Tag Archives: spring

April – May 2003

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot

This year, April seems to be full of death. Here in Toronto, the SARS outbreak is causing anxiety. People are dying from it, at a lower rate than first feared, but still, each individual is a person likely to be missed. Statistics don’t reflect true loss.

And overseas bombs are dropping, people are fleeing, aid isn’t reaching those who need it most. In some cities, anti-war protests are turning into pro-Iraq/anti-Semitic rallies. Intolerance is running high and individuals are dying from it. I encourage people to express their opinions, but no one should have to die for what they believe. In the back of my head I keep repeating the line from an old CeeDees song, I hope the world doesn’t blow up tomorrow. A form of prayer.

april 12Spring is my favourite time of year, but this year it’s overshadowed by CBC news broadcasts. The first bombs were dropped just hours before I got on the train to embark on the Milds of New Brunswick mini-tour. Under the circumstances, I was relieved I’d decided to go by train rather than air. In transit, there was no news and I liked that, a blissful silence, a let’s pretend world where I didn’t know what was going on. Through the night we travelled endless miles of snowy white flats, wet-iced streams and trees black-shadowed against a wasted grey sky.

But the television in the Moncton train station was tuned to CNN. When Kathy Mac came to pick me up, she found me glued to the American propaganda station, shaking my head in disbelief. The first words out of her mouth were, “You don’t need to be watching that.” It was three days before I realized Kathy doesn’t have a TV. Smart woman. I listened to the CBC radio news a few times, but found I wanted to be thinking about other things.

The reading at the Attic Owl Book Shop in Moncton was a great success. April 13We had a very attentive audience who enjoyed the reading and chatted with us afterwards. Next time you’re in Moncton, you really should check out Ed and Elaine’s store at 885 Main St. It’s one of the largest, friendliest, best organized, mostly used bookstores I’ve ever been in. Kathy drove us back to Fredericton that night. I tried to stay awake, to be an extra pair of eyes watching for moose on the road, but ended up passing out for a while.

We got off to a slow start on Saturday, but still made it to St. John early enough to have a look around and a quick dinner before reading. St. John is hilly with narrow streets and a wild system of elevated roadways entering and exiting town, so it’s virtually impossible to see that it’s nearly surrounded by water. The St. John Arts Centre is a great space used for performances and art exhibits. In all, there were five readers and a good-sized crowd. Another successful evening.

April 14Sunday we were off to St. Andrews, Canada’s oldest seaside resort, and the weather was nasty. We were barely out of Fredericton when it started to rain, then sleet, then snow, then rain torrentially, which it kept up for the rest of the day. I could see that St. Andrews would be a really lovely place in the summer and I’m sure their seasonal population is widely variable. We read at the Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre as planned, but the rain made for a small audience. We then drove up to the Algonquin, a resort hotel privately built in 1889 and later purchased by CP rail. The exterior is Tudor-esque and castle-like; the interior was reputedly used by Stanley Kubrick in filming The Shining. The drive home was somewhat less treacherous, as it was only raining and still daylight. I was glad of a hot shower when we got back though.

The travelling part of the tour over, we remained in Fredericton Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I delivered a lecture to Dr. McConnell’s Women Writers class at St. Thomas University. Although initially a bit intimidating, ultimately it was a very gratifying experience. The topic was my own novel, Swimming in the Ocean, and I was talking to a group of about forty people, all of whom had read it. At the end of the lecture, there was a steady stream of students asking me to sign their books. It was a marvelous experience and one I hope to repeat. That evening, I did a solo public reading to a small, but attentive audience, also at St. Thomas University.

I spent a good part of Tuesday taking a slow meditative wander through downtown Fredericton. Kathy had suggested I check out the walking trail that borders the St. John River. I scrambled up snow-packed stairs onto the footbridge that leads over the highway to the trail, but there was no trail. There was snow. It’d been melting at a furious rate, but was still at seat-level on the park benches. I gave up on the idea and, after exploring various shops and historic buildings, went back to the apartment. I usually go to galleries and museums when I’m in new cities, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I was feeling a strange agitation, perhaps the war I was trying to ignore, perhaps the need for spring air.

Tuesday night Kathy Mac and I did a one-hour live radio interview with Joe Blades of Broken Jaw Press. It was a relaxed event with chat and readings interspersed.

Even though Kathy and I have known each other for many, many years, this was the first time we’d toured in tandem. I’m hopeful we’ll find opportunities to do future events together, sometime, somewhere.

Wednesday morning I caught the bus back to Moncton, April 15where I had a few hours to wander around before boarding the train home. Once aboard, I found I was tired and retired to my single room early, opened the bed, turned out the light and watched small towns emerge from vast expanses of wilderness until I fell into restless sleep.

photos by Catherine Jenkins

©Catherine Jenkins 2003

March – April 2004

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s been a difficult winter. The past few months have been full of heavy psycho-emotional challenges, severe enough that at times they’ve led to physical and financial challenges. Not a fun time. I’m very relieved to see signs of spring.

Through this, I’ve been thinking a lot about normalcy; what it is, why we’re encouraged to fit into it, how we feel when we don’t. Right from the time we enter our first institution, school, we’re encouraged to abide by a norm as prescribed by others and punished when we don’t. I spent a memorable portion of the second grade in the corner or occasionally in the hall. It’s not that I was a bad kid; I just didn’t see the rationale behind the rules I was expected to follow. Like, why should my verbal communication be suspended just because the teacher’s talking? It took me a long time to relearn that what I have to say is just as valid, that I’m just as entitled as the next person to say what I’m thinking. But it’s not something we’re encouraged to do.

Although I learned to play the school game okay, the only way I got through it was by keeping overstimulated with extracurricular activities; writing, music, theatre, art. If I’d been stuck with nothing but classes, I wouldn’t have survived. I’m just not built that way. Not that I’m abnormal, you understand, just easily bored. Personally, I was quite ecstatic the first time someone told me I was “eccentric,” but depending on the circumstance, I might not always be so pleased.

I suppose by now, I’m either supposed to have settled into a business career or given birth to two point three children. Having done neither, having no desire to do either, isn’t “normal.” Some people think that by my age, I should’ve outgrown any childish whims of an arts career. I recently overheard my mother say to my uncle that I don’t work a steady day job because I “don’t like the nine to five.” No mention that in the last ten years every steady day job I’ve had has led to clinical depression and that the last one gave me chronic lung infections and IBS to boot. Some of us just don’t function well in steady state; some of us are all-or-nothing workers. Hence my penchant for creative and freelance work. I have no qualms about doing twenty hour days, as long as I see some relevance, some point, to the work.

To quote a Douglas Coupland title, “All Families are Psychotic.” Well, to put it more politely, let’s just say that “normal” seems to have a very broad range in its application to the family project. For instance, when middle-aged children start saying their parents are suffering from dementia, how is that state defined? What is normal to the natural decline of the aging process and what constitutes an abnormality, a problem? And where can we draw the line between what the aging parent is experiencing and our perception of that? How can we know where our judgement is valid and when it’s a reaction to our own fears of aging, our own mortality? Who’s to decide what normal is, when we’re all in the same boat and facing similar anxieties?

A close friend of mine has experienced a variety of medications intended to create a chemically induced version of “normal” for individuals whose brain chemistry isn’t considered such by the medical profession. Generally, the meds make him lethargic, zombielike. Is that normal? Decidedly not and it certainly isn’t his normal. Whose idea of normal is created by playing with brain chemistry? Arguably, if someone is causing themselves or others harm, some version of chemical control may be desirable, so society can sleep at night, so we know our loved ones aren’t in the bathroom slashing their wrists. But when an individual isn’t exhibiting these actions, what’s to be gained by making them feel controlled if they don’t want to be?

As I said, it’s been a difficult winter. But my twenty-year-old cat, the one I didn’t think was going to see another spring, has. On our most recent visit to the vet, I noticed tulips breaking the surface of the cold ground and daffodils blooming. I quietly celebrated, congratulating him, telling him that soon he’d be able to enjoy the sun on the balcony again.

What’s sustained me through the winter has been kids TV shows. The world is much brighter, simpler and easier to take, when I start the day with “Tractor Tom” or “Yoko, Jakomoko, Toto” along with my morning coffee. This behaviour might indeed be perceived as eccentric and I doubt I’m the “normal” demographic, but five or ten minutes of something funny or poignant, and often quite insightful with regard to human emotion, certainly isn’t harming anyone.

I moved my geraniums out onto the balcony on the weekend and have plans to put in vibrantly colourful flowers this year. I still have lots of work on my plate, but at least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and am beginning to think about summer plans. I did some vocal practice last night for the first time in a long time and man, did that feel good! I need to get my time reorganized, so I can get back to working out again and playing piano regularly. I’ve been so swamped with paying work and family matters, that I’ve gotten very little writing done. I have to remedy that. I have projects mounting up and too little time and energy to complete them. Years ago a palm reader informed me that this would a breakthrough year for me. I plan on making that true. Happy spring!

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004