I wrote this for a young friend who had something pretty awful happen to her. She’s a gifted artist, before trauma and after. 

I did some performing as a kid. I played piano, clarinet in school band, sang in choirs. I performed in dance recitals; gymnastics one year, jazz dance the next and then Highland dance. Every year I gave speeches at school.

In speech arts I always won at the classroom level, often the division level and a couple of times for our school. I don’t know why it had to be a competition but it was and I did my best. I wrote the speeches with a lot of help from my mom and dad.  She worked part-time as a teacher and knew what they looked for, as well as speaking to groups of kids, teachers and parents all the time.

After my dad died I didn’t want to perform. He had a motorcycle accident and died 5 days later from the injuries. It was sudden but the crisis went on for a long, long time.  Ties that bind us to the earth fray, snap, blow in the wind.

My dad was a powerful, provoking and inspiring public speaker. As a United Church minister he liked to preach sermons. As a senior public servant he liked to give speeches. He worked really hard on them and he coached and helped me practice my own on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, just us, in the dining room by the piano.

The year he died I didn’t write a speech. Instead, I memorized a poem, not too long, about a sailor. It was like a jig or a sea shanty. Anyway I won at the classroom level. I was too good at it by then, even without practicing. I found myself performing, a grade 7 girl, in front of a few hundred kids, the grade 7’s and a very tough group of grade 8’s. They were a sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll crowd.

I got started, and through the first verse. Then, on the second verse I stopped. The words were gone. My memory was white, like old bone.

I stood there for a long minute. And then another one, while the giggles started in the audience. My friend Jeanine from our street was in grade 8. I found her with my eyes and she wasn’t giggling. I heard a voice, inner or maybe from backstage, telling me to start again.

I did and got through it. And that was all. It was over.

After that I didn’t want to perform for a long time at least not as a solo artist. I played in the band in highschool, 2nd clarinet, in the back of the crowd. I loved drama class but didn’t do school plays. It’s still something I feel very unsure about, drawn to, sometimes with longing, but mostly I hear a NO, not for me.

Except. I’m noticing there’s more exceptions as I get older. Some things that felt like performing 20 years ago, like leading a workshop, just feels like sharing with friends now. Or playing at being a rock star, like at ladies rock camp. It can take a while for nerves to heal up I guess.


Sustainable non-coercion

There is rising energy for a democratic, non-coercive, project-based educational model at Garibaldi school. I’m super excited about this. Granted I could get super-excited about a small school version of either French or Mandarin Immersion or a Fine arts program. Of course, Harry can’t see the point of school at all if it’s in English. “I already KNOW English.” Jeesh mom.

But I want to be part of a school community that recognizes the basic fact about kids: they’re learning machines. We don’t have to coerce them into learning, we need to rise to the occasion and invite their attention with compelling projects and problems to solve.

Garibaldi school is already a small, warm-hearted, culturally and linguistically diverse community, located in the middle of a neighbourhood with generations of handy, food-growing people. These are the elements I’d like to see us build on.

Kids love making, growing and building stuff. They love applying their knowledge to real problems. Whether they were in a mainstream track or the non-coercive track, working together on a school garden or building a solar food dehydrator or building a cob bench could provide the grounding in the skills we need to live more sustainably.

I want to be part of a local learning community. I’ve got questions for my neighbours. What’s that prickly, melon like vine that my Chinese Canadian neighbours grow? How do you prepare it for eating? Or is it more medicinal, or both? What about the greens I see drying on racks- what do you do with those? Can I try some?

I also want to know how to properly prune my grapes. I’m a non-pruner at heart (one reading of the revolutionary Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka convinced me) but this is SMALL space gardening. I want to learn how to get the most food, medicine, tea etc out of my garden while always increasing the soil fertility. Pruning might have a place. I’ll let my Italian and Portuguese neighbours convince me.

I want Harry to learn how to grow food as part of his education because it’s timely, practical, hands-on and will help him apply the concepts he learns in science, math, social studies. It’s a venue for exploring history and literature. When people share old skills and nearly lost arts they share stories.

I want him to know what weeds and wild plants soothe a sore stomach, build immune systems and help wounds heal. I want him to know how to build simple structures using natural and salvaged materials, how to plant and nurture a vegetable garden, how to design and repair simple machines, how to create, recycle and reuse the materials he touches. And know how to raise backyard chickens– the next big sustainability battle for Vancouver residents! I want him to know how to speak and listen to his neighbours, to express himself, reflect on and share his learning with a myriad array of tools, technologies (hello www!) and materials (books, art supplies, musical instruments, costumes).

The urgent question we face is what does living sustainably in the city look like? I’d like to be a part of a local community school that viewed the curriculum as a way to experiment with answers to that big question, and to share what we discover to all who are interested.

School dreams

With a deep breath I trucked off to a community meeting last night on Garibaldi school (ugghh meetings). Again there seemed to be more people in the room than elementary students who currently attend- a pretty good indication of the importance of this small school to our ‘hood.

Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House was there ready and poised to take the lead on a proposal for a multi-use facility- strong start programs, preschool, literacy programs, after-school care etc. But I think there was a strong sense that we need something else in the mix whether it’s an immersion program or fine arts or what???

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