Decade

We had never met. What first attracted me to her was a photo of her on Facebook with a Telecaster and her pithy little blurbs about her day to day life. Little nothings. Bagatelles. Vignettes. We became virtual friends. Her humour and kindness made it easy to become friends. I needed friends at that time of my life and the basket I had put all my eggs into had no room for any of my friends, and by this time no room for me. The internet brought me in touch with new people, new ideas and a release from the pain of my reality.

One day the friend disappeared. All traces gone. Unbeknownst to me she had decided to take a break from her social media. No way to communicate at all. I knew from what little I knew about her that she had been a victim of a cyber bully and I figured that maybe the threats had escalated and she put herself out of harm’s way. I was concerned for her, but also had a feeling of loss. I missed her. I reached out to a facebook friend we had in common who knew her in “real life” and I asked him if he knew if she was alright? He relayed the message and Sharon was touched that someone cared. She messaged me and we resumed our playful interchanges on line. She let out that she was going to watch our mutual friend perform on the 24th of November. I was already curious to see this fellow perform his comedy and so we agreed to meet up at the venue.

At the time I was separated but cohabiting with a highly unpredictable long time partner who had grown to hate and resent me. It was a lonely time and a punishing time. It was beyond repair. Going out and doing something for myself was something new that I was just getting used to again.

I entered the nightclub and espied from behind a thick mane of wavy hair and a small woman wearing a jean jacket and I made my way towards her. I am sensate. In tune with my senses, and especially my olfactory sense. Her perfume hit me when I was several meters from her and she turned around and stood up and gave me a big, genuine hug. Cupid hit me. I am pretty sure Cupid hit Sharon as well, but she has something called “logic” and “facts” and “tangible evidence”. All things that I either espouse or ignore depending on convenience. “There’s no such thing as Cupid, stupid!”

I don’t remember the specifics of what we talked about that night, but I do remember I wanted it to continue. She confessed that she had not changed the strings on her guitar for many many years and I immediately went into rescue mode and offered to change her strings. We made a date to do just that.

The day I changed her strings was one of the happiest days in my life, and Sharon has said the same. Our time together simultaneously felt like it had been nanoseconds and years. Leaving was hard. We had agreed to meet again for coffee soon.

My memory is foggy about the exact sequence of events, but we were rapidly becoming very close friends letting our darkest secrets out in a safe space where we knew it would be honoured. We agreed to see each other again and share our experience with two particular problems. She wanted to know about Al-Anon and I wanted to know how to get a divorce. I had experience with the one, and she, the other.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”- Charles Dickens

Neither of us have or will philander. We had things to settle and put in order before our relationship could continue, let alone enter a new phase. The stress and entanglement that had to be dealt with at the time could have easily destroyed either of us, but the two of us together traversed the rugged terrain and came out smiling if not unscathed or completely untangled.

Ten years since that nascent time. Ten years with different challenges as we age, the world and our priorities shift. Publilius and later Chaucer said: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. It is difficult for two people with differing ways, habits and customs and differences in diet, levels of hygiene, etc. I think contempt sets in when acceptance of the other erodes.

People usually wish and want to see that their loved one is a reflection of themselves. They become critical of things that used to be overlooked. Less tolerant of major differences. I am as guilty of this as the next person. It is human nature. I override these judgements most of the time, and I am sure Sharon overlooks so many of the fundamental things where we differ. For example; Sharon is uber tidy. I can walk over a pile of dirty laundry for weeks before picking it up. Sharon is an introvert and is happy to sit at home with a cup of tea and a book. While I am content to do that some of the time, I do like human interaction and broken routines. We have a balance when we honour these differences in each other. I pick up stuff more often, she lets things slide more often. I honour her solitude and she honours my extroversion. Namasté. I do things for her because I love her. I am willing to change and vice versa.

This is not to say “I wish he/she were more like…” is ignored or disappears, but it is the source of unnecessary and unwanted friction. The power of a couple that maintains a successful relationship is the ability to forgive, to overlook, to respect choices. When these qualities are less present, it is always purely a question of will: “I want you to do this the way I would do it!”, “I want you to react to this song the same way I would”.

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the day we met, I still feel the arrow from Cupid. It always reminds me to treat my love, my partner, truly my other half (even though we are both complete) the way I did in those first moments together.

I look in the mirror and I see me. I love me and I don’t want to see Sharon in my mirror, although her love radiates through me. I look at Sharon and I see her, she is beautiful inside and out and is not an extension of me. I love her.

Frequency

  from Nov. 2018

This is a story about frequency. Not the kind measured in Hertz, such as in the frequency of A=440 hz, or the frequency on the radio where you find your local CBC station. It’s not exactly about the other main definition either, which means “rate of occurrence”. It is about Frequency in the medical sense, which means “occurrence of urination”. 

Some of you may have already experienced the “joys” of what seems to be a shrinking bladder. 

I am a music teacher in a school, so my working day is divided up into little half hour chunks called “periods”. I am also an enthusiast of a beverage called “coffee”.  Typically I teach three periods in a row before a break such as recess affords me the opportunity to use the washroom. 

I used to be able to work comfortably for an hour and a half without leaving my classroom. Those days are over. About half way through the second period my brain receives the first gentle message from my bladder that I should relieve myself fairly soon. Message noted, but not acted upon because the class can’t be left unattended. Usually as the classes transfer, there is an opportunity to ask the other teacher in charge if they would just take over for a minute. 

Sometimes I don’t get to see either the teacher picking kids up, or the one dropping kids off which means I can’t take the time to go and the gentle messages becomes more frequent (pun intended) and increase in intensity like an alarm clock on snooze. No problem. “Mind over matter” right? A little discomfort is no big deal, I know that I will be able to go at the bell. 

Things don’t always work out smoothly though, because there is only one male staff washroom in our school and there are several men on staff whose breaks coincide. My colleague has a class that faces the washroom and she remarked yesterday how she loves to see my reaction to whether the door is locked or unlocked. I guess you could say we get our pleasures where we can. 

Outside of school I have to gauge things accordingly. A two hour trip to Ottawa requires a pit stop about half way. I am now in the habit of going before going anywhere. 

Except yesterday. 

Yesterday I left work in a hurry because we had a staff  meeting that went long and I was left with exactly 25 minutes to drive the 25 minutes it takes to get to a private student’s home to give him a lesson. I tried the handle on the washroom….locked…. I hadn’t received the message yet, so I just drove off in order to make my lesson on time.

The music lesson was fine and we actually lost track of the time. I love teaching the theory behind chordal choices and their practical application to the guitar.

As I was leaving his home the small message from my bladder came in. It is sort of a half hour warning. I took note, and drove the 15 minutes from the Plateau to downtown to meet friends and watch my daughter perform in a jazz club. Did not factor in parking…..oy! The streets around the club were all under construction and almost all of the spaces were not open for parking. I knew that in 15 minutes the bus lane on the boulevard at the foot of the street would close and I would be able to park there. My alarms were coming more frequently by this time. I felt like an expectant mother might when the contractions are 5 minutes apart and the hospital is not in sight. If I parked before 6:30 the meters would not work, so I had to wait. 

When 6:30 finally dragged along, I went  to use the meter which wanted $7.50 to legally park until 9. I had $4 in coins, so I tried my credit card. Put it in wrong…..re-set…tried the other way….put it in wrong in the dark again(like a teen-ager trying sex for the first time…lol). I switched to coins figuring I could come back later and feed the difference. 

As I fed the first coin into the meter I received a very strong message to pee NOW!!!! I put another coin in which the machine rejected. Had to think fast….what to do? I opened the car door to see if there was any loose change on the floor (there was a two dollar coin!) and I realized that if I did not do something immediately I would pee my pants for the first time since I was a little boy and would have to miss my daughter’s show.

It was already dark and there were no pedestrians, so I opened the rear door on the passenger side and retrieved a paper coffee cup from the floor and, hidden from view between the two doors, I opened my fly and let loose into the cup. As I was peeing, I had the fear that perhaps the cup would not hold what I had to offer. It felt like I was expelling an ocean, no need to worry…it was more like a kiddie pool….. and the cup was a “Venti”

The desire to avoid wet pants and to alleviate the discomfort overrode the inhibition of being exposed in a place where I knew I shouldn’t be urinating. I was discrete and undiscovered, so I guess it was a success. I disposed of the cup and it’s contents in the proper manner and went on with the evening. Close call.

As I relievedly walked towards the club, the words of my mother demanding that I “go to the bathroom before going out” were echoing in my head as were the thousands of times I had implored my own children to do the same.

Perhaps this was my mum’s posthumous way of saying “I told you so!”

Nobody Home

The other day I heard a radio announcer (Tom Power if you must know) interviewing a popular musician and a certain phrase jumped out and struck me as a subject worth discussing. He said to her: (essentially) “this was a pivotal moment for you. Before this you were “a nobody” and then you were suddenly thrust into fame and superstardom.”

From this perspective all or most of us are nobodies unless or until we are famous. That discounts a huge number of people in the world. Namasté, baby. 

What an absurd hierarchy. 

My respect for general historical knowledge is growing as I become more aware of where in one’s life one is. I already follow many musicians and authors and artists and can recognize the different eras of each and , so I am aware of their growth and or decline at a macro level. I love comparisons of people and places separated by time. 

Many “non nobodies” we only know from photos or film. We picture them in our heads from one of their photos frozen in time. Ever see Sigmund Freud without a beard? Mark Twain without grey hair? Film actors are trapped at the age the film was shot. When I picture any of the Beatles, it is usually from the sixties.

People change.

The average age of human cells is seven years. Some regenerate in a matter of days and others last for more than several decades. I know this now, because I was thinking about how much people change over time and I googled it. The idea that we are completely different at a cellular level is false. The key word being “average”.

The way I see it, I have significantly changed, pivoted or transitioned probably a dozen times or so in my 66 years on this planet.

There was the young Ian before school; the schoolboy/chorister who lived in TMR; the troubled adolescent me who lived in St. Sauveur. A year at a boarding school in Montebello. Then the college me for two years at Acadia; then the “finding out a direction me” as I discovered a love for jazz and I spent an inordinate amount of time practicing and developing and getting a degree in music, then getting my teacher credentials . The years I spent with a woman who became my first wife. Four in Winnipeg, then back to Montreal and a decade doing music therapy with children with autism. then Kids. The Dad years, houseowner. There is considerable overlap in some of these “eras” or “stages” of my life. Back to teaching. The death of my father. There is the transition from childhood to adolescence of my daughters and the pitfalls of negotiating what had become an untenable marriage. The new marriage; Space to create; retirement; time to create.

Ten years ago I had just gone through a burnout, no music, my marriage was on the skids (we were separated but co-habiting- I don’t recommend it) and I was transforming. Waking up to who I was and who I wanted to be. The only constant throughout this and forever is my love and commitment for my girls. 

My yoga teacher, my therapist and my own hard, truthful appraisal of what was really going on in my life led me to start accepting and believing in myself as I found out who that was and who I could become.  

“I love myself, I love my body, I love my life just the way it is, it is perfect!”-Dr. Bali

Most of the friendships I have now I have developed over the last ten years. The major upheaval of divorce and the huge difference of going from middle aged to golden aged have contributed to this. Most of my current friends have never seen me clean shaven or wearing a tie….. pictures of me from “before” are as alien as pictures of my ancestors from 100 years ago. Their image of me is as I am now. 

Some of my “before” friends were able to keep up and accept me as I am now, some died, some just disappeared. My kids are a constant as are my siblings who have “known me” the longest. I put “known me” in quotation marks because they know only a part of me, like reading a Wikipedia biography. Loads left out, loads of assumptions. They shine a light on what fits their historic assumptions, gloss over the iffy bits. 

There are skimmers everywhere….”Europe in 30 days”…..as if….  People who make snap judgements like taking snapshots of a moment and thinking they have some whole story. Headline readers, “Best of…..” listeners. 

I suppose we are all surface dwellers to a certain extent.

I was re-acquainted recently with a friend from grade school. We had met 61 years ago in Kindergarten. I could have easily picked him out of a line up, and vice versa. He told me I haven’t changed a bit. I jokingly said to him: “I had a beard and grey hair in Kindergarten?!?!?” He remembers me differently from how I remember me, but not by much. We always think worse of ourselves in retrospect. I do, anyway.

Each of those eras is still in me. I am a product of the times. White middle class post-war baby boomer smartass punk. The hopes, the pains, the lessons learned, the lessons ignored, the mistakes made, the roads taken. All of this experience still in me even though many of the cells in my body have been replaced.

I am sure I still exist. I am not famous, but not a nobody. I will continue to exist until I don’t. When I die, there will be some memories of me held by my loved ones, some crap I have acquired, the body of work I have left behind, and that’ll be it. Back to carbon like everybody else. Mortal.

Presence of Absence

I miss my dad. Not always, and less often than at first, but today. It has been over twenty one years since he died. I had young children then and my grieving was balanced by the duties of fatherhood. I have mementos. Things that I inherited that were his. Things that remind me of him and our connection. Things that recall his presence.

I was listening to a radio program called “Ideas” on the CBC yesterday and the episode was called “Haunted”. One of the interviewees was Daniel Goldstein who made art from various things that reflected his feelings of loss as a member of a community that was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. He used a phrase that I may have heard before, but this time I was prompted to retrieve the episode and listen more closely to make sure I was understanding him correctly.

The phrase was: “presence of absence” to describe his haunting artwork. My spine tingled. This oxymoron hit home. He put into words much of what I love in life. I love deserted spaces, liminal spaces. I love things that have been tossed aside, but remain. I seek out ruins and cemeteries. My pinterest “likes” feeds me rusty train engines and deserted theatres, abandoned subway stops, classic cars and trees growing out of cars and the like. I am waking up to the fact that the reason I like all of these things is my predilection for presence of absence. I imagine what was there before, I may romanticize what was there, because there is no real way of knowing.

I am reminded of photos of derelict barns that my friend Percy takes, the realist art of Alex Colville, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. Songs like “Torn Screen Door” by David Francey also come to mind.

Perhaps I love to bask in melancholy. I don’t necessarily feel melancholic or nostalgic, but to witness others that recognize this beauty gives me comfort.

As I googled “presence of absence” the word “Saudade” kept popping up

Saudade is a Portuguese word that is almost untranslatable. The best way to describe it is: the presence of absence. It is a longing for someone or something that you remember fondly but know you can never experience again.

I love word play, and in 2004 when I first looked up the word “Saudade” (a word I had seen in Bossa Nova titles (Chega de Saudade, etc.) I realized that the feeling actually was embodied by a song I was writing then called “So Dad…” which was a conversation with a ghost. I was hoping that they were pronounced the same to complete the pun. Apparently in Portugal they pronounce it “SO Dad Jay” which annoyed me, but the Brazilian version was close to “so dad”. I am with Brazil on this one.

Saudade / So Dad…
Ian G Hanchet

So Dad… I look in the mirror some days
I look in the mirror some days and I see your face
Looking back (2x)

You lived your life well and As far as I can tell 
I got the best of you, I got the worst of you
Right here

So Dad… I can hear your voice some days
I can hear your voice some days 
When I’m yelling at my kids (like you did) (2x)

Then I remember  To treat them warm and tender
But with a firm hand, I understand

So Dad… the shadow that you cast  Is pretty big
The shadow that you cast is pretty big
But it isn’t all dark

So Dad… the fire in your veins went out
The fire in your veins went out 
But though we part, you left a spark

             (chorus 1) 

So Dad… I grew up under your wing
I grew up under your wing 
And I may have stayed too long
So Dad… you gave me a voice to sing
You gave me a voice to sing
But you let me sing my own song

You did your job well and As far as I can tell 
I got the best of you I got the worst of you
Right here

So Dad… the last time I kissed you
The last time I kissed your forehead
It was already cold
You’d stopped… Growing old…

So Dad… A little bit of you lives on
A little bit of you lives on
in your prodigal son

	I’m only a little boy, Just a little boy 
	I’m your little boy still, I’m your little boy still

©2004 IGH


“It doesn’t get any better than this”

A memory of an experience I had around twenty years ago just popped into my head and I thought I’d write about it.

I was assisting in a music therapy session, getting frail elderly patients to engage and/or participate at their level in the activity. My job was to try and animate (mostly wheelchair bound) people in the live music experience. One elderly gent sitting near the back of the room was tapping his hand to the music, so I approached him and asked if he’d like to play a percussion instrument along with the music. His caregiver piped in with the obvious and said “he’s blind”. I ignored that redundant information and placed an instrument (a hand drum) in the man’s hand and he scanned it manually and played a gentle and appropriate accompaniment to the live music. His mien and posture shifted in his wheelchair and he dug in, adding some flourishes as the verses changed to choruses. His smile was palpable. More than a mere smile, he was beaming. As the activity drew to a close he proffered his drum to me and grabbed my hand and said to me in all earnestness: “it doesn’t get better than this!”. 

Here was a man who had lost his sight, in a diaper, in a wheelchair, appreciating a simple activity whose purpose was to stimulate a rather passive and sedentary group while simultaneously providing me with grocery money. I looked him up and down while thanking him and then I noticed the tattoo….. He had survived the holocaust.

We talked a bit. His wife of fifty years had died a few years back and he was all alone. His children had all moved far away and seldom thought of calling. One might be bitter…..

Imagine if the sentence had read like this: 

He said to me sarcastically: “it doesn’t get any better than this?”

Same words….. totally different meaning.

Letting Go

When I drove my eldest daughter to take an entry exam at a local High School, this happened. When we got there, I asked if she’d like me to escort her, but she cheerfully said “no” and she got out of the car and skipped away across the field. I immediately felt a pang and I have recognized this pang is universal (I felt it again when my other daughter got married)

All children are meant to fly on their own and even though we become less “necessary” and we feel we have become “less important”, we are always there to support and the love continues and thrives.

This child, these hopes, these dreams, these aspirations
How could she know? How could she know?

My bursting heart is filled with Trepidation
I'll let her go Although I 
know her heart will break
And with each mistake
I won't be there to catch her
Or there to watch her

She's so naive she still believes
In happy endings
And when she finds
Life's lined with mines

Her heart so torn
Will bleed and need Some mending
She will be fine
The sun will shine

Her story will turn out
Without pretending
She will be fine 
The sun will
Keep on shining through
All because she knew
I would be there to catch her
And there to watch her
Evermore

I will be there to catch her
And there to watch her
Evermore 



Silent Song

My niece did a walking pilgrimage across Spain and afterwards went to a Monastic retreat. When she told me of these wonderful experiences I was filled with envy for the silent retreat away from the world. At the time I was in the thick of my teaching career and incessant noise was weighing heavily on me.

I had recorded a demo of it after I first wrote the song, but I was never totally satisfied with the result, so when I was recording my solo acoustic album I re-recorded it using my Greenfield guitar.

If there was a place that I could go to
And be silent all day long
I’d try and put that silence in a song
And when I drop my heavy load
at the end of my weary road
After climbing a hill so steep
You know I’d sing, I’d sing myself to sleep

And when I’m asleep Nothing can harm me
Cause I’m dreaming all night long
When I awake I’ll try and catch that dreaming
In a song And I will sing
You know I’ll sing it all day long

There is a place that I can go to
in my heart all day long
my heart beats in the world of song
it won’t be long til your heart beats to my song
it won’t be long til your heart beats to my song

How Can This Be?

A friend of mine relayed the story of her elderly mum’s death to me. My friend’s Mother was given a break for the weekend from looking after her husband who was quite “labour intensive” due to his advanced Alzheimer’s. When the husband was returned to their apartment, his spouse was gone. She had died over the weekend.

Many of the lyrics in my song are actually transcriptions of his words in his bewilderment. Picture a child’s perspective of trying to understand loss and at the same time the life partner’s shock at having lost.

“Someone always leaves first” is an expression my wife uses often. Although inevitable, it is always a shock.


How can this be?
how can you do this to me?
What am I going to do without you?
How cruel and unkind 
To be left behind
I wanted to go with you!

I've looked for you nearly everywhere
You're not in your room, or your favourite chair
There isn't a note, 
how can you be so remote
When you know I've devoted
The best of my years to you

How can this be?...

You're nowhere to be found
And I don't understand
How you could leave me behind
You were here yesterday
But you aren't here today
I'm going out of my mind

How can this be?...

I want to hear your voice
I want to be given a choice
I loved everything about you
You left me here, stranded
I've come up empty-handed
I can't go on without you

How can this be?


Grey Day

I was fortunate that when my father died, I had the freedom and space to mourn his passing. I am a strong believer in feeling one’s feelings, expressing one’s emotions and being real.

The last month has been rife with preparations for yesterday’s funeral for my father-in-law. I watched as Sharon prepared: 1. transport from palliative care to funeral home. 2. Arrangements with funeral home. 3. dealing with the liquidator. 4. choosing the design for a commemorative bookmark. 5. Choosing the music for several different parts of the funeral. 6. Digitizing photos and creating a photo montage for the visitation. 7. dealing with the caterer. 8. Dealing with her mum. I am exhausted just writing about it, but you get the idea. The mourning has come in waves for Sharon. The lull between duties. Maybe a photo triggers a fond memory, a saved phone message. Much of the mourning came as death approached nearer and nearer.

My song is a creation culled from many memories, not just my own father’s funeral and burial. The first funeral I ever saw was JFK on a black and white TV. It was grey and cold in late November 1963. Then, 4 grandparents and so on. It seems as we age, there are more funerals now than ever before. Not just relatives, but friends, siblings leaving too soon as well. The heroes I had as a younger man are dropping. Jazz musicians, songwriters, sports heroes. We are all hurtling towards death anyways, so I make the most out of living each day to the fullest.

In “Grey Day” I tried to evoke the loneliness of mourning and the restorative power of crying and the need for fellowship to heal and continue. Not a day goes by where I don’t have reminders of my father. I miss him, but no longer to the point of tears. Music helped.


Blue…makes me think of you…anew…
grey… day…grey car took you far away

Colours fade if you let them
So wet them, so let them
Feelings fade if you wet them,
So wet them, and let them

Rain… lets me feel the pain…again…
Get… wet…grey day won’t let me forget

Problems leave if you let them,
Don’t fret them, forget them
Friends return if you feed them,
So feed them, you need them

Hurt… grovel in the dirt…alert!…
low… blow…know there is nowhere to go

© 2004 I.G.H.


Don’t Tell Me I Can’t

Dreamers and creative people who dwell in a world of fantasy and possibility are at odds with the “bean counters” and “suits” of the world. There seems to be a lot of thoughtless energy out in the world designed to quash this liberty of the artist.

My mother, when I told her my ambition of writing and performing music said “Oh, They’re a dime a dozen!” I loved my mom, but what an ignorant thing to say (and believe). There is not a day that goes by where I don’t hear those words in my head and I have to remind myself that creating music is not a “commodity”, it is an art. It would be lovely to have thousands that hear my songs, but it is not necessary for a song to be successful. A successful song is one that is finished and that satisfies me. The rest is just fluff.


I want to be a stardust collector 
I want to catch rainbows
I want to be a moon reflector
the scent of flowers in my nose
  
II: don't tell me I can't ,don’t tell me i can’t
don’t tell me I can’t
don't tell me that it's (1)too late :II
                                       (2)im-possible

I want to ride on a Unicorn, I want to swim up waterfalls
I want to sleep inside a Stradivarius 
and vibrate in the best concert halls

I want to fly with a dragon by my side
I want to live inside an old oak tree
I want a world where tears are jewels
where nobody frowns and everything is free

I want to stay awake and never get tired
I want to live in my richest dream
I only want to drink the finest wine
and feast at the table of the king

I want to live in Shangri La, Lothlorien or Brigadoon
I want to live on the bottom of the sea
and take vacations on the moon