Nothing succeeds like excess

Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess – Oscar Wilde

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If the above quote is true, then Vegas is a place that succeeds in its excess. Sitting here, thinking about another -30 degrees with the windchill day, I would take the excesses of Vegas without a complaint. The weather was incredible – no boots or hats or scarves.

Vegas is a place that you cannot describe fully to another person. It is something to be seen. The people on the sidewalks, the costumed people – characters from movies and TV – willing to have their photos taken with you for a price; the people handing out trading cards of naked women; the hordes and hordes of people carrying their drinks from one casino or party to another – the place is non-stop. I felt on sensory overload whenever we went out walking.

Outside the city, there is such simplicity to the landscape in comparison, and yet it is teeming with interesting features. Its naturalness is such a wonderful contrast.

The water fountain shows were gorgeous and for a minute or two, you could just slow down. Or take hundreds of quick shots, as I did. Either way, it was a focus away from the chaos.

It’s in the details

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One of the things I like to do is highlight the details, the small things, in flowers that you don’t see unless you – or your camera lens – get very close to the subject.

This week, I found out how challenging it is to find the details in mythology. I posed a simple question to my Comparative Mythology professor and spent hours and hours over the next two days responding to his attempts to get me to look at the details, find the answers, learn to compare. I didn’t get the right answers, I got completely lost along the way, but it was interesting trying to find how Snow White was possibly, maybe connected to the World Tree concepts which were spread across Eurasia (I know, right?).

Comparative Mythology is my favourite class. Usually. Mostly. I like all my classes but this is the only one that I willingly get out of bed and drag myself out in the cold of winter to attend at 8:30 in the morning. Given that every snowstorm we’ve had seems to occur on a Sunday night/Monday morning, this is no easy feat.

There is something about the power of myths coming down through time, the ways in which they have told and retold history – it’s just so captivating. It’s like it spins a web around you and pulls you in. The search for the details, the way that this tradition meets up with another, how these languages changed and evolved and distorted over time. Seriously.

It’s like looking at a flower and seeing the hundreds and thousands and millions of flowers that came before it to make it this flower.

The fact that the professor is brilliant and has lived a bit of a mythical life helps. His stories about finding the details in the stories, well, that’s half the fun. The way he says something and then laughs at the weirdness of the details. It is amazing to think that a person can live their whole lives in pursuit of something so elusive.

The first in the Nart Sagas we are studying right now has a section that reads:

If our lives be short,

Then let our fame be great!

Let us not depart from the truth!

Let fairness be our path!

Let us not know grief!

Let us live in freedom!

Really, how much better can it get than that.

Perfectly imperfect

I have a knack, on occasion, for taking photos of flowers or plants that are stunning but perhaps have a flaw here or there. I used to reject those photos because I was looking for the perfect picture which, by extension, needed to be of a perfect plant.

Just as I am learning, through studying anthropology, that there is no one truth, there is no one definition of beauty. I think I take photos of those types of flowers because they represent a truth: there is great beauty in the flawed.

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Reflecting on 2014

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I chose this photo as my favourite from 2014 for one big reason: my children surprised me on my birthday with a blanket with this photo weaved into it. It was an incredibly touching and thoughtful gift. It speaks to who they are and how well they know me.

I often like to start my posts with a quote and when searching for one that might help encapsulate my year, I found that Dr. Seuss quotes seem to be full of snippets of my year:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

I love this quote. I feel that returning to university is helping me appreciate my “brains”, motivates me to keep moving and growing and learning. The only downfall is that it has opened so many paths, so many options for learning, that I find choosing which direction to pursue next a hard thing to do – not really a downfall but rather a windfall!

“The more that your read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Every day I feel my brain expand, become stronger, more adept at working things out. I remember more easily, which is something I was warned would be a downfall of being an older student. Perhaps in comparison to my younger classmates I am deficient, but I certainly feel more capable and less scattered than prior to going back to school. I am definitely more efficient with my time!

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

I found it hard at first to “fit in” at university. Everyone is soooo young. I wandered around and wondered where I would fit in. Two things stick out from this year that made me accept and embrace that difference. I had a conversation with a young lady, as we walked between classes, and she asked me what was the hardest part of returning to school and I shared that I sometimes felt lonely, that I didn’t fit in. She stopped walking and turned to me and said, “Then you do fit in, because lots of people feel that way.”

The other encounter that put it in perspective was with a professor. He also asked me how I was finding the return to school and I shared that I was wondering what I could bring to the class given the age difference. He explained that I had a perspective that was unique and valuable. He said that I needed to “get over” the age difference and that my peers would follow suit.

When people ask – as they frequently do – how I find fitting in at university, I tell them it’s amazing. I do have difficulty, though, in explaining how and why it works, but it just does. Now, standing out is something I don’t feel is a negative. I embrace it and accept it and flourish within that framework.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

With children on both coasts of North America, there are hard, tearful goodbyes, even when another visit is in the works and not far down the road. The last goodbyes, ones we had in the last few days, are long goodbyes. We have no definite plans of when we will see each other in person. Yet, I have accepted that it is what it is. My children have wonderful, full, happy and fulfilling lives. They have people in their day-to-day lives who love them and care about their well-being. They have work that not only pays the bills, but that allows them to support and encourage those around them. They have launched into their own lives. My children are two of my greatest supporters and are transforming into two of my dearest friends. We are lucky to have close relationships and that is why I will always smile thinking of the times we share and look forward to the next opportunity to get a “squeezer” hug. They are happy, I am happy and I am happy for them. Life is good.

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

Well, yes. Let’s call it love. For more than 33 years, I’ve been in mutual weirdness with my sweetie. Without question, I would have been lost this year without his support – beyond the 3 meals a day he prepares for me, his encouragement, understanding and boldface bragging have been a significant part of my successful return to school. We shared one of my greatest memories of the year – our cycling trip to France. It was an experience beyond words. I could not think of anyone in this world I’d rather be weird with, now and forever.

“Breathing in, there is only the present moment” – Thich Nhat Hanh

A few days ago, I was out with Kyle, Laura and Warren in Toronto. I was beginning to anticipate their departures and was feeling anxious and sad. We were walking through Queen’s Park and I decided, instead, to focus on how I was “walking as if my feet were kissing the earth”. This practice brought me back into the moment, the moment of actually BEING with the three young people whose departure I was dreading. The moments of departure did come, and they were sad, but I also “lived the moments” when the children were around.

One of the greatest gifts of this year of abundance has been beginning the journey of learning mindfulness. It has contributed to my life in ways that have been subtle and profound. I feel that 2014 was full of changes and experiences that brought me an incredible amount of happiness and fulfillment; mindfulness is the foundation that I am deepening those experiences through.

Hand in hand with mindfulness are other words of wisdom. When my friend, Lois, told me of her terminal diagnosis, I asked her what I could do for her: “Live each day to the fullest”.

Lois is with me every day as I try to do just that; she influenced me for all of the 30 years we knew each other. My life is her life.

And it is one amazing life.

Brrr…..

We are not in Buffalo, thank goodness, but the snow has arrived. On the day I had my very first snow tires installed.

Methinks that is a sign.

Hoping it does not turn into ice….that was a storm my garden would like to forget.

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Softness

The real soft whiteness will soon be arriving – snow is in the forecast.

There’s always time to reflect back on another type of soft white – Allen Gardens, February, 2014.

 

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Allen Gardens February 2014