Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Grey Days ... No Thoughts

Today I am starting with a tabula rasa ... a blank screen and an equally blank mind.

I need to do a Costco run today some time.  Kenya must be walked. I have some last minute lesson planning left to do because I will be out all day tomorrow .I should get more paint on the chair pieces.

I am finding it a pain in the butt to work on the pieces rather than a whole chair that can be moved as one item and on which I can see the effect of colours side by side..  It will be easier to do the design work ... maybe ... but the basic painting is much slower and trickier.  You can place a chair on a drop cloth or a newspaper, but pieces have to be laid out carefully on my table, and, even with care they end up blotchier than they would be if I were painting the whole thing.  I try to speed up the process by painting more than one surface and then have nowhere to to dry the piece without damage that will need to be scraped or sanded back.

Next time I will know better.

I wonder if my lassitude is the result of boredom, frustration or just plain laziness and a desire to get back to my current book.  I am reading a lot more lately.  I bought a raft of good books for the winter, and here it is, not even December, and I have gobbled up a few and am eating my way ravenously through Room. 

Room is a  strange book.  The writer has limited herself to a particularly focused point of view and setting which could have resulted in an absolutely claustrophobic read, but her skill has lifted it beyond the narrow confines she set for herself.  It was up for (and may have won) the Man Booker prize this year. 

Annabel and Light Lifting were both finalists for the Giller. 

Annabel has made me reflect on things I seldom consider.  It is a sensitively written story of a hermaphroditic child born in a time and place where the condition was misunderstood and  hidden so that the results were more tragic than they should have been.  Love, however, makes this ultimately a redemptive novel.

I am giving Light Lifting to a friend for Christmas.  It is a very male book.  Well written ... but masculine in a way books that appeal mainly to women are not.  It is about physicality rather than feelings; action rather than contemplation. Strong detail throughout and all the other positives associated with excellent writing ... but I am more interested in the softer more amorphous things that go on within a person than I am in how accurately the writer is able to convey physical sensations. 

I think any athlete with a penchant for reading would love this book which captures a runner's pain, exhaustion and exultation; the physical details of a father dealing with recurrent infestations of lice; and, most often, the pain inflicted on men by other men or by themselves.  Because he handles sensory detail so well, the writing is powerful.    It is not that other good writers (women more often than men) get at feelings by emoting about them; it's that Alexander MacLeod's focus is on the physical ... and on men and their perspective.

I haven't finished reading all the stories yet, partly because it is so very male, but also partly because I prefer novels to short fiction. I will write a proper review of this one when I have finished it, because I know I have not done it justice.  I may have given the incorrect impression that the stories are just about physical pain endured by men ... and the ones I have read are more than that ... they illuminate truth just as all fine fiction does.

So ... on with my day ... hope you have a good one ...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Well, it really is upon us ...

Yesterday, while walking Kenya, I met a neighbour who said this.  He was referring to the snowy chill in the air.  I agreed, but I was nicely bundled up in a parka so I wasn't particularly concerned.  This morning, however, I understood the truth of what he had said.  Oh, I'd had inklings for the past week or so, but today I was sure.

I just learned that it is Grey Cup weekend ... yes ... yes ... I know ... how could I have just learned?  Anyway, the Grey Cup is an unmistakable sign that fall has ended; that Canadian winter has begun.  So it is official.

I love the white peaceful tranquility of winter ... especially up here on a private road. Snow swallows noise. I think the different quality of light on a sunless day, like the contrast between colour and black and white photography, is lovely.  After being outside in invigorating air I like returning to the coziness of my home, especially if I have a fire lit.  The lake has developed a silvery skin near shore that is magical.  The whole lake is now varying shades of grey, white and silver, except where the water is still a liquid mirror reflecting the warm browns of the crumbling rock face. 

Just as an aside ... we now have two signs on the road over there.  One is the falling rock danger sign; the other tells drivers that the road is down to one lane; that they must give way.  It will be interesting to see what happens on ice (the road is always pooled with water coming from the blasted rock).  What if a rock slide happens when a car is on the road?.  Will the driver veer off into the lake?

But back to my real problem with winter: the aridity.  I do not like what I see in the bathroom mirror.  My hair and skin hate winter's dryness.  One turns into straight frizz and the other breaks out in angry blotches. 

And my sinuses hurt.  I can't use my usual sinus meds, the ones that are preventative, because they burn the inflamed and broken tissues, so I am back to swooshing with salt water, using a version of a neti cup.  My father did that ... and lived (for a smoker) a long healthy life.  I am out of Sinutabs which usually help fight an allergy to woodsmoke.  Will have to leave the lake some time today to purchase some.

... grumble, grumble, grumble ...

Just so I end on a positive note, though ... I am having Brome Lake duck for dinner today ... I just follow the simple recipe on the packaging ... and produce something mouth watering. We have excellent grocery stores up here in the hills ... ones that provide us with local and Quebec meats and produce ... but that is another ramble ... and I don't have time right now ... Kenya and I are off for our walk ... and then we will go to the village to run errands.

Oh ... a warm welcome to Helmut ... I am delighted that you are reading my blog ... I will write a proper response to your email later.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Death and Decay ... Happens to All of Us

Jeez ... look at yourself, will ya?  You're a right mess, you are.

This Post Brought to You by the Letter P

I'd hoped to tell you all about an upcoming gig pig-sitting ... but alas, it is not to be. 

The first meeting was not a success. Kenya desperately wanted to play with her, but Olive, the potbellied piglet, rooted about in her crate scream-grunting imprecations at Kenya. 

They both started out just sniffing the air and then Kenya tentatively stretched her long nose toward the wire separating the flattened piggy snout from her own moist, black one.  As Olive became more and more upset about the intruder near her space, Kenya became increasingly excited about the prospect of really playing with her.

I have seen the same behaviour with cats.  Cats that are perfectly comfortable with dogs either in a friendly or dominant way seem to keep Kenya calm.  Cats that are fearful excite her.  She never fails to chase the feral cats on the lake, but she is perfectly comfortable with Oberon and other cats she has lived with.

When it became plain that these two animals were not likely to relax with each other any time soon, I said I thought we could not pig-sit; that three days of running interference would be just too harrowing for me ... to say nothing of the emotional well being of the animals involved.

So Kenya went out to the car and I had lunch with Olive's human. 

While we ate, Olive rooted around under the table, cleaning up crumbs and nibbling on my toes.  She is a dear little piglet ... black with wiry hair, a wagging tail, squashed up snout, and delicately sculpted feet.  Have you ever seen live  pigs'  feet?  They are lovely ... and incongruous on such a rotund little animal.  Reminded me of Petunia Pig and her high heeled pumps.

Right now Olive is about the size of two footballs, but she will double in size by the time she is full grown.  She is litter trained (most of the time) and is a vegetarian.  I guess the most endearing thing about her is that she is always in motion, always close to human activity,  and always vocal.  I like animals that talk to me ... and she is even more communicative than Kenya is.

Later in the day, good friends arrived with dinner ... pasta and salad with a Christmas stollen for dessert.  Yummy.  They had a bit of a time getting up my road ... started to slide off the road and were saved by Peter, my friend, neighbour and carpenter.  They parked about ½ kilometre from the house and walked (or skated) the rest of the way.

Leonard who does my plowing had called earlier to ask if he should sand the road.  I said blithely that it wasn't necessary; that I had got out and in  that morning with no trouble once I spent 3/4 hour scraping the windows.  Big mistake.  And then when I tried later to reach him I discovered that the number I had was not correct.  So my first job today will be finding Leonard and straightening everything out.

My second will be painting the Muskoka chair. I  have decided to play with rainbow colours and publishers' logos.  Photos will follow when the work begins to progress.  It has been long enough since I last painted that I am a little fearful; have to keep reminding myself that nothing is ever permanent ... neither glory days nor screw-ups.

And my third job will be to plan for next Wednesday's class with Pauline, Azra and Diane.  I am finding myself looking forward to these classes because I like being with these women.  We spend as much time laughing as we do working.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Doggone it!

Well ... I am just back from the shortest hike in history and heading out for a playdate with Jack, the Golden Lab youngster visiting the lake.  More details to follow.

It is noon and I am home again ... this time from a romping walk with Kenya and Sadie.  Jack and his human did not turn up today.

I was supposed to go for a 2 hour hike with the Wakefield Winter Walkers.  Kenya and I followed Tom over to Carmen Road where we met about 30 hardy souls and one free range Border Collie who immediately told Kenya she was not welcome.  I calmed Kenya and reassured her that she was a good girl  and two women told her that they were very glad she was there.

Less than five minutes later our welcome was revoked.

A man in his early sixties, an acquaintance, and someone I had had nothing but pleasant dealings with, arrived and barked, "No dogs in the park."

I probably looked a little stunned because I had asked one of the organizers about bringing Kenya.  "She's on-leash," I stammered.

He continued in the same rough voice, the same angry fragments of speech, "The 15th . Narrow icy paths. "

I said, "But I was told it would be all right to bring her on this trail; that it was mainly on a wide road."

"Who told you that?"  The gruffness had now escalated and hardened into a confrontational tone.

I told him, and his response was, "He didn't check with me.  I'm responsible for one of the trails."

Officious little bureaucrat, I thought.  But what I said was, "That's fine.  I'll take her home."

I have no idea how many people were listening because he was facing the crowd behind me, but at that point he began to try to placate me, to smooth things over, to offer me an option.  I could take Kenya on a different trail from the other hikers.  An easier trail.  Then another short angry burst.  "Read the park rules."

"It's okay," I said.  "I'll take her back to the lake where I can walk her off-leash with a dog she likes."

"You could take the easier trail," he repeated.

"No," I said.  "Thanks.  Better if I take her back home.  I don't want to break any rules."

I was ticked off ... still am ... The only reason I wanted to go out with the Wednesday walking group was to try out different hiking terrain and meet like-minded people once a week.  I get enough exercise walking Kenya daily.  And she gets far better exercise when she is off leash and chasing sticks along Pike Lake Road, where she can dash off into the woods or take a drink from the streams or the lake, and where she has good buddies to race with.  The winter group will also be skiing and snowshoeing and I do want to be involved in those walks even though it is difficult to schedule anything that does not include exercising Kenya in on Wednesdays just now because of teaching.

 This was an attempt to fit everything in on a Wednesday hike when it would have been possible.

I will likely join them next week ... but I really wish my first experience with this new group had been a little less fraught with tension ... especially when Kenya's presence on the entire walk with the others would not have been a problem for anyone.

I had intended to leave her home when we were on skiis or snow shoes or when the walking trails were particularly narrow ... I am just sorry that this week we were sent home with our tails between our legs.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

November Rain ...

This morning Robert Genn, a BC artist, wrote about his teaching experience in a kindergarten class.  I copied two excerpts because I liked them.

"One boy came very close and said, "I like you. I really like you." I asked him why and he said it was because I let my glasses hang from red strings."

"The kids went to their tables where gobs of colour and actual stretched canvases were provided. Then the fun began. Within a few minutes some had their paint up each other's noses. Paint was flicked, spattered and drizzled. The tables themselves became Jackson Pollocks."

I began to think about why children derive such uncomplicated total pleasure from art ... why they hate a food, a colour or a smell ...  or love it .... just as violently.   Part of the reason, of course, is that every life experience is still so new.  The rest of us have immunized ourselves to strong sensory reactions. 

But it is also because all their senses are still so acute.   

Most of us rely far too heavily on the sense of sight, ignoring the other more subtle sensory information we receive continually.  Our hearing becomes less acute, our tastebuds dull, and our sense of smell fades, but when we habitually ignore those other senses, we help to kill them.

And that is too bad, because it is those smells and tastes  that can evoke memory instantly.

When I smell puffed rice in milk I remember a dark pantry in Mimico.  The taste of Scott's Emulsion can take me back to that same kitchen.  I was six when I lived there with my foster family, when Mom Hall dosed us every winter day with the stuff that made me gag, and fed us cereal for breakfast.  Those memories are nothing more.  Just memories of a time long ago.

But some memories are far more evocative.

The smell of fresh air and sunshine, for example.  When I bring laundry in from the line or sink into a freshly made-up bed, I am instantly back in my thirties.  It is a smell that is both wholesome and incredibly sexy.

I don't use perfume any more. It makes me sneeze.

When I was young, my father gave me Chanel #5 every Christmas.  I loved it, but I knew a woman years later, a school secretary,  then in her sixties, who wore Chanel #5 better than anyone else.  On her skin it smelled like fresh dewy rose petals.  On mine it just smelled like nice perfume.

Once in a doctor's waiting room, I caught a whiff of a spicy but fresh scent of something Eastern and  exotic when a young pregnant Muslim woman stirred beside me. I thought it was just as sexy as the fresh air and sunshine of air-dried linens ... just as perfectly in harmony with her skin as the Chanel had been with the older woman's ... but far more mysterious than either.

Early this morning I decided to take a walk in the rain to try to remember the feeling of mist on skin, to pay attention .  At first the cool wetness did feel dewy, but the droplets chattering  against my yellow slicker before sinking into the sodden leaves on the ground, were louder than I had expected.  My boots were still fitted with ice walkers from yesterday and the steel studs crunched on the gravel. The streams rushing down the mountain to the lake almost drowned out all other sounds. 

I tried to ignore the noise, to pay attention to the feeling of rain on my face, expecting caresses.  Instead the drops felt like I were being splattered by innocuous birdshot.  Occasionally a large splat landed on my cheek when a leaf dropped its larger puddle.  It felt a little like one of those unexpected gifts from birds.  The ones that are supposed to bring luck.

And then we were out of the woods and walking along the road.  The outlet stream from the lake was swollen, the muddy water almost spilling over its banks.  I watched a brown stick being swirled around by the current, and then, in the time it takes to blink, it came alive and darted away ... a muskrat, I think.

On the other side of the lake I let Kenya run free. Stretching her limbs, she began to play and cavort like a puppy, dashing here and there looking for sticks. Then, as suddenly as the rat had done, she tensed and veered toward me, sensing danger from above. Less than a second later a large rock splashed into the ditch water, pushing the puddle over the road.  I heard the swoosh as it hit, but Kenya heard its movement past the rock face.  Her senses are still intact, still childlike.

After a while the fresh sweetness of rain on my face lost its appeal.  My hair was sodden and hanging in my eyes, annoying me.  I had taken off my glasses long before because they steam up in the rain.  Now I just wanted to get home.  The yukk factor had set in. 

But I am glad I walked this morning, glad I didn't wait for the wind and sunshine to dry things before heading out.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The frost is on the pumpkins ... and everywhere else ...

Today was the day I was supposed to get my winter tires installed ... I am beginning to wish that my local garage made house calls ... Everything here is slick with ice and I am not sure whether I will be able to make it up my hill on all seasons.

I took these shots  across the lake while walking Kenya yesterday.

I haven't ventured out any further than the bird and squirrel feeders today.  Busy making pumpkin loaves.  But that appointment is at 1 so I am keeping my fingers crossed that the weather man is right; that the temperature will be up to 10 by then.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

My own form of bee keeping ...

I am off to put the second coat on the chair I am making from a kit.  I haven't painted anything for ages and ages ... teaching got in the way.  But now I am re-structuring my life.  Teaching and enjoying it once a week.  Snowshoeing or hiking or skiing once a week.  Painting, reading, walking Kenya daily ...

Here is something I found for a beekeeping friend.  Hope you like it too. And I hope you all have bees to keep or asparagus to grow ... or babies to hold tight ... whatever you need to help you find your own well of patience and courage ... whatever you need to find peace.

Advice to the Young by Miriam Waddington

Keep bees and
grow asparagus,
watch the tides
and listen to the
wind instead of
the politicians
make up your own
stories and believe
them if you want to
live the good life.
All rituals
are instincts
never fully
trust them but
study to im-
prove biology
with reason.
Digging trenches
for asparagus
is good for the
muscles and
waiting for the
plants to settle
teaches patience
to those who are
usually in too
much of a hurry.
There is morality
in bee-keeping
it teaches how
not to be afraid
of the bee swarm
it teaches how
not to be afraid of
finding new places
and building in them
all over again.

Friday, 19 November 2010

More About Singleness After Sixty

A comment on my last post prompted me to write this one.  Yes ... by all means, go and hug your husband.  You do not want to be out there in the singles' scene at any age ... but after sixty ... you really do not want to be out there trying to find a partner.

The sad reality of being single and lonely when you are older is that it is not too likely that you will find someone you really want to live with even if you haunt every singles site on or off line.

I wrote about the man making his 91st attempt in the last few weeks, but he is not unique.  He may be lonelier and more persistent than most of us, but he is not alone in his failure to find a compatible mate after sixty.

At the singles meet-up I attended last week, most of the people there were very old friends ... some dating back twenty or more years.  Any attempts to get together now would be almost incestuous.

Perhaps even worse was the  recent experience of  a friend of mine.  She joined a singles group ...  and discovered that the entire membership was female.

The saddest thing about it all is that single people who are still looking for love are not allowed to age naturally.  I think I was the only woman at that meet-up last week whose hair was greying naturally.  One woman sported a head of beautifully coiffed brilliant red hair and didn't have a single wrinkle or sag.  She was attractive but she didn't look quite real.   The concerns of the men were a little different, but some of them too were struggling with aging.  If they had been in relationships that had survived over the years or even ones that were still relatively new but established, would these men and women be forced to hang onto youth so fiercely?  Would it still matter whether they were still highly sexed?

Jokes about erectile dysfunction and Viagra and Cialis abound in our world.  But I wonder how it feels to be one of the butts of those jokes ... no pun intended.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with someone about this, and realized that it is really is no laughing matter.  A man loses his sense of who he is when he loses his desire for, or ability to perform, the sexual act.  And he doesn't have to be someone who defines himself by his sexual prowess to feel that way.  It is simply something that has always been part of him, and he misses it in the same way that people miss limbs when they lose them.  No different from how women feel when they lose a breast to cancer, I suspect.  But it is really closer to what a woman would feel if she were forced to undergo genital mutilation.

Erectile dysfunction can destroy marriages.  Even women who say unequivocally that penetrative sex is the least important part of lovemaking have to be affected when they cannot arouse their partners, or when their partners no longer have any interest in initiating sex.  The most generous and loving men may be able to preserve that part of their marriages for a while, but eventually it will become somehow unnatural.  And when sex is no longer part of the relationship, an important lubricant is lost; an important glue disappears.  I suspect a great many marriages have been saved by the ability to kiss and make up.

But it is even worse for singles over sixty.

They find it  much harder to establish a romantic bond if sex is non-existent.  Of course they can establish friendships, but to be honest, friendship is easier with someone of the same sex.  That whole thing about Mars and Venus doesn't simply disappear when a man loses his ability to get or maintain an erection; it is a psychological  difference between men and women, one that has been nurtured from infancy ... especially in people over sixty.  Without any of the excitement of sexual tension, why would most people search out friends of the opposite sex?

Until I began to explore this subject a bit I thought ED was as no more serious, just as fixable as vaginal aridity in women.  It isn't.  Vaginal lubricants are easy to use.  There is no stigma attached to them.  And they are relatively cheap.  Viagra is priced by the dosage and can cost as much as $100 a pill.  Because Viagra and Cialis are drugs taken internally, there are additional problems with possible drug interactions and use must be carefully monitored to get the dosages right.  They will only work if the right conditions are met.

Remember the old days when women had to get everything right in order to use diaphrams?  Remember our medical concerns about the birth control pills?

Well Viagra and Cialis operate something like blood thinners.

Many of the men who need help are also suffering from other health problems like diabetes, heart disease and prostate cancer.  If they take these aids for erectile dysfunction, they are creating a potent drug cocktail.

I guess the saddest thing I learned in all this is that no one really gives a damn. 

If a woman complains of dry vaginal tissues that tear, most people are sympathetic.  She can get help, even prescription help that is covered by her medical plan.  She can talk to other women and learn from their experience.  Younger people may not empathize with aging but they understand vaginal pain, especially if they have borne children.  There are jokes about mood swings in menopause ... but no jokes about painful vaginal sex.

But if a man complains about erectile dysfunction, he is laughed at, avoided or even treated with disdain.  By all kinds of people. The drugs are not covered.  Men who have not suffered the loss themselves are not usually sympathetic.  In fact, since men tend to relate in a competitive way, there may even be a sense of one-up-man-ship.

So ... Most men simply hide the problem.

Until they meet a woman they might want to have a relationship with.  Then what?

I wonder if the complete absence of men in the singles group my friend just joined has anything to do with all this.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Don't get out much ... but when I do ...

Don't get out much, but last night I went to a dinner gathering of older single folk and had a good time in spite of the fact that large groups of strangers intimidate me.  It is not just shyness; it's everything.  It is exactly the opposite of my  peaceful hermitic life here at the lake. For one thing it is noisy, and I find that the ambiant noise created by conversations coming in all around me in stereo makes it difficult to concentrate on the conversation in which I am engaged. 

I went with someone I already knew which made it easier.  He was comfortable with everyone there and introduced me as the hermit from way back and beyond.  That was sufficient information to scare off most of the men, and the women were too busy entertaining men to be  concerned with another women.  Because of the unusual gender balance there were about 3 or 4 men for every woman.

I met a few different men but stuck pretty close to my buddy, and then, when the food arrived, we became a threesome.  The man who joined us was a stand-up comic, better when just interacting in everyday conversation than when he actually gave a staged performance, partly because, in the conversation over dinner, he was dealing with his own strange life.

His main occupation these days was finding himself a mate through every means available to him.  To this end he was meeting or dating 5 days a week.  A full time job. I laughed out loud as he detailed the search.

He told us about the profile he had created.  It was outstanding enough that I had seen it on the dating site and remembered it.  He said, when I told him, that many people read it but not too many contacted him.

This meant that he was forced to become the instigator.  (I had trouble deciding on the right noun.  Somehow, any of the words that mean he became the seeker rather than the sought had strong connotations of stalking.)  And this man seemed not to have a single grain of aggression in him.  He was simply desperate to find love.

So on to the hunt.

First of all there was the winnowing process which he thought he had finally perfected.  It was a numbers game, he said.  He spent many hours researching the site and sending off smiles to every single possibility.  He said at first he had agonized over whether this woman or that was THE woman for him.  He stopped being so picky after sending off several carefully worded personal missives that were ignored completely.   His strategy now rested on the premise that if they were breathing and female they were worth a flirt. .He sent out hundreds of these greetings.

Then came the actual correspondence with the 10% or so who seemed interested in learning more about him.  In the first real communication he sent out his CV.  He reasoned that by doing so, when they actually met, she would already know everything there is to know about him and they could concentrate on what made her interesting.  I questioned the efficacy of this approach.  Seems to me that I'd be wondering whether this was someone interested in me or just another cold call ... another business transaction.  Certainly lacked the human touch.

Emails escalated to phone calls with some, but apparently safe dating practices make phone communication problematic.  Women will not leave call back numbers.  He said it creates an uneven playing field.  I just wondered how he could manage to keep that many strange women straight in his head..  How does one remember their names let alone their interests or the number of children they have?

He discovered that some women are happier sitting in front of a computer screen than actually meeting in the real world.  He quickly dismissed that type. 

About half did agree to meet.

During those initial meetings he said there were three possible outcomes:

    One party will be enchanted by the other and meet with utter disdain, disgust or boredom. 

    Both will be desperately waiting for the mandatory fifteen minutes to elapse. 

    Both will be so caught up in the experience that time will fly. 

He didn't mention the fourth possibility: that one would wait outside the arranged meeting place, see him coming, and vanish.

Most of his experiences had been somewhat negative, but a few women had been downright cruel in their rejection.

Last week he met #91 and fell in love. No, I am not kidding. #91.  I swear.

Well ... maybe not love yet ... but they had a first meeting that was the best possible kind.  They found themselves so interested in each other that three hours sped by and they decided to have dinner the following evening.

#91 was the third or fourth such happy find. She was supposed to meet him at this restaurant last night but had begged off because of an incipient cold.

I do hope that he doesn't have to continue on this treadmill; that there is a happy ending.  I hope that #91 works out and that they will get married and live happily ever after.  If anyone deserves it, this man does.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Movie and Book Reviews

Today I watched Full Metal Jacket ... not exactly uplifting for a November afternoon when it was dark so early and then raining.  But a fine movie.  Vietnam ... the reality show ... one that revealed just who the Americans were who were doing the fighting  ... a whole range of young men from the almost feeble minded to incredibly brutal to intelligent. 

The star, if there was one, was a sensitive thoughtful young man who should have been studying in some ivory tower instead of spewing bullets thousands of miles from home in someone else's senseless war.  On his helmet, crudely lettered, was "Born to Kill" ... and on his lapel, a peace symbol. Said it all.

Yesterday I watched Hannah and Her Sisters.  I expected to hate it.  I have not liked many of the movies Woody Allen has produced and acted in.  I think my dislike goes back a long way to a sex scene that was supposed to be funny, but which inhibited me for a very long time. 

However; I enjoyed Hannah and Her Sisters..

Woody Allen is more likeable in this one ... just as neurotic but redeemed by love here.  And the other characters are more human as well.

I have also started reading Alain de Botton's A Week at the Airport.  He writes well (likely the reason he was chosen by British Airways to spend a week at Heathrow writing about it).  But I found myself wondering just what purpose the book serves.

The organization reflects the realities of the airport ... Approach ... Departures ... Airside ... Arrivals.  Approach is his introduction to the project.  In Departures he takes us from the hotel to landings to luggage retrieval and architectural notes and then gives us vignettes of people: the disappointed traveler, the farewells of two lovers, business travelers, a family on vacation.  This one is the most complex as he explores the family relationships.  This section ends with a description and some musings about the prayer room.  I have just entered the Airside section, and gone through security, and am now in the duty free shopping area of Terminal 5. 

I don't want to dismiss the book before finishing it ... and it is certainly not painful to read. But apart from being a vehicle for the writing of a good travel writer who brings all his international experience to bear on his description of this airport, I am still wondering why he was hired to write the book in the first place.  It reminds me of the kind of exercise all writers indulge in when they are biding their time.  As we put in hours waiting  for planes in airports or meals in restaurants or friends who are late, we all observe and reflect and write copious notes in our travel journals.  It is that kind of book.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A Day for Remembering

Remember us too!  A grey squirrel just came to my den window (yes ... on the second floor) to remind me that I haven't been out to the feeders yet this morning.  He is very bold ... and Kenya could hardly believe her eyes!  Just be patient until I bring out cereal, dried apricots and almonds along with the sunflower seeds.

Remembering New York: I met with my newest students yesterday ... a pleasant lesson ... nice people ... They are travelers so we are spending the first few lessons planning a trip to New York City.  It works out well because Azra, one of the women, is going there in December.  It brought back memories of my only trip to that city.  Memories both good and not so good.  But isn't that the way with most things?

And of course it is Remembrance Day. The last few years I taught, my senior classes studied war literature every fall and then, on November 11, shared with the rest of the school their feelings and ideas.  I don't think a single student emerged from that experience without feeling a profound respect and sadness for the soldiers who gave their lives and limbs in the wars, young men not much older than they were.  But merged with that sympathy  was a repugnance for war.  I experience those same feelings every November 11. 

I don't think that pacifism and respect for those who fonght are contradictory at all. 

And I don't think that feeling sadness for the loss of all those young lives on both sides of a conflict is a sign of disrespect or lack of patriotism.  I am sure that the lives of young Germans and young Japanese were and are as valuable as those of young Canadians; that each of the soldiers who fell left behind people who loved them and unfulfilled possibilities.

A friend recommended Pierre Berton's Vimy, so I have ordered it. May we never experience that kind of wholesale slaughter again.  I doubt if we will ever see an end to war, but let us hope that we have learned that human lives have more worth than we accorded them during the world wars.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

On Writing or The Freedom to Emit Brain Farts

Someone borrowed a number of writing books from me last year and has yet to return them, but has been kind enough to quote advice from one of them: On Writing by Stephen King.

The advice goes something like this:

You take two totally unconnected headlines or news stories and create the plot for a story or novel.

Today's CBC on-line headlines:

Marriages of convenience problems persist

Obama: 'India has emerged'

The melding of these two could lead to a story about massive immigration problems for the Indian sub-continent.  Just imagine all those Indian men being tempted by economic refugee women desperate for a better life.  Imagine the birth rate that could result.  Remember that India has a caste system and no one-child policy to prevent a population explosion.  And what about the social problems caused by the skyrocketing divorce rate.

My father married a woman from Czechoslovakia ... a Hungarian by birth ... who thought he was a rich Canadian.  (He was on an expense account and lonely on his annual three month business trip.)  The marriage lasted a year or so and then they began to split the assets.  She got half the record collection of  Shakepearean plays; he got half the wine glasses they had received for Christmas; she didn't like Shakespeare and he drank only whiskey.  It was not an amicable break-up.

Now try setting that in India in an age of computers.  An American hard hit by the recession meets an Indian man on-line.  They marry as soon as she arrives.  He has cleaned himself up for the occasion, but in real life he is of low caste and living in poverty.  Their honeymoon results in a pregnancy and by the time she learns that he doesn't even own the computer he used to propose, she is trapped on the sub-continent.  No credit card.  No return ticket. Nothing but a worthless American passport.  And no help to be had from her embassy because India has "emerged".

What does she do?
Imagine their conjugal life.
She hates him, the country and her life ... and she especially hates Obama for giving her the news that India had emerged ... until he told her, she had no idea where India was, let alone that it was submerged or encapsulated ...

So how will the story end?
Madness?     Murder?      Infanticide?     Political assassination?    Suicide?

Almost like the last scene of Hamlet which my father's ex-wife probably never managed to discover.

Or maybe you believe in happy endings.  Try to find one here.  She's probably wandering the crowded streets of Delhi among the revered Brahmin cattle, hand outstretched, mumbling, "Where's the beef?" 

The other two headlines contain gems of stories when examined singly.  Whatever might happen if they were combined?

Pope met by gay protesters in Spain
Oops!  They were wrong about him.

Queen Elizabeth joins Facebook
However will she learn to write in disjointed splurts at her age?  Or maybe dementia has already set in and this is her answer to the problem?

And together?

A Facebook correspondence between the two conducted on their walls for all the world to see.  And by god,  they have high speed, so the correspondence could be voluminous.  At least it's not likely to spawn a marriage of convenience or unwanted babies.

... and then there was the article that arrived in my in-box this morning ... all about how laptops are frying testicles ...

Just imagine how that piece of information might make its way into either of these stories.

You can see why I have abandoned my Nanowrimo attempts.

I do wish I had my Stephen King book back though.  I miss it.  Maybe I could get some more ideas to play with.  God knows I need something.

Lazy Weekend

I have done everything possible to avoid writing this weekend.  I hate my Nanowrimo novel attempt this year.  I have decided to stop and simply write short travel pieces instead.

So, how did I manage to procrastinate this weekend?

I read a good bit of Great Maria by Cecilia Holland. It is an historical romance (all history should be written this way) about a woman who lived in France during the era of Christian knights fighting the Saracens.  Maria is the focal point of the novel and is a fully realized character.  We see the woman, the wife and the mother, but we also understand the time and place through her story.  I found the juxtaposition of cruelty and kindness; of harshness and gentleness, of strength and weakness most striking.  All the important characters are very believable partly because Holland shows how these extremes of human nature co-exist in them.  The setting brings out the extremes more clearly than a modern day environment would, but  of course  people today are equally complex and contradictory, just more sophisticated, and therefore better able to mask their true natures.

On Saturday I had the underside of my car oiled. I was delighted to learn that despite the filthiness of the vehicle, the old girl is still pretty rust-free.  Next summer Denis will do a thorough cleaning ... steam and shampoo ... before oiling.

I took Kenya for a long walk while the job was being done.  Hadn't been to that area for a long time.  Lots of memories of walking dogs and kids there.

Kenya and I walked here daily, but the walks have not been as energetic as they usually are, because I have been forced to keep her leashed.  When hunting season ends next weekend, it will be a relief for all of us ... the dogs which must be restricted, the humans who don't dare walk in the woods, and the deer which are constantly being harried.

I unpacked the pieces of a Muskoka chair kit and then wondered whether I really wanted to attempt putting it together or whether I should paint it first.  After checking with a friend who will likely do the actual construction for me, I decided to paint the pieces..  That is how I will avoid writing next week!  It will be good to get back to painting furniture again.

And I watched three movies ...

On Friday it was Coming Home  (the sexiest movie I have ever seen ... one steamy scene in the 2 hours and 19 minutes ... and that between Jon Voight, a man who returned from Vietnam dead from the waist down and the woman he loved played by Jane Fonda..) The other two hours were filled with compassion, empathy, love and laughter. 

On Saturday, I watched The Young Victoria, a very different love story. 

Tonight I watched The Queen, a portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II at the time of Diana's death.  The contrast between Elizabeth and Victoria was remarkable.  Elizabeth was about my age and had been reigning since she was not much older than the young Victoria.. Both women were vulnerable, but Victoria had yet to learn to hide her vulnerability beneath an iron exterior.  Both were bound by the restrictions of rank. Both had prince consorts, but, oh how much more human and humane Albert was than Philip.  Many of the differences  between the two women were the result of  the times and circumstances, I suppose, but also of the disparity in their  ages.  Elizabeth had carried her burden most of her life and her character had been fashioned by her responsibilities and disappointments, whereas Victoria had still to experience life and loss.

I also tidied up my catalogue of films and the actual shelves where they are kept.

And I played a bit with the format of this blog.

I moved the feeders around and established a little centre for the squirrels where I placed pecans.  When I looked out later, the nuthatches, chickadees, and sparrows were darting from the woods to the line and the feeders.  Two grey squirrels and a red squirrel were scrounging around on the ground cleaning up the mess left earlier.  And the table was alive with blue jays.  The nuts had disappeared.

A weekend filled  to the brim with  the mundane  but at least I have extricated myself from a thirty day time waster which was giving me no pleasure or satisfaction at all.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Indoors and Out

More ways to put off getting on with the day ...

Waking up over tea and email on a Saturday morning ...

Coutresy of CBC News

Edmonton police guilty in 'sweatbox' case Two Edmonton police officers were found guilty Friday of insubordination and discreditable conduct in the so-called 'sweatbox' incident, where police rounded up homeless people in a police van to dump them on the other side of the city.

Flesh-eating disease alert for Calgary's homeless Calgary homeless shelters are being told to be on the lookout for anyone with symptoms of flesh-eating disease after two cases surfaced.

Sure wouldn't want to be poor in Alberta!

Kenya chases the squirrels as requested ... but now that I have foiled their attempts to get all the food, and, in the process, destroy the feeders as they leap onto them from chairs and tables, I am feeling sorry for them ... especially for the soft grey one that reminds me of Bambi, the only grey squirrel we fostered.  He comes up and knocks on the window pane ... driving Kenya mad and touching my heart.

Do you get these spam emails with just a few words in the heading?  I like finding them there, especially when my strange brain makes connections among the words.  Today I wrote a silly poem using three that arrived in the night.

a bunch of e's and an f

exuberant     erected     estranged
 all arrived last night

I thought

what about ...

excited    evaluated       elusive   

and later

empathetic         enchanted         engaged
but surely not ...

enigmatic   evasive     enslaved

or ...

edgy    expendable   ejected

maybe ...

enticing   electric   emotional

definitely don't want to be left ...

empty   embittered   exploited  

or for you to be ...

extraneous   extinguished   ephermeral

just want us to find something ...

enduring   eternal

and most of all ...


And now I really have to get on with the serious business of living my life.  There is tidying to be done, a Nanowrimo novel writing session to get through (god it is awful this year), and bird seed to be allocated ... and yes ... peanuts to be strewn.This afternoon I will get my car oiled for winter and then protest the possible loss of the Wakefield spring.  In the middle of the night (I have insomnia) I brought in a Muskoka chair kit I bought three years ago  ... it needs some loving paint strokes and then I will assemble it ... or maybe enlist the help of a friend.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Procrastination by Strawberries

I am having trouble attending to my Nanowrimo duties today.  It has a lot to do with having nothing to write ... or too many possible ideas ...  and being unable to commit to any of them.  In the course of doing some research anmong old novel starts and other writing, I came across this poem written about 5 years ago.

I still like strawberries at 70 by the way.

barbara's strawberries

today i ate
savoring their fresh

heather reminded me
i should be thinking about Wednesday,
poetry and

my unblocking book tells me to face
my inadequacies, my fears,
my fears of inadequacy.
so i am.
the memory
on my tongue of those

thoughts intrude
quite unsuitable to
at my age.

in two months, an old
age pensioner, and
just another high
fibre food.

better than prunes, i suppose:

the birthmarks, are aberrant, but
wrinkled prune faces are
simply ubiquitous.

cast my mind back to the sixties
to other, wilder

bergman's. and
those given to me
by children with stained hands.

so many hours spent picking
enough wild
to make a single jar of jam
a gift of love.

later domesticated
patch in kinburn
baskets and baskets
filled counters, freezers, jam jars,
became my spending money
like hagar's eggs.

ripe then, fecund,
milk leaking from breasts whose
nipples brought joy.

now other things are supposed to
like poems about

clear now, the origin of
the raspberry.
that snort of derision
should have been called
the strawberry.


Nimble:   such an old fashioned word, but exactly right in certain contexts ...

Jack, be nimble ... Jack, be quick.  Jack, jump over the candle stick!

What is the effect on you when you recite this?

It makes me jumpy, unable to concentrate.

In an interview with CBC this morning, a political scientist used the word nimble.   It was in the context of the US constitution having been designed to create gridlock, a situation that forces hot headed political opponents to slow down, discuss, and reach compromises.  He was saying that this might not be such a good thing in today's world of instant communication, a world in which swift decisions are being made by impatient up-and-coming nations like India, China and Brazil.  Our world, the one that always waited for the US behemoth before acting, is changing.  The US president and his Democrats, now that conservative forces have so successfully changed the political scene, may not be nimble enough to make decisions quickly.

In the seventies when I was in university I needed to see something from a personal point of view in order to understand the bigger picture. I needed to imagine how a law would affect me.  I needed to empathize.  It is hard to do that when you are talking about whole nations, about numbers. It is the reason that I made the decision to do my degree in English instead of political science, even though I loved both.

Now I find myself moving in the opposite direction: starting from the concept of a country and going from that to my own small reality.  I too am often immobilized by gridlock.  Sometimes I feel as if I no longer govern my life.  Like the US constitution, my mind is no longer nimble enough to make snap decisions.  And I too live in a world where things move far too quickly.

I don't like being battered by several  demands for my attention.

When I write I do so in silence.

I find too many simultaneous images distracting.  My limit is movie sub-titles and it is hard to knit even then.  If I owned a television I would likely mask the bottom part of the screen so that I would not be distracted by those coloured headlines that scroll beneath the news reportage and film coverage.

I find many websites truly annoying because it is impossible to concentrate my attention.

I am saved from Facebook and Twitter by being forced geographically to endure a dial-up connection.

Our whole world seems to have speeded up and left me behind.

And you know what ...  I don't think it is an improvement over the slower pace that used to prevail. 

Is it really that important to hear something immediately?

Do we need instantaneous reactions or could we wait for thoughtful coverage of world events?

Do teenagers really need to be so connected that they cannot ignore a cell phone or a text message while driving?

I once saw a young Toronto woman answer her calls during a VSO interview day.  Not only was it inconsiderate because VSO works with whole groups of candidates on these days, but it definitely worked against her.  How could someone so dependent on instant communication manage two years of living and working in the low tech world inhabited by VSO volunteers?

And maybe that's part of my discomfort.  Not only do I feel that we need time to reflect in order to make sound decisions and to be healthy human beings, but I think that many people who have no technical know-how at all, just plain, common sense, practical knowledge, are living fuller lives than those of us who are more  connected.  They don't spend a third of their lives in front of a small screen.   They are the people who will survive in a disaster because they know how to live with very little.  They are the people who can manage without electricity and computers.  They can make fires, build shelters, grow and find food ... and write with pens to record the experiences. 

They are the people who will create communities because they already know how to interact with real people in real time in real places.

And maybe all this is simply the foolish rambling of a seventy year old woman who has chosen a much slower life style and who complains but really prefers the speed of dial-up, the challenges of power outages and the enforced isolation of snow blocked roads.  Maybe it is simply the squeaking of an old.country mouse who  who lives more reflectively now that she is less nimble.