat to his many-degreed spouse).

Something woeful had been revealed, not just about these men and their talent for turning their pain outward and inflicting it on others. There was something shadowy about both of them - they were not what they seemed. But what I really didn't want to see was what it revealed about me. Why did I ever suck up to people like this – not once, but twice? These weren’t powerful men at all. Their darts had entertained me – for a while. Casual cruelty can be vastly entertaining, as long as it's not about you.

There will be no more mojos, no more dolls, nor any of that stuff, ever again. I don’t want to need it, and I won’t. I only did it because I felt so damn powerless, and regretted my attachment to a couple of arrogant assholes. I don’t know why all these parallels, for it looks like there are quite a few, and why I did not see any of this until just now. But I do know something for sure, something I have believed for quite a long time now, and as years pass I believe it more all the time.

The way you die is the way you live. It’s an accurate reflection, like a tree reflected in water. Energy, charge, karma, charisma, whatever it is, can only build up in the machine for so long before it backfires. If someone holds up a mirror or a magnifying glass, the concentrated rays can set the person on fire until they are completely consumed.

I had watched two parallel examples of how a person’s life can implode by the way they conducted their life. It was a very strange kind of self-destruction, not by cigarettes or alcohol or drugs, but by a sort of personal self-immolation. I don’t think I stood there with the match, because I don't have that sort of power, but I was powerless to put the fire out. They had created it, fed it, banked it. I don’t know what kind of brokenness lay behind that level of rancor and bile, and I don’t care now because I am busy living my own life. But empty is empty. Leaving the person you love the most in massive debt is not love, nor is leaving your friends with no clue, no trace of who you have been. It’s abandonment. Abandonment of life, abandonment of self, abandonment of those who have made the fatal mistake of caring whether you live or die.

POST-BLOG.  A couple of times I've had to take posts down because people bolted in the other direction. But I simply needed to write this, though I know it is odd and a bit creepy. Long after Lloyd died, I found some references to his death and the way it was perceived that I found intriguing, not to mention revealing. They mostly highlighted his great narcissist's talent for throwing people off-balance, in life and (incredibly) even after his death. One writer was incensed that people had said things like, "He should have been writing for the New Yorker!", implying that he had ended up in a permanent backwater. The protest kind of proved the point, exposing Vancouver's "world-class" pretense like the raw nerve of a tooth. Another person stated in their blog that they were grateful to Lloyd for teaching them to write, but made it clear that "he wasn't a perfect person, and would have been insulted to be portrayed that way". She then went on to say that he was difficult to deal with, isolated himself for weeks at a time, cutting people off and making himself unreachable, and was known to inexplicably dump longtime friends as casually as Sweeney Todd dumping his victims into the pit. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fragile flowers: the dust of memory

It's hard to believe it has been 35 years since the wildly-popular, Emmy-winning TV miniseries The Thorn Birds first aired. TTB was one of those programs that broke the gender barrier - guys actually watched this "chick flick", all eight hours of it! I don't know if they soaked as many kleenexes as the women, but they watched it simply because it was a ripping good tale.

A story of thwarted love, a young woman's hopeless passion for a Catholic priest (hungry for power in the Vatican, though he makes her pregnant anyway) played out against the wild and tempestuous outback of Australia - who could ask for anything more?

Accuracy, maybe? The sheep were all wrong (so Australian viewers claimed), the accents were all wrong - there was only one Australian in the main cast, and it showed. Everyone else sounded American. It was shot in California, and people recognized it, but who cared? Father Ralph and Meggie ran across the sand on their deserted little island, etc., etc., and then he broke his vows and made her pregnant. Hoo-ha!

But there is a lot more to The Thorn Birds than schmaltzy romance. It's one of those vast family sagas that covers several generations. I too was transfixed by the miniseries, though the last time I tried to watch it I bailed at about the 15-minute mark, in disbelief that I was once so mesmerised by such movie-of-the-week-ish stuff.

But then there's the novel! Colleen McCullough wrote a right ripping good tale, with a hundred times more dimension, depth and complexity than the miniseries (though women still refer to it wistfully: I was amazed when, about ten years ago, I mentioned TTB at a choir rehearsal, which was then ruined when everyone's focus was sucked away to Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward running along the beach). Read the book if you want to get your teeth into the real story.

I wanted to read the book, or re-read it for perhaps the third time, but where was my copy? My copy went the same way as a dozen pairs of crystal earrings, several paperbacks and even a tshirt or two: the black hole of Shannon. When she was a teenager, long long ago, she had a habit of filching my stuff and never giving it back. I would notice these holes in my wardrobe and jewelry box. What she did with the book is anybody's guess, but I knew I no longer owned a copy of The Thorn Birds. Amazon provides great used copies for one or two bucks, so I went with that, and got a nice hardcover with lovely brown paper and that old-book smell which can't be replicated.   

But you will not believe what I found at about page 50. It was the beginnings of something I never expected to find in a book, or anywhere else.

A garden. 

A garden from so long ago that its roots could never be traced.

Every 50 pages or so, I found sprigs of lovely dried flowers, so completely flattened and delicate that they crumbled under my fingers. I had to quickly preserve them in some way, so I got one of those double-pane glass frames and applied tiny dots of contact cement to hold the frail blossoms in place.

These pictures are views of the light shining through the frame. These delicate things may not survive for very long, and really can't be touched or moved. For now, I have the frame propped inside a book case where I can see it. Watch the video above, and you'll hear my feelings about making this unlikely, oddly beautiful discovery, and why I think it's one more strike for the paper book over the electronic reader. Who can hide such a magical gift to some unknown future reader inside an electronic device?

I can't be totally certain, but I don't think anyone has ever found a perfectly-preserved 40-year-old garden hiding inside a Kindle.

POST-BLOG. The musical score was one of the best things about the series. It just hit it right on the button. Written by Henry Mancini, the music captured the hugeness of the outback overlaid with the delicate intimacy of hopeless romance.

Another little note, an odd one. I just remembered something: I ordered two Thorn Birds. The first one never came. That was the paperback. So I sent a complaint, got a full refund, and ordered another one (the hard cover). So if the first book had not gone missing, I never would have ordered the second, the one with the perfectly-preserved garden in it.

Then, something even stranger. The first book came.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rhapsody in black and white

Friesians in snow. Very close to perfection. OK, I know I post a lot of Fresians in snow, just like I post a lot of northern lights and trolls and William Shatner. Call them obsessions.

Puttin' on the Ritz: animation

This was originally a very strange old Ritz cracker ad from the '60s, and now it is an even stranger animation. The fact that it used only a few frames was helpful to me. This was very cheap animation originally, but in its own way, stylish. The animation for 1950s commercials was even more ludicrously simple, almost a series of still pictures like Clutch Cargo. Things had evolved by the '60s, but not very much! In this scenario, the husband flips out and jumps up in the air because they are all out of Ritz crackers, and the wife (of course) comes to the rescue. In this case, he REALLY flips out! 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Troll Towers: the view from the ground floor

When I sneaked back into troll-collecting, I know not when or how (or why), I had to find a place to stash them. I saw these pictures of massive collections, seemingly thousands, all lined up on shelves on the wall, and didn't want that. It seemed to me you wouldn't be able to find a specific troll, and I didn't want enough room to let my collection get that big. So I racked my brains for something I could use, something with shelves, something I could put on my desk and look at and access so I could have trolls right beside me all day.

So I came up with this. I didn't even have to buy anything! Old CD racks, gathering dust in the corner. I came close to painting them, as they looked kind of  jail-ish, but someone in my troll group (yes, I have a troll group) told me to leave it alone, it had an Elvis jailhouse rock/'60s discoteque feeling to it and made it look pleasingly like trolls a-go-go. The clear shelves make photographing them from the bottom floor kind of interesting.

This is an earlier model, and since then I've added trolls, and added a breezeway between the two towers, mainly for more shelves. I soon had to reinforce the middle ones (made from more empty CD cases) because they kept flying out the back. 

Bentley, yes, Bentley does love these trolls, and he sometimes grabs one by the hair and makes off with it (though lately his interest has waned). I peruse Amazon and Etsy sites to see what I'd love to have, and can't afford. I think I wrote about Trollina already (didn't I?). She was a rescue, and I had the predictable reaction of bonding with her. Since then I've become, if not a serious collector (can't afford it), then a fairly serious obsesser.

My troll Facebook page displays things that would cost me hundreds of dollars, if I could even find them. They aren't supposed to buy and sell on that page, but most of the posts seem to be in the nature of, "Look at this gorgeous thing. I am looking for a forever home. Are you interested?" Sometimes I think it is set up to incite troll envy. But never mind, I post Trollina in hand-knitted things, and so far no one has thrown me out. I will never be able to afford a 17" Dam giant - hell, even a 7" is a hardship for me. 

Why am I doing this? I collected "Dam things" when I was ten, the best year of my life. I associate it with two significant friendships (both of whom I am still in touch with on Facebook).  I also think it's a sort of echo of empty-nester syndrome: the grandkids are now either pre-teens or adolescents, and the sense of loss is palpable. 

I look at videos of reborns, some of whom move, breathe and make sounds, and even pee. It freaks me out, but I am still drawn to it, the "morning routine", the "shopping trip", the "temper tantrum" and reborn toddler getting sick and running a fever and even throwing up. There is even realistic poop - I don't know if you make this yourself or buy it. I am sure there are recipes.

I am not that far gone yet, but sometimes I wonder. I will do almost anything to dodge the clinical depression that nearly finished me through most of my life. You can't cuddle a troll or make it talk (or, at least, if you hear it talk you're in trouble). But they tweak something in me, something I like. I want to dodge the elitism I already see, which seems to be part of human nature. A lot of my trolls, the majority in fact, cost me $4.50 at the dollar store. Then I make them over with new hair and eyes.

Where does it end? I guess, when I get tired of it. It hasn't happened yet.

Monday, April 9, 2018

For she has seen aurora

O roar a roar for Norah
Norah Alice in the night
For she has seen aurora
Borealis burning bright.

Songs of the Pogo