Top of Mind 2020

1. Privilege  Educate yourself about what the term privilege means and how it’s bigger than you, yourself and oh yeah, you again.

2. Gender Pronouns

If you don’t already know, discover why personal pronouns matter and what it means to not just be okay with them but how respect for others is inherent in using them.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iKHjl5xAaA

 3. United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf

 4. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Final Report: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/

5. The #Me Too Movement in Canada

6. Climate and Earth

7.  The Sustainable Way

The Levee, the Westie and the Lieutenant Governor of BC

Having had the most uneventful New Year’s Eve on the planet, in bed by 10 p.m., I sprung out of bed on the first day of the New Year at about 6:30 a.m., a typical time for me. Well, you know what they say about consistency and routine and sleep! I’m on it.

I wanted to partake in something I’d heard about the year before which was the New Year’s Day Levee hosted at Government House with the Lieutenant Governor, Janet Austin, in attendance.  

The word levee (from French, noun use of infinitive lever, “rising”, from Latin lev?re, “to raise”) originated in the levée du soleil (rising of the sun) of King Louis XIV (1643–1715). … It was in Canada that the levee became associated with New Year’s Day.

I didn’t know what was going to happen at this levee but I was looking to get some exercise and the 45 minute walk from James Bay to Government House fit the bill. It was a beautiful morning and the streets and Beacon Hill Park weren’t completely empty but they were silent. Just the odd dog walker and photographer there the way early mornings are on a holiday.

The event started at 10 a.m. with advisement to go early.  By the time I walked through the gates of Government House, I had it in my head that surely I would be one of the first to arrive. As the house came into view I saw a huge line of people, two by two and three by three, including one of my coworkers and his partner, standing in a snake of a bloody long line that wound around the front of the old regal place right on up onto the red carpeted entrance. I couldn’t believe it. I got in line behind two women who either said they’d come every single year or hadn’t ever been in spite of having lived in Victoria most of their adult lives. One of them was the President of the Victoria Bluegrass Society.

We eventually stepped over the threshold in a consistently moving line and were directed down the red carpeted stairs into the basement, past the Susan Point prints that flanked each side of the staircase, past the official necklace on display, past a billiards and games room, snaking back around on the other side of the hall. Then  back upstairs and through the main entryway again, past the collection box to drop a donation into for The Cridge Centre for the Family and eventually past an attractive police officer who appeared to be high ranking, for all I know he may have been the Chief of Police for Victoria.

Next there was another man dripping with medals who asked my name and proceeded to repeat my name to the Lieutenant Governor by way of formal introduction who proceeded to wish me a happy new year as I did to her as she shook my hand.

When I woke up that morning, having no idea what I was about to partake in, focused mainly on getting some exercise, I threw on my sweat pants, was still wearing the T-shirt I’d slept in the night before under my Gore-Tex jacket and laced up my MEC lace-up boots.

I wasn’t anticipating being up close and personal with a government dignitary, The Honourable Janet Austin, before 10:30 am on New Year’s Day. That poor woman! She had to shake more than, and I’m guessing here, 500 hands first thing on Near Year’s Day and one can only imagine the names that came at her, forcing her to attempt them or just let them slide by, the number of syllables so many, no point in even trying, a smile and a greeting having to suffice.

After that, we entered a gracious wooden room, grand staircases sweeping up to the landings on either side that ran the full length. I could hear a military band playing but couldn’t see where the music was coming from. I looked up and more uniforms with instruments were crammed into the very front of the second floor, like the prow on a ship, the light from the big windows gleaming off their shiny bits. I felt like I was on the Titanic.

There was a grandiose feeling of anticipation. More and more people were streaming in. The sound of bagpipes were wafting in from some distant part of the building. There were tables lined with cups (Styrofoam I might add. Change that for next year if you please!). The right side of the table was set out with alcoholic punch and the left, non-alcoholic, the Styrofoam cups filled and ready for the taking.

Further on there was another busy table with little bags being set out like gifts, and staff replenishing the bags as people took them. Inside the bag was a small bite-sized quiche tart, a shortbread, a chocolate chip cookie and a tiny croissant. Tasty! Thank you very much.

I wandered around taking in the scene, feeling like a true Settler, like I’d stepped onto some movie set of some soiree of colonial re-enactment.

I made my way up to the second balcony on the opposite side of the room and soon enough, the pipe band was being introduced and marched towards the front of the room, the whirring of the pom poms on the drums, and later, my co-worker describing the antics of one of the drummers who was throwing his sticks in the air as confident and proud as the majorettes at the front of the marching bands in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl Parade.

An elderly woman beside me, in great shape, stood to attention as soon as the pipes and drums sounded  and she began to mimic with her hands as if she were playing her own imaginary drums. I got close and spoke loudly to ask her, “Did you used to play?”

In a voice that could have been Robin Williams’ accent in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, she said, “Oh, dear, I’m from Glasgow, the old country. As soon as I hear the pipes, the wee hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. I once played the Calgary Stampede. That parade was 4 hours long, wandering through those streets. It was so hot. My name is Iona, like the island.”

The Lieutenant Governor was finally piped in and her little dog, a white westie (West Highland white terrier) whose name I couldn’t hear when she introduced it, led her proudly on his red leash. She said some humorous things about everyone being there for the dog. She introduced the elder. She gave a nice speech to greet the New Year and introduced an interesting new initiative focused on conversations about democracy at a time, she said, when we are seeing too often how fragile democracy can be, more fragile than expected, even in the places we never imagined it would seem threatened and to watch out for ways to participate or host such conversations.

Near the end of the event, the band in the balcony played a short version of a song. I wondered why it sounded so familiar. When I asked someone I knew who was there, he said, “It’s Auld Lang Syne, Gayle! Maybe you don’t recognize it because usually you’d hear it after you’ve had 7 or more drinks by then,” referring to the time of night it usually gets played on New Year’s Eve, not to my drinking patterns. I laughed a lot at that witty response.

I was intending to spend maybe 30 minutes at the levee that morning, but greeted by such a unique spectacle, such pomp and circumstance and feelings of community, I couldn’t pull myself away.  Next year, I’ll be sure to dress for the occasion.

Happy New Year!

A guided meditation to mark the beginning of 2020

The turning of one year to the next has always been a time of quiet contemplation for me. Given a choice, I would always choose an intimate gathering over a party with a lot of people, most of them strangers.

Of all the New Years I’ve lived, only a relative few seem all that memorable. Way back, as a pre-teen, I recall a big house party with the excitement of all the preparations that entails. The moving of furniture, the choosing and purchasing of food and drink. So many people of all generations, relatives and friends mingling in our big old house. There were party hats and food and noisemakers and music and dancing and even a champagne cork exclaiming the significance of the evening by popping with such force, hitting one of my older sister’s boobs. Ouch!

Or that time at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver after the shout outs of Happy New Year and the kisses for those who had a special someone then, after the clock struck midnight, the excitement of being part of a huge conga line, ushering in the new millennium, 2000, with frenzied exuberance that had no intention of going quietly into that special night.

On Salt Spring at Fulford Hall and a terrific live band as one would expect with community members packed onto the dance floor. The volunteers busy in the kitchen or taking drink tickets as I watched with amusement (and a little bit of horror) as someone I know enjoyed happy sips from as many drinks as she could get her hands on, left on tables by those who were oblivious on the dance floor.

Being in that small church in the West End, where we’d walk the labyrinth as one does to mark transitions. And that one time when a man playing the didgeridoo off to the side, saw a father pushing his young son in a wheelchair and he’d instinctively walked over and pointed the sounds towards the place on the person’s body that he intuitively believed made sense – between the shoulders or the heart centre. Walking behind that father, I could feel the relief fall off him, maybe because somebody had felt his burden or felt his joy, or both, a part not apart.

The best of my new year’s memories such a long time ago now at Carol and Butch’s floating home on the Fraser River with my beloved in that packed little house. Towards the end of that evening, a belting out of the words of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as the tugs blew their horns, the sounds reverberating out and back from the shore, and his arms wrapped tightly around me. There is indeed something to be said for shared commemorating.

No matter how you like to acknowledge the passing of one year to the next, it’s always good to set intentions. Even if you’ve never lived on Salt Spring, meditated, done yoga and couldn’t bring yourself to say “ohm” without choking, at the end of this post is a really nice 20 minutes of relaxation.

You could choose to listen to it as a way to acknowledge the end of the last day of 2019 and your hopeful expectations for 2020.

Yes, it’s an artificial marking of time, but I think it is important to prepare with right intention for the blessings you hope to create as you mark the passing of one year to the next, and let go of all and any sorrow you really need to let go of knowing how short life is.

Why not take that time now and listen to this beautiful, calming 20 minutes?

Christmas morning, 1960s, New Westminster

Tossing and turning, you lying top bunk, me down below

in our maple bunk beds in that small room of Robin’s egg blue

with the closet that I used to imagine dark

and crowded with monsters

after we’d waited, all night,

surely long enough,

time to get up.

We’d fling back the covers,

our first slip of toes on cold linoleum

and creep past mum and dad’s room

knowing to avoid the stairs that creaked.

As stealthy as robbers at midnight,

down to the first landing, then the next

and finally, that bottom step, and freedom.

Our excitement carried us like apparitions in the dawn towards the large living room

only awe slowing our tracks, and

all those shiny boxes, rearranged overnight

under the tree seemed to have grown,

like the snowbanks outside.

Santa was real after all.

He’d been true to his word.

Our neighbour, Mr. Jack, had been wrong,

Christmas hadn’t been cancelled like he’d teased us it had been leading up to the big day.

We’d tip toe to the adjoining dining room

a beautiful black iron fireplace, and brown

beams on the ceilings, and

turn to the family of felted stockings hanging from the white wooden mantle in front of that emerald green tiled hearth.

Your stocking red, mine green,

or was it the other way around?

We’d gingerly carry our treasures to that plush green velvet window seat

our skinny arms plunged in up to our crooked elbows,

spidery fingers digging into the tippy toe of the foot,

making sure we weren’t missing the smallest trinkets.

Always a mandarin, a candy cane, a chocolate of some sort

if my memory serves me correctly, and it may not.

A few other small things as well,

maybe a plastic pink mirror, a yo-yo, a small puzzle, a hot wheels for you.

We’d compare.

I recall few words,

whispery breath between

you and me, twin brother of mine,

until the light, a stronger grey, streamed in to announce the respectable side of morning.

Then mom and dad awake, down the stairs, in bathrobes, excited to relive our finds.

The kitchen table in the next room set from the night before.

Turkey talk, time and temperature and when to shove in the oven, and coffee, orange juice for us.

Then “the twins” – Joy and June, and finally Heather, always the last one down,

would join in for breakfast and

what I remember, most of all,

is that we’d be happier than we usually got around that table,

happier than we knew we were then.

The tone of coffee, the taste of eggs and bacon comfort

no walking on eggshells or wondering what might come next

like so many other times,

but not this day,

a shift in energy,

a relief,

the auspiciousness of togetherness.

Blessings

on that 25th day

of the 12th month

in the 1960s

on the corner of Hamilton and 8th streets

in New Westminster, B.C.

The 24 days of Christmas in Victoria

On the first day of Christmas in Victoria, I bought myself a treat: A chocolate, candy cane paddy from Rogers Chocolates, and popped it in my mouth.

On the second day of Christmas in Victoria, I strolled through James Bay without gloves, and followed my favourite route to Dallas Road, not a snow drop to be found.

On the third day of Christmas in Victoria, I joined the crowds and witnessed the strange spectacle of the IOEA Truck light convoy and food drive.

On the fourth day of Christmas in Victoria, I borrowed my neighbour’s dog, and dragged her for a photo with Santa on Cook Street outside that place called PAWS.

On the fifth day of Christmas in Victoria, I peered like a friendly giant into all the Gingerbread houses in the lobby of the Parkside Hotel, and wondered how many hours those wee abodes did take to make.

On the sixth day of Christmas in Victoria, I went to the reading of A Christmas Carol at First United Metropolitan and heard Bob McDonald, Shelagh Rogers, Sheryl MacKay and other CBC types read that ancient tale.

On the seventh day of Christmas in Victoria, I snagged a ticket to Charlie Brown’s Jazzy Christmas at Hermann’s and reveled in how great tunes really do make the holidays.

On the 8th day of Christmas in Victoria, I drove out to Butchart Gardens at dusk, delighting in the winter version of that famous garden, shining as bright as the star of Bethlehem, in the glory of all those lights.

On the 9th day of Christmas in Victoria, I walked past the sailboats all lit up in the harbour, and took myself for a prosecco at The Empress bar, before wandering upstairs to admire what magical villages the pastry chef’s had created for this year.

On the 10th day of Christmas in Victoria, I took myself to the Salvation Army’s Hope in the City Luncheon to hear Janet Austin, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and to help those less fortunate than I.

On the 11th day of Christmas in Victoria, I wandered around the Bay Centre, to admire all the Christmas trees from all of the Victoria businesses and popped in for some Christmas Blend Tea at Murchies.

On the 12th day of Christmas in Victoria, I sang out of tune with the Vox Hermana Chamber Choir as the Victoria Symphony Orchestra conductor told really cheesy Christmas jokes that eve.

On the 13th day of Christmas in Victoria, I made the Border Paella from the Rebar cookbook then donned an Ugly, T-shirt that said Santa, I can explain… I put a flashing dollar store necklace around my head and carried my Paella to a place across from Emily’s Carr’s family home to join my book club to discuss Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster, and to eat and be merry.

On the 14th day of Christmas I Victoria, I unwrapped my octopi and my squid and my starfish ornaments, and hung them from the mirror of that antique oak shaving stand in my living room that used to belong to my parents.

On the 15th day of Christmas in Victoria, I visited a neighbour, who showed me how he makes his golden elixir of homemade almond milk with six tablespoons of turmeric dumped in, how beets fermenting in vinegar will seal themselves, and perfect fragrant buds of THC, stashed like mini felted green ornaments in a jar.

On the 16th day of Christmas in Victoria, I peeled potatoes for the Salvation Army, so all those on the streets who’ve migrated as far west as they could get in the country, could share in a bit of the yuletide festivities through a hot meal.

On the 20th day of Christmas in Victoria, I wandered down to Centennial Square, to take in the delayed Lights of Wonder light display, finally, something that’s free.

On the 21st day of Christmas in Victoria, I sat myself down at Il Sauvage, for a pint of their delicious Raspberry Golden Sour, my fav, a well-deserved treat, not a partridge in a pear tree to be seen.

On the 22nd day of Christmas in Victoria, I took an old Victoria Walking Tour: https://downtownvictoria.ca/event/christmas-in-old-victoria-historical-walking-tour/2019-12-01/

On the 23rd day of Christmas in Victoria, I dropped by the Legacy Gallery because I was up to here with Christmas festivities: https://events.uvic.ca/view/event/date/20191221/event_id/42735

On the 24th day of Christmas in Victoria, I went to the liquor store, like any self-respecting person you’d want to be friends with would, and I stocked up on Sambuca, Baileys, Irish cream, Kahlua, Prosecco and wine so I could be supremely self-medicated to get through the next week.

PS: The events here may or may not have happened on the dates listed, or at all.

Whatever you do don’t stand still

Lately, and I guess it’s totally related to aging, its becoming a little too clear to me that we really are all just lined up like airplanes on a runway waiting for take-off, except we have these invisible expiry dates stamped onto each one of us and we don’t find out our own Best Before date until it’s game over. Thank you ma’am. Boom. Done. Next.

I know what you’re thinking. Oh oh. This is a tad morbid. 

Lately too many people I have known are flying off into the big airport waiting room in the sky. They’re like missing luggage from United Airlines. It’s never coming back. And that is causing me an existential crisis that’s actually a little more disturbing than all the other crises I’ve already overcome in the past 20 years.  

Clawing my way back from depressions? Been there. Done that. Overcoming heartbreak as a result of bad choices in men? Ack. Whatever! Unemployment? But would you look at all that free time I had?

Now that I’m older and wiser, I actually find it amusing when people refer to a mid-life crisis, as if there is just a single crisis and once you get that baby under your belt you’re home free. Not true.

The mid-life crisis is like the beginning of the Bible. One crisis begets another crisis begets another crisis and so on and so forth until the ultimate end of life crisis. That’s how it feels to me these days.

My crises right now, at least, are a little less drama filled than in the past. No sex, drugs or rock and roll. In this phase of the crises, which is a total drag for sure because it’s so boring, albeit easier on the mental health and the blood pressure.

Maybe because of my birth order as youngest in a family of people who were a lot older, or because I’ve always befriended people that are older than me, aging is constantly on my mind these days. It’s like a third character shadowing my monologue.

I can no longer make any decisions without thinking about the fact that I have X number of years, barring early onset dementia, to work at a “real” job, before I have to give up that real job and become a greeter at Walmart for which I’d surely last maybe half a day before being fired.

I try to think of the kinds of jobs I might do, when I have to give up my “real” job, and it’s as if I have no useful skills at all. I’m like one of those people who can’t use common sense to get around the corner to the 7-Eleven because their GPS has led them astray even though they’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 35 years.

I used to quit jobs I didn’t like on a dime and worry about it later. And in a blink of an eye, over the last 10 years, later IS now. So, even if I don’t like the job, I could quit, like my younger self surely would right this second,  except experience has taught me that impulsivity can lead to even bigger crises.

As a result, the ugly reality of aging is beginning to turn me into the kind of person I used to disdain. That is, the kind of person, who at 30 years old is factoring pension into any equation. In my former world, if you were thinking about your pension at 30, you were leading the kind of life that surely must have made it feel as if you’d already died before you were dead. I had nothing to say to you.

Trying to make decisions along the time versus longevity continuum is like one of those mathematical word problems in Grade 3 I could never solve correctly and would now  have a totally different twist. 

My new mathematical word problem would go something like… If you get to be 60 years old and you don’t have cancer and you quit your job to go to the Ashram in India where you could theoretically live out your days working harder than you’ve ever worked doing some form of selfless service, how many fewer regrets might you have? Answer _____!

If you sold everything you owned and bought an RV and just drove in the direction of a hot beach, stopping on a whim, would you really be happier? Freedom being just another word and all that…  Wherever you go, there you be.

Except, that statement isn’t totally accurate because sometimes wherever you go, if it’s the right place, really shakes things up and changes life for the better. Of course, leaving can do the exact opposite as well. 

We’re supposed to live in the moment. Be present. Breathe. And that sounds good except when you begin to wonder what happens if your choices based on living in the moment mean you’ll be lining up at the food bank in 10 years? What then?

Does life really work that way? You might not even be here in 10 months. And then all the decisions you never made, the adventure you opted not to take, means you didn’t meet the love of your life or end up, through a detour, doing the best thing you’ll ever do, meeting your tribe or having experiences that create the kinds of memories that will overflow from your heart and fill it up until your very last sentient breath.

When I worked in Computer Science at UBC, I recall interviewing a prof whose research revolved around something called game theory or decision theory or something like that. I remember I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. I still can’t. It was like having a fortune teller in a machine except smarter.

You mean I can put all my questions into a computer with a special fairy godmother algorithm and have it spit out my next course of action knowing that something way more logical than me has done a risk assessment for me and then it has decided I should head that way? Over there. Keep going. A little to the left. Don’t look back. Don’t look too far ahead. And whatever you do, read my lips, definitely don’t stand still.

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.