Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tradition

How many of you are humming the tune from Fiddler on the Roof right now? Tradition. But I am not talking about tradition that reaches back through the ages to our ancestors. But rather small traditions that bring us closer to people dearest to us.

One of the special things about my trips to Canada each year are the traditions formed with family and friends. Traditions which grow in importance from year to year.

One such tradition is the celebration of my parents' wedding anniversary. Each year, Gayle, Paul and I celebrate this happy event with my mother, at a special restaurant mother and father once shared. Father is always there, in spirit. He would never miss his wedding anniversary. And the celebration is also a sense of coming home. For Gayle, Paul and I were childhood friends and our home was a second  home to them. And it is still a home we all can come back to.

We grew up in a Scarborough suburb, which seemed so safe and polished at the time. It wasn't long after a war that we never knew. At times, we looked like we had stepped right out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best. Of course, nothing is as idyllic as it seems, but looking back - those were happy times.

But for Gayle this ended too quickly. When she was in the sixth grade, her family moved out West because of her father's work.  And this wasn't the last time they would be uprooted because of his work. It may have ended there, a friendship which had hardly begun, if it weren't for Mr. Herrington: Gayle's father.

I remember that day - a day that would unexpectedly have such an impact on my life. Mr. Herrington was sitting at the dining room table in our house, talking with my parents. He was on a business trip to Toronto and was staying with us for a couple of days. Normally, at the age of thirteen, I wouldn't have paid much attention to an adult conversation. But Mr. Herrington had a gift of bringing you into the conversation. It didn't matter whether you were ten or sixty years old. He made you feel that you had something significant to say. So I listened as he talked about Gayle, about how lonely she appeared in her new home. And I then did something quite unexpected. I asked for her address and sat down to write her a letter. And I discovered the writer within me. Until then, the only letters I had written were thank-you  notes that mother made me write after every birthday and Christmas.

And Gayle and I exchanged letters, sharing our thoughts and lives from afar, until Gayle moved back to the Toronto area with her family. And it was then that the stage was set for my two best friends and I to become The Three Musketeers.

I don't know if Mr. Herrington knew what an effect this conversation had on my life. I think that in some way he did. For he knew that Gayle and I became very close. My mother told me that Bob (she knew him as Bob) once told her about a conversation he had with Gayle. He asked her if she and I were in a romantic relationship. Gayle apparently answered: "No, that would only ruin it."

For some things cannot have labels. We can only experience them and know that they are real.

And each year, I look forward to meeting Mr. Herrington again, at another one of our small traditions: the Lloyd / Herrington brunch at The Blue Sea in Whitby on the last Sunday before Christmas. But this year I will not see Mr. Herrington at the Blue Sea. For he has passed on and left us behind. But we won't cancel this tradition. For I am sure he will be there, the first one in. Opening the door for the others to pass through. We will sit around the table and hear his voice. And know that all is good in the world, if even for a moment.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Curiouser and curiouser

I think I have become somewhat of a curiosity to my children. Perhaps this is a part of losing relevance as we grow old. Or perhaps it is also linked to circumstance. A close childhood friend of mine - same age as me - started having children much later in life. His oldest child is in her mid-teens and he still plays a very relevant role in her life. But my children are all grown up and have flown the coop. When is it that we feel less responsible for our children and they begin to feel responsibility for us?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my children view me somewhat as a curiosity. Most people do. It just took my children a while to catch up, perhaps. And I suppose I am to blame. I left them partly on the outside most of their lives, beginning first and foremost with the language.

"So, you didn't speak English with them at home."
"No."
"Why not?"
"Adva and I spoke Hebrew at home."
"But Adva knows English."
"Yes."
"And the English language is the greatest gift you could give them."
"I thought that giving them life was."
"That too."
I sighed into the darkness.
"Anyway," I said, in a meagre attempt to defend myself, "I was fighting an uphill battle. I was changing country, language and culture. It was very important for me to adapt."
"Most new immigrants go through the very same thing."
"Yes, but with a significant difference."
"Which is?"
"They are confident in their right to be here, and in others recognizing this right."
"And you aren't?"
"Not necessarily."
"Why not?"
I looked nervously around me to see if anyone was listening.
"I'm not Jewish," I whispered.
"Oh."
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Maybe I should go."
"You can't go, you are my muse."
"Yes, but wasn't there an escape clause about misinformation?"
"When did I ever feed you false information?"
"I don't know. I will have to have my lawyers look at this."
"Lawyers?"
"Okay, you've got me. One of the problems of living in Cyberspace."
"Are you going to help me with this or not?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"No."
"Okay, then I guess I am."
Silence. She always liked the dramatic effect of silence.
"So," she said, "you speak Hebrew at home, but with a Canadian accent. You are not Jewish, but your children are, because there mother is Jewish. They probably have no idea why you came to Israel in the first place and why you are still here... am I on track, so far?"
"Knock yourself out," I said.
"And you wonder why they consider you as a curiosity."
"You are missing the point."
"Am I?"

"Was it as simple as that?" I thought to myself. What about the whole thing of getting old? Or was I trying to blame everything on getting old?

There are very few constants in life, things that I can state with certainty. But one is my children. They are the greatest part of my life. I would not take anything back. And now we have our first grandchild. And that is a real bonus to having children. They say that when your children are young, and they still don't know better, you are a superhero to them. But later they begin to see the flaws, and in their teens they wonder how anyone can be that stupid. Yet, in their early twenties, they are amazed at how much you have learnt in the past few years. And while you still have a very good relationship with them, you can never get back the magic. For they go on to create their own magic, through their own marriage and children.

And just when you are about to write yourself away, there is a grandchild. And you rediscover the magic through his/her eyes, letting you into a world you have almost forgotten. And I know that some day my grandchild will view me as a curiosity. But that doesn't disturb me. In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Looking the devil in the eye - An Ode to Adva

I am not easily impressed. Perhaps this is a part of growing old and grumpy. And I must admit that after being married for 37+ years, I take many things for granted.  But there are times when something causes me to sit up and take notice.

Adva, my wife, is turning 60 this year. Many of us have already crossed this milestone and have the scars to prove it. But Adva isn't one to wallow in self pity. Nor wait in trepidation while counting down the days to this ominous date. Rather, she decided to grab the bull by the balls and look the devil straight in the eye. She would turn an ominous and unstoppable event into an opportunity.

I only knew about her plans to set out on the Magma Challenge to Costa Rica after she had successfully passed all of the tests and had been accepted as a participant. Was I surprised by her decision? Not really. Despite the rugged conditions that she was about to face, I knew that Adva was never one to refuse a challenge. Ever since we left the kibbutz, 25 years ago, she has sought out and faced many challenges, and never retreated from any of them. People can usually think of countless reasons to give up on the challenge of obtaining the things that they desire in life, but Adva is not one to fall back on such excuses, even when competing in a man's world. It was therefore fitting that she set out on her most recent challenge in the company of women - on a rugged adventure trip through the beautiful landscape of Costa Rica. Split up into teams of four, each team commandeered their own Land Cruiser, navigating their way through the challenges that awaited them. And to add icing to the cake, Adva's team was voted the best team by the majority of the participants. A one in a lifetime experience they won't forget.

Adva, in her own modesty, was surprised at the interest her journey ignited among her facebook friends. What she didn't realize was that her journey caught our imagination. For those of us seeking the courage to take back some control over our own lives, her journey is an inspiration.

I've always had an affinity for strong women, ever since my first girlfriend - a self proclaimed feminist - took it upon herself to show me the error of my ways. I imagine that Adva got much of her strength from her mother. Titi was a strong woman, albeit a little scary. There is a rumour that she told me, when Adva first took me to meet her parents, that she had a semi-automatic Uzi under her bed and knew how to use it. I took her seriously, for she was a no nonsense lady and knew how to get what she wanted. In her days in the Palmach, when there was no officer's course for women, Titi simply joined the one for men. No one dared tell her otherwise. And she was a true Sabra: prickly on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. The key to being strong is also being a good person,

We learn a lot through 37+ years of marriage. We set out thinking what should be, but then continually rediscover what is. Moving in different directions does not necessarily mean drifting apart, but rather redefines our concept of companionship. And the key to companionship is still being able to encourage each other in our endeavours, especially in what is most important to each of us.

In reaching 61 this year, I said to myself, "Been there, done that, what's the point?" But then I realized that it was all up to me. Either I become my worst enemy or my best friend. And I have Adva to thank for inspiring me to realize that we still have journeys before us and wonders to explore.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Can beautiful people really feel the Blues?

I first saw the movie, Bagdad Café, long before coming to live in the desert, but even then its haunting sound teased me with dark promises as to where a desert road might lead. When I first listened to the Blues, I felt very much the same way. I wasn't there yet, but it touched me in ways no other genre of music did. The Blues is like Guinness. Either you love its bitter taste, or you don't like it at all. And if Guinness is somewhat of a rarity in most Israeli restaurants and pubs, the Blues is almost non-existent on the Israeli music scene.

Why is it that Israelis have never locked into the Blues? It doesn't even appear as a genre on most Israeli music listings. The YES satellite music select station, which proudly offers over thirty music categories to choose from, does not include the Blues on its list. Nor does the Wikipedia page - Music in Israel - mention the Blues on its long list of popular Israeli music genres. Perhaps an Israeli foundation - The Israeli Blues Society - will help spread the word. It's not that Israeli music hasn't considerably evolved over the years. It has: especially Israeli rock. Why is it then that Rock has become increasingly popular with Israeli youth, but not the Blues? Are there age restrictions to feeling the Blues?

Some of us are born old. Old Souls. We flirt with this all our lives. And then time catches up with us and we are just old. That's how I felt the other night while listening to Lazer Lloyd and Ronnie Peterson play the Blues at a pub in Kibbutz Tlalim. They had come there, down a long desert road, to this little oasis in the middle of the desert.

The makeshift desert pub was full of young people - beautiful young people - for this musical event. It's not that I have anything against beautiful young people. I was almost one, once. But now my presence felt like a hiccup in the passage of time, as I appeared to be the only one over the age of forty.

My eyes slowly scanned the room as the young audience awaited the appearance of Lazer and Ronnie. What were they expecting to hear?  I asked myself. Were they here out of curiosity or had they somehow developed a passion for the Blues, down here in the desert? And then Lazer and Ronnie appeared. They sat at the front of the crowded room, without the benefit of the buffer of a large stage that usually separated them in their larger venues. Perhaps it was this that knocked them a little off-balance at first, or the strange quiet of the desert setting. Or the shock of playing to a young audience: an audience of beautiful young people with expectancy still in their eyes, Ronnie appeared to have a bit of a problem synchronizing with Lazer's changing chords. Lazer appeared to improvize, at times, as if slowly feeling his way into this irregular setting. Some people soon started to sway back and forth with the rhythm. Some simply nodded. And others just sat rooted to the spot, as the music washed over them.

Ronnie and Lazer looked at first like I felt: aged and washed out. But it didn't take long until Lazer found the groove. One might even say that he caught fire, carrying Ronnie along with him. And everything else did not matter. It was the Blues again. Only the Blues.

The crowd was appreciative. I suppose each person took away something different. And for those of us who were Old Souls, we said hello again to old ghosts, and felt the music take hold and rip out our guts, leaving us exposed, the pain a welcome old friend. And for a moment, I did feel truly alive.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

How much is a Canadian flag worth?

The first time I saw Andy, he was being pelted by stones by the neighbourhood kids in Belgium. He looked quite dishevelled and forlorn at the time, to say the least. We swooped down to prevent any further attack. Seeing that we had formed a buffer zone, the children lost all interest and drifted away.

"Thanks," Andy said. "You saved me."
"I wouldn't go that far," I said. "They were small stones."
"Well, you saved me from the indignity of it all. I mean, what did I ever do to them?"
"You're American," Hannah said.
Andy took a minute to digest this fact, wondering how anyone could ever dislike an American.
"So how is it that they didn't stone you?" he asked.
"We're Canadians," Hannah explained. "Here," she said, reaching down into her backpack. "I have a Canadian flag I can sell you. Put it on your backpack. It will make all the difference. You won't see anyone being stoned with a Canadian flag on their backpack. Most Americans have one now."
"But you don't have a Canadian flag on your backpacks," Andy remarked.
"We don't need one. We're Canadians."
Andy struggled to make sense of the logic. But he took the flag from Hannah.
"How do I attach it to my backpack?" he asked.
Hannah pulled out a small sewing kit from her backpack.
"I'll sew it on," she said. It will cost you a little more, but it's worth it."

I had met Hannah when hitchhiking through Switzerland. A fellow Canadian, she had been on the road much longer than me and had picked up many tricks of the trade. When you are travelling through Europe on a very tight budget, you have to be ingenious.

So Hannah sold Andy a Canadian flag and her sewing skills. I couldn't help but feel that this was highway robbery. But Hannah defended her actions.
"I am doing him a favour. See how happy Andy looks now."
And he did look happy. The first time I really saw him smile. Grateful for the intervention of two passing Canadians who welcomed him into their protective entourage.

The irony was that when it was time to separate, it was I who left the entourage. Hannah and Andy wanted to cross the Channel and explore England. I had already had enough of Britain in Canadian History classes, which were really all about Britain. This was still before Canadians had developed any real lasting cultural identity. And before Margaret Atwood and my discovery of Guinness.

It was also shortly after I discovered that Hannah and Andy were sleeping together. Did I feel some sort of betrayal: Hannah crossing over to the other side of the border? Not really. Hannah was an attractive girl. But I don't think I ever thought of her in that way. At least, not until I realized that they were tight together (the amazing things you could do in one sleeping bag). And I doubt if she felt that way about me, either. Hannah and I had one thing in common: we had no desire to explore the obvious. My being clueless about women didn't help either. Still am. But we will leave that for another blog.

So Hannah and Andy boarded the ferry at Oostende for England, and I bade them farewell, after sharing a warm hug with Hannah and a strong  handshake with Andy.
"You take care of each other, eh?" I said, then watched as they walked over the ramp onto the ferry. 
I never did make it over to England to see how an innovative Canadian might have found ways to exploit the British and whether the Brits were any more tolerant of a Yank in their midst. It was only about twenty-three years later that I finally made my way over to England, taking my son on a whirlwind tour of England, Wales and Scotland for his Bar Mitzva. We didn't hitchhike, so I don't know if Americans kept touting the Canadian flag on their backpacks.

#  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #

Perhaps I shouldn't call them Americans, as Americans occupy a much larger area than the United States. But, as a Canadian, this is how we knew them then, and as a rather indescript exile, this is how I still know them now.

** At the time, my Torontonian accent was also apparently a dead giveaway of my being Canadian, although I am told I lost it long ago. Canadians don't think they have an accent, but I have come to recognize the clear Canadian rural twang over Israeli television when a Canadian series comes on. 

*** There were a few times when I was mistaken for an American. "Where are you from in the States?" a shopkeeper asks me. "I am from Canada," I dryly reply. "Sorry," he says, fearing that I have been insulted.

**** Israelis don't think that there is any difference between Americans and Canadians, or at least no difference worth getting worked up about. We will ignore them, for now.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Judge Me Not ... well, maybe just a little

"You are a cold, mean, self-centred, unforgiving ..." she stopped to catch her breath. I thought it best to remain silent. "You told me not to hold back," she said.
"Right. Knock yourself out."
"And condescending, even ugly at times," she continued. I could see that she was still winding up.
And this was coming from a friend. It was going to be a long night.

What is this obsession we have with evaluation? It starts at a very young age and never ends.

"I think we should hold David back a year," the kindergarten teacher told my mother.
"Hold him back? In kindergarten?" My mother wasn't quite sure she had heard right.
"Yes, he spends most of the time by himself and doesn't participate much in our little talks."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Without developing the necessary social skills, well ... he's not going to go very far."
"But ... it's kindergarten."
"Mrs. Lloyd. I can't overestimate the importance of starting out in life on the right foot, no matter  how much time it takes."
I was impervious to all of this at the time. I was simply studying the land in my own time. I had time. I had my whole life still spread out before me.
My mother later met up with another kindergarten mother for coffee.
"How did your daughter do?" my mother asked.
"I'm told that she spends too much time talking with her little friends."
They both sighed. Not easy being parents of children who flunked kindergarten.

I got some of mine back, though, when I became a teacher. Or so I thought. Sitting in the driver's seat at my first teacher/parent meeting, it was now I who could create a stigma that would stay with someone the rest of their life. But I tried to be kind and original in my comments. It went well, at first. The parents felt that I had something to say and were willing to listen. But as the evening wore on, my voice turned into an increasing drone. And worse, I found myself repeating myself. But I knew I had reached rock bottom when I began using the P_Word.

"Your daughter shows potential."
"Your son is not living up to his potential."
"Your daughter has to recognize her potential."

Amazing how many ways the term potential can be used at a teacher's meeting. But the parents weren't fooled. For them, I had turned into another teaching clone. They would discuss me later with others over coffee. But I can say one thing in my defence: I never held a student back.

But if we ever entertained the fantasy that at some time we could eventually escape the need for evaluation, we were gravely mistaken. For it follows us until the end of time.

"You are a good father."
"You are a lousy husband."
"As a lover, you show potential."
"You make a good corpse."

And if you are a man, don't forget the lists. Those ominous lists women make when they gather together for their ritual man-bashing ritual.

"Of all of the men you have dated, who was:
- the best kisser.
- the biggest loser.
- the most clueless in bed.
- the most totally useless in bed and everywhere else.
- the best lover
- the best husband material
- the one who got away.

Of course there is one thing worse than being on one or more of these lists, and that is not being on any list at all. As if you were never really there and they wiped you totally from their consciousness. You might as well be invisible.

And don't get me started on self-evaluation. How many of us are any good at that? We will do anything to avoid coming face to face with our own demons. But denial can only take us so far. It all catches up to us in the end, most often in our dreams.

Had my dream again where I'm making love, and the Olympic judges are watching. I'd nailed the compulsories, so this is it, the finals. I got a 9.8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans, and my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5.6. Must have been the dismount.
~ When Harry Met Sally

Sometimes, after a couple of glasses of whiskey, I try to evaluate myself as a husband, lover, father, son, teacher, innovator, scholar, human being ... and at some point my attention wanders ... until I decide it is time to sit down and write another blog.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wannabe

"So, you want to be a writer?"
"Well, yes."
She marked down wannabe.
 "Actually, I already published a book through eBook Publishers," I assured her.
"eBook Publishers?"
"Yes, they just publish eBooks. But this time I want my new book to be published by a more traditional publisher, both in hardcover and eBook."
"Traditional publisher. You will need a literary agent for that," she said.
"Yes, I know."
She marked down delusional.
"New York, London?"
"What?" I asked.
"Your literary agent. Where you want to get published."
"Actually, I thought I'd start with Toronto."
"Toronto? Isn't the Canadian market quite small?" she asked.
"Yes, but I see it as going back to my roots. Coming home."
Sentimental loser, she wrote.
"And I also write a blog."
She looked up, not too pleased with this news. "I hope you are not putting me in your blog."
"No, of course not," I lied.
Actually, I hadn't planned to until I saw that sentimental loser remark. I have been called many things: cold, unemotional, detached, anti-social ... and oh, yes - loser, but never sentimental. That stung.
"What about friends?" she asked.
"What about them?"
"Are any of them writers?".
"I think so. But most won't admit it."
She nodded in empathy. Friendless, she added.
"Okay, that's good for a start," she said.
"When shall we continue?" I asked.
"I'll call you," she said, with a sweet smile.

A friend of mine, who is brave enough to call himself an aspiring writer, asked me over a pint of Guinness a short while ago. "Why do we do this to ourselves?"
"Do what?"
"Torture ourselves as writers. The process of writing is painful enough, in itself, but why put ourselves also through the pain of seeking someone to publish our writing?"
"I'd put it down to the masochistic creative gene. Why does anyone want to create?" I asked. "Painters, musicians ... is it any easier for them?"
"Some of them do quite well," he said. "Big houses in Beverley Hills."
"Is that what you are in it for? The money?"
"Wouldn't hurt. What are you in it for?" he asked.
"The groupies."

So, I have a new book coming out. Well ... I have a new book. The gods will tell whether it comes out or sinks into an abysmal bog. (I hope I didn't offend anyone with that gods remark. My shrink tells me I should stop doing that.) And talking about shrinks, here is another excerpt from my new book (in addition to my last blog posting). Some people may think the main character resembles me. I actually think that I resemble him. He came first.

“Would you consider yourself suicidal?”
The psychologist studied me from behind her thick framed eyeglasses.
“Suicidal? No,” I replied, shaking my head.
 “You have never had suicidal thoughts?”
“No, not really. Except for wanting to jump off a cliff.”
“What!”
“Jump off a cliff.”
“I heard you. In what way is that not suicidal?”
“I do not want to jump off a cliff,” I said slowly with emphasis. “That is why I am probably still alive. But whenever I approach the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop, I have a powerful urge to jump into the abyss.”
She sat there watching me, as if trying to decipher something in my manner.
“Are you depressed, when this happens?” she asked.
“Depressed about not jumping?”
“You know what I mean.”
“It doesn’t depend on the mood,” I answered. “Or the weather. When I come close to the edge, I want to jump off.”
“What happens then?”
“I move back.”
This was my first visit to the psychologist. Or was she a psychiatrist? I keep getting my terms mixed up. I know, I told you I would never go. So I lied. Or as a psychologist would say: I underestimated my sub-conscious. Actually, it was mostly because of Rachel’s endless nagging. In the end it was easier to go than not.
My psychologist was a woman. I had already viewed life from a male perspective, so I thought it was time to see things from a female point of view.
She was very officious looking, that first meeting. What I suppose you would expect of a psychologist. The room was full of books: books on every side. Somebody once told me that half of the books in a psychologist’s office were just empty boxes made to look like books. I hadn’t given much credit to such reports, although given the first opportunity, I would slip one out and take a good look.
“What do people think about your desire to jump off cliffs?” she asked, catching me drifting.
“Impulse.”
“What?”
“Impulse to jump off cliffs. There is really no desire there.”
“Okay,” she said, writing something in her notepad. “What do people think about your impulse to jump off cliffs?”
“They don’t know about it.”
“They don’t know about it? Not even your family and closest friends? What do they say when you are not willing to stand with them by the edge of the cliff?”
“They think I have a fear of heights.”
“And that is all?”
“That is all.”
“Now I can see why it took you so long to come to a psychologist,” she muttered.
“What?”
“No, scratch that. That was very unprofessional.”