Wednesday 20 June 2012

Shared Mythologies: the Darkness in the Light

Three years ago, I came home on the day before the solstice to find my fat cat, Merle, lying on the kitchen floor. Usually he would come greet me at the door, but on that day he didn't even lift his head.  He was lethargic, but he purred when I said hi, so I figured he'd eaten something weird (the cat had once chocked on a bell, and he ate an entire pack of contraceptive pills when he was a kitten. It wouldn't be out of the norm).  The fact that he hadn't eaten his breakfast, however, was rather odd.  Merle ate all the time, without fail.  He had an immune deficiency and required cortisone shots every six weeks.  I like to blame those for the hunger/fatness issues.

Once, a few years before that, I thought he had an eye infection.  When we finally brought him to the vet, we found out that his immune deficiency was attacking his gums.  Six teeth were so rotten, they had to be pulled out.  It never slowed down his eating.

So when I realized Merle had missed a meal, I grew concerned. Roomy was away to the Pony Fair in Las Vegas (couldn't drive there, go fig), so I was on my own.  By 6:30 pm, it was obvious that Merle was in distress, so I gently put him in the carrier (as gentle as you can be with a 25 lbs cat), then in Maude (my car), and drove to the emergency clinic.  This is the only call I have ever made on my cell phone while driving.  I called my brother so he could meet me there, since the clinic was not far from his house and I knew I would become a crying mess.

Okay, I was already a mess.  I'd lived with this cat for nine years, since he was a wee bit of a Merle.  My mom had decided she wanted an orange cat to call Miel.  My friend Ren and I made that vision happen.  And he became angry Merle.  He'd stayed with me and my senior tabby, Bart, and the three of us lived alone for a few years, welcoming friends into our house now and then.

We reached the vet clinic and my brother was waiting outside.  The cat weighed a ton, especially in his carrier, but I wanted to carry him in.  We brought him in the room and waited for consultation. He was lethargic still and wasn't purring or moving around anymore.

There's this point in every pet owner's lives when you know your pet isn't coming home.  Sometimes it's really obvious.  With Merle, I knew the second I went to say good bye to him.  They'd strapped him up to monitors and an IV line, and planned on doing tests overnight and contact me with results in the morning.  When I went to say goodbye as he lay in his little cage, I knew that was it.  The cat had a good run, but life had finally caught up to him, at the tender age of nine.

I received the call at midnight, on the cusp of the summer solstice.  His heart had stopped and they had failed to resuscitate him.  They needed my permission to stop efforts, since they hadn't seen this coming, and I had signed no paperwork. 

"Just let him go."

I spent the night with my brother and Ren.  We watched bad movies and laughed at the memories. The next morning, my family gathered for a final farewell.  He had been a big cat, in every sense of the word, and had made a mark in our lives. That was my brother's first Father's Day, too. Well, it was memorable! 

That evening was Earthborn, the Kymeras' summer solstice show. I was a mess.  I hadn't slept all night and had cried most of it.  I thought I'd go and tell just one story, and then come home.  But Ruthanne Edward, the other Kymeras storyteller, was struck down with H1N1, and I needed to tell at least two stories for the audience.  The theme was "home."  I remember that I told a story about Merle, and equated him to home.  Everyone cried.  Except me, cause I was telling at the time and had to maintain some form of composure.  At one point I had to tell the audience to close their eyes and take a deep breath with me, and they all did.  It was soothing and stopped the tears from flowing. Okay, I cried after the show.

I don't fully remember that story. It was created on the spur of the moment, out of grief and exhaustion, and will never be told again.

Some stories just aren't meant to be told more than once.

I always feel nostalgic when the warm weather sweeps through my city.  Tonight, I'm also bringing in my first car, Maude, for a final farewell, the same way that she helped me bring Merle to his final farewell on the same day, three years ago.

I'm looking forward to meeting my new car, but there's still some sadness attached to losing your first car. We went everywhere, Maude and I.  To Cape Breton, Memphis, Rhode Island (twice!), Kentucky, Windsor...  Good memories were made while driving that car.

A friend once told me that it was good to be in a couple, because you had someone to witness your story. I've been single a long time and enjoy it, but I agree with this philosophy, though I don't limit it to couples. I have a great group of friends, my family, who witness life and make it everything it is.

When we buried Merle, they were all there (in spirit if not in person), and I remember watching my nephew, not even a year old, in my sister-in-law's arms.  I remember vividly the rush of grief when I realized that, to my nephew, Merle would only ever be a legend.  A story told at night. Something the old people rambled about.

And then, I took heart when I told the story at Earthborn. Just as I do today telling all of you.  Just as I will tonight when I hand over the keys to Maude to a complete stranger.  Well, I won't necessarily tell him all of it, but I'll share the memories with all of my friends, still. My mythology is theirs, and theirs is mine.

And so Merle and Maude, both caramel-coloured and legendary in my own mind (ha!), will live on in my friends' memories, and in mine. There's great comfort in that, somehow.

Although I now refuse to name any more of my caramel-coloured things with anything starting with "M."  Lesson learned!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Day Maude Went POW!

Maude facing off against Evil Maude two days
before her demise.  I blame Evil Maude.
I have a car. My first car, in fact (I was a late bloomer) - a cute beige 2003 Ford Focus, the luxury model with leather seats...  I loved her as soon as I saw her, and named her Maude.  But I'll post her origin story later.

We'll begin with the story of her death.

Last Thursday, my maman was moving out of what I fondly like to refer to as the "OMG, you're going to get murdered if you stay here, and what the hell did I just step in!?" place.  So yay for a move!  My job was to go and bring the cat, the plants and the maman to the new place.  

I headed off early, since I was also in charge of bringing my mom breakfast (my diabetic mother. The plot thickens.)

I was merrily driving, about to cross the bridge into Quebec, blasting 80s rock and roll tunes and singing along, when the track changed and, in the silence, I heard the most peculiar of noises:  "BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM."

.... is that my car???  My curious mind inquired.  

Maude, undertaking the roll of shame.
And yes, it was!  So I pulled over, whipped out my iPhone and tried my CAA app, only to be informed it was no longer valid.  How disappointing!  Thankfully the CAA folk were useful on the phone, but I still had to wait about two hours to get towed. In the meantime, I phoned my mom, called to rent a car, and whined to my friends on e-mail (that's what friends are for).

By the time I got to my mother's, three hours later than planned, she had lost her cat, which we thankfully found behind a drawer half an hour later (wily thing).

But, back to the car.  I was distraught.  My mechanic, whom I trust, said that it could be small, or it could be big.  Turned out it was the air conditioning compressor. That's not so bad, sure, but add that to all of the other work she needed done, including some suspension work, and I was faced with the decision to drain my savings to fix a ten-year old car, or to use it as a downpayment on a new, more reliable vehicle.   

I'll admit that her death wasn't a complete surprise.  Roomy and I are leaving for the Pony Fair in Florida in two weeks, and I'd mentioned to her a couple of times that we might need to rent a car.  I could feel Maude's steering tightening up, hear noises that just hadn't been there before and, you know, she clunked loudly every time I turned.

The mechanic said he could get her functional for a trade-in and for me to drive her around as I hunt for a new car.  Roomy and I headed off to pick her up on Friday evening, but we arrived too late - the garage was closed. Sigh!  There was Maude, sitting primly in the parking lot, and we couldn't whisk her away.

Roomy and I decided to walk to the nearby mall (IKEA!) and grab some supper.  There, we pondered our future means of transportation (Roomy being the primary passenger and therefore opinion giver).  We had fun with crayons (Montana's understands the need to draw with colourful crayons):
Roomy felt this car looked unsafe and un-aerodynamic.  I couldn't really disagree, though I enjoyed the snazzy purple colour.

So I made us a raft, instead, for a more environment-friendly option.  I felt it made sense, as we live not too far from the Ottawa River - only about one to two hours of portage away!  Roomy was against it, again.  As you can see, she's in fact screaming in fear. Note the skillful use of crayons to illustrate hair colour.
Next I appealed to her love of fish.  I put us on a giant fish, though Roomy was screaming again.  In this drawing, note how I master the arms, which now flail without cutting her head. I am a master artist in training.  
Then Roomy pointed out that the fish wouldn't be great on roads.
I disagreed by adding wheels on my fish. Giant fish on wheels is the next great commuting evolution.
This was Roomy's suggestion. I'm not against it, but they're hard to come by, unless you steal them, and most garages don't service them, I'm lead to believe.  And yes, that's a pony head beside it.  That was Roomy's side of the tablecloth, after all. 
While we were making a strange mess of Montana's paper tablecloth, my mechanic called twice, undoubtedly to tell us that we could come pick up the car.  But we missed both calls, as we were busy cackling manically at odd scenarios.  Oh well.

Roomy and I got lots of walking done last weekend, which was a nice change of pace. But we still need a car for the upcoming road trip!

I'm all about making informed but quick decisions, so I already bought a car. HA!  I'm meeting her/him Wednesday evening, at which point I assume I'll know his/her name, and inform you all of it.

Exciting new times, my friends!!!

Monday 18 June 2012

The Odyssey: Coming Home

The final post in a series on the Odyssey storytelling adventure.  I undertook this show hoping to challenge myself and grow as a teller. I was not disappointed, and I learned so much more along the way than I could have even imagined.

Saturday was the culmination of almost a year's worth of preparation, as 18 tellers brought Odysseus home to Ithaca in an epic 12-hour production at Ottawa's National Arts Centre.

All the tellers met more than an hour before the doors opened, to get "in the zone" and prepare ourselves for the journey. Epic listening has its challenges - including numb-butt syndrom - but when you're also telling, there's a whole other level of concentration and engagement that's required. So we needed to get ready.

When the house opened, we were amazed at the fullness of the room.  It wasn't a sold out show, but it was still a full house for a 12-hour show.  And these people were into it.  They stuck it out, from beginning to end, and they brought the energy.

The audience shared the tellers' love for words, imagery, irony and well-placed foreshadowing. We knew we were all in for a treat when they laughed at all the right spots.

At the beginning of the day, in the green room, a few tellers and I were wondering if we'd undertake something this epic again. I mean, it's a lot of work.  You have to study the full text, and then really work your portion down to the golden kernel.  You have to study the language, and then, as a group, decide how the characters will be portrayed, and how their names will be pronounced.  Then all the bits have to go together.  Twelve hours is a long time, of course, but the Odyssey is a much longer text to tell, so many cuts were made.  We had to make sure the text still jived.

And, remember, we were 18, with two artistic directors, Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley, guiding our words.  That's a lot of coordination, a lot of time, and a lot of work. Their commitment and enthusiasm was unflinching, which kept us all focused.

I admit that, at the beginning of the day, I wasn't sure I would ever undertake such an extravagant storytelling journey again.  But then, Odysseus kissed the sands of his homeland, the loyal dog Argus died after seeing his master's return, and Penelope embraced her long-longed for husband.  And I knew, right there and then, that I would do this again.

Without a doubt, and without hesitation.  And all of the other tellers agreed.

Because, in the end, we realized that our journey had been long and riddled with both beauty and difficulty and, although we faced no real-life cyclops (thankfully) nor did we ride the sea down to the Halls of Hades (again, a good thing), it had still been riddled with challenges and tested our will and faith.  So when the day was over and Odysseus spent a long, lingering night in Penelope's arms, we felt we had come home, too.

A sweet homecoming after a long journey steals our breath and dulls the difficult memories of the journey, amplifying only the amazement at having done it, survived it, not scaring us away from undertaking the next journey, knowing that, at the end, another homecoming awaits us.

And that the journey, in all of its discoveries and marvels, will have been entirely worth it.

Thanks to everyone who made this journey possible, especially 2 Women Productions and the Ottawa Storytellers.  Thanks to Jan and Jennifer for their vision, and for their belief in all of their tellers.  Thanks to all of the tellers who made the day ripe with possibility and wonder!  

And, most of all, thank you for reminding me that the safest paths are rarely the best paths.

Friday 8 June 2012

Odyssey: Emotional Echoes

This is a guest post by storyteller Dean Verger. Find out more about Dean.

Dean Verger

One of the best known episodes in the Odyssey is the moment Argus, the aged dog of Odysseus recognises his master after a separation of almost 20 years. This episode somehow triggered the thought that we believe in generational differences: I am different from my mother, my father. This is an attitude that may be as old as the industrial age (look, Dad doesn't even know how to handle a loom!) And yet the underlying emotions have not changed in thousands of years. Think of a loss of a pet in our household these days. Now imagine the pet as a working partner, for that was the role Argus played. He was a hunter, and a respected hunter at that.

I see this powerful and cunning leader of men that is Odysseus. Here he sees the dog he trained himself before he left for war. On the one hand he remembers the strong, swift hunter. And now he must compare that memory to the present aged, uncared for partner. Is it any wonder that Odysseus is overcome with emotion, shedding a tear for his old companion?

Thousands of years apart, and I can experience the empathy and sorrow a warrior and a leader felt through the writings of an old storyteller, an author, that was Homer.

Help bring Odysseus home!

Odyssey: Seeing the Words

This is a guest post by Ottawa storyteller Kim Kilpatrick.  To read more of Kim's adventures at her blog, Great Things About Being Blind.

Kim and Tulia
When I jumped at the chance to be one of the Storytellers bringing Homer's Odyssey to life, I had not ever even read the whole Odyssey.  I knew some of the famous bits of course.  But not the whole story.

I set out to find the version we were using in audio or electronic format as I am totally blind and could not read the print version.  I found several versions.  Some in poem format, some abridged, some with boring readers, some for kids, and a few that I read right through.  The story seemed interesting and I became more excited.  I could do this. 

I've been a professional storyteller for over 10 years.  I have a good memory.  I love all material.  But when I started to learn it, I could not remember it at all.  The beautiful language did not stay in me.  The words seemed lifeless. 

Beautiful yes, but lifeless, too. 

Why? After some work, we came up with a few reasons.  First, I could not picture the story in my imagination.  I have not seen ancient greece.  What were the palaces like? What did they wear? Who were the gods? What did they do? How do you yoke mules to a wagon? I realized then how much I put myself into the stories I tell.  Moving through them myself as the words fly to my audience. 

I could not do this.  I was trying to cram words into my head and not put the story into myself and live it with all of me.  So I started reading about the greek gods.  Asking questions of our artistic directors and kind storytelling friends.  What clothes did they wear? How big are mules? What would the palaces be like?

I asked and asked until the pictures and the people became clearer in my mind.  It was only then that the beautiful language flowed easily and came to life for me.  And now as I tell my part of the wonderful story, I am there and the words come naturally. 

What a rich tapestry we wove in our rehearsals.  Each voice different but always moving the wonderful story forward.  Come and experience this with us.  You will be amazed, amused, astounded, astonished. 

I raise my mug of tea to brilliant blind homer.  Hopefully blind Kim (smile)  will be brilliant too on June 16.  Come and find out!

Help bring Odysseus home.