Friday, November 23, 2012


It's great if you finish high school, get into college and enjoy the treasures of a university education.
But what if you don't? Does that mean you are destined for poverty and a life of drugs and crime?
If that's what you choose, that's what you will get.
I left school to go to work in my family's business, Metropolitan News Agency at the Crossroads of the Nation, Peel and St. Catherine in Montreal. My parents expected that my siblings and cousins and I would learn the business and eventually take over the store.
So I learned to roll thousands of pennies by hand, to do the paperwork, do the banking, do the bookkeeping in ledgers with pen and ink. I learned about newspapers from all over the world, magazines, pocket books, pulps and digests. I learned to take the cash and make change without the benefit of any computer.
I learned about English bone china cups and saucers and Beswick animal figurines and fine Irish linens and Chinese embroidered cottons. I sold souvenir pennants and Indian sweet grass canoes and Sterling Silver charm  bracelets.
I met people from all over the world. I upset my uncle by spending time talking with them, learning their languages and asking about their cultures and experiences.
My parents did not want me to be deprived of an education, so I was obliged to attend Alexander Business College, across Mt. Royal Avenue at Park Avenue, facing Fletcher's Field. I learned typing on the old style typewriters, and bookkeeping and Gregg shorthand.
Then I followed my dream and attended the Montreal Repertory Theatre School for two seasons, learning voice and diction with Dorothy Danford, stage makeup with Griffith Brewer, history of the theatre - all the way back to ancient Greece - with Ms. Stehle, and drama and Shakespeare with Eleanor Stuart.
Later, I tried my feet at tap dancing with Peter Miller of the Speirs-Miller Studio on Sherbrooke West. By chance, I learned that Peter Miller also taught singing. I had been singing around the house since I was a kid. So I started taking singing lessons with Peter Miller.
One day I saw an article in the newspaper about Madam Pauline Donalda. I dared. I went to see the great international diva in her home on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Montreal. Dreams do come true. Madam Donalda tested me and accepted me as one of her students. Her other students included Joseph Rouleau, Fernande Chiccio and Robert Savoie. And there was I also - about 15 years old, in such incredible company.
My opera career was not ended due to my voice which was developing beautifully: I was undone by solfege and my old nemesis, math. A whole note, a half note, a quarter note. Polka dots on a ladder.
Later, I took adult night courses in English and Journalism and Law at Sir George Williams College - now Concordia - and I wrote articles for the Georgian newspaper, and I was awarded a Silver Medal for Journalism - which was among the treasures stolen from me in 1996, by Dawn McSweeney * (Links below).
And then I took courses in professional photography with Harry Sidel, owner and instructor - Montreal School of Modern Photography. The courses included independent work and studio work - Portraits with a Rembrandt camera, advertising photography, techniques and academic work - a lot of  math and some chemistry, darkroom work - fine editing of film negatives, dodging and refining prints. The math involved in setting the lighting for the studio portraits was the most difficult task. The work I did outside and the thrill of seeing my pictures develop were the best part. I am still delighted when I look at the volumes of photographs I have taken.
Everything I learned became a cornucopia from which I have fed all my life. A formal education is certainly to be desired. But, unless illness or accident or some other tragedy limits your choices, there is a world of possibilities for those who choose well.
That is the key to almost everything -
You choose,
You create who you become.

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