The Man

I’m sitting in a Grade 9 classroom at my local high school, facing about fifteen teens.  My job is to talk about writing.  On one level, I don’t know what to say.  But there are other levels.

What are the dreams of these young people?  What are their passions?  Maybe I can say something that will open their eyes to their heart, whether that’s about writing or playing piano or acting in Mary Poppins.

Let’s see what I have to say:

***

I was at Hugh’s Room on Sunday night awaiting my hero.  What I didn’t know was whether he was awaiting me.  Gordon Lightfoot’s music has moved me since the 1960’s, when I hung out at a coffee house in Yorkville in Toronto.

This was a tribute concert for Gord.  At the table, my server winked at me when I asked if he was coming tonight.  Oh my God!  I knew it wasn’t a “come hither” look.  Gordon was really going to grace us with his presence.

No sign of the man up to intermission.  Maybe six singers gave us their cool interpretations of Lightfoot songs, such as Did She Mention My Name?

Did she mention my name just in passing?
And when the talk ran high, did the look in her eyes seem far away?

I was moved, and at the same time felt the need to visit a certain room downstairs.  As I stood at the urinal, I told my neighbour how I had all my fingers crossed that Lightfoot would show up.

“He’s here!”

(Stunned silence)

“He’s sitting at a back table, on the right, having dinner with his friends.”

I threw myself up the stairs and casually slowed past the back right tables in the hall.  There was a fellow with his back to me, hair flowing well below his shoulders.  I moved past him and then snuck a glance backward.  The man himself, looking awfully ordinary, not the stuff of legend.

I was sitting across the room from Lightfoot, and as the performers continued to interpret his words in the second half, I often looked back at him.  Sometimes he was alone with his friends.  Sometimes the paparazzi crowded around, seeking photos, handshakes, contact.  C’mon, folks – leave him alone.  Let him eat in peace.

Then there were the moments when Lightfoot seemed to be feeling into his songs, as voiced by far younger musicians.  One of my favourite pieces is Song For A Winter’s Night:

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

When Laura Spink settled into the first phrases of the song, Gord lowered his head to his arms.  As she toned the delicate words of love, he remained still on the table.  At the final chord, he raised himself and applauded.  What was the dear man thinking as she sang?  Was it a lover long gone?  Was it sadness?  Was it peace?  To be watching him as the story unfolded was a blessing.

Lightfoot is an ordinary human being and an extraordinary poet.  We are the richer for him being with us.

***

Back to the teens.  I was only partway through my post as the bell came close.  I was happy … so happy.  I had talked to them as I typed away, sharing the decisions I was making on the fly.  I told them that my biggest word in writing is “trust”.  I know that good words will come from my fingers.  It may take time, but they’ll be there.  What I write needs to “sing” to me, or there’s no sense in creating it.  Other fine words are “real” and “natural”.  Nothing forced.  Sitting back at times and letting what wants to emerge bubble out.

I encouraged these young folks to listen inside for their passion.  For some of them, it’s clear already, not so for others.  And be willing to let that passion morph into something else if it wants to.  Write or sing or dance or play or build what pleases you and intend that your creations contribute to human beings.

I know that I’m on the planet to love people and make them laugh.  May all of us see why we’re here.

 

Fear of the Famous

I’m taking a live online course on relationships.  Eighteen of us from around the world have met for the past four Saturdays.  Our work is based on the ideas of Patricia Albere.  She sees the possibility that humankind can experience “mutual awakening” – the freedom of enlightenment experienced by two or more people together.

Part of our time together is spent listening to the teacher (Keren) speak.  And then there are times when each of us is paired with another participant for half an hour, doing an exercise meant to deepen the sense of connection.

During yesterday’s course, I pressed “Yes” to join my first 1-1 session and up popped … Patricia.  Fear coursed through me and words started racing: “The founder … famous person … smart person”.

Patricia went first and I watched myself flip back and forth between wallowing in my “stuff” and having my consciousness be inside her.  Again and again I brought myself back from terror and fell into the sweetness of relationship, only to see it slip away again.

When it was my turn, I told Patricia of my fear.  She got me.  And bit by bit another perception came through: That was a human being over there, admittedly one with great gifts, but in another sense quite ordinary, with the joys and sorrows that we all know.

We laughed a lot.  We enjoyed each other’s company.  I got to glimpse that I’m no more and no less than anyone else.  And maybe, just maybe, comparing is plain silly.

I started thinking of the Grade 5 and 6 kids I volunteer with.  I wonder if some of them are nervous around me, thinking that I’m a smart adult and they’re “just a kid”.  Hmm.  It feels like my job to talk to them from a “level” place, not like a pronouncement from on high.

Eleven-year-olds, Patricia and me.  All with something precious to give.

Chapters

Yesterday morning was my second book signing at Chapters.  Jody sent her love with me as I left home.  I was wonderfully calm and was so looking forward to whomever would be strolling down the aisle.

What does it mean that I sit at a table in a bookstore and sign copies of Jody’s book?  Am I famous?  No.  Is there a sign in the lobby mentioning my name?  Yes.  I don’t think that the signing itself means anything.  It’s just another opportunity to spread the love that Jody and I share.  There’s my desire to have ever more folks read our story, hopefully be touched by it, and then give a little more love to their precious ones.  Yes, that’s what I want.

I had 1000 copies of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife printed.  When I sat down at Chapters, I had given away 746 of them.  In one context, that’s better than 300, but in another it doesn’t matter.  Our love migrates outward whether on the written page or not.  Somehow, in a universe not far, far away, Jody and I touch people, whether or not they realize it.

So .. there sits my bum in a chair behind a table decorated with feng shui-like piles of books.  People come and people go, most of them not making eye contact.  Those that do receive a “Hello” from me.  Nothing more, unless they want to talk.

Several friends show up and I get to hug and palaver.  How wonderful that they came.  The little part of me that’s tied to stats is disappointed, though.  “They already have one of Jody’s books.”  Oh, Bruce … let go of the smallness.

Here comes Trevor (all names here are changed to protect the happy).  He’s the employee that has set up the table for me.  He asks about Jody’s story.  He talks about the importance of love.  He invites customers to come over and see me.  He wants to have a book.

Here comes Barry.  He’s an older gentleman, just like me.  He wants to write about the tapestries of his life.  He’s put this off for a long time.  I tell him about self-publishing with Blurb.  I talk about my writing challenges and delights.  He smiles.  He wants to have a book.

And then there’s Nicole, probably in her 70’s.  We talk of love and loss.  Her husband and my wife.  We both soften.  She wants to have a book.  A half hour later, she comes back to the table with a man who has become her second husband.  They’re holding hands.  They’re caressing each other’s arms.  Nicole says that neither of their partners were very affectionate physically, but the two souls in front of me sure are.  Everyone smiles.

What a privilege to sit there and welcome human beings into my space.  I just might do that every day, no matter where I am.

Fame?

Five hundred more copies of Jody’s book arrived on my doorstop this afternoon.  And this e-mail from Chapters South in London showed up in my Inbox:

“I am very interested in having you in the store to do a signing or two.”

Assorted thoughts now proceed from my brain:

1.  Get a grip, Bruce.  You’re not going to become famous.  You’re just going to sign a few books.

2.  Fame sounds like a pain in the ass.  You’d have no life.

3.  I want our story to reach the hearts of people far and wide.  How exactly do I do that?

4.  There’s no time for book signings.  On July 21, I’m heading off on a six-week road trip to Western Canada.  Then home for a week, followed by a very long meditation retreat in Massachusetts.  See?  No time.

5.  Think of all the folks I could meet in the store.  I love talking to people.

6.  What if nobody came?  What would that do to me?

7.  It’s not like Jodiette: My Lovely Wife is a novel or anything.  I just wrote a lot of e-mails and blog posts and strung them together into a book.

8.  But it’s a good story, of two human beings who love each other deeply, who suffered and joyed together.

9.  I don’t want this to be about ego.  It’s not “Oh, what a good boy am I.”

10.  Jody touched so many people in her life – friends, family, patients, colleagues.  Now she’s opening the hearts of readers after her death.

11.  What exactly am I going to do with the rest of my life?  Whatever it is, I’ll be with people.

12.  Will a publisher pick up our book so that readers across the globe can be nudged a little closer to their loved ones?

13.  What are you blathering on about?  Pick some other topic for today’s post.

14.  On the front cover, Jody is looking deep into the soul of whomever’s holding the book.

15.  Stay on topic, Bruce.  Corral your thoughts into some coherent whole.

16.  Who am I?

17.  One woman told me that she read our book and now her mom has started it.  And her daughter is waiting in line.

18.  It’s just a book … 190 pages of large type.  No photos.  It’s ordinary.

19.  Me, sitting at a table, watching a line of book holders approach?  (No, no.  There won’t be a line.)

20.  Why don’t I just meditate for awhile?  You know, the silent stuff.

21.  Whew, sigh, hmm, and other short expressions of the unknown

***

Tomorrow I’m going to write about golf

On The Train And At The Play

So off I went yesterday, taking VIA Rail from London to Belleville, a trip of 6 hours including a stopover in Toronto.  I found my precious window seat and introduced myself to my neighbour.  I’ll call him Trevor.

We talking about lots of stuff, including our interest in Buddhism.  Trevor and I compared notes about the retreats we’d been on.  Very cool.  He mentioned a book that sounded familiar.  The author started with an historical incident, in which Chinese troops were chasing Tibetan refugees who were fleeing their country for Nepal, and wove a tale of adventure and morality.  “It’s called _____________,” Trevor said.

“I have that one on my Kobo.  Haven’t read it yet.”  And our discussion continued.  Only after a minute or two did I clue in to the fact that I was sitting beside the author.  My small voice said, “Golly gee.  I’m talking to a famous person.”  Happily, that voice closed its mouth almost immediately.  We were just folks, Trevor and me, chatting about our love of words.  It was fun.

Later, as we said goodbye, Trevor and I exchanged books … his about nineteen human beings who were “cast adrift on an ice floe”, mine about my dear wife Jody.  At the Bed and Breakfast in Belleville, I read snippets of reviews about Trevor and his story:

“A triumph of a novel … [Trevor] has pulled off a masterpiece.”

” _______________ is up there with the best work in the genre … This is gripping stuff.”

What a blessing to have spent time with Trevor.  But truly, what a blessing it is to spend time with anyone.  We all glow, even though with some of us, the body is currently hemming it in.

***

“The play’s the thing.”  Would you believe I just made that up?  No, I didn’t think so.  It was time for the first of three performances of Jake’s Women at the Pinnacle Playhouse.  I walked in the door, showed a woman my Internet ticket for last night’s show, and she walked off into another room.  “I’ll be right back.”  When she returned, she was carrying three real tickets wrapped in a little piece of notepaper.  I opened the note and read:

“Hi Bruce,

Read your blog.  Glad to have you here.  Enjoy the show(s).  See you after.

The Cast of Jake’s Women”

Awesome!  I cried out in joy in the lobby.  Another woman approached me and I showed her the note.  She had seen it before.  Her husband had written it.  “I know who you are,” she said, smiling.  Oh, this is a good time.

I sat in the front row and watched Jake’s every move, every subtlety of mouth and hands, of tone and pause.  He was magnificent.  I was happy for him.  And the woman playing his wife Maggie so deeply inhabited her role, it was a joy to see.

***

It’s Friday morning.  After a yummy breakfast, I’m in a sitting room, cheerily tapping away.  I’m so glad I’m here.  After a day of meandering around downtown Belleville, strolling by the Moira River, and perhaps getting lost in the trees of Riverside Park, it’ll be time for round two of Jake’s Women.  I’m ready.

Robin Williams

My favorite film of Robin’s is “When Dreams May Come”.  It’s the story of Chris, a man who’s killed in a car crash and discovers a heaven full of his wife’s paintings.  Meadows of flowers overflow with wild splotches of paint in the most vivid colours.  It is both an internal and external world brought alive, so alive.

Robin’s wife in the film, Annie, becomes depressed after the death of their two children, also in a car accident, and commits suicide after Chris dies.  Eventually he lets go of heaven and descends to the darkness of hell to rescue Annie.  Such a love.

Robin Williams brought so much passion to the screen, and joy.  But it wasn’t enough to be adored by millions.  How can it be that his life was also torn apart by agonies of the mind?  When I look at celebrities, I hope that what I see is what I get.  May the happy faces for the camera also be happy faces for their loved ones.  I once heard Sharon Salzberg talk about Miss Kentucky.  Years after the peak of her fame, she was asked what impact her crown had had on her.  Her response?  “I’m just so tired of smiling.”

I always hope that celebrities are truly nice people, ones who would treat the gas station attendant with respect and good humour.  And treat themselves with respect as well, seeing their own holiness.

We’re so fragile, we human beings.  We want to be good people.  We want to be gifts to the folks around us.  We want to love ourselves.  But the demons arise and sometimes won’t go back to sleep.

***

Actress Minnie Driver:  “My heart’s broken.  Robin Williams was a beautiful, kind soul.  Can’t bear that he’s gone.”

Robin Williams:  “People just want to be entertained.  They see you do something wonderful and they want you to do it again … and again … and again … until they get tired of it and want somebody else … They’ll finally go ‘Harrumph!  Seen that!’  ‘But that’s what you wanted!’  ‘Used to.’  And you’re dead.”