My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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still learning, after all these years

Just learned the first big lesson of 2011, which I’m happy to share with you – a victory over my silly self.

The other day, I was on the phone, talking to someone with whom I’ve had a difficult relationship, and my interlocutor took the opportunity to raise an issue I thought was an unfair and petty accusation of me. I’d heard it before, and before, I had taken it badly, feeling insulted, misunderstood, outraged.

This time, as I heard the voice through the phone accusing me again, something wonderful happened. I did not get tense and defensive, furious and hurt. My belly relaxed. I relaxed. I sat listening until the barrage had run its course, and we proceeded to discuss other things. I thought, this person is wrong. I don’t have to accept that view of me. I can refuse it. I refuse it.
Afterwards, I marvelled – what happened? Why had I been able to just let go what I’d considered not long before to be deeply offensive? And I remembered stage fighting class. At my prestigious London theatre school, LAMDA, in 1971, I took classes in voice, movement, Shakespearean speech. The hardest class for me was stage fighting. In the first class, our lively teacher, B. H. Barry, had us all jump from the top of the piano into the waiting arms of our classmates. He wanted us to learn trust and confidence. In those days, I had neither of those things. Jumping from the piano, and every stage fighting class after, as we learned to kick and stab and fence, to fall and die, I was so tense and awkward that I got hurt.
“Relax into the blow,” repeated Barry. “Breathe!” and showed us how, when you’re rigid with tension, you are easily hurt. Whereas when you’re loose and relaxed and breathing, you go with the blow and avoid the jarring crunch.
I realized that as the voice came through the receiver, I had relaxed into the blow. I had let my belly soften, kept my breath alive, let the accusation waft over me, and moved on. When we left theatre school, they warned us that it would be at least seven years until the lessons sank in. But for me, it took forty years until B.H. Barry’s lesson finally hit home.
Thank you, sir.
Now to see if I can do it again. And again.
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A few years before LAMDA, as I finished a B.A. at Carleton University in 1968, my friend Lynn and I rented a small apartment near Carleton and sublet the dining room to two young men, one of them a kind, good-natured Australian called David. David married Elizabeth from Ottawa, moved back to Australia and vanished. Last week, after more than four decades, there in my email inbox was a message from Elizabeth, saying hello from their home near Sydney. The three of us chatted via email. They are vibrant and funny and have had very interesting lives.
I can’t wait to make a jaunt to Sydney, to get caught up.
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Back at work, as the snow falls: teaching is as absorbing and rewarding as ever. My Ryerson class is the most geographically diverse group yet, and I now have many private coaching/editing clients and two home classes. The irony is that I make my living helping other people write honestly and well, while I myself make the mistakes I point out so readily in their work.
But that’s okay, because Wayson points out MY mistakes, and then makes them in HIS work. The Joy, the Blessing of Editors.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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