On Being Unconventional, Part 2


My maternal Grandmother, known by everyone as Dusty, has always lived by these words. The bookshelves in her sitting room sag, filled not only horizontally with books, but vertically as well. The walls are completely covered with artwork, without a single space gone to waste. 

Her home is full of ‘neat stuff’ – sculptures, furniture you’ll never see anywhere else, a funky copper bell that looks like it’s straight out of a Doctor Seuss book, rocks and driftwood she’s collected from her favourite vacation spots. She serves tea, purchased from a specialty shop, in hand made ceramic mugs that just feel like they belong in your hand. Her home was the only place my sister and I were allowed to drink caffeinated tea when we were kids. It was always Earl Grey with milk, sugar and an ice cube so we didn’t scald ourselves.

Dusty gave the best presents! She knew exactly which clothes would suit you, even if you’d never have thought to buy the garment for yourself. Whatever she chose, you knew you were special to her because she was always really thoughtful about it. She often apologized for the terrible wrapping job she’d done, but I always remember her gifts looking as though they’d been professionally wrapped at the mall with shiny foil paper folded perfectly, with a bow to match. 

Sometimes, her gifts took the form of an experience (which is the way I most often gift myself these days). One time, she took my sister and I to her personal hair stylist for fresh cuts and then out for lunch afterward. When our family decided to exchange names at Christmas instead of buying for everyone, her comment was, “You guys are ruining my fun.” 

One of the marvellous gifts she gave me with one of Paco de Lucia’s albums for my 17th birthday. Receiving Castro Marin changed my life forever. When I listened to it, I lit up inside over the music, and since then, I’ve had that feeling over and over. I would tell myself that I’d listen to my favourite track ‘one more time and then I’ll go to sleep.’ Of course, there would be no sleeping, not for hours… From then on, I knew that flamenco was my life’s blood. 

If introducing me to the love of my life were not enough, her influence has been so much more than that. She lived like an artist, and in some ways, still does. She seemed to live large and I always saw her as an adventurer. She loved to travel, but it could also be the simplest of things: She and her boyfriend took a friend & I to hear my first flamenco concert, then we all went out for a late-night dinner at a trendy local restaurant after the concert. I learned to embrace my hedonistic nature in that; food, music and good company still holds a fond place in my heart. 

She has always been one of the healthiest people I know. She walked to work, long before it was popular. A few years ago, she broke her shoulder and her femur. She was in rehab for 6 months, but enthusiastically did her physiotherapy exercises twice every day with a view to going back to her own house. She still lives on her own there today at 93 years old. Her example has taught me to move every day and to do everything you can – even if other people say you’re at the end of the road. 

Mostly, I’ve learned from Dusty that there can be authenticity in being eccentric, not for its own sake, but as expression of who I truly am. She always seemed so comfortable in being her curious, maverick, wild self, although I understand now that it wasn’t always easy. Still, it makes a big difference to have Way-showers paving the trail for you when you’re on a similar path!