Whoops! Michael Ondaatje and Me…

Have you ever had any mortifying moments of embarrassment? I’ve had plenty of them. It’s funny how we remember forever such moments and the feelings we have around them. The other day I was reminded of one such time.

I was taking a leisurely stroll exploring my new neighborhood. The air was crisp, clear and sunny-a taste of spring hopefully around the corner. On my way back  home, I stopped in front of TYPE, a small independent bookstore.

michael ondaatje3

I stepped inside. Listening to chatter between the sales woman and customer, I wandered the aisles glancing at the racks, shelves and tables full of new books, celebration cards and knickknacks of various kinds and uses.

And then, I stopped at the table displaying a book of poetry by Michael Ondaatje.

michael ondaatje

I flipped its pages, deeply sensing the book would be dedicated to his late friend and collaborator, Barrie Nichol, otherwise known worldwide as bp Nichol. It was.  (bp was my creative writing prof when I returned to university as an adult in the mid 80’s. )

michael ondaatje2

Memories start spilling out…

Reading those two names reminded me once again of the time when Ondaatje caught me unprepared for class.  But first, the background.

I was enjoying this particular course focus on early Canadian Literature since nothing like it had been available when I studied the subject in high school twenty years earlier. We read groundbreaking early Canadian books including Wild Geese by Martha Ostenso. At the time, I was also taking three other demanding courses: Media studies, Logical Thinking and Writing, and an intensive hands-on art course called Line and Form. Each prof gave us assignments to complete during Xmas break: a take-home exam from Media; a quiz for logic; creation of art pieces for a portfolio; and the reading of a short book called Tay John by Howard O’Hagan.

Did I mention I’m also a wife and a mom to four children, ranging in age at that time from 2 1/2 to 13 years? Needless to say, I had to set priorities. As an avid reader, I figured that I could read the book quickly at any time, so the decision was to leave it til I could take the time.

So, to continue…

We are back from Christmas break. I’ve arrived early to take my regular spot, a seat at the front of the very small classroom, facing the podium. Our prof steps up as usual to begin her lecture, but instead proceeds to introduce the already well-known author Michael Ondaatje, who, she says, is the world-renowned Tay John expert. “Wow!!’ I thought. “Who knew?”

Then I look again at the book’s cover…Tay John2

It reads, “Afterword by Michael Ondaatje.” How nice! Impressive, I think.

Tay John2

Ondaatje nods, walks up to the lectern – which is only about six feet a way from me – leans in, and begins… He says Tay John is a mispronunciation of the french Tête Jaune (Yellow Head), referring to the hair colour of the protagonist who is the result of a rape of a Native woman. She was impregnated. Before giving birth, she died and was buried on a hill. Legend goes that her child arose as a toddler out of the earth – and strode away.

Since I have not yet read the story, I am listening so carefully my mouth drops open with  surprise. Unfortunately, Ondaatje’s attention is caught by the movement. He leans further forward on the lectern. “And if you haven’t read that,” he roars at me (or so it seemed), “you haven’t read far, because this piece of information appears on page TWO!”

I was mortified. Completely. I felt my face burn. All I could think of was that he didn’t know me, nor my name, nor did he read or grade my exams. Those facts saved me.

A few years later, I graduated on the Honours List. And was armed with yet another story to share with you.

Life is like that, isn’t it?

Life Metaphors

#1 - MountaintopIn my introduction for the last Internet radio show of Season 2, (Episode 24-Cliff Sutton: Communicating Effectively)  I said I love using metaphors. Metaphors help clarify, exemplify or simplify complexities facing us.
For example, years ago, I became fascinated with rocks. Over time, until today, I’ve photographed and painted them.

 My very first large sheet of water colour painting, Life Series #2, was created in one of several series of classes I took that were led by Elaine Gitalis, an extraordinary instructor and fine artist. 

Life Series #2. Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

Life Series #2. Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

Since then, I’ve created many rock paintings in all kinds of styles and media:
Life Series # 5. Watercolour. Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

Life Series # 5. Watercolour. Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

   Life series #1, below, was my first experiment in shape, lighting and shading. It was also a study in negative and positive space:

Life Series # 1, Rocky Crag. Watercolour. Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

Life Series # 1, Rocky Crag. Watercolour. Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

When I began Magical MousePainting™ (computer painting with a mouse using the Microsoft Paint application), I couldn’t help but create illustrations of rocks and mountains:
Same drawing, inverted colours:
Here’s a different perspective:
Picture Perfect. Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

Picture Perfect. Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

In the week-end nature and photography retreat I attended in April, rocks were again a focus of many of my pictures:

Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

Lessons Learned

1. Rocks can represent the positive characteristics of people.

Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

Rocks symbolize steadiness, permanance, reliability and strength. All of these are fine features I look for in colleagues and friends.

2. Like rocks, people come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. The source of their creation and their history are varied, as well. 

Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

Copyright 2009 Nellie Jacobs

3. Like rocks, people can be surface (interested mainly in events) or deep (interested in ideas).  

Into the depths. Copyright Nellie Jacobs, 2009

Into the depths. Copyright Nellie Jacobs, 2009

 I love the way these rocks below nestle into each other like friends sharing secrets, or maybe recipes:

Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

Copyright Nellie Jacobs 2009

What are some metaphors you like to use or that fascinate you?

Creatively Yours,

Nellie Jacobs


Through her Igniting Imagination programs and services, creativity consultant Nellie Jacobs stimulates creative-thinking, providing tools to individuals, organizations and companies to help ‘mine’ hidden or latent human resources for the personal and professional betterment of all.

All Igniting Imagination with Nellie Jacobs talk radio episodes are numbered and archived for your listening pleasure, inspiration and convenience at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Igniting-Imagination.

Seasons 1 and 2 guest photos, profiles, topics and links to their episodes are posted on at www.ignitingimagination.com. Just follow the links.


Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nelliejacobs