October 4, 2009

A Call Into the Wilds (of Norway)

My friend Sharon sent me a link today... an invitation to participate in Norwegian sound sculpture that involves (simply) calling a telephone number and speaking your name, which is then projected (via loudspeaker) into the Norwegian countryside. I immediately felt driven, not only to say my own name, but also Magnus' - as another means, I guess, of reconnecting him to Norway.

The same could be said for Louise Tolstrup's parents Gustav Moller, and Emma Lorentzen...or any of the 1st generation of Tolstrups born in America and who never got to visit Norway - Louis, Ling, Emma and Doris Tolstrup ( especially Louis because he was supposed to go once when he was a child, but at the last minute it was decided that his older brother Paul would go instead). I think my mother would enjoy the trip, too.

So family, how about we all take a telephonic family holiday to Norway...and let's take the ancestors with us! If you are interested (or inspired as I am), just call the number below, say your name...and maybe the name of one of our Norwegian-blood ancestors - and let it be broadcast over the wilds of Norway.

And if you do participate, I'd love it if you'd post a message about it here - what you said, how it felt, which ancestors name you chose and why - whatever you like.

Here's the details:
Call +4790369389 to have your voice blasted into the luscious lands of Norway through September 20th, 2008
[Telemegaphone Dale is a 23-foot-tall wind-powered loudspeaker sculpture that picks up incoming calls and projects them into the nearby surroundings. This Telemegaphone is located on a mountain overlooking the village of Dalsfjord in Western Norway. When you dial the Telemegaphone’s phone number the sound of your voice is projected out across the fjord, the valley and the village of Dale below.]

oops. my bad.

Just noticed that the final date for participation was Sept 20....2008

Deary me but I'm STILL inspired to do something similar as an aspect of my final dissertation. All along I've felt inclined to speak, sing or chant a 'song' to the ancestors. Lately, I've been thinking about recording family members as they speak their names and the names of ancestors to use as a part of the installation piece that will form the art component of my doctorate. I'll take this (missed opportunity) as a push in the sound direction, though I must say, I didn't need much of a push.

September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

Yesterday would have been Dad's 82nd birthday and he would have gotten a kick out of this one 9-09-09. He loved oddities of numbers - so, I know that we probably would have been hearing about how this birthday was all made of 0's and 9's. It's also entirely likely that Dad would have mentioned this wonderment numerous times over the entire year leading up to the event. I guess he figured that if it was interesting enough to say the first time, it was interesting enough to repeat. (Never one to waste a joke, he told the same ones over and over again - always making himself laugh - which, of course, made us laugh)

Based on his affection for repeated numbers, Dad even had a favorite time. He'd always say "Look Marge, it's 11:11!" and my parents would both sort of stand at attention until the time ticked over to 11:12. When my sister Suzi's 2nd daughter Wendy was born at 11:11, it took on a whole new, deepened and almost mystical significance. I once asked Dad why 11:11 was so important and he told me that it was the only time (On a 12 -hr clock) where all the numbers are the same - occurring only twice out of the 1440 possible minutes in a day. On a 24 hour clock, it was one of only 2 times where all of the numbers were the same (the other being 22:22), occurring only once out of the possible 1440 minutes in a day. All I know is that since Dad died, it's a time that has taken on special significance for me. Whenever I look at the clock and it reads 11:11, my parents come to mind and it feels almost like they're reaching out to me. It always makes me sit quietly and listen attentively until the minute passes.

But there have never been any clear messages.

I did have a dream about my mother once - about a year after she died. In the dream, I was sitting alone in a high mountain cave and my mother came to me. Mum was standing in the mouth of the cave, backlit by a very bright light and from where I was sitting - well back in the cave - I could barely make out her features. It was clear that she was urgently trying to tell me something essential, something of vital importance. I was straining to hear her, but the wind rushing past her drowned out her words and I woke feeling that something I desperately needed to know was just beyond my grasp. I still don't know what she was trying to tell me. She's never come back.

But back to Dad. My relationship to him was different. whatever we had to say to one another, we said while he was still alive. There's no sense of an urgent message I never got to hear, nothing unfinished so I can celebrate his birthday with a clear - if bittersweet - heart. My Dad was the one person who's ever made me feel safe in the world. I miss the feeling. I miss him.

Last night, I laid out a feast of his favorites: Whisky, sharp cheddar, sour pickles and olives, blueberries, caramels and black jelly beans. Everything was gone this morning except for the black jelly beans and the olives. I'd like to think they were eaten by the fairies, or a neighborhood cat...not the rats that live in the shed next door.

If Dad was here now, I'd ask him the numerical significance of a birthday of repeated 0's and 9's.
And I'd tell him I love him. And Thanks.

August 6, 2009

Dada Poetry The liminal

The image
The words

The art of evolution
wrought from a landscape
of defiant chaos
this wayward wisdom
at odds with the triumphing
vandalism of our mothballed truth

in this hopeful territory
of starry-eyed terror, risk
bruises the genuine conviction
and eager life treads past
the mauling gloom of virtuous narrative

here, dilemma scuttles
the deathly vessels of elusive safety
& escapes the stifling seductions
of unseaworthy compromise where flickers
escape in the almost unbearable message
this heart-thumping journey
not a battle, a reward

Dada Poetry ancestral history

The image
The words

Awaking a symphonic shout
of victorious spirit we remember
the weight of our flawed heritage

our everyday comfort
to your beautiful last-ditch gypsy dream
to defying gravity
to defying tragedy

your raw and adventurous grace
our only blueprint
for love
for family
for home

Dada Poetry for George Tanner II

The image

The words

his deported story
beckons tragedy
yet his sweet faith
deaf to the tread of failure

blurred the perils
of a predatory history
a dark exile from childhood
from heartland
from home

rising from
this set in stone delusion
he shifted the downtrodden
& crippled vision
stealing an unflinching tomorrow
from inside his ash-filled past

June 8, 2009

Long last pilgrimage post 2

Josie, Phil, Max & Ebbie welcoming the Pilgrim home

Moving on from Colorado, I spent a few days in San Francisco then a few more in Wellington, NZ before returning to Perth. Unlike the rest of my journey, though, my heart just wasn't in this bit and I really only felt like I was spending time. I was more than ready to get home, to share what I'd done and seen and to get on with whatever I'd do with what I'd learned/gathered to align my pilgrim and everyday selves. That's the part of this journey that I think will prove to be the most challenging: It's one thing to wander openly as a pilgrim, it's quite another to maintain that sense of open, readiness within my day-to-day life. I have felt a deep sense of connection as I've traveled - even when I was lost in unfamiliar places - a kind of solidity and belonging to myself that I've never experienced before. The entire point of this work, for me, is to find a way to belong where I am - to feel less alone and to feel myself an essential part of something bigger than me, a link in the chain.

I've loved, too the moments of clarity and recognition that have occurred: The realisation that - for me, anyway - the liminal is not a stage of the journey, but the place I would endeavour to stay because it's the place where all things, all experiences and all possibilities exist. I've always referred to the opportunities in my life as a hallway of doors and my ease with trying new things came from an understanding that all that's required for change is that you open a door and walk through... and if you don't like what you find there, all you need to do is walk back into the hallway again. Somehow though, it was always been the doors that have intrigued me the most - like a pile of unopened presents on Christmas morning - they've represented all potential. I'm beginning to understand, now, my own relationship with that liminal place: it's where I am most present, where I respond to what's in front of me with all receptors open - my intellect, my spirit, my heart. It allows for all of the best that I am.

And finally, a story.
Leaving Wellington for Perth on November 20th, I called a taxi to take me to the airport. The cabby asked me where I was going and where I'd been - so I told him a brief version of my last months of travel. He (somewhat tersely) asked, "How can you afford to do that?" and I told him I was a research student and that my trip was partially funded. He then asked me what my research was about and I told him that I was researching notions of belonging and identity as they relate to ancestors and to place. He became almost irate and (quite angrily) said, "I thought, at least, you'd say that you were working on a something useful - like a cure for cancer!" I answered that I thought the pervasive sense of alienation felt by increasing numbers of people could well have a lot to do with whether or not they felt like they belonged somewhere, somehow, with someone - and that I hoped my research would deepen our understanding of how all that works. My cabby began then to tell me about his life: Indian born, he'd come to NZ for a better life for his family, but had had to work hard at menial jobs just to provide the basics. Back in India, his mother had grieved his leaving and later, after his father died, she'd killed herself out of grief, despair, loss and loneliness. Though it had happened several years ago, my cabby was still (quite obviously) deeply wounded by the event. I expressed my deep condolences for his loss and the air in the cab suddenly seemed to shift. He started talking about how if they'd known more about belonging, maybe they would have known how to help her and he asked me what I'd discovered on my trip.

By the time we reached the airport, we were caught up in a rapid and enthused exchange about what belonging means. He jumped out of the cab to help me with my bags and apologised for his early and aggressive challenge to the validity of my work, to which I answered that he had in no way offended me (he hadn't) and that it was exactly the challenge I needed to finalise my journey. None of what I've done means anything, if it's just an exercise in self-indulgence. The questions he asked - what good is this and what does it mean to anybody else - are exactly the questions I need to (regularly) ask myself. I thanked him (and he thanked me), we shook hands and wished each other well. Then I flew home.

The long last pilgrimage post 1

Been thinking it's time to wind up my travel posts as a way to move on to (the already advancing) new stage.

My last post told the story of our ancestor feast, which marked -at least- a kind of pinnacle of my pilgrimage experience. All that happened before was a gathering - of resources, intentions and knowledge - which lead me to feel I was prepared to speak to my ancestors with the proper respect, diligence, care and clarity required. I think, with Jim's help, I managed at least our first contact well. It will get better and easier, I think, as contact becomes more habitual. That's what Sal said, anyway..."speak to them like you're speaking to me."

A few days after our feast, Barack Obama was elected President and it was an extraordinary time to be an American and in America. The collective sigh of relief was almost audible and the dark and foreboding mood that had shrouded the country for years lifted in an instant.

Before I left, Jim showed me some bronze plaques imbedded in the sidewalk at the Ft Collins bus station. They seemed particularly poignant. I am ready for home. My wanderer's soul needs the soothing comfort of my own backyard. My mother's soul needs to wrap itself around her (grown-up) boy.

The last few lines of poem I wrote when Max was young sums it up:

The challenge:
to walk both the undulating
dance of my own life and the embracing
stride of a mother. Can I do both? I

travel on with you. Holding
pieces of our attachment in
my pocket. My longing for the sweetness of your scent
close to the surface. My loneliness for you
a bruise. My love for you
a home to which we always return.

January 25, 2009

A feast for the Ancestors...my first!

With the stone in place and my confidence bolstered by our visit with Sal, I felt ready to prepare our first ancestor feast - to be held at the traditional time for ancestor remembrance, All Soul's Eve and All Hallows Day, October 31st & November 1st. Jim, Kathy and I talked about what we should serve and I did some research about traditional Ancestor Feast and Day of the Dead Foods. On Feast days, it’s traditional to serve the ancestors their favourite foods, however most of the menus I found listed foods like tamales, candied pumpkin, & sugar candy skulls. I’d love those foods, but I’m pretty sure most of our Tolstrup-Moller-Ruggles-Tanner-Adams ancestors would have loathed them...the foods I remembered from childhood were hearty and delicious, but – as good New England (Irish and Norwegian) cuisine is – very, very plain. There’s nary a spice to be seen in most cases: the most exotic food I ate during my childhood was Norwegian Christmas Bread (Yulekaker) which featured cardamon seed. So we talked it over and decided to serve Roast Chicken, roasted acorn squash and potatoes and jellied cranberry sauce. In a gourmet shop downtown, I'd found some beautiful chocolate truffles shaped and coloured like little pumpkins, and other favourite special sweets: Turkish Paste for my mother, caramels for my father, marzipan for my Nana Tolstrup. And Jim poured a small glass of Irish Whisky (for George Tanner, I think).
While the dinner cooked, I set about creating an ancestor shrine in one corner of the dining room. Jim brought out a beautiful batik tablecloth, covered with Celtic symbols and the tree of life and we draped it over a table and backing board to create the setting for a series of photos and markers for all of our ancestors – starting with both my parents and Jim’s mother – and going back 5 generations on each line. Where I didn’t have a photo of the person, I substituted a photo of their gravestone. Where I had neither, I made a name marker that listed my ancestor’s name and birth-death dates.
On the table below the photos, Kathy placed some beautiful framed photos of her parents and grandmother and Jim placed a wooden tray, scattered with autumn leaves, that held a smaller wooden bowl of stones and candles. To it I added some quartz (Irish and Viking sun-stone) I’d picked up at Odiorne Point, as well as stones I’d brought with me from from the Hedrum Jernwerks (Norway) and Maeve’s Mound (Ireland), as well as, some wrapped birch twigs I’d carried from Larvik. Then, I added the sweets I’d bought for Mum, Dad and Nana. In a burst of inspiration, Jim added the magnetic “In Search of George Tanner” sign that I’d made for our Irish adventure and, finally, a photo of Loughcrew.
I’d somehow assumed that when ancestors are honoured at a feast, they should be set a place at the same table as the living, but during my conversation with Sal, I came to realise that some degree of separation between worlds was – at the very least – prudent. He’d been quite clear - unusually adament, in fact - that when Flo prepared feasts for the ancestors, she'd set a separate table for the ancestors – somewhat removed, even, from the one set for the living. I didn't entirely know why (and still don't), but intuitively, this felt right - so we set out our ancestors' feast on a low table next to ours.

Jim carved the chicken and placed the first serving of each food – chicken, squash, potato & cranberry – on a small plate. Beside that he put a cup of tea and the glass of whiskey. Also on the table, Jim placed a photo from the Strokestown Famine Museum (Ireland) and a copy of the Griffiths Valuations 1848 (Irish census).
Then we served ourselves and sat at the table. Before we ate, we spoke to our ancestors. For me, it was the first time I had ever formally addressed them and I felt that I needed to introduce myself and apologise for having neglected them for so long. I spoke directly to each of the photos, addressing that ancestor by name and said that I’d never learned how to pay proper respect, nor how to take proper care of our relationship, but that I was learning (and would continue to learn) and promised to do better. I couldn’t help myself: several times as I spoke, I felt a flood of emotion and tears of gratitude, relief, sorrow, joy, hope, regret and love flowed freely.
Jim asked for the ancestors to help us and to help our descendants (mentioning Julia, Ella and Max, by name) He spoke about this being a pivotal in time in the history of the earth and said that we need the ancestors help to set the planet right again.

We ate our delicious dinner, then talked about our memories of particular people – Nana and Grampa Tolstrup, Nana Adams, My Mum and Dad and Jim’s Mum. Jim sang his Ballad of George Tanner and then went on to sing other traditional Irish songs.

When we were finished, we took the ancestors’ foods outside and placed them in front of the petroglyph, where we also burned some sage and lit a candle. Then we went to bed.

But I couldn’t sleep. I felt moved to say more, so I sat up in my bed and addressed my ancestors one by one – starting with my mother and father and working backwards to my great-great grandfathers George Tanner, Thomas Edward Ruggles and Mathias Tolstrup. To those, I'd known in this life, I spoke about our living relationship, about letting go whatever unresolved issues there might be, telling each that I was now ready to let them be spirit. To each of my ancestors, I said what I thought they'd given me, said “your blood is in my blood” and told them that I loved them.
I told my Mother that she gave me my capacity for joy; My Dad that he’d given me my sense of integrity and honour and that he’d taught me how to love with quiet constancy.
I told Nana Tolstrup that she’d given me a sense of being loved absolutely for who I am; and thanked Grampa Tolstrup for championing any of my childhood displays of bravery or courage. I spoke at length to Grampa, telling him that I was sorry to have misjudged him in my misinterpretation of the past. But I also said that by letting me hold him to blame for my hurt, his spirit had allowed me to give reason and shape to a deep depression and had helped me through a very hard time.I spoke also to Nana Adams and told her that I’d always admired her quiet strength. I said I wished I had known her better and had had the opportunity to show her the depth of my love, gratitude. I thanked her for raising such a loving son – so that he could be such a perfect father for me. I spoke to Grampa Adams and told him that he is the first of my ancestors that I did not know, but that I now felt driven to find out more about him. I said that his blood runs in my veins and he is a part of me.

I then spoke to Magnus and Louise (Moller) Tolstrup– I told Magnus that I felt deeply connected to him – that I’d walked where he'd walked, sat where he’d sat – had walked down the street where he’d lived and seen the mailbox that bore his name. I said that I felt I knew something about his spirit and how his spirit had formed me: the sense of adventure – being drawn so strongly by the unknown and by the potential of something ‘other’ that you almost don’t have time to be scared. There’s something of the starry-eyed in him, I think that is also in me. I spoke to Louise saying that I was only coming to know her and want to know her better.

Next, I spoke to great-grandfather (Thomas M) Ruggles and told him that I got the sense he was a bit misunderstood. He was, perhaps, an adventurer in the midst of homebodies and had been judged somewhat harshly for it. I told him he was a handsome devil and that I thought that had caused him some trouble, but that I thought I could understand his need for adventure and for exploring the unknown.
Then I spoke to great-grandmother Harriet (Tanner) Ruggles: I told her that I could see that not only do I have her blood, but that I might look a bit like her, too I thanked her, in fact thanked both Harriet and Thomas, for raising such an extraordinary daughter – my grandmother whose love was central to my sense of worth.

Next I spoke with Mathias Tolstrup – telling him that I’d stood on the ground of his family farm, walked on the ground where he’d grown up. I told him that his sea-faring blood coursing in my veins had helped form my sense of adventure.

My heart lightened as I spoke to my great-great grandfather Thomas (Edward) Ruggles . I never knew him, but from the stories Uncle David told, I know that I would have liked him (and he, me) I told him that I feel that his blood in my veins is what gives me my inclination towards optimism and well-being: I told him I appreciated his vision of his experience of life as ‘salubrious’, that I loved his humour and playfulness.

I spoke last to George Tanner and said that I felt a great empathy, not only for the hardships his family had endured, but as well their experience of a new land: I said that his story resembles Max's story. Both were 11 years old when they were brought by their parents to a new life and a new home in a brand new country. I told him that I wanted to know more about his life in Ireland and wouldn't give up the search until I could stand on the same Irish ground where they'd stood.

I cried again. I’m not sure why – but I think that it’s, in part at least, that I wish I could really know these people; that we could speak together and that they could tell me who they were, what they dreamed, what mattered to them. Perhaps they will somehow. Flo told me to listen for them in my dreams – that they’d tell me what to say/sing to them, what I need to know, what they have to tell me. I hope she’s right.