The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

19 August 2010

It's all so Gorey

It’s a risky business, living alone. Danger lurks round every corner and down every stair, the fact of which I am daily aware as I cautiously descend the concrete steps from garden to basement. What if I were to tumble down, ungainly planting my head in the woodpile at the bottom? What if the pocket of my laundry-day dress catches on the banister (as it is wont to do), tripping my feet from under me and causing me to break my head on the landing? What if, while ever so adeptly preparing a meal for one, I slice a finger off, severing whatever conveyance of blood resides there, and, lightheaded from blood loss, I fall, hitting my head on the stove, catching my hair alight on the way down to the floor?

Yes, it’s all very Edward Gorey and The Gashlycrumb Tinies (A is for Alice who fell down the stairs) It really is not likely that the neighbours would find me one day, on the living room floor, eaten by wild dogs. And while I am a card-carrying clutz, I don’t tend to impale myself on the wood pile when the family is here, so it is improbable I would do so now while they’re gone.

And yet. I’m eating cherries with my head tilted forward so I won’t inadvertently swallow a pit and choke; I walk across the kitchen floor with the knife held well out in front of me so if I were to trip I wouldn’t stab myself in some vital place; I enter the tub with all the caution of a roller-skater carrying nitro glycerine.

It’s much better to be safe than Gorey.

17 August 2010

What dreams may come

I’ve been thinking about dreams. Not the ‘lay your head and close your eyes’ kind; rather the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ kind. It’s good to keep in touch with the little person you were who wasn’t afraid to dream big, brave dreams. The heart of who you are now grew from the seeds that dreamer planted long ago.

A friend recently asked me what my dreams were, and I was appalled to not have an answer. I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to do. What had become of wanting or hoping for things, no matter how wild and implausible? There used to be many things I wanted to have a go at: archaeology, hot air ballooning, doo-wop girl, acting, Spanish, travel to Russia, developing elegant penmanship.... It was a long and varied list of things possible, and unlikely; long desired, and impromptu.

Then what happened? Life took on a day-follows-day quality and my focus became survival. I chose the path of simplicity and abandonment – both qualities of which are true, good, and beautiful – but also empty because I had left behind what makes me, me – namely my dreams.

Dreams are what fuel our fire; motivate and energize us; distinguish us from every other beating heart out there; and ultimately draw us to God. We are designed to dream, to yearn, to reach, and to strive. It doesn’t matter a button if we accomplish any of them, only that we have them.

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve been poking around in my heart, looking for the box I buried my dreams in. Just as we grow and change, however, so do dreams grow and change. I realized those in the box were old and dusty, and belonged to a different person. I needed to discover what are my dreams of today.

Here’s what I found:
They are more mellow, and more attainable than the old ones.
They focus more on growth and virtue than accomplishment and experience.
I feel more inclined to pursue them, rather than keep them in a list.
Having acknowledged them brought a measure of peace and contentment.

Can you dream a dream?

12 August 2010


I love this time of day, when the sun is just about to go down. All the sounds I hear are of preparation for night fall: people driving home for the evening after a day spent out in the sun, enjoying summer; squirrels running up and down the trees and across the fences, playing at burying winter treasure; insects singing about the heat of the day; children calling out to each other as they bike down the street. It’s as if the sun, by going down, is muting all activity, dulling the volume of life.

The sky is moving through its palette from pale blue, to soft grey, to mauve. The trees now stand out in relief against the heavens, losing the detail of their own colour but retaining the character of their shape, like black paper silhouettes.

As the air grows softer and the sky turns darker, crickets seem to move closer as they take first chair in the evening symphony, leading the chorus and dictating the tempo as living things ease into the subtle stealth of night.

This is the quiet time; the gentle time; the perfect time for reflection and grace: the eyes of all hope in You, oh Lord; You give them food in due season. You stretch out Your hand, and every creature receives Your blessing. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.

11 August 2010

Holding on for dear life

I rode my bike to morning Mass today. It makes me feel virtuous to say that: I rode my bike. To morning Mass. Lest you have an image of Tess from the Lighthouse sitting serenely in her pew, with golden, polished halo in place, let me inform you that the weather here is very hot and very humid. Nobody is serene in these conditions.

To set the scene properly: it is humid, so my hair is very large. I do not have the luxury of naturally curly hair, but I get to share in the inconvenience naturally curly haired people have of hair that grows more voluminous in the humidity. Nothing can tame it. Also important to know: I was wearing pants that came to my knees (Long shorts? Short capris? Whatever – my kneecaps were exposed)

By the time I got to the Church, I was glowing (a polite euphemism for sweating), red-faced, and big-haired. No halo would fit over that hair. I made use of the ladies room to pat my face and run cold water over my wrists in an attempt to cool down (a trick I learned from my mom) and check the mirror for flies in my teeth (an occasional downside to biking is the involuntary intake of insects), and to dry my elbows, which for some reason ‘glow’ quite a lot. I didn’t once think of my knees.

I selected a pew which promised a steady stream of coolness from the air conditioning vent and composed myself for prayer. Catholics do this on their knees using conveniently placed kneelers at their seats. The kneelers are usually covered in vinyl. Vinyl, as you may have experienced, gets rather slippery when wet.

Remember the long shorts/short capris I was wearing that left my knees exposed? Turns out my knees, as well as my elbows, ‘glow’ after a bike ride, meaning my knees were damp, causing me to slip and slide from side to side. I gripped my arms more tightly over the pew in front of me to keep myself upright, but my elbows were slippery as well.

So there I was, far from a serene, halo-in-place parishioner; less concerned with my devotions than I was with holding on for dear life. That’s what prayer is, isn’t it? Holding on for dear life.

10 August 2010

No man is an island

Walking down the hallway where the family portraits hang, I thought to myself, “We should take a new picture of Pop.” thinking that the one hanging doesn’t look right anymore – not how I remember him. It took two full steps before it came back to me: we can’t take a picture of him. He’s gone.

A year and a half after his death, the truth still strikes me at unexpected, unguarded moments. I think I’m coming to grips with this new relationship with him, which is somehow more distant and more intimate than it was before; but I haven’t, even now, quite found my footing yet.

The edge of grief has dulled. I think the frequent passage of my heart over its blade has softened the sharpness a little. Acceptance brings strength. It’s difficult to grapple with a thing in the dark. It must be brought into the light so it can be seen, and then dealt with.

I’ve been reading John Donne, and once again came across these words: Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. It’s the ‘involved’ bit that comforts me. My dad was involved in mankind: me, his family, his friends, colleagues neighbours – he was connected to us. He wasn’t an island, in isolation and solitary. None of us is, no matter how small our life, or how quietly we live it.

That doesn’t change with death. We are still connected. Pop is still involved though the physics are different. Catholics understand this concept as the Communion of Saints. His involvement now takes the form of prayer and intercession rather than phone calls and teasing. But he still is who he was, and he’s still my Pop, and I’m still his daughter. We are still connected to each other.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

06 August 2010

In which fashion addresses the real woman

High Fashion For Real Woman?

Many women have had this experience: a dress looks better on the hanger than on her body. Is that dress then clothing or art? Is the female shape lacking in aesthetics, or is the designer lacking the ability to flatter a woman’s body? Many haute couture designers have the view that their clothes are works of art and are best appreciated under ideal circumstances; very tall, very thin women. Under such precise circumstances, the designer is able to control the exact drape and silhouette of his creation. Beyond the gallery of the runway, in the real world, the challenge is to design beautiful clothes for the real woman – short waist, knobby knees, sloping shoulders, and all.

Instead of addressing (or dressing) reality – the female form as it naturally occurs – couture designers impose an ideal that is uncommon, perhaps even unnatural. They require a form to serve their vision, rather than adapting their art to the form. To meet their aesthetic needs, designers, choose size zero or two fashion models who meet their ideal proportions. By comparison, the average woman in Canada wears a size eight to12 and has neither legs for days nor a neck like a gazelle. While designers create visually stunning pieces that could accurately be called art, the average woman struggles with hemlines, necklines, and panty lines, not to mention her self-image. Is it any wonder the uniform of The Real Woman is jeans and a t-shirt?

03 August 2010

In which the boys rule the house

It happened a few days ago. You may have heard about the straw that broke the camel's back? Or the bridge too far? Or the outside of enough? You may also know this one: when mama aint happy, aint nobody happy.

The straw was laid, the bridge was crossed and the outside was passed last week. It may have had something to do with the question "do we have any milk" from the person standing in front of the open fridge; or tiny Lego pieces impaling tender Mom feet as they tried to cross the living room floor; or the Cheltenham Tragedy acted out when one or another Peanut was asked to put his granola bar wrapper in the recycle bin (Peanut's response: I work all day long. I do nothing but work. You're going to have me do this until I die!)

And so Mama Nut made a declaration: she was, like France, going on holiday for the month of August. The Peanuts One through Five, along with Daddy, are going to be responsible for the food cooking, toy tidying, baby bathing, schedule setting etc. that is usually Mama's purview. For an entire month she will not swipe one single toilet bowl, plan one meal, or sweep one floor.

Well my goodness, based on the reaction when asked to put one small piece of garbage where it belongs, you can only imagine the happy proclamations that were heard when the 'Mama's On Holiday' plans were unveiled. For my part, it sounded very much like: Hooray! From the Why-chromosome bearers, it was rather more along the lines of: oh woe, poor me.

It took a few days for the sting to fade, but gradually the idea began to settle in and feel comfortable. Men like to be in charge (even the small ones), and to do things their way (it's the right way, after all) And so Daddy Nut rose to the occasion and organized his troops. There is a roster with rotating duties posted on the fridge at Peanut height; each task is outlined in a flowchart; chores are clearly outlined with expectations and exceptions.

Today was day one. There wasn't a grumble, nor a pout - each Peanut rose manfully to the occasion. There was such a feeling of industry and order in the house, which was peaceful and - quite frankly - delightful, most especially because it happened without reference to Mama Nut or I. Hoorah! They can do it! They did do it! Let's hear it for boys who rule the house!