My aunt is unwell. I’m not happy about that. My aunt has always been a rock, a safe place, she has always been one of my constants. She has always been one of my Cookie People. Now she is unwell and in hospital and they are telling me she is making lists of who gets what. I’m not happy about that, not even a little bit. I want her to be firm and strong and invincible. Immortal, even.
Like everyone else, she is not. She is human. Blast it all…
My friend has expressed concern because I have lost so many people, have attended so many funerals in the last not-very-many months. She says she has been worrying about me.
I say there’s no need.
See, I'm lucky on two counts: a) I love a lot of people; b) so far, none of the funerals have been mine. I figure that puts me in a win-win situation. Ü
She asks how I maintain this outlook.
I had to think a long time on this, but realised it comes from home, from ‘way back, from strong and faithful people who accepted the good with the bad, who knew that life is not always a strawberry tea, who knew that the only way to get through the tough times is to hold one another up. It helps too, that my attitude has changed. I spent 34 years missing Grandma English every single day. A year ago, someone told me that when his grandmother had died he hadn't been shattered. Rather, he had stood at her coffin, smiling down at her serene face and said (surprising himself!), "This isn't 'goodbye', Grandma, it's just 'see you later'."
That made a huge difference.
Curiously enough, he told me this last year in the period between the two weeks when we lost three long-time friends and the five week period during which we held a memorial for my youngest son’s schoolmate and lost five other friends, including Garnet and Scott, both of whom we felt unready to let go of.
Something changed, too, last November when my mother’s mother died. She was A Force, y'know? Now we are bracing ourselves for another rash – four of my grown-ups are ill, are in and out of hospital, you know the drill, and we lost a friend a few days ago…there is another funeral to attend.
My daughter said something interesting a little while back.....she said, "Mum, I think every time someone dies, they make room in the world for a new life, they make room for a baby." I think I like that.
When I was 15 I found a quote that intrigued me. I've had it pinned to my board for decades and I finally understand it. 'In life, we mourn death. Is it possible that in death, we mourn life?'
Then there's Garrison Keillor's view: “They say such nice things about people at funerals that it makes me sad to realise that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days." How can you not laugh??? Ü
See, the thing is, we came from somewhere...we didn't just sort of spring into being only to disappear at death. No. We came from somewhere - The Other Side, The Mind Of God...call it what you like - so we have to go somewhere as well....maybe just back to where we came from.
Is that so bad?
I count myself lucky to have hurt so deeply at so many losses - I feel them all, I miss them all, I love them all still.
"Write a letter to your body" said the good people at Dove.
And so I did.
It was cathartic, really, telling my body how I felt, expressing my regret, my anger, my shame. We've reached an understanding, my body and I - we have agreed not to give up on one another, we have each agreed to accept one another as we are....warts and all. Yeah. You could say we now accept one another unconditionally.
It wasn’t always so.
I have spent most of my life feeling my cheeks were too fat, my thighs were too thick, my hips were too broad, my chins were too plentiful. It’s a shame, really. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if I had come to accept my physical self when it was in better condition that it is now? Wouldn’t it have been lovely if I had appreciated my thinner self, my healthier self, my stronger self?
I’m smarter now.
I love Dove's Real Beauty campaign. I love that they are promoting ordinary women, ordinary girls; that they are celebrating aging, honouring wrinkles, lauding grey hair. Good on ‘em, I say! They’re casting a play, auditioning women over the age of 45. I’m too young, but auditioned anyway. No harm, no foul, eh?
So that's the reason I wrote a letter to my body, you see. “Dear Body….”
Someone asked on a message board today if we would consider having plastic surgery done.
Here’s my response:
Would I consider having plastic surgery done? No, I wouldn't. Why not? Because older faces, mature faces, lined and wrinkled faces are beautiful, they are graceful, they are elegant. Are there things about my face and body that I don't like? Sure! Would I change them? Not a chance. I look the way I look because I've earned it - I have earned the fine lines, I have earned the sagginess around my jowls, I have earned the stretch marks, I have earned the potty tummy, I have earned the crepe-like skin on my hands. All those hours of sitting in the weather watching my kids' soccer practices, all those hours of sitting in the cold watching my kids' hockey games, all those nights sitting up worrying and praying over sick babies, all those days sewing sequins to dance costumes....they are written on my skin. Every pie I have made, every pursing of my lips for a kiss, every gale of laughter, every frown of disapproval, every stifled giggle, every walk in the wind, every snowman made.....they are all written on my skin.
While I spend my days writing, on paper, things for others to read, my days are busy writing my life on my face, my life is writing my story on my body.
It is 1970, I am six years old. I have been hanging out in the house with Grandma while Dad and Uncle Pete are out in the driveway painting our latest stock car. The last one, #54 (so named because it was a 1954 Ford sedan), lost it's steering linkage while rounding the east bend at the track, carrying Dad out across the field, through a herd of herefords, coming to rest at last in (well, at the edge of, anyway) a slough. It was quite a thing to witness, really. The cattle, as though they were quite accustomed to having large, blue vehicles come sailing across their pasture, did not even shift themselves out of the way as #54 careened past. They raised their massive heads and chewed thoughtfully (though in a rather disinterested fashion) as they watched the hulk slow to a stop. For all I know, #54 may sit in that farmer's slough to this day.
This new car has been painted a shocking shade of pink. Grandma and I are resting our elbows on the window ledge, watching her two youngest sons as they open a tin of black paint for the roof and numbers. Grandma scolds her boys for choosing such frightful colours. They threaten to name the car after her if she doesn't stop harassing them. We all laugh - oh, how I love Grandma's laugh! It is deep and throaty and resonant....quite unexpected from such a tiny woman.
Finally, it is time to load the car on the trailer and drive down to Rapid City. I see by the name on the rear fenders that Grandma's boys have named the car 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' and that makes me laugh. I ride in the back seat, the sun hot on my hair, the upholstery scratchy against my bare legs. It is not a long drive from Oak River, but I am certain it takes pretty close to forever to reach the track.
The track is little more than a flat piece of field surrounded by pasture, a bluff, and more field. On a rise to the south, a row of something resembling bleachers has been built by someone, or, probably, by several someones. They have also built a ramshackle shelter to which they have given the very grand name of ‘canteen', though it is built chiefly of salvaged materials and the spaces between the vertical wallboards are nearly large enough for me to reach my arm through. Sometimes, I sit in the long grass on the shady side of the canteen, resting my head against the dry, grey boards, watching the farm ladies inside, cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on a huge charcoal-fired half-drum, filling and re-filling galvanised tubs with Fanta, Crush, 7-Up and Coke. I want to offer to help with the bottles and tubs of ice because it is a summer day in Manitoba and it is hot and the icy slurry in the tubs looks like heaven.
Between races, Dad calls me by my nickname (my favourite name) down to the pit. I feel Important And Special running across the track, each footfall poofing up a black cloud of dust. Dad gives me two coins and I run back across the track to the Canteen, where I let the nickels fall from my fist onto the worn plank counter and ask for two grapefruit Crush, please. The farm lady with the blue apron stretched across her ample frame smiles as she opens the bottles and tells me to wish Dad luck in the next race.
Dad is grinning as I hand his bottle to him - his teeth showing brilliant white against the dirt and smears on his face. He lifts the bottle, tips his head back and I watch, fascinated, as a sparkling, golden river of grapefruit Crush runs out. The sun is behind him and he is haloed in light. He is laughing with his brother and their friends and I am certain they are immortal.
Perhaps somewhere, on some plane of existence, that ages-long day still exists. Perhaps the men of my childhood are all still young and strong. Perhaps they still laugh in the summer sun...greasy, dirty, sweaty, happy.
Because a friend asked me to post it, I offer you this......
Purple. Regal, royal purple. That was the colour of the drawstring bag I kept my treasures in as a child. The drawstring bag was not filled with ordinary, run-of-the-mill childhood treasures. Oh no! My drawstring bag was filled with Junkyard Treasures which, I can assure you, are far more valuable and of infinitely greater beauty than other treasures. My Junkyard Treasures had been gleaned from trips to the junkyard (hence their name) and included such miraculous discoveries as assorted vehicle badges, portions of tail light lenses, smallish pieces of chrome or stainless steel trim and, most wonderful of all, lovely bits of windshield glass. The windshields in the cars of my youth tended to shatter into the most amazing pieces. They were not shards, exactly, more like smallish chunks about as wide and long as they were thick. The glass from the top of the windshields of fancier cars with blue-tinted glass stood out from the assorted greens and colourless bits like some sort of rare gemstones. Stirring the bits of windshield glass about or sifting them through my fingers was a sensory delight. The coolness of the glass, the sharp edges, the glitter of light and the tinkle of piece against piece, bright as laughter, was a complete (if simple) pleasure.
I toted my drawstring bag of treasures about until it was discovered that I was carrying around a bag of broken glass and sharp shards of metal. The bag was taken from me and the contents disposed of in a safe and appropriate fashion. I mourned the loss of my treasure bag until the man who lived upstairs learned of my disappointment and provided me with another purple drawstring bag which I gradually—and secretively—filled with assorted vehicle badges, portions of tail light lenses, smallish pieces of chrome or stainless steel trim and, most of all, lovely bits of windshield glass. The man upstairs never broke confidence and my new bag of Junkyard Treasures remained concealed for quite some time. Somewhere along the line, it disappeared, as such things seem to have a habit of doing, but the ghost of collected treasures lingers, colouring the edges of memory, whispering of sun-baked metal hulks, of reflections of the sky and of old-car smells.
Several weeks ago, I wandered through a junkyard...though these days I prefer to call such a place, more flatteringly, a car farm. With an indulgent nod from the car farmer, I took photographs of many of the vehicles, finding beauty in the way moss had curved around a tail light or the way a tree had pushed through a grille. As I stood looking into the trees, smiling at the still-elegant form of a decaying pickup, the car farmer appeared behind me. “What a bunch of junk, eh?” he suggested. “It’s beautiful,” I whispered. He chuckled, “Beautiful? Well, I guess so.”
I guess so, indeed.
Over the course of the afternoon, we learned the history of most of the vehicles making up the car farmer’s crop. We learned which had been the honeymoon car and which had been grandpa’s farm truck. We learned that the front quarter panel on this car had been fashioned from the rear quarter panel from that car. We learned the identity of the Cougar’s original owner and an interesting way to keep mice from damaging a stored vehicle’s interior. Over the course of the afternoon, we shared some of our own experiences with the car farmer, including a brief history of my drawstring bag of Junkyard Treasures. The car farmer understood.
Something happens when people who share a passion meet. Before the afternoon had passed, we had formed a friendship with the man who was compelled to hold on to the old cars and trucks so many other people had discarded. We understood one another’s obsessions and accepted one another’s oddities. Times such as these, I can’t help but believe we all have shared access to some sort of collective memory bank, for we seem to draw from the same source. Perhaps it is simply that we recognise in one another something of ourselves.
Obsession feeds obsession I suppose, for in the weeks following this visit, the car farmer will call to tell me of another car farm which he believes we ought to have a nose ‘round. There are some two thousand cars there, he will tell me. Although I will wonder if this isn’t something of an exaggeration, I will promise we will go. We will brave swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes and thunderous hailstorms to visit it. Because of a previous bad experience, the other car farmer will only allow me to take photographs on the stipulation that the images remain for my own personal use. Because I will have no intention of doing otherwise, I will agree. I will enjoy every minute I spend wandering through some two thousand vehicles (it will turn out not to be an exaggeration after all) and I will—we all will—arrive home hot and bug-bitten, tired and happy. This is, of course, still ahead and unforeseen as we stand in the sun with our newly discovered (or is he newly remembered?) friend.
There are some things a person never outgrows. As I stood just a little back, leaning against a once-magnificent Buick and listening to my husband and the car farmer discussing the relative merits of various restoration methods, I noticed a smallish pile of broken windshield glass on the dash. Without real thought I lifted several pieces, feeling their cool weight and their sharp edges, rolling them together in my palm. Noticing a silence, I looked up to see the car farmer and my husband watching me. “I can get you a bag for those if you like,” the car farmer offered.
I love The Law of Ish. The Law of Ish states (according to it's creator) (um, that would be me) that absolutes are both unnecessary and irrelevant. The Law of Ish allows leeway, allows a little wiggle room. The Law of Ish allows creativity to flourish. Did'ja notice that? Flourish. (self-satisfied grin)
It's kinda like this:
Q: What time should I be there for supper? A: Oh, about five-ish.
Q: How many tulip bulbs did you plant between the daylily and the statice? A: I don't know....about thirty-ish.
Q: What's the balance in our chequing account? A: Oh, enough-ish.
You see how it works?
Here we ought to insert a voice-over of my children asserting that I am a stickler for detail. Yes…well…it is true that I am a stickler for detail....but there are exceptions…there is usually Ish-room....there are ish-es everywhere....just don't let my kids know I've said so.
My husband says I have taken The Law of Ish to an astounding level and have applied it to unexpectedly obscure facets of my life. I say I have done nothing more than perfect the art of living according to The Law of Ish. He says I have become delusional. I say I was destined for it. He sighs in resignation and says that must be so, for even my name, English, observes to The Law of Ish. I smile lovingly and say he is the most insightful, wonderful husband ever. He rolls his eyes and asks God what he could possibly have done to deserve being shackled to (though I’m sure what he meant to say was ‘blissfully married to’) a woman like me. As a reward, of course, not as a punishment.
Yes. Of course.
I had the very great pleasure of meeting Sally Griswold and Josie Celio of Iron Orchid Designs this past weekend. I took a class from this fresh, funky, and Faithful pair at Canada's Scrapbooking Crop for Kids (cool!) in Edmonton. You know I love imparting wisdom (that is to say, I love telling you what I think) and I was delighted to be able to explain The Law of Ish to Sally and Josie who were instructing a dozen or so women, leading us through the creation of an album celebrating our own beauty. Brilliant, eh? I sincerely hope every woman in the room took Sally and Josie’s teachings to heart - and I'm not talking about placement of embellishments.
As with everything else, beauty is subject to The Law of Ish. What pleases my eye may rankle yours. What wrinkles my nose upon viewing may cause you to fall into a rapturous swoon. I rather suspect that's how it ought to be. The smooth, flawless face of the twenty-three year old bride, glowing with excited happiness, is beautiful, yes, but certainly no more beautiful than the lined, creased face of the great-great-grandmother, her eyes closed in prayer. Can you weigh one beauty against the other? Of course not. The Law of Ish is at work and prevents such irreverence.
May the boundaries of your absolutes become flexible, my dears. I wish for you a happy, life-long association with The Law of Ish.
With the mercury hovering just above freezing and each breath of autumn wind tickling another armful of leaves from the trees, there can be no doubt we are preparing to descend into the deep sleep we call winter. The clouds have scudded away, allowing the sun to fall lazily through the window and drape itself over my shoulder.
It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada.
The tantalising aroma of spices, of pies, of onions and of sage waft from homes where my neighbours are making preparations for the feast they will share Monday, or, in some cases, tomorrow. My fingers are chilled at the keyboard, it is time to light the fire, brew a pot of tea, and nestle under an afghan with a few cats and a sumptuously illuminated book.
Columnist, poet, freelance writer and scrapbooker, M. Mylene English delivers her sometimes quirky, sometimes irreverent views with honesty and humour. Her column, It'll Be Fine, appeared regularly in northern Alberta newspapers between 1992 and 2006.
Mylene has been a contributing writer for Canadian Scrapbooker magazine since 2005, and writes the LSS (Local Scrapbooking Store) article and Write On! column as well as the feature introductions. Her participation in several design teams has helped Mylene expand her creative outlook.
As print media coordinator for Dancetheatre David Earle, Mylene generates website content and creates the DtDE newsletters and programmes.
Previous work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Our Canada, Chicken Soup for the Mother and Daughter Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul - Cookbook for Busy Moms, Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating Mothers and Daughters, as well as in various publications of local and regional interest.
Mylene lives in northern Alberta and says her husband and five children provide endless support of - and inspiration for - her work.
"If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." ~ Oscar Wilde
"We had to be who we were in order to become who we are." ~ M. Mylene English
"When things go completely wrong in life, it's not a new outlook a person needs, it's a new in-look." ~ James A. Edwards
"You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives." ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
"Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much." ~ Oscar Wilde
"Life is an opportunity given to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the soul." ~ Pir-O-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan