Knock! Knock!

Nellie believes it is her duty to greet you . . . even if it kills you

Nellie Trevenna. She’s happy to see anyone. Not so her mother.

Part of my job, every time an election rolls around, is to arrange meetings between my association’s leaders and our local candidates, a task made unduly onerous by a seeming obsession on the part of would-be pols with knocking on innocent and unsuspecting people’s doors:

“I can’t come and meet with you on Tuesday; I’ll be knocking on doors.”

“Can we schedule something for 7 a.m.? Once 9 o’clock rolls around, I have to be knocking on doors.”

“I’ve been knocking on doors throughout the riding and, I have to tell you, the response has been terrific. Just terrific.”

Really? Knocking on doors? Whose doors? And who is even at home when you’re out knocking on  doors? Old people? Dogs? Me, because I work from home and am old and have dogs?

And yet, I can truthfully say that no candidate has ever knocked on my door when I was home.  And I’m home a lot.   Oh sure, campaign literature has been jammed into my mailbox, but I have yet, in my sixty-three years on this Earth, to hear the door bell, stop whatever semi-important (at least to me), thing I’m doing, descend the stairs two steps at a time, yelling, “I’m coming! I’m coming!” grab hold of the collar of  the golden retriever barreling down the hall in the direction of the door, totally psyched about greeting the stranger at the gate, and attempt to wrangle said exuberant creature while opening the door the merest sliver . . .  to encounter an actual candidate on the other side of it.

Not even once.

And that suits me. I’m not lounging around waiting for someone, anyone, to ring my doorbell so we can … you know … hang out. I’m working. Sometimes I’m on the toilet. Or cooking. Important stuff.

Having said that, I am sure there are still people who are impressed if a candidate shows up at their door. “What a nice young man!” they’ll say, or, “She cares enough about what I think that she came to my house and asked me!” News flash, folks.  Candidates are not running to be your best friend. They don’t think you’re special. They’re running to be entrusted with important decisions that will impact your life and those you love perhaps for generations.  When just showing up gets your vote, you’re setting that bar pretty low.

Some years ago I did encounter a candidate wandering around our old neighbourhood, trailed by a car bristling with yard signs. It reminded me of Halloween, when over protective parents anxiously trail Trick or Treaters, hovering just out of sight, but ready to spring into action should action be warranted. On spotting me, this candidate lit up like a jack-o-lantern, pasted a big grin on his face and strode with disturbing energy towards me, thrusting out his hand as he advanced.  “I’m so and so,” he said, “and I’m running for the Whatzit Party.  Can I count on your vote?”

Uh, no.

My vote is not a box of Girl Scout Cookies or a raffle ticket supporting junior hockey. I don’t give it to you just because you ask and there are zero brownie points for just showing up.  In fact, I am far more likely to vote for you if you spend  less time harassing the electorate and more time figuring out ways to create a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another, no door knocking required..

This has to stop

memorialMany years ago a good friend of mine – I will call her Grace – told me the story of what had happened to her family when she was six. Grace and her brother Bobby, one year her senior, and their four-year-old sister Karen, were playing cops and robbers upstairs at a neighbours’ house when Bobby fished a revolver out of the top drawer of a bedside table,  pointed it  at Karen, said, “Bang, bang! You’re dead!” then shot her at close range in the temple, killing her instantly.

As horrific as that story was, however, it was Grace’s account of what happened to her family after the shooting that has stuck with me all these years;  her family was, quite literally, blown apart. The parents, wracked with grief, talked obsessively about going into the woods and shooting themselves in a double suicide, just to be free of the terrible, grinding pain. Grace, frozen with dread, heard them whispering about this when they thought she was asleep. Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been to a child, to hear her parents talk like that?

Eventually she and Bobby were packed off to live with relatives until the parents could get a grip, but not before the seven year old boy was questioned by the police to determine if his sororicide was a crime and by a priest to determine if it was a sin. It was a determination, incidentally, which no one thought to get back to him on and so he lived for decades with the conviction that he was bad, that  this had been all his fault, that he had taken not only his sister’s life, but broken his family into pieces.  Over the years, his terrible guilt came to define him.

After some considerable time had passed, Bobby and Grace were able to return home, whereupon the parents imposed a strict ban of silence on the family: Karen was gone; no one was allowed to mention how she had been taken from them.

In time Grace became a social worker and devoted herself to the most difficult and heart-rending cases of child welfare.  She is one of the most compassionate and selfless people it’s been my privilege to know, but also, somehow, one of the saddest.  You could tell that something terrible had happened to her. As for Bobby, he became a urologist, his life’s work a guilt-fueled struggle to gain atonement through achievement and over-compensation.

Then, on a night not long before Grace told me this story, the dam broke: she and Bobby and their parents discussed the accident for the first time in over thirty years, staying up into the wee hours of the morning to hash it all out.  In doing so, they  realized that Karen’s death had been the single most important event of their lives, that everything had flowed from it, that they were who they were because of it. That it had changed everything.

All because a neighbour had failed to properly secure his weapon.

This is the point I want to make: there is a story similar to Grace’s for the family and loved ones of every victim of gun violence, whether it was the Idaho mother killed when her toddler pulled a gun out of her purse in Walmart and shot her dead or the man who just gunned down ten people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.  It does not end with the victims’ funeral or getting through the first Christmas or on the ten year anniversary or the thirtieth. For the people affected by gun violence . . . and there are so many and counting . . . it changes everything. Forever.

This does not need to happen.

it has to stop.

Take the Leap. Manifesto, that is.

2015 federal election

Vote. And, if you don’t know who to vote for, ask me.

I’m a political junkie. I follow politics the way sports fans follow football, only, because politics actually matter, I get to feel all self-righteous and holier-than-thou about it. Given the fact that we are twenty some days out from a Federal Election in Canada and a year and some out from a Federal Election in the U.S., you would be correct to assume that I’m happy as a pig ‘n shit. And I am.  But I’m also worried, less so about the train wreck that is the electoral process of the United States, my home and native land – as far as I’m concerned, that train has already derailed, exploded and is briskly leaking toxins into the watershed.

No, what I’m worried about is Canada.

For years, every time Americans seem to be on the verge of doing something colossally stupid, my American friends and relatives declare  they’re moving to Canada:  “If George Bush is re-elected, I’m moving to Canada!” “If Donald Trump is elected President, can I live in your guest room?” They say this because of Canada’s long-standing  international reputation for its stewardship of the environment, its pristine lakes and rivers, its high tolerance for diversity, its support for the arts and culture, the emphasis its people place on peace, not war, its common-sense gun regulations, its universal health care and generous social safety net. . . . In short, Canada has a reputation for being not merely nice, but super nice. And enlightened. And progressive.

It’s a reputation, which, thanks to the government that has been in power for the past nine years, it no longer deserves.

I will not here elaborate on the many ways Stephen Harper has led us by our nose down the garden path, how the actions of his government have systematically made Canada a meaner, nastier country. For that, click here or here or here.  Suffice it to say that Harper’s Canada is starting to look a whole lot like the Good Ole US of A, and it’s not pretty.

I know a lot of Conservatives who are good, hard-working, well intentioned folks — neighbours, friends, colleagues, elected officials, people I respect. . . .  But, fellas,  in my not so humble opinion, you’re taking the country the wrong way; you’re trying to turn us into America! You so don’t want to do that! Trust me!  I’m an American.  It’s crazy there.

But, hark! Are those rumblings I hear? Just about now, there will be some among you who say, “Well, don’t you see? She admits to being an American!  How does she get off thinking she can speak for Canadians?”

Bizarro_WorldTo which I respond thusly:

  1.  I’m an American, so, of course I feel it’s my god-given right to do and say whatever the Hell I please. While remaining heavily armed.
  2. I’ve lived here for forty years, thirty of which as a citizen,so just think of me as a forty year old Canadian who has aged badly.
  3. I’m a Americanadian, an immigrant in a nation made up of immigrants, wanting a better life in a better place than that from which I hailed, which is to say, you know, the United States.  Hello!

And that is why I will not be voting Conservative in the upcoming election: Because I want a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another, not some mini-me to the Bizzarro World that is the U.S.A. And, please, if you agree with me, join Naomi Klein and David Suzuki and Neil Young and Stephen Lewis and Donald Sutherland and over 24,000 other great Canadians who care deeply about Canada and what it means to be a human being living on this planet and take the leap.

It’s time to save the world and somebody’s got to do it. Why not us?

Go here and sign on.

Go here and sign on.

Enough with the roses, already!

The rose is a lie. Me in my mid-thirties.

What is it with this rose?  What was I thinking? Me in my mid-thirties.

I don’t like soap operas. Well, of course I don’t. The only soap opera I ever watched for any length of time was As The World Turns . . . or was it All My Children? I don’t know. Sleaze and cheese, they really are all the same. Whatever it was, my friend Louanne and I used to watch it after school when we were thirteen, mainly to luxuriate in the vicissitudes of the teenage daughter who had managed to get herself “in trouble,” much to the consternation of the  adult characters.

What the nature of that trouble was, we did not know.  That’s because my mother never enlightened me on the more operational aspects of sex, leaving me to arrive at an approximate knowledge of its mechanics by painstakingly working my way backwards from dirty jokes. “Now, why would that be funny?” I would puzzle.  Louanne, on the other hand, less motivated by the Spirit of Inquiry than me and considerably hotter,  learned the facts of life the hard way, by landing herself in that selfsame sort of trouble  a couple of  years later. We’re talking late sixties-early seventies here, when having a baby out of wedlock meant that a girl’s life was, not to put too fine a point on it:

RUINED!!!!!

But I digress.

I dislike Soap Operas for a whole slough of feminist reasons, among which:

  • They pit women against women.
  • They perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
  • They create a false and troublesome narrative around romance that’s predicated on women  being plied . . . and being pliable given the right combination of expensive jewelry, roses, and candlelit dinners in romantic settings. Things that do not happen in the real world, but which women raised on a fatty diet of Soap Operas can come to confuse with genuine expressions of love and esteem. (Hi, guys who are always being accused of being unromantic, I’m standing up for you here.)

There’s also the fact that, on a Soap Opera, nobody eats.  It’s true. Dinners are served. Often romantic, candlelit ones. Then some character throws down his napkin and, in high dudgeon, stalks off, leaving his fellow diner to stare, stricken or perplexed, into the camera. Cut to commercial.  What about that expensive steak?  Is anybody going to eat that souffle?   No wonder Soap Opera divas are so skinny. Which is a whole different problem.

Launching into a tirade against women who watch soap operas in the presence of such women is socially unwise, but also unkind.  The cow has left the barn; the damage is done. For that reason, I have, lo these forty some years,  kept my own counsel when it comes to soap operas.  I have, however, taken solace in the fact that, as the years have passed and with so many women now working, fewer and fewer of the damn things have managed to survive on air.

Then it happened.

Earlier this month, after my nephew’s wedding in Ithaca, New York, my husband and I found ourselves in a Comfort Inn with only Standard Cable, and, by dint of the fact that the only other viewing option was Of Mice and Men, in which puppies die –  I’m sorry, an absolute deal breaker — I was compelled to watch an episode of The Bachelor in Paradise.

Oh, God.

zombieSoap operas are not dead at all! They’re back, like loathsome, hollow-eyed revenants, preying on the minds of women, booby-trapping their expectations, turning their brains to mush.  I can be silent no longer.  I must speak out.  Women of the West, eschew competitive dating reality shows! They’re this generation’s version of Soap Operas, only at night and with slightly better production values. And they are coming for your brain!

Because you know who else feeds on brains?

Zombies.

So think about it.  If you can still think, that is. If it isn’t . . . already . . . too . . . late. . . .

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.

TGIF

Mrs_Potato-Head_8571

Bye! See you on Friday, September 11, 2015!

In my last post, Avanti! No, wait!, I explored my decision-making process as it relates to my hair, which I appear constitutionally incapable of not highlighting. This despite senectitude  staring me baldly in the face every time I  peer into a wall-mounted magnifying mirror in search of errant mole hairs or, as my friend Linda Hoyle has christened them, “Grisseldas”.   Why do I subject myself to this horror?  So that I will not look like Mrs. Potato Head left too long to her own devices in a burlap sack in a corner of your scary basement.

Which brings me to my point:  way back in June of this year, I switched from publishing this blog on Friday to Tuesday. I did this because, according to stats, this was a better day for such endeavors.  Since then I have noted no appreciable uptick in readers or comments and, given my schedule, Friday is a better fit.  So, this will be the last Tuesday post.  Instead, look for me on Friday, beginning September 18, 2015.    There I will be: no Grisseldas, no eyebrows, highlighted and with bells.

Unless I change my mind.

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?

Me Not Talk Pretty One Day

My class at the American Academy of Rome. Third from right in the white pants.

My class at the American Academy of Rome. Third from right in the white pants.

I have always believed that, to be truly sophisticated, one must be able to speak a foreign language well.

I’m 63 and running out of time.

To be sure, I have always been good at languages. In my heyday (i.e., not now), I dreamt in ancient Greek, could provide an almost simultaneous translation of any Latin text, read French and Italian with relative ease and extract gobbets of meaning from German. The only language I could remotely be described as speaking, however, was Italian and by ‘speaking’ I mean, locate the toilet (“Dov’e il gabinetto?”) and order off a menu (“Un’ cappuccino, per favore.”)

Once I found myself trapped in a stall of a woman’s bathroom at a train station somewhere in rural Tuscany en route to Florence. “Aiuta!” I cried. “Aiuta!” Meaning, “It helps! It helps!” It took a long time for the male attendant, armed with this disturbing information, to work up the nerve to enter the bathroom and release me from the stall.

Another time I noticed water coming from under a door on the upper floor of a hotel in Calabria. “La terra e coperta con aqua!” I informed the desk clerk: “The earth is covered with water!” Again, it took him a while to work out that I was not just learning that 71% of the Earth’s surface was covered with water, but that someone had left a faucet running in one of the upstairs rooms.

The patio of the Umbrian farmhouse we stayed in -- Il Palombaro

The patio of the Umbrian farmhouse we stayed in — Il Palombaro

My brother Peter experienced a severe toothache when my family was vacationing in a farmhouse in Umbria. We contacted the English agent who had rented us the farmhouse and asked if she knew of a dentist he could visit. She said, “Well, I think here’s a dentist in Montone. I don’t know his address, but I believe his name is Dr. Zucchini. Maybe if you went to Montone and asked people on the street, they might be able to point you to him.” Finding daunting the prospect of driving to Montone and wandering the streets, asking passersby, “Dov’e Dottore Zucchini?”, we ultimately did locate a dentist in nearby Umbertide. I accompanied my brother in the role of translator. We had a little trouble locating the office until  a woman exiting a door, pressing a large bunched up towel to her mouth and moaning, confirmed that this was the right spot. In the end, between my Italian and the equally scant English of one of the dental hygienists, we managed to affect a successful root canal, although I created considerable confusion by insisting that Peter’s offending tooth was “morte” (dead), while the dentist staunchly maintained that it was “morbido” (soft).

My French teacher in high school was Miss Rainy. Miss Rainy had been the French teacher at Chapel Hill High School for upwards of forty years and had the most appalling accent: “La plume de ma tante,” in Miss Rainy’s mouth, came out sounding like, “La plooma duh mah taunt.” Miss Rainy lived with her mother all her life and never traveled to France. That was her tragedy: she taught bratty high school kids French her whole life, yet never visited Paris. My tragedy (and I acknowledge that it is a “first-world” tragedy and of little import in the Great Scheme of Things) is that I will never experience the joy of speaking another language well. That must be unspeakably wonderful, like singing in harmony, which I also can’t do.

In un’altra vita.

Peut-être.

Or, as Miss Rainy would have said, “Putt ettra.”

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.

Returning to my roots, Take 2

At University -- a brunette

At University — a brunette

The point of this micro post is: I’m going to let my hair return to its roots. Yes. I know. This isn’t the first time I’ve let my hair return its roots, only to run howling back to Jeanette, my hairdresser these thirty years, begging for highlights.   As it turned out, my roots weren’t what they used to be and eight years later, if my badger eyebrows are any indication, they will be even less so. The arc of my life: brunette, ash blonde, winter slush. It’s enough to give a girl the pip.

I do not make this decision lightly. I know my beleaguered vanity’s in for one Hell of a bumpy ride. But, if not now, I asked myself, when? When I’m seventy? When I’m eighty? Do I want to be one of those old biddies who look like Donald Trump’s hairpiece blew off and landed on their head?

Me at 37 -- ash blonde

Me at 37 — ash blonde

One seventy five year old woman of my acquaintance has her “blonde” hair professionally set every day and, to preserve its configuration, sleeps on blocks like a geisha.  She is perfectly coifed. And what does it look like? Like a witch in a wig.

And Pamela Wallin? Pamela, please! You’ve been wearing that same hairstyle for thirty years! You’re old! We’re not fooled.

I’m at that time of life when I must start letting go. After all, I haven’t seen my eyelids for years. Ditto waist. Nix to contact lenses. As for high heels, I’d sooner have my feet gnawed off by a hyena.  And now my  hair.  Every old lady hair day is a bad hair day.

Pamela Wallin

Pamela Wallin

On the positive side, I’m going to be a grandmother very soon and at least my grand kids will have a grandma that looks like a grandma and not a Gold Digger of 1933 . . . by which,  I mean an actual Gold Digger of 1933.

Or maybe I could go silver.