Saturday, 8 March 2014

Who we were, who we are

Oh, the 60s! Remember?
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I entered high school in 1961, a naive, eager-to-please girl. When I graduated from grade 13 five years later, I was a naive, eager-to-please girl, only 5 years older. When I saw ads like this, I didn’t bat an eye – of course, some day, I wanted my husband to adore me and admire my homemaking skills. Who wouldn’t?

We’ve come a long way, baby, but it wasn’t because of me. I continued my After high school, I continued my education in Michigan. American colleges in the 60s were hotbeds of cultural revolution, but I missed it all – the peace marches, the burn-your-bra rallies, the consciousness-raising discussion groups. When I graduated in ‘69, I was still naive and eager-to-please, only a few years older. Perhaps a little more aware that I had choices that a previous generation of women may not have had. But radical? No way – you could bet your sweet bippie on that.

"Anxiety Won" by Ginny Smith, a quilt artist who says, "I draw upon the natural world and the myths, legends and folktales we have devised to explain that world. I especially like to make use of birds, appointing them the representatives of the natural world."
I like this piece of quilt art by Ginny Smith. “Teetering on the edge of chaos, the anxious flock seeks refuge in traditional values” it says. When society goes through enormous changes, as it did in the 60's, our tendency may be to “take refuge” in the certainty of the status quo – anything is better than not knowing what is going to happen next. While I was aware of the changes, I only took a few baby steps into this new world of equality, then hurried back to safety.

And then there was Ana. Two more different women than Ana Miriam Leigh and I you would have had a hard time finding. If I was a mousy grey crow, she was a flaming red one.

Ana grew up on in Virginia, and she was a firecracker. She embraced change passionately; she marched, she burned bras, she protested, and when things got dicey she and her husband escaped to Canada, settling in a hippy colony on Denman Island. Ana married twice, had three children, danced and sang and tied herself to trees during the Clayocquot protests against logging, and in general made a great nuisance of herself to the powers that be, especially if it involved an underdog. She was constantly questioning, constantly rebelling, always stretching to figure out what would be the next big thing she could get into.

I met Ana at a week-long memoir-writing workshop. She entered late, trailing scarves and other bits of wardrobe, her greyed curly hair flying all over. The room felt more vibrant with her arrival. We read pieces of our writing aloud to each other. My  memoir centred on my early childhood in an immigrant family and the religious traditions that were important to us. She wrote about her Southern Episcopalian upper middle class home, and how she couldn’t wait to get away. After the workshop, some of us, including Ana, decided to stick together as a writing group. I wondered if we could last – after all, what did we have in common?

I sure had a lot to learn, and Ana taught me well. What we had in common was that we were women, struggling with many of the same issues: aging, choosing priorities, being at peace with ourselves and the world, finding a way to contribute our hard-won wisdom in a society that practices ageism. Ana listened as I read aloud my pieces about trying to shed my ‘need to please’ skin, and she cheered me on. I listened as she wrote about the steep price she paid for being such a rebel – and I affirmed her wonderful gifts. I learned that our differing responses to the changes in our world back in the 60s  had both good and bad consequences for each of us. Now here we were together, bravely forging on.

Ana died one year ago on International Woman’s Day, March 8. We think she was determined to make it to that day. A month before she died, terminally ill with cancer, she still decided to march in an Idle No More parade to promote aboriginal causes. Her memorial gathering became a celebration of a life that had ended too soon, yet impacted so many people. We danced, we ate, we drank, we laughed and cried, and we were thankful.

The writing group she left behind decided to write a tribute to Ana as a way of healing. Because I express myself not only through words, but also through quilting, I created ... what else? ... a red crow. We love and miss you, Ana, but your voice and your message continue in our lives and in our writing.
I've embellished this piece with many symbols of Ana's interests and contributions: dancing slippers and musical notes, flowers and trees, gardening, a fairy (she believed in them!), a wheel of life, and the words "Be Here Now." The crows at the bottom of the picture represent us, and Ana would tell us: "Don't just sit there, do something. Be here! Now!"

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