In Her Words

The River – a beginning

The following is a work-in-progress that began as an image during one of my summer nostalgia tours in south Richmond and became the beginning of a fictional family saga inspired by a trip I took to New Orleans a few lifetimes ago… I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The river has always sustained me. Always flowing, whether calm and sparkling in sunshine or roiling with a winter storm amid the chaos that so often threatened to engulf me, it continued its path just beyond the rise behind our house. It was the refuge to which I escaped when there seemed nowhere else to go.

The sound of the river could drown out my mother’s rage and still the fear in me, as it rippled past our house. I don’t know if the others felt the same way about our river, but in some ways, I think of it as one of the family.

We didn’t always live beside the Fraser River; Mama was a bit of a nomad during our earliest years, but when we finally found the house by the river, we all knew we’d come home. It was then I could feel my real life begin.

I was the youngest of five kids, born of four different fathers – my mom is a champ among single mothers. She has a lot of love in her heart – she loves each of us in different ways, according to who she was at the time of our birth. My sister tells me I got the best of her, and she’s probably right. I remember my mom crawling into bed with me when I was young, as was her habit, and whispering to me, thinking I was asleep and only my subconscious could hear.

“You are my anchor. No matter what chaos the day has brought, I can come to you, lie here and it all drifts away. At the end of the day, my anchor keeps me safe until the morning when I can lift it up and take it with me on my journey once again. But at night, my anchor keeps me from floating away with the chaos.”

I always wondered if she said that to all of us, or just me.

Big Sis, or Elzie, is more like Mama than Mama is. Her name is Elizabeth, but I didn’t even know that till I was about 6 or 7. We always called her Big Sis. Elzie kinda runs things. Mama always says we’re mirror images of each other, but I don’t see it. We’re nothing alike, me and Big Sis. She is the oldest, I’m the youngest, she has this massive head of big beautiful ringlets, the colour of copper and eyes that flash hazel-brown with specks of gold around the middle. Her skin is smooth caramel, the melted kind for dipping apples in, and she would be the most beautiful girl in the world if her lips weren’t always pursed and her jaw tightened with anger. She’s got a fierce temper when things don’t go her way – which seems to be most of the time and she can really let me have it, if I don’t listen when she’s telling what to do. I used to fight with her alot when I was younger, but I don’t bother most of the time anymore. There’s no winning with her and I can tell it upsets Mama. So mostly I just hold my tongue when she gets all wound up.

Elzie’s had it the hardest of all of us. It was just her and Mama in the beginning. You see, Big Sis never knew her Daddy, and I know that bugs her. She’d never say it out loud, but I know she’s lying when she says, “I don’t think about him – can’t miss what you never had.”

Mama says she met Elzie’s Dad on her first trip to New Orleans. 

“The Big Easy – just like me!” Mama says with a laugh, everytime she tells the story… usually when Big Sis is out of earshot.

“Mardi Gras may be fine for all those Spring break college kids, but the best time to go to N’Awlins is during the Jazz Fest. It isn’t just Jazz you know – there’s so many flavours of music on that playing field – you’ve never heard such sounds! Blues, gospel, cajun, folk, bluegrass and jazz – and how many kinds of jazz are there?”

We’d all start blowing our imaginary horns and parading around the living room waving our pretend umbrellas in the air. Mama loves New Orleans jazz.

And while she was whooping it up on Bourbon Street, she ducked into a bar to escape a sudden spring rain. No sooner had the bartender brought her a bloody caesar, but this smooth talking man sidled up to her table.

“Cameo’s the name and blowin’s my game,” he says to her.

“Excuse me?”

“Blowin’- playin’. Jammin! Lady, you’re in the jazz capital of the world during High Holy Days my dear. What do you think I do?”

And right there at the table he put his hands to his mouth and mimed the keys of the saxophone solo that was playing on the stage by the open window.

At this point in the story, Mama would get this far away look on her face as she described how music filled the streets of the French Quarter. Every bar and cafe had a live band playing with their doors flung open so the music spilled out for everyone to hear. A grand cacophony of jazz smashing together in the air.

And she was instantly smitten by this charismatic jazz musician with the crazy name. Cameo.

Now Elzie doesn’t play any instruments and she’s not big on jazz music either, but there are times when she’s had a few drinks and my brother Andy puts on his country tunes that Big Sis will throw her head back  with those wild ringlets flying and I think I can see a little fire from that jazzy sax player from New Orleans.

Elzie doesn’t talk about it much – Mama’s the story teller. She loves telling us all tales from before we were born, but sometimes in the quiet of a long sleepless night when Jaron’s up to no good or we’re all worried about Calla again, Elzie will tuck me into bed and tell me the parts that Mama only told her.

“It might have only been a week, but they loved each other,” she whispers as though sharing secrets of the Pyramids of Egypt.

“I know Mama laughs it off now as just a vacation fling, but they were soulmates and she never forgot the way he made her feel.

That first night, they sat for 3 hours drinking bloody caesars and talking about how much they loved New Orleans and why they’d both come that week. Later Cameo invited Mama to listen to him play all the way Uptown at a place famous for its Cajun gumbo and dance rhythms. She’d never heard anything like it before – Cajun music has its roots in French Canadian folk. “It’s this fantastic blend of French, Spanish and Black American jazz – it’s got a sound all its own.”

And then of course she carefully pulled a box out of the closet we shared from way back of the top shelf, where Calla nor I would ever think to look, and from this box, she’d produce a cherished recorded album, ‘Live from Tipitina’s.’

Where she’d found it, I have no idea, but with this she would play the soundtrack from her parent’s first date.

“While Mama was listening, she couldn’t help but tap her feet and bounce her head in time to the tune. There she was, this lone young blonde girl clearly in thrall, so it wasn’t long before some boy asked her to dance. Well, Alma only had eyes for Cameo, but this was such a polite young man with the cutest Georgian accent, so she accepted, protesting that she didn’t know how to do a two-step. This perfect gentleman from Georgia patiently showed her the steps and before long she was swinging around the dance floor while Cameo wailed from the stage on his saxophone!”

At this point, Elzie and me both pause and grin at each other. We can see so clearly our mother, 23 years old dancing a Cajun rhythm in New Orleans. What a sight she must have been!

“When the band was done, Cameo came sailing down from that stage and scooped Mama up in his arms, twirled her around and planted a kiss on her right there in front of her southern gentleman dance partner. He was so gracious though. Just nodded his head and politely took his leave.

Cameo was so high after playing the set, and Mama was lit up from listening and learning a new dance. They ordered some gumbo with pints of beer and laughed the night away. Cameo teased Alma because the Cajun spices burned her tongue and made her eyes water. She washed it down with beer and gobbled up some more! 

Mama was enchanted with Cameo and the city and the music. It was like her life finally began that night, far from the boredom she’d known at home in suburban Canada, and the pressures she felt after making the move to Toronto. She was on her own in this magical place yet found her heart’s desire.

From Tipitina’s they stumbled out into the wee hours of a humid New Orleans night, too drunk to worry about the dangerous neighbourhood; Cameo determined to walk his new lady back to her hostel. They had the fearless bravado of young lovers swept away by their unexpected romance and surely a protective bubble surrounded them as he serenaded her softly through the still streets. They gradually made their way from the commercial area of Uptown, through industrial lands and finally entered the gilded residential opulence that was the Garden District.

Mama was floating along under the enormous trees, oblivious to everything but this beautiful, tall dark man charming her with his music that he improvised just for her. Until suddenly her attention was caught by a low brick wall running the length of the block and the haunting collection of crumbling brick mausoleums contained beyond it. Mama gasped.

“That’s the Lafayette Cemetery.” Cameo intoned with a grin.

“I knew it!”

“From those books you loved…” He remembered the reason she was there.

“Let’s go see whose lurkin’ about in there, shall we?”

Alma’s peals of laughter pierced the hushed quiet of the night and the two of them skulked off into the famous cemetery.”

Big Sis is convinced that’s where she was conceived, just as Mama told her.

It would explain her dark moods.

I think Elzie blames herself for everything – and tries to make up for it by being a second mother to us all. That way maybe Mama can have some kind of life besides being a mother. She has quite the burden on herself, Big Sis does, trying to make up for Mama’s shortcomings.

See, Mama returned from her vacation pregnant with Elzie and couldn’t finish school. She’d been training to be an actress, but her unexpected pregnancy kept her from completing her diploma. Instead, she started working full time at the restaurant where she’d been waiting tables and dropped out of school.

Big Sis thinks if it weren’t for her, Mama would be a famous actress by now – and sometimes Mama thinks so too, when Elzie’s being a real pain in the ass.

One time Big Sis was singing in the kitchen while washing up the dishes, singing along to an Etta James CD. She’s got a beautiful  singing voice. We all try to tell her that – well, except Andy who tells her she sounds like hyenas mating in winter – whatever that means. Mama was drinking red wine; she always pours red wine when she listens to classic jazz singers and she started in on Elsie about singing lessons again.

“Oh Mama, I’m not taking any singing lessons – they’re too expensive and what’s the point?”

Well that just set Mama right off.

“What’s the point?” she shrieked. “To DO something other than washing up the god-damned dishes all the time!”

“And who’s gonna do them if I don’t?”

“Well, maybe there’s more important things in life than washing dishes!”

“Like what, Mama?” Elzie sighed. She knew what was coming.

“Like using the talent that God gave you! My God Elizabeth, if I’d been able to sing like you… if I’d had the choices you do, I wouldn’t waste them washing dishes!”

I think Elzie just reached her breaking point that day, because usually she just shrugged off Mama’s harangues, or locked herself in the bathroom for awhile. This time though, she hollered right back.

“You did, Mama – you did have choices! You didn’t have to have a baby – it was Toronto for God’s sake – clinics on every street corner; you didn’t get pregnant in the 1950s – why not just get an abortion – or 3!”

“I tried to!” Mama screeched back. The room lost all sound. We all just stopped, simultaneously shocked. This was news. We had not heard this story before.

Mama took a big gulp of her wine, realizing what she’d just said in front of all of her kids – except Andy – he was out with friends.

She took a deep breath, then continued, quieter, more subdued – embarrassed by her outburst.

“I went to one of those clinics. I even filled out one of their forms. Then went and waited in a crowded room with all the other young women. They all looked so dejected and ashamed. I was so scared and disappointed. Heart-broken. Cameo hadn’t answered my letter. But I couldn’t get the picture of you out of my head, baby-girl. I could see you already in my mind’s eye and knew you’d be this amazingly beautiful and rare girl. I just knew – even though I barely felt you yet – I was only 8 weeks at that point. But I couldn’t let you go. So I left and never looked back.”

She smiled at my sister then, and an understanding passed between them that almost made up for all the resentment my mother had hurled at Big Sis in anger over the years. Almost.

The next day Elzie signed up for singing lessons and Mama said she’d never been so proud.

A year later, Big Sis announced that she was going to New Orleans just like her Mama did before her.

“I’m going to sing in all those jazz clubs on Bourbon Street!”

“Well, you better give a kick-ass audition lady-girl!” Was Mama’s tart response.

And then the two of them dissolved in a fit of giggles the likes of which I’d never seen before, or since, for that matter. 

Elzie had secretly saved for months, tips she’d earned at Pizza Hut waiting tables just like Mama had 20 years earlier.

She bought herself a little green Honda Civic and before we knew it, Big Sis was heading south. I couldn’t believe it. What would we do without her bossing us around, anymore?

Calla was overjoyed. 

“Hallelujah and good riddance!”

Calla hated Elzie, but Calla could find something to hate about most people. She just didn’t like being told what to do… “By my stupid sister!”

“Well, somebody’s got to put a rational thought in that thick skull of yours!”

“You’re not my Mama, Elzie! Big SIS – hear that? Sis!”

“Big Sis. Hear that? BIG!”

Elzie towered over Calla, till Calla squirmed and called for Mama.

“Work it out yourselves.” was always Mama’s reply. “I’m not a referee for God’s sake.”

Calla would storm off dramatically and slam her door. She had her own room because no one could live with her.

“I’ll send you postcards the whole way, and then when I get there, I’ll send you my address and I’ll write to you the whole time, so you’ll never even know I’m gone. You’ll write me back, right Squirt?”

Big Sis did have a way about her that always comforted me, even though she was so bossy. I was going to miss her.

I nodded and she gave me a big hug, while I fought back tears. I knew how much this meant to Big Sis, and I didn’t want to make her feel bad by crying.

“That’s my big girl! I’ll send you lots of pictures, too.”

She winked and smiled then – something I don’t remember seeing her do before. It was like she was a whole different person now that she was going someplace new. Her eyes sparkled with expectation of what lay ahead and I could tell she had no doubts whatsoever.

How could she do that? How could she know without a doubt that she was doing the right thing? In that moment, Elzie was the most amazing creature in the world to me. I envied and loved her at the same time. And I wondered what my adventure would be some day.

Before long, the postcards began to arrive. Pictures of ornate metal balustrades lining the streets of the French Quarter, the enormous clock tower overlooking Carre Square, the oak-lined streets of the Garden District, beignets at the Cafe du Monde, Preservation Hall, and of course, Tipitina’s… the renowned Cajun dance hall where it all began.

Big Sis made her pilgrimage to Tipitina’s and to Lafayette Cemetery too. I wondered if the real places lived up to the mythology that Elzie had built for herself – there was no way of knowing then from the brief notes that accompanied her postcards. It would be years before I heard Elzie’s story – as we sat in my room talking like we had done so many times in our youth. This time, it was her own story she told me, not Mama’s, tinged in stark black and white instead of the fanciful technicolour of Mama’s trip to New Orleans.

Elzie arrived for the first weekend of the Jazz & Heritage Festival. It had grown considerably since the days that Mama had been there, with numerous big name headlining acts. 

“Less jazz & heritage, more mainstream hype,” as Big Sis put it. But the small local flavour was still there with tents showcasing music of such variety that Elsie had never even heard before… bluegrass, rockabilly, dixieland, traditional jazz and Gospel. All alone, Big Sis traipsed those hallowed fairgrounds from tent to tent and stage to stage more inspired than she’d ever been by music (or anything else) before.

And then she found herself sitting in a Gospel tent, watching a family of singers that rocked her to her very core. The mother was a big old black woman with a voice that soared to the sky, while her husband was a David Crosby look alike, crooning and strumming along beside her with his rhythm guitar. Together, they sang a version of God Bless the Child that sounded like the angels themselves. But it was their back up singers that mesmerized my sister. Two fair-skinned black women just about the same age as Elsie, who looked as nearly like her as anyone she’d ever met. 

Back home, Elsie had stood out as being different. She’d never seen anyone who had quite her physical traits. She was unique, and had always known it. Now here, singing before her were two women, who looked as she did.

Big Sis let the words of God Bless the Child resonate inside her. Never before had she let any defining labels in and now somehow she could, in this Gospel tent in New Orleans. Tears streamed down her face as they never had before. The dam broke and Elzie let bear a bruise that she’d held for as long as she could remember, without ever realizing how deeply it had been held.

That was my sister Elizabeth’s introduction to New Orleans – the city of her conception.

She emerged from the Gospel tent into the bright hot New Orleans sun, wiping away the tears and feeling reborn into herself, at last. Her love had come along… a self-love that she’d never known in her brief, troubled years. As Elzie made her way through the milling crowds of festival revellers, her spirits bourne amid the great cacophony of music, she found herself moving in time to the exquisite rhythms, entranced with the beauty of the moment. And then, the skies opened with a decisive crack, and suddenly, the freed young woman was dancing under a deluge of heavy, tropical rain. Laughing joyously with the rest of the exuberant dancers, she danced her freedom dance, throwing her arms wide to the sky and letting the rain and the music wash her life’s sorrow away.

I smile when I picture Big Sis like that, soaked to the skin, finally catching the streetcar back uptown, water pooling on the seat from her dripping clothes, giggling and sighing happily to herself.

It was some time after that, Big Sis met Aaron and Marilyn.

She was staying at the youth hostel on a weekly basis, and had befriended her roommate there, Marilyn. Marilyn was a feisty young woman from Washington, DC who was ready to experience everything the Big Easy had to offer. She was street-smart with a fierce confidence that was belied by her diminutive stature. Yet there was a happy-go-lucky side to her that offset the bravado and made her an extremely appealing companion with which to explore the city. Marilyn and Elzie discovered the French Quarter together. Bourbon Street teamed with people as it always does, the special energy made it all the more glorious during the Jazz Fest. The girls floated along from club to club, catching a set here, kicking up their heels there, and well-lubricated with the signature Hurricane cocktails so freely poured on this famous street of excess and pleasure.

Marilyn delighted in the sheer debauchery of it all. She was a tourist and this was her two week vacation – solace from the business of DC, and she was determined to make the most of every second. 

Marilyn was a woman who drank in life and shied away from little, so it came as small surprise, when caught up in a moment of wonderment with each other and their heady surroundings, Marilyn reached out and impulsively planted a quick kiss on Elzie’s parted lips. The girls drew back and melted into a fit of giggles. They linked arms and danced on through the crowded street, pausing moments later to try one more lingering kiss. 

Peals of laughter lit the night again, as this electric kiss just struck them both as impossibly funny. Funny, that is, until Marilyn caught the eye of a man casting a disapproving glare in their direction. Marilyn was not about to let the moment pass. 

“What?” she bellowed above the din. “Never saw two women in love before?”

The man just shook his head and replied, “That’s not natural.”

“Oh really?” Marilyn shot back. “And that is?” She pointed to the GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS sign over the doorway of the strip club from which the man had just emerged.

“Hell of alot better than what you two was doing, that’s for damn sure.”

“So, it’s alright for you to pay women to stare at their naked bodies, with no feeling for them at all, beyond the size of their tits, but us being in love with each other is a sin?”

“Lust in any form is a sin – but I’m just lookin –  I ain’t touching.”

“Yeah but I said we’re in love – not lust.”

“That’s just sick.”

“So are you buddy. We’re all sick!”

“Bible says you’re an abomination.”

“It also says, ‘Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.’”

And with that, Marilyn turned to Elzie and gave her a long, deep sensual kiss. As the two of them trotted away hand in hand, she flipped him the bird behind her back, and the two erupted into laughter yet again.

The next morning, groggy from too many Hurricanes, the two girls hauled bags of laundry around the corner to Igor’s Pub, Pool Hall and Laundromat. They threw their loads in, settled onto the sunlit patio overlooking St. Charles Avenue, and promptly ordered two highly recommended Bloody Caesar hangover cures suggested by the friendly bartender.

It was the best Bloody Caesar either of them had ever tasted and Marilyn knew her caesars. Liberally spiced and spiked with vodka, it quickly worked to lift their spirits and they chatted happily reminiscing about the night before.

It was at that moment that Aaron appeared, slouching into the table next to theirs. Looking equally groggy himself, with unkempt, straggly hair loosely tucked up under a newsboy cap, Aaron had dark brown eyes and the face of the old country, contained within the costume of mid-90s grunge rock.

Big Sis was immediately fascinated by Aaron, which Marilyn instantly recognized, prompting her to strike up a conversation. Soon, Aaron was joining their table, more caesars were ordered and the three were laughing together like old chums. Marilyn’s boyfriend, Rich,  was arriving that night so she invited Aaron with them for a night on Bourbon Street. 

“Let’s stay away from the Hurricanes tonight though,” Elzie instinctively cautioned.

“Oh we won’t have a problem, there,” Aaron replied. “There’s a lot of alternatives to those over-priced, over-hyped tourist drinks.”

Within about an hour, the trio had returned their freshly laundered clothes to the hostel and spruced up for another night on the town. They met back at Igor’s where Marilyn nearly lost her shoe running to catch the streetcar. Leaping on just in time, they were off on their next adventure in the Quarter.

Rich already had a table at a Cajun seafood restaurant where crawdads were the house special. Big Sis had never tried crawdads before and she wasn’t too sure she’d like them. Up welled the fear remembered from her childhood beside the river. When the plate of steaming red shellfish were plunked on the table, Elzie flashed back to the fear she felt wading in the shallows of the shoreline and stumbling upon a crayfish. She gasped a little, and shook her head regretfully.

“I don’t know if I can eat those,” she said in a measured tone.

“Aw come on – they’re great!” Aaron encouraged her.

“Just try one,” he said, graphically snapping the tail from the shell.

“I’m sure they taste delicious,” Elzie replied. “But snapping them apart like that… They’re just too creepy piled on the plate like that.”

Aaron shrugged and popped the crawdad in his mouth whole.

“Mmmmm – so good.”

Rich and Marilyn were digging in hungrily and their sighs of satiated taste buds tempted Elzie’s curiosity.

Finally giving in, she snatched one of the frightening looking delicacies from the top of the pile and deftly snapped the shell off just as she’d seen Aaron do, a moment ago. With a deep inhalation of breath in went the meaty shellfish, quickly chewed and swallowed down.

The salty taste lingered on her tongue and it wasn’t altogether unpleasant, but the sensual experience of the whole bodied creature was too much for Big Sis, and she declined anymore.

Aaron grinned affably at her with a wink and a nod, then ordered a pitcher of beer.

The group of four young people celebrated with a hearty toast and when the last crawdad had been slurped down, they headed out into the New Orleans night to see what the city held in store.

Four shots of Patron lined the bar, topped by four slices of lemon. In a simultaneous motion Elzie, Marilyn, Aaron and Rich tossed back the tequila and sucked on the lemon slices.

“Salt is for wussies!” Rich exclaimed to no one in particular.

“Line ‘em up, Bartender – 4 more please,” chimed in Aaron. They turned back toward the dart board and resumed their game.

The Bourbon Street scene was in full flow and Elzie was having the time of her young life. She felt as if she’d known Marilyn and Aaron forever, instead of less than a week. They felt like her best friends, and she never wanted this night to end.

Tossing back another shot, Aaron planted a spontaneous kiss on her lips – just as Marilyn had the night before. The light in his eyes warmed her, and music suddenly lit up the stage. A saxophone player had launched into a solo – announcing the beginning of his set with a practiced flourish. 

Elzie returned Aaron’s kiss, responding to the intensity of the moment. The sound of the saxophone grew insistent and familiar. She could hear Marilyn’s laughter by the dart board. 

“It’s your turn, Lover,” she crooned.

The music on stage slowed, as Aaron’s lips slowly separated from hers – she looked at him in astonishment; he grinned back with an intimacy that felt like an embrace and as the saxophonist wound down the final notes of his solo, a voice intoned into the microphone.

“That’s right, folks. Welcome to The Absinthe on Bourbon St. Cameo’s my name, and blowin’s my game.”

Time stopped as Big Sis turned to the stage and saw her father for the first time.

To be continued… someday.

All Souls Day – Honouring my Mom

This Samhain, I’m taking a break amid a busy theatre season, to breathe and reflect on my matrilineal ancestors. Namely my mother, my grandmother and my aunt. All have crossed the veil now. And this season, I am inviting them back to offer me their wisdom as I head into the coming month of directing, performing and honouring my muse.

One of the gifts my mother gave me was independence of thought. While I always knew we were “Anglican,” she never dictated to me what that meant. She allowed me to discover a spiritual life of my own. At times, I felt adrift, with no direction, and I didn’t appreciate the freedom that afforded me to find God of my own free will. I searched for years as a younger person. I read all kinds of books… the Bible, the Tao, Mere Christianity, The Witches’ Almanac and a ton of others both fiction and non-fiction, that helped me go within and search for meaning in this oftentimes meaningless world. What that allowed me was to find an integrated sense of spirituality that was not dogma imposed upon me from without, but instinct that grew and flourished from within. So I recognise many holy days. And these mid-autumn days of the thinning veil, the end of the cycle of the wheel of life are among the most reverent for me. I love the fun of Halloween parties and dressing in all manner of costumes; one year I even attended a Wiccan Sabbat. A Catholic-raised friend who attended with me, remarked that it was quite similar to the Mass she attended every Christmas Eve as a child! For years, I faithfully took my daughter trick-or-treating in scary costumes and always described the Wiccan meaning of the holy day to her. This year she finally said, “I know, Mom – you tell me this every year…” LOL. It’s true. I do. I like to honour the spiritual and pagan roots of these holidays amid the commercial cacophony, while still allowing room for the fun of it.

For this, I have my mother to thank. For her lack of indoctrination and her permission to find my own meaning in my life.

Some years ago, the concept of three sisters began to bubble to the surface of my consciousness and took on particular significance for me. Macbeth’s three weird sisters grabbed my imagination, and when I journeyed to England following that production in 2013, I visited Bath, where among the ruins was a carving of three female figures in the ancient Roman baths that honoured the Goddess Minerva. The following year I directed a play about three sisters, The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls and a few years later still, I performed as the middle sister of three, Sister Theresa in Marion Bridge. Three plays, three sisters. My mother was the middle of three sisters, and if you can believe it, I have only just drawn that connection now, as I write this. In Wicca tradition, the triple aspect of the Goddess: Mother, Maiden and Crone mirrors the Christian trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. To me, they both exist in all of us as the feminine and masculine aspects of the Divine.

My mother’s older sister was named Marilyn, but everyone called her Dee Dee (or DiDi, DeDe, or just DD). I have no idea where it came from, nor how to spell it, but she was always my favourite Auntie Dee Dee. She died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was 19 and I was devastated. She had always been the member of the family with whom I identified. She was a writer and an actor, like me, but her disease prevented her from ever honouring her muse and for years I feared that hers would be my fate too. In the final years of Dee Dee’s life, we had begun writing letters to each other, after many years apart, during which she admitted her powerlessness to quit drinking. It had a profound impact on my own resolve and I faced that demon in my mid-20s before it could really take hold. So now, when I act, write and create, I do so in memory of my Auntie Dee Dee, who could never overcome her demon, and died alone, unhappy and ashamed of herself. I carry a wee bit of her shame in me, still. But every day, I wake up, put two feet on the ground and keep going for her, for me, for my daughter and for my mother, Donna, who also gave up her dreams at a young age.

Donna had been a figure skater as a young girl. And she was good. Long ago, she told me that she could have skated with the Ice Capades – she was that good. The way she told it, she was at the tryouts, where they were signing skaters up or dismissing them there and then. Mom watched as one by one the girls ahead of her took to the ice and showed the recruiters what they could do. And Donna knew she was better than the girl who was signed on the spot right ahead of her. So she left. She didn’t want to join the Ice Capades because it would mean leaving my father for the season, and she would miss him too much.

My parents’ wedding. The bridesmaids from left: Aunt Diane (Dad’s sister), Aunt Barb (Mom’s younger sister) and Auntie DeeDee

I never wanted to put a man ahead of my ambition. That was a lesson I learned very early on from my mother. My dreams came first.

In the final years of my mother’s life, we were largely estranged. I lived here in BC, while she convalesced for years after a devastating fall left her mostly paralyzed from the waist down. She had some movement in her legs, but she never fully regained their use and ended her life homebound for many years. It was a tragedy that I was never able to nurse her through. I was re-building my life here in Vancouver, raising a daughter on my own, and I left my mother to be cared for by my stepfather, her second husband of about 40 years. Two years after her death, the guilt weighs on me. And so I write this tribute to her as best I can, trying to find the legacy that she has left me, along with Dee Dee, and my Grandma Molly whose death I grieved long ago at the age of 11.

Mom learning to walk again with the help of her husband, Bob. 2002

When Molly died, I was still reeling from my parents’ divorce and my mother’s re-marriage. It was a difficult time to make sense of the loss, so I wrote a novella about a young girl who was dying of leukemia. Somehow, that outlet allowed me to channel my grief in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm me. I read that novella over the phone to Dee Dee, while she listened in rapt attention. Dee Dee always honoured and fostered my creative muse. I continue to channel my grief through my art to this day. As any of you who’ve lost a loved one knows, grief is a continuous process and I’m sure I’m not done yet.

I regret that my mother and I weren’t closer, but it’s a reality that I had come to accept over the years, as she had made it clear long ago where I fit into her priorities. “Amy, you’re my daughter and I love you, but in the end it will be my husband who is there for me, so I have to put him first.” And she was right. It makes grieving that much harder, ironically, because I just don’t really know how. I stopped missing her years ago. As a character in one of the plays I’m rehearsing right now says, “She’s been dead for forty years; we finally buried her.” That is a horrible thing to say in a memorial for my mother, but it’s true. In Donna’s case, it was after her accident in 2001. She never really recovered, and our relationship died a slow death, despite my faithful weekly phone calls. I don’t think my stepfather has ever forgiven me.

So, this is it. I have bared my soul on this All Souls Day, in memory of my mother, in confession of my sins as a daughter. In all likelihood, I will rarely speak of her again. But I will leave you with this… my mother was there for me at critical times during my life. Years ago, I was living in New York when I became pregnant and had an abortion. I only told my Mom after the fact, but she immediately booked a flight and came to New York to be with me. It was the only time in her life she would get on a plane to come visit me. I was her daughter and when she thought I needed her, she came to me.

Mom and Me with my niece, 1998 (left) and in Brampton, 1996 (right)

Finally, some years ago, I was reminded of the Catholic tradition of The Feast of All Saints (also a novel by Anne Rice), in which a feast is served on November 1st in honour of the saints and martyrs. It’s also a day of remembrance for loved ones who’ve passed, and at the time I had Dee Dee’s ashes with me, but had yet to take them to the trees and river where she and my mom now rest. So, I cooked a feast, set a place for Dee Dee, opened the door and invited her in. Within a few days, would you believe it? I got a friend request from Dee Dee’s daughter, a cousin I hadn’t spoken to in about 30 years. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I choose to think that Dee Dee snuck through the veil for a moment to reconnect through me and my cousin.

The great red cedar grove where Donna and DeeDee rest together.

In Anglican tradition, in which I had myself and my daughter baptized, All Souls Day is celebrated on November 2nd and is the day when we call our ancestors and invite them to come to us, to live within and through us. Today I cherish the memory of my mother, my aunt and my grandmother, all 3; I invite them to come to me, and remember that they will always live in me as the triple aspect of the goddess and my divine feminine. Blessed Be.

A video memorial for my mother: Sept. 6, 1941 – October 3, 2020

Trials and Tribulations of the Muse

I never would have thought…

My daughter is a rebellious teenager now and she reminds me so much of myself at the same age – bold, brash, opinionated and full of herself. Too smart for her own good, as my mother used to say. And like me at that age, she is quite convinced that she will never have kids. She remains open to the possibility of adoption, but definitely no biological children. It reminds me of the piece I wrote for my high school yearbook: The Trials and Tribulations of Motherhood, based on a disastrous babysitting experience. The final sentence is… “I never wanted children of my own anyway…”

My, how things have changed.

Not only do I have a child of my own who has given me more meaning and purpose than I ever could have imagined (along with plenty of trials and tribulations of course), but for the past 10 years, in addition to my creative pursuits as an actor, writer and director, I have worked at independent schools among children aged 11-18. I never would have thought I’d end up here. But what is most surprising is how much joy the children bring me every day. Not only did I swear, like my daughter does now, that I would NEVER have children, I also saw my father spend a 35 year career as a public school teacher, and swore that I’d never do that either. 

As I greet the students this morning with a smile at their endearing and exuberant energy, I am struck by how much I love working in a school.

“Are you coming to watch the volleyball game today, Ms. Amy?”

“My wrist is feeling much better, Ms. Amy – just wanted to let you know it wasn’t broken!”

“What club do we have today at lunch, Ms. Amy?”

“I’ll get that form to you today, Ms. Amy – I promise!”

Some days, the barrage of young voices coming at me has me questioning my life choices… why aren’t I doing creative work full-time, I wonder? Why am I still trying to squeeze it into my spare time, instead of earning my living as an artist? Well, that’s a complicated question with myriad answers, but the revelation comes on a daily basis that while this may not be the destination I had planned for myself, there are so many heartwarming moments that make me grateful for the journey nonetheless.

It is hard work every day, and I don’t get nearly enough time to pursue my muse, but the reality is that the children feed that muse in ways that I couldn’t guess at during my dark and turbulent teens and twenties. While my writing projects still turn toward the dark and dramatic side of life, in my daily routine, that darkness is offset most ebulliently by the tide of tweens and teens who ebb and flow through my life these past 10 years. And there are times when I actually catch my breath and feel the prick of tears in my eyes at the privilege I feel to watch these children grow up in front of me; to watch them experience their own trials and tribulations of adolescence, which today feel ever more compelling than when I was growing up. A privilege it is to bear witness to a young boy’s transition from female to male, and the discovery of his peers in nurturing and supporting that transition. A privilege it has been to listen while non-binary teachers discuss their gender identity, and a Black student describes his reaction to August Wilson’s incendiary work on screen.

Every student who brings me a hand-written card at the end of the school year erases the actions of the student who acts out in class or makes me question my validity as an educator. Yes, that has happened. As a specialist teacher who split my time with administrative duties, the respect of the students was hard-won. Teaching is a unique vocation that comes with its own trials and tribulations – and is not for the faint of heart – especially in the middle years, when hormones are more powerful than thought processes. But it comes with its own unique set of rewards as well, and that of course is the work that the students produce. When a shy and self-conscious student came to me in his Grade 9 year, interested in animation, I wasn’t sure I could help him very much as I was just getting my feet under me in the classroom and I knew nothing about animation. A year later, the class had produced scenes from his first script with an animated segment inserted into the live action, drawn and self-taught by this young and ambitious new filmmaker. When school returned in September, another student breathlessly told me that she’d spent her summer shooting the short film she wrote in my class last term. The thrill of mentoring young, under-represented filmmakers cannot be overstated. It takes all the stress of my day-to-day grind, along with the self-doubt of my artistic ambitions and melts it away into the confidence that my work makes a difference and has a purpose beyond my own ego. And for that I feel gratitude beyond measure each fall when school returns once again, and the students’ voices ring through the corridors in that cadence, at once energizing and exhausting in its relentlessness.

I just never would have thought…

Halloween 2021

In Her View on FlickFair

Hey Friends,

Today across North America, people are marching again for abortion access and reproductive justice, as part of the Women’s March who first rallied in 2017, coincidentally the same year I made my first short film, In Her View.

In Her View tackles the abortion debate from a personal, storytelling point of view, without trying to take sides or politicize a highly charged subject. However, the personal is always political when the right to choose is threatened as it is in Texas and the wider US today. While In Her View is ultimately about the power of storytelling to impact our beliefs, and although each character comes to the subject of abortion with a different story and a different view, the message is clear – every woman has the right to decide for herself when and if to become a mother.

In solidarity with our American neighbours, I invite you to revisit In Her View, seek out abortion organizations such as Exhale/Pro-Voice, Shout Your Abortion, Planned Parenthood, A is for, Abortion Rights Coalition Canada and many others who support people who need abortion care and are educating the public about the need for abortion access across North America.

You can subscribe to the October screening program at FlickFair for free using my code: FFVIP

Nostalgia Trip, Part 2

Fraser River, Richmond, BC

As the summer wound to it’s inevitable end, and I prepared to return to work, I took some time to de-clutter, clean and re-organize before the onslaught of the new school year kicked in. As luck would have it, during this process, I stumbled upon an old piece written in a journal from July 4, 2015 entitled, Nostalgia.

So, the theme continues… and in case you’re wondering, the area I describe wandering through is South Richmond… right next to the south arm of the Fraser River. 

My Dad is fond of the saying, “Don’t look back, we’re not going that way.”

It’s good advice, generally speaking, and comes in especially useful when recovering from past trauma or a particularly difficult phase of life. So, when I occasionally indulge in a visit through my past, as I do, from time to time, it is with a certain amount of abashed privacy – solitude. Memory Lane can be a lonely place.

Yet, I am drawn, again today, to a place that is relatively close in proximity to my present, though whenever I visit, it feels like traveling a far distance, – a foreign country, separated as it is from my current life, by about 30 years.

Me and Dad, Summer 1985

Today I walked in the footsteps of my 15 year old self, wondering why I felt compelled to do so, and with my father’s admonishment in my head. “We’re not going that way.” But I find the reflections it brings with it to be invaluable. 

Despite the march of progress with its new buildings, renovations and the relentless question in my mind, “What was THERE back then?” (The answer is probably, “Nothing but fields,” when you’re as old as I am and grew up in the suburbs), it comes with the sensation of actually going back in time.

With this time travel is allowed the ability to connect the dots between past and present in a way that may begin in a general sense of perspective about society and the passage of time, but with enough time and curiosity becomes personally quite relevant.

As I wandered the malls, streets and community centres of my youth, allowing a series of memories to soak through my skin like the heat of the summer sun, I saw myself – the girl I’d been. Better yet, I remembered her. I felt again her innocence and love for the world. I felt the exuberance of middle school dances. I felt the titillation (or was it shame?) of french kissing on the bleachers in the schoolyard after dark, and the fear of getting caught smoking my first joint. These feelings are what is known as sweet nostalgia. But the further you follow that trail into the past, beyond the innocent memories of youth, comes the hard part, the reason many of us don’t indulge – the reason for the saying, “Don’t look back.” The danger I suppose is two-fold. On the one hand, the warning may be about getting caught in the heyday of youth – our so-called Glory Days for some – are easy to relive ad-nauseum. Memories of winning provincial gymnastics competitions or playing the lead in the high school play, are seductive in their numbing allure to allow us a journey down the road not taken or our ability to celebrate the successes of our past. That journey is certainly well-documented. Or perhaps it is the flip-side that admonishes us to keep moving forward, instead of looking back. Perhaps it is the fear of mourning the girl stolen that keeps us from going back. It is, for many of us, frightening to confront the girl we were and see the journey she took between there and here, even if – or especially if – we are happy with the woman we’ve become. To remember the angst of your 16 year old self can be eviscerating, and the fear of becoming stuck there is real and valid. For context: when I look at the picture above of me and my Dad, I not only remember one of the best summers of my life, but also the worst night of my young life. That Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I’m wearing in the picture is the same one I’d be wearing a year later when I was raped for the first time.

But the purpose is to honour our younger self, remember her and feel the value she has to inform our life today. To live in the memories of one’s past, is to connect with yourself and take ownership of the whole life lived, in recognition that it is not compartmentalized into different times or places but is whole and unique even over the course of 30 years between girlhood and middle age. This can be hard to do, yet invaluable as a touchstone in understanding where it began and its connection to who we are today. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters.”

South Richmond, BC

In Her View … again.

Abortion access news brings In Her View back to the festival circuit.

I am taking a break from my nostalgic summer sojourns to remind you that abortion access is in the news again. Not only has it been brought up during the first week of the election campaign here in Canada (positioned as a conscience issue for health providers), but just as reproductive justice warriors in the U.S have been predicting since 2016, Roe v. Wade is on the chopping block at the Supreme Court after a Texas abortion law took effect today. And coincidentally (or not), In Her View has been invited to screen in yet another film festival. FlickFair has approached me to participate in their online festival screening In Her View for the month of October, with a potential reach of about 900,000 viewers. Of course, given the grim news, I have accepted the invitation. It doesn’t give me any joy however, knowing that 1000s of people with unplanned pregnancies will face continued persecution in Texas and across the U.S. as of today.

Stay tuned for further updates about the October screening. -Amy

Coastal Nostalgia Part 1

The nostalgia kick continues it would seem. This summer, I’ve been re-living experiences from 30 years ago. My recent trip to the Island with my daughter was rife with memories of being there both 30 years ago and again in 2007 when Ayla was still a toddler.  It’s a similar arc of time frames and flashbacks as I recently wrote about In the Haight.

My first visit to Vancouver Island was also the first time I met the woman who would become my mother, Mary. She and my father had decided to move into Mary’s Toronto home together, and I was living here in BC with my boyfriend of about a year, when they came to visit. I would meet Mary and my father would meet the man in my life. I was a just year out of high school then and had opted to move into Gord’s basement suite and take a full time job downtown Vancouver. Dad and Mary flew out to take Gord and I on a trip to Tofino and Victoria.

Gord’s anxiety got the better of him, feeling the pressure of meeting his much younger girlfriend’s father for the first time – he was feeling judged and nervous, I guess – so he got busy with work and stood us up for dinner their first night in town. I was embarrassed and disappointed. Dad and Mary were concerned and forgiving. But the die was cast, so to speak, and we left for the Island without Gord. He promised to connect with us in Port Alberni, where we were scheduled to depart on a supply freighter that would take us out to the coast… more interesting than just driving to Tofino, after all. 

When my daughter and I drove through Port Alberni recently, the years slipped away and I choked up, remembering the unique trip my mom had planned for our first meeting. Most of the details of that vacation are now lost to time, but I remembered us laughing at the modest accommodations she had found for us in Port Alberni. Years later, she would book us into The Empress Hotel in Victoria when Ayla was just a toddler.

“Nothing but the best for Grandma Mary,” Ayla and I laugh as we walk past the stately manor hotel on the Inner Harbour, today.

But back in 1989, we stayed in a rustic little inn on the shores of the inlet that winds through Port Alberni and out to the coast. Gord was supposed to meet us there, but he didn’t. Once again: hurt and disappointment. I remember that. I remember the feeling of shame that washed over me, as my Dad and his new love made reassuring sounds trying to make the best of it. But they were getting worried too. So, the three of us boarded the supply freighter and made our way down the river, enjoying the spectacular beauty of the west coast in summer time: mountains rise above the sparkling water, modest homes dot the shores, and we watched as villagers come out to meet the ship, collecting their goods for the week. It was unlike anything I’d ever encountered, and Mary had planned it just for us.

Me and my Dad in Tofino, 1989

I don’t remember much about Tofino; I was curious how much of the tourist town would be familiar to me when I returned this summer with Ayla. But the memories had disappeared into the mists of my life history, enveloped likely by the stress I was feeling about being stood up when Mary had planned this amazing trip for us to take together as a new family. The burden weighed heavy on me, knowing he had let them down, and how that would affect the first impressions of this woman who was so important to my father, and who would become so important to me in the years to come. It was a big moment in all our lives, one that would change the course of mine. 

By the time the week was out, my parents had invited me to come live with them in Toronto and go to university, if I wanted to. 

Gord eventually met up with us in Victoria. But by then the damage was done. He had revealed the weakness of our relationship. Perhaps I did need to consider other options.

Me, Gord and my mom at the Empress, 1989

He said he knew from the moment they announced their visit, that the writing was on the wall. But I think it was a self-fulfilling prophesy. He convinced himself that my parents were coming to take me back home, and he made sure of that outcome through his behaviour when they were here. So, I accepted their invitation, and moved back to Ontario to attend York University for the winter-summer session. 

All of this came back to me while I wandered the streets of Tofino, and explored the ancient cedars of Cathedral Grove. I said to Ayla as we marveled at the centuries old mammoth trees, “I’m pretty sure this is where I became a tree hugger 32 years ago.”

I remember being absolutely transfixed by the size of those trees as an 18 year old girl. And I have stood transfixed before many a tree since then, but never the awe as for the ancient red cedars of the west coast.

It’s hard not to be a nature lover in British Columbia. But the memories that returned last week, and that have consumed me this summer, have me connecting to my nature, reminding me of where I’ve been, where I come from and reflecting on the journey I have taken to reach this time in my life.

Perhaps it’s because my latest work in progress has a nostalgic theme to it – it’s a memory work that came to me some years ago as a remembered image from my childhood and a narration by a young girl. Swaying on the branch of an old willow tree at the end of our street, I lean back and let the motion rush over me – three years old – the blue sky above me and the long, weeping willow branches creating a shredded curtain through which glimpses of the river peek.

Pieces of my life are coming back in vivid colour, and I’m writing them down, trying to find the through line for this latest project called The River… appropriately enough.

Stay tuned…

In the Haight

As a teenager and young adult, I became fascinated by the legacy of The Haight-Ashbury and the ideals of the 1960’s flower children. I can’t recall how I first heard about them or how the mythos of the hippies came to my attention, but I was shocked -shocked I tell you – recently when I made a passing reference to The Haight-Ashbury and my friend – a new age hippie if I’ve ever met one – had never heard of it. How could that be possible? How could someone reach adulthood in our culture – especially someone with as much interest in mysticism, natural living and spiritual transcendence as this friend has – without ever having heard of the Haight-Ashbury? I was mystified and determined to educate her.

The earliest I remember romanticizing the peace and love era was Halloween of my senior year of high school when I donned a pair of baggy jeans, an oversized shirt my mother had brought back from Jamaica, a headband and of course flowers in my hair. I spent the night flashing the two-fingered salute and muttering “Peace and Love” to everyone I met. I’m pretty sure I smoked a lot of grass that night, too, man… In years to come, I would realize that I had broken my own cardinal rule of Halloween – scary costumes only on All Hallow’s Eve. But back then, I was expressing my growing fascination with the previous generation’s quest for enlightenment and a better way of living.

Halloween 1989

When I arrived at university, I gravitated toward the genuine hippie who ran our college coffee shop, who took great (mock) offence when I repeated my Halloween costume that year. 

“That’s not a costume, man,” said Les. “That’s just clothes… to some people, anyway.” And then he laughed the laugh that I would hear for years to come as our friendship grew, and Les introduced me to the music, musings and the Holy Land (as he called it) of The Haight .

I don’t remember much of what I learned in class that year, but I do remember many afternoons and evenings at the Grad Lounge listening to Les wax poetic about Timothy Leary, the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey and most of all, his beloved Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia. Was it the metaphysics of the counterculture I fell in love with, or Les? I don’t know, but I was hooked! I called him The Guru, and he called me The Party Hamster. When the Grateful Dead toured that summer, he refused to take me, concerned that I was too young and inexperienced for the scene – this was the early nineties, after all and the parking lot had degenerated somewhat from the peace and love of the ’60s. The drugs had taken hold and the trips weren’t quite so innocent anymore. There was a cynicism infecting the movement that would culminate by the end of the ’90s with the violence of Woodstock ’99. And I was romanticizing those Summer of Love vibes that I imagined still existed in that far off wonderland called The Haight-Ashbury, where hippies gathered that long ago summer of 1967 in San Francisco.

Pretty soon, the restlessness and nomadic pull that characterized my life during my 20s kicked in and I was off to the west coast, with Les and another of our hippie friends Mike, following shortly after.

The three of us sat on Wreck Beach in Vancouver one afternoon – a curious sight, no doubt; a little blond woman sandwiched between two large men, completely naked… But these were my friends – two of the best friends I had made at university, and they stuck by me for years… supporting me through innumerable bad relationships with men who broke my heart. It seemed natural and fitting for us hippies to sit naked together on the beach, smoking a joint and regaling each other with stories. I still have the oversized purple tie-dyed tank top Mike bought on Wreck Beach that afternoon. I wear it to this day.

Les had finally made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land on his way to Vancouver that summer. I could picture him sitting at the famous intersection at Haight and Ashbury, playing his guitar with the case flipped open for the offerings of passersby. Busking in The Haight was a bucket list item for Les, and I was overjoyed hearing him talk about it. But inevitably summer came to an end, Les returned to Toronto, and life moved on.

As the years passed, our paths continued to cross – whenever I was back in Toronto, I would find Les and his own growing band of pranksters that he called the Caution Clowns, named for his newly formed band, Caution Jam.

Even when my nomadic life and creative dreams took me to New York, I still managed to find the hippies there, and finally saw my one and only Grateful Dead show, at Giants’ Stadium mere weeks before Garcia’s death in 1995.

New York, 1995

For a few years in the mid-late 90s, I lived on the fringe of Les’ Caution Clan as I called it, reveling in the music of The Grateful Dead that Les and Caution Jam played for the hippies of Toronto’s underground club scene.

Ontario, 1997

So the ’90s for me were like a ’60s flashback… I was only marginally aware of the grunge rock scene. Yes, I remember the death of Kurt Cobain, but it was Jerry’s death that made the greater impact on me. I was listening to Janis Joplin’s old band Big Brother and the Holding Company, reminiscing about the Doors, discovering the genius of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. When I heard Robert Plant sing Goin’ to California at Madison Square Garden, I thought I had died and gone to… California. I was more interested in The Mamas and The Papas then Maestro Fresh Wes.

As the ’90s came to a close, I was twirly-gigging on the dance floor with Caution Jam and attending concerts like Santana and Tom Petty with Les… until that is, a final heartbreak that sent me scurrying back to Vancouver for good. Like the good friend he was, Les gave me Rescue Remedy and lots of love, wishing me well as he waved good-bye one last time.

I returned to the west coast, a 30 year old hippie relic, dressed in a bright orange tie-dyed pantsuit, strolling the streets with my Sony discman blasting Grateful Dead tunes through the headphones… the last gasp of my nomadic youth.

With that last heartbreak, I said good-bye to my hippie era, got a stable job, became a mom and reignited the creative dreams of acting and writing that had been set aside for some time.

But the embers of The Haight-Ashbury weren’t completely extinguished; a tiny fire still burned on the mountains of the west coast, and when the Dead reunited for a few shows in San Francisco during the summer of 2009, I knew I had to go.

So, in the waning days of my 30s – ten long years after I’d left Toronto and my hippie days behind, I embarked on my own pilgrimage to the Holy Land to finally see and feel the neighbourhood I had mythologized most of my life. I hit the road down the coast with an old girlfriend from the Caution Clan and we stayed at the Red Victorian Inn – a Peace and Love cafe run by an old hippie by the name of Sami Sunchild… on Haight Street of course.

We saw it all… Golden Gate Park, the house at 710 Ashbury Street, Amoeba Music, Panhandle Park, a concert at the Fillmore and of course, the surviving members of The Dead playing at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.

It was a glorious road trip, reminding me of the idealism of my roaring 20s and bringing me full circle, with a renewed appreciation for what a long, strange trip it had been.

The ages and stages of one’s life cannot be overlooked. They each bring us to a new sense of awareness of the world, and perhaps it’s only on re-visiting, remembering with the insight of experience and the passing of time that we can see the value of our youthful passions.

I recently reconnected with my old buddy, Les, still living in Toronto, and still playing with the Caution Jam, 30 years later. We struck up a correspondence, and it has been lovely re-visiting our friendship, though not without a tinge of nostalgia for the youth I’ve left behind. Looking at those years through the filter of my life today raises many feelings that have long since been buried with the heartbreak I left in Toronto. So it is a bittersweet reunion.

But the heart of the Haight-Ashbury still beats; you just gotta poke around.

Les and me … more recently…

Season of the Witch

Coming up for air finally after months of non-stop action. Reflecting on 2017 and the year since my first blog post that began with the election of Trump, followed by Inauguration Day when I resolved to fight the forces that put him in the White House. I may be Canadian but American attitudes infect our society too. And besides, border or not – we are all in this together. Today, I continue to be grateful for my more compassionate, feminist Canadian government, but as committed as ever to raising my voice to be heard in this society that remains dominated by male voices and men’s perspective.

The good news is, that though the election of Trump represented a huge step backwards for progressive women’s rights, as the pendulum swings, we’re now due for two steps forward… and I think we are seeing that begin with the explosion of women’s stories and #metoo, the exposing of Harvey Weinstein and other high profile degenerate men, and the determination of women who are standing up for themselves this year.

As promised in my earlier blog post, I am doing my part.

This year, I became a filmmaker. I am just about ready to debut the trailer of my film, In Her View, that tells a spectrum of women’s abortion stories, centring on the impact that our stories can have on each other, and how we view the issues that affect us the most. It has been a long and arduous journey to get this far and I have learned much along the way – inevitably. This past summer, I simultaneously directed the sizzle reel of my screenplay and co-directed a play. When I first agreed to direct it, I knew it would coincide with the film shoot, so rather than saying no, I invited a man I had only met briefly to co-direct with me. He was interested in our theatre company and he had a background of directing in tv. We shared some of the same ideas for incorporating multimedia elements, and I thought it would be a good complement of skills. Which it was.

At the same time, despite efforts to find a female director of photography to shoot In Her View with me, I found myself working with a 20-something man to shoot the sizzle reel.

The past few months have been an eye-opening lesson in gender dynamics.

Both projects highlight female sexuality. This is not an accident. This is why I’m doing them. It is a subject that has been under represented from the female perspective, beyond the fantasy of the male gaze. In both projects, I collided with the divergent ways both men and women view female sexuality. In some cases, it seemed that to flip the script meant simply to objectify men the same way women have been. One night, I found myself raging against the objectification of both sexes, by both sexes, because that’s not equality in my view. And I worried that having a male DOP was being unfaithful to a film titled In Her View, despite his obvious talent and instincts for the story.

Another day, I was fighting to justify why a female character should be portrayed as strong, despite a physical weakness, because she was fighting to demonstrate her sexuality.

Then an actor dropped out of playing a romantic lead because his love interest was being “too sexual”.

Coincidentally, some of the female actors were challenged by the physical, sexual nature of their characters, afraid to fully embody the sensuality of their roles.  And I was baffled by this. These women have grown up in a post-Madonna culture. Where is the female empowerment that the biggest pop icon gave to my generation? I was slapped in the face by the realization that we had taken a step back, long before Trump took office. Somewhere along the line both women and men have come to fear their sexual natures.

Why?

Perhaps because it’s no longer merely for the enjoyment of men. And because the progress we had made served to feed  women’s social-emotional power – gave them license to lead outside the bedroom too. And everyone is afraid of that. We saw that in last year’s election.

I have heard men say they are convinced that lesbians are going to take over the world. Lesbians! They are strong, and don’t need men after all… but there’s not nearly enough of them, I said. “It’s the bisexuals you have to worry about…”

(I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman).

The social order has been up-ended by race and gender, and nothing made that so clear as watching neo-Nazis chant, “We will not be replaced” in Charlottesville this year.

It was never so clear to me as when finally, after months of sensing the discomfort of my older, white male co-director, at relinquishing leadership to me, he erupted at my use of the “F-word”. What began as offence at the way I spoke to him, quickly degenerated into the reality that he felt emasculated for having bought me lunch a couple of times. It made him feel like a production assistant, he said. And I thought he was just being a nice guy.

My generation of white male cannot allow themselves to be perceived as serving a woman, unless she is helpless, or in bed.

Yet, by the same token, we women have to face our own anger too – while justified. It does us no good if it’s not channeled productively. I felt that truth poignantly in both projects; in my anger, I alienated people I respect and am grateful for, and I saw the impact it has had on the younger generation. Our anger at the injustices and abuse that has been heaped upon us for centuries has taught younger men and women to fear their sexual impulses, lest it get out of control and be misdirected. We are at a cross-roads, it seems. Or maybe it’s just me. But the world certainly seems to be exploding with anger, frustration and accusations. And amid all the drama playing out over these two projects that I was helming… I was astonished by the brave and understated response of one young actress, who ever so calmly reported to me, a case of a non-consensual kiss by another actor. He was reprimanded, the behaviour was never repeated and we moved on without further incident. Later, when #metoo was highlighting the inaction of so many people, I wondered if I should have fired him… and I still wonder. But I checked in with the actress and she was satisfied with my response and its result, so I guess that will have to be good enough for me too.

And as I wish to portray with In Her View, we could all use a little less blame, we can slow down and listen to each other’s stories.

That’s my goal. What’s yours?

Inauguration Day 2017

I woke this morning with one thought: stupid electoral college. So much boils down to just that thought. All the philosophy and reflection of the past two months – the questioning why? How? How could America vote for Donald J. Trump? Yet, they didn’t. Hillary Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than he did. But for the electoral college, we would have watched Hillary Clinton take the oath of office this morning in Washington D.C. Instead, it’s President Donald J. Trump, and it makes me sick even to think those words, let alone type them. Yes, I have felt physically ill every time I think of his inauguration. Just as in the days following the election, I have spent today in a Trump Slump. It is unspeakable to me that this man now holds the most powerful office in the world. I will attend the Women’s March tomorrow along with my sisters who resist the presidency that represents regression and stolen, illegitimate power. I am most cynical about this election – no, this authoritarian coup. Because that’s what I believe it to be. Between the electoral college and the gerrymandering of districts, voter suppression and Russian hacking claims, there is little doubt left in my mind that the Republican party and the Russian government have installed a President that they didn’t even want. He’s just agreeing to all their white, male supremacist policies, so that’s all that matters to them.

Today, I commit to fighting the powers that seek to destroy women’s equality, minority rights and lgbtq freedom. I will do my part. And my part is to make my film, Through Her Eyes. I commit to crowd-funding and independently producing my script that tells stories of abortion in all their unflinching detail, without catering to what anyone else thinks those stories should be. I will tell the stories of Liz and Grace to illuminate the power of female autonomy and self-expression. And to assert that we live our choices every day in every way and we decide what defines us… or doesn’t.

When I wrote this script, it was from the safety of the bubble of Canadian confidence, in which women’s reproductive freedom and health care is universal… at least for now. Our Conservative government at the time stated that it was not interested in challenging women’s right to choose – Trump sure makes Stephen Harper look tame in comparison, doesn’t he? But soon after I finished the first draft, I began hearing news reports out of the US, of states passing obstructionist laws, making abortion more difficult to obtain. Waiting periods and mandatory ultrasounds were imposed on women seeking abortions in certain states. And within only a few years, the political climate was transformed, even during President Obama’s tenure. Suddenly Roe v. Wade was under threat and abortion clinics were closing all over the country, due to so-called TRAP laws that targeted clinics with unconstitutional restrictions, forcing them to close their doors and fight all the way to the Supreme Court. And now, while in Canada, we have a feminist Prime Minister, our neighbours to the south are ruled by a government of misogynist right wing Republicans who have promised to take away their right to choose. I cannot stay silent any longer. The time has come to make my film Through Her Eyes, and in so doing support the women of America in their quest to maintain their hard won rights.

When I raise funds for my film that seeks to show the power of women’s choice and bodily autonomy, I will ensure that 5% of all funds raised go to Planned Parenthood, which is under direct threat by the new authoritarian regime. I will commit a further 5% to Exhale, a pro-voice organization that provides a talk-line for women who have had an abortion. And finally, another 5% will benefit the Single Mothers Alliance, an advocacy group that seeks to improve the lives of single mothers and empower women who make that choice, as have I.

Stay tuned for my crowdfunding campaign, and support Through Her Eyes. Stand up for women’s rights, inclusion, diversity and make us stronger together.