Thursday, December 30, 2010

how the years add up

I remember my Dad's aphorism (as probably do most of his former students) that "Math is Beautiful." (Just looked up aphorism, to check that I wasn't choosing the wrong word, this being a diatribe about accuracy and all. It might be that his wasn't an original thought, but he certainly owned the statement.) Anyway, he loved math because there were always correct solutions to problems (unlike life's problems, but that hints at a different story). I think though, that over the years he probably found a lot of students who couldn't find their way to those correct solutions. This is likely why he never stated "Math is Simple."

I'm thinking about math today (which I am no longer very good at, lack of practice) because I'm thinking about counting (which I can still do). Hmm, perhaps more accurately, I'm thinking about arithmetic, because I'm thinking about counting decades as we're coming up to a new one.

inside my head, ouch
It's true! (Yeah, yeah, I hear you: What's truth?) But really, by our calendar, it's a new decade starting on Saturday. I know, I know, most people will disagree, and say that the decade began with 2010. I remember arguing with people about this when we rolled over into the year 2000, and yes, it's generally accepted as the beginning of the new millennium. It seemed the whole world felt that way, because 2000 is such a nice round number. So that became the consensus, and the fact the numbers didn't add up didn't seem to matter. It felt good to have 2000 as the starting point; I try to accept this, but it hurts my head.

(Interesting that the whole world fell into financial difficulties together too, isn't it? Mixing up numbers with emotions seems somehow a miscalculation, something to remember the next time—tomorrow?—the stock market slides.)

So why does this make my head hurt? I mean, it's kind of ad nauseam for members of my family, and I hate being a pain to them; but while they can count, they have succeeded in letting this idea go, if they ever held it. I fear I have more of my curmudgeon father in me than I like to admit... Do I always have to be right? My goodness, this really isn't simple.

But to go on (yes, I do) I think where the confusion comes in, is that calendar years and age years are different. The point is, there is no year zero in our calendar, we went straight to one. I've read that zero wasn't always an accepted concept; perhaps it has something to do with that, the same way that perspective wasn't always understood in art. So do people have a better understanding of art than of numbers? Maybe.

But this beginning with zero means you have to get to the end of 2000 years (that would be to the beginning of 2001) before you slip into the next millennium. The same (and less!) counting applies to decades: starting with the first decade AD—remember, no zero—you start with the year 1, and have to get to the end of the year 10, before you get into the beginning of the next decade at year 11. Therefore, you have to get to the end of 2010 to get to the start of a new decade, 2011, this coming Saturday. Whew, glad I cleared that up.

When we are counting the years in our ages, there is a zero year. We don't 'turn' one until we've completed a whole year. That means that while I am said to be 58-years-old, I am well into my 59th year. On my 59th birthday I will be starting into my 60th year. When I get to be 60, I will be entering my 7th decade. (Geez, that's depressing.)

This way of counting our age is cultural, if I understand it correctly. The Chinese, for one, begin counting their age with one (no zero year) and therefore the significant ages end in 1s. Sixty is no big deal, but 61 is. But China joined in on the celebration over the year 2000, too. I suspect that was just a concession to their customers in the western world (the customer is always right) because their calendar is entirely different; it of course doesn't count from the (guesstimated) before/after of JC at all. As you might have noticed, given they also celebrate another New Year (and we wonder why China is such a rising power).

But numbers are apparently quite a puzzle to most of us. This would explain why the media are so full of stories about personal and public debt loads. Too many of us don't know how to count, how to add and subtract, and that less than zero, in monetary terms, is a problem.

I happen to think that precision matters, and getting your numbers straight can be as important as getting your words straight. Otherwise we're all speaking different languages, and that tends to add up to nothing (nada, zilch) but a lot of confusion, and plenty of misunderstandings.

But so what, eh? Maybe it just makes things more interesting. I don't have to be precisely correct all the time. Really. After all, when I get a Sudoku puzzle wrong, I just toss it. (Of course I notice I'm wrong...) No, no, I mean it. It's almost New Year's, countdown starts soon, and then we'll all be in the same decade no matter how you count it.

So here's wishing you a grand and wonderful New Year, with innumerable decades to come.

Friday, December 24, 2010

this magical night

While time moves swiftly for most of us, I suspect that Santa must be able to slow it down somehow, to pull off the task he has tonight.

I just checked on NORAD's Santa Tracker, and he's getting pretty close to my location. I think I better get to bed soon. 

But I didn't want to tuck in before I got a chance to wish everyone a magical, peaceful, and happy holiday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

trying for a zen attitude

I find my thinking somewhat scattered these days. It's partially the typically Vancouver weather (sweet rain, not snow) but mostly it's this business of renovating that I've subjected myself too; it is very wearing on the spirit. Here I am, nine days before Christmas, and still waiting for the guys to be finished in my apartment. They were supposed to be done at the end of November, before my surgery, so it's been a challenge to turn around, every day, and see someone's still here.
Xmas bonsai-d.

Now that I'm pretty much healed up from the galling bit of surgery at the beginning of the month, I've been getting through my days, stepping over the rubble in my house, and getting my Xmas shopping done. I bought my Christmas tree last week in a burst of optimism, and it's sitting, rather forlornly, out on my patio, waiting to come in the door. There's no room for it yet, as my handy-man has his tools in heaps in my living room. I did manage to clean up outside (there was quite a bit of spillover) and put up lights, and a few bobbles in the rhododendrons and the baby bonsai tree.  A bit of cheer in the grey gloom outside.

I've been trying to be zen about the whole thing, not letting it get to me as I go through my days. I mean, they might even finish today, except for the little bits that aren't done. I've been doing as much Xmas prep as I can without actually being able to start anything. (Shortbread is on hold till next week, probably just as well.) And I'm frustrated, because writing has been hard, because what I really need, is quiet, and it's not been quiet, to put it mildly. So I'm ready for these fellows, much as they appreciate the work, to be done.

This stress is all self-induced (well, if these guys were a bit more efficient it would help...) and, I have to admit it, petty.  Because in the grand scheme of problems, it's not much. I mean really, what a whiner I am.

I fret about not getting my tree into the house before Santa shows up, and fuss that I can't clean my house. But I can afford to renovate a bathroom to make it even nicer than it was before. And I'm perfectly aware there are a lot of people out there who can't even find a bathroom at all, let alone a warm and dry place to sleep.  

As I make my way around in this seasonal buying spree, I have to step over and around all the street people. They've become a different kind of rubble piled up on our streets, and it's appalling, both that they are there, and that I can step around them. I feel both churlish and overwhelmed, when I pass by the figures huddled in doorways, or standing, hat held out, in front of all the over-stuffed stores. It's all so Dickensian. (Are there no workhouses? Well, I think actually, it's that there are no mental health services, but that's a whole other rant.)

None of these thoughts mean I don't think I'm perfectly entitled to make my home as cosy as I can. I can do the calculations, and know that I'd be joining them on the street, if I were to give a handout to everyone who asked for one. Even if I'd kept my bathroom the way it was, the money would just get sucked away. And I know that just giving things to people keeps them dependent, or at least that's what all the parenting manuals say.

And I do donate. I make monthly donations, and I responded to the earthquake in Haiti, and the flooding in Pakistan, because, well, I'm so lucky. (And I usually cough up when North Shore Rescue calls, too, but that's more selfishly motivated. I want them operating if I ever stumble when I'm mid-Grouse Grind.) But still I feel guilty as I shake my head at the hand's held out.

So. Repeat after me. This is the season to be jolly. Ommm.

Friday, December 3, 2010

stone by stone

I've had very little to do with surgery in my life: tonsils out when I was seven, wisdom teeth when I was about 19, and then my tubes tied, when I realized I had all the children I could possibly take care of. Each of those times was a general anesthetic. When I was seven, they held a cloth over my nose, which stopped my crying, and an instant later I was awake with a very sore throat. With my wisdom teeth, I remember closing my eyes, and opening them, to find myself with, again, a sore mouth. Each of these was a day surgery situation, as was the tubal ligation (cauterizing my tubes, so that all the leftover eggs, from then on, just fell away to oblivion).

On Wednesday this week I had day surgery to have my gall bladder removed. It's quite the process. The hospital has you show up hours early, six in the morning in my case. My sweetheart came with me to hold my hand, and though I thought this wasn't necessary, I was very glad to have him along. He can have quite the calming effect on me, a nice quality. A parade of people came to see me, checking that I still had the same name, address, and birthday. They told me what they were going to do, some of which sounded quite dire. They made me feel coddled and cared for. And then we had to wait, because the doctor was late, until the word went out that he had arrived, and I was led into the operating room, trailing my IV pole. There was a crowd of people in there, some of whom I'd met while waiting, pre-op (and "Elvis is in the building," I said, imagining myself quite the original comedian, and they were kind enough to laugh.)

We were all dressed in hospital chic, but my hair wasn't done up yet, so they stuffed it into a net, which was a good idea; it gets into everything, and I didn't want any strays to drift into my belly. Then I was invited to hop onto the table in the middle of the room. The doctor said hello. At least I think it was him. They had my glasses, so he could have been anyone.

The table, though narrow, had a nice heated pad underneath me, so I felt quite cozy. Then someone swung out an arm on the table, and asked whether the doctor wanted my arm placed... and he interrupted and said, I want her asleep, so bingo I was asleep. I can see that whatever the crowd in the room was up to, it was better they do it without telling me too much.

And then I was waking up. This was different than other times I've had anesthetic, because I was dreaming. It made me quite confused at first, there was such a crowd in my head, but then as I realized where I was, and what I was up to, the crowd drifted out of my head. I was left with a solid sense of deep sadness and worry over two of the people in my life. Typical, I did think, that at a time like this I'd be worrying about someone else.

I also was shivering, my teeth chattering like crazy. This seemed connected to the grief I was feeling, though the nurse attending me said sometimes the anesthetic had this effect. I felt like my body was having an earthquake, my teeth banging together, my arms and legs jumping, and my body shaking. But I didn't feel cold. Also, I was thirstier than I remember ever being. My mouth was stuck together, which made talking hard, even without all the teeth chattering.

After a flurry of activity during which my nurse morphed into someone else, and then back into herself (took a break I came to understand) piling warm blankets on me and slipping some more drugs into me, I gradually got over the feeling of earthquake and the grief slid away from me, and I was just there, awakish. Woozy, though. After a bit, the nurse deemed I was more functional, and I was rolled into another recovery room, where a more harassed nurse was working solo, in charge of getting people on their feet and out the door.

By this time I wanted badly to see my boyfriend, and then there he was. Apparently I'd been out for quite a while, and he was having anxiety attacks himself, something he's not normally prone to. I heard the nurse call my sister, who was to come and drive me home, and I thought what's the rush? I wanted to have a nap. A cup of tea would have been nice too, though not to be. I did get some apple juice out of the nurse, but it seemed kind of grudging. Afraid I'd throw up. Well, wouldn't they rather I tested that out in their presence? Guess not.

So that's where the process kind of breaks down. I felt warmly wrapped up in their cocoon of care until they had what they wanted, that useless gall bladder, and then the care kind of fell off. I could hear the nurse complaining that she was on her own in this part of recovery, which suggested that someone else was supposed to be there. I didn't feel it was really fair to communicate this anxiety to me, but there you go. It's not often, but sometimes, I'd like to be looked after.

Anyway, my sweet fellow went off in search of my sister, because it was obvious I wasn't on my feet yet, and the nurse took the opportunity to hand me my clothes and suggest I put them on. I thought, well, I can probably get my shirt on without falling over, so I took off the gown, and got a look at myself. My chest was painted red, a nice straight line across my breasts, cutting through my nipples, and then down the sides to under my belly button. Four patches indicated where they had been poking instruments inside me. Strangest feeling to think of that room full of people drawing on my body, and then picking things out of me.

I waited for company to come back before I stood up to put my pants on. Definitely felt woozy. Definitely impaired. But the nurse wanted me off that bed and into a recliner, so that's where I was, faster than I wanted. Then I got to wait anyway, because the doctor likes to see his patients before they get tossed out of the hospital, and I get the feeling that the doctors are definitely the ones the place caters too. Like royalty.

So let me think about that. When I came in, everything clicked along like clockwork so the doctor's time wouldn't be wasted, and then stalled while we waited on the doctor. Then when they were done with me, the system was in a hurry to send me away, but stalled while we waited on the doctor (who was not unreasonably, busy). So who's it all set up for?

Ah, but he finally took a break from the operating room to talk to me and another guy who was also waiting for him. That guy didn't look to be in a hurry either. The doctor told me he'd taken out about thirty stones, I imagine one by one before they pulled out the little sack I kept them in. Otherwise the holes in my belly would be bigger. As it is, I don't even have any stitches.

But the doctor said my gall bladder had been packed tight, and that it had likely not been doing anything for me for years. So good riddance, I guess. Stupid gall bladder.

Anyway, then I was dusted off, and handed over to a fellow who wheeled me out to the front door, where I then hobbled into my sister's car, and off we went. We did make a stop on the way home to fill a prescription (I insisted, not wanting to get home without clutching painkillers in my hand). I found a place to sit and wait while my trusty attendants wandered off to buy some other supplies, and then, with the prescription in hand we went home, where I finally got my cup of tea. Ah, tea.

I didn't sleep well Wednesday night, and yesterday was not a great day, but better than I expected. Last night I slept better, and today I feel better still (though still pretty crappy, but hey, I'm impatient). So I see that each day brings me back a bit, and soon I'll be as good as new, minus one apparently disposable body part.

So that's the story. Out they went, stone by stone, and now I heal, ache by ache.

Monday, November 29, 2010


One of the things that people do when they get older, is hang out together at each others' medical appointments. Today I went along with my boyfriend/partner to see how well his broken ankle is healing. (He sure looks a lot healthier than most of the people hobbling around the hospital.) Progress is good, though that's another thing about aging. It takes longer to heal, so he's a while to go yet before he's back to hale and hearty. But he gets to start physio, which means one of these days he'll get to stop using crutches.

Anyway, while he was in with the doctor, I was regaled with gruesome tales by a retired fireman. He told me of his radiation treatments, which followed his throat cancer operations, but assured me he'd never smoked. His speech was a bit challenged, because part of his tongue was gone. He showed me the scars from his skin grafts. He also filled me in that his two sisters have battled cancer too. I heard a lot about polyps and ostomy bags. He'd had a colonoscopy as well, which is recommended for people with a family history like his. I declined to tell him I've had one too (interesting procedure) though I did contribute that colon cancer is what got my mother.

For a while he stopped, because someone sat between us, but when they left, we talked about how many firemen have throat cancer (this is anecdotal, I have no idea whether it's true, though all that smoke can't be good...). I wondered whether they mentioned this possibility when he was recruited into the job, and he had words to say about compensation. Anyway, if you're young, and attracted to those buff young firemen who show up in calendars, remember this as a cautionary tale.

On Wednesday my sweetie gets to return the favour. He's going to come with me when I go to get my gall bladder removed, though my sister will be the one who drives us home. (It's hard to shift gears with a crutch.) My gall bladder's been malfunctioning for years as it's packed full with pebbles, but the attacks never lasted more than a half hour, so I would forget about it between times. After all, what's a few bouts in a year?

But this spring it gave me serious grief, lasted the whole damn day, and I spiked a fever, and that sure got me to the doctor, which got me into the specialist chute, and soon I saw the surgeon (he had a cancellation, so I slipped in early). He suggested that my gall bladder wasn't contributing anything it was supposed to contribute, because it was so full. I know when I had an ultrasound some years ago, I felt like a fraud. But the evidence is there, lots of stones.

Aand so I agreed it should go. That got me on the wait list for surgery. (I imagine a lot of people have emergency gall bladder surgery while they're on the wait list, because it's about six months.) I've been very careful about what I eat since then, because I know what usually sets it off, so it's been an all right wait, though it certainly interferes with forward thinking. I've felt it a few times though, just a hint, a reminder, which keeps me on my toes, metaphorically speaking. Most unpleasant. Nice by-product though: watching what I eat caused me to lose some weight, which has to help as there's less for the doc to dig through. And I like the view in the mirror better.

My body will have some adjusting to do after I subject it to this trauma, but I think it's probably smarter than waiting for when I'm even older, and it does become an emergency surgery, as that can be much more major. Right now it's a day-surgery, a procedure, in the pamphlet.

I'm grateful that I feel so healthy heading into this though. (Thanks to all that Grouse Grind hiking. It was so nice to have the trail stay open late this year.) Fingers crossed I bounce back fairly quickly. My crippled boyfriend is going to stay with me for a few days. We'll be quite the pair.

Friday, November 26, 2010

a change in the weather

Bonsai fir, caught out in the snow.
It happens occasionally. Vancouver has winter. It's not why we pay the big bucks to live here, and fortunately it doesn't happen often. But this past week has been winter, even though it's still officially fall, and for some reason it's been wintery in my spirits too.

It certainly hasn't helped that we've recently gone back to Daylight Savings time. (Or is that Daylight Losing time? I can never remember.) The essential thing is, it's dark around here most of the day. This will go on for almost another month until things turn around and the days start to grow longer again, though that seems always to need a lot of encouragement. You know, lots of gaudy decorations and frivolous shopping seems to do the trick. The gods are fickle and need cajoling, though why this works is beyond me.

Usually I'm quite entertained by snowfalls in the city, happy to bundle up and go see things looking pretty. I didn't get farther than outside my patio today though, to snap a picture of the little bonsai tree. Somehow this bit of snow coincided with one of those times, when things just seem, well, bleak. I didn't even cheer up when I was outside shoveling the stuff. Imagine. All I could think was bah, humbug, and bring on the rain.

But it happens, this kind of weather change (and it has changed again; the snow is melting now, hurray) and so I know, my mood will also change, already is. Last night I sat and stared at my computer screen, and not a coherent sentence would fall from my fingers. (Now don't tell me none of these are coherent either...) I deleted what I'd typed and went to bed early.
Sadie has the winter blahs too.

Can't say I felt much better today, certainly not an hour ago, when I started to try and make some sense of my funk. So it's one of those mysteries, no answers here. I don't know what my story is, or where it's actually going. I just know I need to live it and somehow it involves writing.

There is one silver lining to all this winter stuff I suppose. Having a week of actual below-freezing weather and a couple of snowfalls makes us Vancouverites (this Vancouverite) remember that we like rain. Warm, balmy rain. I think even my cat would agree.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Often I hike the Grouse Grind trail alone, which on any other trail is probably foolhardy, but on the Grind is fine, given it's occasional resemblance to a traffic jam. But this time of year, if the trail is still open, I hike with someone, because the numbers of hikers is definitely way down. My hiking companion lately is my fortunately-also-obsessed younger brother. When we can, we go together. We have a semi-ritual of talking for maybe the first quarter, and then falling into our own rhythms. Usually he leaves me behind. Once or twice I've managed to reverse that, but usually because he was out cycling 20 kilometres up some hill the day before, or something like that. I console myself that I am much older. (Well, two years.)

We went again this week in what looks to be my last of the year. Coming up the mountain you travel through several climate zones. Winter is on at the top of the mountain. The trail was still clear, if wet, but coming out on top, there was snow lying in patches. Some had melted away from last weeks snowfall, but not all. There were skaters on the ice rink. And I rather suspect that it's snowing up there right now, because outside my window it's raining and it's cold, and across where I should be able to see the mountain, there is only grey cloud, and I know it will be colder under that canopy.

I think I slipped under the last wire for this season, and I'm very glad. The sun kept trying to cut through the clouds, and finally, as we sat on top and had our visit and his tea and my non-fat latte, the clouds parted enough to see across to Point Grey and on to Vancouver Island. It was brief, because soon we were back in fog, but it reminded me of one of the reasons for doing this hike, and it's one I often forget to indulge in.

I mean, the benefits of this activity are tremendous. It's a tremendous aerobic workout, and there's no getting out of it, once you're started. I mean, you can stop hiking to rest, but you're going to have to go again if you ever want to go home. Sometimes you see deer, which is pretty fine for a city kid like me, though usually it's only squirrels or chipmunks. Or ravens; really cool birds. Often though, and especially if I'm alone, I'll come out on top, and just head straight for the gondola and the ride down. I forget to look.

We sat and drank our drinks and looked out at the view, and I thought, perspective. That's why I come. There are a million people down there, give or take a few, and they're all busy in one way or another. Everyone has problems, worries, stress. If not today, then tomorrow, because that's how life is. But they're all so small. I'm so small. Look how big the world is. Just look.

So what am I worried about today? I'm trying to sort the bureaucracy in my office, the piles of paper. Isn't that funny? I mean it is necessary stuff I'm digging through, and getting clarity in my office will give clarity to my days. I know that. But I think I'll go for a walk in the rain just now anyway. It'll make the paper easier to deal with when I get back, and heck, it could be snowing tomorrow, and then where would I be? (Yes, yes, back here finishing up this task. Don't worry.)

But while I look forward to the new season on the Grind, months away, still, I can take myself down to the path by the sea, and do it regularly. Because that's just over there, five minutes from my apartment, and that could keep me exercised till the mountain is a walk-in-the-park again. And isn't it true that the view over water gives that same perspective of distance, space, possibility? I think so, as long as I don't forget to look.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

rules, consequences, concrete and zen

My brother talks about a rule of threes. Usually he's talking about things like renovations, where whatever you are doing will take three times as long, or cost three times as much, or both. This is a good rule to keep in mind.

I think maybe the rule of threes is working in my own life. I had an uproar around here when I decided to sell my apartment. Then when sales suddenly fell off, I took it off the market, and took a good look at my own personal life, to see why I wanted to move so much. Then I initiated a second uproar, by asking my partner to move out. This of course solved one problem I was having but opened up several others. (This isn't an indicator of the rule of threes, but of the law of unintended consequences. In this case, some emotional fallout, among other things.)

It may be true that this wasn't the best time to decide, given my state of mind, but what the heck. Now that I was staying put in my recently more spacious apartment, I decided it was time to change the bathtub. It may just be that I have some kind of mental illness that shows itself in renovation-type behaviours. I'm not sure. But the bathtub in this place was okay, if I moved. But staying, it finally wore me down. It is (or was) 30 years old, and a jacuzzi at that. Whenever I ran the jets, to clean them out, strange black things floated out. I wasted a phenomenal amount of water refilling the tub, and running it again, to get the pipes clean. Alas, it seemed futile. I did still use the tub, but couldn't help thinking about the used bathwater always sitting in those pipes. Yuk.

Anyway, this week my friendly renovator came to take out the old tub. It turns out that, while the uproars came in threes, there is also the rule of three within each event. When this building was built, for some reason, the builders decided to pour their leftover concrete around my tub, after it was installed. This meant that the old tub had to be chopped up to get it out. Then the concrete had to be broken up in order to haul it out, so that some kind of level floor can be created in the space where the new bathtub will go. What a production, you say. Noisy too. (This is only two things, so there's got to be one more glitch coming, but maybe the fact that the 'trim' (what we laypeople call taps) won't arrive until about a month after the tub is installed will suffice.

Anyway, yesterday I was kicked out of the house so as to not breathe in fibreglass as the old tub was ceremoniously dismembered. Today, for the concrete, I kicked myself out. I went for a hike up the Grind with the aforementioned brother. I know, it was raining, but sometimes you just have to go. We had a perfectly fine hike, talking all the way.

In the last quarter the rain turned to snow. We both kept very careful attention on the moment, indeed on where our feet were at each moment (what he calls zen-grinding) but every now and then I stopped so I could look around. I did not have my camera, so I can't show you, but it was profoundly beautiful up there. Believe me. Fresh snow in the forest. And so quiet. Not a single sound of pulverizing concrete. And then my brother spotted two deer stepping through the trees. A doe and half-grown fawn. Their colouring was perfect. They were the same colour as the trees, and their white bellies matched the snow. Light and dark, shadow and snow. This, I guess, was a rule of two. Definitely some kind of zen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

space and time

Once upon a time I was a very little girl living in Vancouver. Time stretched out in front of me in a manner that was, well, timeless. I remember waiting, for instance, for Christmas to roll around. Remember that? It took forever. The end of the school year and the start of summer holidays? Eons.

Today I sat down to write in a café, and asked my companion, what date is it? November 3 she said. And I thought, how can this be? A blink ago it was Hallowe'en, just before that, Thanksgiving. I'd swear that Labour Day was just last week.

It's a cliché, or a tautology: Time flies. (Wait, I'll get my dictionary, yes, tautology 2. a statement that is necessarily true.) It used to crawl, time, but the older I get, the faster it flaps by. When my children were babies and toddlers (delectable and delightful, mostly) time crawled with them. They were infants for the longest time. Then they were teenagers, and though it was intense, what with all the hair-pulling and teeth gnashing (by me) it was also very brief. Decades have gone by.

This awareness is what drives me today, this week. Time flies, and I've still got lots to do. I could be 80 tomorrow. So, this week, I am working on setting up my office to function better. Stuff is going to be tossed. There are oodles of scraps of stories flying around in my office, unfinished, and I want to finish them, or delete.

Last year I was digging through my father's scraps and detritus and saying "oh, dad, what were you thinking." Twenty odd years ago I did the same thing with my mother's stuff. Now I can imagine my own children sifting through the debris, saying things like, "this paragraph's not too bad. Hey, if she'd finished that sentence, this might have been a story. Oh, here's part of her novel. I wonder how it was supposed to end?" And probably, "why's she still got this junk?" That'll be the baby clothes...

It's not fame or fortune I'm after, though that'll be nice, once I get some stories and a novel or two finished. Right now I'm just concerned that the kids not sit around saying "oh, mom, what were you thinking."

Whatever motivates, eh?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

festival weekend

The 2010 Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival is now over. Fortunately I didn't miss the whole thing while I was hanging out in Ontario. I volunteer for the festival; most of what I do gets done ahead of time, but I made it home on Friday in time to wash my car and drive out to the airport to pick up David Mitchell (his latest title is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet). I was star struck before I met him, he writes such good stories, but even more now, as he is quite lovely. What a relief. Imagine if I hadn't liked him. How would I explain those novels?

Anyway, I got a half hour of him to myself, a fantastic perk to this particular volunteer job, and then went to hear him read on Saturday evening. Again, he was interesting and gracious and funny. Really, if you haven't read any of his books, do, because his books are absolutely brilliant, which is the most important thing about him.

It was a most extraordinary weekend really, because I drove several other authors too, as well as members of their families. I had several good conversations, and didn't crash my car, which means they all got where they were going, at least while they were with me.

And I went to three other events besides Mitchell's, and listened to several writers whose work I didn't know and will look for now. And bonus, on Sunday afternoon I got to hear Ivan Coyote read/tell another story. She is worth the price of admission to just about anything. And on a whim I went to the last event Sunday night, and picked up The First Person and other stories, by Ali Smith, because I liked what she read and I liked what she said.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

shifts and changes

Life is quite the journey, so when your life takes a turn, going on a trip isn't a bad idea at all. I'm living solo again. My partner has moved out, at my request, and so we'll now see how dating works out. Happily ever after isn't entirely easy to work out, at least for some of us. But that's all the personal drama I will report on here, sorry.

I left my house and cat in good hands last week, not running away, but in a serendipitously timed, long-planned trip to a wedding. Therefore I spent several days in Stratford, attending two plays and the wedding, so in effect, attended much theatre. Dangerous Liaisons was the first play, and brilliantly done. I got completely involved in the story (even though I knew it) and felt the tragedy of the ending. Ah, life is harsh, and people often unkind (and no, that's not a personal comment).

The wedding was brimming with hope, love, and potential for longevity. Happily Ever After seems possible. I like it.

The third day I saw As You Like It, which was less successful (than the first play or the real wedding) though I'd say the audience didn't seem to agree with me, so perhaps I was just worn out. Or all the relationships in the play just seemed silly after seeing a real-life happy ending/beginning. Or it's just that I've seen the play too often, and should have just gone for a walk by the river. A longer walk, anyway, because I did use that route getting to the theatre and back again. Stratford is a very pretty town; I've finally (in my getting-old age) come to appreciate places that don't have mountains. I've embraced variety!

I left Stratford by train, a mode of transportation that is less useful in BC, as there are greater distances, and fewer places to go. It's too bad, because it makes a good contemplative trip free from airport 'security' and friskings (on the way out of Vancouver I declined to step through their microwave oven, and so got patted down thoroughly instead. This profiling has to stop.). The train trip was a bit long, because of some contortions VIA Rail had to go through because of a derailment that day, but they got me where I was going, finally. And since then I've been having a leisurely visit with one of my kids and her partner. Again, I'm cheered by youth and hope.

And I've done some shopping. The therapeutic effect is real.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

morality wars

Yesterday a Superior Court justice in Ontario decriminalized prostitution, or so most headlines put it. Actually prostitution was already legal. It's just that all the laws around it made it impossible to perform this legal act without breaking the law. Can you spell hypocrisy?

I am not happy that prostitution exists. Not because I have any great problem with people having sex with whoever they want, nor with how many, nor with whatever kind of economic agreement they might arrange around the act, as long as everyone is a consenting adult. (Actually I can think of a few unfortunate occasions in my own life, when money changing hands would have been more honest, and oddly enough, might have left me feeling less used.)

What I don't like is coercion. I don't like it that the sexworker, female or male, is usually the coercee. And I don't like that the world views such people as somehow lesser beings and therefore unworthy of our protection. I am tired of the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. I am tired of restrictions on women's (and men's) choices of what to do with our own bodies.

Laws based on morality have over the years criminalized all kinds of behaviours that we now accept. Interracial, gay/lesbian, oral sex. They've all been against the law (and still are in some places around the world). If you think it's sinful, don't do it, but don't tell someone else they must live by your code. I think that is sinful.

Yes, I think it's a crime that some women are driven through poverty and a lack of choice to choose prostitution, but I don't agree that this should make the act itself criminal, or any more despicable than any other service desired and provided. I think it's the poverty that is the crime, and the lack of addiction support that traps people in lives they don't want. (And what is not really a digression in this discussion, I also think that drugs should be decriminalized, regulated and taxed, just as we deal with the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco.)

The law, as it now precariously stands, does nothing to protect women in the sex trade. It forces them to operate in dark corners with no protection, and results in horrid, and sometimes spectacularly gruesome scenes like that found at serial killer Pickton's farm in Coquitlam.

And whether we like it or not, prostitution will never go away. Why not start to deal with it in the light?

Friday, September 24, 2010


When things are getting to me I like to go hiking. Spur of the moment hiking isn't a bright idea when you are alone, but the Grouse Grind is a reasonable compromise. There are so many people slogging up that hill, that it is rare to have the forest to myself, and when I do it is anxiety-free (if sweat filled) bliss.

On Wednesday just past, a glorious sunny day (I refuse to think it's the last), I put on my shoes and socks and headed into the woods. I find the hike is getting more doable, though I'm not going any faster. On top I wanted a bit more so went for a walk around the resort. I meant to walk up to the windmill, but there was a sign warning of a bear in the area, and really, I'm not a fool. So I turned around, and saw this:

I did a little amateur photoshopping to bring in the distance.     

And that did the trick.


Friday, September 17, 2010

bit of a schemozzle

I had to look up the spelling of schemozzle; it's a variant of shemozzle, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which is my favourite for checking out words. It's a Yiddish expression, which is why I favour the variant spelling. If the logic of that eludes you, well, it eludes me too. But I think it's because, even if I don't pronounce it differently it has a different feel in my brain.

I've been in a kerfuffle lately too. That's another word I looked up, just to be sure. The spell check on this site is happy with it (though it doesn't recognize schemozzle). I expect this is because kerfuffle has a British Isles origin. Makes sense, given that that's where English comes from. Mind you, this spell check doesn't recognize favour either, even though it's the British Isles spelling. So I guess English is only English when it feels like it. But spelling with the u has a different feel in my brain too. These things are kind of strange. I know that so-called Canadian spelling is a schemozzle of English and American, and includes local-to-Canada (imagine!) words tossed in.

Anyway, this should illustrate to you the schemozzle I'm in. One thing leads to another with no apparent direction. I have to-do lists building, and am on task with a few things. My calendar is full of appointments and events. I know I have some deadlines. I will likely meet them. But my house is a mess, and I feel kind of rudderless.

Sounds like a pretty typical life, doesn't it?

Some things are going quite well. I decided early this summer that I needed to lost some weight, and I've managed to shed between five and ten pounds. I'm hazy as to the exact amount, as I was in denial about the upper number. But my clothes are loosening up, and that's always a good indicator of success. My winter coat will fit me this winter. Hurray!

The reason I decided to lose weight was because I've got a (laparoscopic) surgery coming up, and I thought the surgeon might have an easier time of it if there was a bit  less of me. I saw the surgeon in June, found out this week that my surgery will be in December. Healthcare takes its time, doesn't it?

It's kind of funny, because I'm generally very healthy. It's just that I have a gall bladder that is jammed with pebbles and stones, and when I slip up and eat the wrong foods (too much fat mainly, which means no fish & chips) it lets me know loud and clear. It's quite unnerving, because I can't tell how long an attack will last. They've ranged from fifteen minutes, to fifteen hours (that's the one that got me to the doctor).

So I've been eating differently, which is not a bad thing. Everything I read tells me to eat less, and in particular to eat less fat, so this is all good. It's become a bit of a habit, which is something. More veggies, more fruit. All good. Not much booze. Also good.

But anticipation of this thing maybe is what leaves me feeling rudderless. I've been hesitating about some travel plans, because of it. It's harder to avoid fat foods when away from home.

And I still haven't got the writing habit nailed down. That's probably the biggest source of my rudderless feeling. I am a writer, and I don't write, much. I can make a case that reading is part of the process, but I've got that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I'm supposed to be doing something. Being just never seems enough. It's weird. Even though I can be busy all day, nothing shows.

Maybe I need to imagine some upcoming surgery for that. Get my writer's blockage removed, that massive sack of fretfulness and indirection.

We'll see. The gall bladder may be the source of all this, in more ways than one. It's a reasonable metaphor, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

making a habit of it

Habits are hard to establish, but once they've worked their way in, they are hard to break. They might be good habits, in which case it's great to be a creature of habit. If the habits are bad, which is a judgment call, then really, you need to find a new habit to replace them with.

For instance, I had a habit of drinking wine with my dinner just about every night, which was quite pleasant really. But it became a very bad habit as my (faulty) judgment called out for more. But early this year I decided that this was going to have to stop. It was surprisingly difficult for about a week, and then it was fine. Now I have water with my dinner and usually some tea after. I judge this to be a good habit so I'll keep it. I also deduce there were a lot of calories in wine, because I've lost a few pounds. I'm not against having a glass now and then with friends, but no longer at home. That just seems wise. Being wise also seems a good habit to get into.

Interestingly, it was no more difficult giving up wine than it was to let sugar go, as I did several years ago. I was in the bad habit of putting sugar or honey in my tea and coffee. I had a bad coffee habit too, so there was a lot of sugar pouring in. It was especially difficult to drink unsweetened coffee without much grimacing, but after a week the stuff started to taste good again. And interestingly, candy and chocolate bars became disgustingly sweet, and the taste of fruit became wonderful. So sweet!

Lately I have the habit of going to the Grouse Grind. This is a good habit (or an obsession, but I'm not ready to deal with my OCD just yet) as it is helping me to be healthy. But it's maybe a bad habit in that it takes up a lot of time, and I let other things slip. This I'll have to work out. There are other things I need to do as well.

I've been trying to get into the habit of writing regularly. I have read that this is essential to any writing practice. I habitually read lots, but forget to shake the cobwebs off my pen. Writing is very hard to make habitual, because it requires work. Drinking coffee without sugar doesn't require work, and drinking water and tea instead of wine doesn't really require work either (less, really, as water is much cheaper than wine). The Grind takes work, but the thing is once your in it, it's hard to stop. After a certain point going down is quite painful, so you just have to finish.

I think maybe writing is much like the Grind. I feel very good when I'm in the middle of both. (People might not believe me about the Grind, but it's true.) And I feel very virtuous, like I've done something useful, when I get to the end of an hour and some of hiking. Writing too. They are different, but similar.

Last week I took a class at SFU to try and ease myself into a habit of writing every day. Creative writing, actual generation of stories. It's hard work. Fixing the stuff once it's printed out in a heap of paper is easier. But it's getting a story down onto paper that's the challenge. (Onto a computer screen a well, as my erratic entries here indicate, but that's another habit I'm working on.)

I always know where I am when I'm on the Grind; you'd think that would be true of writing too, but there lies a big difference. You never know whether the story you think you are writing is the one that's going to come out of you. And you might think there'd be more excitement on the Grind (forest, potential bears, mountainside) but really it's quite routine. More like climbing stairs, albeit with a nicer view. Discovering characters hiding around corners, or popping out of cars, can be exciting too, and this happened last week at SFU, when I was sitting in a room with other people, and couldn't do anything else except keep slogging with my hand holding a pen. Uphill, but then this kid slipped out of my pen and onto the page...

The problem with writing, unfortunately, is that you can usually get up and walk away without falling off anything or wrecking your knees. So the habit is peculiarly more difficult to establish. Last week was a good, if pricey start, but not sustainable. I'm going to have to go it alone, and find some way of establishing, for myself, a duration of time I can't walk away from.

I think this will be a good habit to have. I just need to work at it. Because I do have a story to tell. I mean, it might end up in a bottom drawer, the way I hear first novels often do, but so what. I'll feel so virtuous, having made it to the end.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

rambling roads

I've lived my whole life in BC, yet don't know it well. So in the last week, my partner and I went driving. We tried to go down roads we'd not been on, if not ever, then at least not for a long time. Mostly we were successful. We started out last Monday heading north on highway 99, instead of east, the usual route, which I have driven oodles of times. The road north is beautiful instantly. It takes you past Brandywine Falls, where we stopped, goes through Whistler, past Nairn Falls, where we stopped, and then Pemberton, where we had lunch. Then we took the Duffy Lake Road, through the mountains into Lillooet. Until a few years back, I don't think it was paved all the way, but it is now. It's the slow road, lots of twists and turns, but so beautiful!

Duffy Lake
More Duffy Lake
You get my point about beauty. This is BC. It may not actually be the absolute best place on earth, as BC's slogan brags, but it sure has some staggeringly beautiful sights.

We found a motel in Lillooet that had a balcony overlooking the Fraser River. A view can make up for a lot in a motel, and so it was a fine place to stay.

Lillooet is in the interior of BC, and BC is burning. We watched a helicopter fly in to fill up its bucket with water, then head out to dump it on a nearby wildfire. It looks so woefully inadequate, one little chopper and one little bucket against massive tracts of fire. And the fire's still burning.

From Lillooet, Mile 0 for the Gold Rush Trail, we headed for highway 97, the road north. Just before the junction we came upon Historic Hat Creek Ranch. We neglected to tour the ranch, but our brunch was good. Most places seem to owe their existence to the gold rush. We stopped at a fire tower just before 100 Mile House, and climbed up to look at the view. The Cariboo would seem to be a flattish plateau, and trees. There don't seem to be a lot of people. Just trees, and a lot of them are dead, thanks to the pine beetle. Things have progressed past the first-year, nicely reddish-coloured trees, to scraggly black ghosts of trees. The whole forest looks like tinder, and that's just what it is. The air is not clear.

It was hot driving, though we had the air-con going, so we stopped in at Lac La Hache for a swim. Whew. That was great.

Barkerville cabin.
The plan, newly formed, was to stop in Quesnel for two days, and make the side trip into ghost town territory, Barkerville. This way we wouldn't have to move house twice. Road trips that are unplanned don't get packed for very well, I've discovered. We had everything with us we might need, except bowls for our morning cereal. The motel in Quesnel had bowls. How could we not stay?

Barkerville is more interesting than I expected. It's a tourist spot, yes, but low key. I feared it'd have more of a circus atmosphere. It does have stage coach rides, but then the setting fits. The town is prettier than in gold rush days, as the forest has grown back around it. At the time, the hills around were logged, and the place was pretty grim. Of course, we were looking at it in sunshine and summer. Not rain and mud. The town has actors playing townspeople. They hold to character pretty well. We sat in for a court session, by an actor doing a credible Irish accent, regaling us with tales of frontier justice. Not an easy life for anyone, back then. Which was just yesterday, really.

Lots of abandoned wagons and machinery.
From Quesnel you either carry on, or go back, so we carried on. Our new plan was Jasper, and the Icefields parkway. This meant a drive up to Prince George, and then we could turn eastward, to get through or around the Cariboo mountains. Prince George has around 71,000 people. A metropolis in the north. (Quesnel is around 6,000, which is a big burg too, judging by what we saw.) We drove up to Connaught Hill park and walked around it to get the panorama of the city. Marvelled at an ant hill that I swear had more residents than Prince George.

From there, it's highway 16, which going west would take us to Prince Rupert, but east took us to Jasper. The next town after Prince George was McBride, population 745. Between them, trees, and signs promising moose, elk, deer. We did see some deer.

The drive after McBride is through the Robson Valley, between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies. Interestingly it looks much like the Fraser Valley, minus the hordes. Lush and bucolic and beautiful. And the river is the Fraser. It turns out we had pretty much been following the Fraser to its source. I must have know that once, that the Fraser begins in the Rockies. I'm sure I coloured in a map when I was in elementary school. Fifty years ago? I guess that's a good excuse for forgetting.

An elk at the side of the road.
The road heads into the Rockies past Mt. Robson, which is one of those massive hunks of rock that just make your jaw drop. Promise of much more to come. Mt. Robson is still BC, but soon we crossed the line into Alberta. We did see an elk finally, whoo hoo! Might have missed him, but there were of course a bunch of cars pulled over to have a look. I can't remember whether he was a British Columbian, or an Albertan. It was maybe an hour before we got to Jasper.

The elk stepped into the woods, illustrating why we saw no others; a metre more into the woods, and he was gone from sight.

Jasper is a nice little tourist town. It's like Banff, only quieter. We had dinner on an upstairs balcony at an Italian restaurant. The food wasn't great, but the spot was gorgeous. A narrow balcony and tons of greenery and flowers, so it felt very private and cozy. Yum, even though the food wasn't yum; sometimes you can only have one. Good food or ambience. We had managed to get a room in a 'heritage' hotel, even though this was day one of the long weekend. It was just fine, except no air-con, so we left the window open. Foolish, as there was lots of noise from the street. But we slept, finally, until someone started up a motorcycle early in the morning. Slow to learn, but we closed the window, and slept in some more.

The thing about an unplanned road trip is that you're not in a hurry. Checkout time most places was 11, and we would be ready to go around that time, but not always. My partner had brought along his espresso machine, and once armed with a latte, what's the rush? No worries, we were on the road by noon. I have to tell you, that Jasper, and the Icefields Parkway, and Banff too, are all in Alberta. So while BC may be the best place on earth, I can't help but feel that somehow Alberta has managed some pretty good stuff too.

We set out for a two and a half-hour drive that took us about six, because we had to stop so often to gawk at the views, and to walk in to have a look at things. First place we went was Horseshoe Lake, on the recommendation of the hotel clerk. She said people jumped in from the cliffs, and sure enough, that's what they were doing. Next stop Athabasca Falls, yet another mind-blowing example of the power of water.

Athabasca Falls

And after that of course we stopped at the glacier that feeds the Falls. There was a hike up to the tip of the glacier, with many signs warning of the danger of walking on it, because it is receding, and there is a lake developing underneath it's front edge. A hundred years from now, it'll be gone. Which should make the Falls less awe-inspiring. Everyone who doubts global warming, should come have a look.
Athabasca Glacier: the marker shows where the glacier reached in the year 2000. The valley behind me has markers stretching back through the years. 
This melting thing has been going on for awhile.

 After awhile, all these mountains and glaciers and deep canyons get kind of ho-hum. Seen one, seen 'em all, eh? But we walked up the pathway to the Bow Lake outlook. This was from the highest point on the parkway. How many times can you say wow?

Bow Lake

But then we saw a bunny, so it was okay. Bunnies are cute, but you don't get knocked over with awe. Elk now, that's different. That stops traffic.

A week is not long enough for rambling around BC (and a bit of Alberta), so when we got to Lake Louise we decided to head for Golden, and then to Kamloops, with the thought we could hang out there a couple days, and then make a quick run home.

The Trans-Canada highway is awful. It's crowded and busy and everyone drives like they're in the middle of rush hour. But I've never driven into Golden before. I've always been one of those goofs flying by. It's a nice little town! We had a good dinner, food and ambience, at a restaurant on the Kicking Horse River! And we slept all right in a cheap and cheerful motel on the highway. Next day, the most gruelling of our drives, because of Hwy. 1, taking us to Kamloops. We staggered off the highway, headed downtown, and checked into the Plaza Heritage hotel. What a treat! And we went for a walk, and then found ourselves outside a beautiful restaurant, where again, the food was great, and the place was lovely. Then we went for a walk, listened to some music in the park, and looked out at the sunset over the Thompson River.

It was the long weekend, which meant we couldn't stay on at our hotel. But we were completely refreshed by Kamloops, so decided to take the slow road home. The Trans-Canada used to be the major road, but it's become the secondary route since the Coquihalla Hwy blasted it's way over the mountains. If you've the time, I'd sure recommend it. It made it feel like we were still exploring, winding our way along the Thompson River. The countryside is beautiful in a different way from all those mountain crags we'd been oohing at. It's dry and varied, and I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures to put in here, but we couldn't really see far, because of all the smoke. And I see on the news tonight that there are more than 400 fires burning in the province, lots of them new ones, in the places we drove through. All that pine beetle tinder.

Just before Lytton we spotted some rafters. There were at least four rafts that we watched come down the river. I don't think any of them were going forward. Amateurs.

We could hear screaming from up on the highway...
Then we were back with the Fraser River. Just outside Lytton, we saw helicopters again, hauling water, probably to the site where a plane went down the day before. Fighting fires is extraordinarily dangerous.

So it's all these contrasts, travelling on the holdiays. I love the drive down the Fraser Canyon. Twists and turns and tunnels. I loved the drive all over the province. And then I see on the news that people died on some of the roads we took. And fires are burning everywhere. But we had a good time!

Our last stop was at Hell's Gate, so-named because Simon Fraser didn't enjoy himself there. Lucky for him, as he was discovering(?) the Fraser, that the Thompson Indians (the Nlaka'pamux, or Thompson Salish, or just Thompson people) had built some ladders and (scary) bridges along the sides of the canyon. And the river wasn't as narrow then. It's worse now because a huge pile of rubble fell into the river when the railroad was being built. The salmon haven't recovered yet.

We of course rode the gondola down. I noticed that there's a trail, which suggests to me that you could skip the fee for the gondola if you wanted. Much less of a hike than the Grouse Grind, too. But I only noticed this when we were at the bottom, and had already paid. Ah well, my partner's not as keen about slogging up hills as I am.

From Hell's Gate, it's a quick ride down to Hope, and then onto the Lougheed Hwy through Agassiz, skipping the freeway, then Mission, Haney (Maple Ridge, to all you recent residents) and, then, sigh, onto the freeway but then, hurray, home, where the kitty was waiting. Speaking of wildlife.

Courtyard Kitty

Friday, July 9, 2010


Anyone else out there ever had an illicit relationship, or perhaps just been accused of one? Think you should have died for it?

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman, was convicted of having "illicit relations" and has been sentenced to death by stoning. She has already been punished with whip lashes, which may have something to do with a "confession".

An international ruckus has been raised. Today in the Globe I read about how Sakineh's story galvanized Heather Reisman to do something about it. Reisman has posted an online petition, one that I hope you will sign. I have. While reports are that Sakineh's been reprieved from stoning, it this doesn't mean they won't hang her.

The Guardian in England reported on her story last week, and had an update yesterday. Sakineh is not the only person facing this brutal death.

While it seems barbaric to me sitting in my vantage point in Canada, I know from reading history that it's not that long ago that women were considered property here as well. Owning your own property after marriage, having your own bank account, voting, being a person, having the police come if your husband beat you; these are all relatively recent things.

There is much more acceptance here, now, that women are people too. But if you read newspapers or watch the news you hear about so-called honour killings often. To put it very mildly, it does a serious dishonour to women, to call their murders a way to save family honour. Shame is a powerful emotion, but it is only possible to think that someone else's behaviour shames you, if you think you own them. And considering how many women are in serious danger when they dare to leave a bad relationship, you have to admit we've all got a long way to go.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

our home and tarnished land

Canada is 143 today. Very young in the life of a country. Out here on the West Coast, we're younger still, not having joined the party till later, making us part of the Canadian scene for only 139 years. But we're part now, with red maple leaf flags flying everywhere.

This is a free country, or so we've been led to think. I'm not so sure. Such a nice place, too, where we expect courtesy in our civic affairs. And it generally is a very nice country to live in, not usually any surprises.

Occasionally though, things kind of fall apart, as they did recently in Toronto, where our federal government hosted the G20, and the police responded with great glee in bringing down the heavy hand of the state. It's an interesting choice governments sometimes make, to metaphorically wave red flags in front of the bulls. They did it some years back out here for an APEC gathering at UBC, stretching a chain link fence across the university campus. I was working on campus at the time, and remember being grossly offended by the fence, and I'm as mild-mannered as they come. It's wasn't very surprising that the campus rumbled with unhappiness that day, and we now have an often-broadcast news clip to commemorate the pepper-spraying of protesters.

I do remember though, that a section of Chancellor Blvd was repaved to make sure the poobahs were secure from bumps on their ride out to lunch at UBC, so something good came of it all.

The feds upped the ante this year by setting the G20 in the middle of downtown Toronto, our biggest city, pulling out the chain link for another thumb-nose at the general population, virtually asking for the goons that like to show up in black and smash windows. Everyone expected it, and the expected became reality. And no surprise the huge buildup of police resulted in a huge number of arrests. No terrorist threat to any of the world 'leaders' but plenty of threat to the security of citizens of our fair country.

So the billion dollar bill (money we don't have, as we're already running a deficit) for 'security' to host a conference concerned with cutting deficits (bitter irony there) served to reduce security for the average person who happened near the fence, whether they worked there, shopped there, or objected to the fence there. When you hear governments talk about security, they are not talking about yours.

It was an egregious example of the heavy-handedness that comes with power, and so stupidly unnecessary too. I mean, I've flown over this country. There are lots of unpopulated places to hold these conferences. Or, and it's not a new idea, they could hold them at the UN, where they're set up already with the security.

Happy Birthday Canada.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Thirty years ago, just after midnight on this date, I became a mother for the first time. It was a dark and rainy night.

I wasn't ready. I thought I was. But I wasn't prepared for the actual birth, though I'd done all my homework. The physical nature of birth, the way the animal body takes over; can't say that was discussed at prenatal class. I wasn't prepared for the emotional nature of birth, the realization of responsibility, the absolute impossibility yet absolute necessity to keep safe this new tiny being. I wasn't prepared for the chasm that opened up between the me that was and the me that now is. And there's no going back to try out that other pathway.

And I wouldn't.

The other thing that I don't remember picking up on before I had children, was how much they would teach me about myself. Maybe that's not universal. I only know my own trajectory. My knee-jerk emotional responses, unattended personality traits, they got magnified, and I had to look at them.

And I became an adult by having children, not in the physical sense, that was a given, but in how I approached life. I'm not saying this is the only way to become an adult, but it chanced to be how it worked out for me. The birth of my three children put me on the other side, as someone who had to look ahead, had to consider consequences, had to plan. Had to be responsible. Was responsible. It made mortality real, oddly enough. Before my daughter was born, I don't think I believed in death. Now I could see how important it was to keep this small heart beating, not to mention my own. It's maybe the first inkling that I had in the world that I was essential, too.

This I owe to all my children. There is no favourite here, and I'm not just saying that. It turns out my heart expands, and can fit them all. But there is a first, and today is her day.

She is beautiful in every way.

Monday, June 14, 2010

springtime rambles

After spending a couple of months with my place fluffed up for selling, and then taking it off the market, I've been moving back in. It's nice to dig stuff out of drawers, and put back some of the personality into this apartment. I'm into Plan B: to sell at a later date. For now it's a road not taken (not offered?) but sometimes the path you are on turns out to be just fine. For instance yesterday we took ourselves for a long walk along the seawall, around False Creek, and back over the Cambie Street Bridge. Then we finished up at Granville Island to pick up some snapper and vegies for dinner, before bring our weary feet home. Very urban, extraordinarily lovely, no car.Why would we want to move?

Since all the fluffing, my place became much lighter, as so much stuff got cleared out, and so now I want to keep it that way. But to answer why I want to move, eventually: I do have a rented storage locker and it does have all my books and bookcases, and I do want a room to put them in, so I think this place won't in fact be home for too many more years. But for now, it's quite a pleasant place to live. So I'm back to organizing, both inside and out. I bought a new chest of drawers that fits into a spot in the living/dining room, and with some shifting around of furniture, it still feels relatively spacious. Cozier too, because I shifted around the chairs in the living room. We don't have a couch just now. The old one was very old, tattered (the cat) and huge, so it got tossed in the fluffing. I was thinking we should get a new, smaller one, but the way I shifted our furniture around, I don't really miss it. Except for when I feel like lying down for a nap The only option is the bed, and I did like dozing on the couch... Pretty small problem, eh? Next place.

The new chest was so I could organize my sewing stuff in one place. It was scattered into several drawers, closets, crannies, and so I never sewed anything unless one of my kids showed up needing pants hemmed. The table is the only spot to work the sewing machine, but that's fine, as I do have a spot to put it away. And I pulled out a bunch of my own mending, and actually mended some. There are several pieces of fabric I've bought, that I want to make clothes out of, and that seems possible now too. The trick is to be able to clean it up in between, as I've gotten used to the place being clean, since all the showings.

I got new glasses too, recently, and so have been literally looking at things differently. In fact more clearly, as the glasses correct my vision properly. I've given up on contact lenses, after forty years! They were bugging me, and the soft ones don't correct exactly. I can't stand seeing things unfocused anymore. So back to glasses. There were always pros and cons to both methods of vision correction, but I find some bonuses to not wearing contacts. My vision is really bad, can't see clearly much past my nose, but interestingly I can see really clearly up close. Threading needles has become possible again. So I sew.

There's been one unfortunate thing about the glasses. I can see the dust bunnies now. Having slightly unfocused vision has kept me a casual housekeeper for years, but now I notice the dust as it builds. And between the cat and myself (long hair) there can get to be some impressive bunnies. My partner is sorry to see my vision clear, in this particular area. Turns out it wasn't that I was so casual about cleaning. I just quite literally couldn't see the need. But it's okay. He does most of the cooking, so needn't feel pressured to clean to my new standards.

Outside's been changing too. The other day I got out the pruners, and tidied up the rhododendrons that sit in the planters outside my front window. Result? I have a mountain view. I'll have to remember to do that again before the next time I try to sell this place. Everyone wants a view, including me.

We've scattered a great number of potted plants all over the courtyard; that's another reason we'll need to move eventually. The plants, like my books, and like us, are waiting for somewhere to root. I was a dabbler in the garden before, sigh, when I had a house and garden, but I think it may be because there was just too much else going on in my life. But now, faced with a concrete courtyard, I'd like to get out and grow things. (I'm not the first late-middle-aged woman to want to garden am I?) My herbs in pots made it through the winter. I think my azalea is going to bloom, as is a hydrangea I planted a few years ago. I set out some carrot tops that are happily growing into a pot full of the snowdrop bulbs from my dad's front lawn (my partner salvaged them before we sold the house). I'm thinking I'll get another reasonable sized (pretty) pot to set out in the courtyard, and grow some lettuce. I do want a garden. If it were possible I'd grow some snap peas. At the store, they always seem to be shipped from China! My partner is a real gardener and he too needs actual dirt to dig in, but for now all those potted things definitely improve the outlook, and they get us outside.

Things are growing. The lilac from my father's yard produced two flowers this year. Poppies, also from his yard, are popping up (sorry) all over the planters. What else from Dad's? Forsythia, originally a transplant from my own former house (it has no flowers yet, too young), a winter rose that has one healthy looking leaf right now, but did produce a flower earlier this year. Rhubarb. There is a lily about to bloom (I think it's a lily) from off his back porch.

There's irony in all this. Though a lot of the plants remind me of my father's house, they also remind me that he didn't give a hoot about any of them, and by extension, of much else either, grumpy old man that he'd become. They're all plants that meant something to his wife, my stepmother, who died about six years before Dad did. My sister tended to them, and also kept many going on the back deck, as homage to her mother. And so they carry the mix of feelings that our father and his house held. Which is fine. I like it that life goes on, and some of it blooms.

Friday, June 4, 2010

it's not different this time

I have this theory about real estate, that every year things go much the same way. Early in the new year there are very few properties for sale. Home owners who plan to sell wait for the spring. But the buyers come out early, and swarm through the few open houses that they can find. Multiple offers abound, as there's not much to choose from. Home owners notice, and think wow, this is the year we should sell! Suddenly there are hordes of listings, and lots of choice. The buyers who lost the bidding wars start to take their time. Numbers of sales go down. Prices start to drop. Buyers back off as prices become more reasonable. The newspapers report how the market is falling. The summer brings doldrums. Maybe in the fall it'll pick up, maybe not. People take their properties off the market. Winter comes. People cook turkey. Then, voila, the new year comes, and there's very little on the market, and buyers start to buy because this might be their last chance to get into the market. Prices move up.

I think this is what's happened to me. (It can't be that I'm deluded about how much my place is worth!) I've had two offers for my place that I considered to be fishing expeditions by bargain hunters. If I really needed to sell, I'd have had to concede. But I don't, so if I can't get what I think is fair value, then I see no reason to sell. So yes, I've taken my place off the market.

Perhaps I'm not alone in this testing of the waters. Lots of listings get canceled. Real estate is an example of an illiquid asset. Doesn't mean it's not worth what it's worth. It's just harder to withdraw from than, say, a bank account.

I was late getting my place listed this year; I hesitated first  because of the Olympics, and then I just wasn't quite ready, when there were those few listings at the end of February. A month later I had all kinds of people come to open houses and say they really liked the place, but, alas, there were a whole lot of listings at the same time, so lots of choice. Comparison shopping was possible.

I read recently about a study that demonstrated that too much choice paralyzes decision-making. Offer people sixty flavours of ice cream, and they'll have a hard time choosing. Offer six, no problem. I think house-buying works the same way. Too many listings, and people freeze up. On the news tonight they said listings were up, what, 40% over this time last year? And guess what. Sales are down. Even though rates are still at historically low points. You tell me if it makes any sense. Next year, rates will be higher, and I believe we'll see a surge in sales at the beginning of the year, because there will be very little available. If prices are down, it'll be because the banks are making up the difference in higher rates. I may eventually have to take less than I want for my place, but it'll cost the buyer as much. (Forget real estate and buy bank stocks?)

I think it actually was a bit different in 2009 because of the great recession that happened towards the end of 2008. You couldn't sell a place in the beginning of the year, because everything was so cheap that there were no listings. Then what listings there were began to get bidding wars. What can I say? People like to buy high. That's all I can figure. Unless there's lots of choice. Then they'll hold off.

Realtors will tell you this is nonsense. And they're right, of course. No one can predict the markets.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

road trip

Every now and then I think I should take a workshop. Sometimes this is a good idea, and sometimes it's not. And sometimes, it's a mixed result. This weekend has been a mixed result.

I hit the road on Friday morning, for Salmon Arm, to take part in the International Writers Festival there. (This is a somewhat grandiose title, as I don't think there were any internationals in attendance, but then, the organizers are thinking ahead.) Sometimes you need a road trip, and it's good to have a destination, and this seemed a good one. I was drawn to Salmon Arm because I had lived there, briefly, before memory. My first birthday would have been celebrated there. No one is left from that group; father, mother, older brother, gone. (I have a younger brother, as well as a step- and a half-sister, not to mention children, so don't feel too sorry for me.) I obviously don't remember living there, but I have pictures that prove it, and remember where the house was, vaguely, because my Dad pointed it out once, on a camping trip. It was more a cabin in the woods, and there may be a Macdonald's where it used to sit, but there's no one left to ask. Anyway, after this weekend I feel less drawn to Salmon Arm. Been there, kind of thing.

The festival was the same idea as the Surrey Writers Conference, if you know about that, but in miniature: designed for newbies. I sort of figured that, but was lulled a bit by the status of a couple of the names. I hoped to pick up some useful information, even though I've kind of graduated from this level of workshop. Encouragement. Or a reminder that what I should be doing, rather than sitting around listening to people talk, is get to the writing. That's what I got. Maybe the best thing I heard was from Brian Brett, who gave the 'keynote' speech. He talked about how writing and publishing are two different things. I wrestle with this identification as writer, because I don't have books published, and in fact I don't even have much writing finished. But I write, and I think about writing. All the time. And I read. Both: write, read. Ergo, writer.

Publishing is a different issue, and getting murkier all the time. I mean, really, this is a form of publishing. Any less valid because I set it up myself? Probably, in most of our heads, but maybe occasionally I'm brilliant, and this way I get to share it. I like to think so (that I'm brilliant). Anyway, all these workshops about getting published are getting ahead of myself, because the writing needs to be done first. I think that may be true for a lot of the attendees, but what do I know?

In a fit of that feeling of brilliance, I signed up for a Blue Pencil session, which is where you show something you've written to someone else, who doesn't know you, so they can give you some feedback. I picked a writer/poet I admire, and showed him some poems. This is akin to stripping off your clothes in front of someone you like, before he (or she) has said he's interested. It turned out well, though some flabbiness in my writing was apparent. But I was encouraged that, with some work, there is something there. My blue penciler was late, as he was knocking back some wine with another alpha male, if I'm not mistaken, and so my session was a bit short. It happens. Bad form (a bit of flabbiness in his behaviour) even if you do find yourself in a little town far from the metropolis. I was feeling it myself.

But I know what to do, and really, I already knew it. Write, rewrite, and keep working on these poems, and all the other stuff too, because it needs to be written. I need to write it. I get good enough, maybe I'll get 'published', ie chosen by a publisher, and then maybe my blue penciler'll invite me along for the booze, next time. And maybe I'll decline. Meow.

It's a very beautiful place, Salmon Arm, but unfortunately this weekend was also all about clouds and rain. I get enough of that at home, and finally this morning, after some bad coffee and pastries for breakfast (bleah) I lost interest in listening to someone talk and talk about things I either know or could google. So I checked out early and started home. I had intended to stay an extra day in Salmon Arm, to do some writing, away from the distractions of home. But the clouds were pulling my mood down, so I hopped in the car instead. My car has a way of following different roads, so I took longer to get to Merritt than I might have. I find I have aging joints which object to sitting in one position for hours at a time. I don't think I would have been able to get out of the car, had I continued home today. But, the sun is shining here, and I can hear birds. I can hear traffic too, but I'm off the highway, I have a bit of a view, and the air is warm. I'll finish my trip home tomorrow. But tonight, I'm going to pull out those poems, and have another look.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

curious days

Yesterday and today I turned myself inside out to accommodate possible buyers, and then they made an 'offer' that was oddly insulting. The offer was missing pages, it had many significant errors (my address was wrong) it told me my place was crap and I better run fast now, and take this offer which was extremely low, because we're aiming for a crash and it won't be worth anything soon. It was pretty unfunny at first but then my realtor and I cracked up, it was so ridiculous. Imagine trying to bully someone into selling to you, by telling you the place you are selling is junk, although they didn't put in subject to an inspection. Huh? They were trying to panic me, but I happen to think my place is very fine. I'm not selling it because it's a bad place. I'm selling it because I want to make a change in my life. But there's no urgency. So I said no.

I didn't counter, because it was nonsense. They asked both too much and too little.

Anyway, it reminded me, in it's curiouser and curiouser way, of an open house my partner and I went to in Victoria last weekend. We were just poking around, snooping at opens, and then found ourselves in Esquimalt following the signs to a house we hadn't planned on seeing. Turns out it was a for-sale-by-owner. There were hammers banging as a couple of guys worked to rebuild the basement stairs (though it looked more like they were dismantling it) and the grinding sound of a power saw intermittently blasting our eardrums. She was cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and it didn't smell particularly appetizing. There were people all over the house, no lights on. Some rooms empty, some furnished. The basement was a rabbit warren of rooms, not particularly inviting, and all of this alone would have been enough to send me running away from this seller, the way I ran from today's buyer.

But then the most peculiar thing. She knocked on a door in the basement, said the tenant was in, opened the door a crack, and said "here's his room." It was a shambles, and dark, and I stuck my head in. Around the corner was a mattress on the floor, and there lay the tenant, tucked into bed with a young woman nestled into his arms. He looked quite pleased with the state of affairs. Alas, my partner didn't see, and somehow I didn't feel I could say, "hey, have a look at this." As we stepped away, the owner said, "he's in love." And I said "yeah, I can see that."

We aren't ready to make an offer and anyway, she was asking too much for too little. It was such a shame, really. The house could be lovely, without the slapdash reno.

clarity, maybe

I like to think that I'm a pretty good writer, but sometimes what I write turns out to be something different from what I think I'm writing.

So what am I talking about now? This:

There is the possibility, just maybe, perhaps, that someone just might make an offer on my place. Before making the offer they needed me to clear it with my strata council, that should they buy (if they offer me enough and there are no other objections) they would be able to rent out the place for a year or so, until they are able to move in. So I asked. Unfortunately, I had previously asked whether it would be okay if I were to rent back, should that be an option, and that clouded the responses to this question, as to whether someone could rent to a...stranger.

So, turns out everybody likes me fine, and I can stay if I want, but no one directly answered my question about renting to ...strangers... because, really, I'm not going to commit to staying here forever, to save them from the riffraff of tenants (mostly thinking about whether I might need a month or so to find my next place).

In all the flurry of emails I got some clarification. One voice said, "well, the bylaws," and then I thought, hmmm, right, when all else fails, read the manual. So I dug out the by-laws, which are clear enough. I could have saved myself a lot of email traffic if I'd just done my homework. I know, I know, it's like reading the manual for your new phone but sometimes sitting down and reading the by-laws (or the manual) can be quite edifying. Unfortunately it's much easier to have an opinion if you don't check first.

But I had a second question--Are we at maximum rentals?--which you'd think would be easy to answer too, but no, even that question turned out to be greyish. When I suggested we might not be at maximum (we allow two) I got one vehement statement that we were at max, case closed. However, while one unit is definitely rented, another only sometimes rents out her place when she's away, and she's away now; is it rented? No. ("It's empty, does that still count as a rental?" asked one. In fairness I think she was joking.) And another unit has the children of the owners living in it, and it was hazy whether they were renting, but, no, they're not, and anyway, family is not tenantry. So my maybe buyers are free to put together a proposal. Fingers crossed they will.

People very much read with their emotions. I should know that, but this just illustrated it again. I've now emailed everyone the clause from the by-laws, which everyone should have, but might not know where it is

And here's why I blame myself in this one, for muddying the water with my unclear writing. I think that even though I thought my questions were clear, what I really wanted to know and didn't ask, was, would these people who are my neighbours (for now) still think I was a nice person if I sold my place to someone who then turned around and rented it out. (Will you still like me if I actually accept an offer that is good for me [and legal!] but might be inconvenient for you?)

I mean, what a person I'm turning out to be. I am just waiting for people to put their doormats on me. But it's fine, as long as they think I'm nice. (And they do!) Very female of me, probably.

It's all still hypothetical too. I am hopeful, but no one has showed up with an offer yet.