In this episode of the Véro Show, I reflect on finding room for our interets and passions in the middle of motherhood and tackle the question of vocation and whether motherhood should be enough to sustain us. Just a regular Wednesday…
I mention a few cool things in this podcast. First I quote Phil Collins. I don’t need to link to this video but I will anyway because if you know a more perfect break-up song, I won’t believe you (but *please* if you recently lost someone through death or divorce, be kind to yourself and give this song a pass for 5 or 10 years, ok?):
I just finished watching Masaan on Netflix, a Hindi movie about people navigating difficult circumstances in the midst of a punishing moral code and a strict caste system. It’s not a feel good movie but it’s one you have a duty to watch if you enjoy a lot of Masala movies. Because India is not exactly what it’s shown to be in high gloss Bollywood productions. This trailer doesn’t have subtitles — you’ll get the gist of it — but the movie does.
(Before we get started, note that I use “yelling” as a catchall for the many ways in which our voice expresses anger, exasperation or plain old done-with-it-ness. I was reminded of that by my 9 year-old daughter this morning who accused me of “yelling at her” during church when I asked her to take her feet off her brother. I told her that had I been yelling during Consecration, everyone would be looking at me right now. It wasn’t yelling but it wasn’t exactly sunshine and ponies either.)
Yelling challenges are not what your children think they are. Paul — my husband — and the children often have a yelling challenge whereby everyone is encouraged to yell as much as they can for one minute. Those are the things you can do when Dad is in charge. Moms are challenged to steer their children in the right direction without getting angry.
I have done my share of yelling and paid my dues to the stop-yelling-challenges clubs of everywhere. With the help of carbon dating, I can pin my first hopeful foray into calmer parenting to my pregnancy with David in 2005-06. My fourth child was 4 years-old and this fifth baby felt like a new beginning, a chance to be the non-spanking, non-threatening, attachment-minded parent I admired. I’ve been trying ever since.
Here’s what happens when I stop yelling or threatening: stuff stops happening. The truth is that no one moves until I yell or threaten. You know what I’m talking about right? I call it the “Oh Shit” threshold.
What is that about anyway? Some say that children spend so much energy keeping it together for those who sorta like them — friends, peers, teachers — that they have none left for those who love them unconditionally. And while I find comfort in these platitudes, I still wonder why my children are so much nicer to their father than they are to me. I find no truth in the suggestion that my children’s attachment to my husband is faulty, that they perceive his love as conditional, that he exists in the periphery of their emotional lives, among the friends, peers, teachers and daycare workers. My husband is equally submerged in the murky waters of parenting. I can’t reassure myself with the myth of perfect attachment causing children to act like jerks.
So here I am, just a girl, standing in front of her blog, asking it why she has to choose between doing everything herself or turn into a screaming banshee. Both options have led me straight into the pits of burn-out and depression and I’m wondering if I can crack this nut or if I’m condemned to parent from a place of perpetual angst.
As adults we often forget how often children have to do things they’d rather not do. We take their dependance for granted and even resent it at time. We earn a living for them, hunt, gather, provide the shelter and safety that they are incapable of providing for themselves. In return, we expect them to eat the food we provide and stay in the shelter of our choice while we parent ourselves out of a job. Immaturity leaves children with little true agency. We may try to give them the illusion of agency while we lift them out of Ettenmoors but nobody is dupe. The process of maturing is where our way meets the highway: it’s the lifelong tug-of-war between our desire to go as far as we can on our own steam and our realization that we need others. In many ways, parenting is teaching our children to make room for others.
We were all born in a struggle between the individual wanting to grow fast and wild and the need to keep other people in our lives. Human babies are born with nothing but the need to form relationships. This is the only way they can survive. The back-and-forth between needing others and needing to be our own person creates that “oh shit” threshold. How far can we refuse to do something without compromising our survival (or if you are a grown-up, the survival of your marriage, the keeping of your job, the avoiding of the prison…). The relative height of this threshold and how often it will trip us as we learn to manage it vary with our individual temperaments and personalities.
Parenting is the work of sculpting a functional individual out of the primary matter we are given. The influence of the artist and the proprieties of the matter are present in every work of art. That’s why some people grow into functional members of society and others act like 3 year-olds well into adulthood. Lack of self-control, sulking, selfishness, impulsivity, helplessness: we were all 3 year-olds once. Adults who can’t flush their toilets, wipe their microwaves or return a favour without sulking exasperate those who have done the work of growing up, of letting the individual be formed and molded. The irritation is not born of being completely foreign to these lower instincts but from from having reluctantly grown out of them.
When I stopped yelling and blowing my lid, I expected that there would be a time of painful transition where nothing would happen. I reasoned that if my husband, who is the calmer, more respected, parent faced a lower “Oh Shit” threshold, lowering the pitch of my parenting would naturally lower the threshold. The children would not suddenly snap into respect mode but if I remained equanimous through the chaos, the balance of the universe would eventuallybe restored. It’s easy to slide back into old patterns when new patterns don’t bring about the needed change. I had the support and understanding of my husband and I knew that this change would be positive regardless of how long it took to see results.
So when did it all turn around? Well, I’m still waiting. Kind of.
I never saw results in the compliance department. My children are very impulsive — apple, meet tree. When I ask for something, most of them say no and walk away or simply ignore my request, leaving me with a choice between calmly doing it myself or losing my ever-loving mind. It’s difficult. I’m burned out from the amount of work I have to do without help. Every day I have to choose between burning out from doing everything for everyone or burning out from yelling at everyone. There is no smooth sailing. It’s my life and it’s a complicated dynamic of temperaments, personalities, habits and education. My biggest concern is not that don’t have a gaggle of compliant Stepford Kids but that the image of motherhood I project is one of constant exasperation. I wish they saw me doing something well instead of seeing me struggle with the simplest tasks, like bath time and meal time.
Yelling, like spanking, is not a decision, it’s a reaction. To eliminate the yelling, we have to eliminate the irritation. Our sensitivity to our children’s lack of cooperation is not a factor of how egregious the provocation is but of how burned out we are. The same light touch on the arm causes no pain on healthy skin and excruciating pain on burned skin. And it’s hard to heal a burn when something is constantly poking at it.
The yelling challenge is not to lower our voice but to lower our pain. It’s the impossible task of healing while walking through fire, of containing the uncontainable, of giving more than we were given, of paying one without robbing the other. It’s the challenge of loving unconditionally while acting like we don’t care.
Here’s the legendary item number from Dil Se , lyrics by Gulzar, music by A.R. Rahman. I know it’s the second blog post where I reference this item but what can I say? When I love something, I love it a lot:
This is the second instalment of my Bollywood playlist (read part 1 here). The first post focused on modern dance numbers from recent movies. This post is about the classics of modern Bollywood item numbers. According to one French-Canadian white woman. You get what you pay for.
1. I concluded my previous post with Dard-E-Disco from “Om Shanti Om”, acted by Shah Rukh Khan, performed by Sukhwinder Singh and choreographed by Farah Khan. To spoof an art form, you must first master it. The video for the song Chaiyya Chaiyya was also acted by Shah Rukh Khan, performed by Sukhwinder Singh and choreographed by Farah Khan. The lyrics were written by poet Gulzar based on a Sufi poem and put to music by A.R. Rhaman. This item is a master class in what a group of creators at the peak of their art can accomplish together. It was done on a moving train for crying out loud. This number has a special meaning to me. It lifted me out of a 10-month slump and I have a picture of it on my phone’s lock screen. It reminds me that none of the people who participated in that video got there by accident and that I have to keep taking the next right step if I want to accomplish anything. Then I wake-up and I still have 9 children and an expired degree in Ottawa, but whatever.
2. The movie “Lagaan” has, in my opinion one of the most consistently memorable soundtracks of all the movies I mentioned so far (fight me). Like Chaiyya Chaiyya, Chale Chalo was composed by A.R. Rhaman and performed by Sukhwinder Singh. “Chale” means “to walk” and “Chale Chalo” means something like “Let’s go!”. It’s as good a sentence as any to know in any language, no? The actor in the video is Aamir Khan, one of the three Khans of Bollywood.
3. Wanna see more Aamir Khan and hear more A.R. Rhaman? Me too! Especially since this movie is not available on iTunes or Netflix and I haven’t found a DVD with good subtitles yet. “Rang de Basanti” means “yellow colour” or “colour of Spring”. If anyone knows of a good subtitled DVD copy, please wave. Apparently the DVD copy that Netflix used to mail to people is good but everything else is problematic. The movie is half in English (because one of the main characters is an English filmmaker). The English parts were not subtitled but were later overdubbed in Hindi. So you have overdubbed Hindi parts with no subtitles for half the movie. That sucks.
4. Speaking of colouring people, sometimes whole movies are just a vehicle for an item number. Case in point, the 2015 movie “Dilwale” which marked the much anticipated return on screen of legendary pair Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, 7 years after their last collab and 20 years after the release of their cult classic “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”. “Dilwale” is a whole hour too long and could easily have done without two of its three storylines (keep Shah Rukh and Kajol, forget everyone else.) But it’s worth seeing for Gerua, in which Kajol and Shah Rukh play-up their iconic chemistry and revisit elements of previous numbers (like the flying orange scarf). Shot entirely on location in Iceland, it’s by far the best part of the movie. I also want all her outfits.
5. I’d be remiss to mention Shah Rukh and Kajol without including their earlier work. There’s so much awesomeness to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down but I went with the “Shah Rukh and Kajol steal the show at a wedding” filter and was left with Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna from “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (DDLJ) and Yeah Ladka Hai Allah from “Khabi Kushie Khabie Gham” (K3G). Unfortunately the videos on YouTube are not subtitled so you’ll miss out on the poetry but if you buy them on iTunes, the songs will be subtitled.
6. Galaan Goodiyaan from the movie “Dil Dhadakne Do” is a tour de force and a mighty good song too. It was shot in one continuous take. Impressive considering the number of people on set and the choreography.
7. While music is always prevalent in Bollywood, it’s not always as part of item numbers. Sometimes the music is just used as a narrative device, as it is here in Haanikaarak Bapu from the movie “Dangal”.
8. So far, I have videos with only two of the three Khans of Bollywood so I’m throwing this one with Salman Khan as a freebie. I haven’t seen the movie but the song is part of my Zumba routine so I feel like we’re on a first-name basis.
9. A great dance song with a friendly from Shah Rukh Khan. He’s just the best, what can I say?
10. And finally, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has been known to play goodie-two-shoes roles, especially after she married into the Bachchan Dynasty. But man, does she crank-up the heat in Ishq Kameena from the movie “Shakti:”
I recently discovered Bollywood and my goodness, did it rock my world. The extent to which the Indian film industry is ignored by critiques and distributors in North America is nothing short of scandalous. But when I tried to drum-up some interest for my latest Bollywood discoveries on Facebook is was met with widespread indifference, which lead me to conclude that people were not interested in having more colour, music and mood-altering overproduced eye-candy in their lives. Or the desire to break free from the tropes of North American screenplays. Oh well.
But I do care and I think you all need it anyway. This is the first of a two-part post about my Bollywood playlist and it includes pop songs from the first Masala movies I saw on Netflix. Some of the older Bollywood available on Netflix took me some getting used to. As a result, this first installement of the playlist was born out of the more recent crop of Bollywood bluckbusters.
One thing that took me no time to get used to was the music and dance numbers specific to the Masala genre, known as “Item Numbers”. Item numbers are musical performances shown as a part of the movie but often without any importance to the plot. They have a variety of purposes, from vehicles for movie trailers to end credits sequences. Hindi movie lovers were trained not to leave during the end credits long before Marvel movies made it a thing. Another particularity of item numbers is that the Central Board of Film Certification — the government body that regulates the public exhibition of film and TV in India — is reputed to be more lenient about what is shown during music numbers compared to the non-dancing parts of the movie. That’s how a very safe, family-friendly, movie like “Jab We Met” can be closed off by a raunchy, pole dance-y item that is still safe for work.
Since the most popular item songs in Bollywood are rarely available on Spotify I decided to make you a Youtube video list. All these songs are available for sale on iTunes.
1. Mauja Hi Mauja and Nagada Nagada from the movie “Jab We Met”. Mauja Hi Mauja plays during the end credits and final scenes of the movie. There is a speaking interval in the middle of the song where the grandfather tells the two protagonists — now married with two daughters — that he saw right through them when he met Aditya, which is not true. The two actors, Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (not related) were a real-life couple at the beginning of the movie and broke-up during the shoot, causing curious fans to forever wonder in which scenes they are a reaal couple and which scenes are faking it. Their chemistry is pretty strong throughout. In Nagada Nagada, the Hero — the term used in Bollywood for male lead — Aditya, having driven the heroine Geet back to her family in Punjab, is getting ready to leave when he is invited to sing a song. Happens at my parties All. The. Time.
2. Marjaani and Love Mera Hit Hit from the movie “Billu”. “Billu” is a Bollywood movie about a Bollywood star coming to a small village to shoot a movie, hence the “set within a set” concept of Marjaani. Shah Rukh Khan plays himself in what amounts to an extended cameo: the main character of the movie, Billu the barber, is played by Irrfan Khan. Marjaani was composed by Pritam, the composer who penned Mauja Hi Mauja. Bollywood loves referencing itself and you will notice that the actress accompanying Shah Rukh Khan in Maarjani is the same as in Mauja Hi Mauja. In Love Mera Hit Hit, all the wonderful soul-lifting tropes of item numbers are on steroids, with Shah Rukh coming from the future wearing costumes that could only look hot on him (but man, do they). In interviews, Shah Rukh Khan shows amazing wit and wisdom about his stardom. This video — which shows him almost spoofing himself— is just another reason why his presence at the top of the Bollywood food chain is enduring.
3. Speaking of spoofs, this video from All India Bakchod takes more than a few stabs at the item culture of Bollywood. And it’s as good a time as any to watch it before you watch the next few videos and see it all at work. The actor playing the skit is Irrfan Khan, also known as “the other Khan.” The Bollywood rooster is currently ruled by three (unrelated) Khans: Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. In Party Song, Irrfan and his assistant try to sell him as “another Khan,” with limited success. By the way, the movie they are mentioning, “The Lunchbox” used to be available on Netflix Canada. It’s a mesmerizing tale of two unhappy people finding connection through Mumbai’s famed lunchbox system. It really made me crave Indian food and Irrfan Khan’s movies.
4. Lovely, from the 2014 movie “Happy New Year.” What can I say, it’s everything Party Song mocks and yet I can’t get enough of Deepika Padukone dancing. In the words of my 9 year-old daughter: “She’s so pretty I’m gonna die!” I wasn’t sold on the movie — I’m not a huge fan of slapstick comedy in general — but anything produced by Farah Khan promises to have super entertaining dance numbers, a ton of friendlies (cameos) and a really creative credit sequence. So I watched it all.
5. Dard-E-Disco , another example of Bollywood not taking itself too seriously, once again at the expert hands of choreographer/producer Farah Khan and actor Shah Rukh Khan from the 2007 rom-com “Om Shanti Om.” If someone is watching over your shoulder while you listen to this one, you might have some ‘splaining to do… So much shirtless Shah Rukh, so much water….
Last year I started writing down a list of the books I read and who recommended them to me. At the beginning of January, I purchased a Kobo e-book. It was the best purchase I made in years. I still think that there is a charisma to reading ink on paper but I’ll have more principles when I have fewer children living at home.
The Kobo is easy to tuck into my purse and I can read in bed without bothering my bed-mate(s). Unfortunately, it prevents me from supporting my local independent bookstore (if you never visited Mill Street Books in Almonte, please do: it’s everything you ever dreamed a bookstore to be.) But results speak for themselves: I read more books in 2017 than in the previous 10 years combined. Here is the list of books I read in 2017. Since life is too short to read crappy books, I do not feel an obligation to finish a book I am not enjoying. It follows that I recommend all those books just for finishing them.
1. “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King. Non-fiction/Memoir. Paperback. Recommended by: Brainpickings. This is on the must-read list for any creative type. Quote: “Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing — of being flattened in fact — is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”
2. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. Fantastic/YA/Fiction. Book. Recommended by: The Protagonist Podcast, episode 073 (it’s one of their most downloaded episodes). I remember reading after finishing the book that it had been started as a NaNoWriMo project and not being surprised: it has a “pieced-together” quality that was disconcerting at times. Reading the book, I was delighted by Erin Morgenstern’s gift of imagination. She describes the magical and the transcendent with a rare skill but I found that the story lacked focus and rhythm and that the structure was unnecessarily confusing.
3. “A Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son” by Ian Brown. Memoir/Non-fiction. Book. Recommended by: I found it in a used bookstore and thought it would be good background reading for my own novel.
4. “The Evening Chorus” by Helen Humphreys. Historical Fiction. Book. Recommended by: I found this book in my car, that’s all I can say. It’s beautifully written, from a “craft of writing” perspective. Every sentence is a work of art. That said, it also lacked focus and read like a collection of story starts and hints of characters. As Stephen King wrote in “On Writing” (paraphrasing someone else, I think): “If you put a gun on the mantel in chapter 2, you better make sure someone picks it up in chapter 4.”
5. “The Headmaster’s Wager” by Vincent Lam. Historical fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: my friend Johanne Wagner of Twins for Hope. Vincent Lam is one of my favourite writers and his debut “Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures” is my aspirational book: I re-read it as a model of how I would want to write someday. In “The Headmaster’s Wager”, the man falls into a hole and digs himself in deeper and deeper until all those he loves are dead, most of them because of his bad calls. He is left with nothing but his sense of self-preservation, we are left with the start of “Bloodletting and miraculous cures.”
6. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage murders and the birth of the FBI” by David Grann. Investigative journalism/non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 241. Non-fiction reading like a true murder-mystery about a dark episode of American history. From the synopsis: “In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off.” This book is masterfully written and researched.
7. “There are no children here: the story of two boys growing up in the other America” by Alex Kotlowitz. Investigative journalism/non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 240. This book should be on the reading list for humanity, especially if you think that there is no such thing as privilege. This is a book that blew my mind, I have no more eloquent way to describe it. It took me right to Andrew-Horner Homes. It’s one thing to know that inequality exists at our doorsteps, it’s another to experience it at the hands of a gifted writer.
8. “American Kingpin: The epic hunt for the criminal mastermind behind the Silk Road” by Nick Bilton. Investigative journalism/non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 244. Everything I knew about the Silk Road I learned from The Good Wife. I started the book, I finished the book. I may have taken a pee break at some point. Page-turners are few and far-between in non-fiction, this is one of them.
9. “Papillon” by Henri Charrière. Questionable auto-biography/non-fiction fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: My grade 9 teacher used to read this book out loud (from memory) to his classes in May-June on the belief that there was no point trying to teach anything after the weather turned nice. This is the auto-biography of Henri Charriere, a French man accused of a murder he did not commit and sentenced life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana. This is the story of his obsession with escape and revenge. Large parts of the book are unbelievable, some smack of delirium (like that South America Native village?), but you read-on because you want to believe. A hell of a caper.
10. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fiction, classic. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: Life. There are some books that you have to read. This is one of them.
11. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Fiction, classic. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: Bruce Springsteen.
12. “The Blind Side: The Evolution of Game” by Michael Lewis. Investigative journalism, non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 91. This is a book that will make you care about football the same way Friday Night Lights did: come for the stories, stay for the football.
13. “A visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. Fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: I first heard Jennifer Egan on Q and was smitten by her description of her creative process: it spoke to all my nook and crannies as a writer. Two days later, I heard Jason Isbell — my current overwhelming creative crush — mention “Visit from the Goon Squad” during an interview with George Saunders. So I knew I had to read it. This way, when I meet Jason Isbell, I can talk about something intelligent instead of melting in a puddle of goo. Nah… who am I kidding?
14. “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison. Paperback. I don’t remember how I came across this book but one of my favorite songwriters of all times, Gillian Welsh, wrote its foreword. I’ve been reading this book for 18 months but I read a little, then try to apply it to my songwriting. Then read a little more.
15. “Story Grid: What Good Editors Know” by Shawn Coyne. Kobo e-pub. This is the book that sent me to New York City for a writing workshop. It’s informing a lot of my writing, whether I follow it or not.
That’s it for 2017! I am currently reading “All the Light we cannot see” on my Kobo and Sherlock Holmes in paperback. I have a mile long wish list at the Kobo store. What are reading these days?