Friday, 19 September 2008

Uncertainty, Love and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I’m going to write as long as I want to, ignoring the fact that long posts are not friendly to the reader. I’m going to write despite the fact that my right elbow is strangely swollen and very painful.

Today a beautiful woman came into the shop. She was, I would say, in her late 40s or early 50s. She had brown hair, a shade deeper than mouse with undertones of rust. It was tied back with a large clip. Loose curls framed her face, softening her features and making her look like someone who was born in a bygone era. Some would call it a classic beauty, but to me it was more than that - it was like her skin was the thinnest shell to streams of light. The light of that one morning in the spring, when you know that winter is finally over.

She was there with three other women, all caring for elderly disabled men, a small group on a day out in the town. The urge to run after her and tell her she was beautiful was so great, and yet I didn’t. There was a time I would have; for years after Jerry died I did not sense the barriers of expected social behaviour. It was as if they had all been lifted after he died and I was unfazed by any of the learned labels that stood between me and the perfect spark of life others carried with them like a forgotten gift.

But time passes and slowly self consciousness has built up like a fractured wall. I have become too afraid to be bold in my assertions of beauty, especially here in Britain where emotions are traditionally and stoically guarded.

I live to regret the times I have not been brave enough to speak with truth and love. When I am in the moment I fear looking ridiculous, uncontrolled, even mad. But afterward I am only aware that I have wasted some small shavings of my wisdom because I didn’t give them away when I had a chance.

This week has been clouded with self doubt. It is the way of things with me - I experience highs of creative confidence, feeling as though my latest project is going to be the perfect and successful (by this I mean well received by others) expression of my passions.

Some time ago I got it in my head to create a pod cast for the Tattoo. It’s gotten to the point now where I’ve written the proposal and am well on my way to completing a sample pod cast, the plan being to tie the whole thing in a “this could really work” bow and pitch it to the powers that be at work. But when I listen back to what I’ve produced, I wonder if I am just kidding myself and I hear the negative responses in my head. I don’t have a Scottish accent - how can I host a program about an iconic Scottish show? I have some radio training but I have never produced a pod cast before. I write well but I am not a musician and don’t have in depth knowledge about the military.

I know that the pod cast is a good idea - a new avenue that could really open up new business for us and develop stronger communication with overseas customers. I know this. But I fear that I will fail, that I will make a true mess of things and that it will tarnish the show’s reputation. That it will be too amateurish and informal. Yet, we are a charity - I know we do not have the capacity to splash out on recording equipment and pay for professional broadcasters. What I have is my creativity and my enthusiasm and a deep understanding of how this show affects people on an emotional level. The question is, is it enough? Am I trying to be something I am not? Would people listen with confidence to someone whose official work title deems her to be nothing more than a shop girl?

To round out my sense of uncertainty, John’s birthday is coming up soon and I have yet to buy him a present. The gift I had been considering just doesn’t seem to fit, at least not now. Tomorrow I will be wandering the streets trying to find something that feels somehow good enough. And while I know he would be happy if I just bought him a mechanized demon arachnid and made him hot dogs for dinner, I want to be able to hold something out to him that somehow expresses how I feel. So I am like Robin Williams ploughing maniacally through a box of disguises and bizarre props, studying each one for its potential. I seek something complex and eccentric, with a pulse of pure love smouldering underneath.

Nothing seems good enough. Is that how it is with love -that there is no thing or combination of things that can express it properly? Perhaps I shouldn’t listen to so much sad music (I’m on the Duncan Chisholm again) as it makes me emotionally self-indulgent and generally quite sappy. John would mock me heartily, but in secret he would love me for it, too.

Finally one more tale, this time of memory and sandwiches. I have fallen behind on my listening to the Vinyl Café pod cast with Stuart McLean, which I love dearly. So today on the walk to work, at lunch and on the walk home again, I listened. And at one point Stuart was telling the story of when Dave was heading down to Cleveland but how he stopped at Niagara falls and went to a little café and had a grilled cheese sandwich.

Grilled cheese sandwich. At the mention of it I knew exactly what it looked and tasted like. Proper, cheap café grilled cheese, made with white bread and cheese slices, squashed almost flat and served with fries or maybe some pale sheets of iceberg lettuce. I went through a phase as a teenager when I ate a lot of them, mostly because I was trying to be a “cool” vegetarian without having any understanding of a healthy diet.

But when I think of grilled cheese sandwiches, only one place comes to my mind. If you are driving through Hope, B.C. and you are heading north, then just before you round the corner that will take you onto the bridge and over the river, there will be a small red, white and yellow (at least these are the colours in my head) shack on the left hand side, close to where the riverside camping area is. It used to be a café, but it has been closed for years now. I ate there only once, travelling back from Vancouver with Mikara, Kryce and Moe’s dad.

I think Graham had driven us down to see the Pogues in concert and I also recall that while we were in the city he picked up some more soapstone (I can still see the image of wholesaler’s yard, giant chunks of stone scattered everywhere like mother nature’s wounded soldiers). We were driving back through the Fraser Canyon, familiar songs on the radio, a strange energy churning in the van that even then I recognized as the beautiful friction of two people falling in love. I wonder whether Graham felt it, too, and what he thought as he drove the van and we stopped for lunch at the café.

Most of the diners we had eaten at during the trip did not carry an array of vegetarian food options, and I remember saying as we sat down that I just wanted something that was not a grilled cheese sandwich. But then the menus came and when the waitress returned, I remember glumly informing her that I would please have a grilled cheese sandwich.

Tonight on the way home I bought bread and terrible cheese slices and I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich for my dinner. It was great, yet at the same time truly awful.

How can the mention of three words - grilled cheese sandwich - cause such an eruption of memory for me? How wonderful that the mind can attach itself thus, mingling at once the remembrance of sight, sound, taste, emotion.

And those, for now, are all my stories.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that. It is indeed a memory I didn't remember until your telling of it. A lovely gift :)
Of course, you know, i will say: fuck off! you are bloddy talented and your love & quest for truth & beauty are the icing on the beautiful cake that is you. Of course, send it all out there to the universe (do the podcast). all people can do is have an opinion. what they cannot take away is your impetous (sp?) for the creation. there was joy in your voice when you spoke of the podcast. and that means it is a path worth touring. if they say no, it is just rain beating against the windows, nothing substantial, just the weather.
i guess what i am trying to say, is you are an artist and we must be feisty if we are artists. which you are...ahem.
p.s. thank you for the call.

Purest Green said...

Thanks, Moe. Sniff.

norah said...

oh, that's a beautiful post.
and i hope you sent in the podcast.
radio is most wonderful medium - and the most forgiving. very good for the fake it 'til you make it approach!
which is, i think, the best for those of us who doubt ourselves.
i would LOVE to hear a scottish podcast by a canadian living abroad working for a non-profit tattoo organization.
i mean, who wouldn't?
keep us posted on the podcast!! :)