Dark Doors

Ask. I will tell you a story.

Category: Blog (page 2 of 3)

These are my informal pieces, musings, and diatribes.

#icebucketchallenge

I dithered over doing this long past the deadline, but I figure I’m alright because the nomination came from another timezone.

If you will be so kind as to click here, you will witness the soaking I received at the viciously gleeful hands of my own child. (Evil… should have called him ‘Loki’, then it would have been a fair warning to the world.)

Rather than ALS, I’m dedicating my challenge to EDS and Mind, to bring a little more awareness of these two invisible afflictions to the world.

Enjoy, laugh a little, be glad I didn’t nominate you (yeah, you! The one in the back there), and donate what you feel comfortable with to EDS and Mind.

Thanks. I’m going to go get warm now…

We Burn a Hot Fire Here – “The Crucible” review

The Old Vic’s in-the-round production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” surely does burn hot, distilling this story of hysteria, deceit and vengeance into a performance that scorches the audience. Miller’s play focuses on the events in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, creating a scathing commentary on the McCarthy trials of the 1950s. The inevitability of Proctor’s downfall is startling, as Miller held his audience in suspense throughout, dropping subtle hints of the vengeful heart of a young woman, combined with the misplaced doubt of Proctor’s wife, leading us to the realisation that Proctor’s belief in goodness and reputation is so deep that he chooses the noose so as to keep his name.

Let me be honest with you at this point – I am a fan of Richard Armitage (and my previous post illustrates this quite clearly), and I bought tickets to see this because he was cast as John Proctor. As the production opened and the reviews started pouring in – five-star review after five-star review – I was worried that people were hoping to see a great performance and that they had forced themselves to see it. Thankfully, “The Crucible” cast has earned every last star attributed.

Armitage crafted a role of depth and dignity as Proctor, presenting this strong but flawed man in a performance that was approaching perfection. Jack Ellis as Danforth was the immovable object onstage, embodying how belief can become dogmatic and inflexible with a skill that left the audience despising him, though still hoping that he might see reason. Samantha Colley as Abigail Williams – in her first professional theatre role – brought explosive energy to the role, chasing Proctor to make him hers once more. Colley’s stage presence matches Armitage’s, and her portrayal of Abigail was chilling, as the girl is rebuffed and cast aside, which turns her anger into fuel for vengeance. Adrian Schiller as Reverend Hale brought this character to his redemption without hypocrisy, highlighting the regret Hale has for his part in the hysteria that grips the community. The domestic scene of Proctor and Elizabeth hummed with tension as the ghost of Abigail seemed to linger between them, forcing Elizabeth to keep her husband at arm’s length. Anna Madeley delivered a delicate performance, showing both tenderness and steel as Elizabeth Proctor, as well as presenting the fragility of a woman recuperating from illness and heartache.

The runaway performance of the night came from Natalie Gavin as Mary Warren. At times, timid and fearful, at times, rebellious and strong, Gavin balanced the tearing conflict of emotion and loyalty felt by Mary with professional skill, and fulfilled Elizabeth’s summary of Mary: “It is a mouse no more.”

Yael Farber’s direction used the in-the-round stage to create her own crucible for the performance, as the play bubbled over the fire of tension throughout. This play could have sunk to mere talking heads, but Farber’s staging and vision created a dynamic piece of theatre. With part of the audience filling the fringes of the stage space around the actors, there was a risk of the players becoming mere mortals treading the stage. The talent, skill and trust in each other displayed by this entire cast built a performance of giants, as each actor filled the space and became – for a little while at least – something more than human.

The intensity of this production will remain with me for many years, and will be my measure for all future productions of “The Crucible”.

‘The Crucible’ continues at The Old Vic, London, until 13 Sept 2014. Most performances are sold out, though return tickets occasionally become available on the day.

Richard Armitage – My celebrity stalker

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been joking with family and friends that Richard Armitage has been stalking me this year. Here are the facts:

  • I live in Leeds, and have done for about nine years.
  • Richard Armitage spent three months in Leeds from March of this year, filming for an independent project called “Urban and the Shed Crew”.
  • He was filming less than a ten-minute drive from where I live.
  • Earlier this year, I made plans with a friend to spend the weekend in London as her “plus one” for a wedding on Saturday. We decided to make a weekend of it, and I distinctly remember saying to her: “I’m sure we’ll find something to do in London on a Friday night!”
  • Three weeks later, The Old Vic announced that Richard Armitage would be starring in “The Crucible”, with a run that lasted all summer, including our weekend in the capital. (I bought tickets that day for our Friday night excursion.)
  • I went to Canada this summer, to spend two weeks with family and friends.
  • Four days after I landed, a news item on my Facebook page popped up, stating that Mr Armitage was in Canada, about an hour’s drive away, for several interviews and promotions for “Into the Storm”.

Okay, I know you’re saying that this is pretty weak, flimsy evidence. A series of ridiculous coincidences that signify nothing. Least of all that Richard Armitage is following me.

But… at least it will be the funniest thing I could say to him after Friday night’s performance: “Richard, you have to stop following me. We can only be friends.”

#GISHWHES2014 – ‘Kale-ing Misha Softly with his Thong’

Many apologies, dear Reader, for being silent for so long. Life, as they say, has gotten in the way, and time slipped away from me.

But this offering, I hope, will be cause enough to forgive me. This was born of the madness known globally as GISHWHES, and known more locally as the insanity of my oldest friend. (Not that she’s older than all my friends, but that I’ve known her longer than most.) One item on the scavenger hunt list was to get a published Sci-Fi author to write a flash fiction story of no more than 140 words containing the following elements: Misha Collins (actor extraordinaire), the Queen of England (though I believe she is technically the Queen of Britain, but we shall let that minor inaccuracy slide), and an elopus.

Yes, you read that correctly: an elopus. Which is a species hybridisation of an elephant with an octopus. Could be vile and frightening, but could also be cute as a button, depending upon genetic splicing. Or the scientist doing the splicing.

In any case, after a long day consisting of puzzle-solving, driving, kale-induced hilarity, family time and sleep deprivation, with these bizarre elements to work into 140 words or less, plus with extra restrictions from Team SuperSlackers to include in the story, I sat down to my trust iPad and wondered: how ridiculous can I possibly be?

I think this story answers that question rather decisively.

If, by some mad twist of fate, this story goes up for the GISHWHES Hall of Fame or even the Coffee Table Book, I hope you’ll vote for it. But I’ll keep you updated on that particular pipe dream as and when.

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Kale-ing Misha Softly with His Thong

“Ms Misha, what on earth are you wearing?”

Misha glanced down at himself, his eyes glazing over as the sight of his tanned, taut body caused him to bliss out.

“Misha!”

The shrill voice snapped him from his reverie. “Liz, darling,” he drawled, “it’s Kale Tuesday. You know I always wear my kale-bespangled budgie-smuggler on Tuesdays.” He simpered and struck a Playgirl pose to display his assets to his favourite queen.

Elizabeth II, mother of corgis, rolled her eyes and emitted a most unmonarchly nasal snort. “Not the kale again, you ponce. We meant that.” She directed an imperious finger towards his skull.

Misha caressed his new headgear. “Taxidermied elopus. It’s all the rage.”

The Queen of the Commonwealth Kingdoms crossed her arms, shaking her coiffed head. “You do realize that you have your head up an elopus’s arse.”

It’s the Day, not the Date…

Just a few words today, and those in pencil…

The Globe and Mail have kindly published my words today as their Essay, based on my eulogy for my father, and written on this day last year.

I know that – technically – one year hasn’t passed until tomorrow, but this day will always be a bit dark for me. Because it will always be the Friday before Father’s Day, and not the date that is significant.

Please, read and remember your own loved ones. Share this, re-blog it, email it to friends and family. Help me through this day.

Why Do You Write?

This question arrived in my email this morning, from a young writer with whom I’ve been corresponding, and sharing ideas and advice. Bear in mind that I responded to this at half-past-stupid-o’clock, because I didn’t want to wait. This is a tough question – simple, but profound in its simplicity. I had to answer it right at that moment; no other moment would serve.

So, here is the reply I sent, tapping out with one finger as I swayed near the kettle waiting for water to boil, and coffee to make itself.

I write because it keeps the crazies at bay. Gives them a channelled outlet of expression, so that I don’t lose sleep, vomit uncontrollably with fear and anxiety, or despair at my life.

That’s the dark reason.

The other reason is to see what combination of words I can create to express a thought in a unique way. A way that no one has thought of yet. One that is clever, precise, erudite, challenging and humorous.

Example from a lesson I taught yesterday on Romeo and Juliet: Juliet weeps over the death of Tybalt, and Romeo as the cause. To demonstrate just how much she has been crying (and bypass grabbing copies of the play for the kids to read), I said, “She is a veritable raisin of a girl.” A class of 31 students, 13 years old, laughed because they got that image.

That is why I write. To laugh. To distill the very essence of an idea down to the best choices of words.

Just remember: words are cat toys for your mind. 😉

I apologise for the emoticon; it was very early.

Guest Post on Toasted Cheese

Guest Post on Toasted Cheese

My first guest blog post!  (Say that five times fast.)

FanGirl Moment

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A fantastic chance meeting with Henry Pettigrew, who is currently on-stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in “Of Mice and Men”. Sometimes, it is a good thing to have a kid, who can cover for your total geek moments and start the conversation for you.

Still haven’t seen the production yet? Read my review here and go see it! Tickets are nearly all gone, according to Henry, but there might just be a few tickets for the last performance!

“Of Mice and Men” stage production – West Yorkshire Playhouse

Those who know me, know how much I love Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”.  As a teacher, I have had the pleasure of teaching this novella for nearly a decade; every year, my students show me a new way of seeing the story and I learn something new.  Last night, I treated myself and my son to the stage production of this iconic story at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

Mark Rosenblatt, the associate director at WYP, may not have known that he would have to impress me, and that such a feat is nearly Herculean because of my enduring passion for Steinbeck’s story.  But he succeeded.

The set was unique, opening up Steinbeck’s claustrophobic descriptions of the bunkhouse and the barn, creating a fluidity to the acting space while maintaining fixed features – like the pond.  It was the strength of the acting from the entire cast that kept the audience’s focus where it needed to be.  Even the lighting paid homage to Steinbeck’s light and dark imagery throughout the story, adding subtle hues of meaning throughout.

Henry Pettigrew (George) portrayed a character of many levels – torn between self and duty, joy and pain.  Pettigrew delivered a performance that brought George to vibrant – and venomous – light on stage, and shifted my own loyalty from Steinbeck’s favourite character, Slim, firmly to George’s shoulders.

Dyfrig Morris (Lennie) brings serious lightness to the production, and delivers a performance of a perfect balance between Lennie’s intensity and his inadvertent humour.

Cast in the role of Curley’s wife, Heather Christian had the most difficult part to play of all.  A character without a name (even Slim’s dog is given a name), Curley’s wife is the fulcrum around which George and Lennie’s fortunes pivot.  Christian showed the audience a character filled with loneliness and pain, as well as her own thwarted dreams, but still filled with a naive optimism that dreams could still come true.  Her arrangement of music created an atmosphere of melodic melancholy, gripping the audience tightly and never letting go for the duration of the performance.

“Of Mice and Men” is playing until 29 March 2014 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.  Go see it.  Whether you’re studying it for GCSE, read it for your own enjoyment, or remember any of the George and Lennie references in cartoons.  You’re in for a treat, I promise.  Even as Burns’s poem says:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft agley,

An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!

 

For in this story, there is joy, and pain, and grief.  This is not an easy watch, but you will not forget the experience.

Dead of Winter – Second Place

Well, dear Reader, I wish to share my joy and achievement with you all.  Today is the day that I became a published author.  (We could add ‘internationally recognised’ and ‘award winning’ to that as well, but that might be grinding it a little too hard.  Or not.)

Thanks go to the editors at Toasted Cheese Literary Journal for selecting my short story to win second place.  I am so pleased with this, and I can’t even find the words (shameful state!) to express my gratitude to them all.

Thanks also to beta readers for their support, criticisms, and suggestions, especially to Vanessa Ricci-Thode, who reminded me of this competition and has been a staunch supporter of my writing.  (Cheers!  I owe you a beverage of your choice when next we share a continent!)

After much ado about something, please click here to read my award-winning story.   I hope you enjoy it, as I write for you, dear Reader.

 

Win! (Okay, second place ain’t bad)

I was woken at 6am yesterday by Rocky the (not-so-much-a) kitten, wailing and scratching to go outside.  Unhappy and grumbling about cats and litter boxes, I staggered downstairs and let the little beggar out.  Kettle on for coffee, and a pre-dawn session of washing dishes and mugs for the day, yawning all the while.

It wasn’t until more than half an hour later that I opened my iPad to check emails.  And found this waiting for me.

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I read it once, twice, three times, mouth agape, eyes and mind unbelieving.  I quickly switched to check out the Toasted Cheese website for verification.  I stared at it, waiting for my name to morph into someone else’s.  But it didn’t.  And at 6:50am, I was shouting up the stairs, waking both the boys (and a few of the neighbours, too, I’m sure) to share the news with two of my favourite people in the world.

I am so damned happy that I sent this story in, even though there were several moments of indecision and criticism.  But I had spent the time and mental effort on it, and I didn’t want that to go to waste.  I am so glad I took a chance.

This will be my first published work (outside of a non-fiction article for Namaste magazine from years ago), and I hope that this had opened a door, or floodgates, into publishing for me.  Look for my short story, “Mother’s Nature”, on Toasted Cheese’s website in March 2014.  Or wait until I blog the link.

Because you know I will.

Commentary – writing with my inner psycho

Last week saw another tearful post of “why, oh why” from me.  I knew I was making a mistake when I posted it, but did not stop myself.  I’m forcing myself to live with that mistake, and to learn from it.  I know that everyone has bad days, and that the dark moods will get the better of us sometimes.  Instead of blogging it, I’m going to use those bad moods and channel them, nay funnel and shepherd them, into my writing.  Because I’ve promised to refocus, to concentrate on the writing.  

After the misere de guts* of last week, and the sudden onset self-hatred as a result, I picked up a pen, grabbed my notebook and started to scribble.  To scrawl.  To metaphorically heave my misery guts onto paper, and rediscover the power of writing. 

I have to say, I’m a bit shocked by the darkness that came out.  

But I know I can go darker, deeper into the cobwebbed corners of my soul, to flush out the inner psycho who resides within.  

When I tried to write in that voice on a better day (a day when I didn’t want to listen to The Smiths and The Cure on a repeating loop with a glass of bleach for refreshment), I found it really difficult to tap into Inner Psycho.  I knew I had to make myself angry.  

I listened to the angriest music I own (not that angry, really) as loud as I could stand it (thankfully, next-door are very nearly deaf, so they didn’t notice a thing), and on my nicotine breaks, I read part of a book that makes me angry whenever I read it, and then came back and scrawled away in my notebook.  This Voice does not like keyboard-tappery, so I’ve been writing her long-hand.  It feels more visceral, more angry, filled with rage, and a little bit of forensic pre-meditation creeps in while I’m writing.  I called myself a “method writer” when I described this endeavour.  

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@LBaumanMilner) or are a friend on Facebook (no link yet – sorry!) will have noticed my updates of getting in touch with my inner psycho.  Which led to an illuminating trans-Atlantic discussion of the preferred ink of inner psychos.  General consensus is baby panda blood, because we believe that unicorn blood has been trademarked.  Where else can you get that kind of creative support?

Just a small insight into the way one writer writes.  Now, I’m pushing the keyboard out of the way, cranking up the music, and letting the psycho off her leash.  Best lock up any small animals or children… just in case.  

 

* (That’s no French phrase… haven’t a feckin’ clue where that came from… but it makes me laugh, so there it stays.)

Food Bullies

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that every time I return to the mothership – *ahem* – I mean, Canada, some sort of theme pops up. A repeated occurrence. A leitmotif, if I’m using that term correctly.

Several years ago, it was Tim Horton’s: I had to go to Tim Horton’s every day to have a coffee with cream. Proper cream. Not milk. Cream. One year, I noticed a subtle thread of misogynistic behaviour in every Canadian I encountered. Which I found extremely surprising, because I had not thought of my old stomping grounds as possessing an unusual amount – subtle or otherwise – of misogynistic tendencies. This led to an impromptu telling-off of my own father for daring to condescend to me… only took me 38 years to stand up for myself.

This year, the repeated motif is food. Dinner, to be exact. It has gotten to the point where the mere utterance of this word causes me to break into a cold sweat, and my stomach clenches with anxiety. I have had more dinner invites this past week than in my lifetime… and that is far too many for me to deal with comfortably.

For two reasons. One: I am attempting, through portion control and increased exercise, to lose weight. It is really not easy to do this when eating at someone’s house, or in a restaurant. “Oh go on, finish those potatoes for me!” Or, “oh go on, have some dessert with me, I’ll feel like a greedy pig otherwise!” I feel like I’m being followed around by Mrs Doyle all the time: go on, go on, go on, go on, go on… you get what I mean.

The second reason is in two parts; my son and I are fussy eaters, though for different reasons. Part one of two: I have allergies to several different types of food, and that they can pop up at the worst – and unexpected – times. I think I’ve narrowed it down, but I’m still waiting for that next weird food combo to pop up and blow up my face. (My allergic reaction, for those who are interested, is relegated solely to my face, readjusting my features to look like Miss Piggy BEFORE WeightWatchers. And it itches. And yes, I’ve seen an allergist, and they found nothing wrong with me.) Plus, too many unusual foods can wreak havoc with my gallbladder-less gastrointestinal tract, leaving me in some measure of discomfort for several days.

Part two of two: My son is 10, and not the most adventurous of eaters. Which is fine, because I know it won’t last. It didn’t with me, so if I back off and let him get on with it, he will find his own food-path.

However, by accepting so many dinner invitations, I am only opening our eating habits up to minute scrutiny and – in some cases – criticism. I know people mean well (go on, go on, go on, go on…), but it is not helping. Either me or my son.

I do not like confrontation for any reason, but having to tell people off for pressuring my child into eating something we both know that he will not like (carrot coriander sandwich, white albacore on white and rye bread, French-style blancmange…) is quickly becoming my best skill.

However, my patience is beginning to run thin. It is getting to the point where I will just snap and start telling everyone to just back the fuck off, and leave the kid to enjoy the food that he does like.

Or stop meeting people for dinner. That might be the most pleasant plan of action, for I won’t have to offend anyone by telling them off for being a food bully. And I can keep my friends for a bit longer. (And maybe continue to lose some weight.)

Dog Slobber – Part Four

Speeding Through Time

I’ve dropped the ball (covered in dog slobber and pool water) on recounting my LA trip. So, here’s a bit of a short-cut through some of the things we’ve done and seen. Of course, I’ve lost track of days a bit, so this may be a bouncy ride. Hang on.

– Dog-walking through the trails at the base of the Hollywood Hill (and which I judiciously missed out… Too hot, too dusty, too doggy).

– Driving through downtown LA, seeing some amazing architecture, including the Capitol Records building, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the LA Central Library (of course I would enjoy that!).

– Santa Monica pier, and scootering along the famous boardwalk, past the beach gym and enjoying a croissant and cappuccino. (And on the lookout for Arnold Schwartzenegger cycling by.)

– Visiting Paradise Cove in Malibu, and encouraging the kid to try out boogie-boarding.

– Enjoying the look on his face when he realised that the Pacific Ocean is salt water.

– A movie trip to the CineDome to see the new Wolverine movie. (Highly recommend the theatre, but avoid seeing anything in 3D there… Screen curves too much to ensure high quality 3D. Though it could have just been shitty 3D production.)

– Visiting the ScienCentre (love that word squash!) to see the Endeavour shuttle in all its glory.

– Enjoying a glorious afternoon on my lonesome while sister-in-law was at work and big bro took mother and the kid to see a Dodgers game. The boy came back with a brand new Dodgers baseball hat, AND a warm-up ball!

– Enjoying the beautiful grounds at Huntington Library, though not enjoying the American-style take on British Tea. (Tarragon Chicken or Cucumber Mint finger sandwiches and Asian or Arrugula salads… Really? Not that I’ve seen a lot of British Teas, but… bleah. Oh, and scones the size of a 50 pence piece.)

– Being first terrified, then stunned, by the appearance of one of the most beautiful men at big bro’s front door. Terrified, because he just opened the door and stuck his head through. Thoughts running through my head followed this approximate path: who the hell is that? Why is he halfway in the house? Do I run and slam the door on him, effectively trying to bisect him? Do I introduce myself? My god, his teeth are incredibly white! Oh man, am I glad I’m not in my bathing suit. Oh shit, I look like crap… He’s so freaking tall!. Eventually, my head returned to normal when I realised that this was big bro’s next door neighbour, stopping by to see how the new pool turned out, having just returned home after filming for over three months in Toronto. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, big bro lives next door to a TV actor/almost star. Thankfully, I didn’t cock up and sound like a complete idiot; just almost a moron instead. Smooth, kiddo, real smooth.

Sorry for the lacklustre humour writing, but I wanted to get everything down on virtual paper before I forgot. Upon my return to the UK and my beloved desktop computer, I will blog again, with pictures for extra visualisation.

Tomorrow is our last full day in LaLaLand, and earmarked for a trip to Universal Studios. After that, we will be back on a plane to Canadaland, and a relative normality. I’ll see if I can find some wry humour in that experience as well, but no promises.

Dog Slobber and Pool Water – Part the Third

Part Three
Time to Show Off LA

By the dawn’s early light (for one must reference the national anthem whenever possible), LA did look different, and a lot more positive. And not what I was expecting.

Green (no amber waves of grain here), quiet (yeah, go figure), houses that are generous within, but rubbing elbows with next door neighbours on either side, wide roads made narrow with loads of cars parked on-street… all served to provide a perfect blend of Canada and Britain as a backdrop for this adventure.

With all possible care to keep quiet, the boy and I explored the room we were sharing. Packed with toys, games, Lego figures, books and DVDs, it was next to impossible to be quiet… mainly because it’s an old house with creaky hardwood floors everywhere, and we kept knocking stuff onto said floors. At about 6am. Or earlier. (Did I mention that I don’t travel well? And that jet lag is a biotch?)

Trying to tidy up after the boy had knocked down a small paperback, I managed to knock over a large hardback book. Enough is enough. We stepped gingerly back, and eschewed tip-toeing our way downstairs; we had probably woken the whole house already, so we decided that breakfast was next on the list.

Have you ever tried to be quiet in the kitchen? It’s not easy. Everything is designed to clatter and echo, but in your own kitchen, you know where everything is, and you know how to fend for yourself. In someone else’s kitchen, just at half-past stupid in the morning, this task is bleeding impossible. Thankfully, my sister-in-law is (mostly) a morning person, extremely gracious, and all-round wonderful. She showed me the coffee (did I mention she is angelic? I should have) and provided toast for the picky eater masquerading as my son.

Eventually, everyone was up and ready to face the LA morning. Big brother took us to The Grove, a fairly hip interpretation of a Farmer’s Market, with food to satisfy any palate. (Except the boy, who defaulted to his favourite Starbucks brownie. Can’t get him to try much else.)

Because of its proximity to the CBS building, various stars of the small screen will frequent The Grove for breakfast. And I saw two! Of course, I can’t remember their names for the life of me, plus I got rid of the IMDB app from my iPad, so I can only identify them as the guy from ‘Mad About You’ who played a supporting role (not Ira), and one of the teachers from ‘Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide’. Yeah, I know… I suck at star-spotting. So sue me. (Oh wait, this is LA. That might actually happen. Please don’t sue me – I have nothing you want!)

I managed to orchestrate a detour into Barnes and Noble… wow. Haven’t seen a bookstore that large or busy in, well, forever. Half an hour later, 75 bucks lighter and four books heavier, I left quite happy and hoping for an hour or so to enjoy my new reading material. But big bro had another idea.

We headed to the infamous Hollywood hills, complete with sign, palm trees, and sun. Lots of sun. Up the hill, following the switchback road that changed the view with every turning, we got closer to the Griffin Observatory, an impressive Greek-inspired building perched on the edge of the hill. Barely noon, the observatory hadn’t opened yet, and already there were crowds of people milling about the entrance, waiting to be let in. The parking lot was full and more cars began to line both sides of the steep road to the top of the hill.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed wandering (and wondering) around this place; the Steampunk in me thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Tesla Coil fired up. The professor of the human condition enjoyed watching other people wander (and wonder) around. The only low point was when I discovered, to my complete horror, that I weighed more than big bro on the moon. Must work harder on the whole “losing weight” malarkey.

Back at the house, and the boy discovered the joys of a pool in the backyard, complete with playful dogs and an accommodating uncle. I, on the other hand, discovered the downside of spontaneity… in the form of a brightening red strip across the back of my son’s neck: his pure white, glowing British skin highlighted clearly his newfound, and accurately-named, redneck. Layers of 50SPF sunblock later, and the boy was released to sit in a sunny spot to read quietly. Only an hour later did the complaining, and layers of after-sun spray, begin.

But my greatest discovery during this first day in LA was the unmistakeable combination of dog slobber and pool water. Both dogs have a penchant for dunking their throwing ball in the pool. The resultant liquid smear discouraged any kind of traction or friction, unless you are in possession of a mouthful of canines. I think I may have discovered the perfect lubricant for a perpetual motion machine.

Now, I just need to invent the machine….

Dog Slobber and Pool Water: part two

Big brother was eventually spotted, as were the bags soon after. A long drive through the gloaming darkness… What? Hell, I’m not even sure what that means, and without my usual dictionary to hand and only a dodgy wifi connection available, I shall change that to… A long drive as the darkness slunk to surround us, and with only a headache privy to my mental landscape, big brother pointed out various landmarks, hiding in the rapidly dwindling light. Finally, he pulled into a narrow drive more appropriate for a British home than for the States.

Mind swirling, headache throbbing, he led us through sprawling rooms and quirky hallways; whatever sense of direction I still had fled, sobbing in dismay. I could barely tell which way was up, let alone left and right.

Thankfully, I was allowed outside with a small dish for an ashtray, banished to the front porch. There I reacquainted myself with nicotine, and began to weep for a variety of reasons: exhaustion, pain, and jealousy. Yes, jealousy. While I love my little semi-detached with all its dustbunnies, this house was so much… better, bigger, quirkier, unusual, more interesting. And the uncertainty of being unemployed, of claiming to be “a writer” (complete with scare quotes, because I haven’t been published or paid… yet), the looming sense of complete and utter failure could no longer be contained. It leaked out.

Thankfully, no one looked out to see how I was doing, for I had become entirely unhinged. Like one of those string toys on a pedestal: depress the bottom and watch the entire animal collapse on itself, no tension in its joints to hold it up. That was me, on big brother’s front porch.

Eventually, I pulled myself together, released the depression from the bottom of my pedestal, and returned to the curried warmth of the kitchen. I watched as the others ate; I couldn’t even attempt thinking about food without an answering lurch from my gorge. Sleep was a welcome escape from the travails of the day’s travels, and I looked forward to the illumination that dawn would bring.

Because everything is worse at night.

Dog Slobber and Pool Water: A running fairy tale of LA

In the wake of my father’s wake, we decided (well, it was big brother’s idea) to travel to Los Angeles. Take my mother out of the ordinary and get her on a plane to visit the new life of her first-born. And I would play a combination of roles: travel companion, chaperone, counsellor, general dogsbody.

But it did not exactly turn out that way. With metaphoric arms outstretched constantly, fearing that Mom would collapse in a heap of nerves at any moment, I ended up stressing myself out.

I haven’t travelled to the States since I was nine years old, but I thought, hey, there can’t be that much difference between travelling over the 49th parallel and over the Atlantic Ocean. I have never been more fucking wrong in my life. You had to take your own bags to the conveyor belt, but not before you had to backtrack to get a US customs form and fill it out, then show it to some peon who didn’t even look at it, show it to another peon who didn’t care, then finally make it to the US Customs official in her little Perspex cubicle with polarised computer screen (so we can’t see that she’s actually playing Space Invaders or something).

To say this official representative of the United States was solemn is a bit of an understatement. She was not jovial, convivial, pleasant, or even friendly. However, neither was she sarcastic, condescending, nor outright hostile. The only word that seems to describe her is … absent. Like she was playing a constant game of “anywhere but here”. To be honest, I would have rather taken the hostile option. But this absence of personality – of person – was far too unsettling.

Without knowing for certain that my UK citizen son had actually passed any tests, we were waved through without pomp or circumstance. In this anti-climactic state, we entered the USA, without actually leaving Toronto.

Waiting for the flight was about as uneventful as can be imagined: terrible overpriced food, occasionally unintelligible announcements, and sitting. It was one of these announcements – which I had missed or ignored – that caused a rising level of stress for my mother. My outstretched arms had failed me, as I watched her rising panic that there would be no seats for us on this plane.

More people turned up, standing and waiting. I watched them, convinced that at least two of them were famous, merely because they looked like they should be. I couldn’t recognise any face. (Though one struck me that he could have been David Bowie’s brother.) They appeared vivacious and fun to be around; I felt like I was back in high school, watching the cool kids, and wishing that I could join in.

The plane itself was boring, though the kid couldn’t have been happier because each seat had its own on-demand entertainment screen. I was happy for that too… But I couldn’t enjoy my own screen of (mostly) unlimited movies. Not with mother peering over to watch what I was watching, despite her earlier and vociferous claims that she does not like movies. (Last year she did. Hell, last month she did.) So rather than choose the gritty docu-drama I wanted, or the elves and orcs fest, I chose a simple-minded rom-com, possessing no obvious scenes of offensiveness that would elicit disapproving tuts and tsks from the seat next to mine.

So, in discomfort both mental and physical – for both armrests on either side of me were claimed by mother and son – I sat squashed in a surprisingly roomy economy seat, unable to relax and find my travel groove.

The headache hit just over Nevada. With it, came nausea. Followed swiftly by the pilot’s announcement that an area of high turbulence was looming ahead. Oh gods, but I couldn’t cope anymore. The stress of waiting for a meltdown that never came brought on my own meltdown instead, and for the next 45 minutes, my mother found herself comforting me and being kind and solicitous.

While I rocked myself, holding my head and hoping that this trip would be over soon.

Which it was.

I misunderstood the announcement of descent, thinking that we had another 45 minutes of flight, and was completely surprised when the wheels touched down five minutes later.

Sleepy, discombobulated, and carrying the beginnings of a hideous migraine, we exited the plane, and followed the crowd out into the airport. I was looking for Customs, but there was none, for realisation was beginning to dawn that it had already been passed. So I started looking for Baggage Claims, and nearly missed out the fact that I had passed within six feet of Andie MacDowell. Not that I’m a huge fan or anything. But still… a bona fide star. (She is much older in person, and seemed to hold her face gingerly, as if afraid that it would shatter at any moment. That and her strong jawline gave the impression that her head was entirely too big for her slim near-size-0 body.)

Desperate to get outside, away from processed air and too many people, and to have a cigarette, when I remembered that I had packed my smokes. Cue facepalmus-interruptus, because I didn’t want to aggravate the migraine. And so we waited for the bags to arrive.

Then we realised we had no way of knowing where to meet big brother. My UK phone hadn’t caught up with the roaming yet, so there was no way of contacting him. FI part two….

More later, as my humour muse appears to have gone for a coffee.

Welling and welling, never falling…

Welling and welling, never falling, the tears for my father.  I cannot find the strength to let go.  Whether from fear of losing him completely or losing myself, I do not know.  Over again, I relive the moment in the funeral home, seeing him, lying there.  The body of the man who was once my father.  But it is his spirit I miss; the body was merely the face that helped me to identify it.

My son recently claimed that he does not believe in “soul” as a concept (not as a musical genre), and that struck me hard at the core of my own beliefs.  While I am not religious, I would describe myself, instead, as spiritual, and the soul stands at the centre of that belief.  

I suppose I’ve been subconsciously pondering this for the last few days, and my concern is this: if my son denies the existence of a soul, is he – in effect – denying the existence of my father?  Of any of us?  All of us?  Even himself?

Perhaps, I have done my son a disservice by not giving him a spiritual/religious background. Is it perhaps too late to offer him some new knowledge of the world?  Or – and this is my own fear talking – is he too opinionated now (even at the tender age of nearly 11) to accept that there are other ways of interpreting the world around him?  

I hold the grief close to me: grief at losing my father, grief at the possibility of such a massive cock-up in raising my son.  I need to let go… but I don’t know if I can. 

Elegy

What follows is something I wrote whilst travelling on a train to catch a plane to get back home to be with my mom. I read this today, at my father’s funeral. I have decided that it would be churlish to keep this memory to myself any longer, and wanted to share it with the world. This gives you a hint at the father behind the man my dad was.

My dad was magic. He could make a corner store appear out of nowhere. This was the best part of going on calls with him: getting a bag of chips and an old-style curvy bottle of Coke, which you had to open using the bottle opener that was part of the cooler. That was summer for me. The smell of dust and manure, hot on a summer breeze, pushed fast through the windows as we drove down winding roads. Even now, and I know how awful it sounds, but the smell of manure makes me think of my dad. For years, I have always enjoyed that smell, and would inhale it deeply, surreptitiously, whenever I encountered it. And I would be transported back to those summer days. Days with my dad.

He could tell you how long a mile was… What I didn’t know was that he was checking the odometer the whole time. Those magical corner stores? He just knew the countryside so well, that he knew when to ask if I wanted a snack, to make it seem like a store just dropped out of the sky, next to a country road, merely because he wanted it so. And I only figured it out a few years ago.

But he could make magic happen. One night, he took me out to a calving call. It was a dark and snowy night… We parked the car at the side of the road, but the barn was nowhere to be seen. Standing there, in blissful confusion, I was unconcerned because my father was there with me, and I knew nothing bad would happen.

Out of the darkness, a jingling sound emerged, getting louder and seeming to come from every direction. I was young enough to hope that it could be Santa with his reindeer sleigh (for Christmas was on the horizon), and I waited, hopeful. A light bobbed along across the field, and I watched with open-mouthed wonder as a horse-drawn sleigh drew up beside us. “The drive is too full of snow,” my dad explained, “so they came to pick us up in the sleigh.”

Now, I don’t know whether that was true or not. To be honest, I don’t really care if it was. The truth of that night was a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snowy dark of night, cuddled up under a rough woollen blanket that smelled of horses, and holding my dad’s arm. I don’t remember much else, but that journey stayed with me for a lifetime, and this is quite possibly the most precious thing my father ever gave me: a treasured memory.

It’s All About Timing

It all happened so fast.

Dad went into hospital on Tuesday two weeks ago. He was recovering, he was struggling, he was recovering again. Plans for him to return home were being made, then changed for him to go into hospice care. But plans for his continuing life were being made.

Then, he died.

The closest of us was 20 minutes away. The furthest was 24 hours. The other two were en route, with an hour to six hours to travel.

It’s all in the timing.

Because the plans were being made, and people were being positive and optimistic, I decided to join in and send the Father’s Day cards. Two days later… they were superfluous. Plus, I managed to get here before both the cards did. (So now I’ll be keeping a watch out for those cards, to pilfer them from the mail before anyone else can see my stupid optimism made manifest.)

Today is Father’s Day, but today I will be standing vigil over my late father, to meet and accept condolences, and to bite my tongue and to try not to scream at the repetition of sentiment.

Today, we have unrelenting rain: the grief of Nature pouring down around us, to replace the tears we are all afraid to weep.

It’s all in the timing….

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