Sunshine and Staying Inside

Today, I am having an odd reaction to self-isolation — I am feeling an intense sense of gratefulness and love which I can’t seem to shake.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t felt that way everyday, but today, the sun is out, and even if I am sitting inside, my heart feels as bright as the sky outside my window. I’m going to enjoy this feeling while it lasts. I know it might not.

My elder daughter turned 23 on February 23, and that morning  a group of us all went out for breakfast at Denny’s. My younger daughter woke up that morning with a serious headache a sore throat and no appetite. She was annoyed, because she’d been looking forward to the breakfast. We didn’t really think much of it beyond that. She’d been to a volleyball match down at the Coast and I figured she picked up the flu at the tournament. I knew she was really sick when she voluntarily stayed home from the afternoon’s practice.

She missed several days of school and another practice mid-way through the week, and I played nursemaid. Even after she got better, she was exhausted and finding it hard to keep up with the volleyball training. With her being an A-type personality, I reminded her she had been sick — she should expect to be dragging a bit until her energy fully returned. It took her over a week. Eventually, though, she was back at full-power.

Approximately two weeks later, I had an appointment to get my taxes done, and for no apparent reason, I couldn’t stop coughing all the way through that appointment. I didn’t feel sick at all, but as luck would have it, I’d been scheduled to have an interview for a promotion that afternoon before my shift at work. People had started to talk about Coronavirus — it was already significant in China and heading that way in Italy — so I called in to see if they still wanted to go ahead with the interview. She postponed.

But I wasn’t sick. So, I went to work. I kept going all that week. By Thursday, I felt like maybe I was coming down with something — achy, and my temperature regulator seemed off. But, I certainly didn’t seem to have any of the dramatic symptoms being described in the news. Friday the 13th, I woke up with a crazy headache, and nothing I threw at it helped. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that by the end of my shift that day, I knew I was sick. My throat was raw, felt a lot like strep throat. I got my shift covered for the following day.

And I really was sick. It felt like the flu — but different. I honestly don’t know what I had. But to make a long story short, I missed another shift, then another, and I was still coughing. By then, the virus had started to explode around us, and I really didn’t know what to do. Ultimately, I drove into work, then once I got there told my boss, I just don’t think I should be here. It felt socially irresponsible. She sent me home, 811 told me to stay there, and my company committed to paying two weeks of salary so I could self-isolate. Then, three days later, my store location closed completely. Which means, now instead of two weeks of salary, they have me covered for four weeks. After that, I suppose I am with the rest of unemployed Canada — thankful for Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to keeping the population cared for.

At first, I was too sick to do be anything but tired. Then, my appetite came back. Then my energy. Then I started to get productive.

My daughter’s volleyball league cancelled first one match, then another, then all of them. Season over. Her school, which is on spring break, is also on indefinite leave. The possibility exists that they might go online, but with libraries closed, this may not be a solution for everyone. Sheena is used to going mach ten at all times, and now she is home, no school, no sports, no friends — she has been amazing about it, but it is hard. Could be worse — we both recognize that — still, if I don’t find her something else to do other than bake, I am going to weigh 300 pounds before this is over.

Like everyone else, I spent way too much time watching news reports. Because of my novels, I recently joined Twitter, and that place is like a warzone — one I find myself too easily pulled into.  The Stupid Things People Say may just be my next book title, and it is going to be based on the anger all over the Internet.

I’ve kept in touch with a customer from work. I follow his photography on Instagram. He recently said to me, “I don’t think things are going to be the same after this.”

I think that might be true. I think after this, there is going to be a lot of grief and anger people are dealing with. Some people are going to lose a lot. That is going to be hard to accept. I mean, how do you get angry at a virus? Or a DNA sequencing glitch, or whatever this thing is. How do we get angry at something so small stripping us all of our facades of invulnerability, our vanity and arrogance, our beliefs in superiority and invincibility? How do we get angry at an illness when it shows us that the world is not what we thought it was and reminds us that our place in it is so insignificant?

It is so much easier to be angry at the guy who bought out all the meat, or the toilet paper hoarders, the politicians, Donald Trump. Not that there aren’t consequences to actions, not that people don’t say dumb and objectionable things on Twitter and Facebook, not that some leaders aren’t more adaptable than others, more wise than others. The thing is, as I’ve listened to the news, perused social media, stayed indoors despite the sunshine and have limited my social interactions with family to virtual ones, I keep realizing that we are all in this together. Some people are taking this more seriously than others, some are sick and some are not, some may lose and some may not, but I’ve realized, people say dumb things and do dumb things because they are human. Because underneath the bluster, they are afraid. No one knows how to handle this perfectly.

I’ve realized that underneath the hoarding, the bulk buying, the social media venting and cursing there is selfishness, yes, there is ugliness and frustration, also yes, but mostly there is fear. It is one thing we are all experiencing. It just looks differently on some of us than on others. Maybe not everyone is afraid of getting sick and dying, but everyone is wondering what it all means, what will our world look like after all of this ends.

We are the same.

There seems to have been the beginnings of a shift — or maybe today was just a good news day or I am more optimistic now that I am feeling healthy again — but I am reading more good news than bad today. People who have been fighting the illness are recovering. Others are finding creative virtual ways to connect through online arts groups, chat groups, etc. Whitespot had a drive-thru breakfast to raise funds for the food bank, someone organized a drive-by birthday party parade for children who are unable to have birthday parties — and complete strangers are parading their vehicles past birthday children with banners and balloons. Bauer is now making masks, a family run vineyard is teaching their children about business in their vineyard while they home school.

The police, other front-line workers, doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks and other essential workers seem to be getting more veneration than I’ve personally seen at any other time in history. As is right. I’m sure people will be back to hating soon enough, but right now, I feel so much deep gratitude for these people who are continuing to work to keep us all safe and healthy and fed — even while their own lives are jeopardized and their own families are experiencing all the strains the rest of us face. Perhaps Americans experienced some of what I am feeling after 9-11, but this is a greater level of awareness of all the societal elements working to improve my personal well-being than I have personally experienced before. Within these moments of stress, I feel this undercurrent of gratefulness for the country where I live, the policies we live by, the politicians and others working to get us all to the other side of this pandemic. It is a warmth of feeling that supersedes the daily worries.

I had a video chat with my co-workers this morning, and it was great. I miss them all. Today was a moment of connection I didn’t even know I needed. Yesterday, one of the members of my book club sent out an email saying let’s go virtual, and one of the technologically inclined guys in the group suggested zoom — says it is easy.

This morning I felt a degree of appreciation for being part of these social groups that I normally overlook. I mean, I always like everybody, and I’m glad to know you. This morning, I just felt like I had to restrain myself from gushing out how much I love everyone — which seems to be my mood of the day. Hey, family, hey friends, hey complete strangers I’ve never met — I love you! We are all part of the same team — team beat the virus and team human and team Earth. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced this sense of universal connectedness in quite the same way — and it took dismantling everyone’s daily lives and putting us all into isolation to make it happen.

I’ve spoken to my sister more this week than probably in the past month. Normally, we both live very busy lives. Right now, we get to check in everyday.

My eldest son’s wife called me for a soup recipe last night. They are stuck in a tiny bachelor suit apartment and there is a confirmed quarantine in their building, yet they seem happier than ever together — which is amazing to see.

My elder daughter’s boyfriend told me he loved me (you touched me, David – sob).

I learned something I didn’t even know about my younger son — he likes to do puzzles. What?? I hate puzzles, unless it is the puzzle of figuring out what happens next in the book I am writing. He does not get that from me.

He got it from my mom. She was sappily thrilled when I called her this morning to tell her about the mark she’s left on her grandson.

And my youngest? Last night when I was going to bed she was up making these amazing chocolate chip cookies. I had them for breakfast. Help. Somebody save me.

Last night I stayed up late playing on Canva and generally procrastinating on novel writing. I created a new release announcement — and seven bookmarks featuring the covers of seven different novels. They are my next series. I’ve only got one written so far, but I’ve got plans.

The night before that I was up until — well, I am not even going to tell you that. I started off researching the costs of hiring someone from Fiverr to read my books in order to create an audio book. When I realized how expensive it would be plus listened to a lot of really droning narrators, I decided, hey, I used to record songs, I have all the gear, I will just download Reaper and narrate the things myself. So, then I was up for hours recording myself narrating snipets of my novels onto my phone just to see how I sounded.

It is not the easiest thing to do, lemme just say. I speed up. I stumble over words. I add verbal stressors in places they don’t really belong — hats off all you actors! You make it look easy. And yet, after awhile, I thought, hmm, not too bad. I could do this. My favourite was the snippet I wrote for my art heist novel. Every third word was an f-bomb. Apparently, I make a decently convincing villain. Of course, then I thought, hey, why not call up my friends from the actor’s studio. Delphine. Jerome. I work with one of them. I watched the other grow up. They could do this…

I vibe on the creating. I get lost in the creating. I don’t even notice that it is two in the morning and I am still creating. I’ve informed my boss that I have reverted back to my preferred sleeping patterns and will need to be reintegrated gradually when that day comes.

I know that this pandemic fight isn’t over. There is a longer struggle ahead. I know I may not feel this cheerful tomorrow, and even by tonight I may be back to the unbearably snarky comments people who are afraid make to one another on twitter. Fear, I’ve realized, often looks a lot like hate. But right now, for today, I keep realizing another level and another of what is truly important and what is not. People are. Toys are not. Health is. A tan is not. Friendship is. Family is. Encouraging others is. Creativity — whether in innovative ways to fight this disease, in traditional ideas of writing, singing, painting, drama etc. (adapted to a virtual stage) is. Drive-by birthday parades definitely are.

Trying to love better and understand better and empathize instead of villainize — these all are. So, maybe Dan will be right.

Maybe, when this is all over we will remember what is and is not important.

And life as we know it will never be the same.

 

Lake Country Cloth Culture

I popped in briefly to my local art gallery tonight. Even though I spent a year working in Kelowna’s largest art gallery, there were only a few faces I recognized at this smaller event. To me, this is one of the best features of the art world. It’s a small community. Except when it’s not.

I attended tonight out of curiosity to see how a smaller, local gallery handles an opening, and I was impressed. It appeared to me that they solicited a decent turnout, and they offered an array of finger food that easily equalled the selections at my former gallery. I had a nice chat with gallery manager, Petrina, who remembered that I had left my former job and asked me about my current life — full-time writer for two more weeks then back to part-time writer, part-time employee collecting paychecks. I thought it was classy that she would ask after me even when she was hosting an opening. She made me immediately glad I had decided to come.

The exhibit that opened is called Cloth Culture, and features, “Six contemporary artists [who] explore the tactic emotional and experiential resonance achieved through the active labor of material production and bodily awareness.” Reading the invitation to the event over Facebook, I gathered that the exhibits would feature cloth in some fashion (pun intended). I wanted to see for myself how the artists would handle their medium in order to achieve their message.

Even though my visit was brief, I came away intrigued. Creativity always has that effect on my brain. The exhibits were varied, some binding garments fashioned into bolts of cloth together in imitation of various recognizable objects, others more abstract in intention.

My personal favourite was the simplicity of the long suspended swath of fabric (linen, possibly?) which had been painted in bold strokes with fluid black smears of paint then draped from ceiling to floor along one wall. I also appreciated the weave of wool, as well as the crinkled design of ribbon and bow-embellished paper. That one had so much texture and variance built into its construction that I had to study it in detail for several minutes before getting any sense of what I was observing. For instance, I first missed the chocolate liquors which had been inserted into the pattern of the work. I also took awhile to see the ivory sewing pins fastening the art to the preserved tree branch from which it hung.

I’ve spent my week anchored to my computer screen building word counts and story scenarios and character complications. I am rushing towards the completion of the fourth novel I’ve written this year, which leaves me well within range of drafting five novels in this twelve month period. It also leaves me with brain bleed, and a serious need for a break, for a change of venue, for a refresh button so I might cement the last two scenes I have yet to write for this novel. This is another reason I popped into Lake Country Art Gallery tonight.

What I got for my trouble was a sausage roll hors d’oeuvre, a brief but pleasant reconnection with real human beings I am not related to and have not crafted from the recesses of my mind, and best of all, sparks for my imagination.

I don’t know if I left the gallery thinking about the relationship of working with cloth to attain body awareness. That was there, but for me, that was a background note. Instead, I left thinking about the impressive way some people have of taking simple, basic materials and re-imagining them into art objects which make a statement. I left thinking about the way art has of creating differing impressions on the psyches of each individual who views them, and about the beauty of transmitting meaning and inspiration in such a fluid fashion. I left thinking about how art works in simplicity and intricate detail with equal power.

Hanging in the window at the gallery is a large cloth hand. From inside the gallery, this was simply suspended fabric which mimicked the flimsy material of a woman’s glove. From the other side, though, when the light from the gallery shone through the material, a shadow world could be seen. Inside the glove was a world of intricate detail which I won’t describe — I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

After studying those shadows, I left. I’m a writer, not an artist, and when I feel inspired, words are my medium of expression. When I slipped out the door, though, I left reminded that in order to really see, you have to take time to truly look. A surface, cursory glance is only stage one in the experiences of life, and of art.

I recommend a visit to Lake Country Art Gallery and Cloth Culture. There you will find shadows under cloth, fluidity of pattern and space, the intricacies of design, and if you take the time, maybe you, like me, will find a moment of contemplative inspiration.

 Lake Country Art Gallery is located at 10356A Bottom Wood Lake Road. Cloth Culture can be viewed until November 17, 2019.

Smoke – a novella by Leigh Macfarlane

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Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve chatted with everyone on here, and there are two reasons for that. First, the Okanagan has been living through the winter that never ends, and this tends to make writing a local travel blog a bit more difficult! Second, I’ve been busy with the completion of my novella Smoke!

Set in Vancouver, BC, and in Kelowna, BC, in Smoke the art world collides with the Canadian pipeline debate. Love and murder both ensue. Smoke is set to be released as an eBook in April of 2019.

Check out the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6frgHlJzyg.

Here is a free excerpt:

Bastard.
Jen could hear him. He was still there. The crashing in the brush behind her was even louder than the sounds made by her own mad flight through the woods. She was two minutes away from civilization. This just couldn’t be happening, not here.
Stanley Park was one of the biggest city parks in Canada, but it sure sounded like the psycho chasing her was getting nearer. Any minute now, he was going to have her.
No chance.
She was moving again, sprinting down a path buried somewhere in the centre of the park. Jen had known precisely where she was when she’d first spotted him, but she’d lost track of her exact location a long time ago. Now, the wind that had been blowing against her while she was jogging the seawall was picking up, and the sky had made a couple of moves beyond dusk. At this point, Jen had no choice but to keep dashing through the darkening forest, hurdling the deadfall and hoping to recognize one of the landmarks soon.
On any ordinary day she would have been safer if she’d stayed on the seawall and out of the forest. With the storm warning, though, the park was deserted. No one was around to help her. And she couldn’t outrun him on the flat. Jen had dashed into the woods, knowing exactly where she was and how she was planning to elude him.
And then Tony had made that single shattering scream, and had dropped, a literal dead weight at the end of his nylon leash. There had been no sound of a shot, but the evidence lay at her feet. Tony lay prone, blood draining from his inert form. Someone had just shot and killed her three-year old Rottweiler.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
There was no time for tears. If the guy was good enough to get a clear shot of her dog, he could easily get a clear shot of her. With limited options, Jen veered off the trail and into the relative cover of the bush.
She ran until she couldn’t hear him anymore. But then, she couldn’t hear anything — not even the sounds of her own lungs sucking air past the razor blades in her throat. Sound had ceased to exist other than the screaming wind that was whipping the tops of trees like toothpicks in a cyclone. Even inside the relative shelter of the forest, Jen had to bend almost double to brace against the force of the wind. She really couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her. The forest had become a dense, disorienting, undulating mass of darkness, and she was staggering around like a drunk inside the bowels of night, trying not to let the freaky wind blow her off her feet.
Her dog – damn it! – was dead. She was seriously out of her element, and some lunatic hired gun was chasing her, and was, she was pretty sure, fully intent on killing her.
Not good. So not good.

Watch for smoke in April of 2019!

 

 

Buzzing Ellis Street

It’s Wednesday, and it’s my day off, and Christmas is around the bend, and life is hectic, and tonight is book club night!

We are reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which, I feel, can be succinctly summed up as, religion is foolish, and science is lethal. Also which, I tell the man who picked the book, may have us all going to hell for reading it — with its Bible-bashing meta-references  and allusions — over the Christmas season. When I say this, I think I am being funny. He looks mildly concerned.

Anyway, I started reading the book on Tuesday night, knowing I had the day off and intending to finish while I baked things. Except, it was like Grand Central Station at my house today, with people dropping in left and right. I love it when they do this, but on this particular occasion, these impromptu visits mean I didn’t quite get the book finished.

Well, okay, to be honest, I likely could have, except, every day when I drive into downtown Kelowna for work I think, “Today I am going to stay late and explore all the businesses down here!” And every day, I go directly to my car, and I drive away home. So, I thought to myself, I could stay here and read the last quarter of this tale, or, I could skip ahead to the last few pages to ensure my perspective of Vonnegut’s message isn’t changed and then traipse into town early in order to window shop my afternoon away.

I went with option B. Continue reading “Buzzing Ellis Street”

On the 400th Anniversary of his Death, Maximillian III

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He captured me, that first day, with the enigmatic expression on his face. It seemed fathomless to me, a different mood depending on the part of the room I was standing in, and that, of course made me have to understand.

The portrait, Maximillian III, Archduke of Austria, is part of the Herman H Levy art collection which has been on loan to the Kelowna Art Gallery — where I work — for several months. Part of the loan agreement stipulated that someone be in the gallery with the art at all times, ensuring the safety of these priceless works from the over-exuberance of the viewers. Since this became my task, I was fortunate to spend a portion of each shift in the presence of these masterworks. I was fortunate to spend a portion of each day with Max.

Within the art community, who hasn’t heard of Peter Paul Rubens? It is a famous name. Rubens painted in the Flemish Baroque tradition, and although he had a studio full of apprentice artists painting with him, he was known to have reserved the most important portraits for his own completion. Therefore, though there is no way of guaranteeing that Rubens himself painted the portrait of Maximillian III, Archduke of Austria, it seems plausible.

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Whomever the artist, he did a masterful job, and the attention to detail astounds me. From the lip churl to the vein throbbing in his forehead and the long eyelashes framing his intelligent brown eyes, the artist captured this man’s likeness in exquisite detail. And, since I’ve always had a thing for brown eyes, I decided to google Maximillian, and learn about his life.

Maximillian was a member of the House of Habsburg, which originated in 1438 and was one of the most influential dynasties of Europe until 1740, when they failed to produce a male heir. Queen Elizabeth II descends from their line, but their ethnicity is Austrian with Spanish, Italian and French influence. Maximillian’s great grandfather, Maximillian 1 became Holy Roman Emperor in 1508, but due to the dangers of travelling from Austria to Rome, he broke a longstanding tradition of papal coronation, and instead was declared Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Julius II at Trent. Once broken, this tradition was never reinstated. Maximillian I struggled with the French, and was plagued by financial issues throughout his life, and therefore became obsessed with arranging marriages for both his children and himself which would increase his fortune and power. He also, in 1496, banned all Jews from Styria and Wiener Neustadt and later ordered the destruction of all Jewish literature, with the exception of the Bible.

Maximillian II was born in Vienna, Austria, but spent his formative years at Innsbruck, Tyrol, meaning he was primarily educated in Italy by humanist scholars. He also came into contact with Lutheran teachings and corresponded with the protestant Prince Augustus of Saxony. None of this went over well with his strongly Catholic family, or with his extremely devout wife, whom his uncle arranged for him to marry to strengthen his ties with Spain and with Catholicism. The relationship between branches of the Habsburg family grew strained, and in 1553, Maximillian II is believed to have been poisoned on behalf of a cousin. He survived, and went on to father 16 children with his wife (9 surviving) and to become Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, King of Bohemia, King of the Romans, King of Hungary and Croatia. All of this despite only living to the age of 49.

Maximillian III was 18 when his father died. Since he was the fourth surviving son, he did not inherit his father’s many titles, despite being his namesake. His eldest brother, Rudolf II, would succeed their father. Rudolf was educated in Spain and returned home quite aloof and stiff. This concerned their father, who was disdainful of the Spanish, but pleased his Spanish mother, who saw his new traits as courtly and refined. Either way, Rudolf would for the rest of his life be somewhat elusive and a homebody who ruled ineffectively. Continue reading “On the 400th Anniversary of his Death, Maximillian III”

The Longer You Spend The More You Appreciate: Herman H Levy at Kelowna Art Gallery

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The first week that I worked at the Kelowna Art Gallery, I walked the gallery in giddy awe that my life had put me in this beautiful spot. Every day I got to wander the gallery and admire art work I’d only previously seen in Art History text books. I certainly never expected to see works by Monet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Rubens, Degas, and other masters in my home town of Kelowna, BC, population 127,400. I gravitated that first week to the landscape by Jean Victor Bertin. Large and displayed prominently, this painting, which was in every art history book I had ever touched, compelled me. If I didn’t have an actual job to do, I could have stood in front of it and memorized the painting’s play of light and shadows for hours.

The second week that I worked at the Kelowna Art Gallery, my parents came from Vernon to support my new job, and see the art work I kept extolling. My mother, who is the organized glue which keeps our family of artists running, walked diagonally from one end of the gallery to the other twice, meeting me in the middle both times, then settled herself in front of Harold Gilman’s Portrait of an African American, and was promptly moved to tears. I understood. The anger and pride and humiliation and fear battling in the features of the model spoke to me, too. My father, himself a landscape oil painter, traversed the entire collection slowly, gazing with detail at the paintings he most enjoyed then leading me over to the Bertin and conveying his appreciation for the work. Apparently, I thought, the apple did not fall far from the tree in our family. My parents had picked out two of my favourites.

Except, by the end of week two, I would discover the passion in the rocks and waves of Roderick O’Connor’s Red Rocks and Foam. His technique reminded me of a lesson from University Art Class, where the name of the game was get your arm flowing freely. Somewhere, I have a painting from that class whose impassioned brush strokes rival O’Connor’s. On the opposite end of the spectrum, during week two I would fall slightly in love with the evocative warmth of Henri Le Sidaner’s The House in the Morning. If, I thought to myself, I could own only one of these paintings, The House in the Morning is the one I would want.

In week two, you see, I started to understand the urge to posses. These amazing works hanging on the museum walls stir the type of reverence which has grown adults whispering in their presence. The collection is on loan to Kelowna for a limited time. Eventually, we will have to give them up. I am asked by patrons on a daily basis, which is your favourite, if you could own one, which would it be? By the end of week two I had my answer narrowed down to a list of six, no eight, maybe ten, of the works.

By week three, I had noticed the disproportionate nature of the garden planters in the Le Sidaner painting, and had become arrested by the eyes of Maximilian III, by Peter Paul Rubens. What is that expression on his face? I would ponder, unable to properly identify the look in the man’s eyes. If I stood back far enough, the Archduke looked imperiously annoyed and dangerous. Three feet in front and to the center, he looked hopelessly sad, but directly in front of the portrait and slightly to the left, and the long ago Austrian with the warm brown eyes and beautiful long eyelashes looked — intelligent. Intelligent, is not an emotion, I chided myself. So what is the expression on the man’s face? With the slight churl of his upper lip, the man could have been irritated, or, I supposed, he could have been born with a trace of a cleft palate. I didn’t know which, but I wanted to learn. At some point,  I promised myself,  I will research this man, I will learn who he was and what he accomplished.

Continue reading “The Longer You Spend The More You Appreciate: Herman H Levy at Kelowna Art Gallery”

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