Category Archives: Arlene Smith
This past weekend the streets of downtown Ottawa, Canada overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people thronging to see La Machine.
The “travelling urban theatre” made its North America debut in my hometown as part of our ongoing Canada 150 celebrations. A gigantic mechanical dragon and spider wandered through the streets and public parks for a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings.” The creatures lived, breathed (sort of) snorted and farted (really), and walked among the people of Ottawa 24 hours a day for four days as they pursued their quests. My social media feeds and the Ottawa news channels were full of pictures and videos of these feats of engineering at play in our city. The dragon and the spider were a huge hit.
As cool as that all sounded, as unique and interesting as it seemed, I could not summon the interest in going to see it for myself.
Cottages called to me. I spent the weekend in peaceful surroundings. Sun, water, relaxation. I couldn’t bear the thought of those crowds.
Last week, before the dragon and the spider descended on my city and before the hundreds of thousands of people flocked to see them, I went for a walk downtown. At the heart of Ottawa, a few hundred feet from Parliament Hill, I encountered these baby bunnies. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. By myself I spent some quiet moments with the bunnies.
For me, quiet moments with those bunnies beat noisy dragon time.
I just finished reading Stacey May Fowles book, Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me. I read chapter after chapter thinking, “Yes! She gets it.
She writes about going to baseball games alone (done it), treading with reverence on the turf of the Skydome/Rogers Centre (done it), stopping at empty baseball diamonds and taking time there to meditatively soak up an atmosphere that feels sacredly church-like (done it), going to games with dad on Father’s Day (miss it), stepping out of social events to check on the score of Jays games (do it all the time), and so on. Chapter after chapter she touched on subjects I could relate to.
It’s not easy being a female baseball fan.
Many times I have been involved in baseball conversations with people and made comments about a particular game or a team or player—comments that reveal my baseball knowledge as much more than casual or superficial—only to see a look of startled re-evaluation appear on their faces.
Most people don’t expect a woman to really know the sport.
I don’t make a secret of my passion for baseball. Our son plays, so we travelled with him all over southern Ontario and the northern U.S. for years. And I often joke about how my favourite time of year is when I give my television remote a good workout by watching baseball, hockey, tennis, and curling all at the same time. It’s even part of my official biography on this site. People know this about me.
But I don’t brag about my love for baseball either. Maybe I need to start, because it’s apparent people don’t fully understand.
Last Tuesday night I hosted my book club at my house. Before the event started, I was home alone—my husband out at his usual Tuesday night tennis match. My friends wouldn’t arrive until 7:30p.m., so at 7:00 I turned on the TV thinking I could catch the first 20 minutes of the Jays game. I was annoyed to discover a 30-minute rain delay in Boston. “Great,” I muttered. “Now I won’t see any of the game.”
I stayed with the channel though, because any baseball is better than no baseball. I watched Baltimore and Texas, quite happily until my book club friends arrived. When I saw the cars pull up I left the TV on so I could peek in and check the score later in the evening when I was preparing the refreshments.
I ushered my friends in, and as we walked by the TV one of them said, “Don (my husband) must be here.”
“No,” I said. “He’s playing tennis.”
“Oh?”my friend said. “Who’s watching baseball?”
“I am,” I said.
Surprised into silence, my friends carried on into my sunroom for our book club discussion.
It struck me how my friends—who know me so well—could not believe that I would watch a game by myself, by choice. They assumed a man needed to be around to make that choice and then I would just follow along. They would certainly not guess that of all the viewing options on any given evening, baseball is my first choice. I felt just a little like I’d been caught watching porn, or something that I should feel guilty about.
I don’t feel guilty. Baseball for me is not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure.
Not everyone understands, but it’s good to know that at least Stacey May Fowles gets it.
I felt I had to follow up my previous blog about the never-ending story with this post on a similar theme.
I was a pre-school playgroup leader for a time when my children were young. For each day’s session I prepared a craft for the kids. I cut out all the bits and pieces so I could give each child with exactly the same materials. I made a sample of the craft so I could hold it up for all to see.
“This is what we’re making,” I said before setting them lose to create.
If there were 15 kids in the group, at the end there would be 15 completely different crafts.
I admired (and envied) how freely those children followed their artist souls and created without apprehensions about what other people might think. I loved how they danced with excitement with their finished products in hand, no matter what they looked like.
A workshop at the writers’ conference I attended recently reminded me of this.
In the workshop led by Cordelia Strube we worked together to come up with a particular set of circumstances and characters, and then we each wrote individually for about 20 minutes. After the time was up we shared our work.
If there were 20 of us in the group, there were 20 completely different stories.
Once handed the common building materials, each of us scanned them to see what resonated with us individually. We attacked the story from starting points and viewpoints that felt right to us.
Writers in a workshop setting strive to be like those children doing crafts: honouring our artist souls and opening to inspiration, ideas and images, unimpeded by barriers and apprehensions. When we succeed at this, the work we come up with amazes us—shocks us, even—because it’s better than anything we could have foreseen in advance, with all our adult barriers in place.
When we get out of the way of our artist soul, the spirit of the work is good. True.
Astonishing, every time.
At what point in your life have you compared yourself with others?
What has made you say, “I will never be able to (sing, act, paint, write, run, kick, score, pitch, speak, draw, teach, etc.) like that? I might as well chuck in the towel now, because I’ll never be that good.”
It happens to writers often. We read a book or passage and think, “That is so well written. I could never have created something like that. Maybe I should just set down my pen (or laptop) right now.”
At the CanWrite conference in Toronto, Canada on the weekend, keynote speaker Alissa York addressed this issue. She said that comparing our fledgling writing projects to completed gems is like comparing an apple seed to an apple pie. If we spend our time drooling over someone else’s pie, we ignore our own seeds. Better to spend our time, she suggested, planting our own seeds in good soil, watering them, placing them in the sun, watching over them and nurturing them. Doing so allows our apple seeds to grow into mature trees that bear fruit with which to make our own version of a delicious pie.
And all the while we are helping our seeds to transform, we can also dig in and enjoy those other pies, instead of wasting time drooling over them.
In honour of National Aboriginal Day in Canada on Wednesday, June 21, I am sharing the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. This traditional story, given to our First Nations early in their history, applies to all people in all times.
The Creator gave seven Grandfathers, who were very powerful spirits, the responsibility to watch over the people. The Grandfathers saw that people were living a hard life. They sent a helper out to spend time amongst the people and find a person who could be taught how to live in harmony with Creation.
Their helper went to the four directions to find a person worthy enough to bring to the Grandfathers. He came across a child, and he tutored the child in the “Good Way of Life.” Each of the Seven Grandfathers gave to the child a principle.
Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom.
Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence” or “knowledge.”
Love: To know Love is to know Peace.
Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. This form of love is mutual .
Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect.
All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected.
Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.
This means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant.
Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave.
Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others.
Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation.
This can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but you are not better.
Truth: Truth is to know all of these things.
Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.