The Unfinished Painting

Unfinished Painting 1

The painting is large, about 3′ x 4′ framed. It is unfinished. 

On visits when I was escaping the complexity of my life, I asked my mother about the large painting hanging in the dark basement. “It’s unfinished,” she would say. “Well, what else needs to be added?” I probed. “Oh, just some details.” She replied somewhat evasively.

Well, now she is gone and the painting leans against the wall beneath the window in what was her bedroom. The painting is still unfinished.

Perhaps I am the only one who knows the painting is unfinished. Yet knowing makes looking at it all the more perplexing, mysterious, and unknown for me.

There is something unsettling about a piece of art that the artist declares unfinished because every work of art is a work in progress. It is the artist who decides when to stop and when to say it is finished. Death is no excuse.

I read a novel this summer that was written by two authors. How could this be? I wondered. Upon further examination, I discovered that the book was started by a woman who later developed cancer. While her health declined, the woman’s niece was entrusted with finishing the novel.

This gave me an idea.

I contacted a woman from Quebec with whom my mother had studied painting during artist retreats in Charlevoix, France. Here is what I wrote:

Bonjour Denise. My apologies in advance for writing in English, as it will be easier for me to be clear. I hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer we are blessed with. First of all, I want to thank you for the time, attention, and friendship that you gave to my mother, Pierrette. I know she respected and thought highly of you. Secondly, I do want to ask you something, perhaps strange, that I would like you to consider. Let me explain: My mother had a large painting that I now have since her passing away. Whenever we would talk about this painting, she told me it was not finished. I am now wondering if you would be willing to examine the painting and perhaps finish it as you would see is required? I’m not sure if it is oil or acrylic paint. You would probably know best. I know this is an unusual thing to ask, but since my mother respected you and your talent so much, I thought maybe you would consider this request. Please give it some thought and let me know at your convenience. Merci pour votre considération, Anne-Marie Lindell

 

Her response came promptly:

Quelle belle demande chère Anne-Marie, je suis touchée de ta confiance. J’accepte avec joie, envoie moi une photo de la peinture. Je serai libre et dispo de la compléter en fin octobre à mon retour de Charlevoix. .. à la fin de mes ateliers de peintures. Je conserve un excellent et chaleureux souvenir de ta maman. On l’aimait beaucoup mon Yves et moi. Allez, au plaisir de te lire. And, in English it is more than fine !!!

 

She gladly accepted to finish the painting.

 

Rose Landing

 

58403409813__B53B4FD9-29DA-4F0D-96C2-F1A5F8536C2A

The heart beeps of shining star.
I open the stars that blossom.
A rose, a palace rose
and it was the prettiest rose on the landing
of the little girl's house.
The little girl went out to cut some flowers.
The mother came out after to get her.
But she was cutting and cutting the flowers.
She sold the flowers and bought a new house for her mama.

by Maya Lindell, age 5

The house is called Rose Landing because of this prose my daughter composed when she was five years old.

When my mother lived in this house, I would come to rest and relax – it was a place to escape to – a sanctuary.

Now, no longer sandwiched in the role between grandmother and daughter, me as mother transitions to identify as something else.

It is as though my daughter manifested this house for me, years ago, when she told the flower story which I wrote down beside the beautiful rose she painted. I found the story again more than a decade later as I was purging stuff from yet another move. I had forgotten about it. To read her imaginings again touched me deep inside. I protected the delicate paper in a gold frame and placed it in view on a shelf to remind me of the sweetness of my little girl. Even then I had no idea it would manifest into a “new house for her mama.”

The mystery of life unfolding is what I cherish.

The house is still filled with the photos, trinkets, and items that gave meaning to my mother’s life. She surrounded herself with objects to remember the experiences, events, and people she cherished.

To sit here now, I am reminded of her. She is with me. As my daughter is with me.

She left behind her essence in the beauty of the home she created.

Merci Maman.

2018 in Review

melaquesunset2018

Melaque, Mexico

Looking back in 2018, it was a full year:                           full of changes, anticipation, and surprises.

The first day of the year was brought in from Melaque, Mexico, while on the epic trip where my daughter met her father for the first time. New Year’s Eve was spent with friends, as we dined and danced in a warm beachfront restaurant. My daughter rescued a scrawny kitten from the streets and in a matter of a few days, did everything in her power to prepare the little Lechuga (lettuce) for relocating to Canada: several visits to the vet, neutering, vaccinations, papers, travel crate, and the last space reserved for animals on the flight back to Edmonton. As she angsted over the decision, the taxi pulled up to take us to the airport. In the final ten seconds before sliding into the back seat of the car, she gave the kitten one last kiss and squeeze before handing Lechuga to a Canadian friend and said adios.

We were later informed that Lechuga had been adopted by another Canadian family and resided on Salt Spring Island, BC.

My mother had had a stroke in November 2017, so I decided that after I finished my teaching contract in June, I would move to Perth, Ontario to care for her. I started a profile on the school board website, paid the fees, and every so often, perused the job opportunities. By May, I was receiving phone calls from schools in the Perth area looking for substitute teachers. I took this to be a good omen.

But the end of January brought on another, more severe stroke for my mother, as the family rushed to her bedside. We were gathered together in her hospital room, quietly talking, listening to her favorite jazz and easy-listening genres of music, and mending strained relationships. We were waiting, wondering, wishing for a miracle. Although she wore a DNR bracelet, she hung on two weeks longer, slipping in and out of consciousness.

What impacted me most was the care and compassion my brother exuded for our dying mother. The way he caressed her forehead and cooed in her ear showed such tenderness and vulnerability. He softly talked to her, making light of the hand gestures pointing to nothing we could decipher or folding and refolding the edge of the blanket she kept flat with repeated smoothing. We tried to make sense of or understand what she was experiencing, what she wanted, how she was feeling, but there was no way to truly know, so we imagined instead.

We wanted to be there with her in the final days. A calm acceptance eventually washed over us as we witnessed the frailty of our mother who had been so active, full of joie de vivre, and vibrant throughout her life. My mother left this world just after midnight on February 11, 2018. The day before my daughter’s 19th birthday.

Returning to Edmonton, I drifted through the days in auto-pilot. Numbed from the event that just passed, I continued at my job in the Islamic school but with a heavy heart and sense of leaving. Spring Break in March brought some respite from the monotony by taking a short trip to Florida – a getaway to somewhere warm.

April was uneventful. May marked another birthday celebrated at Rogers Place to see the Eagles concert on the cusp of Ramadan. I plunged into fasting and daily Quran reading glad for the discipline.

My brother, as Executor of the Estate, announced that he was putting the house on the market. My stomach plunged. I mentioned it to a friend, who suggested that I buy the house from my brothers as in rent-to-own. Without giving it much thought, I reacted, “Why not?” and sent them an email. What did I have to lose? I had nothing. I was in a state of deep grieving where my plans to move to Perth to care for my mother had fatefully been kiboshed. The contract at the Islamic school was not going to be renewed. I would be out of work. I had already started the application to teach in Perth. Edmonton was not the city I wanted to die in, so any change was welcome. The response from my brothers was to get a mortgage. So I did.

The process to purchase my mother’s house was smooth. Incredibly smooth. All communications and transactions were done long distance between Edmonton and Perth. The bank, the lawyers, the insurance, the appraisal, all fell into place neatly. I pre-planned to be in Perth on July 6th to sign some papers with my lawyer, and to close on July 9th – my father’s birthday.

With the car packed full, a cat and a dog, I left Edmonton the morning of July 1st. As I put the car into gear at 6:00AM, my sleepy daughter leaned on the windowsill to see me off, glanced at my packing job saying, “Looks pretty unsafe,” and dangled the spare car key. I laughed, “Oh good. I might need that if I lose my car keys.” Premonition or what?

The prairie skies were vast, the winds strong in Saskatchewan where I stopped to refuel at a friendly Co-op station. The goal was to reach Winnipeg on the first day, while a heavy storm made it challenging, I pulled into a Motel 6 just west of the city by-pass in time to relax in the hot tub and eat a leftover dinner I had packed. After a restful sleep and a shower to perk me up, I was on the road at daybreak.

Driving across Canada is a head game at best. After crossing two provinces in one day, the expectation might be to reach the destination by the end of day two. But Ontario is a huge province with Lake Superior to circumnavigate. It takes two full days to edge around the northern shore lined with endless pine trees. Patience and spotting the inukshuks up on the rock ledges placed by previous travelers appease the slog of it all.

The sun was setting at the end of day two as the gas tank signaled empty. I had to stop at the next station, no matter what. I pulled into a station off the highway in Marathon, Ontario, where some men were chatting and fueling up their trucks. I tried to use the pump beside them but it wouldn’t turn on after accepting my debit card. It was Monday on the Canada Day long weekend. Looking around, I asked the men, “Is the station closed? Where can I fill up?” They directed me to go into town a few kilometers down a side road off the highway. As it turned out, they were military and had fuel passes which explained why they could use the pumps after hours. I hopped in my car, a little annoyed at the unexpected detour, and stopped at the next station on the left. I filled up while a man placed orange neon traffic cones in front of the other pumps. He told me I was lucky. He was closing because the pumps were almost out of fuel due to extensive long weekend travelers fueling up. I smiled and thanked him, “For sure!” I paused to think of the consequences of running out of gas on a long weekend in the middle of nowhere, then removed the nozzle from the tank and placed it back on the cradle. I was in a hurry to continue since I had lost time looking for gas, but I knew the dog needed a pit stop if I was to do another long stretch without stopping. I let her out to do her business in a grassy lot beside the gas station. Absentmindedly watching the dog, I thought I had better scoop rather than be a jerk dog owner by leaving her mess behind. I ran across the field to the spot before I lost sight of it. Afterward, I dropped the bag in the garbage can at the station and reached in my pocket for the car keys so as to hurry on the road again. I could not find the keys anywhere. The keys were not in my pockets, or in the car, on the floor, between the seats, or where I retraced my steps when running to catch up to the dog’s pooping spot. I scoured the grassy lot back and forth. What was I going to do? I knew I had the spare key my daughter had handed me, but I wanted the other one. I kept searching. The sun was setting and it was almost dark. Time was ticking. I grabbed the old Islamic school lanyard I had placed in the glove compartment as a keepsake, slipped the spare key on it, and returned to the highway to get back on track. My mind wanted to solve the problem, identify when and where exactly the keys disappeared, but I fought hard against dwelling on it. It was in the past. “Let it go. Moving forward.”

I was heading home.

I stopped for two nights to visit my relatives near Georgian Bay, which was a welcome rest and a perfect way to recharge before going to a job interview scheduled for July 5th in Brockville. With record high temps, no air conditioning in the car except for open windows, I decided to make a quick stop at 51 George Avenue in Perth. This made for a rather anti-climactic arrival to my new home, but the heat in the car would have been too much for the animals. No fanfare. I had just enough time to stop, unload the animals in the cool house, change clothes, and get back on the road again to Brockville. It was going to be tight.

I made it.

The interview went well, and I discovered that as a French teacher, job opportunities were likely. I celebrated everything with an ice cream cone from DQ and ambled the back country roads to start my new life. I felt a sense of wonder and reverie and anticipation for new beginnings.

I spent most of July and August puttering in the garden, de-cluttering the house, and looking for lakes and rivers to cool off in. The magnitude of owning a house started to sink in when two weeks upon arrival, the roof leaked during heavy rainfall.

I continued to apply for teaching jobs in the Perth area. No responses from Principals who were looking to hire. It was still summer, so I didn’t expect too much on the hiring front, but I needed a job to meet my new obligations as a homeowner. I tried to enjoy each day by keeping busy with gardening and puttering around the house.

As September 8th approached, the day of burying my parents’ ashes in Labelle, Quebec, work prospects continued to be in a state of suspension, which I rationalized was just as well. My daughter flew into Ottawa, there was driving to be done, coordinating rides to and from Montreal, plus I was leading the ceremony. One of my mother’s sisters hosted the reception at her home in Mont Tremblant where family and friends gathered to share good food, memories, and look at old photographs. The day was significant to mark the final resting place for both my parents, as my father’s ashes had waited on the shelf in the living room in my mother’s house since 1999. They were buried side by side in a grave site reserved by my grandfather for the Valiquette family. As we paid our respects, the breeze rose up to dance lightly with our hair, a sign of my mother’s spirit gently touching us one more time.

Ten days later, I started as a full-time French teacher while rehearsing for a significant role in a play and taking an online French as a Second Language course. It was too much to juggle, so I defaulted the online course until January 2019. The play took up every weekend in October, which I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into the craft of acting after taking a 12-year hiatus from performing. As the cast members struggled with colds and cough backstage, the show was well-done and well-received. A friend surprised me in the audience by showing up unannounced after seeing the promotional post on social media.

Needing to find balance and to remain physically active once the play was over, I joined the Sakura Martial Arts Academy and returned to karate training. At school, the hype from Halloween was over as I buckled down to plan lessons throughout November.  Christmas celebrations started way too early as the students checked out mentally in early December. My grade one and two students closed the Christmas concert with a French song. I baked one hundred and twenty-five gingerbread men to give to my French students on the last day of school only to have it be declared a snow day. A mere thirty students showed up on that day. I left for the winter break not knowing who my Secret Santa was and toting back home more than a hundred cookies.

With three days remaining in 2018, I write a blog to reflect on the past year. No revelations. No regrets. No resolutions. I might be a little curious as to how these life events have affected me, but that has yet to be revealed.

 

 

 

 

fragile

d9ce44fe4f59d23d73b3509dac777490

In her fragility, the edginess is smoothed to meekness.

Not a critical eye or sound from her emits a blow to pierce one’s tranquility.

No ripple flows from a wound cast by words of dissatisfaction.

The focus fades to a foggy dim existence.

Her movement is slow and shaky, a newborn fawn staggering to stand for survival.

Tomorrow, she may flit as a bird – back to her old ways.

We Are All Fireflies

fireflies

She reflects on moments in her life. How she is not the girl she once was. Her evolution. Now, she pushes those memories away and wants to focus on now. Be. Here. Now. She tells herself. Because a moment ago: she waits at Horseshoe Bay looking out across the water; she is on the corner of Bloor and Spadina after a fitness class; she leans against a log on Sandy Beach in Roberts Creek, telling herself to remember. Remember it all because this is a fleeting moment. You are leaving. You must move on. You love this place and now you must go. So, remember. Have a deep visceral imprint of this moment, you may need it later.

When traveling, the density of population in cities overwhelms her. There are so many people in the world! Each one a unique individual. What makes her special? And here we are, buzzing around flashing our little glow in random chaotic order. Sitting around the edges of the hot spring pool, her only way to cope in sharing a warm bath with strangers is to imagine them as fireflies. A quick spark sparks her attention, then another, and another: Tinkerbell, whimsy, and fireflies on a warm summer night in the city revive a buried memory of delight as a child, the first time she sees fireflies.

How do you like the music? Heard it before; she wants something new. She reaches an age, a point, where she must live vicariously through the young eyes and ears that accompany her. It doesn’t matter. A transmutation is taking place.

She reads about it on social media. Oh, makes sense, she thinks. A cosmic shift is happening globally. We “sensitives” feel it on a spiritual and soul level. There are three states of information: receiving, neutral, and giving. She dwells in the first two, uncertain of how to give the muddled mess that swirls and suspends in time and space.

The queen size air mattress is bulky in the small office/space where she sleeps. By morning, deflated, her bones touch the hard surface beneath, her body sunken in the cushy air pocket that surrounds her. She gets used to it; blowing up the mattress before sleeping becomes part of the normal bedtime routine. Then, the change comes. A rogue wave of resistance rises as a cry of protest. But she likes it. She sleeps good. Not her house. A futon. She feels guilty, acutely aware of her habits. It isn’t just the blurt, it’s also finishing the bag of chips. Should she tell them?

The next morning, when asked about the night’s sleep, she assesses: She sleeps good, doesn’t matter which mattress.

She reads like a fiend. Taking in stories from other people’s imaginations takes up most of her time. She wants to write. She wants to give. But no one reads her stuff. What is the point of writing, when no one reads it?

As an artist, she believes she paints for herself. Art therapy. It is how she identifies herself. Now, she is gone. That woman is gone. Who has taken her place? It doesn’t matter.

As a dancer, she dances for pleasure, for self expression. It is how she identifies herself. Now, the dancer is gone. Who has taken her place? It doesn’t matter.

As an actress, ah, now that is special. Shape shifting, becoming someone else is so much fun. She does it well, with skill and craft. For others, or else there is no point. They identify her as an actress. Ah, there, that is who she is, breathing a sigh of relief.

As a writer, she writes pages and pages and pages for days and years, streams of consciousness, complaining, inner thoughts, desires, and turmoils inked between the lines of coil notebooks. Get it out. Who wants to read that anyway? It doesn’t matter.

We are all fireflies.

Free for the Taking

homless

Call it a premonition or just plain ol’ predictable, but with the electric opener on the fritz and the garage door wide open for several weeks, it finally happened.

They took my stuff.

The door jammed a few times through the sub-zero temps during the winter, so I made a point of keeping nothing of value in the garage. The space became more of a carport. As the temps warmed up, so did the motor of the door opener, so I moved out my camping gear, artist portfolios, and a few other items from the house. When my daughter moved back in with all her belongings of a girl’s keepsakes and memories, one side of the garage was filled. I parked the car on the empty side. For awhile, at least, the door opened and closed like a charm with no cause for concern.

A few weeks ago, the opener just stopped working. We tried to fix it with no success. Luckily, the door jammed opened, rather than closed with the car parked inside. I told my daughter to bring into the house anything she valued, as the homeless tend to wander these back alleys. I grabbed the space heater and she took a few items from a box. We left several bags of empties piled up to take to the depot for a refund as part of fundraising for her school trip to Paris.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was up early drinking coffee, and through the window, viewed a couple of homeless guys opening the little white gate to knock at the front door. They had spotted the bags of empties in the garage and wanted to know if they could have them. I told them they belonged to my daughter, but that I would ask. In her sleepy state, as she was still in bed, she said they could take them. I relayed the message to the two guys, and added with a smile, “but don’t touch my stuff!” They were very humble and thankful, and left.

They made off with a good haul for getting an early start that day.

I told myself that these guys belong to a network and if they wanted, they could tell their buddies not to touch the stuff at the old house on 90th street where the garage door is wide open. I told myself that if the stuff did get stolen, especially the old camping gear, it was no big deal. I could actually imagine them making good use of a battered tent to keep warm and a decent stove to cook up some hot food.

And this morning, while it was still pitch black out with the new moon, as I was leaving for sunrise yoga before the break of dawn, I saw that the stuff was gone. The old tent with duct tape covering the holes and holding the tears together, and the portable propane stove that served me well for BBQ’s over the years were taken. They had rummaged under the sheet that covered my daughter’s boxes of cheer leading bows, greeting cards, hand-made jewelry, beach glass, and ticket stubs looking for something valuable to pawn, I guess.

I wonder if they found anything worthwhile?

I had loose plans to go camping in Banff, and to leave today, but without the gear, that’s not going to happen. I wonder what the day has in store instead?

 

 

 

Closure? One Door Closes and Another Opens

closure door open

“I don’t have an RRSP or life insurance. When I die, that’s it. I came in with nothing, I will leave with nothing.” 

“But what about your children? Aren’t you going to leave them an inheritance? What about the business? Plus, there is the house. Someone is going to have to deal with all that when you die.”

“I am leaving them no debt, no inheritance. I want them to learn to care for themselves, and not to expect it from me. Allah will provide.”

This conversation puzzled and influenced me. I have life insurance. Should I stop paying into it? He told me, “that’s not necessary.”

I didn’t quite “get it.”

I did, however, get out of poverty, then off the yoyo of spending outside of my means, and eventually, was debt free.

The conversations with a spiritual teacher are confusing at the best of times.

About two years ago, with the most savings I had ever had to my name, I met with a financial advisor at the Royal Bank of Canada, to open an RRSP.  I knew very little about it, and for the first time in my life, I was working steadily enough to start saving money. He explained to me that an RRSP was considered to be a safe and low risk investment, with tax break implications, and as long as you contributed to it regularly, it was considered a long-term saving option. Until that day, I didn’t realize that the money is invested in energy companies through stock, bonds, and GIC’s. I decided to give it a try.

My main reason for starting an RRSP was to create a forced savings situation, as I really had no idea what my saving and spending habits would look like once I had money. It seemed like a responsible adult thing to do. Plus, if it could make me money, then that was a bonus. As is the nature of investments, I watched the RRSP fluctuate depending on the economy.

Two years later, and with a decent amount saved, I decided to pull the money out of the RRSP and put it in a high interest savings account. The financial advisor was accommodating and prompt, without prying into my reasons. He showed me where to sign and the deed was done. The changes were to appear in the account within the next few days.

I wondered if he would ask why I was pulling out of the RRSP, when he finally did. My reasons were quite matter of fact, as I knew it was best to talk in direct terms with a banker. No sense in getting all emotional or political, or religious. Ha!

“First of all, I am a Muslim. In our religion, we do not have interest. There is no usury. Secondly, I am a teenie tiny player. My withdrawing my money is not going to make much of a difference to the companies that had my investment in them. Besides, those companies are hidden. I prefer to know where the money is going.”

He nodded.

“And I really had no idea what my saving habits were when I started; would I be frugal or frivolous? So when I came here two years ago, with very little savings, I was curious, and you were patient and taught me. I put my attention on saving money, and have managed to do so. I think for the small amount there is, it just makes sense. I don’t need to make that little extra in interest. If I am rich some day, Insha’Allah, it is because I worked for it, then I can put the extra towards good causes.”

“Well, you taught me something too.”

“Really? What did I teach you?”

“When you first came here, you were working in social work services, and I had no idea that there were government programs helping people who struggled in finance and employment. It made me look into doing a little philanthropy myself.”

“Oh, wow. That’s great. Good for you. So, I guess this is closure for us. Thank you so much for everything.”

“Yes, it is good timing, as I am moving to Calgary. A senior manager is retiring and they want someone with experience to take over his clients. I move on May 1st.”

“Well, congratulations! That’s wonderful! You deserve it. You will do well. All the more reason why I’m glad to find closure before you leave.”

We finished the formalities and he walked me out to the lobby. He said, “If you are ever in Calgary, give me a call, I’m keeping the same phone number.”

I smiled. And here I thought we were getting closure.

Then it struck me later. Debt is not about financial debt. Financial debt is symbolic of spiritual debt, karmic debt. What my spiritual teacher was telling me is that by pulling ourselves out of hardship, poverty, and the corruption of money, we are setting ourselves free. And when we set ourselves free, we set our children free too.

Now, that’s a miracle.