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Merry Solstice Redux

Solstice treeFor those among you crawling out from under the twisted, smouldering wreckage of the derailed train that is all too often Christmas in the Western World, bloody and broken and wondering what in Hell hit you, a blog post recycled from a previous year.  Words is Me will return in the New Year.

A couple I knew, determined to not succumb to the rampant commercialization that has, of recent decades, utterly cannibalized Christmas, gave their children two presents apiece on Christmas morning – one nice toy and one expensive outfit. Oh, the kids got presents from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, but, from their parents, that was it. I was impressed not only by the way they stood up to The Man, The Man being, in this case, Santa Claus, but also by their sheer sang froid. By purchasing only two quality items, this enlightened couple avoided overspending on useless junk and saved themselves not only dollars, but buckets of stress. Even better, their gifting regime didn’t turn their kids into hopped up present junkies. Now, this, I thought, is what I’m going to do when I have kids. This is a reasoned and mature way to deal with the utterly untenable situation that Christmas has become – by which I mean, people buying stuff they can’t afford and, if they don’t, the economy collapsing.

And then I forgot.

Walmart Christmas

A hardly jolly Walmart Christmas

Brainwashed by the Juggernaut that is Christmas – the holiday season accounts for about 20% of retail spending — I joined the throngs of beleaguered North Americans trudging up and down the aisles of Walmart, cart laden with Christmas morning cannon fodder made in China, one more piece of crap to be wrapped, unwrapped, broken and, after several years existence in the form of random clutter, discarded. The New Year would dawn drab and chilling. Not only was it frigging January in Canada, but I was about to receive a credit card bill that would take me the next quarter of a year to pay off.

I came to loathe Christmas. All the holiday signified for this member of the Great Church of Lapsed Catholics were endless hours of drudgery and tedium that I would never get back, mounting debt and the seemingly Sisyphean task of gift wrapping – Sisyphean because, in an effort to make the haul seem larger, I wrapped every pair of socks and underwear separately. What was worse, I had done it to myself. I had had a chance to do Christmas differently. Instead, I had bought into the brinkmanship exercised by our train wreck of a retail sector and bought presents like a crazed wolverine, setting the bar for all future Christmases at a level I could neither sustain nor stomach.

solsticeSo, with my husband’s support (and to his great relief), I decided to end my personal war on Christmas and make the Winter Solstice – the true reason for the season, BTW – the focus of our holiday celebrations. In doing so, I have managed to retain what scraps of sanity years of Walmart Christmases left to me. A script of the ceremony follows for those of you who might be interested in trying this for yourselves.  (P.S. The date of the Winter Solstice, commonly thought to occur on December 21, is, in fact, a movable feast: its date varies from year to year. Obeying the logic that, if you’re going to celebrate the Longest Night of the Year, it might as well be the Longest Night of the Year, we made sure to always schedule our celebration on its actual date. Solstice is Solstice, after all.)

For the rest of you, happy whatever-turns-your-crank-and-keeps-you-from-jumping-off-a-bridge.  What follows is what, for many a year, saved my bacon.

solstice mask

Solstice Ceremony


“For our Northern European ancestors, the Winter Solstice symbolized the beginning of the new solar year and, as such, is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun.”

Participant 1
(hanging an evergreen wreathe from the door)

“This wreath symbolizes continuity of life, protection and prosperity.”

Participant 2
(hanging a mistletoe ball in the hallway)

“This mistletoe symbolizes peace, prosperity, healing, wellness, fertility, rest and protection.”

Participant 3
(placing a seed ball outside for the birds)

“This gift to the birds is a token of our love for the creatures with whom we share the earth.”

Each child places a star, moon, or sun ornament on the tree,
hangs their stocking and receives the gift of a new set of pajamas.
Everyone is given a slip of paper and a pen


“On this, the longest night of the year, we look forward to the light and, in anticipation of its coming, we seek to rid ourselves of the things that weigh us down, that are negative, that we do not want to take with us into the new year. So we ask you to write down what you want to leave behind you and place it in the cauldron.”

The slips of paper are collected and burnt in a small cauldron.
Following this, everyone is given a package
of heirloom wildflower seeds.


“Just as there are behaviors, compulsions, obsessions and bad habits we want to consign to darkness, so there are positive things that we want to embrace in the new year. Think of what you want to do that’s good for you, whether for your health or your soul or your community and write that down on your seed package. Then when Spring comes, find a suitable place and sow these wildflower seeds.”

A bell is rung to mark the death and rebirth of the sun and
a dinner featuring tourtiere and a Yule Log is served.

solstice mask

Reflections on the Season

Peter and me on Christmas Morning

Peter and me on Christmas Morning

This blog first appeared a couple of years ago as the guest blog on The 49th Shelf. 

For me, the Christmas season doesn’t begin on Black Friday. It begins on December 1st, the anniversary of Mr. J.’s death in 1960. The J. family lived across the street from us. Mr. J. was in his early thirties, a botanist at the university, and he left behind a wife and three children, ages eight, six, and four. Apparently he had a weak heart; his wife woke up the morning of December 1 to find that he had unexpectedly “Returned to Sender.” Mr. J. was the first person of my brother’s and my limited acquaintance to die and it affected us deeply. “If only he could have waited,” we lamented, “until after Christmas.”

Christmas was magical when I was a kid. Heck, electricity was magical. For me it still is. The Sears and Roebucks Christmas Catalogue sat on a shelf beside the toilet, where I would sit for hours, mesmerized by the myriad possibilities, while my brother pounded plaintively on the door. The other bathroom—the Stinky Potty—was downstairs. Nobody wanted to use the Stinky Potty. There was clearly something wrong with it.

My mother and father made many of our toys. Once Dad made Peter a kind of battlefield for his toy soldiers—it featured a river and hills and a frontier fort. Peter was obsessed with soldiers, which is odd when you consider that he managed to avoid going to the Vietnam War by obtaining Conscientious Objector status—not an easy task.

One Christmas Mom made us Feedy and Sheedy, two pajama bags in the form of rabbits with zippers down their middle. These were two fictional characters of my mother’s creation, only Feedy and Sheedy in her stories were house flies. It’s hard to know what she was thinking. Last year when I was cleaning out my parents’ apartment prior to my Dad going to a nursing home, I came across Feedy and Sheedy, crumpled and stained, at the bottom of a chest. “Oh!” I cried. “Here’s Feedy and Sheedy!” Then I thought, What the Hell am I going to do with Feedy and Sheedy? So I chucked them.

We had to keep the door closed to the living room during Christmas because Lovey, the Great Dane, would eat the glass ornaments. Once he ran off with Sue Doll, a handmade doll given to my mother by her aunt on a Christmas 30 years earlier. “Lovey’s got Sue Doll!” my mother cried as she chased him through the house. When I was packing up my Dad’s place, I unearthed Sue Doll. I didn’t chuck her. I brought her back to Port Stanley and set her on the rocking chair in our guest room. My children find her sinister and put her in the wardrobe whenever they come to visit. They’re also scared of clowns. Did I mention that they’re adults?

Over several Christmases my parents took me and my brother Peter to London, England to sightsee by day and attend theatre at night. As a teenager, Peter was not keen on England. The Coke was warm and he made himself sick eating British chocolate, which had a lower percentage of wax to chocolate than American chocolate.

The following year, I spent the entire trip ceaselessly pining for a new boyfriend, whom I dropped shortly after returning home, cognitive dissonance having worked its magic. Nevertheless I had managed to render the family’s holiday less than festive with my moony lamentations.

Fast forward 40-odd years.

In a few weeks my husband and I are boarding Nellie, our beautiful Golden, with Tim and Wendy at the Tail Waggin’ Ranch and driving down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina with Poppet, my father’s blind, thirteen year old cockapoo. The hardest thing about going to the nursing home for my father was giving up his dog; we try to make sure they get to see each other as often as we can manage. So Christmas this year will be in Dad’s small semi-private room at the Dubose Center and I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.

Terrible things happened to the J. family in the wake of Mr. J.’s death. Mrs. J., who had a history of mental illness, tried to commit suicide by swallowing lye and was hauled off to a psychiatric ward where she was given electroshock therapy. Grandparents swooped down on the kids and carried them off, never to be seen again—by us, at any rate.  If only Mr. J. could have waited 25 days, they would have had at least one more Happy Christmas under their belts before all hell broke loose. Wouldn’t that have been something? Wouldn’t that have been better?

I don’t know. What I do know is that, every December 1, I remember Mr. J. and his kids and his wife and I feel grateful to have been granted all these many Christmases—some happier than others, but still and all, Christmas. Or, as my mother, who always got depressed at Christmas, used to call it: “Chritma.”

Merry Chritma, everyone! Or maybe just, “Chritma!”


Amy Walter. Adorable.

Amy Walter. Adorable.

One encounters over the course of one’s life a limited number of people of whom it might be said that they are adorable. Not beautiful, although beautiful they may be. Not sexy, although that too is possible. People you are drawn to without being sexually attracted to. People at whom you cannot not look. People who do not fail to make you smile, who are the human equivalent of puppies. You know — adorable people.

Here are some of the people I find adorable, in no particular order:

  • Ellen Degeneres
  • Ellen Page
  • Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report
  • Michelle Williams
  • Seth Myers
  • Trevor Noah
  • And yes, Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
Matthew, from Downtown Abbey

Matthew from Downtown Abbey. Too adorable to die.

Jian Ghomeshi was adorable until he wasn’t and Dan Stevens, the actor who played Matthew on Downtown Abbey, is so adorable that, after they pulled the plug on his character, I didn’t have the heart to watch another season. “I can’t believe they killed Matthew!” I lamented on Facebook, garnering this chilly response from my brother Peter: “Thanks for the spoiler.  I’m still in Season 2.”   My sister Pamela shared my distress: “What is the point of Downtown Abbey if there’s no Matthew?” she wondered.


During the recent Canadian federal election, my friend Andrea worked with a woman assigned the task of driving Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau between speaking engagements. It was warm outside and, having sweated through his shirt at the first engagement, he was obliged to change into a fresh one in the back seat of her car.

“It was the greatest moment of my life!” she remembers.

"Handsome Canadian Prime Minister greets adorable Syrian refugees."

“Handsome Canadian Prime Minister greets adorable Syrian refugees.” Damn straight!

Recently Justin Trudeau was on hand to personally greet the first plane full of Syrian refugees coming to Canada. Slate’s headlined its Facebook post on the event this way:  “Handsome Canadian Prime Minister greets adorable Syrian refugees.”  A great photo op? Of course. Grandstanding? Grand gesture is more like it. And why not? In this sad, sorry world of ours, with so many of our neighbours to the South and not a few grumpy old Canadians  roiling in xenophobia and entitlement, there’s no such thing as too much adorable.

Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees take selfies with the Prime Minister. Adorable.



My brief career as a blood donor

turnipYou can’t get blood from a stone. Or a turnip. Or, as it turns out, me.   It may be in me to give, as the Canadian Blood Services cheerfully maintains, but good luck getting it out of me. Let me tell you how I know this.

Fourth on the list of my 2015 New Year’s resolutions was this item:

“Donate blood on a regular basis, because I never have and it seems like the sort of thing a grownup would do.”

Accordingly, back in the dark days of January 2015, I went online to sign up  only to discover that people my age need a note from their doctor to register. Determined not to let be deterred, I drafted a letter from my doctor, sent it to her along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope (I’m not a submitting writer for nothing) and asked her to sign and return it. She did. I made my appointment, along with an appointment for my husband, who thought he’d like to tag along with me and do a little good. His father is a life-long blood donor. Why not emulate The Old Man?

My first appointment went relatively well. They didn’t get quite all the blood they wanted from me and I did create something of a flap by becoming all woozy. However, I attribute that, at least in part, to having to answer all the nurse’s preliminary questions about the myriad people I hadn’t slept with. My husband, on the other, turned out to be a born blood donor, a natural.

The second time I went, I was awaiting the results of a biopsy and they took a pass on me. Fair enough.

The third time I went, my blood clotted five minutes in and the operation was aborted.

The fourth time I showed up for my appointment, my hemoglobin was too low.

The fifth time, I checked the box for epilepsy, something else and fainting. “Because I have been known to faint,” I told the nurse.

She looked perturbed. “When do you faint?”

“When I stand up suddenly,” I replied. “If I haven’t eaten for a long time. When I’m frightened.“ (I’m like a goat that way. Frighten me and I keel right over.) “Oh, and when I’m having blood drawn.”

She frowned. “Did you faint the last time you gave blood?”

“I was woozy.”

“Did they apply cold cloths?”

I nodded.

She shook her head and looked disapproving. Apparently the application of cold cloths was some kind of red line that must not be crossed. “That’s not good,” she said. “If you feel woozy this time, we’re going to have to have a talk.”

A talk?

I exited the Cubical of Inquisition and, in due time, was ushered to a blood drawing chair by a phlebotomist. Said phlebotomist applied astringent to my cubital fossa (I bet you didn’t know it was called that), tightened a tourniquet around my upper arm, instructed me to make a fist, and went to work with a vengeance.

All to naught.

My spidery little veins eluded her every poke, twisting this way and that, even to the point of flipping completely over. They’re like that that way, wily and quick. “I’m sorry,” the phlebotomist said at last. “It’s your veins. They’re just too small.”

The nurse who had just interviewed me appeared from behind my chair, shaking her head vigorously “No more for her,” she hissed to the phlebotomist, drawing her finger across her throat in the universal gesture of cutting me off for my own good.

My husband appeared by my side, freshly drained and bouncy. “What’s up?” he asked.

“I’m a dud,” I informed him.

“No, you’re not!” the phlebotomist hastened to assure me.

“Yes, I am. I’m a failure at donating blood.”

“Look at it this way,” said my husband. “If you hadn’t decided to become a blood donor, I would have never gotten around to it, and now I’m hooked. I’m never going to not give blood. Like my Dad!”


When frightened I faint. Like a goat.

Gentle Reader, this is how I look at it. Not only do I now not have to worry about vampires,  I can also accompany my husband to blood clinics and sit and knit and listen to the podcast of Power and Politics on my ipod, while he pours forth his life’s blood for the good of humanity. No more probing questions or probing needles or cold cloths or bruises or any of the discomforts that attend giving blood. And I can do this secure in the knowledge that I tried.

I think that went well.

Ix-nay on the clowns and parades

clownThe world divides broadly into two groups of people: those who like clowns and those who don’t. Also those who like parades and those who really  can’t be bothered.

First off: clowns. Why?  What exactly are they good for? And why are they always beeping?  They aren’t funny. Something calamitous is always happening to them, which one is supposed to find hilarious and I never do. They’re suspiciously like mimes, with whom they surely share a common, benighted ancestor.  John Gacy was a clown. Ronald McDonald is a clown. In recent news, Doo Doo the Clown rescued a woman attacked by a crazed meth head in Toronto. However, I have it on good authority that Doo Doo was not actually a clown, but a human being impersonating a clown. I believe that it’s safe to say – generally speaking – that Steven King was not wrong when it comes to clowns. Clowns are creepy at best, and, at worst, the stuff of nightmare. My advice to Cirque de Soleil: keep the acrobats, the trapeze artists and the contortionists; lose the clowns.  You’re freaking out a significant part of your audience.

My husband and I do not see eye to eye on the subject of clowns. Of course, he wanted to run away with the circus as a child, while I wanted to be President of the United States. Admittedly my ambition had less to do with ultimate power or world peace than it had to do with oranges.  I was pretty sure that, as President,  I would be able eat as many oranges as I wanted;  in fact, I planned to have a bar fridge full of oranges placed next to my desk in the Oval Office. In any case, my husband says I don’t like clowns for the same reason I don’t like Christmas — because I am bitter and jaded. Clowns are for children, he says. Clowns make children laugh.

kids yard_NEW

My kids at about the age of the Spring Break Weekend debacle

Not my children.

When Sabrina was about four and the twins were still in diapers, my ex and I took them for a Spring Break weekend at the Four Points Sheraton in Toronto. The Sheraton’s siren promise? A care-free, kid-free weekend in the heart of the Big City for beleaguered parents while hotel employees royally entertained their lucky offspring with water sports, games and crafts.

The first clue that this weekend was not going to go as planned came when a shell-shocked  event coordinator announced in a wavering voice that, by 10 am on the Saturday, so many kids had barfed and pooped in the pool it would have to be closed until further notice.

The second was when we went to drop them off at the hotel’s playroom only to be greeted by . . . you guessed it . . . clowns. Not to put too fine a point on it, my children refused categorically to go anywhere in the company of a clown and we spent the rest of the weekend traipsing around Toronto, all three kids in tow, looking for trashcans into which we could discreetly deposit  poop-y diapers, the twins having chosen to celebrate Spring Break with an exuberant case of diarrhea.

To me, this does not look like fun

To me, this does not look like fun

I also don’t like parades. I do not like watching them on television, but I particularly do not like watching them in person. That’s because it’s always cold when parades happen and someone always has to go to the bathroom. Frequently that someone is me. And, inevitably, unless you show up hours in advance, you and your clutch of restless, winging children are two or three deep from the curb, which means they are all clamoring to be lifted up so that they can see. It has been my experience that children tend to become very heavy very quickly, once aloft.  And all this pain and suffering for what? For a glimpse of Santa Claus, who, coincidentally, also inspired in my children, if not downright fear and loathing, then sufficient anxiety that none of them could ever be persuaded to perch on the lap of a Santa they did not know to actually be someone else.  “It’s OK,” I would whisper to them, urging them forward.  “It’s not really Santa! It’s just Oliver!  I swear!”

That being said, I might enjoy watching a parade from a window or a heated balcony, comfortably seated, wine glass in hand, in much the same way as I enjoy golf — the riding-in-the-cart part, that is, and the Caesar; not the actual golf.

So don’t send in the clowns and, please, rain on my parade.  I am bitter and jaded.  And just the least bit trepidatious.


American Thanksgiving. Again

Me with my daughter Sabrina and my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving

Me dandling daughter Sabrina with my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving

In honour of American Thanksgiving and because I’ve been away at a conference all week, I’m republishing last year’s blog on the subject of this troublesome holiday, about which I feel . . . well . . . meh.

I’ve never been keen on American Thanksgiving. In the first place, it’s way too close to Christmas. The memory of my grossly distended belly and the self-loathing that invariably attends that phenomenon have scarcely begun to fade before there it is again: The Holiday Meal, in the case of my family, the exact same meal we ate a month earlier, including the dressing which we always had to call rice because my brother Peter refused, for some reason, to eat anything called dressing.

Then there’s the 2 p.m. timing of the meal. It’s Thanksgiving dinner, for God’s sake, not Thanksgiving lunch!   If Thanksgiving dinner happened at a decent hour – any time after 6 p.m., for example – the torment of having to remain awake while cruelly stuffed might be mitigated by an early bedtime. But, no. This insistence on an “early dinner” blows a black hole in the middle of your day — everything is sucked into it; nothing can escape its relentless gravitational pull, and you are left to lie there, beached and disconsolate, a helpless, unwitting witness to the televised spectacle of giant men in tight pants sustaining the kind of traumatic brain injuries that lead to dementia, debilitating neurological diseases and suicide. By which I mean football.

Great Dane Lovey admires the turkey

Great Dane Lovey scrutinizes the turkey

My family is surprisingly functional – which is not to say that we don’t have our fair share of little traumas, pretty much all of which can be characterized, as per my daughter Alice, as, “first world problems”. However, not even we were not immune to the kind of dysfunction that seems to go along with quivering tubes of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie that looks like baby pooh. Case in point: one Thanksgiving when we were children, my mother, frustrated at my brother who was being all winge-y, shook him. Now my parents were not into corporeal punishment; Mom far preferred a good shaming larded with barely veiled threats that she was on the verge of disowning us, as conveyed by such statements as, “No child of mine would ever do (that thing you just did).” All this to say that Mom probably didn’t shake Peter very hard, but, on that one occasion, shake him she did, and, every year thereafter, Peter would kick off Thanksgiving dinner by dolefully recollecting, “And then there was that Thanksgiving Mom shook me. . . ,” sending the poor woman into fresh paroxysms of guilt.

Sometimes we had Thanksgiving Dinner at my paternal grandparents in Hillsborough, North Carolina. My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Clyde would come down from Winston-Salem and Aunt Elaine, who was something of a gourmet cook at a time when that was regarded with some suspicion in the South, would bring along a little something for the family to savor. One year she presented the assembled, bleary crew with tomato aspic, confounding us all. “What is this?” “Do you eat it?”   This reminds me of a conversation we had with my husband’s Auntie Gloria in which she described the eating habits of her daughter-in-law. “She eats strange things,” Gloria confided in us. “Like vegetables.”

Between her alcoholism and her morphine addiction, my grandmother had succeeded in pickling herself by the time my memories of her congealed into some kind of coherence. Noni contributed but one dish to the Thanksgiving feast – her signature dish, a sweet potato,marshmallow casserole awash in a sea of bourbon. At fifteen minute intervals throughout the dinner preparations, Noni would lurch to her feet, weave her way to the kitchen, baste the sweet potatoes, baste herself and return to the living room to stew in her own juice.

My father carves as my mother looks on

My father carves as my mother smiles for the camera

In the meanwhile my grandfather, by dint of steady  drinking, would wax from sentimental to downright maudlin before deciding to check on the mail.  I would accompany him to the mailbox at the end of the long driveway, both of us knowing full well that there was no mail on Thanksgiving but that we needed the air.

So, all in all, I’m thankful for Canadian Thanksgiving, which takes place in the second week of October.  Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest rather than that time before we exterminated them that Native Americans saved our bacon.  It doesn’t result in a four-day holiday and, therefore, a loyalty test wherein persons are forced to travel vast distances in inclement weather to prove that they love their families of origin. And finally, being on a Monday, Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t followed by Black Friday, about which don’t get me started.  And then there’s the fact that my ex chose Canadian Thanksgiving 1989 to come out of the closet — scarcely festive at the time, but, in the great scheme of things, something for which I am truly grateful.

All Aboard the Ice Floe!

ice floeI am steeped in melancholy; this will not be a long post. It has been a week of tepid angst, beginning with a visit to my 93 year old father in Chapel Hill, who, though cogent, content and reasonably comfortable, seems more sadly diminished every time we visit and so deaf that his end of any conversation consists of, “What?” accompanied by a pained look as he struggles to comprehend.

He has a single room in the dementia ward of his nursing home,  which doesn’t bother him since he can neither hear nor see anything and has no plans or, indeed, the means to flee what is, in fact, a locked facility. It is a sad place: the dinners taken in the little dining room with West Indian geriatric aides spooning pureed food into the mouths of ancient, birdlike women with empty eyes, an improbably nicely turned out woman named Martha – my mother’s name — who keeps barging into his room with parcels she has made off with or boxes of surgical gloves or cleaning supplies, and who must be led, babbling gentle as a brook, back to the common room to join the ten or so other slack-jawed residents dangling at odd angles around the television set, looking like things hung out to dry. Perhaps she was a post mistress in her previous life. Or a drug mule.

My maternal grandmother’s  mantra was, “If I get like that, you’ve got to promise you’ll shoot me.” She was from Texas, where guns are considered the solution to all manner of problems , including, it would seem, one’s dotty old granny.  As matters fell out, Grandmother blew up all on her own in an event somewhat akin to spontaneous combustion and none of us ended up having to go to the pokey for her senicide,  for which we were all peculiarly grateful.

gun controlI am not happy that my mother died when she did at the age of only 79 and with her full faculties. Surely she had a few more good years in her. However, post a visit to Dad’s nursing home, I find myself relieved that she didn’t linger longer than she herself would have liked. “Shoot me,” she would have said. “Just shoot me,” but the sign right on the nursing home door states that guns are prohibited inside. Prohibited? In the one place in the United States of America where they might actually do some good?

Now before you get your knickers in a twist, I’m not saying that old people should be rounded up and shot; after all, I’m perilously close to being “that old” myself. But the idea of a nice doctor-assisted suicide for those who want to shuffle off this mortal coil with a shred of dignity is something that resonates with me.

Event planners, take note. If gay weddings and  gender-reveal parties have proved to be great little money makers for you, just think what a market there would be for All Aboard the Ice Floe parties — friends and families gathered around, a chance to say goodbye,  good food and drink, music. Then. . . .

Bon Voyage!


Arrivaderci, Rhonda!

Return to Sender!

The key. as with so many things, is great drugs.


Catalog copy for The Virgin of Bright Leaf

Melissa Hardy-Trevenna 2011 ProfessionalHere is the entry (preambled by Praise from the Critics) in Acacia House’s catalog for The Virgin of Bright Leaf (aka, Sabra the Astonishing) at least as unedited. What do you think?

“Melissa Hardy is quietly becoming one of the best writers of short fiction working today, equally at ease with modern realist fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, and pure fantasy.”

Terry Windling, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, 2003.

The Uncharted Heart turns out to be a dazzling performance. . . . a remarkable evocation of events and place in Canadian history, a discerning examination of human motivation and behavior, and an adroit use of language. Melissa Hardy has an obvious place in the chart of Canadian writers.

The Globe and Mail

In The Virgin of Bright Leaf, Melissa Hardy returns to her native North Carolina to serve as location for her rollicking tale of a Marian vision gone terribly wrong. The novel is set during the turbulent sixties, not thirty miles from the site of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, on the estate of the Buck family – the Bucks are heirs to a considerable tobacco fortune and the town of Bright Leaf’s most prominent citizens.

The novel tells the story of what happens when Sabra Buck, a headstrong and willful fourteen-year old girl, fresh from convent school and a torrid love affair with one of her instructors, a nun endowed with Discriminatio Spirituum – the ability to discern demons — sees an apparition which she takes to be the Virgin Mary. It is, of course, not the Virgin Mary, but something far more sinister and deeply rooted in her family’s tragic and convoluted past.

The Virgin of Bright Leaf explores the phenomenon of Marian visions and the steamier underside of Catholic excess, with cameo appearances by snake-handlers and assorted demons, all set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also kind of funny.

Avanti! No,wait!

When I make up my mind, I'm determined. Until I change it.

I am nothing if not determined. Until I’m not.

Well, I didn’t make it so much as a month past the cancelled dye job before frantically Facebooking my hairdresser, the incomparable Jeanette, to beg for highlights. I cannot tell you how relieved I am, what a source of angst it was lo those few weeks to contemplate not greyitude so much as utter, unrelieved brown-ness. I need to hide out behind these streaks a little longer; I’m clearly not emotionally ready to return to my roots. And why is that so wrong? As if returning to your roots were not a form of nostalgie de boue.

My mother dyed her hair well into her seventies and everyone loved her. Once she dyed it lavender by mistake, something no one would have known about had I not the very next day marched into my Shakespeare class at University and informed my English prof – a Jesuit priest who, as it turned out, did not find the Chair of the Communications Department accidentally dyeing her hair purple in the least amusing. What can I say? My personal filtration system experiences periodic outages.

I do not characterize myself as wishy washy or flip-floppy so much as serially decisive. This is how it works. I make a decision. Then I make another decision. This second decision usually reverses the first decision. Then, if I’m on a roll, I might make a third decision, this one reversing the second. Perhaps I’ll come full circle back to my original decision. You never know. Making a decision enables me to own whatever it is for a little while, to walk a mile in its shoes. Perhaps I discover that its shoes hurt. Perhaps its shoes are high heels. If I had realized these shoes were high heels, I would have never forced my wretched feet  into them. But I did and now I know. That’s how informed decision-making work in my world. It’s a journey.  With detours. Some shunpiking involved.

Or think about diving off a 33 foot high diving board.  You decide you’re going to do it. Then you climb up the ladder and stand at the end of the diving board staring down at the pool below.  That’s when you realize thirty three feet is a lot of feet.   You remember that you have never quite (or, to be honest, at all) mastered the art of diving and remind yourself that what you will achieve if you jump off that diving board is a belly flop. Given the distance, that’s belly flop is going to hurt like Hell.  So you make a second decision — the decision not to belly-flop off the board.

My husband Ken is exceptionally thoughtful when it comes to decision making.  He considers all the points of view, ponders every angle, weighs all the arguments, evaluates the pros and cons, does the consumer research. For every sound decision he has made, I have made three completely quixotic ones. You could argue that he makes more informed decisions, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had more fun along the way. More fun for me, at least. I think the perpetual squash game going on in my head drives him crazy, which I don’t understand given his love for sports.

Me at two. Ever onward.

Me at two. Avanti!

One of the reasons I am serially decisive is to free myself to move forward. I cannot move forward if there’s a decision hanging over me. I can’t think of anything else. It looms over me, a giant question mark, blocking all progress. Can’t see through it. Can’t get around it. The only solution is to make a decision, any decision, and then make a desperate break for it.

So on September 25 my highlights will be resurrected, only this time, I think, with a little silver mixed in. I may be old but surely I can still be just a little sparkly?

My Walter Cronkite

Jon Stewart. My idea of a true American.

Jon Stewart. My idea of a true American.

When I told my husband Ken that I was going to devote this week’s blog post to Jon Stewart, he warned me that any remarks I might make at this juncture would be but as mere drops in the great Pool of Tears shed by fellow-feeling Liberals in the months leading up to that host’s departure from The Daily Show; they would, on that account, go unheeded. This does not deter me. I have long been resigned to being a non-entity and, besides, how could I let Jon go gently into this good night without at least a little raging against the dying of the light? He has been too important a force in my life for that.

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite

When I was a child, my parents’ favorite anchorman was Walter Cronkite. He had integrity. He had gravitas. He was humane. When Walter Cronkite advised his viewers that what he was about to show them was disturbing and that they might want to send children from the room, my parents showed us the door.   They trusted Walter Cronkite implicitly.

Jon Stewart was my Walter Cronkite.

I started watching The Daily Show in 2001, shortly after 9/11, and have been a devoted viewer ever since, TVOing the late night show so that I could watch it the following day.  I never missed a show. For the past fourteen years, his take on situations has informed my take; his outrage has given expression to my outrage; his relentless and spot-on deconstruction of the right wing media has shown light into all the dark, yucky corners of that Evil Empire and sent the cockroaches scuttling. Jon may have hosted a fake news program, but he told it like it was. Yes, he had writers and a great team backing him up, but The Daily Show was, in the final analysis, Jon Stewart. Never again will I take curious comfort at his bad imitation of George Bush laughing (“Heh, heh, heh!”) or delight to his rendering of Lindsay Graham as Blanche Dubois or for all those times he absolutely, positively just nailed it. To quote Hamlet, we shall not look upon his like again.

Where can I get Melissa McCarthy's Jon Stewart dress? I think I need one.

Where can I get Melissa McCarthy’s Jon Stewart dress? I think I need one.

So, good night, sweet Jon Stewart. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. I, for one (and we are legion) will miss you more than you can possibly know.

I need a moment of Zen.