Visibly Wrong

For the second evening in a row, I sat in the middle of the front row in Koerner Hall. Last night was a celebration of the life of Charles Aznavour, a French singer and composer or co-composer of 1000 songs.

The young man who played Charles was full of the spirit of life. It shone in his eyes, his voice and in his widespread arms. And I sat at his feet. He was surrounded by other brilliant musicians, playing keyboard, drums, stand up bass, and accordion. The songs were haunting, and almost all of them were in French. I can compose sentences on French but figuring out the fast speech of others is very difficult.

Koerner Hall seats about 1100 people and I was happy to be at the front of things. I don’t mind being seen. In fact, I love being seen … and heard.

At one point, the young Charles asked for requests. I heard voices behind me and knew I’d participate. Before the concert, a friend had waxed poetic about the song “Mamma”. I didn’t know it, but why not?

“Mamma!” I yelled.

Charles stared down at me, with a quizzical look.

The woman to my left nudged me. “He sang that one two songs ago.”

Oops. If I wasn’t just so darn loud. I imagined 1100 snickers behind me.

Happily, I didn’t let this minor interruption slow down my zest for the music. Why dampen myself? Why waste energy slumping my soul? Life continues to request that I live it.

Fast forward to the last song of the concert. I pretty much knew this was the last song because things were coming to a close … in French. The real Charles made an appearance on the big screen, accompanied by the words “You will always live in our hearts.” The instruments were swelling up to a grand finale. Yes, this was the end.

The last note hung in the air and I burst from my chair in a raucous standing O. I clapped and clapped. My excellent peripheral vision showed that no one else nearby was erect. And once more young Charles was looking down at me with … curiosity.

Anothe nudge from the left. “They have a few more songs to do.”

Ahh … to be bilingual. But no matter. I held my head high and enjoyed the rest of the concert, taking my cue from other folks about when to stand again.

Sticking out like a sore thumb. I smile at the thought of it.

Last

I watched the Grade 3’s to 6’s run cross-country today at Fanshawe Conservation Area. We were one of maybe twenty schools churning their guts out over hill and dale. Every race had at least one kid from home and I applauded lustily.

The surge of children flying over the first few hundred metres was spectacular … an absolute flood of power roared by me. After they’d disappeared past a grove of trees, I sauntered over to another viewing spot about halfway along the race. When the boys or girls reached this stretch, they were strung out and breathing hard.

I know me, and I know what I love to do – cheer on every kid, no matter what school they represented. So each race I clapped and exhorted from the first athlete to the last.

And there at the end were the true lessons of the day. Sure, the leaders were marvelous athletes worthy of all the praise raining down, but the true heroes trailed the pack. Exhaustion danced with embarrassment and a determination to finish. No shining medals for these folks. Usually it was just me and the high school volunteer marshals who remained on the course to cheer on the stragglers. It’s lonely being last.

I remember.

Way back in Grade 8, I was a nerdy kid who had never ventured onto a team. At Field Day in June, the principal had lined up all the Grade 7 and Grade 8 girls and boys across the wide expanse of our schoolyard for a 100 yard dash. I’d guess that there were three classes in each grade, with maybe 30 students in each. So … about 180 of us were off with the gun.

You know how this story ends. For awhile, I thought my physical weakmess and flaring acne would be the end of me. But they weren’t. I turned out just fine.

I’m with you, dear last place finishers in today’s meet. There’s a bond between us, and the path ahead is very much alive. On we go.

Visibly Lacking

I’m taking an online course with souls from all over the world. We meet live as many as five times a week. It’s astounding to see all those faces on my computer screen.

Today, just before we were to be paired up for a practice exercise, the leader gave some instructions. I didn’t understand them, but then – Poof! … there I was facing another human being.

An image came to me of a male elementary teacher. He was standing in front of me with a yardstick in his hand, ready to smack my fingers. A voice roared: “You did it wrong!”

Later I decided to share with the large group about what I had gone through. The leader was coaching me to stay with my experience, without conceptualizing or telling a story. As I struggled to find what was true for me, I felt myself dying again: “You’re no good. You’re too afraid of the teacher’s disapproval. All these people are watching.” And I shrunk.

The teacher kept trying to bring me back out but I fell deeper into the hole. I was grinding through the moment – so different than talking about a previous grinding moment. “I’m so embarrassed.”

Bruce was disappearing, and not in a transcendent way. It wasn’t a case of losing something and finding something sweeter. Of saying goodbye to the ego and then rising into rarefied air. No. I was just plain lost.

***

So, Bruce, what’s true?

At times, I struggle to stay with what I’m experiencing
At times, I get scared so easily
At times, I shrink under the eyes of others
At times, I wallow in seeing myself as “less than”

But you know, Bruce, something else is true
You’re willing to be visible

Through the warts
Through the fear
Through the not knowing
Through the public viewing
Through the words stumbling out
Through the heart sinking to the floor
Through the desires for approval
Through the not making sense
Through the “wrong answers”
Through the tightness in the throat
Through the blushing
Through the pain

***

I’ll take it

Urinal

I left home for my Toronto trip minus one essential accessory.  Since I usually have to pee twice during the night, a urinal sits beside my bed.  Not this time.

No problem.  After all, this is the metropolis of Toronto and Shoppers Drug Mart is an easy walk from the B&B.  Let’s see … “incontinence” and “constipation” – sounds like the perfect aisle.  Nope, and actually no aisle did the job.  “I suggest you drive to Shoppers Home Health Care on Lawrence Avenue near Bathurst.”  Thank you, sir.  I know those stores have lots of medical equipment – wheelchairs, walkers, urinals.

So off I went in dear Scarlet, 4:30 on a Friday.  Rush hour can’t be that bad.  Wrong.  I stopped and started and stopped all the way along Lawrence.  Strangely, I was pretty loosy goosy about it all.  Gave me a chance to drink in a 200-metre-long mural under an overpass, full of vibrant faces and the wonders of the natural world.  Some of my friends in adjoining cars were quite antsy, however, zipping in and out of lanes, only to end up one or two car lengths ahead.

Finally a left turn into Lawrence Plaza and I was there.  I strode confidently into the store and was greeted by a woman wearing a huge smile.  “Oh, sir, those have been backordered for two weeks.”  (Sigh)  All this way for no peeing vessel.  What I did find on the shelf was a yellow plastic peanut-shaped thing, about two inches high and eight inches long.  I calculated how much pee it would hold and whether that would fulfill my nightly needs.  “Oh, just buy it, Bruce.”  $1.12.

Homeward bound to the B&B.  Altogether the round trip was one hour and twenty minutes but at least I wouldn’t be stumbling to the hallway bathroom at 3:00 am.

3:00 am

I sat on the edge of the bed and did my thing in the soft glow of the table lamp.  I watched expectantly as the urine climbed the walls of the peanut.  The flow stopped about 3/8 of an inch from the lip.

9:00 am

Open my bedroom door.  Open the bathroom door.  Put up the toilet seat.  Return to the bedroom.  Grasp the peanut at each end.  Walk oh so slowly out of my room, down the hall and into the bathroom, negotiating a variety of changes in flooring.  Think “What if someone comes by right now?”  Worry.  No one.  Tip the contents into the toilet.  Rinse the vessel.  Slink back to my room.

Okay, this doesn’t rank up there with an entrancing conversation or an inspiring concert but it still was a true life adventure.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

On The Stage

I went to a workshop yesterday for beginning actors.  I wasn’t nervous at all as I walked in.  I talked to a few people in the foyer, put on my nametag, and then took a chair by myself.  Gabbing and not gabbing … both were okay.

For the first hour-and-a-half, our leader did a lot of teaching, and then it was time for coffee.  I started talking to a woman whose nametag said “Gladys”, but other people laughed when I called her that.  Shirley liked having fun with nametags.  And so do I.  I asked her if we could switch.  She was all for it.  For the rest of the day, I had my moments of confusion, as I heard my fellow participants referring to “Bruce”.  Not the me I know.  I was enjoying being Gladys, that’s for sure.

Our improv group of three decided to be uptight bank robbers brandishing guns at a teller.  Little did we know that she was an undercover cop.  Such fun.  And I got to dress up in a fancy black suit jacket and a floppy hat.  I felt quite nasty for close to an hour, as we watched other groups perform and then did our thing.

Next on the menu, we sat in a big circle on the stage.  One person suggested a topic and would give us a sentence about it, starting with the letter A.  The next improv-er got to continue, beginning with a word that started with B.  And so on.  On one go-round I got Z, and was very pleased to come up with “Zowie!”  After a complete circuit of the alphabet, we debriefed.  I mentioned that I didn’t like it when someone was struggling to create a sentence beginning with a certain letter, and others would chime in with suggestions.  Duly noted by the group.  When we began again, with the topic slowly morphing into a discussion about pets, it was my turn with the letter K.  And I couldn’t think of a darn thing.  Naturally nobody helped me, and the silence deepened.  The tension rolled through me for at least thirty seconds, until I blurted out, “Killing pets is really not a good idea.”

So I got to sit with my fear.  And I realized that drawing a blank was all right.  I didn’t die on the spot.  Oh, drama, what a teacher you are!

Later in the day, our groups of three each put on the same ten-page play, holding our scripts as we told the story.  Partway through, I got really confused about where I was supposed to be standing, and how I was supposed to kiss a woman without blocking her from the audience, and in general about all the stage directions written in the script in italics.  Out of the corner of my head, I heard silence hanging in the air, and finally found the highlighted line that I was supposed to say seconds earlier.  Humbled again.  Totally out of character, I smacked myself in the head.  At least I got a laugh doing that.

I survived this faux pas as well, and learned one more time to laugh at my imperfections.  Later, I would have a third opportunity to eat humble pie.  Quite delicious, actually.  The workshop was over and I had gone to a restaurant in St. Thomas.  I sat at the bar and watched big screen sports.  Had a good conversation with the bartender.  After a generous helping of nachos, and a sinful brownie, ice cream and whipped cream combo,  I checked my shirt to see if I had blobbed stuff there.  Nope, I was fine.  But there was a piece of paper stuck to my chest.  It said “Gladys”.  My friend behind the bar said he hadn’t spoken up about it since it was none of his business.  I told him the switcheroo story.  I think he understood.  If not, it was another rich life experience within the world of dramatic arts.