Curiosity is terminal

Monday, 16 October 2017

Jake's Gift

I have this philosophy that the universe puts opportunities in your way and that it is important to say yes as much as you can, because otherwise the universe stops sending opportunities. This is how I manage to have done so many weird things in my life. The weird thing I am doing now is building sets for the local professional theatre. Of course, being the set carpenter at this moment also turned into being the light tech - always say yes to opportunities.

But this post is not about any of that. This post is about the beautiful, powerful and moving play that I  had the privilege of light tech-ing for in its local run.

The play is Jake's Gift. It is the story of a WW2 veteran who returns to Juno Beach for the 60th anniversary of D-Day to find the grave of the brother he lost in the campaign. He meets a local ten-year-old girl and their three day friendship changes them both forever. It is ostensibly a play about remembrance, but it is so much more. 

The play is a triumph of simplicity. It is a single act, approximately 70 minutes long; the set is spare: a bench, a table, a suitcase and a cardboard box; The light design is simple, conveying two separate locations without the need for walls or level changes; There are short snippets of period-specific music used to punctuate the character's thoughts; There is one actor: the playwright Julia Mackey performs all four characters.  There are monologues to establish the characters and then dialogue between the characters. Each character has a separate voice and posture, and each is identifiable from the others immediately. Mackey moves between these characters absolutely seamlessly, managing to be all four characters reacting to one another.  As the light tech, I watched this play for 24 performances, and Jake, Isabel, Isabel's grandmother, and Susan, the teacher from Canada, were distinct and real people to me every single time.

Everything in the play fits together. There are words and concepts that circle back and re-echo throughout the play.  The maple leaf, a favourite number, the taking care of  soldiers, gardens, and even Burlington Ontario connect and reconnect so that the play is like a perfect jigsaw puzzle, all of the pieces needing each other.  There are more than 40 places to laugh in the play and a handful that will take the breath out of you. I still wept at the end of performance number 24. 

Its publicity talks about the importance of remembrance, but it also makes powerful statements about grief and resolution,  friendship and connection, and for me it also made a case for the arts in troubled times. 

Isabel establishes a metaphorical way of thinking about the dead in the opening lines, and the spirits of Jake's two brothers, the one whose grave he has come to find, and the one recently died in Canada, as well as those of his also recently dead wife and Isabel's great-grandfather begin to also inhabit the play.  They become characters to talk to, perhaps less gone than we had feared, even if they are better listeners than talkers. 

Isabel and Jake meet, not by accident, but because Isabel's grandmother has taught her about the war, what it was to her, and why Isabel should remember these soldiers who died so far from their own homes, sparking Isabel's compassion and her curiosity about the living Vets. She makes the first move, and while Jake is initially resistant to her overture, her open and accepting manner win him over. Through Isabel, his grief and regrets about the losses in his life are transformed. Jake and his gift give Isabel tangible connections to her grandmother's and Jake's memories. 

Jake does not talk about battles. He talks about the dance halls in England opening at 10 in the morning, with huge orchestras playing, to give the young soldiers something to do while they waited to go to France.  He talks about dancing with the pretty local girls. He talks about "dancing their feet off because they knew they were going some place where they might not come back."  He talks about the trumpet that transformed his brother, and how he learned more about his brother because of that trumpet and the dance halls than he had at home. This was to me, an extra message in the play: The arts make it bearable. The arts help us cope. It is the arts that help us connect - witness: wives met in those dancehalls.

I confess that beyond the fact that I really like theatre and plays, I was not especially enthusiastic about this play. I'm mostly a pacifist, and I am deeply bothered by the use of our healthy citizenry as cannon fodder for useless wars. As such I have never been much of an attendant, never mind participant in Remembrance Day ceremonies and such. I buy a poppy every year to support the legion and the vets, and I wear it, but that is it. I knew that D-Day on Juno Beach was about the liberation of France, but I did not understand what that meant. I did not understand the very real, personal and immediate threat that France was living under.  Yes, I know, the Nazis were beyond horrifying, and I cannot imagine what might have happened if they had won, but I did not really get it.  Jake and Isabel and her grandmama drew the reality for me  in only a very few lines and gestures, and it knocked the breath out of me performance after performance. I'm a bit ashamed of my previous attitude, and glad that I understand better now.

I think art should move you. Jake's Gift moved me to tears. Over and over. And to laughter, which I think is imperative for a bearable life.  But more, it moved my ignorant viewpoint to one of understanding, really truly understanding, that ultimately, what matters in life is doing something for someone else.

Jake's Gift will play in Lindsay Ontario, Hudson Quebec and Guelph, Sudbury and Gravenhurst Ontario between now and the end of November.  I cannot recommend this play highly enough.
(And if you go, and you get the chance, say hi to Julia and Dirk from Karen. They are my favourite actor and director in the whole of the world.)

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Mondays, All the Way Down

I am gainfully employed again.  Hooray.

I am partly of the mind that working for a living is for the birds.  Although, I am also partly of the mind that having something unselfish to do is good for me, and entirely of the mind that being independent and paying my own bills, thank you very much, is also a good thing.  There you go - early morning multitudes.

I am scaffolding again. After six years of teaching and going to school and writing curriculum I am back on the tools and in a harness.  Dear god I am sore and tired.  I had just kind of got used to 40 hours a week on my feet and lifting things (scaffolders move between 2 and 10 tons of gear in a day - how about that?) when we started 10 hour days. Two days later we went to 7 days a week.

I am wholly of the mind that no one ought to work 70 hours a week, even if they do get paid a lot to do it.  But whatever, I am in the minority in the construction, scaffold, pulp, and oil and gas industries on that one.  After 14 days, though, people start to wonder when there will be days off.  We started the 7 day nonsense a full 3 weeks before the actual shutdown, which is supposed to be 35 days long. Last weekend the rumours about days off started; the plant was going to shut down early for cleaning out of vessels and pipes and we were not going to be allowed on site during the process.  Every day, the day after tomorrow was going to be a day off and we might be off as many as five days.  Every day we were told to come to work tomorrow.  I have just been going on the assumption that it is Monday until they tell us it is Friday.

Yesterday was actually Friday. And a good thing too.  It was day 18.  I am getting enough sleep and eating properly; in my old age, I am a bit of a stickler for those things. But I am unused to the hard physical work and my muscles dearly needed the rest. I am much stronger than I was when I went back to work 6 weeks ago, but for the last 18 days, there has been no time for shredded tissues to be rebuilt. I was actually kind of punch drunk. I felt like I was moving and thinking through molasses.  I'm pretty sure something bad would have happened if there had been a day 19.

Tuesday is Monday again.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Changing MInds

There was a link this morning in my Facebook feed to a BC Business article about how giving people the facts is not enough to change their minds.  In my mind this is connected to the moan I always hear from developers that they just have to package their plan the right way to get the public to buy in.

The trouble, I think, is that developers think the facts are all on their side. Pipelines built extra thick to last longer, world class spill response, double hulled tankers, extra tugboats to guide tankers (I don't think there are any plausible facts for Site C, are there?)

But the fact is that the Kalamazoo River is still filthy from Enbridge's spill in 2010.  The fact is that the Gulf of Mexico has not recovered from the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010.  The fact is that Prince William Sound is still not entirely recovered from the Exxon Valdez running aground in 1989.  The fact is that there is a catastrophic methane leak in California right now.  The fact is that there are earthquakes in places where there are no natural reasons for earthquakes that have been directly linked to hydraulic fracturing.  The fact is that human error actually accounts for much of this*, and before you tell me that automating and mechanizing things will prevent these events in the future, remember that in fact humans made the mistakes they made because they misread or over-relied on computerized systems.

The fact is that the people who are labelled opponents think this destruction is unnecessary.

We are not dealing with an inability to accept the facts. We are dealing with two fundamentally different worldviews.  I am perfectly able to grasp and even admire the technological advances and innovation that will purportedly make resource extraction faster and safer and hopefully cleaner. But I am completely unable to see it as anything but unmitigated greed and ecological rape.  Even if I back up from my inflammatory and contentious characterization, it is still single minded and short sighted destruction.  Developers either can't, or won't, recognize that.

I suppose it is possible that there might have been a time when some common ground might have been found here and that "development' could have taken place sustainably, but I suspect that time is long over.  We have befouled the earth, and the air and the water over so much of the globe that we are probably hurtling toward its uninhabitability.  Most days, taking the long view, I honestly think that our own extinction is the very best thing that can happen to the earth.  We have so much hubris as to think that we matter to the existence of our little blue planet, that we are of some consequence.  We are wrong.  We are a mere blip here.  Earth's tragedy is that we have left so much poison in our wake that we will very likely have rendered normal, healthy existence for other creatures impossible for several hundred years into the future.

But by all means, explain to me how cutting down the trees that hold eagles nests on an island in the Peace River and flooding a valley that is home to bears and deer and moose and foxes and could grow food for us while not hurting those homes is such a good idea.

* When I looked for articles to link here, using the words environmental disaster human error,  the results were 3 pages of mostly clickbait. There are some pretty heartbreaking lists there if you happen to want them.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Story of Christmas Eve Past

    In 2012 Beloved and I went east for Christmas (no, no. Not that far east).  His whole family lives in New Brunswick and the Offspring was still in university in Halifax, so we went to the Maritimes for the holidays. We spent a few days in Saint John and then Beloved and his best uncle drove me to Halifax. Offspring and I were going to spend a few days together in Halifax and then drive back to Saint John on Christmas Eve so we would all be together at the best aunt and uncle's house.  

    The Offspring is good and kind and her M.O. at Christmas and Thanksgiving is to gather up all the orphans she knows and feed them. 2012 had a real orphan, a girl in Offspring's program at school who had only the Offspring and one other friend, so the Kid decided to get a few friends together and have a Christmas Eve lunch.
 By the time the leftovers were cleared up and the dishes done and we took the orphan to the other friend's house, we finally left Halifax at around 6PM. Offspring drove and I navigated the first while.  It was cold, but the roads were mostly bare and dry. As we approached Truro, which is where you turn left towards New Brunswick, there was a sign for the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, and the Kid said, "while I am living out here I would like to see Cape Breton."  We talked and laughed and I fiddled with her iPhone containing music and a gps.  I found it confusing and it took much of my attention. (Now, this is is a curious point.  I am very good at navigation.  I can read a map and get myself oriented in no time at all. The first thing I do in any new place is get a map and work out where I am and I am fine. For some reason when I go east with Beloved, I do not get a map, I do not figure out where we are and I am lost from the moment we arrive until we get to the Toronto Airport.)

At some point, about a half hour past the sign for the Cabot Trail, I noticed that we were on a two lane highway. This was weird, because I was pretty sure that the highway from Saint John to Halifax had been a four lane divided highway.  But, I had napped for a bit before Truro, so, maybe?  Anyway, I failed to say anything. Around about 8:30 we passed a gas station, and then a sign that said Antigonish. In case that fails to mean anything to you, Antigonish is really the long way to Saint John, by which I mean, you can't really get there in the direction we were going. My grasp of Maritime geography being almost non-existant, I did not actually know this.  The Kid stopped the car and said, "Mom, we are going the wrong direction!" She was kind of mad at me as we turned around, stopped to fill the car at the closing-early-for-Christmas-Eve gas station and bought snacks.
We made it back to Truro and carried on in the right direction.  The Offspring eventually warmed back up and we chatted and laughed again.  An hour from Truro, as you are heading west, is Sackville, New Brunswick. Before you get there, there are signs advertising Prince Edward Island and the Confederation Bridge.
  When we encountered the first one, Offspring said, "I have to go to PEI, while I am out here, too."
    "Not tonight," I said, "we are expected in Saint John."
    "Yeah,"said the kid, "if I find myself on a bridge before we get to Saint John, we are staying wherever we are headed."
   Also before Sackville is a wind farm, and, coincidentally, a bridge.  We began to cross said bridge, and the Offspring stopped the car.  (It was late on Christmas Eve, we were alone on the road)
     "Mom, we are on a bridge.  Where the fuck are we?!" We knew where we were, and we laughed.
 After Sackville, about a half an hour, is Moncton.  We decided to find a bathroom and another snack there.  It was ten o clock on a cold Christmas Eve.  Several stops right on the highway were closed. And then I missed an exit for a big truck stop area - fast food restaurants and gas stations - all appearing to be open.  We looked for a place to turn around and couldn't find one, and so we turned off the highway about 15 km after the missed exit, hoping to find a way to get back.  Somehow we found a cute little country inn with (appropriately enough) a huge NO Vacancy sign and a closed sign in its cute little restaurant window.  Offspring turned off the car and said, "okay, give me the gps, you drive, I am tired of this,"  and we changed seats.  We travelled along a quiet little road in the woods for a bit, not really sure where we were (and me getting a little close to panic because I REALLY needed a bathroom).  A police car approached and passed and then in the rear view mirror I noticed him make a U-turn.  He came up behind us, and turned on his lights. No, I did not take off like a bat out of hell.  I stopped.  And turned off the car  And tried to open the window in the rental car, at which I failed, because the car was off, and because I didn't know my way around the controls. (More panic)  The police officer, disconcertingly enough, looked to be about twelve.  I opened the door and  said good evening officer, and explained that I couldn't figure out the window in this godforsaken rental car. He laughed and asked if my inability to figure out the controls was why I was driving around the back roads of Moncton with no lights on.  I guess my face must have been something to see because he laughed again, not unkindly, and coached me through turning the car back on and finding the window controls.  Then he asked where we were going and if we had been drinking. I told him the tale of being lost and having to go to the bathroom, to the (I later learned)  mortification of the Offspring.  After ascertaining that we both had valid driver's licences and agreeing that a drink when we finally found our way to Saint John was indeed in order, and giving us perfect directions to a gas station and the highway to Saint John, he sent us on our way.  I still wonder why he wasn't tucked in and waiting for Santa Claus.  Now that I think of it, maybe he was our Christmas angel.
   We made it to Saint John a bit past midnight. Beloved, Best Aunt and Uncle and the cousins were all waiting up. The Offspring still hasn't quite forgiven me, but all I have to do is say the word Antigonish to any of Beloved's family and they are quite helpless with laughter.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Halloween Dogs

Yes I know its late.  This is going to be my new thing. I am going to post on everything after the fact.

We had 26 trick or treaters this year, which is 25 more than last year. We had minions and zombies and Iron Man. We had kindergarteners and teenagers.  Everyone said thank you.  It was fun while it lasted.

It made me think of Bandit.

Bandit was a husky/heeler cross, which meant he was smart but oh so stubborn.  He was also gentle and he loved children. But he was terrified of fireworks, which made Halloween a terrible mixed blessing.  He loved to go to the door to inspect the costumes of the trick or treaters, which if he was allowed also included tasting ears. He must have found ears delicious, because he licked everyone's ears he could get near.  

Bandit's best friend was a shepherd/rottweiler named Kodi, who also liked to see little kids but he also thought there should be treats for dogs, if we were doling out stuff, thank you.   

One particular Halloween, there had been a lot of fireworks really nearby, and they had started early in the evening.  Poor Bandit was practically attached to my knee.  I couldn't make him go away, because he was so frightened but I was getting kind of exasperated.  And then the baby bear arrived at the door. He was three or four, and he had the sweetest round brown eyes I have ever seen on a little boy.  He was with his dad, who was just a man in a ski jacket - not a bear,  and he loved dogs. He saw Bandit just behind me, waiting to check things out and exclaimed, "Oh! A Puppy!" Which Bandit took as his cue to muscle by me to do an ear examination. Kodi danced around behind me, wanting to get in on any fun activity or treat that happened to be going on.  I told the little boy, in my exasperation with all the dogdom going on in the small space and poor Bandit's mental health that evening, "That is not a puppy. That is a chicken in a dog costume."  The baby bear stopped giggling and petting Bandit and eyed him critically. "Really?....Then.....Is that a dog?" he asked, pointing doubtfully at Kodi, behind us.  I don't remember any of the rest of the exchange, but I often wonder what kind of conversation that boy and his dad had after they left my house.  

Nothing fun like that happened this year, but that's okay.  It was fun anyway.  

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Wednesday Work Post

So I have only been semi-employed since last February.

Six years ago my scaffold employer asked me to write a training program for the company.  There had been a bad accident in the company and during the investigation the question, "what training did this employee have?" was asked.  The answer was none, because at the time none was being done in the province.  My boss had been bugging and bugging the union to get some training together and the union had been dragging its feet, so the boss went looking for someone else to do it.  I wrote a 2 week program that turned into 3- 2 week courses for carpenter/scaffolders, a one day inspection course for people who work ON but do not build scaffolds, and a 2 to 5 day course offered to mills and mines and such for their employees to build small, tightly configured scaffolds.  I wrote an in-house fall protection course too. Two years ago the training department was run by me and a department head and we had two other instructors and an administrative assistant.  We had trained over 400 scaffolders and supplied the inspection and in house training to over 200 workers in dozens of companies in the three western provinces. 

 A year and a half ago, the scaffold company dissolved its training department and sold the training to the union.   The union hired the department head full time to get their training division off the ground and me for 24 hours a week to do curriculum development and teach.  Last February they decided the department head could do everything and I was laid off.  

While I was at the scaffold company, I also taught forklift operation, which they offered externally too.  One of our clients was the City.  I began going to their worksites to do the training and I developed a good relationship with their training department, and so when I left the scaffold company, they asked me to continue to do their training through the union.  When I was laid off at the union,  my guy at the City told me he'd continue to use me if I wanted to do my own thing, which I did.  

When I went from 40 to 24 hours a week I found I had too much time on my hands and I was whining about boredom one day to a friend.  She happens to own a yarn store, and she offered me some hours in it.  (Beloved, when I told him I was going to work in the store said, "Oh no. We cannot afford for you to work in a yarn store!") 

So  for nine months I have been teaching forklift, selling yarn and teaching people to knit, and doing the occasional scaffold course for either the union or the scaffold company when they are overwhelmed.  None of it is full time and some weeks all I work are a few shifts in the yarn store.    

I am looking for something else.  In the next few weeks I will submit the last assignment for my provincial instructor's diploma.  I have 15 miscellaneous first and second year courses, mostly in psychology, biology and sociology.  I am a Red Seal carpenter.  I am 49.  

I am feeling quite freaked out, to be honest.  There has not been a great deal of heavy construction in my area for several years now, and there is no word that anything is going to start before spring.  I hate framing and would rather do anything else than build houses. There are currently no jobs available for carpentry/scaffolding, etc instructors anywhere in my area.  Further, I feel quite strongly that I have given enough effort to this construction thing anyway.  It's time to do something else, but I really don't know what the hell that is.  

Monday, 19 October 2015

All I Have to Say About That

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!