The Official Blog for Elaine A. Small
Priests in the Attic
Local author brought a taste of “Showbiz” to Belleville Public Library. Elaine A. Small took the attendees on a fascinating trip down memory lane. From the Toronto nightclubs of the 60’s, through the fashion houses of Europe to a B+B in Wellington, life for this Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Minister’s daughter from Winnipeg has never been dull. Elaine read some excerpts from her recently published memoir “Priests in the Attic” which is an open presentation of her challenges and triumphs. For further details, call Readers Advisory at 613-968-6731 X2235 or visit www.bellevillelibrary.com
We have just returned from an eventful trip—a cruise from China and Japan via Ocean Princess. Lots of weird happenings: much inclement weather along the way (icy decks and minus zero weather in both China and Vladivostok [Siberia)] followed by a couple of beautiful days in Osaka, Japan—for me, the highlight of the cruise. Everywhere, there was an orderly calm, a quiet elegance throughout the museums visited—a peace that belied the horror of destruction and mayhem that would soon follow after our departure, when a massive earthquake cracked the earth open to expose whole families being ripped and torn apart without any relief to prepare for the second onslaught, that of an unforgiving Tsunami that swallowed all, leaving pillage and destruction within its path.. And here I pause:
What can we make of all of this destruction surrounding us? Where can we turn for some relief of the terrors of life? So many human beings innocent of any wrongdoing other than placing their dreams and hopes for survival in the future—today, for many, a nebulous place of doubt, fear and homelessness—often without recourse. I’ve posed the question. Hopefully, some of you will respond with some answers…
Meanwhile, I again leave you with these promising and hopeful words penned over four hundred years ago:
In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone. — St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591
TAKE HEART–Spring will come!
“Elaine’s life journey began as the seventh child of a Ukrainian Greek Orthodox minister and his wife. She grew up, surrounded by love in her parents Winnipeg home. At twenty-one, she set out for Alberta to pursue her first job: an X-ray technician. This was but the initial step on the road to a lifetime of amazing careers from glamorous nightclub singer, European fashion buyer for Holt Renfrew, real estate agent, gracious hostess of the stunning Wellington B&B, Tara Hall and now successful author whose book is currently selling in both independent and chain bookstores in Canada and the United States.
You may wonder how one woman accomplishes so much. With her charm and vivacity, Elaine Small makes it look easy but her road to success has not always been smooth. She faced many obstacles along the way but that didn’t stop this dynamic woman from pursuing her dreams. Elaine followed her heart and aspirations to a forge life which is truly her own. Her story is about a life lived with tenacity, ambition and passion while always remaining true to herself, her values and her faith.
Small’s memoir is poignant and inspirational. She chronicles her struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows, loves and losses with candour and honesty. Her use of reverie throughout the book gives this memoir a fresh, openness that is rare in autobiography. Here there are no guarded words, no apologies and nothing is concealed. It is simply a life presented as it has been lived: with a loving heart and dauntless spirit.”
Ann Nicol works at the Belleville Public Library & John M. Parrott Art Gallery.
Alzheimer’s and the Power of Reverie
… And Nothing Good Shall Be Lost
My book, Priests in the Attic, published recently by AuthorHouse, USA, incorporates the use and power of reverie within memoir—a technique designed to re-experience past memories and physically record them, thus encouraging cognitive stimulation—a process believed to reduce memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or related dementia:
More than 5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a number that will grow to 13.4 million by 2050. Scientists are delving deeper into our neural tissue to identify what drives the memory-robbing disease….Those who build a deeper reserve of neural function by staying cognitively active, remain fit longer.—Alice Park, Time Magazine, October 25, 2010.
Everyone’s life is unique, no matter how “simple” or “ordinary” it may appear to the bearer, and this uniqueness always carries within it an interesting story of loss, struggle, survival and, at times, sublime joy.
As such, our memories are priceless gifts—to be nurtured and cared for as they give meaning to our singular lives, and remind us of our life accomplishments within the world at large. This, in turn, provides meaning, satisfaction and spiritual succor in a way that provides hard factual knowledge through one’s own recognition of one’s life and its place in our universe.
It is typically a fairly complete person who receives an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s but before long, without some kind of intervention by way of cognitive stimulation in the promotion of cognitive health, as they progress towards Alzheimer’s disease, or, related dementia, it is the wreckage of that person that survives only to be ultimately killed by this disabling disease.
The time to take back your power against this deadly disease is NOW…. Net your drifting memories and drag them back to shore where they will breathe inspiration into your own life, your children’s lives and their children yet to come. It is your choice to make. Do it! Pick up your pen and write your life through reverie. I can show you how….
My work in progress, titled “Life Writing and the Power of Reverie,” has proved very interesting to Boomers and Zoomers (Canadian term) alike. Almost everyone, in their heart of hearts, would like to leave behind a reminder of their fragmented time spent here on earth. As such, “writing our life” is not only a cathartic experience for oneself, it is also a precious and timeless gift to those we leave behind.
In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.
—St John of the Cross
The French Gaston Bachelard states: “Writing a book is difficult work and one is tempted to merely dream it.” Yes, Bachelard is “different”: According to him, dreamers and daydreamers are doing the most “important” work of all!
Yes, this “dreamer,” has followed Bachelard’s Manifesto and published a unique book which I would like to share with you.
My book: Priests in the Attic is an example of reverie (daydreaming) at work. My stories, written within reverie, express historical and emotional truth as seen through my personal “life writing” experiences. In recalling my life stories I have learned much about human love and the spiritual aspect of the human condition itself–mine and others. Who am I?
Let my book tell you:
“I’m everyone who has ever taken a breath and marveled at the wonder and miracle of life. I’m everyone who, through an anguished cry for help, receives the possibility of a new beginning and a miracle of new life through God’s immeasurable grace….Who am I? I am one with you–and all of us have a story to tell. This is mine.”
Singing with the Jimmy King Trio in Winnipeg: Lenny Breau on guitar.
After years of braces to correct my “toothy grin,” as a young woman with an expensive smile and a love for the stage, it was finally time to pursue my singing dream: But how? Where? I was determined to find a way.
I decided to start with a change of scenery. I quit my boyfriend, my job and the hot city and headed for the hills: the Rocky Mountains and The Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada. This decision was based on information from my first singing teacher, Madame Carmichael—a jolly robust woman of Italian descent with a penchant for purple: monochromic layers that included the wallpaper, the sofa and a series of floral dresses in various shades of purple ranging from violet to puce. Her carefully coiffed hair-do was dyed a mauve-beige, replete with a purple bow to match her beloved miniature poodle, Mimi—who chronically occupied Madame’s ample lap and all of her attention, leaving little time for me and my first fragile attempts at singing.
“Ah, but I cannot hear you, my darling,” she would say, “You must sing out; you must open the throat; you must push out the lungs; you must take the deep breath—but first, you must find the note!”
“Okay, okay, I know I can do this, but can we practice it in B flat above middle C? It’s the only note I’m sure to find today. Here we go: mah … moh … mooh … mayh … meeh. There; is that better? Did I get it? Maybe now I can sing a song right through?”
“No, no, my darling, you cannot,” Madame said, distracted as usual, and shifting her monocle to her other mauve-shaded eyelid while searching for Mimi, who was now parked near the front door, panting to get out. “We know there are many more notes in the scale; we must find them all. Now, take the deep breath,” she commanded and the piano would loudly sound the chord.
But after searching for three weeks and “finding” only three notes, I knew I had to leave. I don’t have time for this, I thought. Twenty-one is probably too late anyway, but I must keep trying or my dream will die in the agony of one tremulous note. And so, with time and Mimi yipping at my heels, I found enough courage to march out of Madame Carmichael’s door into a musical future fraught with anticipation, high ambitions and deep resolve. With a positive mantra pounding in my ears (in B flat), a bullish determination was born. Now is the time, I thought. My singing dream must be fully pursued or fully dropped. I’ll have to find the right teacher!
The opening page of my memoir, Priests in the Attic, states: “There were seventeen priests at my father’s funeral.” Yes, that is where my story begins and in some ways that is where it ends—three hundred pages later. But all is not doom and gloom: in between the laughter and tears, highs and lows, there is a rollicking story that jostles its way through showbiz dreams, hard-won successes and devastating losses. Short-term hopelessness combined with short-term homelessness are all caught up in a restless, pseudo-yearning to be “normal at any cost,” to somehow stop “wanting it all” and settle for the status quo. But underneath all of the struggles, unrecognized for years, there beats the heart of a pilgrim, a spiritual being who is longing to be free of burning ambition and worldly desires—and therein lies the emotional reality and truth of my memoir.
In the early 1960’s, after four years of studying voice at the Toronto Royal Conservatory, I had a short-lived but successful five-year career as a supper club chanteuse, singing under my married name of Elaine Steele at the best hotels in both the US and Canada, including the Royal York and King Edward-Sheraton hotels in Toronto and the Ritz Carlton Café in Montreal. Those were heady, exciting days that eventually came to a screeching halt. Read on…
Learning to Sing
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
–Jalal ud Din Rumi
My Singing Blues
While working at my first job as an x-ray technician in Edmonton, Alberta, I initiated a childhood dream. The city was hot—too darn hot. There was little air-conditioning in those days and my nurse’s uniform soon clung like an airtight nylon sheath; freshly washed and ready-to-wear each morning, it stopped breathing by noon and by night it had to be peeled off like a wet condom. I was twenty-one years old, homesick and bored. I liked my job well enough, but I didn’t like my current boyfriend much. Most of my friends were getting married. In the late fifties, twenty-one was the expected age for girls to settle down—but not me. I wasn’t ready. I still had things to do. Emotionally and financially free, the time felt right; I was finally in a position to get serious about my long-held fantasy.