Balmy days; cool nights
Early Indian summer
This week’s newspaper column:
“Happy is your grace,
That you can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.” ~ Shakespeare, As You Like It
Confession: I have always wanted to be graceful in all its diverse incarnations: elegant, willowy, lithe, agile, light on my feet, dignified, gracious, refined, charming and poised. Confession number two: I have always come up short—particularly in the lithe, agile, light on my feet definitions of gracefulness. The other meanings of grace I leave up to others to discern—you cannot judge your own graciousness or charm, you can only aspire to them.
Shakespeare’s definition of grace above, which I take to mean is the way in which we handle our fortune (or misfortune) is more abstract, but those of us not blessed with agility can try to emulate—“a quiet and sweet style”, rather than one that is brash and vulgar, arrogant and aggressive.
Another definition of grace derived from “The Book for Dangerous Women” is one that I can more easily aspire to as it does not require one to glide through life in a manner that does not include tripping (something I do quite regularly and will expound on more later). The three authors, Clare Conville, Liz Hoggard, and Sarah-Jane Lovett offer this wisdom under the heading of grace, and I have not read a more cogent and thoughtful treatment of the subject:
“We all have a higher self somewhere inside us. This is where your capacity
for kindness, wisdom and courtesy meets your love of family, and generosity
toward your friends and workmates transcends any negative or bad feelings
you have had. Graciousness reigns in this realm and if you can access your
higher self in times of strife it may well get you out of all kinds of trouble and
bring with it a feeling of great calm and serenity.”
So plumbing our depths for grace does not necessarily have to include that which I have so often reached for superficially—being swanlike and agile. I have never had inherent physical poise. I have to remind myself not to slump and to walk with my shoulders straight and head up. I try to tame my “duck” walk with feet splayed out rather than pointed in the direction I am going. And more recently, I try to cover up the fact that my balance is off.
Over the weekend I attended a lovely celebration for a couple who are now blissfully wed. Walking from one venue to the next, I attempted to climb the stairs to a restaurant in town, but for some reason I miscalculated and almost ended up hurling myself against cement steps and a brick wall. There are falls and then there are falls. But have you ever started to fall and just know that you are not going to be able to catch yourself? And you know if you do not, you are really going to maim and bruise yourself—and quite possibly break something? A helping hand reached out and prevented this—I do not know who helped me as I was quite shaken by the incident at the time, but whoever you are, if you are reading this—thank you, thank you, thank you.
I would like to be someone who floats effortlessly into a room but I am not. I have determined though that most of the factors that define grace are less contingent on physical gracefulness and more reliant on developing our higher selves—graciousness and kindness being at the top of the heap.
One of my heroines and the epitome of my definition of graceful is Audrey Hepburn. And it is not just because she exuded class and elegance—it is because her definition of beauty encompasses all that is graceful. She said:
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
In her words therein lies gracefulness.
What is your defintion of Grace?
I belong to a group that has put on some writers’ workshops for the last few years and I used this week’s newspaper column to get the word out–it is probably of little interest to my wider audience–but there may be a few of you who are local and interested–
“Imagine a perfect fall day, the grapes hanging heavy on the vine, the vineyards stretching out in all directions – and a group of writers sharing their stories, their work and a glass of wine. A unique opportunity to get together in a fantastic, inspiring setting to write, talk about writing and meet some kindred spirits.”- Nancy Belgue
This year the Wine, Writers and Words (WWW) Committee is presenting their 4th Annual Writer’s Workshop featuring Paul Vasey in the idyllic surroundings of Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards. The workshop will provide participants not only with expert instruction but inspiration and a chance to share that inspired work in an open mic session at day’s end.
Paul is a familiar figure to most of us—from his days at the Windsor Star where he was an award winning journalist to his 18 year stint hosting the morning program on CBC Radio in both Windsor and Victoria. The author of eleven published books, ranging from short stories and novels to non-fiction, he is an accomplished writer who teaches and motivates others to successfully mine their creativity.
On Saturday, October 25th Paul will be teaching workshop participants how to make the character(s) of their stories compelling, and their dialogue believable. The workshop will focus “on character development and the effective use of dialogue in advancing plot and creating conflict”. Lest you think this subject matter is not important, let me quote a fellow member of Wine Writers and Words, and a writer herself, Nancy Belgue:
“Character is the most critical element in a writer’s toolbox. We’ve all heard the terms “character driven” and this means that without complex, believable, flawed and layered character, no story will ever work. No plot will thrill without a compelling character to root for….People are everything. Understanding character development—and this is equally important for all — whether fiction or non-fiction, will make you a better writer. To create a character that we really care about is a kind of magic.”
A number of the members on the committee have been fortunate to take a course or workshop from Paul. Brian Sweet says that he is most impressed by Paul’s editing skills and the fact that he stresses the positive aspects of a writer’s work leaving them “encouraged and motivated to write more”. He says that he applies what he learned from Paul to both his own writing and that required in his work writing reports and legal opinions. Joan Cope admires Paul’s ability to “point out exactly what is needed to help sharpen a piece of writing” and Nancy says that Paul is “generous, warm and engaging………his style is collaborative and supportive.”
Local writer, Rosalind Knight, author of “That Summer at the Mettawas”, says of Paul: “I thought it might be easy to feel intimidated, but it wasn’t at all. Paul is very accessible. He seems interested in other people’s stories, too, and so it is very easy to approach him”. She has attended past WWW workshops and states that for her “the best part of the workshops is to meet with and hear from like-minded individuals who are interested in language and what magic it can do.” She said that Paul provided her with the motivation to write about her Aunt Betsy who was the narrator of her book.
I have had the chance to see Paul in action, and must admit that until I attended one of his workshops I was a bit concerned about what was expected. I found him gracious, enjoyed his teaching style, and was not intimidated at all.
Now for the nitty gritty. The workshop is on Saturday, October 25th at Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards on Iler Road. Lunch, snacks, a wine tasting and open mic are all part and parcel of the package that makes up the workshop. The cost is $85. WWW is non-profit, our goal being to create a community for writers. We are supported by the Essex Region Literary Network and the Essex County Library. You can go online to winewriterswords.com to find out more and register. You can also pick up a form at any Essex County Library. Registration is limited to 25.
If you have never experienced a writer’s workshop this is a great place to start. It is for writers no matter what your stage or stripe.
Though it is mid September–it is still summer so hopefully not too late to post this. I wrote this a few weeks back but was having trouble posting my columns–this is a semi-oldie and I will let you decide if it is a goodie:
Short but sweet. That is the definition of my summer vacation. But it had somewhat of an inauspicious beginning.
Pre-vacation was spent stressing out to come up with the perfect time to take a few days off. Then there was the problem of packing. Whenever I pack I tend to hate my wardrobe and can find nothing, and I mean nothing that seems right to wear for the various occasions I expect to be experiencing. And then there is the problem of packing shoes—running shoes in case we walk (or God forbid hike) somewhere, casual shoes to wear with my ever present denim jeans, dressy shoes in case we go somewhere that warrants it, and another pair thrown in for good measure. I was only gone from Friday to Wednesday, so four pair of shoes for five days seemed just about right.
Our destination was the Ottawa area and my sister’s cottage in Montebello, Quebec. An interprovincial vacation—how exotic is that? So exotic that it took us about 13 hours to get there. It would have taken someone who read the Google instructions correctly maybe 9 hours not counting traffic and construction in TO and Ottawa. We made fairly good time for the first three-quarters of the trip, having left at 1:20 a.m. Friday morning (so not my idea) to avoid the nightmare gridlock that is Toronto. A variety of people had warned my husband John of the horrors of Toronto traffic and so his plan was to get there early enough to avoid it. His plan worked. But when we got into Ottawa we were stuck in jam for about an hour. Then we did not make a turnoff—so had to turn around, go back and find it. But that was only a 15 minute mistake.
I was the one who made the big, huge, gigantic, enormous, titanic of a massive mistake which cost us two hours of travel time, adding more time to an already long trip. I try to look on the travel time as part of the vacation, but when you have been on the road for over 10 hours, that aspect quickly goes out the window. The 28 steps outlined in the Google directions from Kingsville to Montebello were pretty clear, unless of course you read the instructions incorrectly. After we got onto a certain road, for sake of clarity let us call it 17, we were supposed to look for a turnoff, say 5, which would then take us onto the 406. Reading instruction number 23, I read that the turnoff was 120 kilometres away instead of 12.0, so we did not bother looking for the turnoff as we thought we had a good while to just relax and enjoy the ride.
Then we came upon a sign that declared: “Montreal: 78 kilometres”. Hmmm………. I knew that my sister had said that Montebello was only about an hour away from her home in Orleans and we had been on the road for well over that amount of time. We were on our way to Montreal—which might have been a good vacation if it had been our destination. But it was not. So we stopped and looked at the directions again and my husband said, “Are you sure there is not a dot there and it says 12.0 and not 120? “Well, I will be darned”, I said. I generally do not swear, but if memory serves me right, I did not say darned but it will have to serve as a good facsimile thereof.
We turned around, having gone an hour out of our way, to travel the hour back. My husband was exceedingly sweet about it—but what choice did he have—he was stuck in the car with me and it would have been a lose/lose situation to get upset. But John on vacation is different than John either post or pre-vacation. He is cool as a cucumber and ready to take on anything.
Oh, and did I mention that we had no cell phones? So my sister was panicking and putting out feelers to my sons as to where we were. Pay phones seem to be the dinosaurs of the 21st century and so were somewhat incommunicado for hours. But———when we reached our destination—we had the time of our lives. The cottage, which could be featured quite appropriately in any homes magazine, was situated on eco-Lake Charette. The view was absolutely unbelievable, the host and hostess were the mostest, and we spent four relaxing days chilling out. The ride home was much less eventful, hence enjoyable.
Postscript: Our youngest son took us to The Source in Kingsville as soon as we got back, and both my husband and I are now the proud owners of cell phones!
Do you have an area where you are behind the times?
Although I feel a bit guilty quoting so generously from Al Fritch, author of “Spiritual Growth Through Domestic Gardening”, I could not find much in his ode to September that did not capture the true essence of the month. It is my favourite time of year, which is probably why this passage speaks to me. Without further ado, here is Firth’s September:
“September starts with Labour Day when golden rod is in full bloom and the crops are being gathered. It is harvest time on farms, when entire families help in an intergenerational enterprise. We hasten in anticipation of autumn chill and a possible early frost. The heavier mists now hang over the valleys reminding us each morning that days are warm, but nights are cooler than the temperature of rivers, lakes and ponds.
Work, even garden work, includes beating the frost and a mutual sacrifice. The birds flock in the evening and nature seems to anticipate what is in store. We pick elderberries for pie, press cider, deep freeze the grapes and continue to use the solar food dryer for beans and apples.
We notice that the late tomatoes have a different taste this month. In the more even temperature of the month the peppers seem to fill the stalks miraculously with each passing day and hang heavy in yellows and greens and reds and purples. Butternut and winter squash are ready to store; we prepare the greenhouse for the first transfers as frost approaches. We trample the late summer woods nearby and find the acorns now falling from the oak trees. We taste the most exquisite of all fruit in the wild, the wild plum. And we hear the reports of hunters — fathers and sons and daughters bonding by bringing home a mess of squirrel. We see deer and rabbit and raccoon as well and hear the gobbling of the wild turkeys. Yes, this is September.”
With the exception of “bringing home a mess of squirrels”, the world Firth creates is a perfect harvest of delights. He paints such a vivid picture of September he stirs fond memories of days past. I remember when I was a kid, my dad would collect my sister and I in his 1950 black Ford and we would drive to the woods (I think it was on a concession in Colchester South owned or at least bordering a relative’s farm) and gather hickory nuts that we would take home, crack open, and pile into a bowl for a cake my mom would make every fall. To be honest, I loved the hickory nuts, and it was hard to not eat the morsels derived from the shells we would crack open with a hammer and carefully dig out. The cake my mom made studded with the nuts was good, but the nuts by themselves were better to my young palate. I have not eaten hickory nuts for years and miss their lovely sweet crunchy goodness.
My family were not hunters, but we lived in the country and were very aware of hunting season. I remember my mom being a little worried at times as we lived next to a lane which led to my father’s abandoned homestead where he was raised. It was thick with trees and grasses and bushes and the perfect place for hunters to hide from animals destined for dinner.
We always had a big garden, and I do remember the plumpness and smell of the tomatoes we grew and how the lovely stench of the earth stuck to the potatoes we dug up in the fall. My mother spent a great deal of late summer and early fall canning things from our garden and fruits she bought in bulk like peaches and plums and pears. We always had the magic of summer encased in glass and lining the shelves of our pantry all winter. And oh, she made the best dill pickles in the world with garlic and dill weed floating in the vinegary liquid and sweet pickles that made grilled cheese worth devouring, and a tangy chilli sauce that made mere meatloaf into a gourmet delight….
September has a “feel” to it. Even the early weeks, which are sometimes as warm as any summer day, give way to a chill at night that reminds us that fall is in the air. I welcome the fall with all its fixings—the geese flying overhead, the promise of a harvest moon, the leaves changing and crunchy underfoot, and of course my favourite fruit, the pumpkin finds its way to porches and decks and front steps.
My cat has written a book. I truly believe this. Even though he goes by the nom de plume of Francesco Marciuliano, I know he is the true author of a little book I picked up called “I Could Pee On This”. I know this because that is my cat’s philosophy. Exactly.
Up front I will declare quite candidly that I am not a cat lover. I like my cat. My husband and my two sons LOVE the cat. Sincerely and deeply, without reservation, uncompromisingly, and without question. Whenever the cat pees on something they all think there must be something wrong; they believe the cat has an infection (which he did once but we took him to the vet and had it taken care of). I think the cat sometimes pees when I either (a) do not feed him soon enough; (b) do not let him go out soon enough so he can party hardy; or (c) just because he likes to pee on things.
The first poem in the book confirms my theories. Called, “I Could Pee on This”, it backs up my feelings. See what you think:
I Could Pee on This
Her new sweater doesn’t smell of me
I could pee on that
She’s gone out for the day and
left her laptop on the counter
I could pee on that
Her new boyfriend just pushed
my head away
I could pee on him
She’s ignoring me ignoring her
I could pee everywhere
She’s making up for it
by putting me on her lap
I could pee on this
I could pee on this………….
And that, ladies and gentlemen is how I think my cat thinks. Sure he is cute and cuddly and has a charming white splash of fur under his chin. Sure, he makes the rest of my family happy—and for this he is allowed to live in my house. But I am onto him. I know that if I do not feed him when he wants to be fed, he will pee on something. Never mind that it is nowhere near his mealtime—I acquiesce in order to save the carpet, or my clothes, my bookwork, or his favourite spot under the AC in the hallway upstairs.
The cat has not peed on my laptop—for that I am not sure I could forgive him. But I am not sure he has forgiven us for something that happened to him, oh, say eight years ago. He outlines quite clearly in this poem called quite simply ~
If I took YOU to the doctor
I would make damn sure
You came back with both of them
Now if you’ll excuse me
I’m going to look forlornly out the window
For like eighteen years
Eighteen loooooooooooong years
Okay, I understand now. Sorry, Kitty Bob.
Swan song of summer
begins this first glorious
gold September day.
I deeply and with all my essence believe this…………
Originally posted on Live & Learn:
Why, it might be asked, does literature have to have a business at all? Is it not sufficient that it give pleasure, convey information, widen experience, provide flashes of insight? One reads the world’s finest novels, plays, poems, and in time one becomes a more cultivated person, which means somehow more refined, subtler, deeper, possibly even—though this might be pushing it—better. You are what you read; and culture, like heredity and cheap paint, rubs off.
~ Joseph Epstein, A Literary Education and Other Essays. Axios Press.
Notes: Image Source – Distant Passion