Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson

I picked the book, Of Song and Water off a shelf at a second hand shop.  I loved the title.  That was my sole reason for choosing it.  Quickly running my fingers through the pages, I decided it would be placed in what my father used to call ‘the throne room’.  You got it?  Something about the size of the font.  And…it seemed like it wouldn’t be a need-to-think-deeply sort of book.

In the end, this turned out to be a remarkable story, a book where music could be experienced through the written word and where colour could be heard.

Hearing Colour

As happens with similar narratives, I was seduced by the intimate disclosures revealed on this family line.  Coleman’s life, love of music and connection with water were woven through memory and the life of his father, Dorian. Given my years living on the edge of Georgian Bay, I also found the setting of the Great Lakes to be nostalgic in its description.  I’ve not spent time in Chicago or Detroit, but I can imagine these places, based on movies, media and books.

This review is my favourite and expresses my sense of the book.

“Joseph Coulson’s second novel, Of Song and Water, concerns a jazz musician coming to endings: a career on the skids because of hands that can no longer make the chords he needs; a boat, falling apart and weighted with memories of his father, and of his father’s father before him (both men casting long shadows); a divorce; a former love he walked away from for his music; and a daughter preparing to leave for school.”

Throughout the writing, there is evidence of an intimate understanding of Jazz…and sections that describe Otis and others in performance, are rich with the detail and process of the genre.

I am very happy that I came upon this book, quite by accident.  It was a rich and generous piece of writing.  There were many surprising moments for me.  Again, I like the intimacy of language and I am a kook about description.  This wouldn’t be a book for everyone, but really appealed to my taste.

“Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive.”

Of Song and Water

 

 

 

 

Stern Border Service Officers

All I could think about was getting over that border and getting to my treasured friend, Ramona.  The morning light was heavenly.  I left the little town of Raymond, drove east and then at the intersection, turned south for the Sweetgrass Hills.

To the right, I passed wetlands and identified American Advocets and a large group of Black-necked Stilts.  On road trips, one can not possibly stop often enough to capture all of the wonder as it slips past.  I was happy to see many winged friends and to see the vast beauty that is southern Alberta.  The past ten years or so I’ve made my life all about the fleeting moments and the tremendous beauty that reveals itself in familiar places.  I’m not big into world travel…but, I’m big into deepening my relationship with what is close up, if that makes any sense at all.  We all do life in our own particular way.

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At the border, I was met by a very stern border service officer.  Oh my goodness…a 63 year old lady approaches and ‘you have the need to be miserable’.  Mayhaps I was bringing some sort of bias to the experience. “Pull around and park in the back.  An officer will meet you there.”  Sure…okay.

The officer who joined me a short while later was much more pleasant.  She covered an agricultural survey with me and shuffled through my belongings in the vehicle…most concerned with plant matter, foods…yes, I get it.  And then I was on my way after sharing with her some pleasantries about high school years in Great Falls.

Continuing on to Shelby, I thought about the lack of gun controls…the shift in thinking.  I remembered how grateful I was to be a Canadian.  I looked forward to making Great Falls.  Once there, I contemplated taking time to visit special places and special people that remain.  I sat in the parking lot of the Flying J and felt so close to the memories of home that my family built in this place…thought of my friends and the house on Fox Farm Road.  I decided that this wouldn’t be the trip for packing in too much.  I needed to sip on my lemonade and enjoy the landscape.  I would have to make another opportunity to do all of the rest of it.

I love the landscape just south of Great Falls…Holter…and Prickly Pear.  There is only one place to stop and so it’s a chore to be overcome with the extreme beauty and at the same time, in a photo-crazy world like ours, not to be able to archive it.  I pulled over at the only stop on my side of the I-15.

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I thought about my Dad and wondered why the heck he wasn’t on this road trip with me.  I love to drive with my father.  These are places he knows and loves far better than I!

Onward!

In Helena, I had my first learning about roaming data charges.  Sigh.  Enough said.  Bob and Dan, I tried to track you down.  I thought I had an hour to play with in Helena.  Sorry.  I left your deets at home in my address book. (roaming, YOU SUCK!)

I had no recollection of the places I saw south of Helena, although I’ve traveled that road…a couple of times with a long-haul trucker, a few times traveling to see my parents in Colorado Springs, Colorado and likely before that, travels to various speech team competitions.  What I haven’t done is turned off into la la land at the Divide exit, west…Wise River…Wisdom…and all of that.  There were zero opportunities to take photographs of the wondrous landscape that unfolded after that turn off from the I-15 and my mind set to wondering as I saw such beauty reveal itself.  I thought about my new-found cousin, Charlene, who lives in Idaho Falls and a bit of a remote feeling took over me, that likely I wouldn’t be able to meet her on this trip.  All of a sudden, I heard the words escape my mouth…

“This is all for you, Kath.”  And yes…there were some tears.  The crystal blue waters weaving through verdant miles were beyond description.  The rugged rock reached vertical to either side of me.  I was overcome with beauty.

As I pulled to the right into the Big Hole National Battlefield, I felt exhausted, but so grateful.  Swallows seemed to beckon me.  I knew that Ramona would be working her shift in the visitor’s center, but decided to spend a few quiet moments looking over the valley.  Again, time just for me.  I knew that this place held huge spiritual energy and that the history for the Nez Perce peoples on this land held such provision and at the same time, horror, that I wanted to be present to the moment.  And then…Ramona.

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

When one thinks of good literature…beautiful writing…one can include the title, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by writer, Carson McCullers.  At the young age of twenty-three, McCullers took on this project.  I reflect back on myself at the age of twenty-three; young mother of one, struggling in a turbulent marriage and I can hardly imagine sitting down to write a powerfully inspiring novel.  Carson McCullers did.

To be honest, I would never have picked up the novel, given the title.  It sounds to be a bit of a cliche and looking back on my life and the significant events that mark transition, loss and accomplishment, I managed to steer clear of this one, up until now.  It sat on my book shelf, having been picked up along the way, as a second hand cast off.  Upon reading it a couple of weeks ago, the title now makes perfect sense and represents the content as much as any other could.

As one pours over the many reviews given to this book, it is difficult to articulate those qualities that make it so successful, just because there are so many.  I decided to write about just a couple and to simply recommend the novel to those who haven’t read it yet or those who read it a very long time ago.

Categorized as Southern Gothic, it is a novel that captures that particular flavour that one might find in To Kill a Mockingbird or A Street Car Named Desire.

 

McCullers’ use of language is elegant and it is consistently supportive of character development from beginning to end.  The reader comes to know, in the most intimate way, the characters who live ordinary/extraordinary lives in this small mill town in the south.  As if under a microscope, we observe their motivations, thoughts and ‘hearts’ from their introduction to the very end.

From the book, Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall, this…

the-heart

Oprah Winfrey offers a thorough book study section on her website for any of my readers who are considering taking on this one with a book club.  I highly recommend.  Included is a visual map and character links in order to explore, deeply, the motivations of each of the ‘lonely hearted’.  You can find the schematic and links here.

the-town-of-lonely-hunters

Every one of these characters holds lessons for the reader and given Meredith Hall’s brave confession at the end of the quote shared earlier in this post, I will confess that I, too, am a lonely hunter.  Now, don’t be worried about me.  I think that there is much that is ‘unspoken’ in each of us.  Yes, I have faith.  Yes, I have a beautiful life, as do the written characters of this novel.  However, there is loneliness, even in the most social and ‘connected’ beings.  I think that McCullers’ characters are very brave and for a whole number of reasons.  At completion of the novel, one is left with the revelation of one’s own courage to face the day-to-day issues of living.

I find John Singer to be central to the themes explored in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  We meet him, along with Spiros Antonapoulos, very early in the novel.  The fact that he is mute, and that others rely on him for his good counsel, is essential to the theme development.  I think that the fact that his advice is really only fleeting and that he is left to seemingly absorb the personal narratives of others, is very significant and sometimes painful.

Since reading this, with respect and care, I highly recommend the novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  You will find yourself or someone you love, written inside the pages.

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My Great Aunt, Marion Ada Moors

I continue to piece together the sketchy lives of my ancestors and to get a greater vision of who my family was.  Even if I can explore our most recent generations, I will leave to my children, a sense of the strength and fortitude of our family.

As the oldest girl, I think that Marion Ada likely came to Canada early on, with John, although I haven’t had much luck in substantiating that.  She is late to get married, at the age of thirty, but I am very happy that this English lady found her Irish man and headed north to Muskoka.  Anyway, I will begin the construction of ‘what I know’ here.

John and Grace are living at 29 Hatfield Street when Marion Ada is born and baptized on January 21, 1872 at Christ Church in Southwark, Surrey.  John, at this time, is listed as a sawyer.

Marion Ada Baptism January 21 1872 Christ Church Soutwark SurreyPresent day Google Maps takes me to this pub at that particular location, so I imagine that an upstairs room of this building may have been the wee family’s abode.  I’m supposing this, but have no fact.Hatfields StreetI find her living with the family at 42 Princes Street, now Coin Street on the 1881 census.  Now, John is a grocer and owns a little shop.John and Grace Moors 42 Princess StreetHere lies the mystery…what year did Marion Ada first travel to Canada?

I find an A. Moors listed as a male, traveling on the Nestorian with other child ‘labourers’ who all appear to be male.  Is it possible that she ‘passed’ as male to get passage?  She is on no other immigration documents that I can find.  She is sixteen years of age, three years older than John who arrived at the age of 13.  If anyone has any wisdom about this, I’d appreciate the insight.  As I’m pouring over ancestral documents, I discover a ten year old child, Ada Moore, traveling on a ship with hundreds of other children, as young as one year old.  I pour over the lists of names and feel sick to my stomach at this appalling state of history.  I take pause for a moment. over the injustice. One page of six on the Circassian in 1883.

Ten year old Ada Moore is included on this page of child immigrants.  This may not be my own relation...but it amazes me that she was someone's child, on a ship heading from England to Canada to be an indentured servant.

Ten year old Ada Moore is included on this page of child immigrants. This may not be my own relation…but it amazes me that she was someone’s child, on a ship heading from England to Canada to be an indentured servant.

Marion Ada BHCWhile I may never resolve how and when Marion Ada came to Canada, I CAN assume that she came around the time that her brother, three years younger, came, some time around 1889.  I also have not located any documents from Hamilton, Wentworth, describing her work as a domestic, but this was likely her path.  I find her marrying Charles (Chas) Wood in 1901 in Wentworth and later find her on the 1911 Welland District census with her little family, a daughter also listed as Marion A. and a son also named after his father, Charles.

Marion Ada born 1872 No idea Death

1911 Census Welland District, Ontario  Daughter and Son on following page of census.

1911 Census Welland District, Ontario Daughter and Son on following page of census.

They are living with their teenagers in Crystal Beach, Muskoka in 1921.

Marion Ada and Charles Wood Census 1921 Crystal BeachI have no death records for Marion Ada, but the search continues.  Charles Wood Junior is found on various voting records and listed as an assistant in water works and as late as the 1940s, a Superintendent.  it seems that the family settled over the long haul in the resort type location.  On my next drive east, I’m going to stop in and see what I can learn about the Wood family of Crystal Beach.

Crystal Beach 1910s1910 Crystal Beach Post Card

Flossie Macfarland (wife of Joe Haddow) and Marion Ada Moors Wood at Crystal Beach circa 1921.

Flossie Macfarland (wife of Joe Haddow) and Marion Ada Moors Wood at Crystal Beach circa 1921.

My Mandy-Girl

Call it ‘by any other name’, but I have to say that the time spent with my niece, Mandy, was pure heaven.  Up until recently, this is all I ever really knew of my girl…here, in the arms of my younger brother.  A sweet little red head…quiet…introspective…artistic…vulnerable.

Cliff and MandyAs she grew, she sent her Gramma and Grampa a drawing that Grampa still has hanging in his hallway.  Mom and Dad were/are so proud of her.

I received a special card in the mail, an image that I framed and have displayed in my sanctuary…another treasure.  I noticed at that time that my niece was becoming a little artist.

??????????In 2008, on my daughter’s wedding day, along with the rest of the family, Mandy left her words on my studio wall.  It was such a blessing to be together on that day.  I will never forget it.

??????????“Life is special, and yours will always be unique, as will everyone’s.  Don’t waste a moment of it, but always take a second within those times to step back and absorb what is happening.  Reflect on it, turn it into something you’ll remember always and will still be just as alive when you think of it. – Mandi”

And then…a collision with her energy and our own time shared recently at my place!  What a gift!

DSC_0488 Mandy Arrives Mandy Market Collective 2 Mandy Picking Garbage With Me Mandy in Snow Storm September 2014 Mandy With Cousins Mandy Market CollectiveWe shared special talks and shared peaceful silence…we were creative together…purchased B.C. fruit together…shared meals and wandered the city together.  I will always appreciate that this time was for us alone.  I’m so very happy for that.  I drove Mandy to the airport and then cried, (as I always do when I drop special people to the airport), driving south on the Deerfoot.  When I arrived home, I found Mandy’s words…pages of them…stacked on my red table, along with a parting gift.  This little penguin purchased at the Market Collective, will remain an object of affection for always.  Thank you, Mandy, for taking a break to come and be with your Auntie.  I can hardly wait until my niece, Eliane, does the very same thing.  And, mayhaps, when her hectic life slows down, I might even have a couple of weeks to go exploring with and get to know my niece, Ainslie in this same way.  Love you, my precious girls!  Love you, Mandy.

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Return to Hamilton: Paying Respects to my Elliott/Burrows Family

Besides exploring the beautiful architecture and getting a sense for ‘place’ while in Hamilton, I also said my prayers over many of my paternal ancestors.  My Grandmother Florence Elliott’s parents (my great grandparents) have their resting place in the Woodland Cemetery in Hamilton, along with their son John Staunton Elliott and wife.  Caroline May Elliott has her resting place in Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery.  Thanks to my wonderful second cousin, Mike, I was able to share this experience with family.  Related also, but living in St. Catherines, is my second cousin, Barry.

Through the connection with Mike, I have been able to see that we have a shared interest in birding and photography and family history.  Roots are wonderful things!

On the schematic below, my paternal grandmother is marked with the little house symbol.  My great grandparents were Mabel Burrows and George Elliott.  If you see yourself or your relations somewhere on this tree, please be in touch.

Mabel Burrows

My paternal great grandparents: Mabel Burrows and George Elliott

My paternal great grandparents: Mabel Burrows and George Elliott

May our relations rest in peace.

May our relations rest in peace.

John Stanton Elliott resting alongside Francis Edith Ward

John Stanton Elliott resting alongside Francis Edith Ward

John Stanton Elliott and Francis Edith Ward

Great Uncle John Stanton Elliott and second wife, Francis Edith Ward

Great Auntie Caroline May Elliott resting along side her husband, Stanley Gamelin

Great Auntie Caroline May Elliott resting along side her husband, Stanley Gamelin

Caroline May Elliott

Caroline May Elliott

47715-26 Stanley James GAMELIN, 22, truck driver, Canada, Hamilton, s/o James GAMELIN, b. Hamilton & Emma BARRETT, married Caroline May ELLIOTT, 23, machine operator, Canada, Hamilton, d/o George ELLIOTT, b. Hamilton & Mabel BURRIS (should be Burrows), witn: Edward GAMELIN of 120 Kensington Ave & Emily MOREAU of 15 Keith St., 27 July 1926 at Hamilton

Mabel Elliott OntarioCanadaMarriages1801-1928ForStanleyJamesGamelin

Welcome to a New School Year!

I am here in my pjs, sipping coffee and checking my e mail.  Max, the border collie, has left no speck of food at the bottom of his bowl.  Outside…a light rain.  Last night’s dishes whir in the dishwasher.  Peanut-the-cat stretches his back leg and washes its length again and again.  We’re all resting back upon the day.  I enter into my third year of retirement.

For me, days like this will always mark the first day of school.  I’ll never forget that feeling of the brand new class of children sitting before me…I’ll never forget that responsibility.  I found an entry I wrote on August 30, 2006 and just want to paste it upon this page…everything still applies.  I pray for my friend-teachers and for the parents and students; for another year of magic…and that they can ‘make meaning’ together.

Making Meaning

Posted on August 30, 2006
Sitting here listening to Ben Harper… I’m so inspired by his music….reflecting back on the work day and the work in the studio and the surrounding ‘energy’ of my children.  I’ve been thinking about “making meaning”.  It’s an expression I used to use solely with my own students and their art.  I worked endlessly at convincing them that unless they could make meaning in their own art, it would somehow have limits as to how it could speak to others.
 
Now I’m thinking about this being a real purpose for my own life this coming year. MAKE MEANING!  I’m so ritualistic and I so love setting goals and MAKING things happen…I like to manifest my life and have for years, been reluctant to just let life swoosh over me.  I know there are pitfalls to this thinking.  For example…what if something bad happens??  What if I was to be challenged by poor health or unexpected loss?  hmmm…I wonder how I would react to these possibilities in the ‘soup’ of the moment?

Back to the subject of this entry,  I think that anything profound and really worthwhile in life requires that it be meaningful.  A relationship is deep and abiding to the degree that you personally invest and make it meaningful.  Your own music, art…your writing is profound because you have decided to make it meaningful.  You ‘show up’ to it.  You commit to it and create it from your deepest joy, sorrow or indifference.  But, you ‘show up’!  Your children grow as you respond to them, connect with them and give, not in superficial ways, but in ’meaningful’ ways.
 
A painting speaks to me when I make my own meaning with it.  It doesn’t necessarily matter that I engage the artist’s intended meaning; but it DOES matter that I, the viewer, bring my energy to it…and manifest something.  Otherwise, I think that art becomes wall decoration.  Perhaps Clive Bell and others would say “Heh, that’s ok…art for art’s sake…a wall decoration is alright.  We can’t all be connoisseurs. Is that how I spell that?  Who cares.”
 
I think that a big reason why my english language arts students have troubles with literature or reading in general, is because they have difficulty taking text and ‘making meaning’ with it.  I think that my goal is to show them the ways/strategies that I have made meaning with literature.  It seems that I love books beyond words!  smiling here…  Rarely do I say, “Don’t read this one.  It’s a book that you could never get into!”  Instead, there is always some MEANING that I have created for myself in the book.  Whether non-fiction, biography, historical fiction…it matters not!  I become that publication’s biggest fan!  Wow!!  Imagine if I can show my students how to do that!
 
Right now I am making meaning in the studio.  I have freed myself over time of all encumbrances around the act of painting.  I am creating works right now that speak to me and speak powerfully.  Now…in a week or so when I deliver them to my galleries (and I can’t believe they’ve shown such patience with me) I will have to be prepared to remain separate….to trust in just how important the art is to me…and how it is ok to protect its ‘meaning’.
 
I think that when we ‘make meaning’ in relationships…in the world of business…in our art….we become responsible to all of that.  There is an investment made.  These become ‘of the heart’.
 
(I remember as I type the word RESPONSIBLE….the context from Le Petit Prince par St. Exupery…such a beautiful way of describing what I’ve been writing about here…”You become responsible for your rose…”)
 
It is my hope that I will be able to create a meaningful school year…that I will be able to continue building upon meaningful relationships and that I can make meaning in my art.  I hope the same for each of you.
Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe. Truman Capote

Justin Townes Earle: Rooted

We took in a workshop and a Main Stage performance with Justin Townes Earle.  His work smacks of memory as I recall times spent listening to Guthrie.  After some time with his lyrics and with his melodies, one becomes deeply connected with his story.  It creeps into everything.  He doesn’t have to narrate anything.  The music is raw.  I think he’s a brave musician.

When he did say something, it evoked a huge response inside of me, particularly when he introduced the song, Mama’s Eyes.  To paraphrase,  he said that it was his Mama who raised him as a young boy.  It was his Mama who raised him as a young man.  He explained that she didn’t do such a great job.  And then he said, “But, you see, it wasn’t her job.”

I am my father’s son
I’ve never known when to shut up
I ain’t fooling no one
I am my father’s son

We don’t see eye to eye
And I’ll be the first to admit
I’ve never tried It sure hurts me,
it should hurt sometime

We don’t see eye to eye
I was a young man when
I first found my pleasure in the [Incomprehensible]
And I went down the same road as my old man

Yeah, I was younger then
Now it’s 3 a.m. and I’m standing in the kitchen
Holding my last cigarette
Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall

And I say to myself
I’ve got my mama’s eyes
Her long thin frame and her smile
And I still see wrong from right

‘Cause I’ve got my mama’s eyes
Yeah, I’ve got my mama’s eyes

 

Happy Father’s Day!

My Dad: Moose Jaw Tech

My Dad was the man with the Plan B.  He was the person, in my life, who had backbone when backbone was required and helped me with the BIG decisions along the way.

I remember a time when my Dad  placed his hand on my shoulder in a situation where he was unable to speak.  And, through that gesture, he gave me strength to go forward in acceptance and confidence.

Dad was the one who taught me about being directive in my life…so, I knew I wanted to stay the course and keep my head up.  He taught me to be able to flex for the inevitable surprise and to do so, without fear.

Dad taught me to have opinions and ideas and never was a dull man around a dinner table.  We learned about politics and economics and sports.  We talked about EVERYTHING.  I guess, in part, I owe this blog to him. ;0) 

I love my Dad, for the life he built for his family.  This year, my Dad turned 80 and he writes me E Mail.  I look forward to his little notes.   I couldn’t be prouder of the person he is!  My Father is a wonderful man.