A few weeks ago I attended my twentieth high school reunion at The Elm’s hotel in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Out of a class of almost 350, only about 50 of us turned up. Our small numbers gave the atmosphere something of a Survivor flavor, as if we were all looking around to see who else had made it through their thirties.
Blue and white balloons (Liberty Blue Jays’ colors) decorated the dining room, and two tables held a small collection of photographs, yearbooks, and newspaper articles from 1987. The table with the yearbooks had a nifty inflatable number 20 in blue and silver, but one of these balloons seemed to be enough. I don’t think we were searching for lots of reminders of just how long it’s been since we were 18. I suppose that’s why the event had a slightly sombre edge to it, as if we were mourning our youth and anxiously checking each other out for signs of aging.
I don’t want to imply that the reunion was all about sadness or that it was a mistake to go. I actually had a wonderful time because the music and dancing were so much fun. My friend Michelle and I were the first ones out on the dance floor, jumping around, acting silly. Dancing to “What I Like About You”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Let’s Go Crazy” with my oldest friends was a joyful act of self-integration, connecting the 15-year-old me who found the confidence to dance in public for the first time (a radical shedding of shyness) to my 38-year-old self who dances on the streets of Toronto with the “I Want Rhythm” group. I believe our dancing at The Elms showed us that it’s too soon to bury our youth; it will always be with us.
The reunion was a true homecoming for me. It was a blessing to feel at home with myself, at home with a community of friends, geographically home, and at home in the moment.
Now that is one beautiful island! Recently returned from PEI, it seems like our week there was a dream. Memories of leaning over the railings of wooden footbridges to admire the clear streams below continue to refresh me, even when I’m being jostled by September-grouchy commuters on the subway.
Sicko was a hard movie to watch in many places, but I found it thought-provoking. The suffering which so many Americans have endured at the hands of HMO’s is outrageous. I believe health care is a human right, not a business in which the most vulnerable are refused the care they need in order to save money. Moore captured the utter heartlessness of the American system when he showed patients in hospital gowns being dumped on the street near a shelter because they couldn’t afford to pay their hospital bills.
Attending Dusk Dances with friends a few nights ago was magical — with a man impersonating a fish, a grass dance, dancers leaping from a picnic bench and sashaying around trees. The cool weather with just the right amount of wind in the trees completed the experience. Of the five dances, I think my favorite was “Tenterhooks.” There were three dancers who made hilarious use of a tent, a canoe paddle, a sun shower, a fishing pole, flippers, and plastic spiders.
Yesterday a friend and I joined Nicole Stoffman‘s “I Want Rhythm” project, which features dancing on the street to storefront music. We met at Wellesley and Yonge and walked south to Dundas Square, stopping when we heard music that called to us. We did the twist in front of a Quiznos, were Scottish country backup dancers next to an accepting bagpipe player, and tried some salsa next to a T-shirt shop opposite the Eaton Centre. We received some quizzical looks, smiles, a few comments, but alas nobody spontaneously joined us this time. Thank you Nicole for putting this street theatre idea into action!
I smiled throughout the whole concert several nights ago. The power and reach of the choir’s voices, as well as the sheer joyous energy pouring forth into the audience really floored me. We heard songs in Zulu, Sotho, and English, and I felt a connection with my Baptist Vacation Bible School days when they sang “Amazing Grace” and “Khumbaya.” The dancing was also glorious.
As I was riding up the escalator at York Mills Station last night, I noticed some unusual foot movements on the part of the passenger five steps above me. First he stood on the right and held the side of his shoe against the broom-like bristles that line the steps. Then he did the same on the left side with his left shoe. It took me a few moments to realize that he was cleaning and polishing his shoes.
Last week I finished Alice Munro’s Runaway. My favourite story was “Chance.”
Last night I got to see the Toronto Raptors play the Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre. I don’t know why a Darwinian struggle over control of a big orange ball is so entertaining, but it really is. The Raptors won, earning the excited hoots of Torontonians. Then we descended lots of steps to lower ground, searched for a way out, and received half-a-dozen free bags of Doritos as we exited.
I was very taken with Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni. Who could not be drawn to chapters with titles like “I’m Too Sexy for My Veil” and “Not Without My Mimosa”?
My friend Dan recommended The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to me some time back. I hadn’t had a chance to get it from the Toronto library, which ended up working out. This was because I found myself in the bookstore on the Liberty, Missouri square over Thanksgiving, casting about for reading material. When I saw Zafon’s book on the bestseller rack, I knew that it was the one to take on the plane. I finished reading it last night and was wholly entertained by its complicated plot and series of back stories.
Despite the book’s grim realism, I liked its insights, the flashes of recognition I experienced when I read the older characters’ dialogue. Like the Midwestern Enid Lambert, my grandmother says “it tickled me” as in “I got a kick out of it”. I’m not sure if Grandma would be tickled by Franzen’s depiction of a typical family from St. Jude (which I assumed was a cover for St. Louis, the author’s hometown), but I found the storytelling gripping and the characters three-dimensional. Personally, I feel more affection for this part of the world than the three Lambert children who fled when they sought more stylish lifestyles in Pennsylvania and New York. Still, the theme of regional ambivalence, the act of reflecting critically about your origins is an interesting one for this transplanted Missourian.
This book really cast a spell on me, causing several nights of late-night reading. A story of dislocation, silence, and distance, it resonated with stories I hear from immigrants I work with and with my own experience of living outside of the US for so long.
It’s less than a week since we’re back from Scotland. Heavenly to have fled the hamster-wheel that is the daily subway commute downtown, even for such a short interval.
We took my mother, who is up from Missouri, to see the Andy Warhol exhibit yesterday. I hadn’t known that he did so many disaster pieces. Maybe it was batting silver balloons around at the last exhibition of his work I saw (Chicago 1989) that had falsely given me the impression that he was all about frivolity and trivia.
Not long ago I read a passage from a 1989 journal which covered the summer before I went to Durham, England for a year. I was working in a local potato chip factory, an experience which inspired the following poem dated August 11:
“You smell like a potato chip!”
O mecca — hot cheez doodles
I lay them in their bed
your wastage fills the waste bins
and we trail them to the dump shrine
wayfaring proletariat that we are.
what are we breeding
the machine and I?
My apologies are due to the Toronto Public Library for returning Shalimar The Clown and What I Meant to Say: The Private Lives of Men late. I was reluctant to leave the imagined world of the novel, despite some of the horrors of violence, and I also enjoyed the collection of male musings.