Moving Part 6 — Arrrival!

So — where to start? It is definitely a new beginning — and an ending, and also an ongoing middle to this story. A new chapter. I arrived at the townhouse at Oak Street Co-op, on Cornwall St, Toronto, at about 7:00 p.m, on Friday August 31, after a final packing up during the day, greeting the new owner (unexpectedly) and showing him around; saying goodbye to my neighbour, who dug up some iris (for herself, for me, for another couple of neighbours), and took the last batch of donations.
And now, it is a matter of settling in here — less pressure, no deadlines — and after several days (it is now Tuesday, the day after Labour Day), I feel the transition is going smoothly. The Jewish month of Elul is usually devoted to cleaning and clearing and turning before the start of the New Year, on the first day of Tishri, and this certainly has been one of those times, emotionally and physically, and spiritually, too. One of Roger’s and my projects over the weekend (in addition to unpacking some boxes) was to work on our balcony and outdoor garden, separating the palm tree into several pots, replanting the basil, planting the new iris. We also cooked together, as we like to do. I am aware of changes, the pattern of life left in Hamilton, but even more of the new pattern and rhythms of life here, and the way we are both experiencing this change in our relationship, as well as in our living spacetime. This move is giving me “courage of the heart,” a wonderful phrase/motto from the Netflix show “Sense8,” about empathy, caring, community, and working together.
To be continued…

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Moving, Part 5

August 31 — D-day, or M(oving)-day. I spent the night at the Visitors’ Inn in Hamilton, after camping out on sleeping bags in my (almost) empty house for 3 night — the couch went to a refugee family on Monday, the bed and pullout couch are long gone to other people. I had a massage yesterday, and that helped my back — couldn’t go back to the floor and sleeping bags, and also a transitional night in a hotel — clean sheets, real bed, food cooked for me — was a good step in leaving 51 Chatham.. Have to go back this morning to finish cleaning the fridge, get some plants and odds and ends. Then to see the lawyer. A sense of panic — leaving the known — but the new worlds and seas beckon, and I know I won’t fall off the edge — and I am also going to another, partly-known world that needs to be further explored and enjoyed and lived. No monsters, even if there are surprises.
Thinking back to 18 years ago when I moved to Hamilton — and back before that to the early and mid 90s, when I began getting to know people here. Also remembering my mother’s death on Aug. 31, 2009. I wish I could tell her about this move — but maybe, in a way, she knows.
Also breakfast at the Visitors Inn reminded me of breakfast here with Sharon and Peter, at the Jewish Literary Festival in 2009. Good memories. Life is full of these. As Roger mentioned yesterday, he was listening to the top 100 hits of 1969, so many songs laced with memories. Reminiscing with my friend yesterday about how we met through a casual conversation at Ladies Swiim at the Y, in 2000. And with another friend about her parents’ stories about coming to Canada as survivors after World War II. So on to new experiences, making more memories and more stories.

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Moving – part 4

Last several days in Hamilton. There is a warm breeze blowing in the garden, and predictions of very hot weather — feeling over 40C today. The big move was done last Tuesday, in the pouring rain — though it cleared up for most of the loading, and almost the whole drive in and the unloading. The flowers are beginning to face and look weathered, that end-of-summer attitude. The bees and butterflies — monarchs, and dark blue-black ones — are still eagerly fluttering and suck up nectar. The house is almost empty — though I am still finding nests of papers, yet more recycling, more shredding, more discard. I feel badly that I let so much clutter pile up — even worthwhile things (magazines, manuscripts, etc.) that could have been cleaned out much sooner. (My son: “We’ve been telling you to do this for years.” For an earlier move, years ago, he marked cartons Books, More Books, Too Many Books.)
Unpacking at Roger’s is going smoothly too — finding places for what we want, starting a “for a good home” box for the extras.
I sat in my garden yesterday, looking at the trees I planted — the ornamental cherry, the lilac, the weeping redbud — and thought of my friend Sharon Nelson in Montreal seeing a photo of the weeping redbud and saying “She is beautiful.” She — the tree with its delicate pink/mauve flowers, is definitely a she. I was glad Sharon could see the tree before she died in 2016. Sharon also loved gardens. (I had recently cut down two elderly cedars, and needed a new and beautiful tree to fill an empty space). I would like to talk to Sharon about this move, the changes in our lives and in the world. I read a poem I had written for Sharon at a memorial service on Sunday (Aug. 26) for another friend, Rita-Anne, a painter, poet, and a person of grace. Her love of nature also fills my world. The poem ends, “In the garden, new flowers appear daily. Deadhead the old blooms, allow new life to grow.”
New life, new light, changes, and growth. As summer ends, and — in Jewish culture, the new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins, with its wishes for health, happiness, and sweetness — along with saying farewell to the past, keeping the good memories, the feelings, the connections (it is just Hamilton to Toronto, commuting distance), and the stories.

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Moving, Part 3

It’s been good to see the Monarch butterflies, the roses of Sharon and the morning glories, the sun and even rain, these things that are beautiful ephemeral, living and do not need to be preserved, during this time of downsizing, purging — how many pounds of excess paper can a house hold? like 1000 or more clowns coming out of a car meant for 2 or 4 people? Why didn’t I do this cleaning and sorting earlier (or do MORE)???
The movers (three cheerful young men) are here now — some stuff to storage, some to my/our new home. As my son said once while packing, “Too many books” — even though I’ve given many away.
I was going through some nerves — would it all get done? how would logistics work? — and also sadness for leaving my home, garden, neighbourhood, people I can see frequently — but now there is also a feeling of excitement, moving toward something new and deeper. I have been rediscovering old letters from my family — my dad, in particular, who wrote infrequently and sparingly but always with love — and also poems about love, opening to life, to non-isolation. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood — and I am taking this one…

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Moving into Moving — Part 2

Coda to the previous post.

My grandparents on my dad’s side and my great-grandparents on my mother’s side were all immigrants — from Russia and Lithuania respectivly, to New York.
(I knew both Sarah, my dad’s mother, and Mary, my great-grandmother on my mother’s side, so that history was real and personal. Mary, especially, was a vital part of my life, and my mother’s; she died at 91 when I was 18.)
What did they bring? A trunk? A suitcase? A pair of shoes? A cooking-pot? A quilt? A menorah?
Only the “habit of hands,” as my friend, poet Sharon H. Nelson, said: the skills and love of cooking, of making clothing?
Certainly none of this “stuff” crowding my house.
In some ways, this
is the mind-set I want.

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Moving into Moving

Maybe what they say about childbirth is also true of moving house — you forget how hard it is so you can decide to do it all over again.
I have moved quite a few times over the years, sometimes just a few blocks within the same city, sometimes from city to city, or country to country — even across an ocean, and back. I have lived in Ontario since 1979, first Woodstock, then Hamilton since 2000 (though in a few different houses) — so that is fairly stable.
And even though I am looking forward to my coming move from Hamilton to Toronto (end of August), to live with my partner, I have mixed feelings about leaving my house, my garden, my neighbourhood, and living in Hamilton, where I have felt at home ever since coming here. I have lived in this house since 2005 — only 13 years, but yet a long time, especially because many of the things here, including books, manuscripts, and other papers, have been with me for much longer than that. Not to mention the things I brought from my mother’s house after her death, in Pennsylvania in 2009. I am finding childhood cards from and to my grandparents, photographs of people and places I’d almost forgotten, recipes, programs, souvenirs, writing by schoolkids I taught who are now at least 30 years old — and this is after months of recycling during the winter!! And of course, there have been many good visits and gatherings in this house, making it more of a home.
Moving is hard for anyone, but for a writer, there are special problems. We are like squirrels and magpies — we save things, and we love interesting, shiny things (or dull things which could be polished to rare beauty). All is grist for the miil, if not now, then in some indefinite future. Those old manuscripts (even ones written on typewriters (how long ago was that?) or saved on printer paper with punched holes, could be useful — a line here, a verse there. And the books and journals: my own (for which I’m grateful), those by good friends and acquired at readings, and all the books that I turn to for comfort, inspiration, curiosity, or just to reconnect with a good friend — a companion who makes me feel and think. “You have a lot of books, don’t you?” says every work-person who comes to the house — and then often has a story about their own writing, or their kids’.
And the stories, the memories, attach to so many everyday things: the patch of lily-of-the-valley where my cat lay down when he was dying; the painted barn-board my mother bought for her house in the country; the painting by my friend Rita-Anne who died last year, the blanket we took camping, my great-grandmother’s menorah? Keep — or let go? As Michele Landsberg once wrote about a missing family samovar, “There is always a story,” even if the object is gone. That’s also the theme of the beloved children’s book, “Something from Nothing” (written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman, adapted from a Jewish folk tale.)
And who will move into the house? What will they tear down, or repair? This was the only house I’ve lived in where I made extensive changes — tearing down a wall, completely reshaping the bathroom, adding to the garden. There is more I could do… with money, time, inclination (and a healthier back). Maybe it is time for new people to come here and enjoy it, as I move on with my life somewhere else.
Even the house seems to know change is on the way — the aging washing-machine gave up its watery ghost, the garden looks like the end of summer rather than July (the iris have some strange ailment, too). And several houses on the street have been sold this month. Maybe, the way we do with children as they grow up and leave home (my son, for instance, now lives in Cape Dorset, Nunavit — and I moved from the U.S. to Canada as a young adult), I can love the house and still let it go. There’s always a story….

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Another Birthday: Getting Older, Getting Old

Beware the Ides of March — my birthday, so a day I look forward to, as well as be-waring. This year I turn 73– hard to believe, but there it is! I was born in 1945, shortly before the end of World War Two. Now kids make me feel old for asking if they use Skype rather than Face-Time. I do have many Pisces friends, and it’s interesting that Albert Einstein was born on March 14, Pi Day — and that Stephen Hawkings died on that day.

In Jewish mystic numerology, the number 18 (for the word “Chai,” life) and all multiples of 18 are considered lucky and blessed (for example, if you give a donation, it adds to the value to give $18.00 or a multiple). So 72, last year, would have been a good year (which it was, in many ways), but also it is the completion of a cycle. 73 seems to be beginning a new, and unexpected cycle — just as the 9th day, after the 8 days of Chanukah, can represent a new start, as I noted in my novel “Feast of Lights.” This year, I am planning a move from Hamilton, where I have lived for about 20 years and have found and helped create a wonderful community of friends, colleagues, activities, and connections. I expected to continue living there — but at the same time have been developing a close, intimate relationship with someone I care about in Toronto, and it seems time to live together there. He has just turned 73 (also a Pisces), and it seems important, vital, to enjoy the good times in our lives together, as well as take care of each other when the inevitable problems of aging arise. I have lost a few dear friends in recent years, and others have been quite ill, now recovering — and, as someone next to me on the streetcar said last night, “We only have one life, not two lifes, not three lifes, just one!” And, perhaps surprisingly at this age, a new chapter is starting. Changes do bring change — I will miss friends and community life in Hamilton; on the other hand, it is commuting distance from Toronto (easier for Hamilton people to know this than those in TO), and I will be back. And you can visit me here — you will be welcome for dinner and coffee, and there is lots to do.
We talk about “growing” older and even “growing old” — growth is an ongoing process, even if the tree is a little more bent in the wind, and it takes the leaves and flowers longer to bloom — the colours are still brilliant and the scent is sweet. I continue to write, and have noticed a change in my poetry — even though I am not sure where it is leading.
Be AWARE, and March Forth with grace, courage, and a sense of balance– don’t “beware” of life’s turnings. As another Pisces friend wrote me, on a postcard of a Degas drawing of a ballerina, KEEP DANCING!

Birthdays spring us forward,
into flowering, into light.
hear the birds sing.

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Solitude, Being Alone, Loneliness

The British government recently appointed a Minister to deal with the problem of loneliness. This, as well as several other things, has made me think about the differences between loneliness and being alone, or solitude — which can be a fertile, creative, refreshing, or calming experience. There are many activities people enjoy doing alone: a solitary walk in the woods or on the beach, or even through city streets; writing a poem, painting a picture, listening to and perhaps playing music; reading; gardening; woodworking; doing a science experiment; meditating; daydreaming; taking a bubble-bath; going to an art gallery; sometimes cooking; even cleaning out the cupboards. Sometimes, as Wordsworth said, “the world is too much with us,” and we just want a break — “the pause that refreshes,” to paraphrase an old ad. As a writer, I really value solitude — both for doing the actual writing/rewriting, and for the walks and other activities that let me “mull” ideas in my mind. Swimming laps in a pool or swimming in a calm lake often frees up a space for ideas to play around with each other and combine in new ways. I think the times we enjoy being alone are when we are really enjoying a relationship with ourselves, a kind of inner, silent dialogue and companionship. When we are lonely, on the other hand, we are missing someone (who has died, or just left – forever, or for a day), and feeling abandoned or rejected, or envious of other people’s connections and relationships. At these times, it is hard to do anything except “wallow” in the feeling; to quote Wordsworth again, “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” Or, as one of my writing students said, perhaps more aptly: “Lonely as the last pickle in the jar.” Sometimes we create groups to help us make connections: book clubs, yoga classes, drop-in centres. I recently heard on CBC-radio about the “Men’s Shed,” informal groups in cities around the world, where men who are alone in life can find non-judgemental companionship, talk, a cup of coffee.

I recently put together a booklet of poems that my mother wrote during her last two years of life, age 89-91, when she was living at an Assisted Living home. These were the first poems she wrote; she said she could understand her feelings better when she wrote them down. In her “frailing” years, she often felt lonelier at the home, surrounded by people, than she had in her own home for the sixteen years after my father died. She was good at being alone while she was well — though I’m sure she was also lonely, too. Here is one of her poems that really moves me, and expresses the difference between these two states of mind:

Tonight I Am Lonely
often alone, rarely lonely,
alone a state of being,
lonely a state of feeling
alone is not sad
lonely is heart-breaking.
(Viola A.Jaffe, 2008)

In life, we need nurturing time alone and we need well-spent time with others — family, friends, lovers, children, pets (who are good companions in solitude), and people we meet casually like the clerk in a store. All this provides a range of experience, and helps us learn to talk, to listen, to solve problems, and to discover just who we are. There will be times we are lonely — and maybe some growth can come out of that, too. As I wrote recently in a memoir: Physicist friends have told me about blue shift, blue waves of light we see when an object in space is coming closer, while red waves indicate that something is moving further away, red shift. In human terms, approaching, longing, loving, leaving, grieving. Life is a combination of both, as we come in and out of each other’s lives

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Another New Year

This year the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashonah, falls on September 21(sunset on September 20), coinciding with the Autumn Equinox. I had intended to write something on July 1, Canada’s 150th (official) birthday — but summer drifted away from me, and also I had mixed feelings about the 150th, as the Indigenous peoples have been in Canada so many more thousands of years longer than that. This past July was the 38th year since my immigration to Canada, and I continue to be glad and grateful for being here, to a country that has been warm and welcoming to me, as a person, a mother, a writer, and a Jew — and which has a sense of community (our Health Care system is a prime example), regard for the environment (trying to do better), and is working, now, at dealing with the racist and colonial elements in our past: the Residential schools, 60s scoop, and continuing poor treatment of Indigenous peoples; the Komagata-Maru incident (1914), the rejection of the ship St. Louis, with refugees from Germany (1939), and similar incidents with immigrants, before the open-hearted welcome of the Vietnamese “boat people” in the 1970s and the current welcoming of Syrian refugees.

The Komagata Maru incident, you ask? This happened in Vancouver in 1914, when a Japanese ship with 376 Sikh would-be immigrants was detained for two months in the harbour and ultimately sent back to India, after the people on board suffered from hunger, thirst, and denial of their rights to enter this country because of government policies to “keep Canada white” and fear of “the other.” (one of the campaign slogans for Trump’s election was, “put the white back in White House. It takes a long time for racist ideas to change.) No matter who the “other” is, we need to recognize their humanity, and take away the false labels.

The Komagata Maru Incident is is also the title of a play by Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock, now on stage at the Studio Theatre in Stratford, in a beautifully-staged production, bringing our history to life for a wider, modern audience. The play, which has one character on this ship singing in the Punjabi language, taught me about this incident and also includes references to Indigenous culture. And it made me think of the St. Louis a generation later — another instance in which people needing help were sent back to a dangerous “homeland”, under the kind of “none is too many” thinking which ultimately hurts and destroys a country.

Emil Fackenheim, the noted Jewish Rabbi, philosopher, and Holocaust scholar, who was Rabbi at Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, 1943-48 (after he came to Canada as a refugee, fleeing Nazism), gave a radio address soon after the war, in which he urged people not to “quieten their consciences” because of the false but loud demands of power and influence (and greed), and to accept and take in refugees because of their human needs and problem, not because of what they can (or cannot) do for the richer, more powerful country they seek to enter.

I am writing this on a sunny, warm day in south-west Ontario. Golden leaves are on the trees and falling to the ground, purple and yellow wildflowers are blooming on the side of the road. In the midst of this, I am aware and mindful of all the devastation and destruction and suffering nature has caused in the past few weeks in “other” places — hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and throughout the Caribbean, earthquakes in Mexico, fires in British Columbia, and western U.S. And the devastation of wars and hostilities around the world. On this Rosh Hashanah morning, I wish my relatives, friends, and all the world a sweet, happy, healthy, peaceful, and loving New Year. There is a Jewish concept, “Tikkun Olam,” saving the world — and also the realization that we cannot do everything, but we can at least do something rather than nothing, in our own life, our own family, our own community. If each of us does what we can, in our own way, we help create the changes we want to see in the world. Shalom!

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Happy New Year

Here we are, on the second day of 2017, which like the first has dawned bright and sunny, at least in the Hamilton/Toronto area, and despite the bad news in other parts of the world. Let’s keep focused on Leonard Cohen’s lines, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in./ That’s how the light gets in.” Continue reading

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