Pics of Last Year

The World Press Photo exhibition is on display at Canadian War Museum these days. You see such pictures sometimes on the internet, in presentations you skim through. Colourful or toned-down, beautiful or horrific, telling of ordinary or amazing moments. In exquisite captures of life glimpses, death is many times featured as a reminder that we are only given one limited chance to make it right.

I felt just that as I was strolling through the labyrinth of panels. There were fires, and guns, and gangs of South America; Russian university graduates, now prostitutes, exposed through almost Romantic-like nudes; refugees crying for help; the inevitable discourse of pollution and deforestation; abused women of Africa; abused-otherwise North Koreans; terrorism, the new type of war… Whether human red, forest green, water blue, blood was there in the photos, pulsating under live skins or wasted on the ground.

With every picture left behind, my sense of gratitude grew. Clean water, safe home, the end of communism in the Soviet block, my decision – then constant determination – to get over abuse and toxic relationships, civilization (whatever whoever says, that is a Western invention), friendship, love, family, care…

I did not speak much this evening. We ate a rather ready-made dinner, the five of us – I must admit there have been better family portraits. My teenage daughter disappeared shortly afterwards, anger still on her face. It has been a hard year for her, the last few months in particular. But hey, wounded pride keeps her from saying sorry and start anew – for now. I exchanged a few more positive thoughts with my son and marveled quietly at his change of attitude lately; he’s also been a great help around the house. I glanced outside the window at the beautiful garden my husband and I managed to put together this past spring and summer – was it proof that our marriage works? Night slowly settled in. I held my little one as she went to sleep and I cried for forgiveness.

Indeed, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. Only love and faith last. Love cures prostitution, hunger, violence, greed, pride, indifference. Love is our humanly attribute which makes us in God’s likeness. Life is love. Even The Beatles were right: all you need is love. And every picture, sad or happy, beautiful or terrifying, darkened or hallowed, one way or another is about love.

As I said my prayers, I looked up at the icons on the wall, straight into the eyes of Jesus and His Mother. Infinite calm, unbound steadfastness. Always there for us. No need to worry. Just believe.

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Colour

Life happens. What a truism. My only excuse for not keeping up with this blog. Joy… Oh well, it sometimes vanishes in thin air, don’t we all know the tune. Yes, but if you care to look for it, it’s painted here and there on the canvas.

I find joy in many things – which is a blessing and a curse at times, as blessings and curses have a way of working, in pairs. I wanted to draw today in preparation for an exhibition I was invited to put up later this year. Of course I got caught up in reorganizing the many papers and stuff where I keep the drawing tools etc. and then I started to look through some architecture books about Romania. There is one in my library about traditional houses in the Danube Delta. I knew about the vivid colours they use there for decoration – but this time I came across a lovely pattern of blues and greens which tell stories of life under a clear sky, close to the water, embraced by leaves.

Enjoy and maybe go visit the area!

(Photos from Stuf: Traditional Houses from the Danube Delta, Igloo 2008)

NO to Paris

6:45 am Phone call before my wake-up time. I glance at the screen, it’s my daughter calling from Paris. I quickly compute: she should be out and about, is she having trouble?

“Hi, sweetie. What’s up?”

Devastated voice at the other end, crying big tears.

“I wanna come hooooome… I don’t want to beeee heeeeere…”

Oh. The fit. First time in Paris and the image doesn’t correspond. She’s been there only two days, it’s been raining, the boutique hotel is not up to her high standards, nothing works the way it should (lovely word!) etc. etc. At 19 years old, she has acted like an entitled brat for some time – Paris is the perfect place to graduate to kindergarten. What are you, 3?

“You can’t come home. You’re in Paris. Make the most of it.”

Silence.

“Have you just woken up?”

“No, I woke up really early and I was out walking for two hours, but it’s cold and people are rude and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry I woke you up…”

She didn’t want to take warmer clothes and the good fancy jacket is hanging in our closet at home. Oh well. Mom’s usually wrong, right?

“Baby, it’s OK. Come on, it’s gonna be good. You know what you can do? Go get something nice to eat, a croissant and a coffee, then head to the Lafayette Department Store. It’s beautiful, smells good, it’s inside, so you won’t be cold. And then you can stroll through the covered passages, they’re nearby – Panoramas, Jouffroy… Perfect for a day like this.”

“Oooo..key…”

Galeries La Fayette 2 (Large).jpg

I spent a few more minutes of encouragement, then went back to bed to cuddle a few more minutes with my younger one before actually getting up for the day. I stifled the thoughts of worrying needlessly for my little teenager and I found myself laughing at how God puts us in quite amusing situations to guide us back into reality-check. Of course, it’s amusing for Him and others noticing it from the outside. It’s not exactly amusing on the inside. It feels stupid and annoying on the inside.

As I write this, I’m having my coffee before starting my day and week. Outside, it’s colder yet sunnier than in Paris, and there’s nothing particularly exciting in my weekly plan, just daily life in a rather boring Canadian city. My coffee is warm and I got kisses and hugs from my other two kids before they left for school earlier. The feeling still lingers – it’s very, very nice to be loved. Yes, I could have been in Paris with my husband now if I hadn’t chosen to give our daughter the opportunity to accompany her dad to see Ville Lumiere. Am I sorry having given up my place to someone who doesn’t even appreciate it? No. She’s that part of recalcitrant me who needs to learn one or two things about how changing viewpoints has an impact on the whole perspective. I can draw in perspective and I know how viewpoints work – but man, did I have to practice it literally and figuratively to actually get it! She’s gonna get it too. We all can, if we want to try.

I have faith in her. She’s gonna come back from Paris with a new appreciation of things. And if she doesn’t get that, well, that just means she’s in for a longer ride. It’s gonna take more Parises, more rains, more love, more trials. How many times do we say NO to things before we say yes? People who care for us would try their best to make us feel better, but it really is up to us to truly feel better.

Hey, guess what – she just wrote to me to say she’s heading out. Can’t wait to hear how she enjoyed it. Now, how good are you going to make your life today? Find your Paris, let me know.

 

Enough

What a funny little word, isn’t it? A word that expands into a whole universe of stars and black holes. Especially dark ones.

You’ve had enough to drink. She doesn’t know when enough is enough. There isn’t enough money to do this. Love isn’t enough.

Or in disguise: You can never be too kind. Never say never. You could do this better. Can you stop? (please)

It started with the day I came back from getting the results to a difficult exam. Back in those days, in the country I grew up in, compulsory public education finished with grade 10: that meant kids had to take an exam to prove their worth right in the middle of high-school. Ridiculous, if you asked me then – and I still think so. One had to pass a couple of entry exams to go to high-school anyway, and there would be another series at the end of it to get the “baccalaureat” (very much in the French tradition). That middle-exam series only added extra pressure and, in truth, it was one of the mechanisms which the communist regime used to ensure people didn’t have much time for free thinking (’cause they would start getting ideas that the system was not quite right, right?) There were two such exams scheduled at the end of grade 10, and they were specific to the program of the respective high-school (some schools focused on sciences, other on languages, or arts, or medicine… very regimented to being with). At my school, I had to do a math exam and a physics exam. My grandfather was a well-known tutor of math who gave excellent instruction to countless kids grade 5-12. I was his only (and quite favourite) granddaughter. I owe him every bit of math that I know – and I know a lot! Throughout the year, we’d had our lessons in a group and all of us were doing well.

The exams were difficult, as they usually were at that stage. Only 60 would be able to promote to grade 11 – those who didn’t… well, they’d have to get a job (which was almost impossible without connections) and try again next time, and ONLY for evening classes. I was good at physics though not excelling: still, I got a 7.5 or so (out of 10). The math exam, I had taken extra care with: not only I was confident I did everything well, but I provided a double way of solving some of the exercises, and my writing was organized and truly impeccable. I was not surprised to see I got a full 10. Altogether, my over 8 average mark pushed me into the successful candidates. I was proud of myself and for no small reason.

So, big smile on my lips, I went to my grandfather and I announced my victory. He looked at me and said: Daniela did better. (Daniela was another student from our math lesson group) I said: what? What do you mean? He said: Daniela got over 9 average. I said: that’s irrelevant. Daniela is not in the same high-school; and by the way, how much did Daniela got in math? 9.4, he said. Well, I got a 10 in math AND I made it to grade 11 – shouldn’t this be enough for you?

He never answered that question. The smile faded from my lips gradually, my self-confidence stood fighting. In two years time, I would flunk the very difficult entry exam for the Architecture School: not the preliminary drawing exams (in spite of my Dad telling me I can’t draw well enough), but the geometry exam – my best subject. Both Dad and Granddad told me openly they were ashamed with me. I waited another year, tried again: guess what, I flunked the drawing. And then I did something they thought was crazy. I registered for the entry exam of the Math course at the University. Those were the hardest math exams ever. Dad and Granddad felt funnily proud I’d choose that, but they didn’t get me at all. I couldn’t care less if I made it into that program, I didn’t want to be a math teacher, just wanted to see if I could get a passing mark: and I did. I got over 5 average for math international Olympics questions. Right that moment, I knew I would pass the entry exam for the architecture school the following year.

Long story short, I finished architecture school and went on to Cambridge for my Masters degree. My grandfather had died in the meanwhile, but my father was secretly delighted. After immigrating to Canada later on, I spent another seven years over a doctorate only to see my academic teaching dream dripping like sand through my fingers as I sat down to write my thesis: at 40, I had become pregnant with my third child. I gave birth to the child and raised her along with my other two teenagers, while crying my head off and writing the doctorate. I was made to feel a not good-enough mother for crying over such a pathetic career meltdown. PhD under my belt, I accepted to teach drawing and geometry to college students who wouldn’t come to class and who wouldn’t do their homework, despite my best efforts to engage them. I was sacked when I refused to pass those students.

Nothing I’ve done was considered enough. They planted this idea in my head at a time when I was young, happy and confident. They did not celebrate my successes. They made me feel little and insignificant. They told me it’s my fault for this and this and this. I had to take the blame, whether it was my owning or theirs. They trapped me in this funny game and, ever so slowly, I became “they”. My self-confidence was nowhere in sight. I started to tell myself my dreams don’t matter; what use is to try this, I don’t know enough to make it work; I started to feel guilty when thinking of celebrating me simply because some of them thought that’s selfish. When I came to the full realization of this, I was (might I dare say, rightfully) angry. My love turned to hate. I wanted them gone, out of my life, but some just wouldn’t disappear. It was as if invisible murky threads made them cling to me, and I was trying in vain to clip and cut and push aside. Nightmarish, really.

Eventually, I took on a minimum wage job as an assistant in a Kumon centre where the enthusiastic and actually lovely owner would gently prevent me to teach – I was there only to welcome students and to grade their papers, not to instruct them: that was her job. I felt not good enough. Everything was pointing to giving up, so I willingly gave up that job too. “The kids will miss you…”

Days came and went, as I tried to fight my returning depression. Something very deep inside, in the dark hole of my guts, said you’re not a total quitter. Luckily, I had learned to notice the colours around me, the light, the music, and every now and then a ding of a text from good friends asking how I am. “You’re the best mom in the entire world, I can’t stop loving you!!!” And those diplomas on the wall in our home-office… tacky, I know. I have a more than patient editor at a famous university press waiting for me to finish the manuscript of a book from my thesis. Why would I do it when there’s no academic career at the end of it? Or is it… could it be? Does it matter.

And one day… I understood. Out of the blue. That happy, confident girl is still alive in me – maybe not kicking much, as she’s felt down lately… well, for about 30 years, on and off. She is not that young, but man, does she have some other good stuff up her sleeve. She’s used her time well. She has accomplished many things just by forging on. She’s raised three great kids, she’s taught some others, she’s cooked a few good meals, she’s been a friend. She has a good group of “they” who love her truly. When she wants to, she’s fantastic! It really isn’t all the work of her dear magic wand…

OK, enough with this! Did you get the message?

Time for a Treat

Thursday morning. Man, it’s the middle of the week. Bad news: work is still there and won’t go away by the weekend (worse than bad news: you don’t have a job; keep reading and hopefully you’ll find some helpful ideas below). Good news: you can take a break any time to recharge your batteries. And what better time than today!

Today you’re gonna GO OUT and have coffee, tea or lunch. With or without a friend. Preferably “with” – a friend who’ll have coffee with you at any time really cares for you and…

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(yes, this is my photo of a sewing kit I bought and I intend to sew this little thing – will post it when ready)

But maybe you are a loner and you don’t have friends (yet! – you’ll make some in due time, plus see picture above). That’s OK, you have a date with your best “friend” then: YOU.

You’re gonna dress nicely for this, even if you go to the cheapest place in town. Why? You respect yourself, you respect your audience, friends, family etc. It all starts with you. Even Jesus Christ gave us the command as such: “Love your neighbour like yourself.” Well, if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love someone else. Makes sense? That coffee you’re gonna have will make YOU feel good first and foremost, whether you’re helping yourself or others. Get that?

So start with putting on your best comfortable clothes and shoes. Open the door and go straight to that shop and try spot a table by the window or by the fireplace or in a nook. It’s part of treating yourself. Enjoy every sip. This is not the time to start dieting (by the way, any diet sucks – if it’s not attached to a doctor’s prescription or to a healthy and balanced pattern of fasting, don’t inflict it on yourself. I’ll write a separate posting about fasting, promise.)

Talk to your friend or to your self. Take that half an hour or more to focus on positive things. It’s OK if you need to cry and be comforted, just try not leave the table on a sad or angry note. Think of something good for that last sip.

Worst case scenario: you’re totally miserable, you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any money, your best clothes are mostly rags. OK. All it takes is your will power. Do you wanna feel better? Here’s what you do: You put on your best rags. You take a look at that Monday mirror and see that you’re enough the way you are. You get out of your current physical environment and step into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of water and sit by any available window for 10 minutes. Think about the good stuff in your life, anytime, anywhere. There must be something, dig deep into your memory and let the good bits resurface. If a bad memory tries to take over, push it aside gently saying: “I don’t need you right now.” You do this exercise as often as you can (think of), and in a short time you’ll feel better, more confident, richer and more sociable. Stick to it, baby. It’s called the discipline of feeling good.

In any of these instances, appreciate you took the time to dress up and go out because you deserve it.

Happy Thursday!

 

You and I

Don’t put me in a box

I am not a collection butterfly 

I am a bird who soars high 

Don’t put me in a cage 

I am not your party nightingale 

I am an eagle wbo conquers

Don’t close the skies on me

I am not your quiet moon 

But the cloud that glitters light

and the cloud that weeps when it wants

Don’t forbid me to cry

For I shall engulf you in my rage

And you shall be left spent

For nothing

And most of all

Don’t trap me in your little confusion

I am crystal clear 

and True

and Free

And there is no way you will mould me

Into what you want

Understand and feel it in your bones

That I am not yours to catch and behold

Don’t judge me for what I am not

Love me for who I am.

And then

Only then

You will be my darling

And I shall be yours. 

A Woman’s Job

Is it career or is it family or is it both? Or is there any other choice?

I’ve been torn between choices for a good number of years. In world’s years, that means nothing – in the finite time of my life, it feels too long. Time is precious and how can I use it wisely? I can do many things, literally. And when I say I can do them, that means well enough. I can draw, cook, write, teach, solve difficult problems, sew, knit, garden, design architectural plans. I can keep deadlines and manage projects of all kinds including the complex ones of a five-people household. I know the sophisticated grammar of two languages, a lot of history, advanced Math, geography, physics and politics. Some may think it’s ridiculous I can’t decide, that I don’t have a career. After all, women these days can do everything. Well, that’s exactly the problem, I’d say.

We are conditioned to think about what we’ll become when we grow up. It’s in what you’re taught when young, in your parents’ behavior and their life choices, it’s in your peers’ success (or lack of) and personal relations – ultimately, it’s in how much you let all of these affect you. Add to this your partner’s behavior, goals (or doubts), dreams and actions – that’s a biggie for no small reason: you two are supposed to share a life together.

Is it any wonder that contemporary women like me find themselves tangled in definitions of womanhood? At times, we can be focused or unfocused, depressed, overwhelmed, excited, sad, good busy, bad busy, frustrated – are we happy though? Are we at peace with our choices – or the incapacity of making at least one? Happy to be vertical, happy to breathe. Are you? There’s so much pressure. It has always been, but if we try compare to past times, it does look like there’s much more to fit in a day. It’s hard to resist that – especially when everybody behaves (and expects others to act) like a computer.

We do have many dimensions, but see, we’re not machines. Despite their amazing managing capacity (which is a thing of the head) women are ruled by their heart, and their actions – analytical as they may be – carry the heavy burden of pain. Formerly abused girls or women are likely to develop into feminist bitches who abuse others, or depressed addicts of sorts who continue to let themselves be bullied. It is quite rare that such women would snap out of destructive patterns and become balanced individuals.

Is this generalizing? Probably – and I’m no psychologist so I shouldn’t even talk. In my little life experience, I had lost some of my feminine dimensions along the way. Once aware of that, I have tried hard to retrieve them, as if they were applications which I could upload back into my system after a reset to factory standards. Hmm… some worked, some didn’t. Sure they didn’t – what factory am I talking about? Maybe it’s a matter of time and discipline. Maybe it’s matter of acceptance, of loss, of aging, of trust and belief.

A friend brought me some colorful yarns yesterday and I got inspired to start knitting. As I was doing row after row, I remembered how long it takes to make a pullover. In contemporary currency, it’s not worth it. I could spend my time much more efficiently. My thoughts floated to my mother who would knit and knit in the dullness of the office in the hydro-energetic institute where she worked. There were not many projects which engineers would work on during those communist years. People showed up at work in the morning and found ways to fill their 8-hour work days. My mom was a trained engineer whose real profession was to make colorful clothes for us in a country wrapped in gray bleakness. She would sew and knit countless pieces. I was the best dressed teenager in the high-school, no kidding. Not one single item survived… I gave them away, stupid me. Well, they did lose appeal, they went out of fashion. Thinking back, I should have kept some because they had timelessness sewn in. Fortunately, I still have some cards she wrote after we immigrated. I miss her.

I also miss my grandmother. She had worked twelve years in a flour factory moving heavy sacks around and when she finally retired, she cleaned our house, she cooked good food. She was quiet and stern. She was the reliable background, not much of a different career than that. I miss some of my teachers too, and colleagues from the museums and architectural companies I have worked for. They were exquisite professionals who did their jobs well. And as The Beatles say, some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all.

Is it then only love that remains? Do you, my dear fellow woman, know the power of your heart? If there is pure love in your work, you are blessed. If you can wrap your family in love and give them hope and courage, you are blessed. If you can do everything, then you are blessed. And if you cannot decide on more than today’s effort, you are still blessed. A woman’s job may very well be that undefined matter of the heart, which takes shape according to the circumstances. Sometimes, we need to use the brain to get things straight – but please, please don’t dwell in the analytics. It’s hard when they tell you differently, when both men and women try to convince you that you’re a man. It’s hard when you’re a good planner. It’s very hard to detach but it’s worth it. Peace is not found in charts and problem solving, but in songs and in the – sometimes annoyingly perfect – geometry of the circle. The wheels of the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round… all through the town…

Woman, you can bring misery or you can bring joy. What would you like to be remembered for? Do you care to be remembered?

I am too scattered. Can I love so much?