Two Life-Changing Events Commemorated Today

November 29, 2005

Seven years ago today Paul took me for a drive up into the mountains. We didn’t get to where he had planned; the closer we got to the mountains the more ominous the sky and more foreboding the storm. We turned around. In my living room he proposed.

One year ago today we made the decision to end my 36 hour labour with a cesarean section and our son was born.

Nothing in life really ever goes as planned, but it always turns out alright in the end.

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The Other Girl

November 28, 2005

Down the stairs at the back of Dad’s house, off the laundry room, is the spare bedroom/storage room. There is a bed in there, but the room’s main purpose is as the uncatalogued archives of the Fullers.

This week while I was up I found several boxes of memories.

The collection of Henle editions was impressive and dwarfed the owner’s ecclectic collection of textbooks. There were packets of photos of her and of people she knew, most of whom were people I could recall. The most revealing pieces in the boxes were the letters, all addressed to her. I read the return addresses with curiosity; I don’t know all the people who had written to her. Many of those I knew I remembered with fondness but I cringed as I read some of the names; those are memories I choose to repress for a future date.

I learned a lot about her this week. I read many letters (and it was only a fraction of the collection) in which souls were opened and secrets shared. There were stories of harrowing fears and unparalleled joys. There were letters of gratitude and friendship. This was a girl who loved her friends more than herself. She touched the lives of many people. She was focused and driven but compassionate. She genuinely cared about all whom she knew.

The revelation into her life gave me pause. As I compared myself to her I came up short. I’m less outgoing, more self-centered, and less motivated. I’m not half the calibre of friend as she is, and it made me realize that I’m not as good to my husband as I should be. I can’t say when I got off-track and I can’t really say that I’m floundering, but I’m certainly not quite lined up with where I feel I should; I’m just floating.

I need to be more productive and squander less of my time. I need to prioritize my activities and give new direction to my life. I’m never going to be her, but I do need to be a better me.

My trip to Canada clarified a lot of things for me. I’ve lost focus of most of what used to define me; I’ve become complacent in too many aspects of my life. But I have found a spark to help me become a grown-up version of her.

I tossed all the letters but I kept her moccasins. She wore those moccasins through some of the most pivotal periods of her life. They’re old, battered, and should have been thrown out years ago, but I brought them back with me to California, and I’m wearing them. If I can walk a few miles in her moccasins, I might be able to find her again.


Picasso

November 27, 2005

How varied in his styles
genres
subjects
moods

I didn’t realize
he had so much depth

The portraits
were sometimes comical
with something bright
beautiful
colourful
beside a piece
so dark
macabre
and depressing
that it made me laugh

He wrote the date backwards
and I pontificated
for much too long
on that significance
(if there even is any)
and the fact that I do the same.

But I’m not Picasso.

Thank goodness!

It would be difficult to keep up
with that many children
from that many different lovers.

In the end I will always choose
my life
over anyone else’s.
I can enjoy the art
without feeling the torment
or living the mistakes.


Let It Snow (the phenomenon of music, and the lack of anything else)

November 26, 2005

Note: this is an essay I found in my Dad’s basement this week. I wrote it in ’98 for an English class.

“This is not real life.” How many times have you heard that? How many times have you told it to yourself? Probably more than you would like to admit. Let me let you in on a little secret: there is one group of people who very rarely say that. Ironically enough, they should be the ones saying it most, after all, they aren’t real people, and their lifestyle is completely different from anything anyone else can fathom. Music majors are not real people, and I should know, I am one.

It took me a long time to figure out just why I was so different from my roommates. It wasn’t until I started to observe those of my own kind that I realized just how off the wall we really are. But let me share with you a few discoveries I have made to help you better understand your own music major roommate.

On our first day of school of our first year of the programme, the teachers sat us down to tell us that if we wanted 4.0 averages, money when we’re older, or social lives, then we should drop the major now. It was like signing away all frivolous activities and accepting the contract for what it was: a lot of hard work, and very little play.

(Funny how one of the first people I ever met said, “Oh, you’re a music major? Oh how fun! All you do is play all day.”)

My roommate once asked me why I bothered to pay rent, and why I didn’t change my major on that first day of school. These are well-known commentaries, or one-line sermons, if you will, on music majors. Music majors normally hold about 18 credit hours per semester, but the course load is so heavy that we continue for six semesters. We have endless hours of practice, rehearsals, and small groups on top of our regular homework. I was discussing this phenomenon with a fellow Snow Building junkie who laughed in agreement. We sleep in the fish bowl (the lower lobby for you non-Snow frequenters), keep food in our lockers, get to the Snow at 7 a.m. and leave after 11 p.m..

(Yes, after curfew; in our information packet before school we were recommended that we all get late passes.)

Now, tell me, how am I supposed to have a social life when I spend over ten hours a day in the same building? I’m not, obviously, and I’ve just had to come to deal with this. Actually, by music major standards, I have a thriving social life: I have a boyfriend. We plan regular library dates where we sit together but work on things for our opposite classes. Isn’t that romantic? While I’m analyzing a Bach fugue he’s doing his accounting and while I’m practicing piano he’s doing his math. For music majors, that is a thriving social life.

You have to understand, dating and music majors aren’t really compatible terms. Oh, it isn’t that we’re horribly undesirable slobs (or at least I hope that’s not what it is), it’s just that we don’t really date.

Music majors, more than girls of any other major, are less-likely to wear make-up, spend lots of time on their hair, and do things with their outfits. Musicians are also less likely to concern themselves with dating in general. Is it apathy? Is it priorities? Are we terrified of growing up, or have we grown up so fast that we have a calm reassurance that dating will fall into place as we do everything else?

Our idea of a date is a group of thirty music majors attending a concert. Even so, the concert is part of a mandatory class, similar to FA 100 but requires 10 musical concerts EVERY semester. Pretty special, eh? The other main dates are called Music Lit Parties where everyone watches Carmen by Georges Bizet, or pseudo-documentaries like Amadeus. Incidentally (hee hee, music pun,) the Music Lit Parties are homework assignments, too.

So we date our own kind, and do it as homework assignments, however study dates are rising in popularity as they threaten the ever-popular concert attendance dates. The old “Ricks Stand-by’s” for dating –ASRC dances or a $2 movie– are such rarities among us that they have become escapes and novelties. But such a date is hard to come by.

I think it’s based on priorities. Music is an essential essence of our lives, and we require it in anything we do. One defining rule is that we don’t date outside of the major with very few exceptions. It reminds me of the age-old warning to not marry outside of the Covenant. It’s a matter of common goals, respect for talents, and mutual morals. Non-musicians just don’t understand the time and passion required.

I dated “outside of the covenant” once with a guy who tinkered a little on the piano, but that was all. I am adding that chapter into my book of Heather’s School of Hard Knocks, available in a classroom, and in a correspondence course setting. He expected me to devote my every minute to him and often had a hard time accepting my absence (or the omnipresence of my homework.) He couldn’t understand my diligence and discipline, driven by my passion for the soulful expression available to me only through the outlet of rhythms, pitches, melodies, and harmonies. He couldn’t appreciate the many painful hours and sleepless nights that go into a performance. He didn’t understand the gripping dread of tendonitis or arthritis that left me sleepless in a horrific daze for nights on end. He couldn’t fathom why I deliberately rose at 4:30 a.m. to practice.

Now who, other than music majors, would schedule a study group for Friday at 5 p.m.? Who, other than a music major, knows the janitors of their main building because the janitors are still there when he gets to school? Who, other than a music professor, would post his office hours as 6 a.m. daily because it really is the only hours of the day in his 52+ hour week? Who, other than music majors, chooses not to go out with the roommates on Friday and Saturday nights because he’s behind in his practicing and wants to get some extra hours in?

I’ll tell you: no one. Musicians are the only people I found, and I’ve met a lot of different people in my travels, who are so conscious of their discipline that they have little or no inclination of social demands.

Back to my original questions: are musicians just too apathetic to care about the opposite sex? Do we not date for fear of marriage or lack of time? Are we really just undesirable slobs?

Now, many of the girls in the programme are very attractive girls and receive lots of attention from men, but they still make less of an effort to “make themselves up” than most girls do.

I think they might be on to something, something we’ve been taught all of our lives, but that becomes very profound once inside of us: that beauty really is inside, and what we take with us when we die really is our talents and not our toys. It’s what’s inside that counts. We work hard and we’re happy; we’re doing the best we can to be the best we can.

Now I must get out of here, too much time in the library could be disastrous, I’m out of the Snow and surrounded by people.

Author’s note: I have been brainstorming for this essay for a long time; I guess I began the research long before the essay was ever explained. This is my life, and I’ve always wanted to explain to everyone else why I’m so different. My roommates never understood. I had the ideas, but nothing flowed, and it came down to the night before the due date when all I had was a couple of looseleaf sheets with chicken scratch. I fell asleep on the couch. My roommate woke me up and sent me to bed where I wrote another sentence and fell asleep with my binder as a pillow. And now, a couple of hours before the class, hours before an audition, and minutes before a sight singing exam, I make my final back-against-the-wall-nowhere-else-to-turn attempt to describe in words what goes on in my world.


Cooks Beware: This Recipe is Fraught with Peril

November 16, 2005

One of our favourite cookbooks is “The Gift of Southern Cooking.” Every recipe we’ve tried has come out the way it should and has tasted magnificently. (We haven’t yet tried the candied bacon but I’m pretty sure even that would be good!) One of our family favourites is the macaroni and cheese. My husband mentioned a couple of days ago, “that macaroni was really good” which is his way of hinting that maybe we could have it again soon?

So dutiful wife that I am, after I paid the bills I loaded up my son and we went to the store. (This is not a cheap recipe; after all that creme and extra sharp cheese it takes a chunk out of the budget! But it’s worth it, especially if it makes my husband happy.)

Yesterday, I had calculated, was the perfect day for this dish. Not only was it payday, but my husband had plans to go to a Clippers game with his friends so I needed a quick and filling supper. I didn’t let on what I was doing and set out to preparing the dish. Tuesday is the day a girl from my church comes over for homework help, but I figured this would not be a problem. It never is.

I hadn’t calculated the baby factor. Having napped a grand total of one half hour yesterday and having a case of the grumps ever since, Little Red didn’t want me to be in the kitchen. He was grouchy. When I darted in to grate the onion or measure another ingredient he either grouched at me or climbed all over Esmerelda and her homework, and then grouched at me when I took him off her. It was one of those kinds of days.

To give Esme some time to finish her reading I brought Little Red into the kitchen with me while I stirred the pasta and got the collander ready. He burnt his finger on the steam (I think; I didn’t even know he could reach that far) and got suddenly more upset. Thus began the hour of tears. We did all of the stand-by tricks but nothing worked. He was so tired but everytime he started to settle down he fought himself awake.

Meanwhile supper was half-made in the kitchen and I had clearly missed my deadline to have supper ready, and Esme was unable to concentrate on her work. So if I can’t console my baby, can’t help Esme, and can’t make supper, what good am I?!?

Finally after ten repeats of “I am a Child of God“, one hundred photos in flickr, television and “the Very Hungry Caterpillar“, he settled down back to his old self and I was able to continue working on supper. According to my pre-set timeline it was when I should be taking the macaroni out of the oven, but motherhood is all about flexibility and I was just doing the best I could!

The macaroni turned out well and while the custard wasn’t set, my husband was able to eat before he went out. Esme got her homework done (but I didn’t check it.) Baby got to bed. Instead of relaxing after my stressful afternoon I took my bowl of peppermint ice cream (therapy) upstairs to keep me company while I ironed 8 white shirts and watched tv. I didn’t even feel guilty taking bites of ice cream while I watched “The Biggest Loser.”

It seems to me the last time I made this dish I was equally as stressed out. Little Red sat in his bouncy chair and screamed at me the whole time. I know, I know, Kraft Dinner is easier; I find myself wondering if it is worth all this trouble. I taste the final product doubtful.

It is. But I think it’ll be another few months before I’m ready to do it again.


OVMR, FMH, and me

November 11, 2005

My great-grandfather, O.V.M.-R., served in WWI, along with his future wife, a nurse he met on the boat. They settled in Canada after the war, but he was asked by the British government to return and help step the tide of WWII. He Christmased in the Ardennes and held off the Germans until more troops arrived in the new year.

He was a great man. He died in 1949 so even my mother never met him, but I feel like he and I are old friends and I know when I die we’ll have a lot of catching up to do, him and me. He wrote to my great-grannie faithfully, every week. And she, with meticulous care, preserved each letter in each envelope and bundled them chronologically. I came across them in a box with her journals from the same time. She was a naturalist, so her journals are all about the weather and what bird she saw that day. The letters are pure gold. They are so good, in fact, that I used them as a stepping-off point for a major paper I did in my grade 11 history class. It was one of the best papers I’ve ever done. (And yet M. Langlois gave me a C and the girls who collaborated on a 10-frame comic got a 97%. I’m still bitter. M. Langlois also gave me poor marks on my paper on the 1918 flu pandemic, a paper I hadn’t thought about until all this bird flu pandemic rhetoric came up. But I digress, my beefs with M. Langlois deserve a post of their own.) During times of high secrecy his regular letters had to be replaced with pre-printed postcards with a multiple-choice-type format where he circled things like, “I am well.” I think I learned as much about war from the impersonal, censored postcards as I did from his uncensored letters.

My grandfather, FMH, also served in WWII. I have spent hours looking at his old helmet and wondering about the stories. He never spoke much of the war and we didn’t push it. He is more of a quiet man. But he recently published his memoires in an autobiography titled, “The Long Way Up.” I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to soon; I think I’ll start today.

I spent every Remembrance Day at the cenotaph and I wore my poppy. (I still have my poppy in my jewelry box.) In high school I was back up in the Yukon and we celebrated inside. The school choir sang “Danny Boy“, the English classes did an interpretive dance to “In Flanders Fields“, my friends who were cadets stood guard around the cenotaph placed in the middle of the gym floor. I thought of my grandfathers, and all those I didn’t know who have put their lives on hold for us. No matter your political ideology, these men and women deserve our respect.

I honour the holiday differently since I moved to the US. The ceremonies seem more sparse and poorly announced. There are more sales in the mall. Disneyland starts their Christmas season tomorrow (or today??) I try to take time to think.

I shared “In Flanders Fields” with my classes; it was fresh to them. But for you, my cyberfriends, I will share a blurb from my grandfather’s bookjacket.

Saluting

 

In or out of uniform, an American salut is a quite simple matter, with the hand held flat and shading the right eye. With the Americans, it is the shortest way up and the shortest way down. The head may be bare or covered and you don’t even need to be in uniform, as we have often seen on television and in the movies. Not so, in the Canadian Army, which takes its traditions from the British.

 

I enlisted during the war and one of the first things I learned was how to salute; who to salute to, and when it was necessary to pay that compliment. The Drill Sergeant kept us at it until he was satisfied we knew the proper procedure. As he described it; one took a full arm swing upward, with the palm forward above the eye, then straight down when the salute was acknowledge. As he so succinctly put it, the motion was, “Longest way up, and shortest way down”.

 

We learned further, that saluting was only done when in uniform, complete with the appropriate head covering. Should one be caught bareheaded, the appropriate action was to snap to attention and hold the position until it was recognized.

 

When the long awaited invasion of France took place, I was among the reinforcements. Our Second Division was in tents in the Dover area, where we were used as decoys to confuse the enemy, causing him to expect the invasion would be in the Pas de Calais area.

 

We finally arrived in France on the Beaches of Normandy, after we had been several days in the hold of a scruffy freighter from the Indian Ocean. The weather had turned warm, ablutions facilities were non-existent, water was a scarece commodity, the sun was hot and we were concentrated beside a road that led to the front.

 

It got to the point that I could hardly stand my own smell, so I scrounged enough water from the cook to fill my mess tins; one for soap and the other for rinse. Naked as a jay, I was just starting on my head when along came a couple of motorbike outriders, followed by a swanky open Daimler that had once belonged to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, prior to its capture in the Libyan Desert.

 

Sure enough, the brasshat relaxing in the back seat was none other than General Bernard Montgomery. There and then, I instinctively snapped to attentin and was rewarded with a smile and one of the most flamboyant salutes I had ever seen. It was the only time I ever saw him in the flesh; but he sure as hell saw me in mine!

 

Winning Literary Award for Humorous Short Story

Joyce Dunn Memorial Writing Competition

November 2000


Me Pretty

November 9, 2005

Five or six weeks into our first semester of college, my roommates and I set off on our first (and most illustrious) road trip. Some family friends of one roommate came to Rexburg, loaded us up in the Suburban, and drove us to the ranch in Star Valley, Wyoming (my furthest trip east to date.) Mike had lived in Japan for a while (perhaps as a missionary?) and his wife, Junko, was from Ai’s hometown of Osaka. Many years after he lived in Japan he and Junko were married and she moved to Wyoming. (I still wonder how she managed the culture shock.)

Ai was my room-roommate. She initially came across as reserved and quiet, but she was the biggest goofball. And she was beautiful in a very non-traditional Japanese way. She was taller than me and her features were very striking. I never met her family so I’m not sure how she inherited her traits, but if you picture a Japanese woman in your mind right now, that’s not Ai. You just have to see her to know what I’m talking about. If she wasn’t such a truly wonderful person it would have been devastatingly intimidating to have such a gorgeous roommate.

All of my roommates were very pretty, most of them exotically so. Sharon had a red bob and a bubbly personality to match; she was down-to-earth midwestern all the way. Sylvia, our eternal optimist, had the most fantastic curls in her hair; she was so well-aclamated to both her home (Chicago) and her parent’s ancestry (Mexico) that she fit in well with everyone she met. Merced was from Guatemala and although she was Latina and looked it, she had an international exoticism that allowed her to pass as a variety of other races as well.

And there was I; plain-jane girl-next-door who brushed her hair and wore some make-up just because it was socially acceptable to do so. My mother had finally broken me of walking like a lumberjack. I am genetically gifted insomuch that all of my facial features are in the right spot and have the right proportion but I’m not really someone that stands out for my looks. It suits me just fine. If I cared more I’d spend more time in front of the mirror (and at the gym) but I’d rather spend that time improving myself in other ways.

As usually happens when a bunch of girls are together for a sleep-over-type setting, it got late and we got giddy and out came the make up. My lovely (and well-wishing) roommates insisted that if I just did a little of this or a little of that I would be so pretty. I was an obliging model (but reminded them I wouldn’t maintain anything that took too long on a daily basis) and offered myself as a blank canvas to their creativity. They each took care of their areas of expertise.

What could possibly go wrong?

There is no photographical evidence of the final product (I hope) but the face in the mirror is still seared in my mind. I believe they were all proud of themselves and regailed me with compliments. The face in the mirror was not mine. I didn’t recognize it, and I admit I didn’t think it pretty.

I know for a fact that those eyebrows were not mine, but I didn’t figure that out until I washed my face that night. What I thought was the pluck pluck of my stray hairs was the erosion of half of each eyebrow and the decimation of the “intact” side. They laughed, not at me, per se, but at my lack of eyebrows. Junko had been in charge of the tweezers and had tweezed and drawn my eyebrows to resemble hers. My roommates even asked me, “how could you let her do that? I’d never let anyone get rid of my eyebrows.” How could I? How could I?

But I loved my roommates and I forgave them. And the next year I let them cut my hair.

I’m a slow learner.