Mary Gold (Mariam / Mirrel Kolofsky) 1919-2011

Gram died last night.

This is a painting of my Gram when she was a teenager working crazy hours with her sister at her brothers’ first store.
A customer came in one day and gave it to her. It shocked her that someone thought of her. She also never saw herself as attractive, even though she really was a beauty in her day.

We were talking the other night about what Gram liked to do.  What movies, what books, what songs? Gram liked business.
She loved flea markets as long as she could go. She read the paper to see what the prices were and how people were merchandising. 
She had been an entrepreneur growing a series of small convenience stores in Niagara Falls after the hat store and the men’s goods and the bowling alley all didn’t work.

Gram is the last of her 4 siblings who had a hell of a life and an incredible bond and love for one another. They lost their mum to an institution when Gram was very young and it seems their father didn’t want her around. Her father was “wonderful to me” she’d say but not to her siblings. 

She spent the rest of her life holding onto family, connecting with every relative, even staying close with the stepmother who’d hit her and she and her siblings and run away from. We had Shabbes supper (Friday night dinner) every week till I left for college and the US. All 16 of us. All the cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents.

She married young, had three children who each had three children themselves and took care of her mother and father-in-law who’d escaped the shtetl and lived with her. She was a huge part of the Niagara Falls Jewish community.  She loved her family, a good joke, food and chocolate. It’s hard to really describe just how much she loved chocolate. One of the places she and her siblings lived, after then left, was with a relative who owned a candy store. All four of them were chocolate maniacs. It’s reliable.

Would she have called herself a feminist? I don’t know but she worked and entrepreneured her whole life. 

She was not fancy but she appreciated beauty and quality. She wouldn’t waste a thing. 

I know this isn’t the best edited blog post, but I wanted to share some things now. There’s a snow storm coming. There’s a lot to do. I wonder how you shovel dirt into the grave in the snow? It’s a Jewish custom I appreciate. It makes it real.

I’ll post more from An Honest Living: My Search for Meaning through Work in the future. Here’s some bits about Gram.

Grandpa Sam is always in the tiny office up the stairs at the back of #1. It’s clubhouse sized, with rec room fake-wood paneling, a little safe and lots of piles of papers. Grandma Mary is always walking around the store in her orthopaedic dancing shoes and big, mustard jacket with pockets full of gum and stim-u-dents. Whenever I come in to work, she takes me aside. I get a stim-u-dent, clean my teeth, and she teaches me.

“Make sure that when you are putting fresh chocolate bars on the shelves, that you put them at the back of the pile and move the older ones to the front.” 

This is wisdom that makes a real impression on an 11 year old: If what you get is consistently stale, you’ll never expect fresh. 

There seems to be a lesson lurking everywhere. One day Grandma catches me crouched by the magazine stand, reading an Archie comic book. She firmly leads me to the drugstore aisle and admonishes me to “never sit still. There’s always something to do.”  And she puts me to work, neatening up the greeting cards.

I don’t see the employees “always doing something,” but I understand that it is different for me, because my grandparents owned the stores. Everyone is watching us, so we have to do it perfectly.

###
They grew up shuffling from one house to the next, trying to stay connected with each other after they ran away from wicked stepmother as children. It was hard for Jewish people to get jobs in Toronto in those days. So Uncle Jack and Uncle Carl borrowed money from family and friends and opened a book store. But they did things differently. Books were highbrow stuff back then. But they sold books the way other people this years ladies’ fashions, or meat. They sold books by the pound. They advertised “Algebra on Ice” and put the books in a refrigerator. Grandma Mary tells me: “I remember when it was Easter, we had about 30 little chicks in the window. That created quite a stir I tell you.”

Gram and her sister worked in the bookstore too when they were young. They all worked crazy hours and didn’t get paid much or at all. No one called it a “startup” or got stock options. They sold real tangible books and school supplies, and sold them cheaper than their competitors.  

Uncle Jack and Uncle Carl used the name their father took because his employer Ford hated Jews: Cole. They opened more bookstores and grew and grew. They sold a kind of cheat sheet to the books you had to read for school and called it Coles Notes. These became known in the United States later as Cliff’s Notes. And they eventually built one of the largest chains of book stores in the world. They even built a store called “The World’s Biggest Bookstore” in Toronto. And they sent people to England to measure the last big one to make sure theirs was the biggest. And it was too. Until many years and several careers of mine later, when Amazon.com came along.

When everything’s stripped away
The smallest thing becomes huge.
I want to put chocolate of Grama’s tongue
just for the taste
the pleasure
but they are starving her. 

She can’t swallow.
No food 
No drink
for 2 days now.

She is shutting down.
Her blood visits fewer places.
Her eyes started moving around.
I laid my head next to hers on the pillow
Like a lovers.
Did she ever have a real lover?

I see you Grama. I see you.
That is what lovers really do.

I forgot that it’s fun to write.
I missed some days this week.

And Egypt is telling Pharaoh to fuck off.
All those Passovers
I’ve heard about Pharaoh a million times
It never occurred to me that he was probably 
An asshole to his own people too.
No one needs that.
There will be more.
2012 is coming. 
The rest of the Arab nations are facing their own.
Nothing changes more
than facing yourself.

The Internet is still down.
How will we reach each other?
they’re still in the streets.
What are my streets?
Who will I fight with?
Love with?
Who will I join arms with 
To make a world of just us.
Us people. Hi there.

Just what are we willing to put up with?
“I still love you Pie,” I sobbed
But I know as well as she that she can’t rescue me from sadness
And I know that I can’t take another Pharaoh.
Not her, nor me nor any other

Freedom is frightening
Freedom cannot last without love
Freedom erases your map

Grama is regressing
Minute by minute
The legs went first
then they were wounded
then the talking
Just grabbing your hand 
and putting it in her mouth
like a baby
then she stopped eating
And you can see what there is
Before you were born.
The eyes aren’t certain.
There’s more to move
touch 
and sound
and maybe something on the tongue
Then the tongue stuck out
it stopped moving
Who needs hair
Before you’re a baby
There’s breathing
Then sometimes there isn’t
Why are you there?
Why not be
Life only wants more of itself
To be
that is all
To only be 
is a powerful life
To look at see
a shape
a movement
a something
the chattering of small talk around the dinner table
always sitting around a table and eating
that’s how we knew we were here
Gram was alway so proud
i think
here was her family
They sure as hell weren’t going anywhere this time
not like when she was a kid

But Sarah and Carl and Jackie
Where did they go?
The same place as time
All that fun
all that life made
when there were rules for how to have a life
after there weren’t
just yelling 
a their mum wandering in a park
to get some peace from what was there
Oh you 20th century
how to buy a suit
what kind of proper stitching
for Ladies Wear
and a Bowling Alley
and maybe even how to put
the stale chocolate bars in the front of the row
There’s always something to do
said gram 
in her mustard colored jacket for work
that smock covering the other jacket
shiny dollar store clip on earrings

Work to do
All those cigarettes to smoke
and Friday night dinners to make
And grandchildren to watch
Jump in the pool
And it all made so much sense
Just like the 20th century 
Vanished into the sand it was built on
Those desert people know about building there
so they’re preparing the way
to build again
first you take it down
the anger
the cowardice
the pretense
you rip it apart
with Pyramid magic
and what comes next?
Nothing like we’ve seen.
There’s no shelves to stack things on
It’s just you and me baby
You and me.

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Today’s Resource: Bette Midler at the Baths

Continuing my promise to post one thing every day that makes me happy. I missed yesterday because of Gram's sudden decline in health but the movement for freedom which I tweeted plenty about made me very happy.

 

This is Bette singing at a gay bathhouse. the Continental Baths early in her career with piano player Barry Manilow.
If I had Fantasy Island powers this is own of the places I'd want to go back in time to. Come to think of it. If I could Fantasy Island it, I'd sing this song, just like this. 
It's my favourite take on one of my favourite songs.

"I see my light come shining…"

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Teena Marie -Work It

 

This is some funky sh4t! Bless You Tube, I’ve not heard this song since I played it on my mixed cassette that I bought in 1988. Man I love this song. And how is it that both Teena Marie and Taylor Dayne died so young? It’s like the Gilda Radner, Madeleine Kahn one two punch of the white girl funk genre.

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127 Hours, loss, and tequila bar wisdom

photo: Chris Applegate 

I saw the film 127 hours last week. It made a big impact on me. (I liked it a lot more than Social Network. It’s a very interior film and will take you as well as a virtual thing can, to a place of feeling what matters about being alive to you. Log line: a climber cuts off his own arm to survive. Spoiler below).

I was in a bar last night and found myself talking with someone very tall visiting Toronto from Vancouver. Did I mention that this bar’s specialty was serving just tequila and making mid-town professionals comfortable on a night off? It wasn’t really my scene. 

I mentioned the film. This woman sharply zeroed in her energy and delivered the pinnacle scene to me: “I made that boulder. I made this moment. This boulder has waited it’s entire life for me…” She hasn’t seen the film but a friend did and he told her about it. This friend saw the film a few days after this happened to him:

He’s someone who she’s known to always have chronic sinus congestion. He is always sneezing and his voice sounds dulled by all the fullness. She saw him recently and he sounded clear. Completely different. No congestion and he told her he hadn’t sneezed in two weeks. What happened?

He ran into this homeless man he would often chat with and the man turned to him and said: you’re dying.

And he realized he was right. he remembered that he’d told himself since he was young that he wouldn’t live past 35: what’s the point. And here he was 35.

Of course it’s someone unexpected, a homeless man, a fool or someone else often dismissed that delivers what we feel as prophecy. Without the contrast with our expectations, how do we learn?

It shook him up and he realized he had a choice to make. And he made it. He wanted to live. Inexplicably the congestion and sneezing went away. He saw 127 hours and he realized he too had made his boulder and it had come in the shape of what reached him.

And the woman telling me this story said that he sounded different. Now you could hear his voice so clearly. And some of it was a clear head and some of it was something else. A kind of presence. He was completely there and he wanted to be.

lost the use of a bit of my left hand after an accident in 2006 and ended up a very reluctant plaintiff in close to instant karma as I explore in my current show in development The Law Project. That show had been entirely focussed on how bad law school and law suits are. Then the accident happened. My jokes were analysed by lawyers. I was not allowed to blog or videoblog or tweet about it because it could all be used against me in the suit (brought to pay my medical bills). I was forced to contain the entire experience. And in some other profound ways, the experience changed my life dramatically for the better. Among the thing’s I learned: I never wanted to be hurt again to take care of myself. I’ll share more of the lessons as The Law Project is unveiled. 

I’m once again dealing with loss, wondering about the learning.

And if Ralston can climb with one arm, I can find a way to try to do it again with 8.5 fingers.

What loss did you create in your own life? 
Did it teach you anything? How?

more on Aron Ralston
great interview with Ralston post film

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The Original Portlandia: My Vagina Is 8 Miles Wide

“Maybe you’re just not enough for me?”

Sing it out girls. over and over.

The upcoming film Portlandia has tune called Dream of the 90s and its video has been making the rounds.

It reminds me of the earlier and even more heart and vaginal-tastic video by Storm Large.

While we gigged in San Francisco around the same time and performed at the Dyke March, I lost track of Storm when moved to Portland.
Thanks to @taradublin for reconnecting me to Storm’s work. 

Storm, I’ll be in Portland this year. I’ve never felt so welcome. 

(She’s apparently going to be in a new musical by Randy Newman. Soul baby.)

((tags:: art, sex, feminism, Portland, Storm, vagtastic)

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Great documentary film recommendations

If you like documentaries and wonder what some good recommendations would be here’s a great list. 
I complied it form the suggestions made to pal Jesse Epstein, a wonderful documentary filmmaker in her own right (see the hilarious Wet Dreams and False Images) and founder of indie filmmaking network Shooting People who was looking for good introductory films for some students on Facebook. Here’s the list her friends suggested. I’m guessing many of these suggesters are documentary filmmakers too:

No Lies
David Holzman’s Diary
Dark Side of the Moon
Brother’s Keeper
American Movie
In A Dream
The Cove
Boys of Baraka
The Life and Times of Alan Ginsburg
(the 2nd DVD includes interviews w Johnny Depp and Patti Smith)
It Might Get Loud
Bueno Vista Social Club
Man on Wire
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
 Hoop Dreams
 The Thin Blue Line
 Super Size Me
 Mad Hot Ballroom
 Spellbound
 Born Into Brotherls
 Food INc
 Dogtown and Z Boys
 The Fog of War
 Sicko
 Salesman
 Grey Gardens
 Harlan County
 Seventeen
 Capturing the Friedmans
 Both seasons of This American Life
 Obstructions
 Breaking the Waves -lars Van Trier
A Portrait of Idi Amin – Barbet Schroeder
Control Room
Nanook
Medium Cool
Roger and Me
Operation Filmmaker
Some Kind of Monster
Anvil
Short films by first time filmmakers:
The Foster Parent of Iron

The Mighty Quapaw

The Rest Haven

Aurelia – Mother , Teacher Survivor from South Africa

Jikeleza

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
and my personal favourite film of all time:
Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston

Anything by:
Barbara Koppel
Werner Herzog
Errol Morris
Maysles Brothers
Fred Wiseman

Suggestions: Michael Green, Nara Garber, Matthew Kohn, Rosemary Siciliano, Rebecca Richman Cohen, Kasia Kowalcyzk
Mary Kerr, Randi Cecchine, Beverly Seckinger, Adam Schartoff, Melisse Seleck, Chandler Griffin, Nadav Zohar

((tags: doc, documentaries, great documentary recommendations, films to watch, best docs, Jesse Epstein))

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