Wednesday, April 30, 2014


    An ABC Wednesday Post: The Letter X

(Xanthe, daughter of Oceanus, by Barbara Cooney.)

Last year I received a birth announcement from a friend's daughter announcing the arrival of her new baby girl; Xanthe Alexandria. The correct pronunciation of this is Zanthee, which I only discovered after a conversation with my friend.

In Greek mythology, Xanthe was a sea nymph, one of the Oceanids, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. In ancient Greek, Xanthe means 'golden one', which has also been interpreted as blonde-haired. More likely than not, little Xanthe will be the only child in her class with a name beginning with X. So too, by the time she starts school, she will probably be used to telling people how her name is pronounced.

The Romans had an expression nomen est omen, or "name is destiny." A name is part of a person's legacy. It will be recorded in history. You will say it thousands of times during the course of your life.  It will be written on class lists, read out loud amongst throngs of others at graduation, spoken with portent on your wedding day, printed on business cards. Above all, rightly or wrongly, a name often conveys an image, an assumption about the person. It creates an impression.

Psychology professor, Albert Mehrabian, tested a host of names to see how people viewed them. Some names immediately aroused images of beauty or intelligence, others of popularity or kindness. Yet others were seen as artistic, nerdy or odd. On the whole, people judged to have more traditional names such as Rachel and Robert did extremely well. More alternative names scored badly. Breeze, for example, was viewed as being a poor student and business risk. Mehrabian feels that parents who choose or create bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just plain foolish.

                                                    (from Google Images.)

Some celebrity offspring names are perfect illustrations of this case in point:  Moxie Crimefighter, daughter of Penn Jillette and Emily Jillette, and Spec Wildhorse, son of John Cougar Mellencamp and Elaine Irwin, are but just two of a whole litany of bizarre names created by celebrities. The newest to add to the weird and wacky list are Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, whose newborn daughter faces the world with the moniker, North West. Poor wee soul ... it's all south from there.

Alaska's Sarah Palin, that Western avatar of traditional values, rather paradoxically named her children, Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Perhaps there is a hidden part of her which yearns to be more artistic, less conservative, that is solely reflected in the names she chose for her children.

For many parents, picking out a baby name is like choosing the perfect nursery d├ęcor or baby accessories. It comes with a great deal of thought, reflection and personal taste. Some choose to name after beloved family members, sports legends, or heroic figures. (I named my oldest son, Nicholas, after my much loved maternal grandfather.) Others pick names which are trendy, popular, current. Some go the biblical route, or take a page from their favourite novel, movie or historical era. Yet others give nod to family tradition or their ethnic roots.

My four grandchildren have fairly unusual names. It is my personal policy to never get involved in any way in the naming of grandchildren. I had my turn. Now it is my children's right, and their joy to choose names. The agreement between my second son and the mother of their children was that he would choose the boys' names and she would pick the girls' names. They have two sons. My son picked both their names from the NHL (National Hockey League) roster. (Seriously!) Regardless of my own private personal opinion, my response to the announcement of each grandchild's name has always been the same, "That's lovely! I really like it. You've chosen something unique and strong/beautiful." And so it is, as I have grown to love each child's name as part of them.

I think that names perhaps have a greater significant influence when that is the only thing you know about a person. In time, people give personality and definition to their own names, good and bad. As Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Xanthe's relative obscurity (not ranked in the top 1000 names), will take a bit of determination to make it work.  She will stand out in a crowd of little girls named Emma (top girl's name in Canada for the last five years in a row), and among those bestowed with the tendency towards ever-more tortured, innovative spellings such as Mackenzie (McKynzee), Ava (Aayvah) and Taylor (Taelyr), all of which I have personally seen. In time, though, I have a feeling little Xanthe will come to define her name as a distinctive, interesting, spirited appellation.

                                     (Small Possibilities, by Maggie Taylor.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Culture of Play

(My children playing Ninja Turtles with a group of neighbourhood friends one summer afternoon. Nicholas, aged 9, is the boy in the middle wearing the aqua-green shirt. Son, Joshua, aged 5, stands next to him in the yellow shorts. Daughter, Sarah-Beth, 3 years old, is the little girl in the red dress. They had made their own masks, shields and swords.)

This past spring break, I found myself immersed and fascinated by my grandchildren’s play. One afternoon, the two youngest, gap-toothed eight and nine years olds, sat side by side with hand held video games. "They’re interactive", my son said.

In what language do they construct their inner worlds, their utopian places and sites of belonging, I wondered?

My mother had a rag doll. Literally. It was made of pieces of material from her mother’s rag bag. It had button eyes, woolen hair and a sewn on smile. She rocked it, sang lullabies to it, loved it with all the fervour of her burgeoning mother-heart. My sister, Amanda, eschewed all girly toys and played with meccano and lego, constructing the elaborate houses and castles of her dreams. My daughter, Sarah-Beth, composed with the magnetic coloured letters of a plastic alphabet. I can still her now, on her knees before the fridge, creating a litany of words. She also rarely went anywhere without at least one of her garish plastic 'My Little Ponies'. She was forever combing their tangled manes and arranging them in colourful rows and formations. My sons lived in an alternate universe of Transformers and leaping Ninja Turtles.

Something stirs in me from the well of my own childhood play. Besides my own well-loved baby dolls and my adored paper cut-out dolls, I remember the magic of marbles; crystals, peewees, King cobs, steelies. A many coloured collection of treasures kept in a drawstring bag, it might have been unearthed from some pirate’s cache. Mostly we girls just watched the boys play, but I had my own little stash, thrilling to the feel and look of the round weights in my palm.

I knew the rhythmic geometry of the yoyo, spinning globes with string inviting me to "walk the dog, rock the cradle, go around the world". I also recall with enjoyment  the all girls' games of Jacks and hopscotch, and the large group games of 'Mother, Mother May I?' and 'Red Rover, Red Rover".

The virtual world of today’s games seems to make the earth miniscule and children giants. Yet, they are able to draw new boundaries, make reality oscillate in a new dimension.

Toys and children’s joy; inimitable, personal.

As a little girl, I knew the poetry of the jump rope. The rope coming round would invite me to risk a jump into the split second of – NOW. Here is the truth of playing. Enter the narrow gate of now, for there is no other time.

Need we ever go far beyond the poetry of children playing?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Door as Diary


                                                         DOOR AS DIARY

A door as diary

Locking out the world

Inviting longings loose

Upon its panels.

A door as place

Where keyhole dreams

In patterns amplifying

What eyes can’t see.

A door as barter

Beckoning to open

The woman who

Writes her words.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Morning Witness

I am given a moment every morning that lights me from head to foot, charges my batteries, and makes my senses dance. What did I ever do to deserve this?

Most days I awaken around 6:30 and amble to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. The world outside my windows is still in darkness, the features nebulous, bosky and undifferentiated to the early morning eye. A gentle silence reigns. The stillness which is draped over everything is the perfect companion to begin the day.

I usually sip my first coffee standing by the window. As the sun rises over the horizon, the day's first light peers through the trees, pokes its way through the iron railings on the patio and paints the walls with rosy fingers and a wide brush. A delicious warmth creeps over my body. It is a mixture of the fragrant, the visual, and the embraced.

I find often the most beautiful stories are written in darkness, exposed by the sun, augmented by shadows, then gone. Each sunrise is different, and every single one is a gift. Ready or not, here comes another day. Here I come too, perhaps not as filled with light as the morning sky, but working on it in my own peculiar fashion.

I wonder how our ancient kin would have described such luminosity? There may have been a paucity of descriptive terms and expressions for such experiences in the long ago, but we are united across time and space in the unspoken language of wonder. In my mind, I can see them standing somewhere quietly on a summer morning long ago, as entranced and comforted by the deep glow, as I am here today.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Raspberry Songs

                                                   RASPBERRY SONGS - Magpie Tales

I sip raspberry wine
Exhale rose-tinted songs
 Eliminate words
Add new endings
Pause notes
Fill in the glistening
Heady spaces
With juicy self singing
Winged raspberry tongue.