I’m a newcomer to social media. As a result, my filters are on high alert, and I am very circumspect on Facebook and Twitter. I scrutinize every word I post, aware of the potential ramifications. My privacy settings are high. Mostly, I ignore the links my friends and newsfeeds share. Every once in a while, however, the subject connects with an interest of mine, and I am seduced.
That was the case the other day, when I clicked on a link from the Stratford Festival to a post by Antoni Cimolino, the artistic director. Cimolino had been asked to list and describe ten things he couldn’t live without for Toronto Life magazine ( http://www.torontolife.com/informer/people/2013/05/24/antonio-cimolino-the-list/) What would an artistic director identify, I wondered? I ambled through the list—his heroes, his cricket ball, his Italian water jug, his good luck charm, a mask. When I got to the Festival Tent cufflinks, number six on the list, I started to wonder what my own list might look like.
With the reading short-circuited, a fresh page in my writer’s notebook ready, and my favorite pen in hand, I started to play with the idea.
1. The People I Love
My husband keeps me grounded; my children delight me. My extended family and close friends complete a small but precious circle of vitality. They have the pieces to my puzzle.
To live, I must grow. Can I rub a few sticks together to spark an idea, fan the idea with a soft breath, feed it a few twigs to keep it going, and know the satisfaction of a robust fire? I never tire of the exhilaration.
3. My Piano
This is a shocker. The little girl who never wanted to practice needs a piano. The piano student for whom, in the eyes of the teacher, lessons were a waste of money, loses herself in music to relieve stress. The struggling pianist who fought with rhythm cannot imagine her life now without making music.
4. The Binder of Family Christmas Letters
Just before Christmas, 1987, I gave up on Christmas cards. Given that they were coming out in January anyway, why not make it official? I began my first family New Year Letter in January, 1988, the year before our youngest child was born. Each year, a copy goes into the binder. About ten years ago, rereading them before beginning the next one, I realized that I have a family history, a legacy of the challenges and precious moments of each year. The first few were done on an Apple 2e, and photocopied. From printing on filigreed Chrismas stationery, they have progressed to emailed newsletters with strange subtitles and framed photographs at coquettish angles.
5. My Father’s Autobiography
When he was about 70, my father decided to write his autobiography. He learned to type properly—my father never used any tool incorrectly—and invested his winters hunched over the keys in his den, preserving for us the stories he had been telling us since we were children. When he turned 80, he decided he needed to buy a computer, and retype his autobiography onto a word processor. My octogenarian father became computer literate, and we had a digital copy of the autobiography. Our daughter, a graphic artist, formatted his work, designed a cover, and bound it in soft cover. She and her brothers presented it to him in the hospital for Christmas, a month before his 100th birthday, and six months before he died.
I don’t remember learning how to read. Just like speaking French and English, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t make meaning from combinations of letters on a page. Words are a conduit to shared ideas and experiences, and whether they appear hard or soft bound, or on a computer screen, or on the radio, or in the small e-reader square, whether they are someone else’s or my own, they have been my lifeblood since my childhood, and my livelihood throughout my adult life.
And—looks like I won’t be making it to ten! Yes, precious objects surround me—a wooden puzzle box, a gift from my university colleagues; a piece of obsidian from a strong and singular First Nations teacher; a mask from Venice; my great-grandfather’s rosary; the bracelet my grandfather gave my grandmother as a wedding gift. Those objects remind me of people and experiences who formed me. Still they are just that—objects.
I am far less materialistic as I age. Things don’t matter to me so much, anymore. People and experiences get my attention. They teach me. I endeavor to reciprocate in gratitude. Without them, I can’t live.