Saturday, May 8, 2010

Week 5: On the theme of solitude, or “How I became a card-maker”.

Late last evening I bade good night to the laptop, the computer and the stuffed St. Bernard which sits - undusted - on the printer.  Time to find a new cat pal.  Ya think?  Something that breathes and moves and maybe meows back once in awhile.   A little furry person that would make demands and run by in the occasional blur.

People sometimes ask if I don't find it hard to live and work alone spending so much time in silence.  Since much of the day is given over to emailing customers, suppliers and friends, I'm not sure how deeply that silence extends anymore.  And I do love some pretty noisy kinds of things - Klezmer music, railway trains, raccoons fighting over fish in the moonlight and fire engines going full blast.  You betcha. But yes, for the most part, I do live in quiet and solitude, embracing it fully.

And it has been pretty much life long.  Even at 5 years of age - too little to read much - I would leaf through my
older brother's Rand McNally Atlas hunting down quiet, lonely looking places to dream about.  I suspected these would be without tall buildings, cars and the city noise there was even back in 50’s Toronto.  I’d stare hard at the unnamed places high at the top of the map of Canada, wondering and restless. This wanderlust was helped further along by an old 45 rpm vinyl I would play over and over and OVER again to the saintly forbearance of our neighbours, the Dorseys. And, lord forgive me, I sang right along with it:  “The Westward wind... is a restless wind... a restless wind that yearns to wander..."  Such a dreamy, earnest child.

I knew very likely these map places with no names were different from any I'd experienced in my young life.  And this bore true in later years, when I made a journey to the arctic, travelling up the MacKenzie River to the delta region by boat into Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and then finally over water by plane to Banks Island and Fox Inlet.  And yes, it was quiet there - a whole vast island of solitude - and it was quite wonderfully different and mysterious. We boated in crystal clear waters, ate fresh arctic char right out of the icy waters and feasted on local caribou.  We dug our ice cream out from the natural permafrost freezers in the ground.  No need for Frigidaires up there.  What I remember most about it all now in retrospect was the howl of the incessant wind, the Inuit people’s sing-song voices and the cry of the circling sea birds high overhead all filling that solitude and quenching the soul.

The theme of silence prevailed to such extent that in my late 20's and over a period of 10 years, I began to look at the question of living life as a nun - very particularly the life of a contemplative. I visited a cloistered monastery spending time with the sisters sharing in the rhythm of their day.  I recall awakening early each morning to a bell ringing at my door and Sister who would call out each of our names - calling us sequentially to consciousness and chapel.  There I would mouth sync along not wanting to disturb the pure notes rising from their Gregorian chants and the sung ‘office’ - the official prayers of the church - which rose clear and high as one awe-inspired voice of praise and reverence.  We started the day lightly tidying and cleaning and later I joined them in making altar bread, the work which financed their lives. Even nuns, I discovered, have bills to pay.  There, as in the arctic, I did find peace, mystery and food for the soul. But the questions of our lives and our hearts can be hungry ones and in the end, despite witnessing those lives so beautifully lived, it did not fill my heart or answer the questions asked. Nor did life at another convent where I eventually did enter to become a nun.  I left there within the year.  It was not for me and not my particular call to solitude. 

By now I was devastated and truly without compass. Who on this earth takes 10 years to decide anything about anything? Yet here I was and quite at the end of knowing what to do next.  I had tried every door and it had been such a long process.  Life’s ‘call’ is called a 'call' for a reason though and really when the sacred asks questions in our lives, we just have to answer them.  It's like a loud door buzzer that just will NOT stop buzzing. You gotta go see what and who is there - and what they want - or risk one giant headache.
As with a lot of things in life, the best answers can be laughably simple and arrive simply too if we give them a chance.  One night at home after supper with a few friends, I asked one of them, a painter-artist:  “Frances, what do I do now?”  To which she replied without skipping a beat, “Make cards”.  Don’t laugh.  That’s all it took.  I started full time that week and here we are 23 years later - Card City.  I suppose there are lots of morals to this story. I’ll leave that part of the story-telling up to you all.  For me, at this moment what’s important in the retelling of it is that in pulling these threads together I can see more of the cloth of my life - brought together into one single-slide view.

Thanks for travelling with me on my footpath this week...


BBPP Weekly Health Check:
Mind: Too busy this week.  Some times it's hard to keep life simple.  Have begun working on some camera tricks.  ISO, landscape shots, metering distance.  One button at a time. Stay tuned...

Body: Lost another 2 pounds but the BP is sky high.  Again.  Need to keep the faith.  Walked every single day to great enjoyment.

The Artist Soul:  Had a couple of lovely visual moments along a trail here in Bracebridge which leads up to Woodchester Villa.  The first surprise was to see multiple patches of red trilliums followed moments later by white ones.  And then, still on the trail as I rounded a turn, there lay ahead a most beautiful collage of limes and dark greens.  It was the late evening sun brilliantly hitting spots in a patch of trees and ground cover.  Took my breath clear away.  Tried a photo and captured it a little bit at least.