This photo just reappeared on Facebook, posted 17 October 2016. I couldn’t believe it then, and I can hardly believe it now. What an honor. What memories. Imagine: immortalized on a beer pump in the bar of a foreign-to-me-now rugby club.
“There is some far corner of a foreign bar that is forever Canada, and Wales. And in that bright brew, a shadow will remain, a memory, ghosting through, whose stay was not in vain.”
Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity. The Olde Order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world. The memories fade as faces age and friends grow distant. They fade away like dreams in the early light of day.
This from the days when I was a wannabe artist who thought he could actually be an artist. But no, it was not to be and the masks fell off and dropped to the ground. There was no Covid back then, so I didn’t have to pick them up and put them back on again. And I didn’t have to stay two metres – six -feet – away from the painting. If you paint with the Devil, you need a long brush. Also known s a Devil’s Paint Brush.
To paint or not to paint, that is the question. So, I chose the path of mindfulness, la escondida senda por donde han ido los pocos sabios que en el mundo han sido / the hidden path along which have walked the few wise men who have lived in the world. And yes, art, in all its forms, is mindfulness, being in yourself, being aware of the moment, being taken up by that split second when paint hits paper, canvas, or whatever, and being absorbed totally in that.
Gardening will do that for you. Also what I call hyperspace, that wonderful world between fingertips, and screen where the great ideas flow naturally, like paint, and words come tumbling out onto the page. Today’s theme: The Great Pretender. Not all the words are wonderful, nor all the ideas great. The greatest skill is to be able to differentiate between gems and dross. This comes with patience and practice. But when the words flow, and the paint settles, there are few joys like it.
How could one not give thanks for the bounties of Thanksgiving? Listening to Cross Country Check Up, last night, as I have done for the last 55 years, I was amazed at how people, some of them in dire circumstances, were able to find things for which to be thankful. I haven’t made a list of the things for which I am thankful and I certainly didn’t call in to the talk show to give my opinion, but let me think…
I am thankful for the beauty of the natural world. Just look at that sunrise! Yesterday we walked in Mactaquac and admired the beauty of the changing leaves. Migrating geese put on a display, taking off from the waters of the head pond, flying, then settling down again. We: I am grateful for the presence of my beloved, still beside me after all these years. I am grateful that we are together and that we are both of us able to walk and indulge in this province’s autumnal beauties.
I am grateful for faithful friends. I will not name them all. If I did, this blog would never be finished. This morning, an e-mail from Geoff Slater, whose paintings and drawings have often appeared on the blog, spoke of the nature of ritual and how we use it. He spoke of external rituals and how, during times like these, when our normal lives are upside down, we lose the ability to follow our external rituals. This may cause dismay and a loss of stability to many. However, he also reminded me that we, as practicing artists, have established our own internal rituals. These keep us going in the difficult times, for they are always there to fall back on. Following his line of thought, I explored my own daily rituals, the ones that have kept me going throughout Covid-19. Thank you, Geoff, for those ideas and for your long-term friendship.
I am grateful for the initial offer, from the University of Toronto, to come to Canada to study all those years ago. Canada gave me a chance to challenge my established rituals and to build and shape new ones that were more suitable to my inner being, a being that I had kept well hidden from the Masters of the Universe who limited my creativity, and ruled the rituals of my Boarding schools and my undergraduate studies. Above all, I am grateful for that rich, inner world of creativity and dream and I am doubly grateful for those who have allowed me and encouraged me to express it and set it down for others to share.
So, Thanksgiving Day: a day on which to give thanks for all the blessings that are in our lives, large and small. Sure, times are tough. Sure, we could all do with more money. Sure, we could go on and on about our wants and needs. But today my want and my need is to give thanks for who, what, where, when and why I am. As my friend Norman Levine once wrote: Canada Made Me.
For the first twenty-two years of my life Thanksgiving held no meaning, no life, no substance, no form, nothing familiar, nothing special to hold my attention.
When I emigrated to Canada my cousins changed all that with an invitation to visit them in Kincardine for Thanksgiving.
Turkey on the table, colored table napkins, and a family gathered, arms outstretched, to make me welcome.
We were all surprised at how alike we looked. “Like Cousin George, in Vancouver,” they said. “Like Cousin Elsie in Revelstoke.” “Like my mother’s mother, back home in Swansea,” I said.
They told me how the Second World War had brought the family back together on these special holidays: Christmas in Wales for the Canadian boys or Thanksgiving in Winnipeg for the Welsh boys learning to fly.
That Thanksgiving, the old family names turned to photographs: snaps of my mother’s wedding, my grandmother holding me, age three, on her knee.
And finally, as a special Thanksgiving gift, a long-distance call to Britain and Clare on the telephone saying “Yes,” she would come to Canada, and “yes,” she would marry me.
And I remember crying all the way from Kincardine to Toronto, and that was my first Thanksgiving in Canada.
Comment: A Golden Oldie, indeed. This poem is from my collection Secret Gardens. The secret love poems I write to Clare. It was published on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, 24 December 1991. It is a pleasure to re-publish it here for Thanksgiving, 2021. Now what am I going to do for 24 December 2021?
This is a painting inspired by one of Messiaen’s works: Visions from Beyond. His music inspired me to write the Meditations on Messiaen, and I have posted several of those poems on this page. For me, creativity is continuous: verbal and visual. The visual includes painting and photography, the verbal, short stories, poems, and short philosophical pieces on life and art. This is the link to the first poem from the sequence entitled Visions from Beyond. I should add that the audio reading is part of what I call creativity too: audio, visual, verbal. The complete package.
My Thursday thought: I feel that I have been blessed. To be able to see, speak, write, hear, and express some of the beauty of this world around me. I know there is ugliness out there, sickness, ill health, poverty and despair. So far, I have been spared. “Why me?” I think to myself, “Why me?” Then I cease to question and I just say “Thank you” to the Spiritus Mundi and to the Muse when she descends.
Every morning, when I wake, my mind runs through some of the hymns I used to sing as a child. “Songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.” “Laud, bless, and praise Him all thy days, for it is seemly so to do.” “Good Shepherd may I sing Thy praise, within Thy house forever.” Meanwhile, until that time comes, I will do my best to celebrate and sing the beauties of this world in the oh-so-limited ways I know best, poetry and paint!
One of my good friends always greets me with the following phrase: “Still on the green side of the grass, then”. So, here’s my painting: Stay on the Green Side. Much better than the other side, from all that I am told by my more down-to-earth companions. I will not intrude upon the thoughts of some of my other friends, nor expose their beliefs. I’ll paint for them another day.
So, while you can, and while you may, Stay on the Green Side, my friends. Wake up each morning, smell the coffee, and gather ye rosebuds while ye may!
There is so much happening. It’s hard to keep track of it all. Reading and annotating the material I am working on for my online writing seminar. Painting: a delightful relief and relaxation. Who cares if I can’t paint? I can make meaning out of shape and color, like my friend Matisse. Writing: the poetry is back and I will start revising those short stories again soon. I may also go back to my first novel. I have abandoned it for too long.
Meanwhile, each dawn is a busy dizzy time. This morning I decided to lie in bed until 24 birds had flown past my new bedroom window, one for each new pane of glass. It took about fifteen minutes. I watched the mist rise and then the sun start to break through and when the sun came, so did the birds. Dizzy Dawn is now hanging on the wall, along with another set of paintings I have finished recently.
Life is good. I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.
The Octo-Plus has eaten up all my words and the stream has run dry. When the words don’t flow, I let the paint flow instead. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That might actually be a self-portrait, lurking in the bottom left corner of the painting’s glass. Ah, the ghost, not in the machine, but in the painting. It’s a hard life, being a writer when the words dry up.
I remember the old school’s terms of abuse “Oh, dry up!” Well, 70 years later, I have done just that. Mind you, it’s only for a day or two, and look, miracle of miracles, I am writing again. Leave the keyboard, take up your pen. The words are flowing and you’re writing again.
Wisdom in the wrinkled skin, the grin that glows with humor, the sun sign of old age, or merely that of ageing, the knowledge that, yes, many have walked this wobbly way before, and many will follow.
What is pain, but the knowledge that we are alive, and relatively well, and still on the green side of the grass. Long may it last. When the pain is gone, we shall soon follow. For this is age, and age is this pain, and the painful knowledge that we are no longer young, can no longer bend the way we bent, or touch our toes, or even see our toes, some of us. The golden arrow pierces the heart. Fierce is the pain. But when that arrow is withdrawn and the heart no longer lives in love, why, how we miss that pain, how we weep to find it gone, perhaps never to come back again.
Pain, like rain, an essential part of the cycle of the seasons, of the days and the weeks, and all the months and years that walk us around time’s circle, in time with the earth and its desire to open its arms, and welcome us, and greet us, and bring us rest, from our pain.