Point Roberts day tripping leads to tiny adventure

On a somewhat regular basis I get an almost bubbling up of a need to get out and about. I want to go somewhere different, see new things or go back to places I’ve seen but I haven’t seen for quite some time.  More often than not, a whim hits me and I find myself headed out, alone, to seize the day, just wander, my camera in tow.

Now I know many people would find this unappealing. They wouldn’t have any desire to do such a thing on their own.

I’d been thinking about Point Roberts for a while. It’s a place I used to go many years ago with a friend on a semi-regular basis, especially on beautiful weekends in August. We’d drive across the border, unload our bikes and ride a regular route past the golf course, to the lighthouse park on the ocean, then on to the marina, and farther along to that great little South Beach enclave down Crystal Beach Road. There’s a bench there with two flags painted across the back — a maple leaf and the stars and strips. Or there used to be.

We’d linger a while on a beautiful summer day under the reach of a lone Arbutus growing almost horizontally out from the cliff and we’d eat our snacks. We’d jump back on the bikes and head down the big hill to Boundary Bay, meandering along the beach and then finally head back up the ginormous hill, weaving across the road back and forth, all our effort required to not have to push our bikes up the hill, jubilant if we reached the top intact.

We’d usually stop at the end of the day for a drink at the little place with the great patio called Brewsters.

Now, perhaps the idea of a middle aged woman just wandering and not having a specific reason to be going anywhere, especially in this day and age where every minute of the day is prescribed with deadlines and activities and usefulness extraordinaire is just too strange for border guards. Maybe it was the fact that I was alone and when they peeked into my passport it showed that I’d been to Thailand and Cambodia a few years back. Maybe it was just completely random. I got handed a gold sheet that had the letters NNS written on it and was told to report inside. I got asked a few questions, the border guard typing madly as I answered. I’d love to know what he was putting in there. “Needs to dress better.” “Looks like a hippy”. “Crazy chic on a walkabout?” Whatever.

He wanted to know when I had last been to the U.S. He wanted to know what I did for a living. Good question, I thought. “Was I picking up a package?”  I answered them all with appropriate humbleness all the while wondering, if I was up to no good, why couldn’t I just pick a package up in Canada? I’m so innocent in matters of criminality that I can’t even figure out how it works.  Would I stand on the shoreline while someone in a boat threw me a package? Crazy! Least likely person to be up to no good. Put that in your computer.

colddayAnyway, with my passport handed back, I wandered a bit down at the beach. It was cold. I decided to check out Brewsters. I was seated beside a couple and the wife immediately started to talk to me.

Turns out they’d been high school sweethearts in Whittier California (they’d met at a youth center and he had to dump his girlfriend at the time AND he still felt bad about that). Imagine. He still felt bad. Fifty years later. That part was the most amazing to me.

They now reside in Bellevue,Washington. They are selling the place they’ve owned in Point Roberts for 10 years. He has a heart condition and at some point had to be airlifted back to Bellingham. I learned there is such a thing called helicopter insurance in case you’re in need of a helicopter to airlift you quickly to a hospital. I wonder if they have that in Canada.bluedoor

We chatted throughout lunch and she invited me back to see her garden. Of course, I took her up on the offer and got the full tour, including of the house. I learned they make garden ornaments from old china they collect and that they sell those in the summer at the Point Roberts Market, vendors totaling about five. I learned she’s a thrift store, garage sale aficionado.beeplate

Because they are selling their place – two bathrooms, three bedrooms – for $169,000 (US) she has begun putting prices on all the stuff she wants to unload in preparation for a big garage sale.  And as we toured the house, I came across this beautiful little oak dresser with a swivel mirror and instantly fell in love. She has put my name on it. dresserIn the meantime, does anyone want to buy  a pre-fab house in Point Roberts that’s in great shape? If not, perhaps you have $899,000 Canadian to purchase the waterfront property of their neighbors, Canadians who live in Tsawwassen, but who are selling their 10 acres on Pender Island.

It was the kind of day I love. I ventured out on my own feeling a little melancholy and in the venturing, I managed to find myself a little close-to-home adventure and that was exactly what I was hoping for.

PS: I didn’t feel like I wanted to ask them for a photo, so that’s why there isn’t one.

Just being should be enough

MarjorieOn a quick trip to Salt Spring this past weekend, I visited my friend Marjorie. She will turn 93 on April 16th.

She is as mentally sharp, if not sharper, than anyone you’d ever hope to meet. Give her a once over and she looks fantastic, years younger than she is.

Most people, however, will not discover her humour or how quick she truly is, mentally, if they didn’t already know it, because her greatest challenge is that she has lost her hearing. The result is difficulty communicating with others and a great sense of isolation. Even with a hearing aid which, apparently, brings its own problems.

It doesn’t help that she is in fact isolated because she lives on a rural property. One of her sons lives on the grounds. It’s a property that was owned by her parents and that she moved to upon her late husband’s retirement in the 1970’s. I can’t say for sure, but I sense that she wouldn’t have wanted to move elsewhere, even on island. Her home is her home. Nature is her company. Until recently, so was her cat Duchess. She has a cleaner who has become a friend who comes once a week. Another son visits from Victoria often. Her daughter comes when she can from Alberta as well as grandsons and great grandchildren.

I have always been around older people. My parents were 39 and 43 years older than me when I was born. My sisters were 11 and 14 years older. In my forties, I watched my parents’ aging and then, and it seemed to happen quickly, they were gone. But, in fact, it didn’t happen that quickly because, relatively speaking, they lived long lives. My mother lived to 84, my father to 93.  Somehow, especially with my father who remained healthy for so long, long never seems long enough.

Aging is challenging in so many ways. Hearing loss is just one of them. But what isn’t always apparent is that when you lose your hearing, even if you’re wearing hearing aids, it’s challenging to participate in conversations. People can’t be bothered. They have to repeat themselves. They hate repeating themselves. They don’t want to yell. Maybe they feel embarrassed.MarjorieatHarbourHouse

In the car driving home, Marjorie claimed that it may actually be easier to be blind than deaf because if you’re blind, people will know it, they’ll help you, they’ll feel sorry for you. Not that THAT’S a piece of cake. I’m sure she wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I saw for myself what happens when she tried to explain that she was hard of hearing. Having to say it immediately shuts down conversation with most people who don’t know how to respond. They’re embarrassed to shout back. They’re shy to take the time to find a way to communicate. They can’t be bothered.

If you’re deaf, there are no signs. You look perfectly fine. Nobody knows you’re deaf until they try to speak to you.

On Sunday, we went to two galleries and when I engaged in conversation, she couldn’t hear what was being said between me and the other person that I was speaking with so she just kept looking.  She was on the outside. And in our society, getting old and being on the outside is the norm. I was guilty, I suppose, of not trying to ensure that she was included to a greater extent.

In a world where productivity and materialism are the Holy Grail, people who are not producing or consuming in large quantities are no longer seen as valuable. It no longer seems enough just to be. But actually it is.  Because your being is your only authentic wealth, your legacy.

It’s not necessarily easy to be the kind of person who recognizes this and looks for it – in the wonder of children, in the other of homelessness, in the wisdom of the elderly, in animals, in plants and flowers and in natural beauty and sounds.

Diverse/City exhibit at Anvil Centre

DiverseCity posterThis is the poster for the community art exhibit I’m involved in with the opening night set for April 15th, 5-7pm, at Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

From a 200 word excerpt (185 words in my case) taken from a much longer story that I wrote,  visual artist Eryne Bea Donahue dove into the project, interpreting and conceptualizing my words through visual art.

I was allowed a preview, not the completed piece, and Eryne has created a very interesting interpretation that in the process of her conceptualizing, creating, and producing the art, touches upon the diversity of spaces – geographical, physical, psychological – that run through my longer story, a 2,500 word piece of narrative non fiction.

Looks like there are nine written pieces accompanied by nine visual art conceptualizations.

Consider this your invitation: Anvil Centre. April 15th, 2016. Everyone welcome! 5-7 pm. And afterwards, there’s always that fabulous new Mexican place down the street, El Santo, to go for a drink.

Check out the blog post I wrote after I first met Eryne.

Writing desk as home

mydeskThis is my desk.

A lot of famous writers or published authors have taken to showing where they work. I’m positive they clean it up and manipulate it. I didn’t even bother to dust.  I wanted to give you the authentic experience. Oh the glory!

Of course, I’m neither famous nor published (at least not in book form), but as a tip of my hat to all writers who spend hour upon hour alone with their thoughts, music or not playing on a DVD, and engrossed in a story they want to tell, I pay tribute to you, my friends. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re published or not. I have a small sense of what’s in your hearts and how much of yourselves go into what you’re creating out of nothing but your memories and your imaginations. You are the experience. The experience is you.

I have a relationship with this space that’s as every bit as real to me as those I have with people in the flesh. Even though in the past four years, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve spent way too much time here in this five foot rectangle. I’m not denying that being out in the world, interacting with people, seeing places near and far is a good way to live and explore. It’s the best! But there is a world so rich and so deep inside that Dr. Seuss got it right even when he didn’t mean for the expression to encompass what I’m talking about: Oh the places you’ll go! The people you’ll meet! Even inside your own head. ha ha.

Like most people, the things I’ve chosen to have around me hold meaning.

Clay mask

I have this weird mask that I bought in a small art gallery called Marigold Arts on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was made by Allan R. Bass. I spent more money on it than I’ve ever spent on a piece of art. The pamphlet that came with the piece says he “developed a style of firing that combines Raku and Pit-firing techniques to achieve an Ancient yet contemporary expression.” He lives in a Kiva-styled pit house in rural New Mexico. In other words, he’s my kind of guy! But I bought the mask because it was just so different than anything I’d seen.claymaskArbutus Tree

I took this photo of an Arbutus tree on Salt Spring, of course, on a visit in 2007 with my friend Lisa Wolfe. She was recovering from an operation and still chose to come camping with me. I was being interviewed for a job at the Driftwood which I didn’t get. Gotta love rugged women! I just loved the patterns and the green bark. This tree is in a special place in Ruckle Park that I go to where few people ever are, and it takes me back to so many times of happiness and peace. The first time I ever saw it was with Will Gerlach whom I am eternally grateful to for introducing me to Salt Spring.

arbutustree

Buddhist Temple

In 1987 or 1988, I went to San Francisco with a friend named Pam Melnyk. She was a quintessential hippy, a few years older than me. Pam had been to San Francisco many times and was the perfect person to travel with, especially for me a newbie to the city. We stayed at a hotel in Union Square. She took me through Haight Ashbury and because she was such a music buff, I got the whole history. At the end of a most memorable few days we got bumped from the plane and got paid to stay. We were so HAPPY you would have thought we’d won Lotto max. One more day! This Buddhist temple was at the end of a fantastic walking tour of China town and it was high up in a building that overlooked the financial district. I still recall the experience of lighting those incense sticks.sanfranbuddisttempleElephant

I have a little gold elephant in front of me bought by my dear friend Colleen Eaton on her trip to India. She has a fantastical story about getting on the back of a motorcycle to go back to this shop to have these little prints framed. I love elephants and elephants with trunks up are lucky. Did you know that? Never buy an elephant print if the trunk isn’t up!

elephant

Ruckle House

Below elephant is Ruckle house. This photo taken by a very dear friend Tom James while I lived on Salt Spring. I just love the reflection through the window and the photo of original Henry Ruckle with his wife and baby. I have peered into this window so many times, a ritual whenever I visit Ruckle farm, and it never changes. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. There aren’t many places or things you can say that about and that really appeals to me.

Ruckleportrait

BC Women Artists

A poster I purchased at the Art Gallery of Victoria on a week-long trip to Victoria in 1986. I used to look at this poster and wonder about it, not really understanding the second to last shape. Now that I am that shape, I get it. Damn! I have always loved this poster. There is something profound in those five shapes representing the five phases of women which is its title. By the late Victoria artist Margaret Peterson.

MargaretPeterson

Paper weight

A paperweight with raspberry’s inside. Takes me back to a simpler time, a time in the country. I imagine this lying on a half-finished quilt in a small house with a wood stove and I just love it. A Value Village find.

paperweightIdog

Hey, it can get lonely here. Sometimes as a distraction I press the nose of my little yellow Idog and he shakes his head and barks. Often he’ll be silent and then out of the blue he’ll let out some robotic yelp and scare the hell out of me. Bad dog! Unpredictable! He wants attention but he’s so much less fuss than a real dog, if not quite as unconditionally loving. idogPhotos

A picture of Colleen and I on a trip to Salt Spring way back in 2001 to visit her sister who owns a house there in Vesuvius Bay. A particularly nice weekend.

colleenandme

A saying

Whenever there is a problem repeat over and over. “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.” A gift from Colleen, probably at a time when I wasn’t feeling very good.

newagesaying

Another card, hidden behind the one above. A card from Catherine Bennington, a woman I shared a workspace with at UBC in the basement of the David Lam building when I worked at UBC Multimedia Studies between 1995 and 1999 and she worked for Teaching and Academic Growth. She still works there. We’re Facebook friends and I know she would probably be amazed that I still have this card. But it was perfection and she captured what really matters to me in this simple handmade card. Thank you Catherine.catherinecardThere’s also a photo of the house I grew up in on Hamilton Street at Canada Way across from Moody Park in New Westminster that was ripped down in 1980 to make way for condos after my parents sold and moved to Langley. mavorhouse

A photo taken by me inside the old barn at Burgoyne Bay.  I love the colours of the wood and the beautiful vines across the window. I used to go there on my own with my camera and the enjoyment I got from that old run down place is impossible to describe or perhaps even understand. The sound of the starlings. The aroma of the grass in summer. Those moments are embedded inside of me and this photo helps to remind me of how special my time on Salt Spring was; how much contentment. It almost makes me cry now thinking of it.DSC_0746

I could go on but this is already way too long. Suffice it to say that our things are special to us. And this tiny space, my desk, so easily dismantled, is also a reminder of how little is truly required to feel at home when the richness of life inside of us is equal to that all around in the world.

Maybe you’d like to tell me about your writing space. Or show me.

Online learning knows no boundaries

“The best poetic moments are moments when you’re allowed to reside in the moment without looking to the future,” – Jonathan Bates, University of Warwick.

In the past year I’ve learned, firsthand, the value of online education.

It started out when I took a course in Developmental Psychology for credit through Athabasca University. In spite of my initial resistance to doing an online course, I found it a much more enjoyable way to learn than being stuck in a lecture hall, hearing just one human, blah, blah, blah ad nausea and surrounded by others who, of varying degrees, may or may not want to be in the course.

In the Athabasca online course there were pretests and post tests and challenges and study tips and it was a much more interactive and focused experience than I expected it to be and it resulted, for me, in what seemed like greater retention of the subject matter than is typical for me.

More recently I completed a four week online course about PTSD in U.S. Veterans and how to interact with them and their families. It was called Mental Health Care for Family Members of Post 9/11 Veterans: Practical Approaches to Addressing the Impact of the Invisible Wounds of War on Families.

It was offered through the Massachusetts General Hospital and directed mainly at therapists and mental health professionals. Registering as a student, they let me in and it was free.  There were role-playing therapy exercises that were videotaped that used experienced therapists doing therapy with volunteer actors and volunteer military family members to demonstrate interventions. They highlighted the intergenerational model, how to manage substance abuse and communication methods using the CRAFT model,  as well as educating around the DSM V definition of PTSD including symptoms to ask about and be aware of. The videotaped sessions, and then a roundtable of case exploration at the end was so fantastic in terms of giving insight into key factors to be aware of in working with many of the common problems that arise in this specific population. But would be transferrable to others.

More recently, I saw a course offered through the University of Warwick and a portal called FutureLearn.com about Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Well Being. In this recent course, very well-known personalities, Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellan, along with university professors discuss the impact of literature, poetry specifically, on stress reduction and mindfulness. It’s wonderful to hear and see others, especially an actor of McKellan’s quality, read a poem aloud beside the river Thames in keeping with the lines in the Wordsworth Poem, ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge.’

When I read this poem below, it was my favourite of the bunch. By the late W.H. Davies, a welsh poet.

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

The discussion boards on this course on Literature and Mental Health have a ridiculous number of comments, up to 2,500 on a single question.  It’s AMAZING!  The students are dropping in from all over the world via their computer screens. There is no reason to leave your house anymore. And yes, that is a problem!

There has perhaps never been a better time to embrace lifelong learning than in any other time in history, and the fact that it’s free elicits delight indeed!

Have you ever taken an online course? What was your experience? Do you even think about how you can continue to learn into old age and all the ways that’s possible?

Energizing writing into art via collaboration

Reeces

Reece’s peanut butter cups – The ultimate collaboration?

I met up with the artist Eryne Donahue who is going to visually bring to life her representation of my words for the community exhibit space in the Anvil Centre in the not too distant future.

I met her at the Waves Coffee shop on Columbia in New West and when we met you would think we were mother and daughter or old friends, but not two strangers who had never met before. We even had the same hair colour, relatively speaking.

We slipped into conversation without delay. I feel like Eryne and her newly emerging family represent the best of the evolving New West. People who have come from elsewhere. Young, dynamic, engaged and wanting to shape their lives in a community that they can raise their new families in. She is originally from Ottawa and moved to New West with her husband a couple years ago after being renovicted (“get out, we’re renovating and raising the rent”) from East Van where they’d lived for 9 years.

She has a little two year old daughter whose name, Ourigan, is spelled after a Chinook place name that she and her husband picked after they were reading a book together about the explorer David Thompson, “the greatest explorer who ever lived.” According to Google, Thompson mapped 3.9 million sq. kilometres and who, not so cool nowadays, married a 13 year old Metis child who remained married to him for 58 years

Eryne and her husband decided to follow some of Thompson’s route through Oregon, Washington State and B.C., camping as they went.Her husband works for an environmental consulting firm and travels around the province doing work related to water conservation and community education.

They have another baby, also a girl, on the way, due in May and they have chosen a wonderful name that begins with a Q. I’m not sure I should share it here so I won’t. Both names are gender neutral.

Eryne also works for herself as a graphic artist and arts educator with aspirations to do something related to community engagement and art, something she’s already been quite active in. At the moment, motherhood is kind of at the top of the priority ladder.

It was exciting to hear another person’s take on a piece of writing and to hear what she, as an artist, was drawn to in the piece in terms of how she was conceptualizing her representation of it.

It was surprising for me to recognize that her take on the term “diversity” was not as literal as I thought it might be, but instead, what stood out for her was the diversity of the spaces I describe within it, and then, as we met, the psychological space some of which was represented on the page but some only picked up via additional information I shared during our face to face meeting.

She is thinking of focusing on that aspect of diversity, an aspect I had not thought of at all, and that may help me improve the story’s ending. Therein lies the beauty of collaboration. How words on a page can engage another imagination, expanding upon the original creativity to present a completely new direction.

I’m excited to see what the final piece looks like and really happy to have made her acquaintance.

Visit Eryne’s website to learn more about her art and community engagement projects.

Sound like you’ve never experienced it

Basantasound2

I went to a talk last night by a young guy from Montreal named Adam Basanta. He describes himself as a sound artist, composer and performer of experimental music and he has an installation in New West’s New Media Gallery on the third floor of Anvil Centre.

I read the other day in the local community newspaper, The Royal City Record, that the curators of this new space in Anvil Centre actually used to work at the Tate Modern. Wow! Talk about having the crème de la crème of experience.

It was a small turnout, maybe 35 people, and Basanta, who is one of four sound artists in the exhibit, began to speak about his work related to experimental sound with a particular emphasis in his piece on feedback, but not in the way we’re all used to; not that unexpected siren from a microphone that rises like a banshee in a deafening way.

BasantaexhibitHis installation is part of OTIC: Systems of Sound. His emphasis on feedback had to do with space and tones and how humans’ presence in a space can change feedback and how he played with feedback to bring to our attention our experience in the world and of the sounds around us.

He had this really cool project, Positive Vibes, in Finland where he used a recorded voice of women saying “I love you all very, very much.” He tied that to a bunch of helium balloons and then floated it near people in public spaces and watched as they reacted to this disembodied recording telling them they were loved. I love weird projects like that.

As he spoke I was both challenged by the topic in terms of its weirdness and a foreign way of thinking about sound, and then I was really heartened that in Canada, there’s still some money, apparently, to be found to encourage those who are approaching the arts in a way that calls on all their courage and expertise to interpret and reinterpret and challenge their own boundaries in order to challenge that of any audience.

It’s worth the exercise to be open enough to expose yourselves to others’ far out ways of approaching their passions.

I realized as I was listening to him,  my own personal resistance to weirdness, to foreign and difficult approaches, was rising. Being able to be aware of that, acknowledge it, and then let it wash over me and feel it lessen, is perhaps really getting closer to the essence of the kind of curiosity required to accept others’ interpretation of all the shared worlds that exist on the planet.

The exhibit, which will undoubtedly be richer if you have someone to interpret it as we did last night, runs at Anvil Centre to March 20, 2016.